BC Injury Law and ICBC Claims Blog

More on ICBC Claims and Breach of Insurance

I’ve previously written about the significant financial consequences that can come with being in breach of your ICBC Insurance and reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Penticton Registry, demonstrating the consequences of ‘breach’ in action.

In today’s case (Booth v. ICBC) the Plaintiff was the registered owner of a Camaro.   When purchasing her insurance with ICBC she declared that she was the principle operator.  In 2004 her son was driving the Camaro and was involved in an accident.  He injured a passenger in another vehicle in this collision.  ICBC payed out over $37,000 in settlement of the passenger’s injury claim.

ICBC came to the conclusion that the Plaintiff misrepresented who the principle operator was when she purchased insurance and concluded that the Plaintiff’s son was in fact the principle operator of the Camaro.  ICBC told the Plaintiff she was in breach of her insurance and demanded repayment of the $37,000.  The Plaintiff sued ICBC for a declaration that she was not in breach of her insurance.

Mr. Justice Barrow sided with ICBC and concluded that the son in fact was the principle operator.  In so concluding he summarized the law relating to principle operator misrepresentations as follows:

[5] The phrase “principal operator” is defined in s. 1 of the Insurance (Motor Vehicle) Regulation, B.C. Reg. 447/83, as follows:

“principal operator” means the person who will operate the vehicle described in an application for a certificate for the majority of the time the vehicle is operated during the term of the certificate;

[6] Section 19 of the Insurance (Motor Vehicle) Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 231, deals with forfeiture of claims. It provides, in part, as follows:

19(1) If

(b) an applicant for an owner’s certificate or driver’s certificate knowingly misrepresents or fails to disclose in the application a fact required to be stated in it…

all claims by or in respect of the applicant or the insured are rendered invalid…

[7] It is common ground that an applicant for an owner’s certificate by which insurance is acquired under the Act is required to identify the principal operator of the insured vehicle. It is also common ground that the defendant bears the burden of proving, on a balance of probabilities, that the insured knowingly misrepresented a fact contemplated by s. 19(1)(b). (See generally Gill v. Insurance Corp. of British Columbia, 2006 BCSC 1397 at para. 20, and Rai v. ICBC, 2005 BCSC 92 at para. 3.)

[8] Because an assertion that an insured knowingly misrepresented a material fact is tantamount to a claim of fraud, until the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in F.H. v. McDougall, 2008 SCC 53, it was thought that in order to establish such a claim, it was necessary that it be proven on something more than a mere balance of probabilities and/or that the evidence said to support it be subjected to a heightened scrutiny (see Bevacqua v. I.C.B.C., 1999 BCCA 553 at para. 44). In F.H., the court concluded at para. 40 that:

…it is time to say, once and for all in Canada, that there is only one civil standard of proof at common law and that is proof on a balance of probabilities. Of course, context is all important and a judge should not be unmindful, where appropriate, of inherent probabilities or improbabilities or the seriousness of the allegations or consequences.

[9] Finally, whether an insured has knowingly misrepresented a material fact is to be determined on the basis of the circumstances at the time the policy of insurance was issued (see s. 19(1)(b) and Rai at para. 14).

He went on to conclude that the son was the likely principle operator.  This case is worth reviewing in full for anyone interested in the types of considerations the courts make when making such a determination and in seeing the evidence that ICBC can lead in proving who the principle operator of a vehicle is.

Misrepresenting the principle operator of a vehicle may save a few bucks but this case gives over 37,000 reasons why doing so is not a good idea.

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