Windsor Star 2002/01/17 Front Page Article "Hero Wins Insurance Fight"

By Brian Cross County Municipal Affairs Reporter

Picture of wreckage - click to return
The wreckage of Scott Anderson's 1982 Monte Carlo -- the car he used to push another motorist out of the path of an oncoming train six years ago. Since then, he's been fighting with the insurance company to cover the damages. Star file photo

Six years after a train demolished the car he used to shove another motorist off the track, a judge has ruled that acknowledged hero Scott Anderson wasn't to blame for the crash.

Earlier this month, Justice Carl Zalev ordered Zurich Insurance to pay Scott's mother, Susan, $4,000 -- the $3,000 value of her totalled 1982 Monte Carlo, as well as towing and other associated costs -- plus court costs. It was a vindication for the Andersons, whose insurance was cancelled after the crash. But it was hardly a huge victory, according to the Andersons' lawyer Ken Golish, who has been informed the insurance company plans to appeal.

"I think it's absolutely nuts," said Golish, who can't understand why the company is continuing with a costly legal battle when the judgment is quite modest.

"In my view, they were lucky they didn't have to pay punitive damages, they were lucky they didn't have to pay a higher scale of costs."

"And they're appealing it? I just don't understand this case at all."

Michael Drake, the lawyer for the insurance company, said he couldn't comment on the case, but he did say no appeal has yet been filed. Zurich spokeswoman Jo Coughlin also refused to comment.

The judge credited Anderson, now 25, with saving the life of Constantin Stirbu, the driver who stopped his truck on the CNR tracks crossing Old Tecumseh Road on the night of Feb. 9, 1996.

The crossing gates came down and the lights started flashing. Anderson, who was idling in his mom's car, talking with a friend in another vehicle, noticed the truck and started yelling and screaming.

Getting no response from Stirbu anderson used his car to push the truck off the tracks, but when he put his car in reverse it stalled on the tracks. Anderson and two occupants got out and ran, barely escaping before the train smashed into the car.

After the accident, Zurich refused to renew the family's auto policy. Because the family didn't have collision coverage and they were told the accident was Scott's fault, they didn't make a claim for the totalled car.

Scott, 22, was subjected to $4,800 annual premiums at another company because of this blemish on his driving record. Golish worked out a deal with Scott's new insurer that if Scott was found not at fault, he'd be rebated the extra money he's paid.

"I'm not asking for a lot. I just want to give the kid back his money -- the cost of the vehicle and the money he paid extra on his insurance," said his mother Sue. "That's all we're asking for and they're still fighting us."

His mom said that despite the headaches of the lawsuit, neither she nor Scott regret what he did that night. "No, no, he did what he had to do. In his heart, he knew he could not sit there and watch that boy die."

Sue is bitter about this longstanding legal fight, especially after learning during the trial that Zurich had taken the position that her son wasn't to blame when CN launched a $22,000 suit against Scott and Stirbu. Zurich eventually settled for about $5,000, but continued to fight the Andersons.

In his judgment, Zalev blamed Stirbu for the accident and lauded Scott Anderson's reaction when he saw the truck on the track.

"He acted instinctively and/or courageously," Zalev wrote.

"He was not negligent in doing what he did. His method of rescue was not unreasonable."

'Unreasonable' conduct

In his judgment, Justice Carl Zalev called Zurich Insurance's conduct against the Andersons "unreasonable and wrong-headed."

Its decision to send investigators to try to dig up dirt on Scott, interviewing neighbours and former employers and trying to find a connection with drugs, was "reprehensible," according to Zalev, who speculated that the company officials were smarting from bad publicity they received in The Windsor Star over cancelling a "hero's" insurance.

Plaintiffs' Trial Memorandum in Anderson v. Zurich

Windsor Star