B.C. lawyers promise to consider whether to challenge no-fault plans

BURNABY October 24 2019. The ICBC Claim Centre at 4399 Wayburne, Burnaby, October 24 2019. Gerry Kahrmann / PNG staff photo) 00059159A [PNG Merlin Archive]

Gerry Kahrmann / PNG

Groups affected by the Insurance Corp. of B.C.’s move to a no-fault system say they’ll be scrutinizing the change closely following the government’s surprise announcement.

John Rice, president of the Trial Lawyers Association of B.C., said he was “deeply disappointed” by the move. The association will be investigating whether the proposed reforms should be challenged in court.

“You’ll remember that just in the spring of last year this government introduced sweeping legislative changes that contemplated the concept of a cap on what the government promised would only be minor injuries,” he said.

“But in fact, that cap included brain injuries, depression, PTSD, chronic pain … really serious stuff. And only nine months into this new law, government is effectively announcing that the policy scheme that they have pursued for the last two years has failed.”

Rice said the government changed the policy out of the public eye, so the legal community was in the dark when it made its announcement Thursday. His association is now looking closely at the proposed reforms and considering its next steps.

“If the government and the attorney general of British Columbia have passed a law that in the view of constitutional law experts is unconstitutional, then it’s the mandate of the Trial Lawyers Association of British Columbia — its mission — to protect the rights of British Columbians against anyone, including our own government,” Rice said.

However, several provinces already have no-fault insurance.

Rice said successive failures by government have meant that it has taken the once-profitable “crown jewel of public auto insurance in North America” and put it in crisis.

“Their solution is to create a much bigger fire in a much bigger ICBC dumpster,” he said.

Justina Loh, executive director of Disability Alliance B.C., said her organization is hopeful about the reforms and will be consulting with ICBC to make sure its regulations and policies don’t prevent people from getting the benefits they need.

Loh said the alliance wants to see a streamlined, efficient system so that support is not delayed.

“At the end of the day, we just care about the well-being of everyone, people who’ve suffered any type of injury for motor vehicle accidents, if they’re pedestrians, cyclists, anything like that,” she said.

“We just want to make sure they’re able to get all the support that they need, so not just physical support for OT (occupational therapy) or PT (physical therapy), but if they need support for housing, for transportation. There’s so many expenses that you can incur from either a catastrophic accident or some type of motor vehicle accident.”

Aaron Sutherland, vice-president for the Insurance Bureau of Canada’s Pacific region, said that just because a province chooses a no-fault system, it doesn’t mean drivers shouldn’t have a choice in who insures them.

“Whether it’s a tort system like today or a no-fault system that government has announced, the big thing to make sure that rates are affordable as they can be is to make sure drivers have a choice,” he said.

Sutherland pointed to Quebec’s hybrid coverage method, where a mandatory public insurance plan covers bodily injury, and in some cases physical damage, such as hit-and-run, while all other coverage, including property damage, is purchased from private insurers.

The average insurance premium there is just $717, he said.

“We currently pay more for auto insurance than anyone else in the country and while it’s great to hear projections that rates are going to be coming down, I think we have to wait to see what ultimately happens,” Sutherland said.

“I think just last year government introduced a whole bunch of other reforms that were supposed to improve rates. And, of course, that didn’t happen.”

With files from Rob Shaw



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