Auto Insurance Rant
Today’s post is purely a self-indulgent rant. If you don’t live in British Columbia, you may find it long and tedious. On the other hand, getting screwed by insurance companies is pretty much universal, so maybe you’ll empathize!
British Columbia Auto Insurance
Auto insurance in British Columbia (where we live) is very different than anyplace I’ve lived in the U.S., and it’s taken me a while to understand it (and I still don’t, fully). Every British Columbia licensed driver is obliged to buy liability insurance from a “Crown corporation” called the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, or ICBC. We can also buy collision and comprehensive insurance from ICBC, but that’s optional, and private sector companies compete for that part of the car insurance business.
Through a recent experience with ICBC (the subject of my rant) I’ve learned (I think) that, even if a driver has collision/comprehensive insurance through another insurer (which we do), ICBC still determines fault in all accidents, and private insurer payouts rely on ICBC’s fault judgments.
In July I was involved in a vehicle accident on Douglas Street in the Victoria metro area. Douglas is likely among the busiest commercial streets in the Victoria region. Here’s the scene:
Traveling in the right lane of two, I saw an orange construction zone merge sign about a block ahead. My lane was ending. As civilized Canadians do, drivers were accomplishing the merge on an alternating basis. One car from the left lane would move ahead, then the next car in the left lane would wait while a driver in my lane merged and moved ahead, etc. I made the mistake that the driver of the vehicle—a huge commercial dump truck—just behind me in the left lane would follow the same pattern. I had a look at the truck in my side mirror, and it appeared to me that I had room to begin my merge. Because of the closed lane and heavy traffic, flow had stopped dead. As traffic allowed, I switched between a dead stop and very, very slow progress, at about ¼ walking speed. So my car was either stationary or creeping, and here’s what happened next (excerpted from one of my two emails to ICBC explaining the circumstances):
Evidently enraged by the prospect of arriving at his destination ~10 seconds later if my vehicle were to merge in front of his, [the truck driver] intentionally rammed my car (or attempted to intimidate me and, in his rage, misjudged or disregarded the distance). He then leaped from his truck and circled my car menacingly, all the while screaming an uninterrupted and uninterruptible string of obscenities. He then climbed into his truck and drove away. A few hours later in a police interview he told the officer he left the scene because he knows he “has a temper.”
To cut to the chase: ICBC has found me 100% at fault for this accident.
A second mistake I made was not asking the drivers behind my car and the truck if they would be willing to be witnesses. My admittedly feeble explanation is that, until the truck driver drove off, he and I were fully blocking both lanes of traffic, and at some level I was uncomfortable further delaying drivers already frustrated by the single lane construction zone on a very congested street. I also admit to being discombobulated by the truck driver’s profane, aggressive tirade and drive-off. When I saw his post-accident demeanor, I immediately got back into my car and called 911. I looked up from my phone just in time to catch his licence plate number as he drove away. At that point I pulled off the street and into a parking lot, and my witnesses escaped.
Though I of course regret not seeking witnesses, the damage to my car left ample physical evidence to corroborate my account of the accident. Here are some photos of the damage I took the same day:
You can’t be sure from the photos, but there is no evidence of metal-to-metal contact on my car. 100% of the contact to my fender was with the truck’s tire. You can clearly see in the scuff on my car the arc of the truck’s tire.
Here are photos of of a dump truck like the one that hit my car:
Now you tell me: How could the damage to my car have been caused any other way than the truck’s tire being turned toward my fender and the truck moving forward? If the truck’s tires had been directed straight ahead or to the left (which you’d think they would have been if the driver were seeking to avoid colliding with my car ‘cutting him off,’ which I did not do), the truck’s fender or bumper would first, and perhaps only, have hit my vehicle. That would have scratched the paint on my car, and there’s nary the tiniest scratch. And what possible reason would the driver have to turn toward me in such a situation?
