A British Columbia judge has awarded a woman who "experienced the wrath" of the province's insurance corporation nearly $400,000.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Susan Griffin said in a written decision released Wednesday that the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia and one of its investigators are liable for malicious prosecution, and that their conduct in the case was high-handed and reprehensible.
Danica Arsenovski and her husband had recently come to Canada as refugees from the former Yugoslavia when they were struck by a car and injured while crossing an intersection in Burnaby in January 2000.
After the crash, Arsenovski gave a statement to ICBC through a translator because she does not speak much English.
The statement detailed the injuries she received and what she remembered about the crash, but did not specifically say whether Arsenovski herself had been struck by the car or whether she had fallen when her husband was struck and fell into her.
Arsenovski was later charged with making a false statement.
ICBC investigator 'cherry-picked' evidence
Griffin wrote in her decision that John Gould, the ICBC investigator in the case, wrote a misleading report to Crown counsel recommending the charge, intending to dissuade civil claims against the insurance agency.
The report alleged Arsenovski had "clearly" made a false statement "where she claimed she was knocked down and injured after her husband had been knocked into her."
The judge said Gould, a former police officer, "cherry-picked" evidence for the report and misstated what Arsenovski said in her statement.
She said Gould also encouraged other agencies, such as the health and immigration ministries, to take action against the woman, who was vulnerable, being new to Canada and unable to speak much English.
"Mr. Gould pursued Mrs. Arsenovski with a vengeance that was significantly out of proportion with any objectively reasonable concern he could have had as to whether or not she actually might make a claim," Griffin wrote.
The charge was eventually stayed on the day Arsenovski's trial for making a false statement was set to begin.
Judgement as 'strong message' to ICBC
But the effects of the experience have stayed with her, the judge said, noting how the woman "choked up in court" and how she has not told anyone, including her siblings and adult children, about the charge, even after it was lifted.
"The stain she feels on her character as a result of being charged criminally might never be erased," Griffin wrote.
She awarded Arsenovksi $387,225.34 in damages and costs.
Cases such as this could dissuade people who have valid claims from pursuing them, the judge said in laying out her reasons for the penalty.
"A strong message of denunciation must be sent to ICBC," she wrote.
Griffin also had harsh words for the Crown corporation and noted that one of the agency's key purposes is to provide compensation to people who are involved in accidents.
"The corporation does not serve the residents of this province when it uses tactics of intimidation to discourage civil claims," she wrote.