What’s a life worth? Death of B.C. toddler in horrific crash raises questions about compensation

Click to play video: 'Parents of toddler killed in tragic crash in downtown Vancouver speak about their grief and loss'
Parents of toddler killed in tragic crash in downtown Vancouver speak about their grief and loss
WATCH: Michael was carrying his 23-month-old daughter, Ocean, to meet his partner Star after work when a car accident caused a vehicle to strike them both, killing Ocean and badly wounding Michael - while Star watched helplessly from across the street. – Aug 10, 2021

WARNING: Some readers may find details in this story disturbing.

Star Joinson remembers her 23-month-old daughter Ocean as a vibrant toddler who was enchanted by the beach.

“I miss her,” she said. “I miss waking up to her giggles. I miss her silly antics.”

Ocean was excited to pick her mom up after work on July 6. She was in her father’s arms, waiting to cross the street at the corner of Hornby and Smithe streets in downtown Vancouver.

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Wrongful death laws in British Columbia need an overhaul according to critics

“These two black vehicles come smashing into each other really quickly,” Star recalled.

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Star watched helplessly as one of the vehicles went flying in the direction of her family.

“The car went under and the [vehicle] lifted, and the [vehicle] flipped … two or three times and then hit Michael and my daughter,” she said. “I started screaming, ‘My baby, my baby, my partner!’

“I knew she was dead. There was nothing I could do.”

Ocean’s father, Michael, was on the ground, bleeding and gasping for air.

“I said, ‘Please, I need you,'” Star recalled. “Finally, he tried to sit up and I had to pin him to the ground and tell him to stop moving because when shock kicks in you can’t feel that you’re broken and he was just trying to get to his daughter.”

Michael’s arm and leg are now held together by metal rods. He suffered multiple fractures to his back and clavicle plus broken ribs, a punctured lung, and lacerations to his kidney, spleen, and liver.

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The most painful blow, Michael says, is that his little girl is gone.

“It is our reality that she’s not there,” he said. “She’s not going to be there. We’re not going to see her walking. We’re not going to see her graduate.

“We’re not going to see her achieve her first milestones of actually saying full sentences. None of that is ever going to happen for us, for her. It’s all gone in that instant.”

The police investigation into the deadly crash continues. No charges have been laid.

Click to play video: 'Vancouver Police seek clues in crash that killed baby'
Vancouver Police seek clues in crash that killed baby


What is a life worth?

When it comes to wrongful death compensation, a 23-month-old baby is valued differently under the law than her father.

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Under new ICBC rules, each parent is entitled to $14,918 for the death of a child. Rules also state they will not be able to sue for more compensation.

“Heartbreaking,” Michael said. “It hurts that somebody can define her as having a number and that number ends up being roughly six times less than the value they would put in for a car.”

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14 families launch PSA demanding change to B.C.’s wrongful death laws

Children or dependents without any income are almost non-existent under B.C. civil law. In a wrongful death situation, any compensation is tied solely to future earning potential. In addition, families have little recourse to seek justice. Payments in other jurisdictions tend to be larger once the courts are involved.

“They value human life quite a bit differently in other jurisdictions,” Michael-James Pennie of the BC Wrongful Death Law Reform Society said.

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“In Ontario, the courts have seen that top number at about $125,000 per surviving family member.”

The ICBC payment of just under $15,000 to each of Ocean’s parents is actually an improvement over the old system.

But advocates say such compensation is still woefully inadequate.

“These new changes with ICBC are just a total slap in the face to the dignity and value of the individual in this province,” Pennie said.

In a statement, the provincial government said B.C.’s Family Compensation Act will be addressed this term, adding that If a driver is convicted of a criminal charge, a victim’s options to sue are expanded.

Personal injury lawyer John Green says this is more than just a question of direct costs.

“It tears apart families — injuries and deaths from car crashes — and now he can’t sue anyone for that,” he said.

A GoFundMe campaign launched by a friend to support Ocean’s parents has raised more than $77,000 as of Tuesday night.

No amount of money can make up for the loss of a child, but by denying victims the ability to seek justice, payments can further traumatize people who have already suffered an unbearable loss.

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“Those vehicles that were damaged, they can be fixed, they can be replaced,” Star said. “My daughter can’t be.”

“You’re basically saying a person’s life is valued less than a material item, and I don’t understand that.”

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