Tag: Tort Reform

Is Tort Reform Needed To Allow Proper Crime Victim Compensation?

I have previously discussed the harsh reality that when a person is injured through the intentional, criminal wrongdoing of others they often face a far tougher road to receiving fair compensation for their injuries through the legal system as compared to victims of negligently caused harm.  The reason being that when people are injured through negligence defendants are often insured to pay for the damages.  When people are injured through crime this usually is not the case leaving the victim not only with the legacy of their injuries but with a possible ‘dry judgement’ in the event they sue for damages.
Reasons for judgement were released recently by the BC Supreme Court, Port Alberni Registry, dealing with a criminal assault which made me consider this issue again.  In the recent case (Thornber v. Campbell) the Plaintiff was the victim of a “brutal and unprovoked” assault by the Defendant as the Plaintiff “lay sleeping in his bed“.  The assault caused “multiple facial, head and neck, and jaw contusions…oral/dental injuries including multiple dental fractures…PTSD…(and) recurrence of a previously-suffered Major Depressive Disorder“.
The Defendant was criminally convicted for the assault.  The Plaintiff sued for damages and had his non-pecuniary damages assessed at $125,000.   Notably the Defendant did not participate in the proceeding leading me to the suspect that this Plaintiff may have little more than a dry judgement following this assessment.   If that is the case it is worth repeating my views about whether this issue should be reviewed by the legislature to create a meaningful compensation system for victims of crime who pursue ‘dry’ damages through the tort system.  For the sake of convenience here were my previous thoughts:
The law recognizes that those harmed through the fault of others are entitled to reasonable compensation.  When it comes to negligently caused harm defendants are often insured and plaintiffs can collect their judgements.
In cases where Defendants hold inadequate insurance examples can be found where legislatures have intervened to ensure victims can collect on their judgments.  For example, in BC, Section 20 of the Insurance (Vehicle) Act provides a pool of $200,000 of available compensation from ICBC for damages caused by uninsured motorists.  A further example is the requirement for BC motorists to purchase a minimum of one million dollars of under-insured motorist protection coverage.
When plaintiffs suffer harm through intentional torts, however, there often is no insurance to protect the wrongdoer or compensate the victim.  This is an unfair reality in Canadian law.  Victims harmed through assault, battery, sexual molestation and other intentional acts are often faced with dry judgments.  When they seek legal advice they are often turned away being told that litigation may not be worth the effort unless the Defendant has deep pockets
There is no justification I can think of making it fair for a car crash victim to be able to collect their judgement from a pool of money created by the government when the victims of crime are left with dry judgments.
The financial well being of a defendant has no bearing on a victim’s right to damages.  If the government has seen fit to create a pool of funds for victims of motor vehicle collisions to collect from surely a similar system can be created to allow victims of intentional torts facing dry judgements.  This is a rough idea.  Thoughts and feedback are welcome from lawyers and non-lawyers alike.
Comments and feedback are welcome.
 

