B.C. court distinguishes between a “driver training event” and a “contest, show or race”

Posted on Jul 25, 2012

A British Columbia court has determined the owner of a Corvette is entitled to insurance coverage after he severely damaged the car during an event the judge described as “driver training event,” as opposed to a “contest, show or race,” which would have been in breach of his insurance policy.

The Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) argued that Garth Nye was operating his vehicle in breach of regulations or his insurance policy, B.C. Superior Court Justice J. Keith Bracken writes in Nye v Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, released on July 16, 2012. The ICBC refused coverage.

The claim followed a May 3, 2010 collision at a motor sport track as part of an event sponsored by the Victoria Corvette Club, which organizes activities for its members. Nye was driving his car on a closed track, consisting of turns, controlled stops and manoeuvres around pylons. Each driver wore a helmet and each vehicle underwent a safety inspection.

Nye gave evidence that as he tried to complete a turn around the last pylon, he attempted to place his foot on the brake pedal, which is bare metal without any rubber pad covering. But his foot slipped and hit the accelerator pedal.

Nye’s vehicle lurched forward and he lost control of the car, which collided with a concrete retaining wall, Bracken’s decision notes. Nye was not injured, but the car was essentially “written off.”

Nye filed a claim immediately after the accident. An adjuster confirmed in writing on May 26, 2010 that Nye was found to be 100% at fault. About a month later, on June 24, 2010, the ICBC wrote to advise that the loss was not covered because it occurred while Nye was engaged in an activity in breach of his policy conditions and the Insurance (Vehicle) Regulation 447/83.

The terms and conditions of the policy, identical to the wording of the regulation, note that coverage does not apply when a vehicle is being used “in a contest, show or race, or in advanced or performance driver training, if (i) the activity is held or conducted on a track or other location temporarily or permanently closed to all other vehicle traffic, and (ii) there exists an element of race or speed test, which means driving at high speed, and includes passing manoeuvres, driving in close proximity to another vehicle or assessing vehicle limitations in speed, acceleration, turning or braking.”

ICBC argued “the plaintiff was engaged in an advanced or performance driving training program that included elements of competition and that the plaintiff was testing the limits of his vehicle,” the ruling notes. ICBC further noted Nye was driving a high-powered car on a closed track and he had disabled the traction control function to see how the vehicle would respond.

Nye denies the activity was dangerous or risky. “Rather, he argues that the evidence establishes that the activity was an opportunity to assist participants in safe driving and how to handle their vehicle safely in a setting that was free from the distraction or interference of any other vehicles,” the court ruling says.

Bracken points out that the event was not timed; Nye was not competing against any other driver; the event was designed for the novice and had an emphasis on safety and participation, not competition; the event did not require greater than normal driving speeds or driver skills; and Victoria Corvette Club officers saw the event as a driver training event.

“I accept his evidence that the accident resulted when his foot slipped from the brake to the accelerator, causing the vehicle to accelerate directly into the retaining wall,” Bracken writes.