A car stolen from a parking lot may not be entitled to insurance coverage under a storage policy

02. August 2010 0

Action for damages for breach of an insurance policy dismissed. The insured vehicle was parked in a Kal Tire parking lot when it was stolen. The insurance policy did not cover losses for stored vehicles when they are parked on a “highway”. The Kal Tire parking lot was found to be a “highway” as that term is defined in the policy and as it has been interpreted in the case law.

0724969 B.C. Ltd. (c.o.b. Wholesale Auto Direct) v. Insurance Corp. of British Columbia, [2010] B.C.J. No. 865, May 11, 2010, British Columbia Supreme Court, T.W. Bowden J.

The insured had an automobile insurance “storage policy” with Insurance Corporation of British Columiba (“ICBC”), insuring the vehicle against a number of risks, including theft, but only if the vehicle was stored. The vehicle was stolen from a privately owned lot where it was parked. The lot was available for use by customers of Kal Tire and TCJ Auto Group. The lot had 200 spaces marked on an asphalt surface. The insured vehicle was parked in one of the spaces. The lot was not gated and there were no signs posted indicating any parking restrictions. There were four public entranceways to the lot from adjoining streets and a laneway.

The insurance policy did not apply to vehicles parked on a “highway”. The question before the court was therefore whether the insured vehicle was parked on a “highway” when it was stolen. The term “highway” is not specifically defined in the Insurance (Vehicle) Act or Regulations. But Part 1 defines “highway” to mean “a highway as defiend in the Motor Vehicle Act“. The insured argued that the definition in Part 1 only applied to the three types of compulsory insurance coverages and not optional coverages such as a storage policy. It further argued that as the term was not otherwise defined, it should be given its plain ordinary meaning. The insurer argued, and the court agreed, that the certificate of insurance stated on its face that “except as otherwise provided…all terms, including definitions, of the Insurance (Motor Vehicle) Act and Regulations apply to this policy.” Further, paragraph 2.2. of Division 2 of the Policy stated: “Unless otherwise defined in this policy, words and phrases used in this policy have the meanings given to them by sections 1 and 1.1 of the Insurance (Vehicle) Act…and apply to this policy even if in the context of the Act or Regulation they apply only to universal compulsory insurance.” The court found the section to be dispositive of the insured’s argument.

Having found that the definition of “highway” in the Motor Vehicle Act applied to the storage policy, the court went on to examine whether the area where the insured vehicle was parked at the time of the loss fell within the definition. The definition of “highway” in the Motor Vehicle Act includes: (a) every highway within the meaning of the Transportation Act; (b) every road, street, lane or right of way designed or intended for or used by the general public for the passage of vehicles, and (c) every private place or passageway to which the public, for the purposes of the parking or servicing of vehicles, has access or is invited. The court found that the parking lot was a “highway”. Although it was a private place, in that it was privately owned, it was not used exclusively for parking for customers. There were no signs restricting parking to customers of the business. The area was not gated. The court found that the owner of the lot where the vehicle was kept clearly intended the public to have access to any of the marked parking stalls. The fact that the public had unresticted access to the area where the vehicle was parked changed the nature of the risk that the insurer was insuring. The court found that there was therefore no coverage under the policy.

This case was digested by Natasha D. Morley and edited by David W. Pilley of Harper Grey LLP.

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