You’ve been hit by a car while turning left at an intersection and ICBC has told you it’s your fault – what can you do?
First of all, ICBC’s determination of fault is not the final word. Ultimately, it’s up to a judge to decide. But practically speaking, if ICBC thinks the accident was your fault, they won’t pay to fix your car (unless you have collision coverage), they’ll pocket your deductible, and they’ll take away your safe driving discount.
The reality is that accidents are often the fault of multiple parties. This is especially the case in accidents involving left turning vehicles at intersections. Oftentimes the left turning vehicle is stopped, waiting for an opening in oncoming traffic, and the decision to turn left is made in a split second. In heavy traffic, the traffic opening generally occurs when the light turns red, and there is pressure to clear the intersection. On the other hand, the oncoming vehicle may also have a split second decision to make as the light turns yellow – whether it is safer to stop or proceed through the intersection. In many ways, accidents like these are the natural and predictable outcome of our system of intersections, which is why many folks advocate for roundabouts as a safer alternative.
Unfortunately, ICBC does not have the time or the inclination to conduct a thorough investigation of a given accident, especially if the accident is ‘minor’ and the injuries to the people involved are not catastrophic. The result? ICBC decides that the accident was your fault and nothing you can say will change their mind.
So what can you do? One helpful step is to collect all the available evidence on how the accident occurred.
There are many sources of information that can be gathered to assist in proving that the accident wasn’t your fault, including:
- Downloading the date from the Event Data Recorder (or, “Black Box”)
- Obtain the police report, identity and contact the identified witnesses
- Obtain and review available video footage
- Obtain traffic light signal timing
Event Data Recorder
Most vehicles have some form of Event Data Recorder (commonly called a “Black Box” or “EDR”) that track vehicle data such as speed, acceleration, braking, steering and air-bag deployment before, during and after a crash. Not all EDR’s are created equal – some contain more and better information than others. Given the potential importance of the information in the EDR, it is important to secure the information from all of the involved vehicles as soon as possible. This is generally done by an engineer with a specialty in accident reconstruction, who has the tools (the hardware and software) to download, store, and interpret the data in a meaningful way.
Obtain the Police Report
If the RCMP attend at the scene of a motor vehicle accident, they will complete a “Motor Vehicle Traffic Collision Police Investigation Report.” You may obtain this report from the RCMP shortly after the accident. The report contains a large amount of information, most of which is coded with numbers entered into small boxes along the outside of the document. The numbers refer to specific information, which can be analyzed using a decoder sheet (which you may obtain online, or request form the RCMP) . For example, the number “85” in box number “31” means that the accident occurred due to the inattention of driver #1 – very important information! The police report will also contain the names of witnesses to the accident, and it is vital that these witnesses be contacted right away. Unfortunately, the names of the witnesses will be redacted (due to privacy concerns), and can only be obtained by court order.
Video footage of an accident is very compelling evidence in court. If the accident occurred near a commercial business, there is a good chance that the business will have security cameras that may have recorded the accident. In a recent case, we obtained the security footage from a gas station next to the highway where an accident occurred, which forced ICBC to accept that our client was not at fault for an accident. It is important to secure the footage right away, as most security cameras record data on a loop, overwriting recorded data every few days.
Traffic Light Signal Timing
The timing of traffic light signals can be a critical piece of information when reconstructing the events leading up to an accident. Every intersection is different in terms of the timing of the lights – the length of time that a green light is shown for, then yellow, then red. This information can be used in many ways; for example, it can be used to reconstruct the pre-accident speed of a given vehicle if certain other information is available (such as the distance of a vehicle from the intersection when the light turned yellow). The traffic light signal information is readily available, but it is difficult to make sense of the information (much less use the information as part of your analysis of an accident) without assistance from an accident reconstructionist.
In conclusion, if you disagree with ICBC’s assessment of liability, it’s important to start taking steps to gather all of the information you can in order to argue your case. While it is possible to gather the information yourself, you should consider retaining a lawyer to assist you. Not only will a lawyer be able to assist with gathering the relevant information, they will be able to retain the necessary experts to synthesize and make use of the data. Finally, even if you are at fault, don’t forget that you are still entitled to accident benefits to help pay for your recovery after the accident. For more information on those benefits, see our Layman’s Guide to ICBC Part 7 Benefits.