Car accidents happen. They are unpredictable and don’t discriminate based on age, gender, religion and socio-economic status. They happen to poor people, rich people, middle class people, retired people, disabled people and gainfully employed people. There isn’t any method to the selection of an accident victim. It’s completely random. Serious car accidents happen to good people who are simply in the wrong place, at the wrong time. They fall victim to fate, time and circumstance. Some accidents are avoidable. While others are not.
This Toronto Injury Lawyer Blog Post will tell the tale of Brian Goldfinger and the Catastrophic Car Accident.
The term “catastrophic” is a very important legal term when it comes to car accident law in the Province of Ontario. In plain English, “catastrophic” is a word used to describe sudden and very serious damage; as having a very significant impact.
But at law, the term “catastrophic” means something different altogether. Under the SABS and in the Insurance Act, the term “catastrophic” is used as a definer to establish an accident victim’s injuries are very serious. Being deemed “catastrophic” by your car insurer means that your injuries have met a medico-legal definition. Once that definition is met, the catastrophic car accident victim is entitled to a wider variety, and an greater amount of benefits then another accident victim whose injuries have not been deemed catastrophic. For example, a catastrophic accident victim is entitled to case management services. A non-catastrophic accident victim is not. A catastrophic accident victim is entitled to a combined attendant care and med/rehab limit of $1,000,000 for treatment and services deemed to be both reasonable and necessary. The limits for a non-catastrophic car accident victim are either $3,500 under the Minor Injury Guideline; or $65,000 under the regular guidelines.
Many clients want their injuries to be deemed catastrophic. This is because they have researched the issue and see that increased level of benefits which catastrophic car accident victims are entitled to. But, they don’t appreciate what their quality of life will be once they’ve been deemed catastrophic. For lack of a better term, if you have been deemed catastrophic, this means that your injuries have been ruled to be so bad, that your quality of life (and perhaps your general life expectancy) takes a significant hit. If you could ask an catastrophically impaired accident victim if they would take the increased value in benefits and potential compensation available to them vs. their health; the overwhelming majority of those asked would opt for their health to be restored to pre-catastrophic levels as they were prior to the accident.
No amount of money will ever be enough to get someone walking again, or having full use of their body or restoring their mental health. You cannot put a dollar figure on health and happiness. Keep in mind that $1,000,000 isn’t enough to purchase a detached home in Toronto anymore. Also keep in mind that policy limits under a standard auto policy in the Province of Ontario are only $1,000,000. So, even if a catastrophically injured Plaintiff is awarded the policy limits on the tort end, those policy limits are only $1,000,000; which isn’t very much for a catastrophically injured accident victim heading in to 2023. This does not take in to consideration payment of any legal fees, HST or disbursements which will likely be deducted from the potential award or judgment.
Many accident victims want to know if there is potential to get more money above and beyond the policy limits of $1,000,000 available under a standard auto policy in Ontario.
The most likely scenario where this would occur is when the at fault driver carries excess insurance; or has policy limits which are above and beyond the standard $1,000,000 of coverage. We often see this with commercial vehicles. Their policy limits might be $5,000,000; $10,000,000 or even $20,000,000. We see these limits with commercial trucks on the roads, or other commercial/industrial vehicles. We also see this when the driver has purchased excess insurance above and beyond the standard $1,000,000 policy limits. This is very easy to do. For around $10 or so in additional premiums, any driver can increase his/her policy limits from $1,000,000, up to $2,000,000 or beyond. Check with your insurance broker or call your insurer for more details. It’s one of the most affordable and useful add ons which you can purchase under a standard policy.
The other scenario is when the at fault driver is very wealthy, or has tangible assets. In this case, the coverage is only $1,000,000; and anything above and beyond that award has to be paid out personally by the Defendant him/herself. The problem with this scenario is enforcing the Judgment or Settlement can prove to be very difficult. It’s easy for a person to hide, or to exhaust their assets to make them judgment proof. Properties can be transferred. Properties can be mortgaged a first, second and third time. Money in the bank account won’t be frozen just because there is a pending car accident lawsuit. That money can be spent freely by the at fault Defendant. Money, and seizable assets can be there one day, and gone the next. More unfortunate is that the pace which car accident cases run through the civil justice system is VERY slow. That gives a Defendant plenty of time to re-arrange his/her assets in such a way as to make them judgement proof. What’s harder to digest is that rearranging your assets in such a way is entirely legal in a car accident case. This is different than a commercial fraud case where a Judge can intervene and freeze the assets or put a certificate of pending litigation on a property which was purchased using funds of the fraud. A case for negligence in a car accident case is a completely different set of circumstances where the Courts won’t intervene (in my experience) to freeze potential assets in order to protect a Plaintiff’s potential judgment or award.
Keep in mind that a Plaintiff may be successful in securing a Judgement which goes over and above the policy limits. But just because an individual Defendant does not pay that Judgement does NOT mean that s/he is going to jail. People go to jail for criminal offences. They don’t go to jail because they don’t have the money to pay out on a civil judgment against them in a car accident case. While this may not seem fair, it’s how our system works in Canada. Other countries may have stricter laws when it comes to unpaid civil Judgments. But Canada works differently than those countries.