Marijuana and Personal Injury Claims

Several months after the federal government’s legalization of recreational cannabis, much about the impact of marijuana intoxication on various aspects of life and the law remains unclear. For example, questions still remain about how best to categorize and quantify a person’s level of intoxication, due in large part to the fact that the effects of marijuana can differ from user to user and strain to strain, as well as with the method of how the drug was ingested. Additionally, despite the significant effort and expense which the federal government has placed on advertising and information campaigns to alert Canadians to the risks and dangers of driving while intoxicated, many users still remain unclear or ignorant of the relevant laws and continue to operate motor vehicles under the influence of cannabis. In fact, a recent study conducted by AAA found that within a single month in 2019, nearly 15 million Americans had knowingly operated a vehicle while high, and 7% of Americans actually approved of driving while high (compared to only 1.6% who approved of drinking and driving, and 1.7% who approved of driving while drowsy). It is noteworthy that while this study surveyed Americans, the outcome may well be even more startling for Canadian users, as marijuana is still much less freely accessible and socially acceptable in many states south of the border. In fact, similar results were noted in the 2018 Canadian Cannabis Survey, where nearly 40% of past cannabis users admitted to having driven within two hours of use, according to a recent Global News article.

Also problematic is the fact that the technology currently being employed by law enforcement to evaluate cannabis intoxication is still relatively new, and had not yet faced the legal challenges which will inevitably come with time. Several critics have questioned the efficacy of the sole roadside testing machine currently approved for use, citing concerns over false-positive results which have apparently been more prevalent in colder weather climates. This potential for increased false-positive identifications may cause significant problems for cannabis users, even where criminal charges are not at issue. Specifically, many Canadians may not be aware of the fact that the presence of any intoxicant (such as alcohol, cannabis, or other drugs) in the system of a driver - even in a concentration which is not sufficient to result in a criminal offense - can have significant implications with respect to civil lawsuits and the applicability of motor vehicle insurance policies.

Most notably, many motor vehicle insurance policies include “exclusion of liability” clauses, which set out various situations where insurance coverage will not apply. Almost invariably, one such exception is instances where the driver is deemed to be “under the influence” of an intoxicant, or convicted of driving offense while intoxicated. Insurance companies may rely on all information available to them - including whether criminal charges have been laid, whether the driver was “under the influence” of an intoxicant, or whether any intoxicant was present in the driver’s system (even in lesser or non-criminal concentrations) - when making determinations about the applicability of insurance coverage. Accordingly, even in situations where drivers have not been criminally convicted of driving under the influence, insurance companies may still determine that their exclusion of liability clause has been triggered and refuse to provide insurance coverage. This decision can have wide ranging consequences for victims injured as a result of the driver’s negligence, and may impact their ability to be properly compensated for their injuries.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a motor vehicle collision and suspect that marijuana may have been been involved, please do not hesitate to contact the experienced personal injury lawyers at Rodin Law Firm. We can be reached online, or by telephone at (403) 216-0385.

Ellie Staniloff