When cyclist Rylan Kafara walked away from a car crash more than a year ago, he counted himself lucky.
Now a major insurance company wants Kafara to pay more than $6,000 in damages, or it will try to take away his driver’s licence.
The bill is for damage to a 2013 Toyota Venza that was scratched and dented in a crash with the cyclist. The driver filed a claim with Wawanesa Insurance to cover the repairs. The company now wants Kafara to pay up.
“I bounced off the SUV,” Kafara said. “And when I hit the ground, my head snapped back as I hit the concrete.”
Kafara was headed toward a red light at the corner of 112th Avenue and 68th Street, cycling home from a swim after work. A copy of his official collision statement says he was distracted when another cyclist cut across the road into the oncoming lane and blocked traffic. That’s when Kafara and the Toyota collided.
“Complete shock that it was actually happening,” he said. “Because I was slowing down for the intersection and this car was turning, I got up thinking it wasn’t that big a deal.”
A few months later, a bill came in the mail: $6,223.
Kafara has a modest job at an Edmonton homeless shelter, paid by a grant that will run out in March.
A lawyer friend offered to represent him pro bono. He wrote letters to the insurance company, saying Kafara was not in a position to pay. The company responded, insisting Kafara had run a red light.
The most threatening letter from the company came in December. In it, the company’s lawyer said it would sue and try to suspend his driver’s license.
“Please advise if your client is prepared to enter into settlement negotiations, or if I should simply proceed to issue a Civil Claim, and then pursue any recovery once judgement is obtained by suspending your client’s licence,” reads the letter.
One expert questions the ethics of the wording.
“I’m reading it as the insurance company flexing its muscles and playing a poker game here,” said Sivan Tumarkin, an insurance lawyer who used to represent insurance companies in similar cases.
“They’re saying to the cyclist, pay up, or we’re going to go after you. And not only after you, but after your ability to drive, buy groceries and make a living.”
Legally, it is possible to seek a licence suspension in Alberta as a remedy after a civil judgment. But Tumarkin said there’s no guarantee the court would find in the company’s favour.
“Let’s face it, by the time this civil action is done, the insurance company will likely pay their lawyer more than what they could potentially get from the cyclist,” Tumarkin said.
He was surprised that an organization with more than $8 billion in assets would go to such lengths over a relatively small sum, with no witnesses to prove either side of the story.
To be successful with a lawsuit, Wawanesa would have to prove not only that Kafara was at fault, but also negligent.
“It’s not typical in my experience,” Tumarkin said.
“It’s such a ridiculous situation to be in, where Wawanesa is really concerned about $6,000 worth of damage to the vehicle when the cyclist could have been killed.”
CBC contacted Wawanesa Insurance several times to request an interview and received no response.