Tort Reform For The Better: Adding Liquidity to Dry Judgements


Below is a brief article which was first published yesterday at Slaw.ca, one of Canada’s best read and most recognized legal blogs.  For your convenience I republish the article here in its entirety.  If you find this topic of interest I suggest you visit the original article and weigh in on the comments that follow.
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I’ve written many times that the phrase tort ‘reform‘ is often used in association with efforts to strip the rights of injury claimants.  Reform, however, is a neutral concept in and of itself.  Reform simply means change and the change could be for better or worse.  With this in mind  I’d like to share a tort reform idea for the better which recently crossed my mind.  In short the idea is to add a pool of liquidity to rectify the injustice of dry judgement.
The thought crossed my mind as I was reading reasons for judgement released this week by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry.  In this week’s case (Saether v. Irvine) the Plaintiff was injured when the Defendant battered him.  The consequences were “profound and catastrophic” causing a brain injury that “severely compromised (the plaintiff) in virtually all facets of his life“.  Damages of $1,075,000 were assessed to cover the Plaintiff’s anticipated future care costs alone.  Given the fact that this case involves an intentional tort it is a safe bet that this judgement will be uninsured and likely (at least partially) dry.
Reading this reminded me of a 2005 case (Chow v. Hiscock) where the Court expressly recognized the injustice of dry judgement facing a plaintiff left “in a permanent semi-vegatative state” following a “brutal, unprovoked assault“.  The Plaintiff’s future care costs were anticipated to exceed $4,000,000.  Madam Justice Koensberg made the following comments hoping the Plaintiff would some day be able to receive some of these funds from the uninsured defendants:
[40]           Can I say that this is still a case where punitive damages should be awarded?  If I were to award punitive damages, it would be purely symbolic.  I have heard nothing which indicates that the magnitude of this award or even some small part of it is likely to be payable by any of these three young men.  One can hope that they find a straight path to earn a significant amount of money or that one even wins the lottery, so that the earnings could be available to increase Mr. Johnson’s quality of life.
The law recognizes that those harmed through the fault of others are entitled to reasonable compensation.  When it comes to negligently caused harm defendants are often insured and plaintiffs can collect their judgements.
In cases where Defendants hold inadequate insurance examples can be found where legislatures have intervened to ensure victims can collect on their judgments.  For example, in BC, Section 20 of the Insurance (Vehicle) Act provides a pool of $200,000 of available compensation from ICBC for damages caused by uninsured motorists.  A further example is the requirement for BC motorists to purchase a minimum of one million dollars of under-insured motorist protection coverage.
When plaintiffs suffer harm through intentional torts, however, there often is no insurance to protect the wrongdoer or compensate the victim.  This is an unfair reality in Canadian law.  Victims harmed through assault, battery, sexual molestation and other intentional acts are often faced with dry judgments.  When they seek legal advice they are often turned away being told that litigation may not be worth the effort unless the Defendant has deep pockets
There is no justification I can think of making it fair for a car crash victim to be able to collect their judgement from a pool of money created by the government when the victims of crime are left with dry judgments.
The financial well being of a defendant has no bearing on a victim’s right to damages.  If the government has seen fit to create a pool of funds for victims of motor vehicle collisions to collect from surely a similar system can be created to allow victims of intentional torts facing dry judgments.  This is a rough idea.  Thoughts and feedback are welcome from lawyers and non-lawyers alike.

BC's Auto Insurance System: Not "Perfect" But Better than Most

In response to criticism of BC’s auto insurance rates ICBC’s CEO Jon Schubert recently commented that while BC’s auto insurance system is not“perfect” it works due to it’s robust compensation rights.   Jon provided the following comments:
You can travel across Canada and find a range of public and private auto insurance and diverse arguments both for and against each system. We believe our system in British Columbia works for a number of reasons. We know some provinces offer lower-priced auto insurance but we also know some others offer higher-priced auto insurance — including some with private insurance. Any discussion on insurance should be based not just on what you pay but what you get for your money. Our medical and rehab benefits, for example, are three times more than those offered in Alberta….
This is one instance where I agree with ICBC.  While I won’t get into the debate about whether a system of private auto insurance is better than public insurance, one thing BC has done right is keeping a full tort system in place.
While other Provinces have stripped the rights of those injured to the benefit of insurance company profits, British Columbia has continued to preserve the right of victims to seek full lawful compensation when injured through the fault of other’s carelessness.
It is artificial to compare BC rates to those of other Provinces without looking behind the rates to the rights of auto-collision victims to seek compensation.   As an example, if a person suffers severe soft tissue injuries in BC due to another person’s careless driving they can seek meaningful damages for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life.
The same injuries have been artificially capped in Provinces such as Alberta and Nova Scotia.  Ontario has also limited collision victim compensation rights and in a double blow are looking to reduce access to no-fault benefits.  Other Provinces like Manitoba and Saskatchewan have gone so far as to strip collision victims of the right to to sue for damages and instead instituted a WCB-like no-fault system.
Low rates are a good thing and provided the Government does not continue to raid ICBC’s revenues there is no reason why British Columbians could not continue to enjoy competitive rates and meaningful compensation rights when injured through the fault of others.

