Insurance doesn’t cover heartache
By Misha Warbanski, Quebec bureau chief
Pedestrians continue to die by no-fault drivers
When Jeanette Holman-Price talks about her daughter, her eyes are fierce with pride. She recalls Jessica as someone who was caring and compassionate, a young woman who carried a pocket full of “bum money,” and who would introduce herself to complete strangers.
This summer Jessica was posthumously awarded the Governor General’s award for bravery. She saved her little brother Peter Luc’s life. But it cost her own.
“When Jessica died, I think probably in the first five minutes when I was taking it in that she was gone. All they told me is that the driver didn’t see her. And I remember thinking, ‘it’s not possible not to see this girl.’ She had such a personality. Aside from being beautiful, she made sure people saw her. Whether she had her makeup on or not, whatever position she was in,” says Holman-Price. “For me, the award was all of Canada hearing ‘my name is Jessica, look at me now.’”
More so than knowing she was a hero—they told me she died a hero—she lived a hero.”
In December 2005 Jessica, a 21-year-old Concordia student, and her brother were waiting to cross the busy intersection at the corner of Strathcona and Sherbrooke in Montreal’s Westmount neighbourhood. A snow-removal truck turned in front of them when the light turned green and, according to witnesses, came up onto the sidewalk, knocking snow out from under their feet. Jessica pushed Peter Luc to safety before she herself was crushed beneath the truck’s wheels. Peter Luc survived, but barely, landing in the intensive care unit at the Montreal Children’s Hospital with a broken shoulder and pelvis.
The driver faced no criminal charges and, under article 83.57 of Quebec’s automobile insurance act, cannot be sued for damages. Holman-Price has been trying ever since to get adequate compensation for her dead daughter and permanently injured son. She’s also trying to raise awareness about Quebec’s accident record.
“Even though we can’t take it to court, we can make an awful lot more noise,” says Holman-Price, who is back in Montreal this week to campaign for pedestrian safety. Fifty-six more pedestrians have been killed since Jessica’s death. “That’s not including people in a coma, people with broken arms and broken legs,” says Holman-Price.
Quebec’s auto insurance board, the SAAQ, reports that an average of 10 pedestrians a day in the province are involved in motor-vehicle accidents. In attempt to improve the accident record in the province, Transport Quebec established the Quebec Road Safety Taskforce. The taskforce reported that the number of fatalities on the road in fact increased from 610 deaths in 2001 to 717 deaths in 2006. Another 50,443 people were injured. The taskforce published a list of recommendations to improve road safety this summer. The focus of the recommendations are reducing speed and cracking down on drunk drivers.
Jessica died because the driver did not yield the right of way to the pedestrians waiting to cross the street, a practice Holman-Price says is all too common in Montreal because the police tend not to enforce the rule.
“I don’t blame the drivers. I don’t blame the Quebec drivers at all. We’ve had 28 years of this [no fault insurance]. If you can drive 35 in a 30 zone, you’re going to do it. I don’t blame the drivers, I blame the police,” says Holman-Price.
A year after the accident, the City of Montreal installed a pedestrian-crossing light at the intersection.
Holman-Price is also lobbying for truck under-guard protection to be installed in all heavy vehicles that prevents cyclists, pedestrians and motorcyclists from falling underneath a truck. This safeguard has been the standard in Europe since 1989.
She also wants article 83.57 removed from legislation.
“If you were to have your foot damaged, the SAAQ would come in and give you what they think to be a reasonable amount and you’re taken care of. Article 83.57 doesn’t affect you. It’s a reasonable compensation level and it’s comfortable,” Holman-Price explains. “But under the article is says in the event of bodily injury, it cannot be taken to court, which also means you can’t sue for that broken foot. But it also means that if you’re totally dismembered and lying on the side of the road you can’t take that to court either.
That little piece of legislation has been causing headaches for the family. A year and a half later, the family has returned to Newfoundland and their son looks like a normal 11 year old, but to her he’s not the same.
“We joked that the truck knocked out his clock and his manners,” said Jeanette. But doctors only recently began to suspect that he in fact suffered head injuries in the accident.
Peter’s medical records are still being translated. He needs more testing before his disabilities can be diagnosed and the process sped up for getting help in school and Holman-Price says the compensation offered by the SAAQ comes up short of the real costs. For her own post-traumatic stress, she was allowed a series of psychologist sessions at $65 each, when the real cost was close to double that. Her husband, a British citizen, isn’t eligible for any compensation. For her son, “they said they’d cover all reasonable expenses, including taxis to and from a hospital appointments,” said Jeanette, but they wouldn’t pay for his ride from the hospital to his sister’s funeral.
The SAAQ has an assessment to determine the level of compensation for those permanently injured in road accidents. The maximum benefit is $300 a week for someone left completely disabled. But Jeanette says deserving people fall through the cracks.
“But this has nothing to do with my son,” said Jeanette. “There’s no box to tick off that says ‘wakes up in the middle of night dreaming of his dead sister.’ Nowhere does it say ‘jumps in front of a truck looking for his sister.’ And no, he doesn’t need help changing his tampons. That’s on it!”
Holman-Price is not the only citizen criticizing article 83.57. After the collapse of the de la Concorde overpass in Laval that killed 5 people, several of those who suffered injuries wanted to take the province to court for damages. So far they have been unsuccessful.
A campaign has been created in Jessica’s name to improve pedestrian safety.