B.C. government axing lawyer, legal costs to create no-fault style insurance at ICBC

Big changes for ICBC, as the public vehicle insurer is moving to a no-fault system. Richard Zussman tells us what it means, and who's vehemently opposed.

The B.C. government is dramatically overhauling ICBC in an effort to save drivers money and slash the amount lawyers receive.

Premier John Horgan and Attorney General David Eby outlined changes on Thursday they estimate will save an average of $400 per driver. The province also announced there will be no increase to the basic insurance rate next year.

In order to pass the savings on to customers, the public insurer will provide care for “those most seriously injured” and get rid of the current need to hire a lawyer to receive an injury settlement.

“It’s time for change at ICBC,” Horgan said.

“The old government ignored ICBC’s problems, allowing it to become a system that made lawyers rich, while drivers paid too much for insurance. We’re going to transform ICBC to lower rates for B.C. drivers.”

The changes are similar to care-based, or “no-fault,” insurance systems in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Saskatchewan has gone five years in a row with no premium rate increases to drivers.

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If the legislation is passed the new system will come into place May 1, 2021.

In 2020, ICBC’s average premium for basic and optional insurance is $1,900. The government is projecting these changes will drop the average to $1,500 a year.

The changes will limit the types of collisions where the ICBC customer can go to court.

An injured driver will be able to sue if they are involved in a crash with someone charged with a criminal offence and if either a manufacturer or repair facility is found to have done faulty work.

Customers will be able to use the beefed-up Civil Resolution Tribunal, and can challenge decisions if there are concerns about the outcome.

The major change, aside from getting rid of the ability to sue in most cases, is to drastically overhaul accident benefits and care coverage.

Under the new system, ICBC customers will have up to $7.5 million in medical and rehabilitation benefits compared to $300,000 under the current system.

The automatic benefits for ICBC customers involved in a crash and working with their doctor will include treatments like massage therapy, chiropractic care and physiotherapy. Customers will also have access to prescriptions, dental care, counselling and personal-care services.

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“You shouldn’t need a lawyer to access the benefits you’ve paid for,” Eby said.

“By removing expensive lawyers and legal fees from the system, we are making ICBC work for British Columbians again with more affordable insurance rates and much better coverage.”

There are currently still 90,000 claims that will be dealt under the old, litigated system. It will take four to seven years to deal with backed-up claims.

According to the province, ICBC currently spends $960 million in legal costs, $940 million in pain and suffering payouts, and $1.3 billion in injury claims. Those costs will mostly be cut out by the new system, which the province says will deliver improved benefits for customers.

ICBC has lost more than $1 billion in each of the last two years. A big chunk of those losses have been wiped out by the changes made last year to cap of $5,500 on soft-tissue injury payouts.

British Columbia was the last province in the country to apply a cap on minor injury payouts, like soft-tissue injuries. Part of the challenge for ICBC is that the average claim for minor injuries has gone up from $8,220 in 2012 to $30,038 in 2016.

The Trial Lawyers Association of BC says it is deeply disappointed to see the provincial government’s announcement of a no-fault insurance scheme. T The lawyers say the change is an alarming move that puts injured and vulnerable British Columbians at further risk.

“This is a broken promise to British Columbians, a failed policy, and now a deliberate taking away of the right of British Columbians to receive fair access to courts and fair settlement for those injured on our roads,” Trial Lawyers president John Rice said.

“This move will reward bad drivers and will reduce the ability for injured and vulnerable British Columbians to receive a fair settlement when injured.”

The Law Society of British Columbia says the changes will have significant effects on the compensation of victims of damages arising from motor vehicle accidents. The society points out proposed changes that will reintroduce limits on expert reports and will place caps on compensation for disbursements in litigation that is available in the transition period preceding the no-fault insurance scheme.

“The Law Society is going to have a careful look at what is being contemplated,” Society president Craig Ferris said.

“We are particularly concerned about the potential impacts on those individuals who, due to unforeseen events, are injured and have a right to ensure that their compensation is fairly determined.”

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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