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A Tale of Two Tests: BC’s version of Alberta’s Degree of Control Test for Vehicle Owner’s Liability

Case citation: Mangat v. Lau, 2024 BCSC 200

The recent decision of the British Columbia Supreme Court in Mangat v. Lau, 2024 BCSC 200, raised an interesting question about the complexities of vehicle ownership and liability. The Court had to determine whether the registered owner of a vehicle could fall outside the definition of an “owner” under the Motor Vehicle Act, RSBC 1986, c 318 (the “MVA”).  

The case involved a motor vehicle accident in which the plaintiff’s vehicle was hit by the defendant driver, an employee of Xerox Canada Ltd at the time of the accident. The Workers Compensation Appeal Tribunal determined that both the plaintiff and the defendant were “workers” under the Workers Compensation Act, RSBC 2019, c 1. 

Who was the owner of the Xerox vehicle? 
The plaintiff relied on section 86 of the MVA and argued Xerox was an “owner” and was vicariously liable for the defendant driver’s negligence. 

The Court revisited the common law concept of “owner” and found the mere fact that Xerox was the registered owner did not mean it was an owner of that could be found vicariously liable. The Court looked at other factors, such as who applied for the registration, who applied for insurance, and who purchased the vehicle. Xerox did none of these.

The Court found Xerox was not a party to the vehicle master lease agreement, and there was no evidence Xerox entered into any purchase or lease agreement. Therefore, the Court found “strong evidence to the contrary” and despite being named as the owner in the capacity of the registration documents, Xerox was not the owner of the vehicle under common law to be found vicariously liabile for the accident.

The Court found that Xerox was not an owner of the vehicle under sections 86(1) or (1.1) of the MVA. Alternatively, even if Xerox was an owner of the vehicle, it did not have possession of the vehicle and the employee was not operating it with the consent of Xerox when the accident occurred.

Accordingly, Xerox was not vicariously liable for the employee’s negligence. The plaintiff’s claim against Xerox was dismissed.

Application to Alberta
Unlike the BC approach in Mangat which focused on the concept of ownership, Alberta Courts have used a common law "degree of control" test to determine the liability of vehicle owners when lawsuits against WCB insured insured at-fault drivers are barred by section 23 of the Workers Compensation Act, RSA 2000, c W-5 (the “WCA”).  

In both Barz v Driving Force Inc, and Manak v Sidhu, the Courts held that claims of WCB insured plaintiffs against vehicle owners could not proceed where the owners did not exert sufficient control over the at-fault drivers to avoid the accident. Both cases against the vehicle owner were dismissed as the vehicle owner had no degree of control.  

While the Alberta Courts apply a common law “degree of control” test to determine the extent of a vehicle owner’s liability, the legislature in BC has effectively codified this approach in the MVA


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