The sad facts of the New Brunswick Court of Appeal case Edmondson et al. v. Edmondson et al are relatively straightforward. Cory Edmondson took his five-year-old son, Cole, on a motorcycle ride. The motorcycle was not designed for more than one person, so Mr. Edmondson made Cole a makeshift seat out of Styrofoam and rigged it onto the top of the rear fender with suction cups. Mr. Edmondson tied a strap or belt around himself and Cole for stability since Cole’s feet did not reach the rear foot pegs. Cole was not dressed in any protective gear and the helmet he wore was designed for an adult, too big for a child of his size.
Mr. Edmondson and Cole were travelling at approximately 75 km/h when a vehicle headed in the headed in the opposite direction made a left turn in front of Mr. Edmondson’s motorcycle. Mr. Edmondson braked in an attempt to avoid a collision, sending the motorcycle into a skid. Ultimately, the motorcycle struck the third-party vehicle and continued to skid before coming to rest under the front end of a stopped SUV.
Cole suffered extreme burns and fractures as a result of the accident.
There were two actions commenced by Cole – one against the left-turning driver and another against Mr. Edmondson. The turning driver (who passed away following this accident from unrelated causes) was found liable in a Summary Judgment motion. That action was not part of the present appeal. At first instance, the Court dismissed the companion motion for summary judgment against Mr. Edmondson for his alleged liability arising from parental negligence. This was the issue to be decided at the New Brunswick Court of Appeal.
Law and Argument
The Court dealt with the duty of care Mr. Edmondson owed to Cole. The case law is clear that parents owe a duty of care to their children. A duty must arise out of some “relation” or “proximity” between the parties. Applying this line of thinking to the facts of the present case, Justice LeBlond confirmed that “A parent is in a position of control over a vulnerable child and owes that child affirmative obligations. Indeed, control and vulnerability are what creates this classic duty of care.”
The next factor considered was the standard of care. Justice LeBlond concluded that Mr. Edmondson breached s. 199(1) of the Motor Vehicle Act by placing Cole on a motorcycle that was not equipped to carry more than one person. Mr. Edmondson’s actions were described as “blatant negligence.” As a result, Mr. Edmonton was found to have breached the standard of care owed to his son. Justice LeBlond determined that “The evidence before the motion judge could only lead to a finding of Cory’s breach of his standard of care and, thus, his negligence”.
The Court then examined whether Cole’s injuries were causally related to the actions of Mr. Edmondson. Mr. Edmondson was found to have subjected Cole to an unreasonable risk of injury and the injuries he sustained were within the nature of the negligence created. It was deemed sufficient that Mr. Edmondson’s negligence was a cause of the harm and need not be the sole cause of Cole’s injuries. Therefore, while the turning vehicle was also found liable for the accident, this did not remove or negate Mr. Edmondson’s liability; each defendant remained fully liable for the Cole’s injuries, since each was a cause of the injuries.
The last part of the parental negligence analysis looked at whether Mr. Edmondson was liable for the damages relating to the extent of Cole’s injuries. This would arise if Cole’s injuries were not too remote as a consequence of Mr. Edmondson’s negligence. Justice LeBlond concluded Cole’s injuries were not too remote. Specifically, he noted that “there is nothing far-fetched about the types of injuries Cole sustained in this case. They are precisely of the kind typically seen with victims of motorcycle accidents. [Mr. Edmundson’s] negligence by placing Cole in the position he was in makes him liable for his injuries.”
On that basis, Cole was entitled to summary judgment against Mr. Edmondson for parental negligence. Although the facts in this case are somewhat specific, is a primer on parental negligence and negligence more broadly as it provides a straightforward analysis with relevant case law at each step of analysis.
New Brunswick’s Motor Vehicle Act is similar to Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act in terms of vehicular offenses. Specifically, there are several offenses in the HTA that regulate what is required for operating a motorcycle. In Ontario, a proper helmet with a chin strap is required, and, children under 14 years of age are not permitted to ride as a passenger on a motorcycle. This case was fact driven, and the negligence of the father apparent on the facts. However, it serves as a reminder that if an operator of a motorcycle fails to have proper equipment pursuant to Ontario law (such as windshield wipers or mirrors) or fails to account for the safety of a passenger, even if the operator of a motorcycle does not cause or contribute to an accident, a claim in negligence and/or parental negligence may ensue.
See Edmondson et al. v. Edmondson et al., 2022 NBCA 4
Following a jaunt overseas to complete her Master’s degree, attend law school, and discover her love for popular Scottish soda Irn Bru, Arijana began practicing plaintiff personal injury at a prominent northern Ontario law firm. She migrated to Toronto in 2019, switching to insurance defence work at a downtown Toronto boutique, specializing in Accident Benefits, tort, and subrogation.