Now let’s say I’m wrong that the truck’s tire was turned toward my vehicle, that by some miracle of mechanics only the truck’s tire came into contact with my car, even though the tire was aimed straight ahead. Remember the situation here: all vehicles had come to complete stops, and vehicles were alternately stopping and creeping ahead, at about ¼ walking speed, when they could. Why would the driver have moved his truck, even straight ahead, into my vehicle? More to the point, if this is what happened, why is it 100% my fault? Contact between our vehicles happened because the truck driver put his vehicle into motion when he should not have—when a collision would be inevitable, as my vehicle had just begun to edge into the left lane. If this doesn’t meet the definition of intentionally ramming my vehicle, what does?
Here’s a diagram of the accident I provided to ICBC:
My Interaction with ICBC
My first contact at ICBC was with a claims adjuster. (I’m not going to name names here for privacy reasons.) When she concluded I was 100% at fault, I appealed her decision to an individual to whom she directed me, who, according to his signature block, is “Manager Customer Services”. Most of my communication with the adjuster was verbal, but here is the appeal email I sent to “Manager”:
[Claims adjuster] advised me that contacting you is the next step if I disagree with her conclusions regarding claim #[number deleted].
I assume you have access to the information—photos of my car’s damage, accident diagram–that I emailed to [claims adjuster]. If not, I am happy to re-send.
In the note below, I have highlighted in blue questions. I respectfully request answers to these questions.
In short, here are the facts: The driver of the large dump truck that hit my vehicle took exception to my efforts to merge, extremely gradually, into the lane his vehicle occupied. He lost his temper (as evidenced by the profanity filled rant he yelled when he briefly emerged from his vehicle, and he told the investigating officer that he had a temper as an excuse for leaving the scene after refusing to give me any information), turned his tires toward the rear quarter panel of my car, and lurched ahead, purposely ramming his right front tire into my car.
Given these facts, perhaps you can imagine why I am shocked and dismayed to be deemed 100% responsible for this accident.
Of course the commercial truck driver’s account differs from the facts, as he has a livelihood to protect. With no witnesses, I would not expect ICBC to believe one driver’s account and not the other’s. However, in this case, [claims adjuster] appears to have done exactly that, wholly discounting my account. Why? Or is ICBC saying that even if my account were true, it would be okay for a driver to ram another driver’s car in these circumstances?
With no witnesses, I would expect ICBC to rely on physical evidence to attempt to determine which driver’s account more closely corresponds with the evidence. In my opinion, the physical evidence fully supports my account of the accident.
The damage to my vehicle indicates contact from the truck’s tire only. I believe this damage and the configuration of the truck proves that the truck’s tire was turned toward my vehicle.
I offered to [the claims adjuster] that I would be happy to take my car to any ICBC location for a first hand inspection, which would naturally be more revealing than examination of photos. My offer was not accepted.
First hand examination of both vehicles and a few simple measurements would unequivocally indicate that:
- There is no evidence of metal-to-metal contact on my vehicle.
- If the truck’s tires were aimed straight ahead, the truck’s metal fender, and possibly also the tire, would have struck my vehicle. Again, I see no evidence on my vehicle of contact with the truck’s fender.
- The clear arc and height of the tire marks on my vehicle indicate the tire was turned toward my car, not straight ahead or away from my car.
There are only two reasons for the truck’s tires to be turned toward my vehicle at the time of impact: the driver intentionally hit my vehicle, or he was attempting to intimidate me and misjudged the distance between our vehicles. Is ICBC asserting that neither of these evidence-based conclusions is sufficient reason to hold the truck driver at fault, at all?
The damage to my vehicle remains as it was immediately after the accident. I haven’t touched it. I repeat my offer to make it available to ICBC for close inspection.
Did ICBC examine the specific truck involved in the accident?
If ICBC refuses to examine first hand my car or the specific truck involved in the accident to confirm my assertions above, I would like to know the reason for the refusal.
Also, I would like to know: is the damage to my vehicle 100% consistent with the truck driver’s account of the accident? Is this a question ICBC has considered?
