On July 15, 2014, Bill 15 was carried through first reading in Ontario’s legislative assembly. It is not law yet, but the bill appears to have the strong support of the government and so it seems likely that it will eventually be passed. The bill itself, and its legislative status, can be found at:
The bill itself contains a number of very prudent measures – ie: legislative steps to curb the issues surrounding tow truck drivers and the abuse and exorbitant fees that are spoken about in insurance circles. Also, the bill will seek to curb the issues surrounding vehicle repair and storage costs. These are, in my respectful submission, long over-due measures and may not even go far enough in addressing the issues. The legislature may eventually consider issuing very strict licenses to “approved” tow truck drivers and perhaps even storage and repair facilities in a more concerted effort to monitor these places.
Another part of Bill 15 is a revamping of the dispute resolution system for accident benefits no fault car insurance benefits for car accident victims. The odd thing about this is that we appear to be moving towards basically scrapping our current administrative body (which is very knowledgeable in the area and has extensive experience and success in these matters) and are instead passing the disputes over to a new body with no experience or training in the area. The most troubling issue is that claimants could lose their right to sue insurance companies for benefits denials, depending on how the bill is ultimately worded or amended. This would remove a significant avenue of recourse for injured accident victims and shield insurers from the deterrent effect that a lawsuit can bring.
A further part of the changes is the change to the pre-judgement interest rate that applies to pain and suffering claims in personal injury lawsuits. This is the interest rate that an accident victim in a personal injury lawsuit is paid from the time that they were injured/their personal injury lawyer served notice of the claim, up to the time of settlement or resolution at trial. The current pre-judgement interest rate is 5% per year. While the majority of the plaintiff injury lawyers are up in arms about this, I have to admit that the current interest rate makes little sense. It is certainly not in line with market rates and probably should be changed.
There are good and bad parts to this bill. Hopefully the legislature seriously considers whether to take away an injured accident victim’s right to sue at least. There is no credible justification for this change and the change is, in my respectful opinion, completely wrong and represents a severe danger to the people of our community. It would be a victory for multi-national behemoth insurers, at the expense of the most vulnerable injured members of our Province.
The publicity of cases where the learned Judges of our Courts have slapped insurers with punitive and bad faith awards for wrongful conduct are one of the only means of defence that we have to keep insurers in check. We should not give that away. We should protect it at all costs.
I have had more than a few cases where insurers have denied benefits (including a recent car accident injury lawsuit in Oshawa/Whitby) for what I considered to be completely outrageous reasons, and we started a lawsuit claiming for punitives, which then met with a reversal of the position by the insurer. Relegating these disputes to some back-room licensing tribunal that just deals with one benefit is far different than thespot-light that a lawsuit with a punitive damages award shines on an insurer. We should not leave ourselves defenseless.