Man Found Drunk in his Car Wins Suit Against Auto Insurer

Gary Oakes for The Lawyers Weekly

May 14, 2010

A man who admitted he was drunk when his truck was totaled, but claimed someone else was driving, has won his suit against the provincial insurer because it failed to prove he was the one behind the wheel.

Sarah Klinger, counsel for plaintiff Richard Laurie, told The Lawyers Weekly that the decision "shows that although the circumstances leading to a loss might cause an insurer to infer that there has been a breach of the contract, they will not be successful in court without substantial evidence, on a balance of probabilities, of that breach."

Justice Heather Holmes noted that Laurie had claimed damages for breach of contract as a result of the failure of the Insurance Corporation of B.C. (ICBC) to pay the agreed cash value of the truck, $29,000, less the $300 deductible.

The accident happened in September 2008 in greater Victoria and ICBC denied coverage because his state of intoxication amounted to a breach of the policy.

The B.C. Supreme Court judge noted that Laurie "agrees that he was seriously intoxicated, but says that he was not driving at the time of the accident. He says that because he was intoxicated, he accepted the offer of a man named Tyler to drive him home in the truck. He says that he does not know or remember the accident itself or how Tyler quickly disappeared from the truck and the scene, and, having no information about Tyler's identity, has been unable to find him since."

Two witnesses who ran to the scene after hearing the crash didn't see anyone else in the vicinity but said Laurie told them Tyler had been driving. One of them reported that Laurie asked whether Tyler was OK.

Justice Holmes considered Laurie's story suspicious but concluded that "I am not persuaded, on the evidence, that the fact that neither [witness] saw anyone who might have been Tyler amounts to proof that no such person managed to leave the truck and escape their view.

"On all the evidence, ICBC has not met its burden of proving on a balance of probabilities that Mr. Laurie was the driver."

She also rejected the argument that even if Tyler was the driver, Laurie was in breach for failing to ensure Tyler was licensed and sober because there was no evidence he wasn't.
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