VICTORIA — The B.C. government is going to try and contain financial losses at its Crown-owned auto insurance corporation by reducing the use of experts in accident lawsuits.
The government has amended the rules for civil cases in the B.C. Supreme Court to limit the number of experts and the reports they write in lawsuits involving the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, Attorney General David Eby said Monday.
Accident injury claims have increased 43 per cent in the past five years and the use of experts has contributed to a 20 per cent rise in the corporation's injury settlements in the past year, Eby told a news conference.
The changes are designed to trim the excesses in the system, he added.
"It doesn't advance any interest to have six-plus adversarial experts on a claim. It doesn't advance any interest to have a $50,000 expense to resolve a $100,000 claim."
Eby, who is also the minister in charge of the Crown corporation, said the agency is on track for a year-end loss of $1.18 billion, compounding the blow of last year's $1.3 billion deficit. He described the financial situation left by the former Liberal government at ICBC as a "dumpster fire" last year.
Last week he said the financial situation at the public auto insurer is critical and getting worse, with losses of $860 million in the first nine months of this fiscal year.
Eby said the government estimates it can save $400 million with the limitation measures, but that depends on lawyers and judges supporting fewer reports and experts.
The Trial Lawyers Association of B.C. said it supports measures to make the civil justice system fairer, faster and cheaper, but it criticized the government for acting unilaterally.
"Passing such consequential changes to our system of civil justice with no legislative debate is undemocratic," the association said in a statement. "Time and again this government seems to favour ICBC's financial interests over the legal rights of British Columbians, and this rush to pass restrictions on how victims of negligence must prove their cases at law is the most recent illustration of making car accident victims pay for reckless driving."
Raj Sahota, a Victoria personal injury lawyer, said the changes are workable especially since there are options to apply for further expert opinions if required.
"Generally speaking, I think these changes now are good for the system and good for this particular (practice) within personal injury litigation," he said.
Eby said he expects there will be legal challenges, but added the changes bring B.C. into line with other provinces that limit experts in injury claim cases from motor vehicle accidents. Australia and the United Kingdom have much tougher restrictions on the use of experts and expert reports, he said.
"We believe the balance we have struck between unlimited adversarial experts under the current system and the no adversarial expert rules of other jurisdictions will reduce the costs and delays associated with using duelling experts while preserving a party's ability to get evidence in front of a court," Eby said.
The changes mean the parties in injury claims cases are limited to the use of one expert and one report for claims of less than $100,000 and up to three experts and three reports for all other claims.
Eby said the courts will also be able to permit more court-appointed or joint experts at its discretion.
The changes start immediately on motor vehicle accident claims, he said. The government is also considering making the injury expert changes apply to all personal injury claims by Feb. 1, 2020.
"The challenge with the issue, as all issues on this file, is finding the right balance between protecting the interests of British Columbians injured in motor vehicle accidents and finding ways to make the current system work better," Eby said.
The B.C. Utilities Commission approved ICBC's request in January to allow for an interim basic auto insurance rate increase of 6.3 per cent.
A number of other cost-saving reforms are also being implemented starting April 1, including higher fines for repeat offenders and a payout limit of $5,500 for minor soft-tissue injuries.