Discoverability - Identity of Vehicle Owner

After determining vehicle ownership, is counsel required to continue looking for contrary information?

Velasco v. North York Chevrolet Oldsmobile Ltd., [2011] ONCA 522 (C.A.), involves a car accident that occurred in 2005. The appellant’s vehicle was struck by two other vehicles. The ownership of the one vehicle (the “Denyer vehicle”) is the subject of this appeal.

The appellant issued a statement of claim in 2006. Counsel relied on a statement in the police report to determine that Denyer was the owner of the Denyer vehicle. This belief was confirmed later that year by way of the pleadings delivered by Denyer’s insurer stating that Denyer was the owner of the vehicle.

Early in 2007, counsel for the appellant received a 732 page Crown Brief that contained a license plate search which showed that Denyer was not in fact the owner of the vehicle. This search did not come to the attention of counsel until two years later when preparing for discoveries. At that time, a statement of claim was issued against the respondents on the basis of their ownership.

The respondents brought a motion to dismiss the claim against them on the basis that the limitation period had expired. The motion judge held that counsel for the appellant should not have closed their minds to the ownership issue and should have reviewed the Crown Brief promptly to settle that issue.

The Court of Appeal disagreed with the motion judge and held that counsel had acted with reasonable diligence in continuing to rely on the initial information they had received “until contrary information actually came to their attention”. The court did not find a duty on counsel to positively search for contradictory information after they were satisfied as to the ownership.

Thanks to our articling student, Kristen Dearlove, for this post.

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