A B.C. Supreme Court jury has awarded ICBC almost $2.93 million in damages as a result of 12 fraudulent insurance claims � 10 of which involved �staged accidents� � that occurred in Lower Mainland in the late 1990s.
The defendants, Ahmed Faris, Gagik Grigorian, Salim Awada, Mohammed Awada, Ibrahim Elkassas, Paula Wilson Everitt, Hassan Awada, Janusz Przeworski, Louay Awada, Daniel Tomaszewicz, Khalid Arabi and Azhar Salh Ali were ordered to pay, based on their level of involvement in specific claims, a total of $72,251 in ICBC�s investigative costs; $322,506 in ICBC�s claims costs and $2,542,500 in punitive damages.
ICBC will also seek interest on the awards and the legal costs of obtaining the judgments.
�ICBC invests in fraud prevention because less fraud means low and stable rates for our customers, said Mark Withenshaw, ICBC�s vice president of loss management. “We will not sit back and simply pass the cost of fraud onto our honest customers. We have a zero tolerance for fraud and we will pursue fraudulent claims aggressively.”
ICBC�s legal counsel at the trial, Michael Hewitt, said the punitive awards will send a strong message to the public. �Obviously the jury punished the individual defendants for the damage they did to ICBC and its customers,� he said. �But they also sent a message that if anyone thinks that these insurance fraud schemes might be a good idea, they should think again.�
ICBC filed a civil lawsuit in July 2003 against 21 people and three companies, alleging that, in different combinations, they conspired to intentionally cause 10 collisions and then made fraudulent claims to ICBC for compensation. Two claims not involving staged crashes were also included in the action.
Eight members of that original group of defendants were not involved in the jury award because they settled with ICBC prior to the trial, were dropped from the lawsuit or became part of a separate lawsuit to be tried next year.
At the trial, which took place over 2 1/2 weeks in Vancouver, ICBC presented evidence to the jury that 12 incidents of fraud involving the defendants � many of whom were associates — occurred between 1996 and 2001. The majority of the crashes took place in Burnaby and Vancouver. ICBC was seeking to recover over $322,000 in claims costs paid, plus all additional costs related to its investigation, punitive damages, interest and legal costs.
ICBC had discovered that many of the collisions, which had appeared to be legitimate when the claims were made, involved people who had known each other and who had planned to stage the collisions in order to claim for compensation for vehicle damage and personal injuries.
Some of the individuals denied those relationships to investigators, and others admitted to them. However, the Court found all the defendants involved at the trial liable for fraudulently reporting the collisions. The jury awarded all of ICBC�s claims for compensation of its own claim and investigation costs, plus punitive damages ranging from $55,000 to $900,000 against each of the individual participants.
The largest of the awards was made against Ahmed Faris, who was involved in six of the claims, and now faces judgments against him in excess of $1.1 million.
ICBC estimates that fraud costs each of its policyholder between $100 and $150 every year.
ICBC�s Tip Line is a tool that helps combat fraud, averaging more than 1,000 calls every month from people reporting a range of vehicle-related issues. Information is confidential and callers can remain anonymous. The Tip Line number is 604-661-6844 or 1-800-661-6844.