What Do ICBC's 2010 Annual Report and Hot Coffee Have in Common?


ICBC’s 2010 Annual Report was recently released to little media attention.   Perhaps little attention accompanied the release because there were few exciting facts in the report.  At $361 million of Net Income last year alone ICBC continues to be very financially sound and stable.
This stability, however, is newsworthy on its own.  British Columbia has Canada’s fullest tort system for motor vehicle collision victims.  That means if you are injured through the fault of another you will have access to more meaningful compensation here than anywhere else in Canada.  The important underlying story here is that victim rights don’t need to be stripped (as other Provinces have done or proposed) to have a viable auto insurance system.
This story dovetails nicely into another newsworthy matter.  HBO’s much anticipated documentary Hot Coffee has now aired.  This movie documents, amongst other things, the infamous story of the 1990’s American lawsuit against McDonald’s after a patron burned herself with their coffee.  This is a classic example of frivolous lawsuits run a muck, right?  Watch the movie and decide for yourself.  You can click here to listen to my take on the Hot Coffee case as discussed with Charles Adler last year.
If you don’t have time to watch the documentary I’ll summarize one of the important points made.  Stories of a broken system and frivolous claims are often bandied about by the insurance industry.  These generate a lot more headlines than stories of financial insurance company stability.
The insurance industry often uses the momentum of these stories to argue that “reform” is necessary because the system is failing due to abuse.  As Hot Coffee illustrates, it is important to step back and scrutinize any claims that victim rights need to be stripped in order to have a functioning insurance system.  This usually is not the case.  When tort reformers ask for proof, point proudly to British Columbia’s full tort system and ICBC’s 2010 Annual Report.

The BC Political Landscape and Tort Reform


This blog is not politically oriented, however, one issue I like to keep my eye on is so-called tort ‘reform’.  As previously discussed, tort reform generally refers to limiting the rights of those injured through the carelessness of others to the benefit of insurance company profits.   Ontario is currently undergoing such a proposed ‘reform’.
With the significant recent changes in BC’s political landscape I’ve been curious about our political parties views on tort reform.  When Mike de Jong was running for the BC Liberal leadership he was kind enough to respond to my question addressing some positive changes that can be made to BC’s wrongful death laws.
More recently Dave Eby has thrown his hat into the political ring taking on Christy Clark.  I asked him about his views on tort reform and he advised that he does not believe in limiting the rights of injury victims through tort ‘reform’ with the following exchange:

Dave’s response was welcome and I was impressed with his accessibility.  I have asked Christy Clark about her views on the topic but she has not yet replied.   If she is from the same school of thought as Mike de Jong I am cautiously optimistic that she is not a tort ‘reformer’ but would of course be happy to have a clear reply on the topic.
If anyone has any insights with respect to the BC Liberals and NDP’s views on so-called reform feel free to share your insight with me.

Mike de Jong Addresses Wrongful Death Law Reform in BC

As I’ve previously discussed, if a person dies through the carelessness of others in British Columbia claims for damages by surviving family members must be brought under the BC Family Compensation Act. This outdated law has been the subject of much criticism due to its restrictions for survivors claims. You can find an in-depth analysis on this topic here.
Recently BC Liberal leadership candidate Mike de Jong gave the following invitation:

I took this opportunity to ask Mike the following two questions:

Mike was kind enough to answer my first question on this recent video he uploaded to YouTube:

