The B.C. Court of Appeal has upheld a previous court decision that ordered a Langford car dealership to pay a woman $5.5 million after she was hit by a car in Central Saanich in 2018, causing catastrophic injuries and leaving her sister dead.
Tracy Ann Ward was struck by a Jeep Cherokee on Central Saanich Road on Aug. 27, 2018, while she was walking with her sister, Kim, and their dogs.
The car, driven by Anthony Thomas, struck the group, killing Kim and her dog, while leaving Ward with a brain injury, partial blindness and partial paralysis.
In 2022, Thomas was found guilty of six charges, including impaired driving causing death, dangerous driving, and having a blood concentration of meth in excess of any limit.
The sisters’ mother, Ellen Ward, also launched a civil lawsuit against Aggatha Siah, a woman who had signed a purchase agreement to buy the Jeep – and Harris Victoria Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram Ltd., where the Jeep was being purchased from at the time of the collision.
In June 2022, the B.C. Supreme Court ruled that the car dealership was the owner of the Jeep at the time of the crash and was “vicariously liable.” It was ultimately ordered to pay the Ward family $5.5 million.
Meanwhile, Siah was not found liable for damages since she was unaware of Thomas’ impairment at the time of the crash.
The Langford car dealership appealed the decision, and on Wednesday the province’s court of appeal decided to uphold the $5.5 million award.
Appeal judge Victoria Newbury agreed with the supreme court’s previous decision that Harris Victoria Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram was the owner of the vehicle at the time of the crash.
While Siah was a prospective buyer of the Jeep Cherokee when the crash occurred, she still did not have financing for the vehicle at the time and ownership had never officially changed hands.
Instead, the dealership had allowed her to take the vehicle for 10 days while she tried to find financing for the car.
During that time, Siah’s spouse allowed Thomas to borrow the car, which is when the crash occurred.
Neither Siah nor her spouse knew that he had consumed meth and alcohol before he borrowed the vehicle, and they would have had little reason to think so since he regularly drove their family members in the past, the court ruled.
The dealership, meanwhile, made its appeal on the grounds that if it had known that Thomas had consumed drugs, it would not have allowed him to drive the car.
However, Newbury said that because the dealership allowed Siah to have the car for 10 days, it implied that she could use it, and allow friends or family members to drive the vehicle.
The supreme court had previously likened it to the dealership allowing Siah to have the car for an extended test drive, meaning even though it was off the company’s lot it still belonged to the dealership since it had not been officially purchased.
It added that even though Siah had signed a “bill of sale” for the car, it was not a binding agreement of purchase for the vehicle, and a final deal had never been inked.
Lawyer Darren Williams, who represented the Ward family, says it’s a common tactic for car dealerships to allow people to drive their vehicles without a deal being cleared, as it can increase the chances of a sale.
Williams added that while the money is welcomed by the family, the tragedy surrounding the crash still weighs heavily on the Wards.
Tracy requires round-the-clock care, and her mother is often by her bedside.
“It’s tough to have a good Christmas, even with this,” he said.
-With files from CHEK’s Kori Sidaway
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