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B.C. widow successfully challenges ICBC's denial of death benefits

Signage for ICBC (Insurance Corporation of British Columbia) is shown in Victoria, on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018. (Chad Hipolito / THE CANADIAN PRESS) Signage for ICBC (Insurance Corporation of British Columbia) is shown in Victoria, on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018. (Chad Hipolito / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
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A B.C. widow who was denied spousal benefits after her husband died in a motorcycle crash has successfully challenged the move and the public insurer has been ordered to pay her more than $400,000.

The B.C. Civil Resolution ruled on the dispute Friday, finding that the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia wrongfully denied benefits on the basis that that the woman and her husband were not living together at the time of the fatal accident.

Ghislain Dion died in June of 2022 when he was 50 years old, leaving behind two young children and his wife Gian Dion – who he had been married to since 2014. When Mrs. Dion applied for the $380,000 spousal death benefit it was denied, according to the decision.

“ICBC says Mrs. Dion was not Mr. Dion’s spouse because even though they were legally married, they were not residing together when he died,” tribunal vice-chair Eric Regehr wrote.

“Mrs. Dion says that ICBC’s argument ignores the complexity of her relationship with Mr. Dion. She maintains that they were spouses and that she should receive a spousal death benefit accordingly.”

Disagreement over definition

The decision notes that the legal definition of the term “spouse” at issue in the case was the one contained in B.C.’s Enhanced Accident Benefits Regulation. The legislation defines a spouse as someone “who was married to and residing with the deceased on the date of death, or who lived in a marriage-like relationship with the deceased for at least two years immediately preceding the date of death.”

ICBC, for its part, argued that because Mrs. Dion did not meet all of the criteria in the first definition, she should not be considered a spouse under the second – and less restrictive – definition. Regehr found that these definitions were not mutually exclusive.

“Two people can ‘live with’ each other in a marriage-like relationship without residing in the same place, he wrote, rejecting ICBC’s argument that “the words ‘live with’ have the same effect as ‘resides with.’”

Mrs. Dion submitted evidence that acknowledged she had moved out of the family home in the months before her husband’s death, but said the separation was never meant to be permanent. In support of her claim she provided intimate details about her relationship and evidence that included text messages, photos, video, financial information and statements from family and friends.

What is legal separation? 

Legally, the decision explains, a couple does not separate the moment they stop living under the same roof. Nor does someone need to move out of a shared home in order for a couple to be separated.

“Once formed, a marriage-like relationship continues to exist unless and until the spouses separate,” the decision says.

“When determining whether a marriage-like relationship has ended, the court asks whether a spouse has communicated an intention to permanently separate and acted on that intention. The court also considers several factors, including whether the couple continues to reside in the same home, remains sexually intimate, carries on activities in public as a couple, shares financial resources, and shares significant family events.”

In this case, there was no evidence that either Mr. or Mrs. Dion indicated that the separation was meant to be anything other than temporary. In addition, the couple’s relationship remained “marriage like” until Mr. Dion’s death.

“I find that Mr. and Mrs. Dion never separated,” Regehr wrote.

The tribunal’s decision also pointed out that ICBC was legally required to pay out the spousal benefit to Mr. Dion’s children regardless of the outcome of this dispute and that the insurer had “no financial stake” in the outcome.

In addition to the $380,000 spousal benefit, the insurer was ordered to pay Mrs. Dion $27,084.11 in pre-judgment interest and $125 in tribunal fees.

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