Hit-and-run victim awarded record $100k in punitive damages in 'exceptional' case
Driver had suspended licence, fled the scene and denied responsibility
For more than three years, Veronica Howell has lived with serious injuries from a hit-and-run accident after a pickup truck driver going the wrong way down the street struck the then 22-year-old who was jaywalking and left her lying unconscious near a Commercial Drive intersection.
The Supreme Court of British Columbia has just awarded Howell $100,000 in punitive damages in what her lawyer, John Rice, describes as a highly unusual and record-setting case.
"Based on our review, this is the largest punitive damages award ever given in a Canadian court in the context of negligent use of a motor vehicle," said Rice, a personal injury trial lawyer at Jarvis McGee Rice.
Rice told CBC Early Edition host Rick Cluff the purpose of the $100,000 sum was to punish driver Leon Machi for his behaviour and act as a deterrent to others.
At the time of the accident, Machi was driving with a suspended licence—he was prohibited from driving for 12 months because of previously violating a suspension—and had a long history of driving violations.
After striking Howell and fleeing the scene, Machi refused to co-operate with police or ICBC, Rice said, and continuously denied being the driver of the vehicle, despite forensic evidence and eyewitness accounts to the contrary.
Punitive damages are only awarded in "exceptional circumstances," Justice Heather MacNaughton wrote in her judgment, and are reserved for behaviours so "malicious and outrageous that they are deserving of punishment on their own."
"It's very, very uncommon," Rice said."It's an extraordinary remedy but it's designed for unique cases like this where the behaviour is such a marked departure from what is acceptable in terms of what is reasonable safety standards, obeying the law and participating in our legal process."
Howell suffered a fractured skull and other serious injuries in the accident and continues to have life-altering health consequences.
In addition to the punitive damages, Howell was also awarded money for general damages, lost income and other expenses related to her injuries.
In total, Rice said, she will receive somewhere between $2.8 million and $3 million.
"Nobody wants a case like this," Rice said. "Nobody wants compensation because you're not going to really be able to work again or because you need a rehabilitation support worker around you most days of the week or because you need medication or counselling for the rest of your life."
With files from The Early Edition.