BRITISH COLUMBIA
02/05/2014 06:24 EST | Updated 04/07/2014 05:59 EDT

B.C. ministries reviewing court decision on designated-driver insurance

VANCOUVER - The British Columbia government is reviewing a judge's ruling that left a designated driver, who was seriously injured when her drunk passenger grabbed the steering wheel of her car, unable to receive compensation through third-party liability insurance.

Transportation Minister Todd Stone said he plans to talk to Attorney General Suzanne Anton about how to respond to this week's ruling, which denied Marnetta Felix the ability to collect more than $800,000 from the province's insurance agency after a crash that happened almost eight years ago.

"I think government's concerned about this ruling," Stone told reporters in Victoria.

"What we're doing at the moment is reading the judge's judgment, you know, (to) make sure that we understand very clearly what it is that he has laid out here."

Felix was injured in a crash on the Trans-Canada Highway east of Vancouver on July 8, 2006, when her boyfriend, Kevin Hearne, grabbed the steering wheel of the car Felix was driving.

Hearne died and Felix was hospitalized, and she successfully sued Hearne's estate for $863,242, which she sought to collect from the Insurance Corp. of B.C.

But Judge Anthony Saunders concluded ICBC is under no obligation to compensate Hearne's estate because of how provincial regulations set third-party liability for passengers. Passengers are only covered by third-party liability insurance if they injure or kill a person who was outside the vehicle, the judgment noted.

Saunders used the judgment to question the wisdom of such regulations when it comes to designated drivers.

"This would appear to be a powerful disincentive to anyone acting as a designated driver, when there was any risk of a passenger acting irresponsibly," wrote Saunders.

"The consequence of this interpretation as regards designated drivers is one which some may find disturbing," the judge continued. "If that consequence was unintended, that is a matter for consideration by the government."

Felix and her legal team still are considering whether to appeal, said her lawyer, Douglas MacAdams. Felix has 30 days to file an appeal.

MacAdams said his client has received some payments through her own insurance policy. But she has received no payments from Hearne's estate, because it has no money, and no payments from his insurer because of the ruling.

"What she received from ICBC was a flow, a modest flow, of first-party insurance payments from her own insurer," he said.

Adam Grossman, a spokesman for ICBC, said in a statement that a driver involved in a similar situation would be fully entitled to accident benefits under their own ICBC policy and repairs to their vehicle if they purchased collision coverage.

Regardless of the ruling, Stone said all British Columbians have an obligation to address impaired driving.

"We all have an obligation with our loved ones, our friends, our colleagues to do everything that we can to make sure that they don't make poor judgment, and that they don't get behind the wheel impaired. None of that changes," he said.

"Getting behind the wheel impaired is absolutely not the right decision."