Not all multi-party car accidents involve two motor vehicles. In B.C., it is not uncommon for a car to hit a moose or another wild animal. In more populated urban areas, there are frequently collisions between cars and household pets such as dogs.
If you are involved in a vehicle-animal collision, do not assume that ICBC will find that you were not at fault, even if you claim the dog or moose was “suddenly” in your way. As with any roadway hazard, insurance companies like ICBC will try to determine whether your own actions contributed to the accident–i.e., was the accident unavoidable or did your own “reckless” driving contribute to what happened?
In BC the law does not recognize animal interests. But in accident cases involving pets, it does recognize the financial interests of the animal’s owner. After all, if a reckless driver hits your dog and you are stuck paying the veterinary bills, you understandably want to recover those damages. And if there is a disagreement as to what caused the accident–reckless driver vs. reckless dog–that can easily lead to litigation.
Consider this recent case from the B.C. Civil Resolution Tribunal, Krahn v. Insurance Corporation of British Columbia. This case involved an October 2016 collision between a car and a dog. The car sustained approximately $2,300 in damages, which was paid for by ICBC. Meanwhile, the owners of the dog incurred $2,500 in veterinary bills.
An ICBC adjuster determined the dog’s owner was “negligent for failing to keep a domestic animal off the roadway.” ICBC cited evidence from the repair shop that examined the car following the accident, which found there was damage to the bumper consistent with an “animal impact.” ICBC further said there was “no evidence of negligence” on the part of the insured driver. In other words, ICBC believed there was no way the driver could have avoided the collision with the dog, which was not properly restrained by the owner. Accordingly, ICBC held that the dog’s owner should be held liable for the cost of repairing the driver’s bumper.
The owner and her spouse (who we will refer to as “the applicants”) subsequently filed a claim with the Civil Resolution Tribunal, which handles small claims cases in B.C. The applicants sought a reversal of ICBC’s finding of liability, as well as a demand that the insurer compensate them for their $2,500 veterinary bill.
But after an initial exchange of claims and evidence, the applicants apparently stopped communicating with ICBC and the case manager assigned by the Tribunal. According to the Tribunal member overseeing the dispute, the applicants did not respond to at least three deadlines requesting “written submissions” in support of their case. After several weeks without a response, the case manager warned that the case would be referred to the Tribunal member “without their further participation.” Yet still the applicants apparently did not respond.
The Tribunal member noted the “tribunal’s rules are silent on how it should address non-compliance issues.” It is therefore left to the discretion of individual Tribunal members how to respond to “non-compliance” scenarios like this one. Here, the Tribunal member decided it was appropriate to decide and dismiss the applicants’ claims against ICBC. (It should be noted that the driver did not appear in this case, as ICBC defended her interests.)
While the Tribunal member said she drew “an adverse inference against the applicants for failing to participate in the exchange of submissions as required,” she nevertheless considered prior evidence they provided, including statements made to ICBC. In those statements, the applicants maintained their dog was “too small … to have caused damage to the car’s bumper.” In addition, dog hair actually recovered from the bumper “was too long” to belong to the applicants’ dog. In any event, the driver “must have been driving too fast,” as there was only a 15 km/hr speed limit on the street where the accident took place.
The Tribunal member said there was no evidence that there was any other dog struck beside the one owned by the applicants. The Tribunal noted that ICBC presented much more complete evidence “recorded closer in time to the motor vehicle accident.” That evidence did not support any finding that there was another dog involved or that the driver was traveling beyond the posted speed limit.
Really, what harmed the applicant’s case the most was their “non-compliance” with the case manager’s request to submit any further evidence in support of their claims. The applicants simply presented arguments without support. While it is “problematic to force unwilling applicants to pursue a dispute with the tribunal,” the Tribunal member in this case noted that refusing to definitively resolve the claim would mean there was “no consequence to the applicants for failing to participate, which would be unfair” to ICBC and the insured driver. Accordingly, the Tribunal dismissed the applicant’s claims.
Now, the lesson of this case is pretty simple: Do not file a personal injury claim and then fail to follow through. Even in small claims cases with the Civil Resolution Tribunal, where the parties typically are not represented by lawyers, there are still certain basic procedures that must be followed. Even when dealing with a small claims matter, you still have the right to consult with a Vancouver personal injury lawyer about your case beforehand.
A lawyer can give you much better idea of the strength of your case than you can acting on your own. Especially if you sustain more serious damages than a veterinary bill or a dented bumper, you want a lawyer on your side who knows how to build and present a case in court. It is critical to engage a lawyer as soon as possible following an accident, since every day that passes you risk losing access to potentially vital evidence.