‘Massive changes’ at ICBC could fundamentally reshape the public insurer

WATCH: Under new changes to ICBC rules on April 1, pain and suffering claims for minor injuries will be capped and there will be limits on how much lawyers can do. Richard Zussman explains.

They’re being billed as the biggest changes in the history of ICBC.

On Monday, there are fundamental changes coming to the way the public insurer deals with injury settlements. But injury lawyers are concerned the overhaul infringes on the rights from victims and unfairly defines minor injuries.

Effective April 1, there will be a limit of $5,500 on pain and suffering payouts for injuries that fall under the minor injury definition and a new independent dispute resolution process to help settle injury claims.

The changes are expected to save ICBC more than $1 billion — a welcome sign for a corporation that is forecast to lose more than $1 billion this year.

READ MORE: ICBC projecting another year of billion-dollar losses as injury claims mount

“These are massive changes; they are [the] largest change in the 45-year history of this company,” ICBC CEO Nicolas Jimenez said.
“This is a massive reorienting of the system. We are moving away from one oriented on litigation and [to one that] is really focused on care.”
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At the core of the legal changes is the expansion of the Civil Resolution Tribunal (CRT). The CRT will be used to resolve motor vehicle accident injury claim disputes valued at $50,000 or less.

“Improving access to justice is the heart of our work and what motivates us every day,” CRT chair Shannon Salter said.

“We are looking forward to taking on this expanded role and helping British Columbians resolve these disputes without the time, stress and expense of going to court.”

WATCH: ICBC projects losses much bigger than expected

ICBC projects losses much bigger than expected
ICBC projects losses much bigger than expected

It will be up to the tribunal to determine whether an injury is “minor,” entitlement to accident benefits and responsibility for the crash. Where parties involved in a crash can’t agree, the CRT can make binding decisions that are enforceable as court orders.

The reason the province has moved things to a tribunal is to deal with raising settlement costs that have been driven by legal bills. ICBC says there has been an uncontrolled gap growing between the premiums being collected from customers and the cost of the claims paid out each year.

“While more is yet to come, April 1 marks the first day of real change for B.C. taxpayers who have been covering the costs of the previous government’s ICBC negligence,” Attorney General David Eby said.

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WATCH (aired December 4, 2018): ICBC paying millions in broker fees

ICBC paying millions in broker fees
ICBC paying millions in broker fees

“These generational changes have involved historic levels of work both inside and outside ICBC to achieve, and I am grateful to everyone involved in this important work. We will be monitoring these changes carefully to ensure ICBC can deliver affordable, high-quality car insurance to British Columbians.”

There is significant concern from injury lawyers that the cap on payments will not be enough to compensate the pain and suffering of victims.

Injury lawyer Raj Sahota says the Supreme Court of Canada has already capped pain and suffering settlements and now the B.C. government has lowered that cap.

READ MORE: Trial lawyers say ICBC treating those injured in crashes unfairly due to settlement changes

Sihota says victims who are injured in a crash are also going to suffer because of the way injuries are assessed under the new system.

“They are not being made whole in the first place, assuming money can make someone whole. The question has become who should bear the burden,” Sihota said.

“We are going to cap this person’s pain and suffering despite what the Supreme Court of Canada has already capped at $5,500, based on what ICBC decide is a minor injury not a medical professional.”

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Injury lawyers are also concerned about the definition of minor injuries.

WATCH: Critics cry foul over what ICBC is now classifying as ‘minor injuries’

Critics cry foul over what ICBC is now classifying as ‘minor injuries’
Critics cry foul over what ICBC is now classifying as ‘minor injuries’
“The government has decided that chronic pain and concussions are minor injuries,” Sihota continued. “Well, it’s 2019. We know what concussions can do to people, we know the symptoms people go through when they suffer from concussions, we know [what] a chronic pain can do to people and we know there’s a psychological component about these things. So to call them minor is a bit of a slap in the face.
“Who is paying the cost [of] the innocent person hurt in a crash? It’s a decision the government has made.”

Monday’s changes also affect limits in disability benefits, funeral expenses and death benefits.

People can also receive increased medical and rehabilitation benefits starting April 1, even if their injuries were sustained before that date and they can recover costs for necessary medication.

READ MORE: B.C. government restricting the use of expert reports in ICBC court cases

ICBC has introduced a new benefit of $1,000 for necessary medical supplies and services, which were previously not covered, such as naturopathic treatments, compression stockings or therapy equipment.

The other new benefits include $740 a week to supplement lost income for customers injured and unable to work; $280 a week for support around the house, such as cooking, cleaning and grocery shopping; and $7,500 to help with funeral costs.

The public insurer will also pay more for treatments and cover more types of treatments for both new and existing claims, including acupuncture, chiropractic care, clinical counselling, psychology, kinesiology, registered massage therapy, occupational therapy and physiotherapy.

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The improved benefits can be covered because of the expected increase in both settlements and legal fees.

“We are trying to move things away from the courts, which are expensive and timely. We want to provide people with a different form of dispute resolution,” Jimenez said.

“It will allow people to settle disputes online, without the use of a lawyer — which will take months, not years.”