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If condo work damages car, should it be driver’s fault?

Published January 3, 2013
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Eric Lai answers readers’ auto questions every week for Wheels.

Q: My condominium building has one way in and one way out of the parking garage.

Due to work being done by Enbridge, or a subcontractor, thick steel plates have been placed over the ditches they created to lay the pipe for new gas lines.

Due to the elevation of said steel plates, my car’s rocker panel came into contact with the plate and was ripped off of the vehicle.

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My insurance company regards this as an at-fault accident, as though it was an avoidable obstacle. How can the insurance company consider this to be my fault when I have entered and exited this parking area routinely without problem until Enbridge put down the steel plates?

A: The City of Toronto, Enbridge, and the Insurance Ombudsman are all possible stakeholders to pursue in resolving this matter.

We asked the Insurance Bureau of Canada whether low-profile tires and/or low ground clearance of the vehicle might affect the fault determination.

Steve Kee, spokesperson for the Insurance Bureau of Canada, replies:

Modifications to the vehicle may have an impact.

Section 3 of the Ontario Application for Automobile Insurance Owner’s Form (OAF1) asks if the auto has been “Modified/Customized” and provides this note:

“Modified/customized includes changes, other than repairs or restorations, that affect the original manufacturer’s design specifications or increase the value of the automobile. These may include, but are not limited to: engine modifications; paint changes; non-factory installed wheels, tires and electronic accessories and equipment, etc. If you are insured for ‘Loss or Damage Coverage,’ there is a $1,500 limit on non-factory installed electronic accessories and equipment.”

Insurers may respond differently, but this wording applies to all.

As for being at fault, various factors should be considered including whether there was appropriate signage or markings, but collision coverage states the following:

Collision or upset — we will pay for losses caused when a described automobile is involved in a collision with another object or tips over.

Object includes another automobile that is attached to the automobile, the surface of the ground, and any object in or on the ground.

Going by this section, an impact as described would usually be deemed an at-fault loss.

Update from our reader:

Following up with Enbridge seems to have done the trick.

Total damage was under $150, as the incident occurred below 5 km/h. The office of the ombudsman (for Enbridge) handed me off to their subcontractor who was surprisingly proactive in looking to get this resolved. They advise “the check is in the mail.”

Got a beef? Send it to Eric Lai at wheels@thestar.ca. Include year, make, model and kilometres of autos cited, plus your name, address and telephone number. Personal replies cannot be handled due to volume.

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