The B.C. government has changed its court rules to limit the number of expert witnesses that can be used in injury lawsuits against the Insurance Corporation of B.C.
Attorney General David Eby said Monday the new rules align B.C. with changes made in other provinces many years ago. The move comes days after ICBC announced it is facing another deficit of more than $1 billion by the end of the fiscal year, March 31.
Lawyers are bringing as many as six experts or their reports into court to speak on issues such as future wage loss and future medical care, while ICBC generally only uses two, Eby said. Some of those experts provide “expensive medical reports about people they have never met or examined,” Eby said. “It doesn’t advance any interest to have six-plus experts on a claim.”
Under the new court rules, which take effect immediately by cabinet order, parties will be able to use one expert and report for claims of less than $100,000, which the ministry is calling “fast-track claims.” Up to three experts and reports are allowed for all other claims. Judges will still have discretion to permit additional court-appointed or jointly agreed experts to give evidence.
Eby said B.C. is not considering going to a no-fault insurance system and the adversarial court method is being retained.
Former transportation minister Todd Stone is skeptical these changes will generate the saving the government is projecting.
“At the end of the day the courts, the judiciary, will decide what is a reasonable spectrum of third party input into a particular claim,” said Stone, who is Kamloops-South Thompson MLA.
More changes that take effect on April 1 will cap pain and suffering claims and divert minor injury claims to an administrative tribunal. Those changes will affect about 80 per cent of injury claims and have sparked a legal challenge from the Trial Lawyers Association of B.C., arguing the court’s independence is being affected.
ICBC is placing a $5,500 limit on payouts for pain and suffering, while increasing the maximum payout for people killed or seriously injured in vehicle accidents. The overall accident benefit maximum goes from $150,000 to $300,000 for serious injury claims, including nursing care and recovery, medical, dental, occupational and funeral costs.
ICBC has seen a steep increase in the costs for minor injury claims, now averaging about $30,000 each. A third of that cost is legal costs, both to ICBC for lawyers and expert reports, and to customers who pay lawyers to sue the corporation.
The changes are expected to save the corporation about $1 billion a year when they take effect.