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Judge doesn't buy 'untruthful' Surrey senior's luxury car theft claim

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A Surrey senior will not be reimbursed by ICBC for the alleged theft and torching of his luxury car after failing to convince a B.C. Supreme Court judge that his Mercedes was stolen before being lit on fire in 2009.

Hankar Singh, 78, sued ICBC after the insurer denied his claim. A trial was held last October.

It was four years earlier, on Oct. 24, 2009, when Singh's 2007 E-350 Mercedes-Benz was found burning near 123 Street and 103A Avenue. A nearby resident felt his house shake and looked out the window to see the car on fire, with flames shooting 20 feet into the air.

The fire was a 15-minute drive from Singh's home on Grosvenor Road.

During the trial, the court heard that the Mercedes was worth about $90,000 and that Singh had ordered it from Germany in early 2007.

Singh testified briefly, saying he parked the vehicle on the street after visiting his sister the night of the fire because there was no room in the driveway. He said he had one set of keys and a second that he had misplaced. He denied the second set had been lost or stolen.

The car's insurance, which was to expire a week after the fire, included replacement cost. The policy permitted ICBC to replace the vehicle within 30 days of its loss. If not able to do so within 30 days, the insured would receive either the purchase price of the manufacturer's suggested retail price. In this case, the amount was $94,040.

Singh made a an ICBC claim two days after the car fire.

At trial, Singh repeatedly denied that his vehicle was stolen, though he insisted it was burned.

According to a May 7 judgment by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Hope Hyslop, he also claimed his memory, eyesight and hearing were impaired.

"It was clear that he did not intend on answering any of the questions posed to him," wrote Hyslop. "He was not only evasive, but used the words 'I don’t remember' as a way of refusing to answer the questions posed to him. He was often belligerent."

A police officer testified Singh did not appear shocked on the night his vehicle burned and didn't ask any details. The officer said Singh lacked emotion and seemed disinterested.

An expert witness said there was a sign of forced entry on one of the car doors, but testified there was no way the car, equipped with an immobilizer, could have been moved without a key.

Phone records showed that on night of the fire and early the next morning, calls were exchanged between Singh and his grandson, Daryl Prasad. Prasad called Singh both shortly before the fire and after. Records also showed Singh called his daughter Cheryl Fernandez's home three times in the early morning of Oct. 25. (Prasad and his wife and newborn lived with Fernandez at the time).

ICBC argued the case should be viewed in light of the Singh family claims. Sean Fernandez, Prasad's father, made a claim of his Ford F-150 truck being stolen and burned in September 2009, with circumstances similar to that of the Mercedes. The truck had been parked on the street, and was later found by police burning in the middle of the night. It had replacement coverage that was soon to expire. His coverage was denied, although the leasing company was paid.

Cheryl Fernandez had reported her vehicle missing from her driveway on February 2003. Police found it destroyed by fire and she received a payout from ICBC.

In November 2003 Singh made an ICBC accident claim relating to a different Mercedes. He refused to cooperate with ICBC, however, denying he knew who was driving at the time, and claiming he didn't understand and that he was a old man. And in 1998, Singh's wife had a car stolen, but Singh prevented ICBC from speaking to her about the claim.

In dismissing Singh's most recent case, Justice Hyslop called his evidence "untruthful." She concluded the Mercedes was not stolen and that any sign of forced entry was to "cover up the fact that the Mercedes was driven to the site of the fire with a key.

"The fact that it is unknown who participated in the theft and the destruction of the Mercedes by fire is of no consequence," said Hyslop.

 

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