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Sea to Sky Tragedy and the Need to Reform B.C. Wrongful Death Laws

SMR Law

By Michael D. Shirreff

The tragic accident last week on the highway between Whistler and Pemberton, in which two men in the prime of their lives were struck and killed by a vehicle, will no doubt reveal yet another example of why B.C.’s wrongful death laws are in much need of reform.

We are often retained to assist families who have lost loved ones in a wide range of cases – ie. auto accidents, cases of medical negligence, or death during recreational activities such as whitewater rafting or skiing. One of the most difficult issues in these cases is explaining to the families the very limited compensation that is available to them under our current Family Compensation Act.

The current Act is in desperate need of reform. In my view, the legislation fails to adequately compensate families for the losses that follow when a loved one passes.

In particular, the Act only allows a family to seek compensation for the direct financial losses resulting from their family member’s death. This limited level of damages fails to acknowledge the true impact of such an accident on a victim’s family.

As a result, the Act grossly undervalues the impact of the death of a child, seniors and people with disabilities who do not present a measurable financial loss to their family. This is perhaps not surprising when one considers that the Act is based, in large part, on a British statute dated back to 1846.

There are a number of organizations in B.C. that have been calling for these antiquated laws to be reformed and amended so as to properly be compensated following the death of a loved one.

One of the leaders in this regard is an association in which I am an Executive member – the Trial Lawyers Association of B.C. With any luck, the efforts of TLABC and others will lead to some much needed legislative reform in the near future. Until then, many families will be inadequately compensated when a loved one is lost in an accident such as that last week.

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About the BC Wrongful Death Law Reform Society

‘In Their Name’ is the campaign of ‘The BC Wrongful Death Law Reform Society’ – a BC registered non-profit organization comprised of volunteer families who have lost a loved one to wrongful death in BC and were denied access to justice. In response to the biggest human rights issue facing the province today, our goal is to modernize British Columbia’s antiquated wrongful death legislation, which predates confederation (1846). Under current legislation, the value of a human life is measured only by the deceased’s future lost income, so long as they had dependents.

As a result of the province’s antiquated law, access to justice has been denied to the families of the wrongfully killed who do not meet this discriminatory criteria. This has affected especially vulnerable groups, namely children, seniors, the disabled, and anyone without dependents when they are killed by the negligent or intentional acts of another.

BC is presently the last of all the provinces, yet to have undertaken this critical legislative modernization to allow for dignity, value, and protections for all its citizens under the law.

When it’s ‘free’ to kill in BC, wrongdoers are not held accountable. This lack of general deterrence holds the province back in terms of incentivizing innovation of safety measures and protocols to prevent wrongful deaths in the first place.


Here’s How You Can Get Involved…

The Attorney General of British Columbia, David Eby, is the Minister responsible for the ‘Family Compensation Act’ – the guiding piece of legislation that the civil courts must follow in cases of wrongful death. Minister Eby receives feedback from the regional ‘Members of the Legislative Assembly’ (MLAs) and follows orders from the Premier, John Horgan.

Reform is presently at a standstill, as the BC NDP government does not presently view access to justice for the surviving family members of the wrongfully killed as a priority in this province. This is despite the fact that the families behind our Society have been fighting for modernization for over two decades. And despite the fact that all other provinces, including the Yukon, have already modernized in most cases long ago.

The only way to move this forward is by creating massive public awareness and outcry for legislative modernization. Only under the scrutiny of the public and the media will our politicians be forced to take this necessary, and long overdue action.

How many more people will need to die from the same preventable wrongful actions before our politicians will do their job?

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