11 Apr Drunk Passenger Grabs Steering Wheel and Causes Accident

In July, 2006, Ms. Felix was at a soccer game with her boyfriend.  At the end of the game, the boyfriend was intoxicated and argumentative.  Ms. Felix decided it would be best if they left, and she got into the driver’s seat of her vehicle.  Her boyfriend got into the front passenger seat.  They left the soccer grounds and as they headed towards the highway, her boyfriend grabbed the steering wheel twice but immediately let go.  When they entered the highway, her boyfriend grabbed the steering wheel again and this time he did not let go.  The vehicle crashed because of his action.  He died in the crash and Ms. Felix was seriously injured.

Ms. Felix sued the deceased’s estate and was awarded $791,950 in damages, plus $71,292.63 in assessed costs.  She then brought an action against ICBC to recover judgement plus interest, and to indemnify the deceased’s estate for her loss.

At trial, the issue was whether the deceased was an “insured” under Ms. Felix’s policy, and if so, whether his “use “ of the vehicle caused her injuries.  The Judge concluded that even if the deceased did “use” the vehicle within the meaning of the Insurance (Motor Vehicle) Act, this interpretation conflicted with section 66 of the Act, so he dismissed the action.  Ms. Felix appealed (Felix v. Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, 2015 BCCA 394).

The British Columbia Court of Appeal looked at two issues.  The first was whether a passenger in a motor vehicle “uses” the vehicle as the word is defined in the Insurance (Motor Vehicle) Act when travelling from point A to point B? And if so, in this case was there some causal relationship between Ms. Felix’s injuries and the use of her vehicle by her boyfriend?

Like the trial Judge, the Court of Appeal found that a passenger in a motor vehicle “uses” the motor vehicle when he or she is being transported from A to B.  However, the Court of Appeal did not agree with the trial Judge’s conclusion that section 66 of the Act prohibited that conclusion.

The Court of Appeal concluded that the deceased intentionally (and negligently) grabbed the wheel while he was “using” the vehicle.  As a result, Ms. Felix suffered injury.  There was a clear, unbroken chain of causation from his negligent act to her injuries.  The Court of Appeal found ICBC liable and ordered them to indemnify the estate of the deceased for the judgement of Ms. Felix.