NEWS Self-Driving Cars – The Current Legal Framework in Canada: Liability for Motor Vehicle Accidents (Part 3)

Self-Driving Cars - The Current Legal Framework in Canada: Liability for Motor Vehicle Accidents (Part 3)

As autonomous vehicle (AV) technology continues to advance in capabilities and sophistication, it is only a matter of time before autonomous vehicles are commercially available across Canada. The arrival of self-driving cars in Canada will raise several liability-related issues in the areas of owner liability, product liability and auto insurance. In this article, we discuss the allocation of liability in accidents involving AVs and the future of auto insurance.


The transfer of responsibility for driving from humans to automated systems will affect how liability for motor vehicle crashes is attributable. Current auto insurance policies are based on the notion that human error is the leading cause of motor vehicle crashes. Under the current system, a driver may be able to recover from an accident through compensation from the insurance company and, if applicable, file a tort or liability claim against the other drivers involved in the collision.

However, the arrival of autonomous vehicles in Canada will directly challenge the current framework, as motor vehicle crashes involving autonomous vehicles may be caused in whole or in part by product failure. This is especially true for events involving AVs that are highly automated and require little driver interaction. Therefore, the injured party may need to seek compensation through a product liability claim.

Product liability claims may arise from breach of contract. However, winning a breach of contract lawsuit could be difficult because automakers may include clauses in their agreements that limit their liability. If a third party is injured in an event involving AV, the third party will not have privity of contract and therefore cannot bring a claim for breach of contract. An injured party may also bring an infringement claim for negligent design, negligent manufacture, or negligent failure to warn. For example, an injured party could bring a claim against an AV’s design negligence, claiming that sensor technology resulted in an unsafe autonomous response. While these legal avenues are available to injured parties, obtaining compensation can be difficult because product liability lawsuits are often more complex and take longer to resolve than traditional motor vehicle claims.


To address these issues, the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) has released a paper titled “Auto Insurance for Autonomous Vehicles: Preparing for the Future of Mobility,” which provides insights into updating Canada’s auto insurance policy and supporting legislation to accommodate AVs. Three suggestions.

The document proposes a single insurance policy covering driver negligence and automated technology. In the event of a motor vehicle accident caused by automated technology, insurers would first pay out the injured party and then have the right to recover liability from the responsible party, including the self-driving car manufacturer. The policy would ensure that injured parties are compensated in a timely manner and leave discussions of product liability to insurers who may be better able to handle litigation.

Second, the document proposes legislative data-sharing arrangements with AV manufacturers to make certain data available to vehicle owners and/or insurers. This will help these parties better understand the cause of the collision, which is critical to making any product liability claims. This document outlines a series of AV-related data elements (eg speed, auto status – on/off) that should be included in the available data.

Finally, the document recommends the inclusion of automation technology standards in Motor Vehicle Safety Act (MVSA) sets safety standards for AVs. For example, standards could set requirements related to vehicle cybersecurity, crash data recording and crash intervention.

in conclusion

In the coming years, it will be interesting to see whether the recommendations put forward by the IBC are put into practice, and what other developments in the law affect liability.

The author would like to thank Student at Law Sandeep Patel for his assistance in preparing this update.

For more information, check out our other posts in this series:

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