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Test Drive Crashes: Who is Liable?

Case citation: Harris v. Victoria Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram Ltd., 2023 BCCA 478


The recently released decision of the Court of Appeal in Harris Victoria Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram Ltd. v. Ward, 2023 BCCA 478, sheds light on the complexities surrounding vehicle ownership and liability. One of the pivotal issues was the ownership of the vehicle and the related consent, express or implied, at the time of the accident. The dealership argued that it had entered into a binding contract of sale such that it was no longer the owner. 

The case concerned whether ‘ownership’ rested with the dealership which was the legal owner of the vehicle, or the customer who had taken physical possession of the vehicle to do a 10-day test drive. The dealership provided the vehicle to the customer in the hopes that upon the expiry of the 10-day period they would purchase the vehicle. 

The central argument revolved around a Motor Vehicle Purchase Agreement (“MVPA”) signed days before the accident, which the dealership claimed transferred ownership of the vehicle to Ms. Siah. The court found that the MVPA was not a binding agreement, and even if it were, it was deemed unconscionable due to a significant inequality of bargaining power. Harris' business practices, including the use of standard form documents with confusing terms, played a crucial role in this determination.

The court upheld the finding that the dealership was the owner, even though the vehicle was initially lent to Aggatha Siah, who, in turn, lent it to someone else before it reached Mr. Thomas. The dealership retained responsibility because they allowed anyone to drive the car, aligning with their business interests to promote increased car sales.

The court also said the owner-responsibility sections of the Motor Vehicle Act exist to encourage owners to be careful in lending their vehicles and to broaden their vicarious liability so injured victims can look to owners for recovery of damages.

The court concluded that the dealership, being in the business of selling cars, had an interest in allowing prospective customers to take extended test drives without imposing limits on who could drive the vehicle. While this aligns with business practices, the tragic case serves as a poignant reminder of the need for car dealerships to exercise greater caution in their sales processes.

It is vital that clear communication of terms, proper documentation, and an awareness of potential liabilities are considered in order to minimize risks for owners. Owners must take active steps to negate their consent if they become aware of any circumstances under which their vehicle is being operated that may expose them to liability. 



If you have any questions about this case bulletin, please get in touch with Hassan Khan at


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