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Tag: Innes v. Bui

Who to Sue? ICBC Claims, Fault and Increased Insurance Premiums

When collisions occur in BC typically ICBC is the insurer for all involved.  After the collision ICBC internally decides who to blame and apportions the parties respective degree of fault.  Depending on the decision some of the motorists insurance premiums may rise.  If this happens to you and you disagree with ICBC who do you sue?
The conventional route is to sue the motorist alleged to be at fault for the crash.  The theory being that if another motorist is found at fault in a negligence claim they will be ordered to pay the faultless party’s accident related expenses including increased insurance premiums.  When an injury lawsuit is started its easy to add this additional damage to the claim.  In practice ICBC will honour a court decision respecting fault and overturn their internal decision if its inconsistent with the Court finding.
What if you are not making an injury claim and your only dispute is with ICBC and their apportionment of fault?  Is the offending motorist the only party you can sue to address ICBC’s decision?  The answer, apparently, is no and this was recently discussed by the BC Court of Appeal in reasons for judgement released earlier this year.
In the recent case of Innes v. Bui the Plaintiff sued the Defendant for injuries.  The case made it’s way to the BC Court of Appeal.  The appeal did not focus on increased insurance fees rather it concentrated on the legal doctrine of ‘res judicata’ (You can click here to read my previous article discussing this issue and giving more background on the case).   Despite the alternate focus of the case, Mr. Justice Low provided the following commentary about the proper parties to a lawsuit over increased ICBC insurance premiums:
[6] In her hand-written Notice of Claim, Ms. Bui, with the assistance of a translator, described the collision from her point of view and added, in understandably inexact English, “later ICBC had decided that my fault but they didn’t let me know until I renew my insurance, I think ICBC was unfair when they state that I at fault and I want to [contest against?] this decision”.  The claim was stated to be for “Extra money I had to pay for ICBC” and “return my 40% discount from my insurance – $1095”.  Ms. Bui later amended the Notice and pleaded that “… ICBC put the fault on me, as the result my insurance was up.  I wish to recover the money which ICBC made me pay”.  In completing the portion of the form which requires quantification of the claim, she wrote “Money I paid for ICBC – $1095”….

[31]         The reasons of the Small Claims judge fell well short of deciding the negligence question.  That issue remains alive in the Supreme Court action.  The res judicata arguments of both parties fail.

[32]         The above is enough to allow this appeal.  However, I would like to add a few more observations.

[33] In the Small Claims action, Ms. Innes was the wrong defendant.  She certainly was not a necessary defendant.  That action was not based in tort.  It was either in contract or under statute, or both, and the only issue raised by the pleadings was whether ICBC acted properly or reasonably in administratively assigning responsibility for the collision to Ms. Bui alone.  That was an issue only between Ms. Bui and ICBC.

You Can't Sue Twice; The Doctrine of Res Judicata

Res Judicata is a legal principle which prevents a claimant from having their legal issues decided twice.  Once you’ve had your day in Court on an issue you are stuck with the result (subject to an appeal).  You can’t sue again and have a second trial hoping for a different result.  Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Court of Appeal discussing the scope of this principle.
In today’s case (Innes v. Bui) the parties were involved in a a two vehicle intersection collision in 2001.  They approached each other from opposite directions.  The Plaintiff (Innes) attempted to go through the intersection and the Defendant (Bui) commenced a left turn.  The vehicles then collided.
ICBC, as is often the case in British Columbia, was the insurer for both parties.  ICBC decided that the Ms. Bui was entirely at fault.  This raised her insurance premiums.  Ms. Bui sued ICBC in small claims court arguing that she was not at fault and should have her increased premiums returned.  Eventually Ms. Innes was substituted for ICBC.   Ms. Innes was defended by an ICBC appointed lawyer.  ICBC argued that Ms. Bui was at fault.
At trial the Judge found that both Ms. Innes and Ms. Bui were ‘honest people” and he could not choose between their testimony.  The Small Claims judge dismissed the lawsuit finding that “In essence, I cannot choose between them, and to use a probably inappropriate sports metaphor, tie goes to the defendant in a case like this.  In other words, because I cannot decide who it is that I believe, I  have to dismiss the claim, and that is what I am doing.”
At the same time Ms. Innes filed a separate lawsuit against Ms. Bui in the BC Supreme Court alleging that Ms. Bui was at fault.  The Plaintiff was asking for compensation for her personal injury claims.  ICBC appointed a lawyer to Defend Ms. Bui and in this lawsuit argued that Ms. Innes was at fault.     ICBC brought a motion asking the lawsuit to be dismissed based on the principle of “res judicata“.  They argued that since the Small Claims judge already heard the issue of fault and called it a ‘tie‘ Ms. Innes’ case needs to be dismissed in the same way that Ms. Bui’s case was.
A chambers’ judge agreed and dismissed the lawsuit.  The Plaintiff appealed.  The BC High Court overturned the dismissal and found that the Chamber’s judge misapplied the law of ‘res judicata’.  The BC Court of Appeal provided the following useful analysis setting out the limits of the res judicata principle:

19]         There are two forms of the doctrine of res judicata: cause of action estoppel and issue estoppel.  Both operate where the court has adjudicated a cause of action between two or more parties and one of them seeks to re-litigate on the same facts.  Where the cause of action is the same, cause of action estoppel operates to prevent re-litigation of any matter that was raised or should have been raised in the prior proceeding.  Where the cause of action in the two proceedings is different, issue estoppel operates to prevent re-litigation of any issue determined in the prior proceeding.

[20]         The pre-conditions to making out issue estoppel are stated in Angle v. Minister of National Revenue, [1975] 2 S.C.R. 248 at 254:

Lord Guest in Carl Zeiss Stiftung v. Rayner & Keeler Ltd. (No. 2), at p. 935, defined the requirements of issue estoppel as:

… (1) that the same question has been decided; (2) that the judicial decision which is said to create the estoppel was final; and, (3) that the parties to the judicial decision or their privies were the same persons as the parties to the proceedings in which the estoppel is raised or their privies …..

It seems to me that in the circumstances of this case, all that had to be considered on both motions before the court was whether the criteria set out in Angle had been met and, if they had been met, whether the court should exercise its discretion against applying the doctrine of res judicata.

[30]         In my opinion, it cannot be said that the question of liability for the collision was adjudicated upon in the Small Claims proceeding.  Having decided as a fact that the parties left their respective stop signs at “more or less the same time”, the Small Claims judge failed to consider the other important factual question before him – whether Ms. Bui had her left-turn signal on.  Furthermore, he failed to consider the rules of the road imposed upon each of the parties under the applicable sections of the Motor Vehicle Act, R.S.C.B. 1996, c. 318 and how those rules would apply to the determination of responsibility in tort for the collision.  This was not a case of inevitable accident or of no negligence.  One or the other of the parties was wholly responsible, or liability was to be divided.

[31]         The reasons of the Small Claims judge fell well short of deciding the negligence question.  That issue remains alive in the Supreme Court action.  The res judicata arguments of both parties fail.

[32]         The above is enough to allow this appeal.