Personal Injury

New B.C. accident rules make it vital to call a lawyer: Ford

By Tony Poland, AdvocateDaily.com Associate Editor

Recent changes in British Columbia’s auto insurance industry makes it “more important than ever to get legal advice immediately after an accident,” says Kamloops personal injury lawyer Matthew Ford.

New rules introduced in April that include a $5,500-cap on pain and suffering payouts for those who sustain minor injuries such as whiplash, sprains or strains in auto accidents may result in victims not getting the compensation they deserve, says Ford, partner with Cates Ford Epp.

He tells AdvocateDaily.com that the system has the potential to deny victims “access to justice” and is facing a challenge by the Trial Lawyers Association of B.C.

CBC News reports that small settlement cases are being moved out of courtrooms and will be heard by the Civil Resolution Tribunal (CRT).

B.C. Attorney General David Eby says the changes are expected to help the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) cut losses from $1.3 billion in the 2017-18 fiscal year to $50 million in 2019-20, according to the CBC.

Ford says if a person gets into an accident, they can go to the ICBC website and fill out a form to have their case resolved by the CRT instead of going to court.

“The difficulty that we have as plaintiffs’ counsel is that injured people are immediately being ushered to the CRT,” he says. “So if you get in a car crash and call ICBC, it sends you to the CRT. They say you don’t need a lawyer, and then people never get legal advice.

“I am quite sure people are getting advice throughout the CRT process, but from non-lawyers, and that’s a huge problem. There’s only one set of people in B.C allowed to give legal advice, and they are lawyers.”

Ford says the CRT has “exclusive jurisdiction” to determine what constitutes a minor injury, and once a claim goes through the process, the decision is binding.

He says while it may seem convenient to file an accident claim online, there is the potential for what you believe to be a minor injury to turn into something more serious.

“We hear all the time about people reporting accidents and saying they feel fine today, but we know that some people suffer from significant injuries and don’t realize it for days or weeks,” Ford says.

He says “more than ever” it is in an accident victim’s best interest to seek legal advice before filing a claim through the new system “so that you can at least keep all of your options open for fair compensation.”

“The best thing to do is to call a lawyer first, and figure out how to report the accident and what to say during the reporting,” Ford says. "Initial accident reporting should at least leave the door open in case their injuries get worse over time. Most importantly, people injured in car accidents need a lawyer to explain the new minor injury cap, and how to get out from underneath it if the facts of the case warrant it. Plaintiff’s counsel, experienced in litigating against ICBC, are best-suited to provide this advice — not the CRT.”

He says the usual things still apply if you get into an accident.

“You need to preserve evidence about the circumstances of the incident, and that means you need to take down licence plate numbers, names and driver’s licence numbers and contact information for any witnesses,” he says.

If you are injured, “you need to see your doctor right away,” he says.

“The longer you wait, the more ammunition ICBC will have to say that something else after the accident must have led to the injury, or that your injuries must be minor since you took so long to seek medical help.”

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