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Coffee Spill in Drive-through Restaurant Considered an “Accident”

In a recent decision, the Ontario Court of Appeal in Dittmann v Aviva Insurance Company of Canada held that the use of an automobile was the direct cause of serious burns sustained by a coffee spill in a drive-through restaurant and that this was an “accident” as defined in the Statutory Accidents Benefit Schedule (SABS).

Ms. Dittmann ordered a cup of coffee at a McDonald’s drive-through and then pulled up to the payment window where she was handed her coffee. When she attempted to transfer the cup from the drive-through window to the cup holder in her vehicle, the entire contents of the coffee spilled on her causing serious burns to her lower body.

Ms. Dittmann held a valid policy of automobile insurance and would be entitled to accident benefits if her injuries arose from an “accident” as defined by the SABS. The court held that the use and operation of the automobile was a direct cause of her injury because “but for the use of her vehicle, she would not have been in the drive-through lane, would not have received the coffee cup while in the seated position, would not have been transferring the coffee cup to the cup holder across her body, and would not have had the coffee spill on her lap.” In addition, the court noted that the restraint of the seatbelt increased Ms. Dittmann’s exposure to the scalding liquid and thereby increased the level of her impairment.

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