How Has COVID-19 Affected Road Safety?

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, road safety experts, including personal injury lawyers, attempted to predict how shelter-at-home measures would impact motor vehicle accident rates and driver behaviour. It was assumed, for example, that wide lockdowns would limit the use of personal automobiles, and that that would in turn reduce the number of serious accidents.

Around the time that the pandemic took hold in North America, the Global Alliance of NGOs for Road Safety compiled a list of factors that might affect road safety during and after the lockdowns. Below, we’ll look at a few key predictions and assess their accuracy.

There Will Be Fewer People on the Roads

The Global Alliance was correct in predicting that personal automobile use would decline amid the lockdowns. This effect has been noted around the world.

Unfortunately, the Alliance – and many personal injury lawyers – also guessed that fewer journeys would lead to fewer crashes. New data suggest this has not been the case. In the United States, a report from the National Safety Council (NSC) showed a 14 per cent year-over-year increase in fatality rates per distance driven in March. While overall traffic deaths – a figure that includes fatalities among drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and cyclists – were down 8 per cent, the overall number of miles driven was down 18 per cent, meaning road users are actually more likely to be killed than during the same period last year.

The numbers are equally discouraging in Ontario, where the OPP reported 71 deaths on patrolled roads as of May 4, up from 61 deaths during the same period in 2019. In both the United States and Ontario, speed appears to be a key factor.

“Disturbingly, we have open lanes of traffic and an apparent open season on reckless driving,” said NSC President Lorraine M Martin, according to the BBC. “Right now, in the midst of a global pandemic and crisis, we should take it as our civic duty to drive safely.”

“If we don’t do it for ourselves,” she added, “we should do it for our first responders, our law enforcement and our healthcare workers, who are rightly focused on coronavirus patients and should not be overwhelmed by preventable car crashes.”

Of the 71 deaths in Ontario, 17 were linked to speeding.

“We aren’t invincible,” said Lewis Smith, Canada Safety Council’s coordinator of communications, to Global News. “Speed may seem like a good idea because the roads are open, and you think you’re not putting anyone at risk, but the truth is risk can come in a hurry. Speed incenses the likelihood of something happening you don’t have time to react too.”

Even before it became apparent that lighter traffic would not lead to fewer deaths, safety experts were concerned about cars eventually returning to the roads.

“Some radio programs and news reels are showing empty streets and realizing that it’s true that there are no road crashes because of this, but what will happen when we all go out again?” asked Viviam Perrone of Argentina’s Asociación Civil Madres del Dolor in a Global Alliance article. “… we should learn to live with our foot off the accelerator when we return to the streets.”

Fewer People Will Use Public Transit

It was expected at the onset of the pandemic that mass transit ridership would plummet – this has played out as expected. It is unlikely that riders will return to public transit in the near future.

From a road safety perspective, this is a problem. Traveling via mass transit is in general much safer than travelling in a personal automobile. If fewer people choose to take mass transit in the near future, that will mean more automobiles on the road and, in all likelihood, more accidents.

If cities want to avoid a major spike in traffic accidents as their lockdowns are lifted, they must encourage commuters to travel on foot or by bicycle as much as possible. They must also develop strategies for effectively sanitizing public transit vehicles and restoring public trust.

Road Safety Strategies Will be Put on Hold

The City of Toronto is already familiar with the challenges of implementing a comprehensive road safety strategy; even before the pandemic, it struggled to make progress with its Vision Zero approach. As public resources are reallocated to deal with COVID-19, personal injury lawyers fear that road safety measures will tumble down the list of priorities. There is also concern that public messaging and awareness campaigns around road safety will be drowned out by the deserved focus on the virus.

“In general, it would seem that most of the public will be distracted, from road safety messages and that perhaps some of what we road safety advocates might usually be doing might need to wait until COVID comes under control,” said University of Washington Global Health professor Carlie Mock in the Global Alliance article.

Contact an Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer

If you or a member of your family has been injured in a traffic accident amid COVID-19, contact Will Davidson LLP today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation. Our team of personal injury lawyers is continuing to accept new clients throughout the lockdown. Don’t hesitate to be in touch with any questions or concerns.

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People with Disabilities, Including Spinal and Brain Injury Victims, are at Elevated Risk from COVID-19

Everyone has been affected by the spread of COVID-19, but the most serious impacts have been felt by marginalized and at-risk populations: the elderly, homeless people, people with pre-existing medical conditions, people with addictions, racial and social minorities, and survivors of serious injuries. Among personal injury lawyers, there is significant concern that current and former clients do not have access to the necessary supports. Long-term care facilities, which sometimes house brain and spinal injury survivors, are hotbeds for the virus, and injury victims living at home may find themselves suddenly isolated.

