Archive for March, 2010

Is ICBC Really Acting in Your Best Interests?

When you have a claim, ICBC is involved in many ways.   When a case goes to trial, insurance is not supposed to be a consideration.   This is a fiction.  Not only is vehicle insurance in this province compulsory, but also the minimum coverage must be with ICBC.

Other insurers can provide optional coverage, but I suspect that ICBC subsidizes compulsory coverage with the mandatory insurance to give them an unfair advantage in the marketplace.

In making a claim, there are some benefits we all get from ICBC no matter who’s at fault.  They cover the ambulance ride, medications, medical supplies, a portion of your wage loss in some instances, and homemaking services.  They also reimburse the Medical Services Plan for what was paid on your behalf.  They have to pay the non-user fee portion of other treatments such as physiotherapy.

If someone else caused the collision, as that person’s insurer, ICBC stands in their shoes and pay out claims to people who have a claim against the person at fault.

So what’s ICBC’s duty to you as the person injured due to the negligence of someone else?  NONE.

The adjuster represents ICBC when acting as your insurer, and the adjuster acts for the person who caused the claim.  The adjuster has a fiduciary obligation to act in the best interests of ICBC, and of the person who caused the collision.  They have no duty to act in your interest.

It gets worse.  This was highlighted when I was reminded by a police officer that when going through Yahk on Highway 3, the speed limit is 60kmh.  To assist my memory, He compelled me to pay $138.00.  When I looked on the traffic ticket to see who to make the cheque out to, it was ICBC.

So they collect fines, pay overtime for roadside checks, assist financially in constructing highways, and control the issuance of licenses.

They have their own police force to investigate claims they suspect are fraudulent, though I note that there are very very few charges laid.  Unless they hired officers who are incompetent, it must be because the incidences of fraud are not very great.

When dealing with ICBC, keep in mind whose side they’re on, especially when asking them for information or receiving their views and opinions.

They are not there to assist you in knowing your rights.   Adjusters are not to “work” the file, and assist you in knowing all you’re entitled to.  They have a duty to act in the best interests of the person who caused the collision, and in the best interests of their employer, ICBC

Why You Should Read this Blog

By preparing the course at icbctips.ca and writing this blog, I hope to accomplish the following:

  1. To provide a resource where the majority of people making a claim against ICBC can get information and strategies from an impartial source, instead of ICBC.
  2. To educate people on the usefulness of seeing a lawyer well in advance of settling a claim with ICBC.   I personally do not take on as clients most the people who see me, but rather give them summary advice about how to settle their claim.  Most lawyers I know who do ICBC work say the same thing.
  3. Educate claimants with lawyers as to the issues that arise in a personal injury claim such that they better understand the work their lawyer is doing for them.
  4. To get compensated by providing this information by having people pay for the course and information available at icbctips.ca.

I came up with this BLOG and the associated course at icbctips.ca to assist the vast majority of claimants against ICBC who chose to resolve their case without lawyers.

Let me tell you why I decided to assist people in settling their own claims against ICBC.

I checked out  ICBC’s website at ICBC.com.  I looked at their annual report for 2008, as that was the most current information available.  ICBC’s 2008 annual report indicates that in 2008, ICBC paid out about 2.6 billion dollars ($2,646,191,000) to claimants or third parties on behalf of claimants.   I expect these third parties to be lawyers, body shops, medical practitioners and the like.

Their annual report indicates that for 2008 there were nearly one million (964,000) claims.  This works out to a cost per claim of about $2,600. Since that time, the number of claims have dropped though most claims as still resolved without lawyers.

The annual report indicates that about sixty percent of the claims involve bodily injury.  So we can estimate the number of people making claims for bodily injury against ICBC as being around 600,000.  The figures for 2007 look about the same.

When ICBC was accused of influencing juries in 2009, In their public relations campaign to downplay the seriousness of this, they indicated that lawyers were representing about 23,000 claimants or less than 4% of people making bodily injury claims against ICBC.

So what does all this mean?

Well, firstly the amount paid out per claim looks low at $2,600.  It is apparent that most the claims must be much lower as it’s very likely that most the money is going to the 23,000 claimants represented by lawyers.  Most lawyers who do ICBC personal injury claims don’t take any claims if the value of the claim is less than $20,000.

