VICTORIA — The British Columbia government is clamping down on the use of experts to cut costs and reduce delays in settling claims in motor vehicle accidents.
Attorney General David Eby says the changes to B.C. Supreme Court civil rules are intended to stop the disproportionate use of experts and their reports in court cases involving the Insurance Corporation of B.C.
He says people sometimes use upwards of six experts, all of which get paid by ICBC when the claim is settled.
“This change, which comes into effect today, allows each party in a vehicle injury dispute to have one expert and report for vehicle actions, where any notice of fast track has been filed — for example cases valued under $100,000. And up to three experts and reports for all other vehicle actions,” Eby adds. “The only other additional experts allowed will be joint or court-appointed experts, where they are needed with the approval of the court and the oversight of a judge.”
The attorney general says the changes are meant to encourage greater use of court-appointed experts to promote neutral expert opinions to assist in determining amounts for injury claims.
He said last week that the financial situation at the public auto insurer is critical and getting worse, with losses of $860 million in the first nine months of the fiscal year.
“Last Thursday ICBC announced it’s on track for another billion-dollar loss, this is mainly being driven by litigation costs per personal injury claims, which have jumped 43 per cent in just five years,” Eby says, noting the use of experts has contributed to a 20 per cent rise in the corporation’s injury settlements in the past year.
Eby, who’s the minister in charge of the Crown corporation, said the agency is on track for a year-end loss of $1.18 billion, compounding the blow of last year’s $1.3 billion deficit.
“It’s the excesses of our current system that is the problem, a system long overdue for reform,” Eby adds. “ICBC’s financial crisis has brought many to light related to these dramatic escalating litigation costs.”
But expert Rick McCandless says he doesn’t think the move will be that big of a money saver.
“If they’re averaging currently let’s say even four [experts], and they’re trying to reduce it to one or two, and they say that change of two is going to save $400 million, so they’re spending $800 million now? I don’t buy it,” he adds.
McCandless calls the move will limit costs and will speed up cases, but he doesn’t see how the $400 million figure was obtained.
“I think it’s a reasonable approach,” he adds. “I don’t think there’s a huge risk here, you have to convince a judge that there’s a need if you’ve already got three, why you need another one.”
According to McCandless, expert payouts cost ICBC only $117 million during the 2016/2017 fiscal year.
Meanwhile, the Trial Lawyers Association (TLA) says the changes are “undemocratic.”
“It is concerning to TLA BC that the attorney general, who is responsible for the administration of justice for all British Columbians is forcing such severe restrictions on the victim’s rights to prosecute her or his claim to the sole benefit of one party: ICBC,” says John Rice with the Association. “Repeatedly this government seems to favour ICBC’s financial interests over the legal rights of British Columbians.”
The TLA has threatened to take legal actions against ICBC’s reforms, but Eby says he’s confident the changes would withstand a court challenge.