A Judicial Warning: Saving a "Modest Amount" in Insurance Premiums Can Create "Dire Financial Consequences"

I’ve previously discussed how saving a few hundred bucks could cost you a few hundred thousand by misrepresenting the principle vehicle operator when purchasing ICBC insurance.  Today reasons for judgement were released by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, demonstrating breach of insurance consequences in action.
In today’s case (Lau v. ICBC) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2009 collision.  At the time he was driving a two month old Subaru Impreza which was purchased for $41,287.  The collision resulted in the vehicle being a total loss.
ICBC found the Plaintiff fully liable for the collision although the Plaintiff was disputing this finding.  ICBC further denied coverage to the Plaintiff (meaning for starters they would not pay to replace the vehicle nor indemnify the Plaintiff for any claims brought by the occupants in the other vehicle) arguing that the vehicle owner made a ‘willfully false statement’ when the vehicle was purchased by not accurately declaring who the principle operator was going to be.
Mr. Justice Verhoeven agreed that the vehicle owner “knowingly misrepresented the identity of the vehicle’s intended principle operator” and therefore that the insurance coverage was forfeited.  The Court provided the following valuable comments:

[5] For the reasons that follow, I conclude with considerable reluctance that Yu Jung Lau knowingly misrepresented the identity of the vehicle’s intended principal operator when he applied for the insurance, and therefore the insurance coverage was forfeited.

[6] The reason I reach the conclusion I do with reluctance is that in my view, the misrepresentation was made in order to save a relatively modest amount of insurance premium, and almost certainly without any real appreciation that forfeiture of the insurance could result, with dire financial consequences. The result is harsh for the plaintiffs.

[7] However, ICBC does not have to prove that the plaintiffs were aware of the consequences of a misrepresentation concerning the insurance.  A contract of insurance is one of utmost good faith, and one cannot commit frauds or make wilfully false statements about the subject-matter of the claim without risking the loss of the right to indemnity: Inland Kenworth Ltd. v. Commonwealth Insurance Company (1990), 48 B.C.L.R. (2d) 305 (C.A.) at 310.

[8] Judging by the number of similar cases that have come before the courts, it seems likely the plaintiffs’ lack of understanding of the consequences of a false declaration as to the vehicle’s intended principal operator is shared with many members of the public. The result in this case should serve as a warning.

breach of insurance, Mr. Justice Verhoeven, principle operator, section 75 insurance (Vehicle) Act

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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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