No accident benefits for firefighter responding to deadly van attack

Modern Red Fire Engine Truck Isolated On White Clipping Path

A firefighter suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after witnessing the aftermath of a rental van killing 10 people in Toronto in April 2018 is not entitled to accident benefits, because he was not involved in an “accident,” an Ontario court has confirmed.

The court upheld a decision by the Licence Appeals Tribunal (LAT) that the fire truck, simply by being driven to the scene of the tragedy, did not cause the firefighter’s PTSD.

“April 23, 2018, is a day that will never be forgotten in the history of the City of Toronto,” the Ontario Divisional Court decision reads. “A rental van was driven into innocent pedestrians causing the death of 10 individuals and further causing serious and devastating injuries to many more. The perpetrator of this attack has been convicted of murder.”

Jeff Francis, a City of Toronto firefighter, responded to the scene of the attack. He did not see the rental van strike any of the pedestrians.

“Mr. Travis arrived at the scene very shortly after and was confronted with what can only be described as a gruesome scene where he was responsible for guarding the bodies of the victims and helping the injured,” the court’s Mar. 22, 2024 decision reads.

After the van attack, Travis stopped working in September 2018 and began to receive psychological therapy. He was diagnosed with major depressive disorder and PTSD.

He initially made a claim through the Workplace Safety Insurance Board (WSIB). However, after Travis made his claim, WSIB found he should return to a modified duty position. Travis disagreed, deciding to de-elect from the WSIB regime. He pursued an accident benefits claim against Aviva Canada instead.

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The LAT found Travis was not entitled to accident benefits because he was not involved in an “accident.”

“I…find that the causation test is not met,” LAT adjudicator Cezary Paluch ruled in November 2021. “…[W]hen a vehicle ceases being used as [an] automobile; we cannot expect the insurance companies to provide coverage.

“If I was to accept [Travis’s] position, then that could potentially open claims for anybody who was impaired by being on the accident scene, including first responders, or anyone who was injured by passing by the accident to claim for accident benefits.

“This would not be the intention of the [Statutory Accident Benefits] Schedule that over the years has narrowed the definition of an accident.”

Travis appealed the LAT decision to the divisional court, claiming the LAT made an error in law for saying the fire truck’s presence on the scene did not cause his psychological symptoms. But the divisional court upheld the LAT decision, confirming the operation of the fire truck must have caused Travis’s injuries.

“[Travis] argues that he was involved in an accident, whether it was because of the death and destruction caused by the rental van and/or being transported to the scene of the carnage in his firetruck,” the court ruled in its decision released Mar. 22.

“The adjudicator found…that while the fire truck drove the appellant to the scene of the accident, it was not the dominant feature of his injuries. He also found that the use or operation of the fire truck did not cause [Travis’s] injuries. These were factual findings open to him on the evidence and they are not reviewable by this court.”

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Feature image courtesy of iStock.com/ryasick