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Golf cart not automobile for SABS purposes


An Ontario tribunal ruling that found golf carts are not automobiles for the purposes of obtaining accident benefits is principled in its analysis, Ottawa personal injury lawyer Najma Rashid .

In a decision following a preliminary issue hearing, the Licence Appeal Tribunal (LAT) determined that a man was not entitled to benefits from his insurer because a golf cart is not considered a vehicle under s. 3 of the Statutory Accident Benefits Schedule (SABS).

The applicant was hit by a cart on the driveway of a golf course, injuring his knee and wrists. The cart was travelling at a high rate of speed on its way to the parking lot area, the decision states.

A central issue in determining whether a golf cart is an automobile is insurance, the ruling states.

“This decision follows the steps that have judicially been followed to determine if a vehicle is considered an automobile for the purposes of accident benefits,” says Rashid, a partner with Howard Yegendorf & Associates LLP. “It doesn’t deviate from that formula.”

Using a step-by-step “cascading” analysis, the LAT found the applicant was involved in an ‘accident’ only if his alleged impairment was caused by an ‘automobile.’

“The golf cart which he alleges caused an impairment is an automobile in the circumstances of this case only if at the time that it struck that applicant it was required under a legislative Act to be insured under a motor-vehicle policy,” the ruling states.

The tribunal then answered a series of five questions:

  • What is an accident?
  • What is an automobile?
  • Do golf carts fall within any enlarged definition of “automobile” in any relevant statute?
  • Are golf carts motor vehicles under the Insurance Act?
  • Are golf carts required under any Act to be insured under a motor-vehicle liability policy?

The decision referred to the definition of “accident” in SABS, which reads in part: “an incident in which the use or operation of an automobile directly causes an impairment … .”

It then moved on to its determination of what is an automobile, referring to a test contained in a 1999 Ontario case:

  • Is the vehicle an “automobile” in ordinary parlance? If not, then,
  • Is the vehicle defined as an “automobile” in the wording of the insurance policy? If not, then
  • Does the vehicle fall within any enlarged definition of “automobile” in any relevant statute?

The tribunal agreed with the parties that the answer to the first two questions is no, leading to the third question.

It noted that under s. 224(1) of the Insurance Act, a golf cart can be considered an automobile if it’s “prescribed by regulation,” but it’s not. It can also be considered an automobile if it’s “properly considered a motor vehicle and required under any Act to be insured under a motor-vehicle liability policy.”

To that question, the tribunal said golf carts can be considered motor vehicles under the Insurance Act. The legislation uses the definition in the Highway Traffic Act, which reads in part: “any other vehicle propelled or driven otherwise than by muscular power.”

While the golf cart was found to be a motor vehicle, the tribunal said that in this case, insurance wasn’t required. “A motor vehicle requires insurance if it is to be driven on a highway,” which is defined in the Highway Traffic Act as a “common and public” driveway.

The golf cart was operating on a driveway, but it was not common and public, the LAT stated, and was “intended for use by a limited population of golf course patrons and employees.”

Rashid says she’s not surprised by the decision.

“There are other decisions on ATVs and off-road vehicles such as dirt bikes and pocket bikes, which are more commonplace than they were 20 years ago,” she says.

“Recreational vehicles are often the subject of proceedings as to whether or not the vehicle in question is considered an automobile for SABS purposes,” Rashid says.