The massive changes the provincial government has proposed for ICBC are not being well-received by those who feel most vulnerable on the road.
“When accidents happen, we get badly hurt and our ability to pursue compensation and make sure our families are protected in the event of an accident have been massively compromised,” said Joel Zanatta.
Zanatta is a Vancouver personal injury lawyer and an avid cyclist.
He said ICBC’s move toward a “no-fault” style system turns an insurance product into a tax.
“Take me for example; I’m a guy who rides my bike to work every day. If I get hurt I have no ability to get anything but what ICBC tells me I am entitled to,” Zanatta said. “If that is not enough for me to pay my mortgage or my bills then my family is going to suffer.”
On Thursday, B.C. Attorney General David Eby compared the new plan to systems in already in place in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
“British Columbians shouldn’t have to pay more just to fight their own insurance company in court for two or more years and pay a third or more of their care money to a lawyer,” Eby said.
With its new model, ICBC will move away from the current system where those injured in a crash can call a lawyer and sue for more money.
Eby said by removing the majority of existing legal fees from the system, the goal is to save ICBC $1.5 billion in the first year, and increase the amount of healthcare compensation available to those injured in crashes, no matter who is at fault.
The government also claims that by taking lawyers out of the equation, drivers will save money on car insurance – an average of $400 a year.
In turn, they will have to trust ICBC to give them the money they deserve after getting hurt in a crash.
Zanatta argues this means injured British Columbians can no longer fight for their rights.
“If an accident happens, I’ve got nothing,” he said. “I get what ICBC tells me, what I’m entitled to, and they are notoriously bad in regards to compensating people.”
The province insists those unhappy with their settlements can go through the Civil Resolution Tribunal, the B.C. Ombudsperson or deal with an ICBC fairness officer. And, people can still sue in cases in which the other driver is convicted of a criminal offence.
Eby said there are plenty of benefits to the change in insurance model. For example, healthcare and other benefits will increase to a maximum of $7.5 million for those most seriously injured.
He said everyone will be eligible for expanded benefits, regardless of fault, and those benefits can be accessed by a referral from a doctor or other designated medical professional. Payments would be made directly to providers by ICBC.
The government says wage-loss payments will increase from $740 a week to a proposed maximum of $1,200 a week. There will be new benefits for full-time students, caregivers and those working for a family business.
In recent years, accident and claims costs have spiked at the public insurer. In each of the last two years, ICBC has lost more than $1 billion. The Attorney General insisted that recent reforms have made a difference, but said more drastic action was needed.
“Despite the success of our reforms to date to douse the dumpster fire, the burned-out bin is sitting in front of a building that hasn’t been renovated in 50 years,” Eby said.
His now-famous catch phrase drew laughter from Premier John Horgan and a room of reporters.
Next up for the new ICBC plan is consultation and the introduction of legislation. If passed, regulations will be completed in the fall and the new system would go into effect in May 2021.