BC Supreme Court awards damages in ICBC privacy breach class action

Court stressed the need to hold large organizations accountable for protecting personal information

BC Supreme Court awards damages in ICBC privacy breach class action

The BC Supreme Court has awarded $15,000 in damages to each class member in a class action lawsuit against the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC).

The case arose when an ICBC employee, Candy Elaine Rheaume, improperly accessed and sold the personal information of ICBC customers. This breach resulted in the information being used for criminal activities, including arson and shooting attacks on the properties of 13 individuals.

In 2022, the court found that ICBC was vicariously liable for the actions of its employee, a decision upheld on appeal in 2023. The recent judgment focused on the assessment of class-wide damages.

Between April 2011 and January 2012, Rheaume accessed the personal information of 79 ICBC customers, selling some of it to Aldorino Moretti, who then provided it to individuals involved in the attacks.

ICBC admitted that Rheaume sold information for $25 or more per license plate number. The corporation later terminated Rheaume's employment and notified 78 customers of the breach. The court highlighted that while ICBC admitted to selling the information of 45 customers, the extent of the breach remained uncertain due to a lack of records.

The class action, initiated in June 2012, saw multiple appeals and extensive legal battles over 12 years. The court previously determined that ICBC's liability for the privacy breach was established once Rheaume accessed the information, regardless of whether it was passed on. This conclusion was endorsed by the Court of Appeal, emphasizing the serious nature of the privacy breach.

In assessing damages, the Supreme Court rejected ICBC's proposal of $500 per class member as "trivial," instead awarding $15,000 to each. The court noted the severity of the breach, which was motivated by personal financial gain and resulted in the distribution of information to criminals. The court stressed the importance of holding large organizations accountable for protecting personal information, particularly when individuals have no choice but to provide it.

The ruling also approved class counsel fees of 35 percent of the aggregate class-wide damages and a $10,000 honorarium for the representative plaintiff, recognizing the significant efforts and risks undertaken over the 12-year litigation.

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