What rights do you have in a hit-and-run accident?
Imagine you’re a contestant on TV’s Family Feud game show. You get called up and get your question: “We surveyed 100 of our audience members and put the top five answers up on the board: name one thing you’re supposed to do after getting in a car accident!” If you say “Call 911” or “Take photos”, you’ll do okay. But the most popular answer by far would probably be “Exchange information.”
I don’t remember anyone teaching me this. And it wasn’t on the driver’s test. It’s just common sense. But there is a reason for it. From an insurance point of view, getting the other driver’s information lets you report the accident to the insurance company. In B.C., it’s most commonly ICBC. ICBC can then decide who was at fault. Its decision can affect the drivers’ premiums. It can also determine whether any driver has to pay a deductible for car repairs.
That’s when an ICBC claim becomes a lawsuit. The lawsuit means suing the parties who were negligent. Typically, the negligent driver would be sued and the sued driver would be protected to the extent that they are covered in their car-insurance policy. That’s why getting the other driver’s information is crucial.
But what happens if someone doesn’t do the right thing after an accident? Let’s say a negligent driver refuses to stop and drives off. That person risks a criminal conviction or getting cut off from insurance. And getting cut off may mean having to personally cover the compensation ordered in a civil lawsuit.
But what about the injured party who is left at the accident scene? How do you assert your rights when you can’t even identify who caused your injuries? What are your rights if you are a victim of a hit-and-run accident?
In B.C., victims of hit-and-run accidents have an avenue of recovery if they have made all reasonable efforts to identify the legally responsible parties. Those parties are the driver who fled and possibly the car’s owner (if it is someone different). If those parties can’t be identified, hit-and-run victims can start a lawsuit against “John Doe” or “Jane Doe”. If such victims meet specific requirements under the law, they can then collect from ICBC itself.
This legislation was put in place as a matter of social policy. It is designed to help injured people, because without this law they would have no other remedy (there’d be no one to sue). Why should they be left high and dry when the other driver refuses to take responsibility?
Suing ICBC in a hit-and-run claim is meant as a last resort. The victim is required to make all reasonable efforts to identify the other people involved. This is why you’ll often see signs on lampposts asking for witnesses of accidents to come forward. In addition, victims may post newspaper ads and ask for police reports of the accident. If these types of investigations help identify the other parties involved, the victim can sue them directly. But if the legally responsible people remain a mystery, ICBC can be sued instead.
Since this is all meant as a last resort, the law is also designed to give ICBC a chance to identify the legally responsible individuals. Hit-and-run victims are also required to give ICBC written notice of the accident as soon as “reasonably practicable” and, at the latest, within six months of the accident. This allows ICBC to try and find the negligent parties themselves; it’s for ICBC to avoid being the “nominal” defendant in lawsuits against John or Jane Does.
This statutory relief for hit-and-run victims—recovering from ICBC—has limits. The most that victims can recover from ICBC in hit-and-run claims is $200,000. This is not to say that a hit-and-run victim is entitled to that amount. The victim must prove with evidence that they are entitled to anything at all. The court process is the same: the plaintiff must make their case. And like any defendant, ICBC has the opportunity to challenge the plaintiff’s case.
There’s been a lot of negative press lately about ICBC. On top of that, ICBC is often the target of public anger. Maybe it stems from people’s negative experiences in ICBC claims. Or maybe it’s a disapproval of ICBC’s fiscal management. The public is entitled to such opinions. After all, we should, like any customer, be able to judge ICBC on the quality of service or product that we get.
But let’s take a break from the usual criticisms of ICBC. Here’s something different and positive for a change. Surely we can all get behind this relief for hit-and-run victims. It’s probably something that we all take for granted. It’s not something you’d appreciate unless you are in a hit-and-run accident yourself. It’s a benefit that may not be well known, but you’ll be grateful for it if you ever you need it.
A word of caution: Hit-and-run cases carry their own complexities that can’t be fully explored here. You should not act or rely on the information provided in this column. It is not legal advice. To ensure your interests are protected, retain or formally seek advice from a lawyer.