My question is addressed 1:13 into the clip.  For the sake of convenience here is Mike’s answer transcribed:
That’s a good question because I think our laws in BC have fallen a little out of step with what’s happened in other jurisdictions and my belief is that if an accident occurs and someone loses a loved one they should be entitled to the same type of compensation as is available to the families elsewhere in Canada and that is not presently the case in British Columbia and I think it’s time we updated our laws in that respect.  It’s really about fairness for BC families.  Thanks for the question
Maybe Mike will tackle my second question on his next episode of Open Mike Mailbag.  Given Mike’s views on wrongful death laws I’m optimistic he is not a tort ‘reformer‘  (for those unfamiliar with the phrase, tort reform generally refers to limiting the rights of those injured through the carelessness of others to the beneift of insurance company profits)  but a clear stance is always appreciated.  Thanks Mike.

Ontario Proposes Artificial Caps for "Minor Injuries"


Although this blog is focused almost exclusively on British Columbia legal issues relating to personal injury claims, I do like to keep my eye on other Canadian jurisdictions to stay appraised of significant legal developments.  One topic I particularly focus on is so called ‘tort-reform‘ which is generally code for efforts to change the law by limiting the right of compensation to those harmed through the carelessness of others.
As I recently posted, while Nova Scotia has recently taken steps to remove their long-standing artificial caps on pain and suffering awards for so called ‘minor injuries‘, Ontario seems to be moving in the opposite direction.
Today I came across this article from the Canadian Underwriter website which states that “Ontario’s insurance regulator, the Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO), has posted its new Minor Injury Guideline (MIG), a key pillar of the province’s proposed new auto insurance reform package.”
Under the proposal people with ‘minor’ injuries are entitled to benefits “subject to a $3,500 limit“. The proposed definition of a “minor injury” according to the article is:
“a sprain, strain, whiplash associated disorder, contusion, abrasion, laceration or subluxation [a partial but not complete dislocation of the joint], and any clinically associated sequelae [symptoms following on these injuries].”

A whiplash-associated disorder is further described as a whiplash injury that “does not exhibit objective, demonstrable, definable and clinically relevant neurological signs and does not exhibit a fracture in or dislocation of the spine.”
Rarely is it wise public policy to limit the rights of those injured / affected by the actions of others as has now been demonstrated with the wisdom of hindsight with the public disdain at the $75 million oil liability cap which is drawing well deserved critisim south of the border.
Efforts to limit the rights of people to seek lawful compensation usually have one predictable result, and that is to deprive the most deserving people in the affected class of fair and meaningful restoration.  Hopefully this minor injury guideline will be reformed before it comes into force.

More on the Shortcomings of BC Wrongful Death Laws and the Tragedy of Georgia Luge Competitor Nodar Kumaritashvili

The Olympics are now over. British Columbians (and all Canadians for that matter) have much to be proud of. The Olympic Games have been a great success and created a sense of national unity and pride that have been unparellelled. As a Canadian I am proud of these games and the historic success of our athletes. Canadians will not soon forget where they were when Sidney Crosby scored his spectacular overtime goal to claim Olympic Gold.

With the dust settling, however, one story that has not gone away was the cloud that the Olympics started under with the unfortunate and tragic death of Georgia Luge Competitor Nodar Kumaritashvili.

When this news broke I shared my immediate thoughts on the tragedy.

Since authoring my article I’ve been approached by a handful of people to further share my views. I’ve been asked to comment on some of the specific shortcomings of British Columbia law that I alluded to in my initial article. After having this discussion several times I thought I would share some of my thoughts by way of this follow up post.

If a person dies through the carelessness of others in British Columbia the BC Family Compensation Act governs claims for compensation brought by survivors. This outdated law has been the subject of much criticism due to its restrictions for survivors rights. I could not have commented on the shortcomings of BC Wrongful Death law better than the TLABC (Trial Lawyers Association of British Columbia) who have just released their comprehensive views of the need for overhaul of BC Wrongful Death laws.  You can find these here and I strongly urge anyone interested in reform in this area to review TLABC’s submissions in full

Another shortcoming under BC Law is the quick notice limitation period contained in the BC Local Government Act.

