Canadian Underwriter

Jury awards ICBC $4.5 million in chop shop suit

December 5, 2003   by Canadian Underwriter

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A British Columbia Supreme Court jury has awarded ICBC $4.5 million in a civil lawsuit against two brothers who operated a chop shop in Mission, B.C. It is believed to be the largest punitive award of its kind.<br>
“This is a tremendous win for ICBC customers,” said Mark Withenshaw, ICBC’s vice president of loss management. “ICBC has adopted a zero tolerance policy towards fraud and it’s very encouraging to see that juries feel equally as strongly about those who attempt to defraud our policyholders.”<br>
ICBC launched the lawsuit against Steve and Nick Finley following an investigation involving the Mission RCMP, the Auto Theft Task Force (now known as I.M.P.A.C.T.), and ICBC fraud investigators. The brothers operated a chop shop out of a rented house and barn in a secluded area of Mission. They told neighbours they provided vehicles for the film industry.<br>
The RCMP found evidence of 28 chopped vehicles on the property. The Finleys had been operating a chop shop at that location from 1996 to 1998, when the search warrant was executed. Both brothers were also charged and convicted of possession of stolen property.<br>
In the lawsuit against the brothers ICBC sought $500,000 in compensatory damages, plus punitive damages. The jury awarded ICBC $2 million against each brother in punitive damages. The total value of the award is $4.5 million.<br>
“This is the largest ever punitive damages award in favour of an insurance company in Canada, quite possibly in North America,” said Withenshaw. “ICBC will not stand by and simply pass the costs of fraud on to our customers. We will aggressively pursue fraudulent activity, we will sue, and this decision shows that juries are intolerant towards those who rip off our policyholders.”<br>
ICBC’s fraud prevention programs helped save ICBC an estimated $50 million in 2002. ICBC investigators work with police and other agencies when appropriate. Evidence gathered through these investigations can result in criminal charges, civil actions or both.<br>
ICBC has been utilizing the public’s help to combat fraud by using the insurer’s “Tip Line”. More than 800 people call each month with information about suspicious claims and other potential fraud. Tip Line information is confidential and callers can remain anonymous. The Tip Line number is 604-661-6844 in the Lower Mainland or 1-800-661-6844 (toll free) in the rest of the province.<br>