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'We think they'll stand up': Eby reacts to threat of legal action by lawyers over ICBC reforms

Last Updated Feb 8, 2019 at 3:22 pm PDT

FILE: Attorney General David Eby speaks during a press conference in the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday April 26, 2018. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito)
Summary

'I understand why the trial lawyers are upset. These changes will impact their bottom line,' said Eby

Trial Lawyers Association of BC has suggests court backlogs already happening due to lowball offers from ICBC lawyers

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – B.C.’s Attorney General is talking tough, as personal injury lawyers threaten to challenge changes that will slash legal costs at ICBC.

David Eby says he’s confident these reforms will stand up, if they’re tested in court.

He insists something needs to be done to address escalating costs largely responsible for this fiscal year’s losses of nearly $1.2 billion. He believes these changes are what most British Columbians want.

“I don’t blame any personal injury lawyer … That’s their job.”

“I understand why the trial lawyers are upset. These changes will impact their bottom line,” he said.

“But the reality is that we can not afford as a province — and people don’t want to pay for — the system as it stands right now. [It would be a 40 per cent rate increase to pay for the system that we have right now. That is not going to happen.

“They can go to court and they can challenge the rules. We think they’ll stand up. We believe — I believe — in the changes that we’re bringing in, as an appropriate balance. Lawyers will still be in the system, but it will be a different system.”

The Trial Lawyers Association of BC has suggested court backlogs are already happening, thanks to lowball offers made by ICBC lawyers. But Eby says that’s not true.

“I don’t blame any personal injury lawyer for believing that their client’s offer is too low. That’s their job, to go out and advocate for their client,” he said, adding he’s made it clear any settlement offers must be fair.

“They should not be low-balling anyone, and I do not believe that that is happening.”

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Ron Nairne, president of the Trial Lawyers Association of BC, says his practice hasn’t done anything differently than it has in the past.

“I can’t think of any motivation for anyone to be doing differently. So, the idea that lawyers are somehow now suddenly asking for vastly more amounts of money, to me, doesn’t make any sense.”

He questions why ICBC’s projections keep changing.

“Why is it that in two months, they’ve revised their projections by almost $300 million? I don’t understand that. I don’t understand why they are not better at their forecasting. If they are that far off, why is Minister Eby not going to the executives and board level of ICBC and asking for some resignations?”

Nairne argues what’s ICBC’s numbers work differently from those of a conventional business.

“[With most businesses], the income is a million dollars and the expenses are $800,000 and there’s a $200,000 profit. With ICBC, the income is based on their revenue from premiums, but their expenses are projections of what accident claims will cost them. So, it’s not actually money out the door, entirely. What they’ve done is simply increased their projections about what future claims are going to cost. Voila, all of a sudden, they find themselves in this $300-million worse-off scenario. It doesn’t make any sense to me.”

 

FILE: Attorney General David Eby speaks about changes coming to ICBC during a press conference in the press gallery at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., in 2018. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito)

Eby notes there are sanctions for ICBC, if it’s believed the insurer is making unfair offers or otherwise acting unfairly.

“ICBC has always had settlement guidelines,” he added.

“What ICBC has faced, though, is they have a significant number of junior adjudicators because they’ve had to hire up to deal with the backlog of claims. These junior adjudicators need increased supervision, so they’ve reformed some of that. They’ve provided guidelines in more detail to their adjudicators to make sure they’re making good decisions and oversight to make sure those claims are appropriate.”

There are claims that eight cases were adjourned in Vancouver alone on Monday because there weren’t enough judges to hear them.

“I immediately called ICBC and said, ‘What are you seeing, in terms of closures? Are we going to have an issue here? They said, ‘Actually, we’re seeing a slight increase in the number of files that we’re closing,” Eby said.

“I do understand that there is a lot of unhappiness about the fact that the settlement amounts are more in line with historical norms. But that is what ICBC should be doing. That’s what they should have been doing for a long time — people be offered fair compensation for their injuries. If they believe that it’s unfair, they still have the right to go to court and they will get time in front of a judge — we’ll make sure of that.”

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Eby maintains there have been significant increases payout demands from lawyers. “From 2017 for a similar injury file, the average increase is about 20 per cent, in terms of the settlement demands that ICBC has been seeing — and that they have been paying … There has been no big change since 2017 that would justify that.”

“There’s not a constitutional claim, in my opinion, for every $50,000 claim to go to BC Supreme Court with all the costs that come along with that. Whether or not the Supreme Court of Canada or the Court of Appeal or the BC Supreme Court agrees with that, I guess we’ll see. But in terms of my understanding of justice, having systems that are proportionate to the claim makes a lot of sense. It’s something that I think British Columbians understand and support.”

Changes are coming this April, primarily limiting pain and suffering payouts for minor injury claims and bringing in a new dispute resolution process.

 – With files from Lasia Kretzel