Judge awards largest punitive damage award in B.C. pedestrian crash: lawyer

A woman was awarded $100,000 for punitive damages in addition to more than $2M for general damages

A lawyer says his client has been awarded the largest amount ever by a Canadian court for punitive damages linked to a motor vehicle accident.

Veronica Howell was hit by a pickup truck while she was jay-walking across a Vancouver street in January 2014. She suffered a brain injury and other injuries that the B.C. Supreme Court says “changed her life dramatically.”

Howell, who was 22 at the time of the accident, was awarded $100,000 for punitive damages in addition to more than $2 million for general damages and loss of income.

Howell’s lawyer, John Rice, said the punitive award is the largest he could find involving a vehicle accident.

“I couldn’t find a single case in the hit-and-run context,” he said in an interview Tuesday. “There had been drunk-driving contexts and others, and punitive damages awards in the tens of thousands of dollars. I think I saw one for $35,000, but this is drastically higher than any one in the past.”

The court found the pickup driver, who was suspended from driving, was on the wrong side of the road when he passed stopped traffic and struck Howell.

The court ruling said Leon Machi drove off afterwards and failed to co-operate with Vancouver police and the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia during the investigation. Machi claimed he was not the driver and someone named Michael had been using his truck.

READ MORE: Hit and run, luxury style, near Qualicum Beach

Justice Heather MacNaughton ruled the evidence Machi provided under oath was not credible.

“Mr. Machi’s actions are worthy of denunciation and retribution,” she wrote in her decision, dated Oct. 12.

The punitive damages take into account that he didn’t stop after the collision and had ”shown complete disregard for the suspensions of his driver’s licence,” MacNaughton said.

Rice said the judgment sends a message to the public that reckless behaviour and contempt of the law will not be tolerated.

Howell was found to be 25 per cent responsible for the accident, which reduced the total damages she was awarded.

The court’s decision noted that Machi filed for bankruptcy before the trial started.

Rice said it’s unclear how much Howell will successfully collect.

“The hope is that at least the punitive damages award would survive any bankruptcy declaration and that she would remain a creditor for that punitive damages award.”

Linda Givetash and Beth Leighton, The Canadian Press

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