In order to deny first party benefits under an insurance policy on the basis that the insured attempted to commit suicide, the insurer must overcome the common law presumption against the commission of suicide. Overcoming this presumption requires the insurer to establish, with clear and unequivocal evidence, that the insured committed or attempted to commit suicide.

Huber (Guardian ad litem of) v. Insurance Corp. of British Columbia, [2004] B.C.J. No. 903, British Columbia Supreme Court

Ms. Huber was injured in a motor vehicle accident when her vehicle crossed the centre line and collided with a semi tractor-trailer which had been travelling in the opposite direction. The automobile insurer refused to pay first party benefits to Ms. Huber, on the basis that the accident was the result of an attempt to commit suicide. The automobile insurer relied upon section 96(c) of the Regulations of the Insurance (Motor Vehicle) Act. Section 96(c) states:

96 The Corporation is not liable to pay benefits under this part in respect of the injury or death of a person …

(c) who commits suicide or attempts to commit suicide, whether he is sane or insane …

The trial judge noted that the onus of proof lies on the insurer to establish that insurance proceeds should not be paid on the basis that the insured committed suicide, as there is a presumption against the commission of suicide recognized at common law. “Clear and unequivocal” evidence is required to tip the balance of probabilities sufficiently to justify a denial of benefits based on a finding of suicide.

The trial judge determined that previous suicide attempts, and prior suicidal ideas expressed by the insured, were not admissible as similar fact evidence because the prejudicial effect of the evidence would far outweigh any probative value. The trial judge admitted into evidence, and relied upon, notations made in the hospital records which indicated that the insured had advised the physicians and her family that she drove her car into the semi trailer intentionally hoping to die. The trial judge concluded that the insurer had overcome the common law presumption against the commission of suicide and was not required to pay first party benefits pursuant to its’ policy of automobile insurance.

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