Local Governments, are defined under the act as:

(a) the council of a municipality, and

(b) the board of a regional district;

If you are injured and can bring a claim against a Local Government you will lose your right to make your claim unless you comply with s. 286 of the local government act which provides as follows:
Immunity Unless Notice Given To Municipality After Damage
(1) A municipality is in no case liable for damages unless notice in writing, setting out the time, place, and manner in which the damage has been sustaibed, is delivered to the municipality within 2 months from the date on which the damage was sustained.

(2)        In case of the death of a person injured, the failure to give notice required by this section is not a bar to the maintenance of the action.

(3)        Failure to give the notice or its insufficiency is not a bar to the maintenance of an action if the court before whom it is tried, or, in case of appeal, the Court of Appeal, believes

(a)        there was reasonable excuse, and

(b)        the defendant has not been prejudiced in its defence by the failure or insufficiency.

Assuming that Local Governments had some responsibility for the design/set up / access to the now world famous Whistler Sliding Centre this limitation period would be triggered for anyone advancing an injury claim against the Local Governments. While this legislation does have an exclusion for claims involving “death” this limitation period has operated to strip the rights of many seriously injured people following alleged negligence of Local Governments.

When people are forced to deal with the consequences of a tragedy it is very harsh to take away their right to seek lawful compensation if they fail to turn their mind to litigation within two months.

The above examples are some of the first which came to mind when asked to comment on the shortcomings of British Columbia Personal Injury Law. While I am generally very proud of the tort system we have in this Province it is important to point out areas where there is room and need for improvement.

Can British Columbia Residents Sue in BC If They Are Injured Out of Province?


(The decision discussed below was upheld by the BC Court of Appeal in 2011, you can find the BCCA judgement here)
British Columbia remains the least ‘tort-reformed” Province in Canada and as a result we can be proud that in most instances BC offers fair adjudication of claims for those injured at the hands of others.  Many other Canadian jurisdictions offer fewer protections with compensation restrictions such as ‘no-fault‘ laws or ‘soft-tissue injury caps‘ on damages.
If a British Columbia resident is injured in another Province can they sue in BC to be compensated for their injuries?  Reasons for judgement were released today considering this issue.
In today’s case (Dembroski v. Rhainds) the Plaintiff was involved in a car crash in Alberta in 2007.  The Plaintiff was a British Columbia resident and was in Alberta for a short while to do some work as a farrier.    The Plaintiff was injured and unable to perform her work.  She returned to BC shortly after the car crash.  She had the majority of her treatments in BC.
The Plaintiff eventually sued the alleged at fault motorist for compensation in British Columbia.  The Defendant brought a motion to dismiss the claim arguing that BC Courts lack jurisdiction to preside overthis case.
Mr. Justice Truscott agreed with the defendants and dismissed the lawsuit.  In doing so he made the following points regarding BC Courts’ jurisdiction to preside over a lawsuit arising from an out of Province motor vehicle accident:

11] The court’s jurisdiction is governed by the Court Jurisdiction and Proceedings Transfer Act, S.B.C. 2003, c. 28 (CJPTA), which gives the court territorial jurisdiction in particular circumstances.

[12] From the facts here, the only circumstance set out in the legislation that might give the court jurisdiction is the provision in s. 3(e) that “there is a real and substantial connection between British Columbia and the facts on which the proceeding against that person is based.”…

[19] Defence counsel cites a number of court decisions in British Columbia that have denied jurisdiction on what are alleged to be similar circumstances, including: Canadian International Marketing Distributing Ltd. v. Nitsuko Ltd. (1990), 56 B.C.L.R. (2d) 130 (C.A.); Aubichon (Guardian ad litem of) v. Kazakoff, [1998] B.C.J. No. 3058 (S.C.); Jordan v. Schatz, 2000 BCCA 409; Sequin-Chand v. McAllister, [1992] B.C.J. No. 237 (S.C.); Williams v. TST Porter (c.o.b. 6422217 Canada Inc.), 2008 BCSC 1315; and Roed v. Scheffler, 2009 BCSC 731.

