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Cause of accident need not be unusual

An event need not be extraordinary to be a fortuity, but indeed accidents can result from everyday events such as the falling of rain.
 
In British & Foreign Marine Insurance Co. v. Gaunt, [1921] 2 A.C. 41 (H.L.) the plaintiff had purchased wool produced in Patagonia to be delivered by ocean steamer to Punta Arenas in Chile. The insurance policies insured the wool during the transit “from the sheep’s back” to Punta Arenas. The wool was water damaged during the voyage to Punta Arenas.  The House of Lords held that the fact that the wool may have been damaged by rain water did not mean that the damage was not an accident: 
 
But I can find no justification for the contention which the appellants put forward at the bar of your Lordships' House that in order to recover upon such a policy for damage resulting in the goods getting wet by rain it would be necessary to establish that there was an extraordinary or unusually heavy fall of rain. It would be quite enough if owing to some accidental circumstances the goods were left uncovered when rain was falling.
(British & Foreign Marine Insurance Co. v. Gaunt, [1921] 2 A.C. 41 (H.L.)).
 
The House of Lords also held that the plaintiff was not required to prove the exact mechanism by which the loss occurred:
 
We are, of course, to give effect to the rule that the plaintiff must establish his case, that he must show that the loss comes within the terms of his policies; but where all risks are covered by the policy and not merely risks of a specified class or classes, the plaintiff discharges his special onus when he has proved that the loss was caused by some event covered by the general expression, and he is not bound to go further and prove the exact nature of the accident or casualty which, in fact, occasioned his loss. In this case the respondent established that the loss must have been due to some casualty, and consequently the judgment of the Court of Appeal upon this point is right.
(British & Foreign Marine Insurance Co. v. Gaunt, [1921] 2 A.C. 41 (H.L.)).
 
In Corp. of Dawson Creek (City) v. Zurich Insurance Co., 2000 BCCA 158 an arena roof collapsed on January 8, 1997 under a heavy, although not unprecedented, load of snow. Defective construction of the roof was a contributing factor to the collapse. Relying on British & Foreign Marine Insurance Co. v. Gaunt, [1921] 2 A.C. 41 (H.L.) the British Columbia Court of Appeal found that the roof collapse was an accident:
 
[T]he collapse of the roof in January, 1997 was a fortuitous event caused by the combination of two perils, i.e., the weakness of the structure produced by the faulty construction and the snow load of January 8, 1997.  That combination of events brought about the collapse which caused the loss and damage for which the insured claims.
 
[I]t may not matter whether the snowfall in 1997 could properly be described as an event not to be expected in the ordinary course of things.  It appears to have been, although not record breaking, sufficiently heavy that it could not be described as "expected" in any particular one year period.  In any event, having regard to the nature of the coverage, the language of Viscount Finlay in the passage from Gaunt quoted in para. 15 supra is applicable.  The plaintiff need not establish that there was an extraordinary or unusually heavy fall of snow.
 
(Corp. of Dawson Creek (City) v. Zurich Insurance Co., 2000 BCCA 158 at para. 35 and 37).
 
The above confirms that accidents may occur due to non-extraordinary events.

 

 
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.