Cross-Border Accidents

Written by James Howie – Lawyer at Howie, Sacks and Henry in Toronto

Canadian snowbirds who winter in Florida and other warm weather states may feel like the USA is a ‘second home’ but you should know that there are key differences in our two countries’ legal systems, especially when it comes to dealing with the consequences of a motor vehicle accident. Without proper guidance from an experienced lawyer, snowbirds may find themselves leaving potential compensation and benefits on the table.

Insurance coverage for motor vehicle accidents in both Canada and the United States follow some of the same principles

Drivers in most American states including Florida are required to carry accident insurance, however, just like Ontario, some drivers will be uninsured. Generally speaking, a person who is involved in an accident in a state like Florida will be automatically covered by the Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance regime, which is somewhat similar to Ontario’s Statutory Accidents Benefits Schedule (SABS), and provides certain benefits to people who have been injured in an auto accident. Benefits are calculated and regulated by legislation and cover expenses such as medical and rehabilitation costs, loss of income, and funeral costs. Most Ontario residents who are injured in Florida are covered by both the Florida PIP and Ontario’s accident benefits system.

There are also some very important differences between the two jurisdictions!

Despite surface similarities, the insurance rules and regulations in American states are different from those in Canadian provinces such as Ontario. One key difference is in the monetary value of the available insurance that injury victims are entitled to collect in each jurisdiction. Drivers in Florida are only required to carry $10,000 (USD) worth of coverage, which is often inadequate to cover the real costs associated with a serious injury, while drivers in Ontario are required to carry a minimum of $200,000 (CAD) in third party liability coverage, and most drivers in Ontario carry coverage worth $1 million (CAD) or more.

Ontario’s SABS system is also more generous than most benefits regimes. In Ontario, accident victims are eligible to claim up to $1 million in a case of catastrophic injury. There are also differences in who is covered – in Ontario, coverage applies to any eligible insured person (which can be more than just the driver or car owner). Each jurisdiction also requires a plaintiff to commence a lawsuit related to a motor vehicle accident within a certain time period – four years in Florida and two years in Ontario.

Ontario residents are able to access Canadian insurance coverage

Florida is well-known for its high rate of uninsured drivers. Even when another driver has vehicle insurance, the maximum dollar recovery available for an injury is often far lower than what would be available if the accident happened in Ontario.  However, in circumstances where insufficient policy limits are available to an Ontario accident victim involved in a Florida accident, the victim can also make a claim for the unpaid portion of their damages (i.e. the balance of their own accident claim value) from their Ontario Insurer (known as an under-insured claim).

Filing a claim in one jurisdiction may prevent filing a claim in another location

Depending on the nature of a person’s injuries, they may be able to obtain a wide variety of available benefits, including income benefits, caregiver benefits, medical rehabilitation expenses, attendant care, and housekeeping expenses, and more.

Generally, claimants can only seek particular benefits once from one source or another – they cannot ‘double dip’. Rules of procedure and the details of insurance policies often spell out the priority of who pays the claim first and when claims should be filed. Because of the differences in allowable amounts and other considerations, claimants need to be very careful that they are bringing their claims in the correct jurisdiction. Making a mistake in timing or the order in which claims are filed could allow an insurance company to deny a claim. Accident victims and their lawyers must carefully consider which policies apply, and which jurisdiction is appropriate.

It’s important to work with a Canadian lawyer who fully understands the complexities of both the accident benefits system and cross-border legal considerations.

Vehicle accident insurance claims are very complex, regardless of the location of the accident. When dealing with a cross-border claim, it only becomes more complicated. Many snowbirds hire American counsel and launch a claim in the United States, but then ignore potential claims in their home province that are often worth much more money!

Canadian snowbirds who have been involved in an accident in the USA are more than welcome to consult with me. I have been fortunate enough to represent many Ontario residents who have had the misfortune to be involved in motor vehicle accidents in the United States. I have worked closely with highly-regarded lawyers in Florida, Arizona, Nevada, California, Texas, and other popular snowbird destinations to maximize my clients’ recoveries in both jurisdictions.

If you or a loved one has been the victim of an accident don’t hesitate to contact the snowbird helpline.  


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