Tag: Nicholls v. Anderson

BC Court of Appeal Rejects ICBC's Argument for "Expanded" Hit and Run Victim Obligations


Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Court of Appeal rejecting ICBC’s arguments trying to impose “expanded” requirements for hit and run victims to be compensated for their injuries.
By way of background individuals injured by unidentified motorists can sue ICBC directly for compensation but there are statutory requirements that need to be complied with to succeed with such a claim.  The most litigated issue in these claims is whether the Plaintiff took “all reasonable efforts” to identify the at fault motorist as required by section 24(5) of the Insurance (Vehicle) Act.
In this week’s case (Nicholls v. ICBCPlaintiff 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.
ICBC Appealed arguing the trial judge applied the wrong test and that motorists must meet “an expanded test of reasonableness” in attempting to identify the unknown motorist.  The BC Court of Appeal rejected this argument finding no expanded obligation exists.  The Court provided the following reasons:

[29] The main proposition from Leggett is that the test of reasonableness in s. 24(5) has a subjective component. In the words of Taylor J.A.:

[11]      I do not think the words “not ascertainable” should be strictly interpreted, so as to mean “could not possibly have been ascertained.” I think they are to be interpreted with reference to subs. (5) so as to mean “could not have been ascertained had the claimant made all reasonable efforts, having regard to the claimant’s position, to discover them.”

[12]      The test seems to me to be subjective in the sense that the claimant must know that the vehicle has been in an accident and must have been in such a position and condition that it would be reasonable for the claimant to discover and record the appropriate information. But the claimant cannot be heard to say: “I acted reasonably in not taking the trouble to find out.”

[Emphasis added.]

[30] This is confirmed by this Court’s decision in Etter v. Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, 1999 BCCA 281, 126 B.C.A.C. 144, where Madam Justice Ryan, for the Court, stated at para. 5, that the test in s. 24(5) of the Act was summarized in para. 11 of Leggett.

[31] Thus, the only qualification on the requirement of “all reasonable efforts” in s. 24(5), is the subjective aspect of the test that requires the “position and condition” of the plaintiff to be considered in determining what efforts are reasonable in the circumstances. In all cases, the single standard to be met is one of reasonableness.

[32] In sum, I am not persuaded that the chambers judge erred in describing the test in s. 24(5) as one of reasonableness. In citing the statutory provision he was alive to the requirement on the respondent to demonstrate that “all reasonable efforts” had been made in the circumstances to ascertain the identity of the unknown tortfeasor. He then determined whether, in the circumstances of this case, considering the respondent’s subjective circumstances at the time of the accident, and based on a cost-benefit analysis of his efforts, or lack thereof, after the accident, the respondent had met the standard required by the provision. In my view, in the circumstances of this case, he did not err in adopting this approach to the issue.

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.

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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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