Lawyers call it a “meat chart.” It’s the schedule of payments for car crash injuries used by what they call “no fault” vehicle insurance companies – this much for losing an arm, that much for a leg.
That system is coming to the Insurance Corp. of B.C. in April 2021, after Premier John Horgan and Attorney General David Eby started digging into the soaring costs and rates faced by ICBC and its monopoly customer base. A battle with personal injury lawyers that began with capping “pain and suffering” payments and diverting smaller ICBC injury disputes to an independent tribunal is about to heat up.
The role of the “Civil Resolution Tribunal” will expand next year to deal with disputes in all injury cases, saving ICBC an estimated $1.5 billion in legal fees, courtroom experts and related costs.
The Trial Lawyers Association of B.C. was quick to challenge the tribunal approach, in a letter to Eby as it took into effect last April.
Calling it “independent” is questionable, “given that tribunal members are appointed by government for modest fixed term, and who render decisions that directly impact ICBC, a Crown corporation that answers directly to you as Attorney General,” the letter states.
The trial lawyers went on to attack the government’s definition of minor injury, and described an injured person’s ability to estimate lost future earnings as “a supreme feat of clairvoyance heretofore unknown to British Columbians.”
Announcing the change Thursday, Horgan defended it as a return to the spirit in which former premier Dave Barrett created it in 1973 as a break-even proposition. “It was not a for-profit enterprise, it was a for-people enterprise,” he said.
Horgan said the payment schedule includes a 24-fold increase in the maximum payout for serious, disabling injuries, from about $300,000 to $7.5 million, and in some cases more to cover costs of life-long nursing care.
He rejected the idea that taking disputes out of a slow, expensive trial process means there is “no fault” assessed to people who cause accidents.
“Fault matters still,” Horgan said. “You can’t run into someone without consequences. Your rates will go up. If you’re found criminally responsible or negligent, you can be sued. So we’re not taking the opportunity for claimants to sue. We’re saying in most instances, let’s provide the care first.”
Eby described the effect of lawsuit-based insurance on the health care system.
“I’ve had a number of meetings with doctors where they express increasing concern about the role they’re asked to play in the litigation system,” Eby told reporters at the B.C. legislature. “They have lawyers calling them and asking them to run certain tests on their patients that they don’t feel are medically necessary. They’re asked to spend an increasing amount of their time writing reports for the purposes of litigation, which they feel is distracting them from care-giving.”
With a $5,500 cap on pain and suffering awards in place since last April, ICBC estimates it will save $1 billion in the current fiscal year on legal costs. But if the current lawsuit system continued, it estimates the capped payments would total more than $900 million by 2022, paid out to people who had temporary discomfort rather than a permanent disability.