In October 2019, Waldock v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company, which was initially a dispute between plaintiff Thomas Waldock and his insurance provider over the severity of his injuries, was resolved by an Ontario divisional court panel. Through appeals and reviews, the case was heard by the Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO), the Director’s Delegate, and the Superior Court. It took more than 10 years from the time of his accident in March 2008 for Waldock and his personal injury lawyer to be awarded compensation – unless, of course, State Farm decides to appeal the divisional court ruling.
Unfortunately, years- and even decade-long personal injury and insurance dispute cases are no longer unusual in Ontario and elsewhere in Canada, as a recent Canadian Lawyer article makes clear. In Waldock v. State Farm, the insurance provider’s decision to file numerous motions and appeals caused the bulk of the delay, but defendants aren’t always to blame.
What Causes Trial Delays?
According to the plaintiff and defence side lawyers interviewed for the Canadian Lawyer article, are a range of structural issues cause trial delays in Canada. In Alberta, parties must complete expert reports, certify that they’ve attempted alternative dispute resolution processes, and demonstrate that they’ve completed questioning before a trial date can even be scheduled.
“You’ve got about two years – on a large case – of taking all those preliminary steps and getting everything in order,” one insurance defence lawyer in Alberta told Canadian Lawyer. “And then [there’s] another two-year wait for the date itself.”
“Judges want to know you’ve done all your work and you’re very serious and you’ve been forced to think through all the issues before using judicial resources, because those are really short in Alberta,” the lawyer added.
Mandatory mediation is also an issue in Ontario, according to one personal injury lawyer. Prior to recent changes, parties in personal injury cases or insurance disputes could schedule a trial date as long as a mediation date was also set. Now, the mediation must be complete before a trial date is approved.
“That delays the whole process by a number of years. … I’m finding that very, very frustrating,” the personal injury lawyer told Canadian Lawyer. “It’s just adding another year to the process.”
In contrast, British Columbia has no restrictions on trial scheduling, meaning fewer trial delays.
“You can get a trial date right away if you want,” a personal injury defence lawyer practicing in B.C. told Canadian Lawyer. “I really haven’t had any issues with trial delays. I think we have overall a very reasonable system. Two years is a pretty reasonable time frame for trials, and we seem to get those dates relatively easily.”
Further delaying matters is the fact that criminal and family law cases take precedence over personal injury claims and insurance disputes.
The parties’ actions can also have an effect, as in Waldock v. State Farm. One civil litigator who spoke with Canadian Lawyer said civil disputes now involve more numerous and extensive reports; plaintiffs will often submit economic loss, future care, and vocational reports, while the defence side prioritizes lengthy examinations for discovery, medical examinations, and other processes.
Who is Affected by Trial Delays?
Personal injury lawyers tend to blame powerful defendants like insurance providers and the Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA) for trial delays. They claim that organizations with deep pockets prefer to ‘wait out’ plaintiffs with limited resources, forcing them to accept less compensation than they deserve. But most insurance providers prefer swift resolutions to legal disputes – years of litigation involving lawyers and expert witnesses is extremely costly.
Plaintiff side lawyers are also hurt by years of slow-moving litigation. When a case drags on for months or years longer than expected, clients have a tendency to second-guess their lawyer’s expertise.
“That might seem reasonable to a lawyer that’s practiced in the area of 10,20, 30 years,” one personal injury lawyer told Canadian Lawyer. “But it’s a long time for my clients that don’t understand the process. And a lot of times they’re concerned that the lawyers are dragging their heels.”
Plaintiffs are acutely affected by trial delays. Recovery from a serious personal injury can be costly, especially if the victim is unable to work. Between rehabilitation, medication, home and attendant care, home renovations, and other expenses, many injury victims struggle to keep their heads above water financially. Every trial delay, every appeal and motion, puts fair and reasonable compensation further out of reach.
Contact an Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer
If you’ve been injured in an accident or are engaged in a dispute with your insurer, contact Will Davidson LLP to speak with an Ontario personal injury lawyer. Our experienced team will assess your claim, explain your legal options, and describe what to expect from a civil claim. Contact us today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.
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