A couple who claimed neither of them was behind the wheel when their Range Rover collided with a pickup truck and hit two pedestrians on Water Street during a 2017 snowstorm didn’t convince the judge.
Vehicle owner Ava Stellinga and her then-partner Rhea Lafferty were found liable for the accident in a ruling by B.C. Supreme Court Judge Lisa Warren released this week, following a trial last month.
Renee Savaia and Riley Gillespie sued the couple. Savaia and Gillespie were walking south on Water Street near Bernard Avenue when they were hit by an older-model Range Rover about 1 a.m. The vehicle ran a red light, collided with a pickup truck and hit the pedestrians. The driver fled on foot, according to a recap of the incident in Warren’s written decision.
After the accident, Lafferty denied he was driving the Range Rover. Stellinga said she did not know who was driving the Range Rover.
According to their version of events, the two had been drinking at a function at the Delta Grand hotel and had a fight. Lafferty claimed he left on foot and stopped at a house party. Stellinga said she hailed a cab and and discovered the crash scene by accident on her way home.
She was reported at the crash scene to have exclaimed: “My vehicle was stolen.”
But according to the judge’s decision: “The key to the Range Rover was found inside the vehicle. There was no damage to the vehicle that might have suggested it had been broken into or that its ignition had been tampered with.”
The court also heard from Stellinga’s cab driver, who said she told him she and Lafferty had had a fight, he took the car and got into an accident. The cabbie then took her to the accident scene.
ICBC accused Stellinga of lying in her statement about the accident to them and refused to cover the accident.
Lafferty and Stellinga were living together at the time. Their relationship ended in January 2019, the judge wrote.
“I have serious concerns about the credibility of Mr. Lafferty and Ms. Stellinga,” wrote the judge. “There were several aspects of the testimony of each of them that have caused me to conclude that they were not truthful about the central facts.
“Mr. Lafferty’s testimony reflected a selective memory of the night as a whole.
“Ms. Stellinga’s memory of the evening was selective, in a way that clearly suggested she was shaping her evidence to align with her interest.
“For the reasons expressed below, I am satisfied, on a balance of probabilities, that Mr. Lafferty was driving the Range Rover at the time of the accident and that, before Ms. Stellinga got into Mr. Gill’s cab, she knew that he had taken her vehicle and gotten into an accident.
The judge found Lafferty, who also went by the name Matthew Fortune, liable for the accident and Stellinga “vicariously liable.”