B.C. drivers are facing significant changes to their auto insurance policies this week from provincial provider, Insurance Corporation of B.C. (ICBC).
As of April 1, coverage for accident benefits has more than doubled from $300 per week to $740 a week; the overall accident benefits allowance has increased from $150,000 to $300,000; and there’s now a $5,500 cap on “pain and suffering payouts” for minor injuries, according to Canadian Underwriter.
While the cap doesn’t impact medical bills, legal costs and lost wages resulting from minor injuries, it’s still caught the attention of the Trial Lawyers’ Association of B.C, which plans to take the provincial government to court, claiming the cap has the potential to obstruct constitutional rights for people with brain and psychiatric injuries.
“I felt compelled to speak out as I do not believe this government has clearly understood or described the impacts of this legislation on the citizens of B.C.,” former B.C. attorney general and premier Ujjal Dosanjh said in a statement released by the association.
“Especially those least able to advocate for themselves after an injury resulting from a road accident.”
Anyone who wants to challenge the categorization of their injuries as “minor” will need to bring their dispute to the province’s Civil Resolution Tribunal (CRT), which the province is touting as a cost-saving measure.
The CRT will be in charge of settling disputes of $50,000 or less from crash victim who want to dispute a settlement offer from ICBC. Plaintiffs can fill out an online form, and have their case heard by a CRT adjudicator rather than a judge.
B.C. is actually the last province in the country to introduce a cap on pain and suffering payouts. Experts say the limit will save both plaintiffs and ICBC money on legal fees. According to CBC News, legal bills make up almost a quarter of ICBC’s total annual costs. This can include hiring lawyers as well as compensating experts for filing reports, which can cost the province anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000 per report. Because several experts are often hired to work on a single case, this can get pricey.
Under the new rule, only one expert can submit one report for claims under $100,000. All other claims have a cap of three experts, who can submit one report each.
“The whole idea is to try and get lawyers out of the business,” Richard McCandless, a former civil servant, told CBC News. “They're going to save a ton of money.”
The association, however, isn’t so sure this is in the public’s best interest.
The newly announced changes take effect as ICBC continues to lose big money. For the first nine months of its 2018 fiscal year (April 1 to December 31, 2018), ICBC reported a net loss of $860 million and has said it’s “projected to suffer another significant net loss this fiscal year,” according to Canadian Underwriter.
“Time and again this government seems to favor ICBC’s financial interests over the legal rights of British Columbians,” the association said in a statement.
“This rush to pass restrictions on how victims of negligence must prove their cases at law is the most recent illustration of making car accident victims pay for reckless driving.”