The B.C. government has introduced legislation requiring ICBC to advise those who are injured in a crash of the benefits they will receive.
It is just part of the government’s shift to a no fault, or enhanced care model, which the province says will save British Columbians money, dramatically increase benefits, while also reducing the ability to sue for an injury settlement.
Attorney General David Eby says the legislation marks a dramatic shift for the public insurer.
“We are talking about a fundamental restructuring of ICBC’s culture and it’s something Manitoba and Saskatchewan went through,” Eby said.
“In reviewing the information from those provinces one of the biggest challenges they faced was the transition from an insurer that fought people in court to a care-based model. We put in the law that ICBC has an obligation to advise people of what benefits are available to them.”
The B.C. government announced the major changes to ICBC in February.
Since then the province has heard from critics warning a no-fault system will punish young people, will be a challenge for those without family doctors and will mean those with the worst injuries in crashes will not receive the benefits they need.
But Eby says the province has created a system where ICBC can be held accountable by the recently enhanced Fairness Office and the Civil Resolution Tribunal to deal with disputes around benefits.
“British Columbians deserve peace of mind that if they are injured in a crash, they’ll be looked after, instead of being fought for years in court,” Eby said.
“They deserve low and stable car insurance rates. This bill will achieve both goals, saving people an average of 20 per cent on their insurance and taking care of people if they are injured. It is long overdue.”
The changes are estimated to save the average driver about $400, stating in May 2021.
The no-fault model coverage will also significantly increase the amount of care and recovery benefits available to anyone injured in a crash, providing enough care for a lifetime for those who need it, to a maximum of at least $7.5 million, up from $300,000 today.
Currently drivers must go to court and win settlements to cover costs associated with crashes.
The most seriously injured will get even more care and recovery benefits, including a new permanent impairment benefit that will provide financial compensation of up to $250,000.
But economist Nicholas Coleman says the changes will severely restrict how much some British Columbians can receive in wage losses.
Coleman says the unemployed will have wage loss benefits be based on the average earnings of British Columbians, or about $50,000 per year. This means high earners currently out of a job will be hurt by the change.
Stay-at-home parents will not be entitled to wage-loss benefits.
Students and young people will be entitled to wage benefits based on salary at the time of the crash and not based on potential future earnings.
The highest earners can also be compensated for wage loss only up to about $93,000 per year. Those who earn more than this amount will be under-compensated.
“The effect of the proposed scheme will require the residents of and visitors to B.C. to maintain trust that ICBC will not short-change them, when it is much more likely to be the case that ICBC will short-change people, whether it is because of corporate culture, budget pressure, political reasons, or a predisposition to err on the side of awarding conservative losses,” Coleman said.
The government is continuing consultation with stake holders.
“It’s the goal of an occupational therapist to help clients to return to their daily activities as quickly as possible. But the reality is that it often takes a lengthy period of time to recover from an automobile accident,” Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists, B.C. Branch managing director Tanya Fawkes-Kirby said.
“These changes will provide our clients with better recovery support, for as long as they need it so they can return, as much as possible, to their pre-crash activities.”
The B.C. government is working on rebuilding the public’s trust in ICBC. There are concerns the public insurer will be responsible to both keep rates down while also advising those injured in a class on what benefits they have access to.
The system also reduces the use of personal injury lawyers who help clients navigate an often complicated system.
There is optimism from Disability Alliance BC the changes will provide care people need.
“If a person becomes catastrophically injured in a motor vehicle collision, we want to ensure that they will get the medical treatment and rehabilitative equipment they need,” Disability Alliance BC executive director Justina Loh said.
“Even in situations where a person caused the collision, or was involved in a single-vehicle crash, we are encouraged that severely injured people will be able to access the increased care and benefits for their lifetime.”