C.A. Says Father and Daugher Were “Co-owners” of Car

In Mazur v. Elias, the Court of Appeal has endorsed the notion of “co-ownership” of automobiles.

The case involves the often-seen fact pattern of a car being purchased by one person but licensed and insured in the name of another. Typically, the purchaser and principal (or exclusive) user is a young person who would face higher insurance premiums if he or she were to insure it. So, a parent is frequently asked to insure the vehicle at a lower premium.

Of course, the reason that the premium is lower is that the insurer judges the parent to be a superior risk. But if it is the child, not the parent, who will be driving the car, then the risk is quite different.)

In this case, Gloria Elias bought a car but arranged to have it licensed in the name of her father, Wigeh Elias. Wigeh also insured the vehicle with Commercial Union. He was shown on the policy as the named insured and he paid the premiums. However, Gloria was named as the principal operator of the vehicle (unlike many similar cases, where the application and the certificate may not refer to the child at all).

While driving the car, Gloria struck and injured the plaintiff in this action, Regina Mazur. In the ensuing lawsuit, both Commercial Union and Wigeh’s estate (Wigeh having died by the time of the lawsuit) contended that they were not liable because Gloria had been the true owner of the car or, in the alternative, that she had been driving it without the consent of Wigeh.

The Court of Appeal rejected both submissions. It held that Gloria and Wigeh were “co-owners” of the vehicle, with the result that, by virtue of s. 192 of the Highway Traffic Act, both were liable for Gloria’s negligence while driving the car.

It does not appear, from a review of the decision, that either the Court of Appeal or the trial court adjudicated on the issues of insurance coverage that presumably had been raised by Commercial Union. (Apart from any question of misrepresentation as to ownership, it seems that the insurer had cancelled Wigeh’s policy prior to the accident for non-payment of premium.)

This case makes it clear that the concept of “ownership” of an automobile is a fluid one, not necessarily limited to “registered” ownership.

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