Further: The message I have received from ICBC is that, if I’m involved in an accident, there is no insurance fault consequence of me leaving the scene and refusing to give the other driver any information. Is this correct?
Finally, I have a question unrelated to insurance fault. It troubles me that an individual with the temper and tendency toward aggression that clearly characterize the driver of the truck that hit my vehicle is allowed a commercial driver’s licence and is driving very large vehicles on congested city streets. He is a menace to car drivers. Is there a separate avenue through which I can file a complaint against this driver?
And here is Manager’s reply, in its entirety, unedited:
Thank you for your email Mr. Fischer,
I have now had a chance to review both files, including the pictures and diagram you supplied. I will attempt to answer your questions in order.
When we make responsibility decisions we rely on three main factors:
1. The Motor Vehicle Act
2. Independent witness information
3. Material Damage
The truck is the dominant vehicle in the lane. As the merging vehicle the onus is on you to ensure it is safe to change lanes. Large commercial dump trucks have limited visibility from the driver’s seat. A prudent driver must exercise caution when merging to the right side of such a large vehicle.
You have made a serious allegation in that you propose that the truck driver either intentionally hit your vehicle, or that he was attempting to intimidate you and misjudged his distance. In support of this allegation you have supplied pictures of your vehicle coupled with a diagram. Your adjuster [name deleted] asked one of our Material Damage Managers to provide his opinion:
Reviewed damage photo of rubber tire residue on the FISHER [sic] left rear quarter panel.
-Rubber residue indicates the [my wife’s last name-??] was in motion at impact. There is no way to determine exactly what angle the front wheel was turned at (or straight) as the truck tire is so large and exposed it can easily make contact
Even if the trucks wheel was slightly turned that still does not prove the driver intentionally hit your vehicle. Without an independent witness we will not take the position that the other driver purposely hit your vehicle.
We have not viewed the other vehicle as they are not presenting a claim for damages. Here is the note made when the other driver reported the accident. In this note s/b means Southbound tp means third party (you) and ins means insured (the truck driver)i:
ins s/b on Douglas in 2/2, right lane closed ahead for construction, tp merging from 1/2 in to 2/2 in front of ins, tp’s left quarter panel struck f/r tire.
It is the duty of an insured to exchange information with another driver. The failure to provide this information may result in a coverage issue if this is coupled with other factors.
Since you have filed a report with the police, I believe you have filed a complaint against this driver.
The decision that you are 100% responsible will remain in place. Should you wish to dispute this matter further there are mechanisms in place. Please see the attached link from www.icbc.com and let me know if you wish to proceed with the Claims Assessment Review (C.A.R.):
My Analysis of ICBC Manager’s Response
I hardly know where to begin, but let’s start with the most obvious and critical issue with ICBC’s response: its Material Damage Manager’s review of the photos of my car.
First I’ll note that the Material Damage Manager (MDM) is of course an ICBC employee. He/She is hardly independent or objective. If I wished to spend the money, I have no doubt I could readily find an independent expert who would reach conclusions after examining firsthand my car and the truck (both of which ICBC refused to do) supportive of my account of the accident and conflicting with the truck driver’s and ICBC’s account.
Second, the MDM’s report is nonsense. The adjuster told me verbally that the MDM concluded that the truck’s tire was in motion. However, the MDM report included in the Manager’s email above says “[r]ubber residue indicates the [my wife’s name] was in motion at impact.” My wife’s last name is different than mine, and both of our names are on the insurance policy. What does the statement mean that my wife was in motion? (She wasn’t in the car with me.) If it means that my car was in motion, anyone can tell from the damage to my vehicle that it wasn’t caused by me driving into the truck’s wheel, if that miracle were even physically possible. Unless perhaps I’d thrown the car into reverse and backed my fender into the truck’s tire, which inexplicably happened to be turned toward my car, while the truck was stationary.
