Passengers Operating Vehicles are "Users" Covered By ICBC Insurance Scheme

Important reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Court of Appeal addressing the scope of ICBC insurance coverage when a collision is caused by a passenger intervening in the use and operation of a vehicle.
In today’s case (Felix v. ICBC) the Plaintiff was driving her vehicle when her boyfriend, who was riding as a passenger, “grabbed the steering wheel causing the vehicle to leave the highway and overturn.”  He was killed in the collision and the Plaintiff suffered numerous physical injuries.
The passenger was found at fault for the crash.   The Plaintiff, who was a verbatim reporter, suffered injuries which seriously compromised her abilities both vocationally and recreationally.  The matter proceeded to trial and damages of over $800,000 were assessed.  The Defendant motorist was insured with ICBC at the time.  ICBC refused to pay arguing they had no responsibility to cover the damages.
The trial judge sided with ICBC and found no coverage existed in these circumstances.  The BC Court of Appeal overturned this judgement finding the trial judge erred.  In finding ICBC liable to cover the damages the Court provided the following reasons:

[46]        The word “use” is to be considered in the context of the legislative scheme to provide “access to compensation for those who suffer losses” as a result of a motor vehicle accident, along with the legislative history, context and jurisprudence noted above. The word has been given a broad meaning in other judicial authorities. Considering all of these factors, as noted in Rizzo Shoes, I can only conclude that the word “use” in s. 63(b) includes use by a passenger in a motor vehicle when it is used as a motor vehicle.

ii)        In the context of the facts of this case, is there some nexus or causal relationship between Ms. Felix’s injuries and the use of her vehicle by Mr. Hearne?

[47]        The Court in Vytlingam addressed the issues of causation at para. 25, and said:

For coverage to exist, there must be an unbroken chain of causation linking the conduct of the motorist as a motorist to the injuries in respect of which the claim is made.

[48]        I would adopt the analysis and rephrase it in this context, as, “For coverage to exist, there must be an unbroken chain of causation linking the conduct of the user as a user of a motor vehicle to the injuries in respect of which the claim is made.”

[49]        In Amos, the Court said, at para. 26, “Generally speaking, where the use or operation of a motor vehicle in some manner contributes to or adds to the injury, the plaintiff is entitled to coverage.”  See also Westmount (City) v. Rossy, 2012 SCC 30 at para. 42.

[50]        While a passenger, or user, in a moving automobile, Mr. Hearne grabbed the steering wheel causing the accident that led to Ms. Felix’s injuries. It matters not for these purposes that he did not intend to take control of the car. He intentionally (and negligently) grabbed the wheel while he was “using” the vehicle. As a result, Ms. Felix suffered injury. There is, in my view, a clear unbroken chain of causation from his negligent act to her injuries. I would not disagree with the trial judge on this point.

bc injury law, Felix v. ICBC, passenger grabbing steering wheel

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ERIK
MAGRAKEN

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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