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Editorial: Revving up

As spring rolls around, the PUB is going to begin public hearings for a review of the province’s automobile insurance regulation.
As spring rolls around, the PUB is going to begin public hearings for a review of the province’s automobile insurance regulation. — 123RF Stock illustration

When you hear the three words “Public Utilities Board,” you might well think first about electric rates.

But there’s something else coming before the PUB that also deserves a share of your attention.

As spring rolls around, the PUB is going to begin public hearings for a review of the province’s automobile insurance regulation. It’s big business: in 2015, 49 insurance companies collected more than $417 million in premiums — and since the Dwight Ball Liberals came to power, the provincial government has collected a 15 per cent tax on top of that, as well.

Last July, the provincial government ordered a review, in part “to better understand the factors contributing to rising automobile insurance claims costs in the province.”

One part that has caused consternation among some parts of the province’s legal community — is “to review the impact on rates of a monetary cap on claims for non-economic loss for minor/mild injuries and the implication of such a cap for claimants.”

It’s caused consternation (to the point that lawyers launched the Insult to Injury.ca Campaign to Protect Accident Victims) because a cap would change the dynamics of legal action following an accident.

Last July, the provincial government ordered a review, in part “to better understand the factors contributing to rising automobile insurance claims costs in the province.”

In a letter to the editor published in The Telegram, a group of lawyers involved wrote “The Campaign to Protect Accident Victims was formed to ensure that people who sustain life-altering injuries in traffic accidents continue to have the right to take legal action and ask for fair compensation. The insurance industry wants to take away that right by asking our government to place a financial cap on injury claims, dramatically reducing payouts with no regard for the suffering of an injured person — even if that person can no longer lift their child, or ride their ATV, or work because of daily pain.”

Even the PUB admits the caps are contentious, saying in a letter to Insult to Injury.ca that “the Board anticipates that this will be a significant issue in this review.”

There are already such caps in place in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia — but one thing that’s sure to generate new questions is what happened in British Columbia this week.

Faced with a $1.3-billion deficit this year, one of the nation’s only public insurers — ICBC in British Columbia — announced it was putting a cap on minor injury claims at $5,500 as part of reforms set to save the insurer a billion dollars a year.

And that province’s attorney general, David Eby, was pointing fingers in a very decided direction: “These are substantial changes that will make enormous difference to British Columbians. It can only come about under a financially stable ICBC … and will only come as a result of reforms that will rein in out-of-control legal costs.”

Gloves? Off.

Buckle up: this might be a wild ride.

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