The B.C. government has introduced changes to Insurance Corp. of B.C. laws that Attorney General David Eby has predicted will lead to a “street fight” with personal injury lawyers over the enormous legal fees they generate suing the corporation.
Eby told the legislature Wednesday his latest amendments will deliver a promised 24-fold increase in the maximum payout for serious disabling injuries, from about $300,000 to $7.5 million, and in some cases even more to cover costs of life-long nursing care.
The new system takes effect in May 2021, and Eby says it will do more than improve care for seriously injured people. He vowed that it will increase wage loss payments by up to 60 per cent and finance a 20 per cent reduction in premiums paid by B.C. drivers next year. Basic ICBC insurance rates are to be frozen after April 1 this year.
The changes are to be financed by continuing the NDP government’s move to divert disputes from court to a new civil resolution tribunal, which already is dealing with smaller disputes. Getting all cases out of court is expected to save ICBC an estimated $1.5 billion in legal fees, courtroom experts and related costs once the changes are in effect.
The Trial Lawyers Association of B.C. has questioned the independence of the tribunal approach, since its members are appointed by the provincial government and make decisions that directly impact ICBC’s bottom line. Soaring injury claims and legal costs have contributed to a $2.5 billion net loss in ICBC operations over the past two years, forcing the government to transfer money from its general budget to keep the corporation afloat.
The Insurance Bureau of Canada, representing private insurance companies, noted that ICBC’s proposed rate reduction will cost it $713 million in sales revenue. ICBC’s own books show its capital reserves are “significantly depleted” and well below its management and regulatory targets after the years of substantial payouts and losses, IBC representative Aaron Sutherland said.