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Widow wants to know what happened in fatal crash
A grieving Kamloops widow is worried the family of her deceased husband will be left in financial trouble after learning she won’t be able to sue the trucker she claims was responsible for the death of her spouse.
Gary Miller, 59, was driving a truck hauling a load of concrete on Highway 5A on Oct. 5 when his rig was struck head-on by a logging truck driven by 49-year-old Kewal Singh Kailey of Abbotsford.
The fiery collision near Stump Lake, between Kamloops and Merritt, killed both men.
Gillian Sanderson, Miller’s widow, said she was told by both police and ICBC that Kailey’s truck crossed the centre line on the highway, causing the wreck that renewed calls to shut Highway 5A to big rigs.
(KTW requested the BC Coroners Service’s report on the crash, but it had not been completed by press time.)
The B.C. Workers’ Compensation Act includes a section aimed at keeping workers from suing other workers. In all but the rarest of circumstances, the parties have no option but to proceed with financial reimbursement from WorkSafeBC.
That compensation is based on average earnings at the time of death.
Sanderson said those provisions mean she will be the only one reimbursed for income lost after the death of her husband.
“It’s to do with leaving money for his kids and grandchildren,” she told KTW.
“That was my main reason for wanting to bring a lawsuit, so at least there would be something for them.”
Sanderson said Miller left behind two adult children — one son and one daughter, both from a previous relationship — and three young grandchildren.
Under the Workers’ Compensation Act, only spouses and dependant children are compensated.
According to Sanderson, Miller made about $170,000 per year driving truck — a vocation he held for four decades.
Despite the compensation likely coming her way from WorkSafeBC, Sanderson said she will need sell the Kamloops home she shared with Miller since the couple moved from the Lower Mainland five years ago.
WorkSafeBC spokeswoman Donna Freeman said the law barring workers from suing each other is intended to ensure compensation for everyone injured or killed on the job.
“A worker can’t sue a worker,” she said.
“There are survivor benefits and they’re payable for the life of the spouse.”
Sanderson could still file a lawsuit on her own dime if she so chose, but its chances of proceeding in court are nil. The section of the Workers’ Compensation Act prohibiting lawsuits has been upheld time and again in court.
Most recently, in April, a B.C. Supreme Court judge in Victoria tossed a lawsuit filed by a man whose work vehicle had been rear-ended by a delivery truck.
The plaintiff not only had his claim dismissed, but he was also ordered to pay the delivery-truck driver’s legal costs.
In that case, the plaintiff attempted to argue he was not working at the time.
Vancouver-based lawyer Vahan Ishkanian, who specializes in workers’-compensation law, said that is the only area up for debate — whether a person was working, not who was at fault.
“The system is designed to ensure workers get benefit from WorkSafeBC no matter who is at fault,” he said.
“Sometimes it works well for the workers and sometimes it works badly for the workers, financially speaking.”
Ishkanian said there are more than a dozen fatality cases resolved through the Workers’ Compensation Act each year, and they are all dealt with in the same manner, regardless of the circumstances.
He mentioned one case in which a worker was high on cocaine driving a work truck. The vehicle hit the ditch and he was killed.
His family received the same relative compensation Sanderson will be entitled to.
“In a tort case, they could get nothing but, in WCB, they get full benefits,” Ishkanian said.
“Is that a good thing or a bad thing? It depends on what side of the fence that particular case falls.”
The Workers’ Compensation Act provisions for spousal payouts are “no-fault” findings — meaning no one will ever be officially held accountable for Miller’s death.
That lack of closure for Sanderson has been compounded by a number of unanswered questions.
Mainly, she said, she wants to know what happened.
“They can’t tell me anything because everything was so badly burned,” she said.
“And, I can’t get any police reports or any details of the investigation because of privacy [rules].”
Sanderson, who used to work in the film industry in Vancouver, but hasn’t been employed since moving to Kamloops, said she’s not sure what the next step in her life will be now that her husband is gone.
“I don’t work. I have no family here,” she said.
“This is the first day I haven’t been in absolute tears.
“This has taken away my life.”