Friday, November 06, 2009

McGuinty’s Early Christmas Gift to Auto Insurance Companies

After Finance Minister Dwight Duncan stood up in the Ontario Legislature last Monday and publicly wrung his hands at the mountain of motor vehicle accident claims in the province, he did what any clear thinking and sincere politician in his shoes would do to deal with rising auto insurance premiums – give more money to the insurance companies.

The proposed changes to the Province's automobile insurance regulations, due to come into effect next summer, would see the maximum allowable medical and rehabilitation coverage drop from $100,000 (in non-catastrophic cases) to $50,000.

The changes would also remove an injured person's right to obtain an assessment from their own doctor if they disagree with the findings of the insurance company's health provider.

But he didn’t announce that for the same money the average consumer would get less in accident benefits. He talked about “choice.” And everybody knows it’s good to have choices.

He added that drivers could still purchase $100,000 or even $1-million in non-catastrophic medical and rehabilitation benefits if they chose after the proposed changes come into effect. Motorists will also get options on the level of insurance coverage they want for attendant care, housekeeping and death and funeral expenses.

The recent proposals for auto insurance reform are simply the latest salvo in a decades-long erosion of the rights of motor vehicle accident victims.

In 1990 the government introduced legislation that only permitted compensation for pain and suffering in cases where it could be shown that injuries sustained had become “serious and permanent.” In 1996, the government of the day thought that insurance companies should be awarded a $15,000.00 deductible if pain and suffering claims met the “serious and permanent” threshold. That deductible was increased to $30,000.00 in 2003.

These unconscionable changes to the auto insurance landscape have given Ontario the reputation of being the toughest jurisdiction in North America for accident victims.

What is clear is that motor vehicle accident victims, their advocates and supporters have nowhere near the power or influence the insurance industry has. And as long as that imbalance remains, the insurers can always count on government to do their bidding.

- Stephen Ellis, Toronto

Stephen Ellis is a Toronto, Ontario lawyer

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