Manager wrote “[l]arge commercial dump trucks have limited visibility from the driver’s seat.” Is he suggeting that the truck driver may not have seen my vehicle at all? That’s preposterous, of course.
Also, of the two of us, the MDM and me, I’m the only one who has seen the truck that hit my vehicle. I say there’s no way for the scuff and damage to my car to have been made as it was unless the tires were turned significantly toward my car. The MDM asserts, without even viewing the specific truck involved, that the “tire is so large and exposed it can easily make contact.” I’ve been paying close attention since the accident, and dump truck front fender and bumper configurations vary considerably. Sight unseen, the MDM reached a baseless conclusion about how the truck that hit my car is configured. To compound the insult, my assertion, based on actually seeing the truck, was ignored and dismissed without investigation by ICBC.
I offered twice to bring my car to an ICBC location for a firsthand inspection of the damage. I also suggested that examination of the truck along with a couple of measurements would demonstrate that the only way the damage to my car could have happened is as I say it happened: the driver turned the truck’s wheels toward my car and lurched into my rear fender. ICBC refused to inspect either vehicle firsthand.
Manager says that “[e]ven if the trucks wheel was slightly turned that still does not prove the driver intentionally hit your vehicle.” My question: if wheels turned in my car’s direction do not prove the truck driver aimed his truck at me, then what, short of an unlikely confession, would? This evidence—the damage to my car—is more credible and conclusive than could be any conceivable witness testimony. Said differently, credulity is stretched far beyond reasonableness to assert that, in the stop-then-creep circumstances that existed, wheels turned toward another vehicle means anything except an intention to cause impact or intimidate, barring a driver medical issue (temporary insanity caused by temper notwithstanding).
I asked Manager to answer some questions, and I even put the questions in blue font in the hopes none would thereby be missed. Here are my questions and Manager’s answers:
Q1: …[claims adjuster] appears to have done exactly that, wholly discounting my account. Why? Or is ICBC saying that even if my account were true, it would be okay for a driver to ram another driver’s car in these circumstances?
A1: I can find no answer to this question in Manager’s reply.
Q2: Is ICBC asserting that neither of these evidence-based conclusions is sufficient reason to hold the truck driver at fault, at all?
A2: I can find no answer to this question in Manager’s reply.
Q3: Did ICBC examine the specific truck involved in the accident?
A3: No, despite my request, on sound basis, that it do so to substantiate my description of how the damage to my car not only occurred, but only could have occurred.
Q4: I would like to know the reason for the refusal [to inspect the truck].
A4: “We have not viewed the other vehicle as they are not presenting a claim for damages.” In other words, ICBC ignored that I made a solid case for inspecting the truck and my request that such an inspection be done to substantiate my account.
Q5: Is the damage to my vehicle 100% consistent with the truck driver’s account of the accident? Is this a question ICBC has considered?
A5: I gather that Manager’s report to me of the notes made when the truck driver reported the incident to ICBC (after he’d left the accident scene and been stopped by police thanks to me phoning in his licence plate number) is intended to answer my question. These ICBC notes are: “ins s/b on Douglas in 2/2, right lane closed ahead for construction, tp merging from 1/2 in to 2/2 in front of ins, tp’s left quarter panel struck f/r tire.” That cryptogram is supposed to answer my question?
Q6: “…if I’m involved in an accident, there is no insurance fault consequence of me leaving the scene and refusing to give the other driver any information. Is this correct?”
A6: “It is the duty of an insured to exchange information with another driver. The failure to provide this information may result in a coverage issue if this is coupled with other factors.” Well, at least that’s a feeble attempt at an answer, a first. I guess it’s up to me to discover what the “other factors” might be.
Q7: Is there a separate avenue through which I can file a complaint against this driver?
A7: Manager effectively evaded this question thusly: “Since you have filed a report with the police, I believe [italics added] you have filed a complaint against this driver.”
