BY JOE FRIES, PENTICTON HERALD
PENTICTON, B.C. — After finally reaching an out-of-court settlement, a motorist injured more than four years ago in a school bus crash near Summerland is speaking out about the Insurance Corporation of B.C.’s handling of his claim.
He and his wife, former Canadian Olympic swimmer Elaine Tanner, 64, were injured June 7, 2011, when their car was side-swiped by a school bus involved in a head-on collision with a third vehicle on Highway 97.
Nine of 14 students on the bus, plus the pregnant teacher who was driving, all from Princess Margaret Secondary School, were injured. The driver who collided with the bus, Oliver man John Borba, died at the scene.
Coroners later suggested wet roads and near-bald tires on the northbound Chrysler Cirrus driven by Borba caused it to hydroplane and slide into the southbound bus, which was returning to Penticton from Kelowna.
The car in which Watt and Tanner were riding, an Oldsmobile Alero, was a write-off for which the couple was reimbursed without hassle, Watt said, but compensation for their relatively minor injuries and treatment took much longer.
Watt said the Victoria couple’s lawyer only settled out-of-court with ICBC in October, a long, drawn-out process he believes could have been avoided.
“ICBC could have put this to rest prior to us even contacting a lawyer. All they had to do was show some compassion and consideration and respect to Elaine and I,” said Watt, who declined to reveal the terms of the settlement.
“Think about the money that they could save if they were more compassionate and thoughtful to legitimate, credible claimants.”
Besides years of uncertainty for the two, Watt continued, an early settlement would have also eliminated the need for their lawyer to file a separate lawsuit against the Okanagan Skaha School District and the Borba estate. He said the lawyer was simply following standard practice, but it nonetheless came as a surprise to the couple when the claim made headlines in 2013.
“I was very disturbed with people thinking we were going after everybody,” said Watt, adding the couple’s intent was never to seek recourse from the school district or Borba’s family.
Still, he has no regrets about going the legal route with ICBC and suggests others to do the same if they feel they’re being mistreated.
“My advice is try to make a fair settlement without a lawyer initially, but if they experience poor communications as Elaine and I did and you feel you have nowhere to turn, then seek out a credible lawyer who’s experienced in handling ICBC claims,” Watt said.
ICBC spokesman Adam Grossman declined comment specifically on Watt’s case, but said in a statement that striking a balance between compensating victims and defending those at fault doesn’t come cheap.
“While there are many benefits to our auto insurance system in B.C. — including medical and rehab benefits which are among the highest in Canada — the fact is, the benefits of our tort system come at a cost, including higher legal costs,” he said.
According to Grossman, 99 per cent of cases are settled out of court, and an increasing volume of claims, not legal costs, is to blame for rising insurance rates.
He said ICBC received 68,000 new injury claims in the 12 months ended June 2015, an increase of 7,000 from the year prior, while payouts are expected to reach $2.3 billion this year, up from $1.4 billion in 2008.
Court records showBY JOE FRIES, PENTICTON HERALD Okanagan Skaha School District is a named defendant in at least two more lawsuits resulting from the bus crash.
Superintendent Wendy Hyer declined comment since the matters are still before the courts.
Source: The Province