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Punitive Damages Awarded Against Suspended Driver Involved in Hit and Run Collision

In a rare case awarding punitive damages in a motor vehicle collision case reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, making such an award.

In the recent case (Howell v. Machi) the Plaintiff pedestrian was struck by a motorist who fled the scene of the collision.  The Plaintiff was jaywalking at the time and found partly at fault for the crash.  The Defendant was identified.  He had a suspended licence at the time of the collision.  In finding these circumstances warranted an award of punitive damages Madam Justice MacNaughton provided the following reasons:

[517]     Ms. Howell was unable to refer me to any case in which punitive damages had been awarded in a motor vehicle accident case involving a hit-and-run. However, in Legualt v. Tiapis, 2015 BCSC 517, Master Harper dismissed an application to strike a claim for punitive damages against a breached defendant for leaving the scene of an accident on the basis that she could not conclude that the punitive damages claim would prejudice or embarrass the fair trial of the proceeding. As that case did not proceed to trial, there is no authority for whether punitive damages are appropriate in a hit-and-run situation.

[518]     Punitive damages have been awarded against defendants who have shown reprehensible conduct in causing motor vehicle accidents. For example, punitive damages have been awarded in the following cases relied on by Ms. Howell:

·       In McIntyre v. Grigg, 83 O.R. (3d) 161 the Ontario Court of Appeal reduced a jury’s $100,000 punitive damage award to $20,000 against a defendant driver whose blood alcohol level, at the time of the accident, was two to three times over the legal limit;

·       In McDonald v. Wilson, [1991] B.C.J. No. 3137, Justice Hood awarded $5,000 in punitive damages and $1,000 in aggravated damages against a defendant driver who intentionally tried to strike the plaintiff. Similarly, in Stevenson v. Vance, [1988] N.S.J. No. 384, $2,500 in punitive damages was awarded against a defendant who intentionally ran over the plaintiff’s legs after stealing from a store in which the plaintiff worked as a security guard; and

·       In Herman v. Graves, 1998 ABQB 471, a plaintiff was awarded $3,500 in punitive damages arising from a road rage incident and, more recently, in McCaffery v. Arguello, 2017 BCSC 1460, I awarded $30,000 in punitive damages arising from a road rage incident.

[519]     I have concluded that Mr. Machi’s actions are worthy of denunciation and retribution beyond the compensatory awards I have made in favour of Ms. Howell. In particular, although I concluded that his failure to stop after striking Ms. Howell did not amount to further negligence on his part, it is relevant to the punitive damages analysis. I have also taken into account the fact Mr. Machi has repeatedly shown complete disregard for the suspensions of his driver’s licence.

[520]     In all the circumstances, I award Ms. Howell punitive damages of $100,000 against Mr. Machi.

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