VANCOUVER -- A car dealer in Trail, B.C., says he’s been left with no recourse but to sue his own customers because ICBC refuses to accept insurance claims for certain vehicles damaged by a large acid spill on a public highway.

ICBC received more than 4,000 claims related to a pair of incidents in the spring of 2019 that saw thousands of litres of sulphuric acid spilled onto a highway near Trail.

The acid was being transported from a Teck Resources plant in trucks owned and operated by Westcan.

Before the impact of the damage to vehicles that drove through the acid was immediately known, AM Ford in Trail acquired 13 of them in trade-ins with customers.

Twenty-six other vehicles owned by the dealer were also damaged by the spills, and AM Ford owner Dan Ashman says claims for those have since been settled after the vehicles were inspected by adjusters from the dealership’s private insurance company.

Ashman claims the same adjusters also inspected the 13 vehicles received in trade prior to the damage being known by the owners or the dealership — and all were found to be damaged beyond repair and unsafe.

The highly corrosive acid affects the lifespan of the vehicles and accelerates contamination of the aluminum parts.

“I’ve already sat on this for two-and-a-half years,” Ashman said. “I’m not letting this thing die. The bottom line is I just want to get a fair resolution.”

ICBC previously said it received thousands of claims and wrote off hundreds of vehicles due to damage from the acid spill.

But the 13 that Ashman’s dealership accepted on trade in the fall into an unusual category.

All were insured by ICBC at the time they were driven through the spill, but the damage was apparently unknown to the owners, who subsequently bought new vehicles and traded the damaged ones in as part of those transactions.

They have never been inspected by ICBC.

The vehicles are not covered by AM Ford’s private insurance because the dealership did not own them at the time they were damaged.

AM Ford provided CTV News with correspondence from ICBC.

“ICBC is responsible to its insured for losses suffered by it’s insured during the term of their insurance policies with ICBC while these policies are in effect,” an ICBC lawyer says in a letter dated June 13, 2019. “There was no contractual relationship in place between your dealership and ICBC when the alleged damage occurred. Accordingly, there is no ICBC policy to cover your potential losses.”

After attempting to get money for the damaged vehicles from ICBC with no success, Ashman said he had no choice but to file suit against the customers who made the trade-ins without knowing their vehicles were damaged.

He estimates the value of the 13 vehicles to be about $140,000.

“I’m caught in the middle, I haven’t seen the money, we’re talking six figures-plus, and very simply, I just want fairness,” Ashman said. “Right now, I’m in a position where I have to sue 13 of my own customers.”

Ashman fears those 13 customers, some of whom have bought numerous vehicles from him over decades, will take their business elsewhere in the future.

He expects them to sue ICBC for any potential losses and costs arising from the lawsuits.

“I’m just looking for common sense and fairness,” he said. “Let’s just get this thing behind us.”

ICBC has filed its own lawsuit against a number of people and organizations in relation to the acid spill, including Westcan, Teck, the drivers of the tankers the acid spilled from, the City of Trail and the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure and the Ministry of Environment.

That legal action could take years to sort out.

In a response to CTV News request for comment, ICBC reiterated that it had no contractual relationship with AM Ford at the time of the alleged damage so there was no ICBC insurance policy in place to cover the dealer’s losses.

The Crown corporation said it received 4,800 claims relating to the two acid spills and about 10 per cent of those customers‘ vehicles were found to have damage and were written off.