Below, we’ll discuss some of the unique challenges faced by survivors of serious injuries amid this unprecedented global health emergency.

Long-Term Care Fears

Canada has been relatively effective in controlling the spread of COVID-19 in the general population. Long-term care homes have been less successful: roughly half of all COVID-19 deaths have occurred in these facilities.

The situation is so bleak that family members are removing loved ones, even when the chances of readmission are slim. Unfortunately, this approach highlights another concern for personal injury lawyers: how will injury survivors living at home access medical care under social distancing guidelines? Speaking to CTV News Toronto, an Ontario woman who removed her husband from long-term care articulated the issue:

“My concerns are – he no longer has a doctor,” said Barbara Heuman. “His doctor took care of him for three-and-a-half years while he was at Dufferin Oaks, but I was told they are no longer able to care of him. So when they sent me home from Dufferin Oaks yesterday, I got one week’s medication, that’s it.”

Lack of Access to Medical Care

For many seriously injured accident victims, recovery is a lifelong pursuit that requires consistent medical care and attention. Spinal and brain injury victims often undergo years of rehabilitation, chiropractic therapy, and physiotherapy, often in clinical settings.

Access to these services may be limited for months or years. Medical professionals in Canada are all-hands-on-deck in the fight against COVID-19 – those who are unable to help on the front lines are avoiding hospitals and emergency wards as much as possible. For injury victims, a sudden and indefinite pause in treatment can be damaging to the recovery process.

Brain injury survivors may also lose access to social services such as occupational therapy and attendant care.

Mental Health Concerns

In a March 31 article for the Prince George Citizen, Diane Nakamura, a brain injury survivor, described some of the day-to-day symptoms that many survivors experience.

“Suffering from anxiety and depression,” she wrote. “Not having enough energy in a day to complete necessary tasks. Inability to cook because of poor memory and sequencing issues. Dealing with financial stress because of lost employment. Not understanding important letters or phone calls due to cognitive deficits. Experiencing conflict with family members and friends who don’t understand the limitations survivors have. Possessing low self-esteem and confidence because of the significant life changes after brain injury. Not feeling normal or accepted by their personal network and the community.”

Many of these issues, Nakamura wrote, have been aggravated by the strict social distancing measures necessary to limit the virus’s spread. Brain injury survivors have less access to mental health resources than they did at the beginning of the year, and fewer opportunities to connect with friends and family in-person.

Lack of Financial or Government Support

Some injury victims coping with this new reality feel left behind. Activists say governments have failed to consider injury survivors in their COVID-19 responses. The little support that has been offered is considered woefully insufficient.

“As families who are supporting our sons and daughters with disabilities, who live with us in the community – we feel forgotten. We’re not even on the radar,” said Robin Acton, whose daughter has Down syndrome, to CBC News Edmonton in April.

“We as a family are incredibly fearful of what happens if our daughter gets sick and has to go to the hospital,” she added. “She’s going to need me or her dad there to help her understand and interpret what’s going on. She would be absolutely terrified.”

In Ontario, the provincial government has made additional resources available to people with disability through the Ontario Disability Support Program. However, community representatives say the additional benefits – up to $100 for individuals and up to $200 for families – are simply not enough.

“We are part of a community that is often just an afterthought,” said Nadine Law, co-founder of Sudbury not-for-profit Access2all, to Sudbury.com. “My clients and I are not being recognized or taken care of. It wasn’t until this pandemic that I realized my voice had to get a little bit louder.”

Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer Today

Crises tend to highlight the gap between the haves and have-nots in our society, and the COVID-19 pandemic is no exception. As personal injury lawyers dealing with seriously injured accident victims, Will Davidson LLP is committed to providing legal support for some of Ontario’s most vulnerable populations. If you or a member of your family has been injured in an accident, contact us today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.

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When are Hosts Responsible for Guests’ Injuries?

A personal injury lawsuit in British Columbia’s Supreme Court could inform Canada’s evolving social host liability rules. The case, in which Calder McCormick is seeking damages for injuries sustained in a motor vehicle accident following a 2012 house party, went to trial in mid-February. Personal injury lawyers are eagerly anticipating the decision.

What is Social Host Liability?

Social host liability applies when the host of a social gathering owes a duty of care to an injury victim. It is generally considered in cases involving alcohol.

Determining social host liability requires answering numerous questions. If, for example, a host provides alcohol to his or her guests and one of those guests becomes impaired, is the host responsible for the safety of that guest when they leave the premises? Is the host responsible for the safety of people the guest might come in contact with? Does liability still exist if the guest consumes his or her own alcohol? How does the equation change when the guest is underage?