Secondly, it appears that the people influencing and educating claimants are not lawyers, but rather adjusters working for ICBC.   In another blog, I will talk about why I think ICBC adjusters are in a conflict of interest with the claimants.   In their collective agreement, they’re entitled to a share of the profits ICBC makes. (see page 175 of the collective agreement at http://www.cceabc.com/docs/collective_agreements/ICBC_COPE_local378.pdf.)  So the more that is paid to you, the less money that will be available for bonuses.   There is an issue as to whether or not adjusters are there to help the claimant as opposed to the person who caused the accident, or to protect ICBC itself.   One of my blogs explains why  ICBC is not there to act in your interest.

Thirdly, with the amount per claim being so low, it appears that people are likely not receiving all that they are entitled to.  When looking at ICBC’s policy manuals and from hearing what adjusters tell individual claimants, they often refuse to pay for all the losses suffered.  ICBC sets their rates based on how much money they think they have to pay out on future cases.  They are definitely making high estimates, given how much of their profits they’ve paid back to the provincial government.

ICBC adjusters regularly discourage claimants from going to lawyers, yet they do not tell claimants all that they’re entitled to.  This is discussed in the blog linked here.

In many instances, people have come to me and been offered to settle their claim for $2,000 or $3,000.  By suggesting they give the adjuster further information on some items, and simply ask for other items, the amount they received jumped hundreds or thousands of dollars.  Information has value.

If you are looking for other information on the web, you should looke at the article I wrote on resources available on the web.

Resources available on the Web for dealing with an ICBC Personal Injury Claim

There are some resources available online that can assist in understanding a pursuing a claim against ICBC.

Jill Franklin, a writer who suffered a serious injury in a car crash, wrote a very informative book entitled, Auto Accident Survivor’s Guide for British Columbia.  You can purchase her book from me by going to icbctips.ca or by going to her publisher’s website at www.stonemountainbooks.com.

The book is well researched and excellent in understanding how to go through a personal injury claim.  It deals with more serious claims and assumes the reader will be using a lawyer to pursue their claim.

A book that deals specifically with whiplash type injuries is Surviving Whiplash, available at www.survivingwhiplash.com.  This book has a great explanation of what a whiplash injury is, the treatments available, and a checklist that assists you in organizing information relevant to your claim.  To get an overview of the book, go to the video clips at www.survivingwhiplash.com/media.htm.  If you buy this book, start by looking at pages 67 – 89.

A lawyer who writes a weekly column has over one hundred archived articles at his website at www.hergottlaw.com (go to the “Published Columns” tab) is Paul Hergott.  Paul Hergott’s articles are clearly written in a folksy, easy to understand manner.  His articles are topical and very informative.  I like his early articles as he deals with a lot of the important basics in dealing with ICBC and other legal issues.

My favourite blog (besides this one) that also deals with ICBC is Erik Magrakin’s blog at icbclaw.com/blog.  Erik’s blog is informative on the development of the law dealing with personal injury cases in this province.  He provides a very useful topical archive that can assist in valuing a claim.

I admire Erik because of the time and attention he puts in reviewing the court decisions, and providing a very useful and informative summary and analysis.

Lawyer Chris Temple provides useful information on his website icbcinjurylawyers.ca.  See his section on the top 12 expensive ICBC claim mistakes.  This is very useful to review prior to meeting with an insurance adjuster.

There’s another website out there worth mentioning; icbc advice dot com.  The person described as the “featured writer” and “Contributing Author” on this website is the same person, and the owner’s husband.

It lists “recommended service providers.”  I was on this list of recommended service providers for years as were many other lawyers who did great work for people with ICBC claims and other personal injury claims.  Late last year I received a series of emails saying that I would be removed from their site unless I paid a significant annual subscription fee.  I declined, as did most the lawyers who were previously on the site.

Now the site only contains lawyers who are willing to pay the subscription fee, with the “featured writer” as the most prominently displayed recommended lawyer.

My Adjuster Suggests I don’t Hire a Lawyer

I guess it’s not too surprising, but this is the most read article on this blog.

