Being a designated driver is obviously a responsible thing to do and prevents countless injuries and deaths caused by car accidents. However, a recent B.C. Supreme Court judgment, Felix v. Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, 2014 BCSC 166, may discourage would-be designated drivers from offering a safe ride home to others.
In that case, the plaintiff, Marnetta Felix, suffered serious injuries when her front seat passenger, her boyfriend, Mr. Hearne, grabbed control of her steering wheel while she was driving on Highway 1, causing the vehicle to leave the highway and overturn. Mr. Hearne was killed in the car crash.
Ms. Felix sued Mr. Hearne’s estate and was awarded damages of $791,250, plus court costs of $71,292. She then sued ICBC, seeking to have the judgment paid by ICBC, pursuant to Mr. Hearne’s third party liability coverage.
Unfortunately, the presiding judge, Mr. Justice Anthony Saunders, having interpreted the governing statutes, ruled that Mr. Hearne was not, at the time of the accident, engaged in the use of Ms. Felix’s vehicle, as defined by the governing Regulation and, therefore, that ICBC was under no obligation to indemnify his estate. Accordingly, ICBC did not have to pay the judgment.
Although it is likely to be appealed, as it stands now, Ms. Felix, as a designated driver who did no wrong, is faced with a “dry judgment,” having been awarded considerable damages but little hope of collecting any of it. Would-be designated drivers are also now faced with the discouraging knowledge that if an impaired passenger grabs the wheel or otherwise causes an accident, that there is little likelihood of obtaining fair compensation for injuries sustained in a motor vehicle accident under these circumstances.
In the last paragraph of his judgment, Mr. Justice Saunders raised those concerns:
 The consequence of this interpretation as regards designated drivers is one which some may find disturbing. If that consequence was unintended, that is a matter for consideration by the government.
What can you do, as fair-minded residents of B.C., to change this unjust denial of the legitimate claims of designated drivers, which will likely discourage others from doing the right thing to ensure that friends and family members get home safely? Talk to and write to your local MLA, start a conversation, bring to light this unfair law and speak out in favour of a minor change in the letter of the law, which would do major good. By doing so, together, we can end this injustice.