New ICBC changes leads to increasing cost, constitutional challenge
Insurance rates for most British Columbians jumped 6.3 per cent Monday, and sweeping changes to many injury claims came into effect, as ICBC tries to balance the books.
But the changes have resulted in a constitutional challenge as the public insurer tries to reduce costs, specifically legal ones.
As of April 1, ICBC will cap pain and suffering payouts for minor injuries at $5,500 and an online civil resolution tribunal will deal with injury disputes valued at $50,000 or less. Both of those changes are proving contentious among some lawyers.
"We are now living in an environment where certain British Columbians are being treated differently than everyone else and we say that's discriminatory," said Trial Lawyers Association of British Columbia vice-president, John Rice.
The lawyers are mounting a constitutional challenge arguing the changes may violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
One of the group’s concerns is how the system will work for people with varying injuries.
"If you suffer serious soft tissue injuries, a jaw injury, chronic pain ... your injuries can be artificially capped for compensation," said Rice. "Whereas if you suffer a fracture, for example, a hairline fracture to your pinky, you have no such restrictions."
The TLABC – whose members may be cut out of the new tribunal system -- also believes the civil resolution tribunal system is unconstitutional as it may restrict access to the court system for some.
Former B.C. premier and attorney general Ujjal Dosanjh is also supporting the TLABC’s legal action. He told CTV Monday that the changes will hurt both ordinary and disadvantaged British Columbians.
"They're now saying we'll give you higher rates for insurance but fewer rights to go to court and cap your damages arbitrarily," said Dosanjh by phone.
ICBC told CTV News on Friday it had been expecting some kind of legal challenge. It’s estimated the changes that take effect April 1 will save ICBC about $1 billion a year.
"If we hadn't made this change we would have seen a 40 percent increase in rates this year," said ICBC president and CEO Nicolas Jimenez.
Attorney General David Eby echoed those thoughts Monday, adding he understood why the association was upset about the changes.
"But the reality is we don't have a choice in terms of ensuring that costs are affordable for British Columbians," Eby told reporters in Victoria.
For Dosanjh, the question is whether ICBC is doing what it was meant to -- providing affordable insurance to all British Columbians. He added if the government can’t figure out how to provide insurance in a financially appropriate way, it should abandon the field.
An interim rate increase of 6.3 per cent approved by the BC Utilities Commission means an average insurance bill for the year will go up by about $60.
The province is expected to announce further cost-saving measures later this year.