Relevant Cases

Some of these questions have been answered in resolved cases that personal injury lawyers are well aware of, including Childs v Desormeaux and Wardak v Froom.

The Supreme Court of Canada’s 2006 ruling in Childs v Desormeaux informs much of what is known about social host liability. In that case, the plaintiff, Childs, was injured in a drunk driving accident caused by the defendant, who had recently left a private New Year’s celebration. The courts were asked to determine whether the hosts of the celebration were liable or partly liable for Childs’ injuries.

All three courts found that the hosts were not liable as they had not served alcohol to Desormeaux (the event was BYOB – Bring Your Own Booze) and had monitored his drinking to the same extent as other guests. The hosts also asked Desormeaux whether he was alright before he left and did not realize the extent of his inebriation. In other words, the hosts were not reasonably able to foresee that Desormeaux would cause an accident resulting in injuries to himself or others. Furthermore, the Supreme Court ruled that the proximity between the hosts and the plaintiff was insufficient.

“Hosting a party at which alcohol is served does not, without more, establish the degree of proximity required to give rise to a duty of care on the hosts to third party highway users who may be injured by an intoxicated guest,” the ruling reads.

In Wardak v Froom, a case from 2017, Ontario Superior Court Justice Wendy Matheson interpreted “without more” to mean that a duty of care could arise. In that case, the plaintiff, Dean Wardak, suffered catastrophic injuries in a single-car accident after attending the 19th birthday party of his neighbour, Graeme Froom. Froom’s parents hosted the gathering. They did not serve alcohol but understood that guests were drinking. During the evening, Wardak became intoxicated, left the Frooms’ residence, walked home, got into his car, and drove into a fire hydrant. Evidence suggests the hosts knew Wardak was intoxicated when he left. He is now quadriplegic.

Justice Matheson ruled in the plaintiff’s favour. Although she did not find that Wardak’s injuries were reasonably foreseeable, she determined that the relationship between the plaintiff and the defendant was one of paternalistic supervision. The fact that the plaintiff was underage and showed signs of intoxication also played into the decision, as did the fact that he was an invited guest, unlike the plaintiff in Childs v Desormeaux

The Case in British Columbia

The case in British Columbia also involves underage drinking at a supervised party. In September 2012, young people, including 18-year-old Ryan Plambeck and 17-year-old Calder McCormick, gathered at the home of Stephen and Lidia Pearson on Salt Spring Island. The couple were parents to teenage children.

After spending time at the party, the boys ventured across the street to a neighbour’s lot. There, they found an unlocked, uninsured for-sale automobile with the keys inside. They took the car. Plambeck drove with McCormick in the passenger seat. Before long, they lost control of the car and crashed off the road. Plambeck died and McCormick suffered catastrophic, life-changing injuries, including a severe traumatic brain injury.

In 2014, McCormick filed a lawsuit against the Pearsons and several other parties. The lawsuit alleged that the Pearsons breached their duty of care to their underage guests by allowing them to drink on their property and failing to stop them from leaving while impaired.

“Basically, [they] did nothing to stop him from ending up on the road,” one of McCormick’s personal injury lawyers told CBC News British Columbia.

The Pearsons have denied all allegations. However, the case against them appears to resemble Wardak v Froom more than Childs v Desormeaux, in that it involves an underage plaintiff who consumed alcohol on their premises. The BC Supreme Court’s decision could influence how and when hosts invite guests – particularly underage guests – to consume alcohol on their property.

Contact Will Davidson LLP to Learn More

If you or a member of your family has been injured in a motor vehicle accident, contact Will Davidson LLP today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with our experienced Oakville personal injury lawyers. Our team has expertise in a wide variety of personal injury claims, including matters involving social host liability. Reach out today to learn more.

Time Limits in Personal Injury Law

One of the first pieces of advice that a personal injury lawyer offers potential clients is to act quickly. This isn’t done to pressure clients into legal action – it’s done because personal injury lawsuits in Ontario are subject to time limits, sometimes referred to as statutes of limitations, under the province’s Limitations Act. In the following article, we’ll explain how time limits affect personal injury claims, why they are in place, and their variations and exceptions.

Time Limits in Personal Injury Law

Ontario’s Limitations Act states that ‘Unless this Act provides otherwise, a proceeding shall not be commenced in respect of a claim after the second anniversary of the day on which the claim was discovered.’

In other words, people who have been injured by the error or negligence of another person generally have two years from the time of the accident to file a claim against an insurer or the at-fault party. This rule applies to anyone that suffers immediate serious injuries, such as spinal injuries, brain injuries, paralysis, etc.

