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ICBC Ordered To Pay Over $400,000 After Denying Widow Death Benefits Following Fatal Crash

Reasons for decision were published last week by the Civil Resolution Tribunal ordering ICBC to pay over $400,000 in benefits and interest after finding they wrongly denied a widow spousal death benefits following a fatal collision.

In the recent case (Dion v. ICBC) the Applicant’s spouse died in a motorcycle collision in 2022.  The Applicant applied for the spousal death benefit but ICBC refused to pay arguing that they were living separately at the time of the crash and therefore no longer spouses as defined in the applicable regulation.

Vic Chair Eric Regehr found that ICBC was wrong in denying the benefit and found that the Applicant was still the Defendant’s spouse despite them living separately.  In doing so the Tribunal provided the following reasons noting living together is not a requirement under section 45(b) of the regulation:

14.   This definition is in EABR section 45, which says:

“Spouse”, in relation to a deceased, means a person

(a)  Who was married to and residing with the deceased on the date of death, or

(b)  Who lived in a marriage-like relationship with the deceased for at least 2 years immediately preceding the date of death.

35.   I am not persuaded that the definition of dependant means that I should read in the word “resides with” to the definition of a spouse for death benefits. I say this for several reasons. First, this definition of dependant is more general, applying to any claim under Part 10 of the IVA. The definition of spouse in EABR section 45 is restricted to death benefits. I find that the more specific definition should take precedence. Also, the legislature did not include the words “resides with” in section 45(b) like it did in section 45(a). The legislature is presumed to choose its words carefully and intentionally, so I must give meaning to the legislature’s choice not to say “resides” in section 45(b). Finally, to the extent these definitions create ambiguity, that ambiguity should be resolved in favour of extending coverage, based on the general principles of statutory interpretation discussed above.

47.   I acknowledge ICBC’s submission that Mrs. Dion said in an August 10, 2022 written statement that she and Mr. Dion “separated” in January 2022. Later in the same statement, she described the separation as “temporary” and said that she never intended for their marriage to end. She described the work they did on their relationship during that time and their shared intention for her to move back into the family home when some renovations were complete. She also added in handwriting at the bottom of the statement “we were not legally separated”. I find that Mrs. Dion used the word “separated” simply to indicate that they decided to live in separate residences for a time, not to indicate that their marriage had ended. This is consistent with Mrs. Dion’s June 30, 2022 application for accident benefits, where she listed her marital status as “married”, not “separated”.

48.   I find that there is no evidence either Mr. or Mrs. Dion ever communicated to the other an intention to permanently separate. While they lived in separate residences, they continued to parent together, spend time together, and celebrate family events together. They travelled as a family. Their friends and family all considered them to be a couple who was still together and working on improving their relationship. There is little evidence about how they arranged their finances before or after January 2022, but there is no evidence the arrangements had changed. The evidence suggests they were not sexually intimate for a time but resumed that aspect of their relationship.

49.   Based on this evidence, I find that Mr. and Mrs. Dion never separated. They were living with each other in a marriage-like relationship until his death and had been doing so for at least the preceding two years. Therefore, I find that Mrs. Dion was Mr. Dion’s “spouse” under section 45 of the EABR.

58.   Within 30 days of this decision, I order ICBC to pay Mrs. Dion $407,209.11, broken down as follows:

a.    $380,000 in spousal death benefits,

b.    $27,084.11 in prejudgment interest under the Court Order Interest Act, and

c.    $125 in CRT fees.

59.   Mrs. Dion is also entitled to post-judgment interest under the Court Order Interest Act.

Dion v. ICBC, Enhanced Accident Benefits Regulation, ICBC Spousal Death Benefit