By Brent L. Handel Q.C.
In a previous blog post on April 8th, 2014 we wrote about common law partners, or now more correctly in Alberta called interdependent partners. The Adult Interdependent Relationships Act defines an interdependent partner as someone who has lived with the other person in a relationship of interdependence for a continuous period of not less than three years, or of “some permanence” if there is a child of the relationship by birth or adoption. In our previous post of April 8th, 2014 we discussed the decision of Dotto Estate v Thickson, 2013, ABQB 348. This was a decision of Master Schlosser of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench which brought into question the three year period with respect to the wrongful death of an interdependent partner. In the Dotto case Mr. Dotto was killed and his “girlfriend” who he lived with for just over sixteen months brought a claim as an interdependent partner of the deceased.
The defendant auto insurance company brought a summary dismissal application on the basis that the Adult Interdependent Relationships Act provides that they must have lived together for three years or entered into an agreement of interdependent partnership. Since they had not entered into an agreement and had not lived together for three years the “girlfriend” did not qualify as an interdependent partner and a potential very large loss of dependency claim was lost to this unfortunate young woman.
However, Master Schlosser said since the Act allows the partners to enter in an agreement, and now that the deceased has been killed, they cannot enter into an agreement this is just one more way that a wrongdoer can improve his position by killing his victim rather than just injuring him. Therefore the court ordered the matter on to a trial with a Justice at the higher court level, the Court of Queen’s Bench.
That decision has now been heard at the Justice level of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench and unfortunately J. Nixon dismissed the case saying that the statutory requirement is three years and the issue of entering into an agreement not being able to be completed now that the deceased is dead, does not factor into the decision. In our opinion this decision is in error as clearly the couple may very well have entered into an interdependent partner relationship in the next month or two had the deceased not been killed in the accident.
Moreover, there is the argument that notwithstanding the less than three years that the couple lived together, the fact of the matter was that the “girlfriend” was dependent on the deceased as they had recently bought a house together and now instead of having a large loss of dependency claim for the deceased, the “girlfriend” is left behind with a huge mortgage on a construction house and the wrongdoer gets away free despite killing a young man!
Handel Law Firm: In our view the court should have allowed, and we believe the Court of Appeal would agree if it went to the highest level in Alberta, that a fact driven inquiry should be made on a case by case basis and if in fact there is a true dependency relationship then the survivor should be able to bring a claim for “loss of dependency” like a spouse or a three year or more interdependent partner as there in fact has been a loss suffered by a close partner of the deceased at the hands of a wrongdoer in a motor vehicle collision. To hold otherwise allows the wrongdoer to get away without paying any compensation whatsoever, which is unfortunately what happened in the Dotto case.
Handel Law Firm is Alberta’s personal injury law firm serving the smaller communities of Red Deer, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Fort McMurray and Grande Prairie. Call now Toll Free: 1-877-844-6910