Car Crash? Get Legal Help Early

Say you’re hit in a car accident that’s clearly the other side’s fault. You may think there’s no need to get legal help straight away – maybe you won’t even need a lawyer. After all, you’re insured by ICBC, and your case is bulletproof, right?

But consider how things can develop if you go it alone.

In a recent case, Mike (all names changed here) was driving his taxi when he was struck by Pete, who drove through a stop sign. The front of Pete’s car hit Mike’s taxi on the driver’s side, pushing it across the intersection. The door area of Mike’s taxi was damaged.

Mike reported the accident to ICBC a couple of days later. ICBC, which also insured Pete, agreed the accident was Pete’s fault and initially confirmed it would cover Mike’s anticipated claims.

A couple of weeks later, Mike went to see the ICBC adjuster in person to tell his story. (An insured person must make a statement or provide a report about the accident to ICBC within 30 days post-accident.) Mike said he suffered major injuries from the collision. He reported neck, shoulder and lower back pain. He also said he suspected he had post-traumatic stress disorder. He hadn’t gone back to work, saying he was now afraid to drive.

The adjuster had a photo of Mike’s car, showing only minimal damage. At this meeting, he noticed some inconsistencies between the injuries Mike described and his own observations. Mike said he’d walked 30 to 40 blocks to the claims centre, but he wasn’t sweating in his thick coat, and he didn’t have any difficulties sitting through the one-hour meeting.

The adjuster was doubtful about the extent of Mike’s injuries and his claim he couldn’t return to work; he didn’t think Mike’s accident was major. So he hired a private investigator on the spot to conduct surveillance on Mike, expecting Mike would likely start a lawsuit over his claims.

For a few weeks, ICBC did some more work on the file and also interviewed Mike again. Months passed – then ICBC totally rejected Mike’s claims for compensation, arguing he’d made false statements and breached his ICBC policy.

Only then did Mike hire a lawyer, and a lawsuit was started.

Mike’s lawyer wanted to see the private investigator’s report. But ICBC refused to hand it over. The issue the B.C. Court of Appeal court had to decide was whether ICBC had gotten that report to resolve Mike’s claim or, instead, in expectation of a court fight. Also, was the expectation of a lawsuit ICBC’s “dominant purpose” for getting the report?

The court decided the report was “privileged” and ICBC didn’t have to pass it over here. This left Mike and his lawyer in the dark about its contents. Very often such surveillance reports play a critical role in this kind of lawsuit.

If hurt in an accident, see a lawyer early on to protect your rights and help you deal with ICBC from the get-go.


Written by Janice and George Mucalov, LL.B.s with contribution by COBBETT & COTTON. This column provides information only and must not be relied on for legal advice. Please contact COBBETT & COTTON for legal advice concerning your particular case. Names of the parties in reported cases have been changed or removed to protect their identity. Lawyer Janice Mucalov is an award-winning legal writer. “You and the Law” is a registered trade-mark. ©Janice and George Mucalov.

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