100 Mile House lawyer Peter Messner is warning designated drivers they may not be covered in an accident caused by a drunk passenger.
After a B.C. Supreme Court Justice recently ruled ICBC is under no obligation to compensate the driver, Marnetta Felix, after her boyfriend and passenger, Kevin Hearne, caused a serious accident in 2006 by grabbing the wheel.
Hearne died, and Felix sustained injuries, and then sued Hearne’s estate for $863,242. She unsuccessfully sought to recoup on third-party liability insurance from ICBC.
Transportation Minister Todd Stone has told media he’s concerned about the Justice’s ruling, and that he and Attorney General Suzanne Anton will review and discuss it for potential legislative changes.
Messner says he handled a similar case that occurred locally a couple of years ago. It was recently resolved in favour of his client, but he notes other liability claims might not always be successful.
“My client agreed to be the designated driver for three young fellows, who obviously had been drinking too much … the car was owned by the father of one of the passengers.”
The vehicle was headed along Horse Lake Road toward 100 Mile House when an accident occurred.
As the car approached Skaday’s Bridge, the young man in the front passenger seat – who was not the car owner’s son – pulled on the emergency brake and caused the car to spin out and go into the ditch.
“The only person seriously hurt was the young lady who had agreed to be the designated driver.”
Messner explains he initiated a lawsuit against all of the passengers, the car owner, and ICBC on his client’s behalf.
“ICBC said ‘well too bad, there is no coverage in that sort of situation’ because the applicable sections of the Motor Vehicle Act, and the regulations ‘pursuant thereto’, say a passenger pulling on an emergency brake, or even pulling on a steering wheel, is not an operator. He is not a driver; he is not a motorist.”
He says the legal technicalities are such that had it been the car owner’s son who pulled on the brake, it might have made a difference.
Messner adds he thought this lack of compensation for designated drivers was “baloney,” especially since members of the public are constantly encouraged to be designated drivers.
While he finally succeeded in gaining ICBC compensation for his client, the lawyer says it was only after “fairly lengthy” negotiations, and his “threats to go public.”
Messner adds he is personally lobbying for the laws to change.
“I’ve spoken with our Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett on several occasions, and I’ve spoken with Premier Christy Clark when she was in Williams Lake.
“All they’ve got to do is say a passenger touching a steering wheel or brake or doing anything like that will be considered an operator, or a driver, and it will solve the whole problem.”
Meanwhile, Messner says he hopes people will be careful if they are driving with someone severely impaired in the vehicle, such as ensuring that passengers sit in the back seat.
At the first indication that passengers might do something dumb, Messner suggests stopping the vehicle, warning the passengers, and if it continues, get them out of the vehicle and offer to call their family members for a pickup.
As it stands now, Messner notes designated drivers and their passengers are not going to be covered if an inebriated occupant causes an accident.