Here are the reasons insurance adjusters suggest you don’t hire a lawyer:

1.    It will drag things out

2.   This is our final offer and we won’t pay more

3.   Why pay a lawyer 1/3 of the claim when we are willing to give you the full amount without a lawyer

4.    You don’t really want to go to court

If there are other reasons an adjuster gave you, please let me know so we can update this blog

It will drag things out

It is true that with a lawyer, your claim will take longer to settle. Once you settle your case you can’t go back for more, so the lawyer wants to make sure that you are aware of all the different claims you can make.

A lawyer’s biggest concern is that if you don’t recover as expected or suffer a relapse that is from the injuries the collision caused or aggravated. As such, a lawyer will want to ensure that there has been proper investigation, and that you are aware of the full nature and extent of the injuries you suffered so that you are fully informed when if you accept a settlement.

To do this, it’s best to review how the collision occurred, the medical information, especially if there are pre-existing conditions that were made worse, or if you are not fully recovered.

This is the final offer and we won’t pay more

This may be the case, though it’s unlikely. If you are fully recovered, then a lawyer can advise if the amount seems fair.

An adjuster needs documents and reports to justify the amount they pay. A lawyer can make sure that the case was properly assessed with the proper documentation.There are many instances where ICBC has paid way too little. One example is shown in the case of Doan v. ICBC.

Why pay a lawyer 1/3 of the claim when we are willing to give you the full amount without a lawyer

Most lawyers will give an initial consultation for free or a small fee. If the amount seems fair, many lawyers do not expect you to hire them.

Settlements with lawyers usually exceed the amount offered by the adjuster, even when the fee is taken into account.

Lawyers who do ICBC work on a regular basis have lots of examples of getting many times more than the amount offered by ICBC to the claimant.

Lawyers do not always charge 1/3. Some charge different rates depending how far the case progresses. Others charge a percentage that decrease as the amount of the settlement increases.

So even if you end up not hiring a lawyer, you get the peace of mind of knowing all your bases have been covered

You don’t want to go to court

Less than 5% of cases go to court. By seeing a lawyer doesn’t mean that your case will go to court. It means that a lawyer can assess your case to make sure you are aware of all you can claim for, and to make sure that you have all the information you need to make an informed decision as to whether you should settle.

Purpose of this Blog

The purpose of this Blog is to assist people in understanding how to deal with a bodily injury claim and some of the workings of ICBC (the Insurance Company of British Columbia) when making a claim.

I have prepared an online guide on how to present a bodily injury claim to an adjuster for ICBC or another insurance company.  This blog will give some information and understanding of how ICBC works and why you are entitled to make a claim.

In British Columbia, the person who causes the accident is responsible for the losses suffered by any people they injury or damage they cause.  The claim is made against the person at fault though ICBC usually stands in their shoes, and pays for the losses suffered under that person s insurance.

If a collision occurs where the person at fault is injured, or where no one is at fault, there are some accident benefits that still may be available through ICBC.

In this Blog, I will set out the role of ICBC , or other insurance companies and their adjusters.  Though ICBC is a Crown Corporation, their objective is to protect the person who caused the accident and the Corporation, not the claimant.

A claim is managed at ICBC by an adjuster or an examiner. The adjuster’s job isn’t to explain to the person injured what they are entitled to, but rather to get the information necessary to ensure they protect the interests of the person who caused the collision, and to protect ICBC.

This Blog is not meant to replace a lawyer.  It may compliment the use of a lawyer by giving some understanding to how to deal with ICBC and other insurance companies.

Most lawyers who do a lot of ICBC work for claimants will usually offer a free consultation.  I urge all claimants to at least consult with a lawyer prior to settling their matter.

Since it is usually not possible to re-open a claim, I urge claimants not to settle their claim until they’re doctor confirms that they have recovered, and they have been symptom free for at least three months.  Relapses after full recovery are common.

If you have a lawyer assisting you with an ICBC claim, this blog should help you understand the issues faced by you and your lawyer, the the information your lawyer needs to put your case forward in a manner that you will obtain all the compensation you’re entitled to.

If you have suffered a minor injury and do not have a lawyer, I urge you to consider taking the course I developed at icbctips.ca.