[20] All of these cases concluded that where a British Columbia resident plaintiff is injured in a foreign jurisdiction and then returns to British Columbia for treatment of injuries, there exists no real and substantial connection with British Columbia to give the courts of British Columbia jurisdiction because the only connection to this province is the fact that the plaintiff is a resident here at the time of the claim.

[21] In Jordan v. Schatz, Mr. Justice Cumming, writing the decision for the Court, said at para. 23:

What constitutes a “real and substantial connection” has not been fully defined. However, it has been well established by this Court in Nitsuko, supra, and in Ell, supra, that there is no real and substantial connection to British Columbia based on the bare residency of the Plaintiff in the jurisdiction. There must be some other or further sufficient connecting factor or “contacts” to this province. Clear examples of connecting factors include the residency of the defendant in the jurisdiction or the fact that the tortious act was committed or damages suffered here.

36] I can see no exception that would be applicable in this case to allow me to depart from the decisions in those cases that have denied jurisdiction to the court when the plaintiff’s only connection to the jurisdiction is the fact she continues to suffer from her injuries while she resides here. To accept jurisdiction here would be to accept jurisdiction for a plaintiff who moves to the jurisdiction after an accident in another province and continues to suffer from injuries here. That cannot be.

[37] There is no real and substantial connection between British Columbia and the facts on which the proceeding against the defendants is based. There may be a real and substantial connection between British Columbia and the plaintiff, but that does not satisfy the words of s. 3.

[38] The action is dismissed for want of jurisdiction. The defendants will have their costs.

A Positive Tort Reform in the Works? Nova Scotia and the Minor Injury Cap


Tort reform generally refers to limiting the rights of those injured through the carelessness of others to the beneift of insurance company profits.  To this end Alberta and Nova Scotia enacted laws over the last several years artificially capping the compensation certain injured people can claim for non-pecuniniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life).
These laws have been the subject of various court challenges and in 2009 the Alberta Court of Appeal found that Province’s Soft Tissue Injury Cap was constitutional and around the same time Nova Scotia’s Court of Appeal concluded that their ‘minor injury claims’ cap was also valid.
It’s against this background that I read a surprisingly refreshing headline today at The Lawyers Weekly.   The Nova Scotia government is considering abolishing their “minor injury cap” which limits non-pecuniary damages in that Province for certain injuries to $2,500.    One of the problems with the law is that many serious injuries such as broken bones and chronic soft tissue injuries could be considred ‘minor’ given the wording of the law.
The Lawyers Weekly reports that the Premier of Nova Scotia claims that the cap ‘is preventing people who have been seriously injured from pursuing compensation and will not survive in its present form‘.  I could not have summarized the unfairness of these laws better than the Premier himself did when he stated that “Insurance is a product designed to protect people.  If you exclude people from protection…then by definition you’re not delivering the product that has been paid for“.
Nova Scotia is apparently seeking public input on the best way to revise this 6 year old law.  The insurers who proffited under this law will likely rally against this change.  For this reason those interested in seeing this law overturned and having the rights of those injured throught he fault of others restored should make sure their voices are heard.  You can voice your support for this positive change by contacting the Government at the following address:
The Office of the Superintendent of Insurance
PO Box 2271
4th Floor
Provincial Finance Building
1723 Hollis Street
Halifax, NS B3J 3C8
You can click here to read the full story at The Lawyers Weekly.

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Contact

If you would like further information or require assistance, please get in touch.

ERIK
MAGRAKEN

Personal Injury Lawyer

When not writing the BC Injury Law Blog, Erik is the managing partner at MacIsaac & Company, based in Victoria, B.C. He is also involved with combative sports regulatory issues and authors the Combat Sports Law Blog.

“Work hard, be kind and enjoy the ride!”
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