A young B.C. driver is facing steep insurance penalties from the provincially owned insurance corporation for an accident he had nothing to do with.

"They seem not to care at all. They just shrug it off," said 19-year-old Kevin Braun. "I spent hours on the phone with them just to hear the same thing: they can't do anything."

"For a company that you have no choice but to use, they should have better customer service."

Braun works in a restaurant in Victoria. In March, he loaned his 1996 pickup truck — the first vehicle he's owned — to his boss, Steve Madden, who then caused an accident. Braun's vehicle was written off by ICBC.

Both Braun and Madden have vehicle insurance with the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC). Madden said he asked ICBC to apply the claim to his policy, so Braun won't face higher premiums and a black mark on his driving record, but ICBC refused.

 "I've admitted guilt since day one," said Madden. "I don't want a new driver to be paying for my mistake. They say, 'Well it stays on his record either way.'"

Large premium increase

Braun said, because he is a new driver, his penalties for an accident are worse than they would be for Madden.

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Braun's 15-year-old pickup truck was written off by ICBC as a result of the accident. (CBC)

"He's willing to pay whatever it takes to make this go away for me," said Braun. "ICBC didn't help us at all."

Braun said his ICBC premiums will jump by 75 per cent, plus he will lose future discounts and face higher penalties if he ever has another accident claim.

"I'm saving for school. I want to go travelling," said Braun. "But, I'm stuck with [ICBC] no matter what I do. So if I want to have a car, I have to pay that money."

They said ICBC told them the $7,000 accident claim must be applied to Braun's policy  because ICBC registers accident claims against the vehicle, not the driver, in every case, with no exceptions.

"That would make sense if the other [at fault] driver didn't have insurance. But, everyone is with the same company, so they should have a better way to deal with this," said Braun.

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"This happens fairly often," said ICBC spokesperson Adam Grossman.

He confirmed all accident claims apply to vehicles, not drivers. He said ICBC set it up that way in its pricing model, which was approved by the regulator.

"We are governed by the British Columbia Utilities Commission. We have a pricing model that is set with them. To change our pricing model with BCUC takes years and years of work," said Grossman.

Mark Klein of the Insurance Bureau of Canada said accident claims are handled the same way in Alberta and Ontario, which both have private insurance systems. Klein said there may be some exceptions, though, when a driver and a vehicle owner bought insurance from the same company.

"The general rule, though, is drivers in other provinces would be treated similarly," said Klein.

ICBC apologizes

Grossman said ICBC does owe Braun an apology, however, if he was led to believe he had no other options. Grossman said if Madden reimburses ICBC the entire cost of the claim, Braun's record won't be affected in any way.

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Victoria lawyer James Main said his firm may be willing to take on a class action suit against ICBC on behalf of anyone in Braun's situation. (CBC)

"If [his]

friend feels really bad about crashing the vehicle and wants to make sure the owner of the vehicle is not affected, he simply has to repay the claim to ICBC," said Grossman.

"If we didn't explain it clear enough, we apologize. The claim decision rests as it is. However, you do have this option."

Braun's lawyer James Main said, in his opinion, ICBC's policy appears to contravene the Insurance (Vehicle) Act of B.C. 

"[It says] if a person is at fault, ICBC can increase their premiums. That clearly was not the case here," said Main.

Main said his reading of the law is that premium increases should apply to the driver or the owner, whoever is at fault.

The relevant section (35) reads, "The corporation may establish discounts from premiums and establish additional premiums to be paid by owners or drivers based on any one or more of the following; (a) the accident record of the owner or driver; (b) the degree of fault of the owner or driver in respect of an accident."

"This owner [Braun] has no accident record. So, I think the proper interpretation of that section is that he does not have an accident record, therefore there is no basis to increase his premium," said Main.

Legal challenge possible

He said his Victoria firm would consider taking ICBC to court to challenge its policy if enough affected customers came forward.

"There might even be a class action here for the hundreds — or perhaps thousands — of people who have been penalized this way," said Main.

Grossman said the lawyer may technically be right, but he insisted the pricing policy also must be adhered to.

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ICBC spokesman Adam Grossman says rules governing premium increases and penalties are set in the corporation's pricing policy, approved by the regulator. (CBC)

"The lawyer is looking at the Vehicle Insurance Act of B.C. which is the legal framework in which we operate," said Grossman. "The pricing policy is another set of rules — set by the BCUC."

"I object to that bureaucratic mentality," said Main.

Grossman responded, "Unfortunately, a lot of legalese is bureaucracy and you know any legal framework is complicated."

He added the policy could eventually change as part of a bigger review ICBC is doing.

"For a couple of years now, we’ve been talking about looking at a new model that will ensure that high risk drivers pay more and low risk drivers pay less," said Grossman. "We need to talk further to British Columbians."

The only way Madden can now keep the accident from affecting Braun's record is to pay ICBC the entire cost of the claim. That includes $3,726 for the write-off of Braun's vehicle (less a $300 deductible), $2,664 for damage to the other car involved and $1,450 for an injury payout to the other driver. ICBC said it will not tack on any additional costs.

"ICBC doesn't care," said Madden." You are on your own. It's like they are saying,'We are not here to help you. We're here to take your money.'"