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Plaintiffs lawyers react to B.C. insurance system overhaul

B.C. is eliminating lawyers from the auto-insurance system

Plaintiffs lawyers react to B.C. insurance system overhaul
Kevin Gourlay is VP of the B.C. Trial Lawyers Association.

British Columbia’s provincial government announced Thursday it is removing lawyers from the insurance system, to reduce rates and increase care benefits.

The government will soon introduce legislation it says will lower premiums by around 20 per cent and increase treatment benefits to those injured in a crash to $7.5 million, 24-times their current level. The Insurance Corporation of British Columbia is a crown corporation and the sole auto insurer in the province.

“It's deeply disappointing,” says Kevin Gourlay, a personal injury lawyer at Murphy Battista LLP and 1st vice president of the Trial Lawyers Association of British Columbia.

“It's a broken promise on the part of this government who ran with the promise not to introduce a no-fault system and take away the rights of British Columbians. And we're concerned about the ability of severely injured British Columbia to actually access this support that they need,” Gourlay says.

Gourlay says that the increase of available care from $300,000 to $7.5 million will be enough for the “vast majority” of people, but for the overall amount of coverage is beside the point when somebody is denied funding for necessary care by ICBC. Injured individuals will be at the mercy of the ICBC.

“It's allowing the insurance company to decide what care the injured party needs, with no support when they're told no by the insurance company, and these are the most vulnerable people,” he says.

By removing lawyer costs from the system, the government said it will save $1.5 billion in the first year and on average, drivers will save $400 on their premiums “compared with the previous full-year policy.” The government added that the legislation will require ICBC to assist those making claims and “endeavour to ensure they receive all of the care and benefits to which they are entitled.” Those with disputes about their claim will have recourse to the Civil Resolution Tribunal, the B.C. ombudsperson and a newly created ICBC fairness officer, which will be appointed by the government.

“You shouldn’t need a lawyer to access the benefits you’ve paid for. 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, so anyone injured in a crash gets the care they need,” said Attorney General David Eby.

Daniel Shugarman, a lawyer at Whitelaw Twining, who practises primarily in personal injury, says the proposed policy is “absurd, dishonest and dangerous.”

“Rather than use its power to fix the governance of a dysfunctional organization, the NDP is proposing to strip away one’s common law rights when they and their families are at their most vulnerable,” says.

“Instead, they are going to have ICBC bureaucrats making decisions – at their sole (and unappealable) discretion – about the value of your ability to work or your future care needs… Say what you like about lawyers, but British Columbians deserve better.”

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