Kelowna crash highlights ICBC's tenacity when it comes to fake claims | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Kelowna crash highlights ICBC's tenacity when it comes to fake claims

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February 13, 2020 - 7:30 AM

Trying to pull one over on ICBC may not be the best way to keep your costs down, one Kelowna woman learned after a crash that sent her Range Rover into two pedestrians.

Renee Savaia and Riley Gillespie were walking just past the intersection of Water Street and Bernard Avenue, Feb. 4, 2017 when a crash triggered a domino effect and sent a Range Rover in their direction.

The Range Rover — owned by Ava Stellinga, but not driven by her that night — had been travelling south on Water Street when it ran a red light at the Bernard Avenue intersection and collided with a pickup truck owned and operated by Metodi Sariyski.

The impact of that collision pushed the Range Rover onto the sidewalk at the southwest corner of the intersection, where it hit Savaia and Gillespie.

The driver of the Range Rover fled the scene on foot and shortly thereafter Stellinga showed up at the scene.

The crash and the subsequent collision with Savaia and Gillespie weren't debated, but the question for the court was who drove the Range Rover and did Stellinga know?

According to a court decision by Madam Justice Lisa Warren released this week, Stellinga tried to tell ICBC she didn't know who was driving. ICBC decided she was lying and denied her third party liability so she, in turn, sued them.

Warren had to go through the details of the incident to reach a conclusion and in doing so showed that the facts and Stellinga's official statement on the night in question didn't line up.  She also highlighted how far ICBC will go to investigate a claim that doesn't ring true.

The first issue Warren looked at was whether Stellinga's then-boyfriend Rhea Lafferty was the driver.

The witnesses at the scene said the driver looked like Lafferty, though that was just the tip of the iceberg.

Warren also pointed out that Lafferty was the most likely suspect despite a series of misleading statements by Stellinga that aimed to muddy the waters with her ICBC statement. 

Among other things, Stellinga tried to make it seem as though Lafferty hadn't informed her he'd been in a crash.

She said she didn't know her car was in a crash that night at all, until she happened upon it after leaving the Cactus Club, where she had been with Lafferty earlier.

The testimony of others and phone records painted a different picture.

A cab driver testified that Stellinga told him that her boyfriend had taken her car and gotten into an accident.

Another person testified that he heard Stellinga say that she had received a phone call telling her that her vehicle had been in an accident.

"Neither of them would have any reason to make up that evidence," Warren wrote.

There are also telephone records supporting the narrative that Lafferty called Stellinga to explain what happened before the cab door even opened.

Phone records establish that the first five calls Lafferty placed to Stellinga after about 12:40 a.m. went to her voicemail. One of those, at about 12:48 a.m., was for a duration of 43 seconds, while the others were much shorter.

"It is likely that he left a message during the 43-second call. The phone records establish that her phone answered the next seven calls he made to her, and that she then placed three calls to his phone, the second of which was answered with the other two being forwarded to voicemail," Warren wrote.

The records indicate that the duration of the answered calls between Stellinga and Lafferty during the period between about 12:40 a.m. and about 1:13 a.m. varied between 55 seconds and nine seconds, and totalled about four minutes.

Stellinga didn't have calls from anyone else during that time. 

"The only reasonable inference is that Lafferty was the person who told her, over the phone, that her car had been in an accident, that she became upset, and that they then engaged in a series of calls back and forth to and from each other," Warren wrote.

After participating in some of these calls, Stellinga got into the cab, crying, and told him her boyfriend had taken her car and gotten into an accident. Lafferty, incidentally, didn't have a driver's licence.

"The only reasonable inference is that Mr. Lafferty told her that he had taken her car and was driving it at the time of the accident," Warren wrote. "There's also nothing to support the idea that the Range Rover was broken into."

Warren pointed out that because of Stellinga’s wilfully false statement, the insurance corporation took further steps to investigate the identity of the driver of the Range Rover, such as retaining someone who could analyze phone records.

"That would have been unnecessary had she been truthful in her statement," Warren wrote.

"Further, if a driver’s identity is not ascertainable, then the plaintiffs’ claims would be subject to the procedure outlined in s. 24 of the Insurance (Vehicle) Act, which applies to hit and run accidents, and the associated coverage limits. Accordingly, Ms. Stellinga’s willfully false statement was capable of and did affect the mind of the insurer in the management of the claim."

For that reason, Warren found Stellinga forfeited her coverage and her third-party claim against ICBC was, therefore, dismissed.

A costs hearing will likely be held some time in the near future.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Kathy Michaels or call 250-718-0428 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

We welcome your comments and opinions on our stories but play nice. We won't censor or delete comments unless they contain off-topic statements or links, unnecessary vulgarity, false facts, spam or obviously fake profiles. If you have any concerns about what you see in comments, email the editor in the link above. 

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