ICBC Unidentified Motorist Claims and Post Accident Advertising

(IPDATE:  The case discussed in the below post was upheld on Appeal on October 26, 2011)

As previously discussed, victims of injuries sustained in collisions caused by “unidentified motorists” can seek compensation directly from ICBC under section 24 of the Insurance (Vehicle) Act provided that they comply with this section.  One of the requirements of s. 24 is for the claimant to make “all reasonable efforts” to ascertain the identity of the at fault motorist.  One reasonable effort a Plaintiff can take is to advertise for witnesses.  Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, discussing post accident advertisements and explaining that these are not always necessary to bring a successful s. 24 claim.
In today’s case (Nicholls v. Anderson) the Plaintiff was involved in a single vehicle motorcycle accident in 2005.  He lost control of his motorcycle when he “encountered a diesel fuel spill on the highway“.  He alleged an unknown motorist was at fault for leaving this spill on the road and sued ICBC directly for his damages.  ICBC applied to dismiss the lawsuit arguing the Plaintiff failed to make reasonable efforts to determine who was responsible for the diesel spill.  Mr. Justice Saunders disagreed and dismissed ICBC’s application.  In doing so the Court provided the following useful reasons about advertisements and s. 24 claims:

[13]         The last step contended by ICBC is one in which the claimant ought reasonably to have taken is the placing of a newspaper advertisement or advertisements. This aspect of ICBC’s argument has been of the greatest concern to me on this application because it is a step that could have been taken at relatively modest cost, and because in this particular case the claimant took absolutely no positive steps aimed at ascertaining the identity of the persons responsible.

[14]         I do not think that this argument can be answered solely by the claimant pointing — as was done in argument — to the fact that the accident did not happen in a well-defined geographic area or one where there was a specific readership of a specific newspaper likely identifiable. In my view, if there was an obligation to place a newspaper advertisement or advertisements, they could have been placed in community newspapers serving the north side of the Fraser in the areas of Mission and Hope and perhaps Maple Ridge, or alternatively, as ICBC argued today, in one or both of our Vancouver daily newspapers which enjoy a readership outside the greater Vancouver area.

[15]         Mr. Nicholls perceived himself in the statement that he gave within days of the accident as having sustained more than a trivial injury. If his only recourse legally were to pursue the tortfeasor, the person responsible for the spill, what steps would he have taken if acting rationally in pursuit of his own interests?  Would he have gone to the extent of placing such newspaper ads?

[16]         In my view, the reality is that there would have been only an extremely remote chance of such a line of enquiry being successful. If there ever was a time when the citizens of this province had a habit of scamming the legal notices printed in the daily or weekly newspapers’ classified sections, that day has long passed. The presumed target for any such advertisement would have been someone who would happen to have been following the truck in question in daylight in the vicinity of the accident scene, who would have seen the diesel oil splashing, would have made mental note of it as something significant, and then would have been able to make note of the truck’s appearance with sufficient particularity to identify the driver. That person, if one existed, would then have to read the advertisement in question. The possibility of all of this is so remote that in my view for the claimant in his position to have undertaken even the modest cost of taking out such an advertisement would have been absurd.

[17]         That is not to say that it would be inappropriate in any case for a claimant injured in a motor vehicle accident to take that step. As I say, the reasonableness of a person’s conduct depends in part on the benefit to be gained if they undertake  a course of action. I would not say, certainly not on this application today, that a person who had suffered a catastrophic injury involving quadriplegia or brain injury or the like could feel free not to take a positive step such as taking out a newspaper advertisement or posting an internet classified advertisement in an attempt to locate a tortfeasor, no matter how remote the chances of that being successful might seem; but in this case, given the claimant’s relatively modest injuries as alleged and as attested to in his statement, I do not think that would have been a reasonable requirement on his part.

This case is interesting because the Court went further and struck the paragraphs of ICBC’s Statement of Defence alleging that the identity of the offending motorist was ascertainable.  The Court cited the New BC Supreme Court principle of “proportionality” in arriving at this decision.   Mr. Justice Saunders provided the following reasons:

[18] So the application is dismissed, and in my view it is appropriate in this case to go further than that and to dispose of the defence. In my view in all likelihood I know as much about the reasonableness of the claimant’s actions, given the evidence that has been presented, as a trial judge would, and so I am able to rule conclusively on that issue. I also acknowledge the points made by counsel for ICBC and counsel for the claimant as to the need to under the new Rules to have regard to proportionality. So, in conjunction with dismissing the application, I rule that paras. 2 and 4 of the statement of defence of ICBC be struck. Those are the paragraphs in which it is alleged that the identity of the driver/owner was ascertainable and that the claimant has not complied with the Act in failing to make all reasonable efforts to ascertain the identity of the unknown driver.

bc injury law, hit and run, Mr. Justice Saunders, Nicholls v. Anderson, Proportionality, Rule 1-3(2), section 24 Insurance (Vehicle) Act, Unidentified Motorists

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ERIK
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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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