A 72-year-old former United Church minister — severely hurt in a head-on crash more than a decade ago — says it is "totally unfair" that B.C.'s public insurance corporation still hasn't paid out $90,000 it agreed she is entitled to for her injuries.
"It's totally unfair. It's even immoral — to hold this amount of anybody's money back," said Valerie Reay. "Had I put that in the bank 10 years ago, it would be interesting to know what I'd have now."
Reay was driving home from church alone on the Yellowhead Highway in northern B.C. in October of 2000 - when a vehicle driven by Wilkin Caslake hit her jeep head-on. Caslake had crossed the centre line to pass a line of vehicles, when Reay came around a corner going in the opposite direction.
Caslake and passenger Michelle Whalley did not suffer lasting injuries. Whalley's five-year-old daughter — also a passenger — reportedly underwent surgery to repair a severed bowel, but her mother told a local newspaper at the time, "I'm pleased she is doing so well."
Reay suffered severe head trauma, among other injuries.
"I was in hospital for a month," said Reay. "I totally wouldn't allow visitors — I looked like some Frankenstein monster."
"The next year was a continual back and forth to the hospital for more surgeries, for physiotherapy…and the first two months I was in a wheelchair," she said.
Reay, who is now retired, said she will never fully recover from the brain injury.
"You're not the same person again after all of that — and particularly with the head injury," she said. "If I have to do three things in a day, I can't."
Other driver at fault
In 2003, the Insurance Corporation of B.C. (ICBC) determined Caslake was entirely at fault — and agreed that Reay's injuries entitled her to $500,000.
ICBC said it would hold back $90,000 from her settlement, until it determined if Whalley's daughter would have lasting effects from her injuries.
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Reay and her lawyer agreed to that, given that the driver's $1 million third-party liability insurance proceeds are supposed to be shared between injured victims on a pro-rated basis.
However, Whalley's daughter is now 15 and has still not agreed to a settlement. Legally, she doesn't have to until she is 21 — which could leave Reay waiting for another six years.
"I can't imagine another financial organization being able to do something like this," said Reay. "With paying absolutely no interest for 10 years? What other organization would be able to do that?"
The girl's mother refused to comment on the case, and her lawyer did not return phone calls.
$2 million pot
In addition to Caslake's $1 million policy, both Reay and the teenager have another $1 million worth of coverage available to them, under ICBC's underinsured driver protection plan. However, ICBC said it wouldn't access that policy, until after Caslake's insurance has been divided up among all injured parties.
"That initial pot of $1 million — the third-party liability — has to be exhausted before that other money comes into play," said ICBC spokesperson Adam Grossman.
"Everyone is entitled to a pro-rated share of their at-fault driver's third- party liability. Until each of the injured parties agrees to their share — those payments can't be made."
Reay's lawyer agreed ICBC is fully within its rights to hold back her money, but David Doig said that is not the point.
"There comes a point in life where it's a matter of doing the right thing," said Doig. "You can stand on a legal technicality, but it's a matter of doing the right thing to help a 72-year-old lady who is completely innocent."
Reay said her lawyer told her the teenager's payout will likely not take up the remaining $500,000 from the driver's coverage — let alone the additional $1 million from the additional coverage — because her injuries were less serious than Reay's.
'No risk': lawyer
"All it would take would be a pen stroke and this [$90,000] can be released. It's that simple," said Doig. "For a corporation like ICBC there is absolutely no risk in releasing this amount of money."
"We don’t agree there is no risk now," said Grossman. "Until the claim is settled, with the infant now a minor, we wouldn’t know how much that payment is going to be."
ICBC indicated a settlement is imminent, however it would still have to be approved by B.C.'s public guardian.
"We could get a medical report from a practitioner that says that this child has suffered brain injuries that have just become apparent," said Grossman. "That's an unforeseen that could happen anytime."
The insurance corporation said it is rare for victims to wait several years for payment, but it can occur frequently in cases involving children.
"There's someone here who says 'I am 15 years old and I don't really understand this — and I'm not sure I have to settle yet'," said Grossman.
Reay said ICBC should compensate Whalley's daughter fairly, but payouts to other victims like her should not be affected.
"It's about the fairness of any organization being able to hold this amount of money for very vague reasons. Nothing very logical or, it seems, very ethical."