Canadian Underwriter

Mud and snow tires in winter prompts another small claim in B.C.

October 1, 2020   by Greg Meckbach

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British Columbia car rental companies that provide mud and snow tires in December or January are keeping the province’s Civil Resolution Tribunal busy.

In Fraser v. ICBC, released Wednesday, the CRT ruled against a claimant who sought $5,000 in damages because the rental car that her insurer provided this past November was lacking winter tires with the snowflake symbol; instead, the rental car had mud and snow (M+S) tires.

A month earlier, in Terrace Motors v. Finnegan, the CRT dismissed a motorist’s counter-claim against a rental company that provided a vehicle in January with mud and snow tires. In Terrace Motors, the CRT noted that provincial regulations say tires can be considered winter tires if they either have the letters M and S or the mountain/snowflake symbol.

This week’s Fraser ruling arose out of an incident in November 2019, when Sandra Fraser told the Insurance Corporation of B.C. that her car was stolen. So the government-run auto insurer arranged a temporary replacement for Fraser through Enterprise Rent-a-Car Canada Company.

Fraser got the vehicle Nov. 25, 2019. Sometime later, it slid off the road while she was driving with her granddaughter. A branch got stuck in the car’s undercarriage. As a result, Fraser said she needed assistance from a car garage to remove it. It wasn’t clear exactly when the incident happened but the CRT agreed with ICBC that it most likely happened Dec. 2.

No one was injured but Fraser said the near-accident caused her to suffer mental anguish.

Ultimately, CRT member Kristin Gardner ruled against Fraser but did make a finding of fact that the rental provided to Fraser did in fact have mud and snow tires and not winter tires with the snowflake symbol.

Separately, Transport Canada warns that M+S (mud and snow) tires are not the same thing as winter tires, which have a pictograph of a peaked mountain with a snowflake and are designed for use in severe snow conditions. Mud and snow tires are also known as “all season” and may not always be suitable for severe snow conditions, says Transport Canada.

Transport Canada’s advice was not specifically mentioned in the Fraser ruling.

Key to the Fraser ruling, which dismissed claims against both ICBC and Enterprise, was that Fraser did not prove she suffered damages. She did not submit medical evidence. Though an actual diagnosis would not be required, a plaintiff must still provide evidence that their mental condition rose above a trivial or minor inconvenience, Gardner ruled.

Moreover, ICBC did approve an extra fee for winter tires on the rental, so the insurer could not be blamed for lack of winter tires that it approved.

Enterprise was technically in default because it failed to file a dispute response and did not participate.

One factor in dismissing Fraser’s claims was that she did not explain why she was driving with mud and snow tires on the day of the accident if she felt that the rental vehicle provided to her was unsafe.

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