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Pokemon Go, Personal Injury & Public Policy in the Province of Ontario

Using 5 P’s in to this Toronto Injury Lawyer Blog Post has got to be some sort of record!

In case you’ve been living under a rock, the mobile device game Pokemon Go has taken the world by storm. Its received a record number of downloads since it launched, caused server crashes, and has resulted in actual physical crashes causing harm to people as well.

The game is a phenomenon to say the least.

If you’ve never seen or played the game, here is a very quick rundown. The game is played in augmented reality. While there have been augmented reality games in the past, Pokemon Go is the first game of its kind to really take off.

Players are followed in an augmented reality world via GPS maps, to find Pokemon. These are little cartoon like animals. Think giant scavenger hunt played out on a Google Map using your cell phone. There are physical landmarks in the game which are identified as Pokestops or Pokegyms. Players can track their footsteps on the map.

To give you an idea of the popularity of the game, let me share a story with you. The game in Canada was officially launched last week. When I left my office for lunch on Tuesday, over 10 random people I passed near my Toronto Office all had their heads down; deeply immersed in Pokemon Go.

Today, I am preparing this blog from my Kitchener-Waterloo Office. While walking around downtown Kitchener, I spotted yet again more than 10+ random people with their heads down, fully immersed in the world of Pokemon Go. The game has been picked up by millions of Canadians in a very short span of time.

The game is fantastic. It encourages people to get outside, walk around, get some exercise, and be social. All of these qualities are great.

But, the game comes with a downside.

Too many people walking, heads down, completely oblivious to their surroundings to catch all the Pokemon they can. Don’t believe me? Just do a quick Google Search for “Pokemon Go accidents” and you will find a long list of shocking news stories from around the world of people getting injured or getting in to accidents or other sticky situations while playing Pokemon Go. Here are a few headlines from around the world as of July 20, 2016:

I could go on and on with these jaw dropping headlines. How can an innocent game played on a cell phone cause so much physical harm?

I would love to know what’s the bigger danger; drunk driving or distracted driving. Or, are they equal? It’s conceivable that a drunk driver cannot stop drunk driving so long as they’re driving. But a distracted driver can stop being a distracted driver by simply putting their phone down and concentrating on the road. But, there are likely more distracted drivers on the road than there are drunk drivers because of the popularity of cell phones. Nearly everyone has a cellphone therefore nearly everyone on the road can be a distracted driver at any given moment. But not everyone drinks before they drive or while they drive. It would make for an interesting study.

The concerns over distracted walking became such an epidemic, that Toronto City Hall passed a motion 26-15 requesting Ontario’s Minister of Transportation make a regulation under the Highway Traffic Act prohibiting pedestrians from “actively using a handheld wireless communication device or handheld electronic entertainment device” while on “any travelled portion of a roadway.” The Government of Ontario was quick to decline the City of Toronto’s suggestion. But, the fact that such a motion was floored, and passed goes to show you how big a concern distracted walking has become.bL_February_2016.indd

There is a whole generation of people who were born with screen/cell phone in hand. Police have limited resources, with a lot on their plate. Do you really think it’s good use of police resources to have people pulled over and ticketed for walking while texting or gaming and walking on their cell phone?

Have you ever seen a cyclist ride through a stop sign, or red light without stopping? It’s likely you have. If you’re a cyclist, you’ve likely done this. When was the last time you saw a police officer pull over a cyclist for not obeying a stop sign? Likely never.

The same thing would happen for a distracted walking law.

Having said that, this doesn’t mean it’s important to get the word out that distracted walking, like distracted driving, just like drunk driving are all dangerous, conscious decisions which every day people make; which can easily be eliminated if we better understood the consequences.

Getting the word out about paying attention to the roadway, your surroundings and other hazards is important. Because when a car, no matter how big or small hits a person; the car always wins. The person doesn’t have any ABS breaks to slow down, side curtain airbags, seat belts, bumpers or collision dampeners to protect them in a serious collisionb. One ton of hard steel car can and will destroy a defenceless pedestrian.

And when that happens, a person’s life is at stake.

And how much is a life work at law in Ontario? If the person was not an income earner (student, retired, unemployed), then that life isn’t worth very much at law at all. Here is what a Judge had to say from MacDonald v. Duncan, 2015 ONSC 7135 about the value of a life and the compensation awarded to a family following the death of a loved one in a car accident:

[21]           I  conclude that an award of $35,000 for each of Mary MacDonald and Martina MacDonald should be made. This amount takes into account a consideration of an enhancement of an award to what courts have ordered in the past. Further, the award recognizes that the sisters were more than  average siblings. They were more than sisters sending Christmas cards to each other or having occasional phone calls. Rather, they have maintained a regular close relationship well beyond their childhood years throughout their adult lives. Mary and Martina, as they testified, left the impression that they were and are sincere people interested in their fellow citizens as caring people. They will have and will in the future suffer the loss of Bernadette, who has always been an important part of their lives.

Will just $35K be adequate compensation for you if you lost a loved one to a Pokemon Go accident? Probably not, but that’s what a real live Judge awarded a family for having lost a loved one in a serious car accident. The same laws will apply to you if the accident happens in Ontario. The precedent case law is shocking and a real eye opener.


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