I’ve Been in a Car Accident in BC … Now What?

If you've been in a car accident in BC, this article sets out what you can expect with respect to finding fault, car repairs, dealing with ICBC and hiring a personal injury lawyer.


Next steps after a car accident

If you own a motor vehicle and live in British Columbia you are required by law to have at least basic vehicle insurance, or Autoplan, from the Insurance Company of British Columbia (ICBC).  Part 1 of the Insurance (Vehicle) Act stipulates that this basic coverage is mandatory for all drivers.[1]  This insurance will assist you if your are involved in a collision. If you are in an accident, it should be reported to ICBC as soon as possible.  Additionally, if someone has been injured, or the damage is likely to be more than $1000 you are required to report the accident to the police.

Who pays for the repairs?

So long as you have the required insurance, ICBC will pay for any damage you have caused to someone else’s vehicle in an accident.  Whether ICBC will pay for your own damages depends on who caused the accident and whether you have collision insurance.  If you were not at fault, ICBC may pay the entire bill.  If you caused the accident, but you have collision insurance with ICBC, you’ll have to pay the deductible, and ICBC will pay the rest.

However, if you don’t have collision insurance and you caused the accident, you will have to pay for your own vehicle damage.

Who decides who caused an accident?

An ICBC adjuster will conduct an investigation based on all available evidence to determine who was at fault.  The determination of fault is based on the Motor Vehicle Act and case law (the process of looking at how courts have decided similar cases in the past).  Fault is often assessed a predictable way for certain collisions.  For example, a court will generally rule that a person who opens their vehicle door into traffic is 100% at fault for any resulting collision or damage.[2]  Section 203 of the Motor Vehicle Act maintains that

(1)          A person must not open the door of a motor vehicle on the side available to moving traffic unless and until it is reasonably safe to do so.

(2)          A person must not leave a door open on the side of a vehicle available to moving traffic for longer than is necessary to load or unload passengers.

The courts have interpreted this provision strictly to mean that the person opening a door will be at fault.  For example, in Demchuk v. Insurance Corporation of British Columbia the BC Supreme Court heard a case where the driver opened his door and was hit by a passing vehicle, slamming it open and forward.  The judge said that the parked driver was in clear violation of his duty under s. 203.  He failed to look for traffic and had no regard for safety in opening the door.  The other driver had no warning that the person was going to open their door, and was therefore not at fault.[3]

Similarly, if you rear-end another driver, the ICBC investigator would likely find that you were at fault.  This is because s. 162 of the Motor Vehicle Act stipulates that

(1)          A driver of a vehicle must not cause or permit the vehicle to follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of the vehicles and the amount and nature of traffic on and the condition of the highway.

Even if the car in front of you unexpectedly slows down you may still be held at fault.  For example, in Cannon v. Clouda the BC Provincial Court determined that a driver who rear ended another driver who had difficulty getting her car into third gear was at fault because they failed to leave enough room and failed to pay enough attention.[4]

However, you may be able to demonstrate that you were not at fault.  For example, in Ayers v. Singh, the BC Court of Appeal determined that a driver who unexpectedly slowed down at a green light showed inadequate “care and attention” and was found at fault.  Each case will be assessed on its own particular facts.[5] If you have questions about whether or not you will be considered at fault, you should contact a lawyer.

What should you do if you disagree with ICBC’s decision about who is at fault?

You can ask ICBC to review its decision.  If you don’t think you should have been found fully (of even partially) at fault, you can ask a claim manager to review your case. If you’re still not satisfied with their answer, you can apply for a Claims Assessment Review within 60 days.  The review will cost you $50, but ICBC will reimburse you if you win.  If you are still unsatisfied after this process, you may also bring a court action.[6]

What happens if my vehicle is too badly damaged to repair?

If your vehicle is totally destroyed, it is called a write-off.  If the cost of repairs is more than the current market value of your vehicle, ICBC will calculate the value based on its market value before the accident. The value depends on several things, including your vehicle’s make, model, age, condition, upgrades and similar things.  If the other driver was at fault or you have collision insurance, ICBC will pay you that amount.  However, if you still owe money to a bank (or someone else for a loaned vehicle) and they had registered a lien against your vehicle, ICBC will pay the bank what you owe them and then pay the rest to you.[7]

Do I have to accept the amount ICBC offers?

No. If you are not satisfied with the offer, you can ask to have it reviewed.  The Insurance (Vehicle) Regulation allows you to refer your dispute for arbitration. If you and ICBC are unable to agree on the choice of an arbitrator, the British Columbia Arbitration and Mediation Institute can appoint an arbitrator and the costs will be shared. The arbitrator’s written decision with full reasons will be sent to you by registered mail. It is important to note that you must apply for arbitration within two years of the incident.[8]

Will my insurance premiums go up?

If ICBC decides that you were more than 25% at fault for an accident that results in a claim (by you or the other driver) it is likely that ICBC will increase the premium you pay on your insurance.  If ICBC finds you have been 50% at fault in three crashes within three years (all resulting in claims) you will likely have to pay an additional “multiple crash premium” of $1,000 among other penalties.[9]

Can I pay for the damage without involving ICBC?

If you cause a small accident, you may choose to pay for any damage to your vehicle and/or the other vehicle yourself to avoid higher insurance premiums.   However, you should be careful about the level of damages.   You may wish to speak with an ICBC agent about the pros and cons of paying your own damages.

What about hiring a personal injury lawyer?

So far, this article dealt with the non-injury aspect of a car accident.  However, unfortunately, many traffic accidents result in injury.


Personal injury lawyers help injured victims recover money for compensation.  The amount of compensation depends on many factors including the injuries, harm caused by injuries, financial losses and future outlook of injuries and the impact on one’s life.

Some injury lawyers will take on cases where fault of the accident is in dispute.  In the event you hire a lawyer when fault is in dispute, your lawyer will not only build up your medical legal case, but she or he will present a case demonstrating you were not at fault (or less at fault).

 


[1] Insurance (Vehicle) Act, RSBC 1996, c 231.
[2]Motor Vehicle Act, RSBC 1996, c 318, s. 203.
[3] ICBC, Available at: http://www.icbc.com/csDelPrd/Satellite?pagename=ICBC%2Ficbc_Redirect&url=%2Fclaims%2FDetermining-fault%2Fdoor.pdf
[4] ICBC, Available at: http://www.icbc.com/csDelPrd/Satellite?pagename=ICBC%2Ficbc_Redirect&url=%2Fclaims%2FDetermining-fault%2Frear-end.pdf
[5] Ayers v. Singh, 85 B.C.A.C. 307, [1997] B.C.J. No. 350.
[6] Canadian Bar Association, “Making a Vehicle Damage Claim” Available at: http://www.cba.org/bc/public_media/automobiles/186.aspx
[7] Ibid.
[8] For more information see the ICBC website at: http://www.icbc.com/claims/claim_complaints
[9] Canadian Bar Association, “Making a Vehicle Damage Claim” Available at: http://www.cba.org/bc/public_media/automobiles/186.aspx