Here’s the Bottom Line
Without a witness, the only way for ICBC to confirm or deny my account of the accident is through physical evidence. I made a very strong case 1) backed up by photos and logic, 2) a repeated offer to present my car for inspection, and 3) a request that the truck be inspected and appropriate measurements taken, that the truck’s driver either intentionally rammed my car or sought to intimidate me and in the throes of a temper tantrum misjudged or disregarded the distance between our vehicles, knowing of course a collision would cause no damage to his monster truck. ICBC made effectively zero effort to seriously examine the physical evidence. Its one pathetic attempt—the MDM’s report—is useless nonsense.
Manager’s characterization of my account as “serious,” with respect to what it implies about the truck’s driver, is right on. If I’m being truthful and accurate, then a man with a serious anger and aggression problem is driving huge trucks on congested city streets. I am troubled by this fact, but ICBC evidently cares not. I would think the seriousness of my charge would raise red flags at ICBC and merit an especially in-depth investigation, given that the next time this driver loses his mind he may injure someone or worse. But instead ICBC did no credible investigation whatsoever of the physical evidence and psycho-driver continues roaming Victoria’s streets unabated.
After receiving Manager’s reply reproduced above, I realized further appeal would prove futile, unless I were willing to spend money on an attorney and an independent expert, which I am not. Also, life is indeed short after all, and I needed to put the stress of this issue behind me. I concluded the matter by sharing with Manager my takeaways from this ugly experience. These were:
- I cannot count on ICBC to explore and investigate fully all physical evidence available—even if a party involved in the accident specifically requests, on sound basis, a very reasonable avenue of inquiry (I’m referring to examining my car and the truck involved and taking a few measurements)—to determine as best as possible how and why an accident happened and, consequently, fault.
- For whatever internal reasons (I have my own guesses, but I will keep those to myself), ICBC automatically favors commercial drivers over private citizen drivers.
- That an admittedly (to the police) and demonstrably hot-tempered individual, inclined to aggression, is driving large commercial trucks on congested city streets is of no concern to ICBC. Yes, the truth about my accident, which I have related, would have serious implications about the truck’s driver. Manager says ICBC cannot consider these implications because there’s no witness. I say, given their seriousness, ICBC should have gone overboard to investigate, especially including examination of all physical evidence (as I requested) precisely because there are no witnesses, in an effort to confirm or deny my serious assertions.
- If another driver does something I don’t like, I can not only get away with ramming their vehicle but even be found 0% at fault, as long as there are no witnesses and regardless of physical evidence and logic.
- If I’m involved in an accident, there would be no insurance consequence if I simply drive away without engaging other parties involved, unless “other factors” which Manager doesn’t bother to specify are involved. (Or perhaps this applies only to “influential” commercial drivers.)
Also clear to me now is why many BC driver’s licence holders engage attorneys when obliged to deal with ICBC. After the inequitable treatment and shoddy ICBC practice I’ve experienced without representation, if I’m unlucky enough to be involved in another accident and particularly if I am injured, my first order of business will be to engage an attorney.
Finally, but most importantly: Another takeaway for me is that, clearly, ICBC feels no obligation to help protect drivers like me from drivers with the temperament and tendencies toward aggression exemplified by the truck driver who rammed my car. Ample physical and other evidence existed to validate my account of events—which the truck driver and I both know to be accurate—but ICBC has refused to conduct an investigation sufficiently thorough to confirm the truth. Consequently, the truck driver has the opportunity to endanger and menace others, and his insurance record is unaffected by his actions in this matter. That’s not okay with me. As a British Columbian, I am distressed to know that it is okay with ICBC.
I also told Manager that I would be doing all I can legally to monitor the truck driver’s future driving record. (I know his name, and the name of the trucking company.) When (I intentionally do not write ‘if’) he’s involved in a future incident, which I surely hope does not involve injury or worse, I will be doing everything in my power to publicize my experience with ICBC in a citizen effort to compel the organization to change its irresponsibly lackadaisical approach to demonstrably dangerous drivers.
Thanks for listening; I feel better now. 🙂