When can a common-law partner, known in Alberta as an “adult interdependent partner,” bring a claim for loss of financial support on the death of his or her partner?

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. Many people in Alberta are under the misunderstanding that they are in a common-law relationship after one year. That would only be true if there was a child of the relationship and then indeed the period can be less than one year. If there is not a child of the relationship then you’re not a common-law or interdependent partner unless you live together continuously for not less than three years. The only other way you can become an interdependent partner in less than three years is if the people enter into an interdependent partner agreement which is unusual.

Therefore, the accepted law in Alberta was that if your boyfriend or girlfriend you are living with is killed in a motor vehicle collision and you do not have a child from the relationship, or you have not lived with that person for three years or more, you will not have a claim for the loss of dependency.

However, a recent decision of Dotto Estate vs. Thickson, 2013, ABQB 348 brings into question this accepted understanding of the law in fatal crash auto insurance claim. Mr. Dotto of Edmonton was killed in a motor-vehicle accident when he was intentionally struck by the defendant, 15-year-old Mr. Thickson near Whyte Avenue in Edmonton. The deceased, Mr. Dotto’s girlfriend, who he had lived with for just over 16 months, brought a claim as a “common-law spouse of the deceased.” The defendant through his car insurance company brought and application to summarily dismiss the lawsuit without a trial on the basis that the claim was bogus. The court disagreed. The decision of Master Schlosser left open the possibility that the deceased’s “girlfriend” of less than three years may actually have a claim since the Adult Interdependent Relationships Act allows the partners to enter into an agreement and now that the deceased has been killed, they cannot enter into an agreement which Master Schlosser says is just one more way that a wrongdoer can improve his position by killing his victim rather than just injuring him. The court ordered the matter on to a full trial of an issue as to whether or not the dependency claim of a survivor who has lived with somebody for less than three years may actually be brought under the Fatal Accidents Act.

This is just one more example of the way the law evolves. Alberta has a clear statutory provision of three years to be considered interdependent partners and yet here we have a judge interpreting this same section that it may be less than three years in a fatal accident situation. We will have to await the decision of the next court level at the trial to see the outcome. In the interim if you have lost a loved one who you did not live with for three or more years and were therefore told you do not have a claim, this may not be correct, so you should file a claim for loss of dependency under the Fatal Accidents Act thus preserving your two year limitation period to commence a lawsuit from a fatal accident.