Court rules lawsuit in road rage incident involving Montreal police officer can proceed

·4 min read
Court rules lawsuit in road rage incident involving Montreal police officer can proceed

A lengthy legal battle that pitted a Montreal man against an off-duty police officer for a road rage incident in 2015 will be allowed to proceed, the province's highest court has ruled.

The City of Montreal had argued the matter could be settled through the province's no-fault insurance system, run by the Société de l'assurance automobile du Québec.

Jeffrery Pokora has overcome many legal obstacles and seen some setbacks in his fight to keep the case alive, and with this decision he lives to fight another day in court.

"It's very much a roller coaster ride of emotions and feelings," Pokora told CBC in an interview Thursday.

CBC
CBC

"Sometimes you're down, and then when you get something like this decision you're very up," he said.

The entire matter started with a bizarre incident on January 14, 2015, when Pokora was driving in Montreal's LaSalle borough and saw another car he thought was driving dangerously.

Pokora followed the car and eventually confronted the driver, who turned out to be off-duty Montreal police officer Roberto Tomarelli.

After an arugment, Tomarelli ended up ramming his vehicle into Pokora's. The incident was captured on a security camera.

Both men called 911, but it was Pokora who ended up arrested and charged with uttering threats and harassment.

Pokora was eventually acquitted, and the judge in the case excoriated Tomarelli, calling him negligent, reckless and not credible. He suggested the officer misled his colleagues about what happened that night.

Long legal fight

Pokora has been fighting for justice ever since.

He filed a criminal complaint against Tomarelli, but prosecutors ultimately decided not to lay charges.

He tried four different times to file complaints against Tomarelli with the Police Ethics Commission, all of which were rejected.

His last hope was a $120,000 lawsuit against Tomarelli and the City of Montreal, seeking damages for psychological distress, legal fees, and for violating his Charter rights.

The city tried to quash the lawsuit, arguing in Quebec Superior Court that since the incident involved an automobile, Pokora could be compensated only by the SAAQ, through its no-fault system.

The judge sided with the city and ruled Pokora couldn't sue.

It was the SAAQ, and not Pokora, who challenged that decision and ultimately won at the Court of Appeal. That paves the way for Pokora's lawsuit to go ahead.

Appeal court says case is about more than car accident

In the Aug. 31 decision, the panel of judges found that the lower court judge erred in suggesting that compensation from the SAAQ was Pokora's only recourse.

"Contrary to what the trial judge asserted, the compensation paid by the SAAQ to Mr. Pokora does not take the place of all his rights and remedies, but only those he may wish to exercise in connection with bodily injury suffered due to the use of an automobile," the decision said.

The panel ruled that Pokora's claim for legal fees and the Charter violation aren't related to bodily harm and therefore fall outside the jurisdiction of the SAAQ.

"The damages claimed are not intended to compensate for bodily injury, but rather the consequence of the deprivation of liberty," The decision said.

The decision grants the appeal, reverses the original trial judgement, and returns the file back to the Superior Court where the lawsuit will proceed.

'Real justice is expensive'

The panel of Appeal Court judges also said that it would have been preferable if Pokora himself had filed the appeal instead of the SAAQ, but that Pokora's lawsuit could proceed nonetheless.

Pokora said he couldn't afford to file the appeal on his own, but he's happy to benefit from the SAAQ's actions.

"Real justice is expensive," Pokora said.

"We didn't make the appeal because I just ran out of finances. But the SAAQ decided to pick it up because I guess they realized that they were going to be on the hook for the bill," he said.

Pokora said he's never given up on his legal fight because it's too important to him.

"I just believe in Canadian justice, however slow the system might be. I just really have a lot of faith," he said.

Pokora also said he's open to negotiating a settlement with the city, which refused to comment.