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Definition of “accident”

The definition of what comprises an accident is reasonably straightforward; courts define an accident as an outcome that is not expected or designed:
 
[An accident is] “an unlooked-for mishap or an untoward event which is not expected or designed” …  When an event is unlooked for, unexpected or not intended by the insured, it is fortuitous.  This is a requirement of coverage…
(Progressive Homes Ltd. v. Lombard General Insurance Co. of Canada, 2010 SCC 33 at para. 47).
 
However, if the damage is a consequence which would inevitably occur as a result of the activity then it will not likely be an accident. For example, in Brennan v. Economical Mutual Insurance Co., 2000 CanLII 22709 (Ont. S.C.) the unintentional accumulation of soot on walls from continuous burning of candles was found to not be an accident:
 
It is a certainty that soot will be produced and dispersed as a natural consequence of burning wax candles. The production and deposit of soot from burning wax candles is not in any way accidental. It is an inherent and inevitable result. It is bound to happen if wax candles are burned. It may be a startling result, but it is not accidental.
Burning more or fewer candles may produce more or less soot. Still, it is an inherent, inevitable consequence that is not accidental.
 
(Brennan v. Economical Mutual Insurance Co., 2000 CanLII 22709 at paras. 32 and 34 (Ont. S.C.)).
 
Deciding whether a particular event was an accident is sometimes difficult. For example, if an insured suffers harm when participating in an extremely dangerous activity (such as balancing on a balcony handrail when drunk), is that really an accident, or just the expected outcome of the activity? The following pages explore the bounds of what is an accident.

 

 
This book was written by Michael Dew, a Vancouver lawyer who practices civil litigation, including representing persons who have been denied coverage under property insurance policies, or liability insurance policies. If you have been denied insurance coverage and require assistance with making a claim against your insurer call Michael at 604 895 3160.