Reasonable Doubt: What car accident?

Remember that car accident you were in years ago? Kevin Yee walks you through a dreaded conversation you may be in if you find yourself sued for causing a car accident.

“Hello. My name is Kevin Yee. I’m wondering if you have a few minutes to talk about a car accident you were involved in a while back.”

“What? I wasn’t in a car accident.”

“Well, the car accident I’m referring to happened all the way back in 2011. It was around the intersection of Sesame Street and Anonymous Avenue, Townsville, B.C. Does this ring a bell?…

“I realize it was a long time ago. And perhaps it didn’t seem like a major one at the time and you haven’t given it any thought after it.”

“Wait—oh yeah! Yes, I remember that. What about it? Boy, that was a long time ago. I can barely remember it.”

“That’s okay. I can’t remember what I ate for lunch yesterday so I certainly can’t give you grief. But the reason I’m calling is that I wanted to introduce myself. What has happened is that the other person involved in the accident has started a lawsuit. She has named you as a defendant for your part in the accident. ICBC has hired me to act as your lawyer in this lawsuit.”

This represents what can often be the starting conversation between an insurer-appointed lawyer and the insured driver for whom she is appointed to represent.

Last week, Joseph Fearon wrote an article on what you might expect right after you get in a car accident. Let’s say that you reported the accident to ICBC, spoke to a representative on a few occasions, and even got your car inspected. Let’s also say that you didn’t hear about it again and put the whole matter out of your mind. Finally, let’s say that months or even years later, when this accident was a distant memory, the other person decided to start a lawsuit against you. Perhaps you found out about the lawsuit because one day, out of the blue, a process server handed you some court documents. Or maybe you learned about the lawsuit when someone identifying herself as your lawyer contacts you like in the fictitious phone conversation above.

As the person on the other side of the telephone conversation, I can only imagine the thoughts swirling in your head when I call with this news. Maybe you frantically search your memory for the accident. Maybe, while I’m talking, you’re able to rescue a few stray observations and vague impressions. And my guess is that whatever you can recall will affect the tone of the inevitable questions that follow. The conversation then switches dramatically and becomes one-sided in the other direction. You may have questions that go something like this:

“That was so long ago. Can they still do that?”

In B.C., personal injury lawsuits may generally be commenced up to two years after the incident. It’s not unusual for a lawsuit to start over a year after a car accident. In certain circumstances, this deadline can vary.

“But the person seemed fine! And now they’re claiming they suffered an injury? Give me a break!”

It can be frustrating to find yourself thrown into a lawsuit for what you recall as a pretty minor accident. It’s tempting to be skeptical. But at this point, you and your lawyer simply don’t know the extent of any injuries from the accident. That’s where your lawyer comes in. It’s the lawyer’s job to assess the claim and defend the lawsuit on behalf of you and your insurer.

“Should I be worried?”

No one wants to have a lawsuit hanging over their head. Unfortunately, they can drag on for some time. Your lawyer will advise you of the process, your role, and how you can assist in the defence of the claim.

“Ok. What do I need to do?”

Be patient—these proceedings can take a long time and your involvement will likely be minimal. This is especially the case if the lawsuit, like most, ends up settling rather than proceeding to a trial. Don’t be surprised if you don’t hear any updates for months on end. That said, your lawyer is there to answer any questions you may have throughout the course of the lawsuit.

Also, provide all records, notes, and photographs relating to the accident to your lawyer. Your lawyer needs to learn as much about the accident as he or she can. What may seem insignificant could be crucial in your defence.

Finally, cooperate with your lawyer. They are there to represent and help you. If they are giving you advice, they are doing so with your interest in mind.

A word of caution: You should not act or rely on the information provided in this column. It is not legal advice. To ensure your interests are protected, retain or formally seek advice from a lawyer.

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