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Catastrophic Personal Injury in a car accident case

Ontario Minister of Finance Dwight Duncan and Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty have released the Ontario provincial budget. Ever read a provincial budget? Well, here’s the Ontario 2012 version in all its glory. Long read. Hard to understand. Hard to find what it is you want. LIkely all on purpose so the common person wouldn’t bother going through the thousands and thousands of pages, tables, graphs, pie charts etc.

The budget is full of cuts, proposals to increase revenue, austerity measures, economic forecasts etc. The budget impacts a wide variety of sectors from education, to health, to transportation. Even gambling and liquor sales are covered in the budget.

You might be asking why a Toronto Personal Injury Lawyer is focusing so much on the Ontario provincial budget.

Good question. Well, the budget may have an impact on car accident and insurance law in Ontario. Every four years, the Ontario provincial government changes the Insurance Act. I wouldn’t call these changes minor by any stretch. Every four years, Ontario car insurance changes dramatically. These changes are so comprehensive and complicated that they cannot be introduced by single amendment to the Insurance Act.

Rather, these changes need to be introduced by adding a separate schedule to the Insurance Act. They’re called the Statutory Accident Benefits Schedules or SABS for short. Here’s a version O.Reg 4703/96 introduced for accidents on or after November 1, 1996. This version increased the deductible to sue for pain and suffering in car accidents from $15,000 up to $30,000. This means that if you’re awarded $40,000 at trial in your car accident case, the first $30,000 vanishes and you’re only left with a $10,000 award. Sounds great if you’re an insurance company. Sounds really bad if you’re the innocent accident victim who was minding their business when they were rear ended by another driver who was texting while driving.

Here’s a verion of O.Reg 34/10 introduced for accidents on or after September 1, 2010. This is the version of the SABS which reduced your benefits from $100,000 down to $50,000, and eliminated the $250/week caregiver benefit. This change too sounds great if you’re an insurance company. It reduces their exposure for every single car accident in Ontario by 50%. Imagine those savings. Imagine the profits based on those savings. I’ve never seen one piece of legislation change consumer’s rights so dramatically than O.Reg 34/10. But nobody notices or cares until the car accident happens to them or to a loved one. By then, it’s too late.

Notice a trend? These changes in legislation don’t favour accident victims. They favour insurance companies. This happens year after year after year and nobody seems to take notice. Did you know that if you had a car accident in Toronto in the 1970’s or 1980’s you didn’t have to deal with any of the accident benefit rubbish? There weren’t any deductibles. There wasn’t a threshold. You could just sue. Wow how times have changed. Good luck suing now.

But I digress. The reason I mentioned the budget at the beginning of this blog post is because the Liberal government is trying to pull a fast one on Ontarians once again. This time they are seeking to change the definition of catastrophic impairment and how catastrophic impairment is determined. Ontario’s Court of Appeal has already ruled on his issue in the Kusnierz decision released at the end of 2011. What the Liberal government is trying to do is slip something into the Budget to change how catastrophic impairment is defined and calculated. Again, the government is trying to change the landscape for personal injury law in Ontario.

But why are they doing this? I don’t see anyone protesting at Queen’s Park demanding changes to insurance law. I don’t see headlines in the newspapers that insurance law is the reason that Ontario’s economy is tanking. This is just another example of the sucessful efforts of insurance companies at lobbying our MPP’s to enforce these changes to increase their profitability. Perhaps if government spent more time focusing on job creation, healthcare, education and the economy and less time on insurance, they’d get things accomplished at Queen’s Park. The last time I checked, people voted for elected officials. Not Insurance Companies. But I suppose that Insurance Companies pay for the nice things that policians like. It looks like the tail is wagging the dog yet again.

What would bring attention to this issue? The same way that Sidney Crosby’s concussion shed light on brain injury, I think if a prominent MPP got involved in a bad car accident it would shed more light on this issue. I know I’m not supposed to hope for bad things to happen to others, and it’s in really poor taste for me to say so. But it’s for the greater good. Imagine if an MPP was involved in a really bad car accident, and they had to go through the same hell that Ontario’s accident victims have been going through for years. The MPP expects to be covered and cared for because they have car insurance. But in reality, their car insurance doesn’t cover very much and getting the benefits they need from their car insurance is like pulling teeth. Then the car insurance company places the MPP in the Minor Injury Guideline thus limiting their benefits to a meagre $2,500. The MPP can’t return to work and isn’t getting the rehabilitation they need because their insurance simply won’t cover it.

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