ICBC Hit and Run Injury Claims and Intentional Torts

When a person is injured in a hit and run accident where the identity of the at fault motorist is unknown ICBC can be sued directly for compensation provided that s. 24 of the Insurance (Vehicle) Act is complied with.
When dealing with insurance coverage issues, there often are exclusions in coverage for claims involving intentional torts.  (at the risk of oversimplification and intentional tort is an act which caused harm through an intentional deed as opposed to a negligence claim which deals with harm caused through carelessness).  Does this insurance exclusion apply to ICBC claims under section 24?  Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Court of Appeal addressing this issue.
In today’s case (Hannah v. John Doe) the Plaintiff was injured in a purse-snatching incident.  As she was walking in a parking lot a vehicle drove by, the passenger in the vehicle ‘reached out and grabbed her purse strap and, as the van accelerated away, the plaintiff was thrown backward and dragged until her purse ripped‘.
The assailants remained unknown and the Plaintiff sued ICBC directly for her injuries under section 24.  ICBC sought to dismiss the lawsuit arguing that section 24 does not cover claims for intentional torts.  ICBC’s motion was dismissed at trial.  (click here to read my article summarizing the trial judgement) ICBC appealed advancing many of the same arguments rejected by the trial judge.
The BC High Court dismissed the appeal and in doing so provided the below reasons making it clear that s. 24 can be triggered in an intentional tort claim:
[15] One of the flaws in ICBC’s argument is that it makes no distinction between cases in which a claim for damages is advanced against an “at fault” motorist and cases in which the insurer seeks to recover from its insured the damages paid to a claimant based on an insured’s policy breach involving intentional or criminal acts.

[16] As noted above, s. 24(1) permits an action to be brought against ICBC as nominal defendant representing unidentified owners and drivers, thus affording a remedy to drivers and passengers in vehicles and to pedestrians who suffer damage where a remedy would not otherwise exist.  In Chan, Finch J.A., as he then was, held that both intentional and negligent acts could constitute “the cause of action” in a claim for damages arising out of the use or operation of a vehicle under s. 23 (now s. 24) .  In that regard, he noted, at para. 22:

I observe that s. 23 does not require proof that the injury arises out of the negligent use or operation of a motor vehicle.  It requires only that the plaintiff establish “a cause of action” against the driver (or owner) and that the injury arises out of the use or operation of a motor vehicle.  It is clear on this language that if the driver of the unidentified vehicle were proven to have intentionally driven his vehicle into collision with the plaintiff’s vehicle, the plaintiff could bring a claim under s. 23.

[25] While Citadel disapproved the reasoning in Chan in relation to the causation issue, Citadel supports the reasoning and conclusion in Chan that damage caused by an intentional or criminal act is not for that reason excluded from coverage.  That is apparent from what Binnie J. said at paras. 17-18 of Citadel:

[17]      The appellant insurer seeks to restrict coverage in arguing, for example, that in this case, indemnification should be denied because Farmer used “the vehicle for the purpose of getting weapons to the scene of a crime”, and “it is that kind of situation that should not fall . . . within the meaning of ordinary and well known activities” (transcript, at p. 18).

[18]      I am unable to agree.  Firstly, even if transporting rocks across the countryside had been the effective cause of the Vytlingams’ injuries, which it wasn’t, transportation is what motor vehicles are for.  The fact that transportation in this case was for a criminal purpose no more excludes coverage than the fact that Farmer may have been driving his vehicle on the night in question while impaired.  Innocent drivers (or pedestrians) should not be denied indemnity if struck by (to give a further example) a getaway car “transporting” bank robbers from the crime scene.  In all these cases, the tortfeasor, regardless of his or her subjective reasons for climbing into the car, is at fault as a motorist.

[26] The same point was reiterated by Binnie J. at para. 23:

Thirdly, to be quite explicit, I would reject the position … that … coverage can be denied if the tortfeasor is engaging (as here) in criminal activity.  This is not so.  The insurer is selling peace of mind to its insured and the endorsement will frequently (and properly) be invoked despite criminality, as in the case of an insured injured by a drunk driver, for example.

For the foregoing reasons, I would not accede to ICBC’s argument that s. 24(1) of the Act is restricted to cases in which the cause of action is based in negligence.

Hannah v. John Doe, hit and run, ICBC Hit and Run Claims, Intentional Torts, section 24 Insurance (Vehicle) Act

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Personal Injury Lawyer

When not writing the BC Injury Law Blog, Erik is the managing partner at MacIsaac & Company, based in Victoria, B.C. He is also involved with combative sports regulatory issues and authors the Combat Sports Law Blog.

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