Attorney General David Eby has taken the most serious steps in 40 years to deal with the core problem at the Insurance Corporation of B.C.
He is doing what four previous B.C. governments wouldn’t do, which is change a system that rewards people for staying injured instead of getting better. And he’s staring down his fellow lawyers in the personal injury field, who have turned thousands of minor injury claims into winning lottery tickets for themselves and their clients, at the expense of people with serious disabilities from vehicle crashes.
A $5,500 cap on “pain and suffering” payouts is a necessary first step. And a civil resolution tribunal to assess minor injury claims without the slow and vastly expensive court system is equally important.
First, what’s a “minor injury” in all this? The exact legal definition is still in the works, but the attorney general’s ministry says it “will include things like sprains, strains, mild whiplash, cuts and bruises, anxiety and stress from a crash.” It won’t include concussions or other brain injuries, or broken bones, which can at least be shown on an X-ray.
Eby promises this determination will be made by independent medical experts, not ICBC or the government, and the tribunal will rule on disputes within 90 days, without lawyers.
ICBC management confirms what I described in this space last fall: the latest tactic of U.S.-style ambulance-chasing lawyers is to use B.C.’s two-year time limit for filing injury claims to maximum advantage.
Clients are encouraged to deal with the vehicle claim but hold off on the injury. Milk our naive “free” health care system with frequent doctor visits to build up a record of suffering and soft-tissue treatments. Continually emphasize the discomfort and anxiety that follows the crash, because there’s no x-ray machine that can disprove it. Start talking about “my accident,” as if it’s your new career.
Then, as the two-year deadline approaches, assemble the whole thick file into a lawsuit against ICBC, which currently is receiving new lawsuits at a rate of 60 a day. This is why suddenly emerging minor injury claims have morphed into an average cost of $450,000, with lawyers and experts just to settle them out of court.
Eby deserves full credit for his other major move, which is to take the money being siphoned off for minor injuries and use some of it to double the maximum benefit for serious injury and death, from $150,000 to $300,000. Incredibly, this is the first increase since 1991 for people whose lives are actually devastated by a crash.
What it means, says Jane Dyson, executive director of Disability Alliance B.C., is that someone who is a quadriplegic as a result of a vehicle accident can actually afford to replace his or her electric wheelchair every few years.
Unfortunately, the minor injury cap doesn’t take effect until April, 2019. Stand by for a gold rush of questionable personal injury claims in the meantime.
And Eby’s formula contains a flaw that could prove fatal to the whole exercise. The “minor injury” assessment has a one-year deadline. The ministry explains it this way:
“If, after 12 months, a customer continues to have serious impairment from the injury, or has significant inability to care for themselves, it would no longer be considered minor and would not be subject to the limit for pain and suffering payouts.”
The last NDP government discovered 20 years ago what happens to welfare rolls when the rate is raised and eligibility is eased. More people opt for a free ride than you expect. They may soon get a similar lesson in human nature.
Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org