In cases where the injury is discovered later than the date of the accident, the two-year limitation period starts from the moment of discovery. When the injury initially appears to be minor but deteriorates to the point where a lawsuit is warranted, the limitation period starts at the moment it becomes clear that legal action is necessary.

Why Are Time Limits in Place?

Ontario’s two-year limitation period is predominantly in place to protect defendants. Almost every personal injury lawyer agrees that limitation periods are necessary – claims filed decades after an accident would be plagued by insufficient evidence, unreliable testimony, and other challenges.

Some lawyers believe two years is insufficient, however. The number was chosen because it was presumed to give plaintiffs and defendants enough time to hire representation, and provide lawyers with leeway to perform research, gather evidence, file paperwork, and generally build a case. However, personal injury lawsuits can be extremely complex and time-consuming. Two years sounds like a long time, but it isn’t always enough.

Variations and Exceptions

The standard two-year limitation for filing a claim isn’t the only time limit affecting Ontario injury victims. For example, victims in motor vehicle accidents must notify their accident benefits insurer within seven days that an accident as occurred; they then have just 30 days to submit an accident benefits application.

For more information about accident benefits representation, click here.

Motor vehicle accident victims also have just 120 days (three months) to notify the at-fault party or insurance provider that they intend to file a lawsuit. Doing so does not require you to pursue a claim.

Unique time limits also exist for claims against local and municipal governments. Claims against government agencies include those involving poorly maintained streets and sidewalks, icy or snowy surfaces on city property, injuries involving public transit or city maintenance vehicles, etc. In these cases, plaintiffs are required to provide written notice within 10 days of the accident. The notice must include the date, time and location of the accident, and other details.

Regarding the standard two-year limitation period, two important groups are largely exempted: minors, whose two-year limitation period begins when they turn 18, and individuals who are mentally incapable of initiating a claim.

Contact an Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer

For more information about limitation periods in personal injury law, filing a personal injury claim, filing a claim for accident benefits, or any subject related to personal injury law, contact Will Davidson LLP to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer.

Will Davidson LLP’s personal injury team has represented seriously injured accident victims in Ontario for over 90 years. Our expertise ranges from motor vehicle accidents to medical malpractice claims to slip and fall injuries.

Will Davidson LLP is proud to offer legal representation on a contingency basis, meaning you will not be charged hourly fees for our services. Instead, our team will accept a pre-approved percentage of your settlement at the time that it is delivered. This arrangement is beneficial for two reasons: first, it ties our payment to the success of your case; we don’t get paid unless you receive compensation. Second, it allows financial flexibility during your recovery. Serious personal injuries can have lifechanging consequences. You may no longer be able to work and may need long-term medical care, rehabilitation, and home care. You may even need to explore home renovations or long-term care options. By foregoing upfront payment, we hope to reduce financial pressure and make it possible to access the resources you and your family need.

Call today to discuss your legal options and review the viability of your claim. Our team will provide the compassionate, committed support you need during this difficult period of your life.

Quick Road Safety Fixes for Ontario Cities

Many of the road safety concerns that worried Ontario’s car accident lawyers in 2010 remain relevant at the dawn of the new decade. Speeding, dangerous driving, and impaired driving continue to contribute to serious injuries and fatalities across the province, while new concerns such as legalized marijuana and widespread distracted driving are causing additional challenges.

The safety of vulnerable road users is also an enduring issue. In fact, it may be the single most pressing road safety issue in Ontario’s cities and towns. According to data from the Toronto Police Service (TPS), 20 pedestrians and two cyclists were killed in Toronto in 2010. By 2013, those numbers had doubled. In five of the six years since, at least 40 vulnerable road users were killed in Canada’s largest city.

Toronto has a plan: Vision Zero, which has been in place since 2016 (during which time fatalities have not decreased) and which we have already discussed in this blog. But many Vision Zero action items are high level changes that seek to fundamentally reshape Toronto’s massive transportation infrastructure and reverse driver behaviours and attitudes learned over decades. Vision Zero has the ingredients to eliminate traffic deaths in Toronto, but not in the next ten years.

With that in mind, the Globe and Mail recently assembled a list of 10 road safety ideas that experts believe can be done quickly with a little help from city hall. While most Ontario car accident lawyers support Vision Zero and its ambitious safety initiatives, few would argue against these quick, outside-the-box fixes.

Here are a few of the ideas from the list:

  • Identify and memorialize victims

Toronto police do not generally name traffic accident victims in order to protect the privacy of the victims’ families. However, publicly identifying victims, with their families’ consent, could reverse the idea that traffic deaths are a fact of life of urban residents.

“If we see fatalities as statistics, which is the result of not releasing names, it’s easier to maintain that stance,” said Michael Black, who is on advocacy group Walk Toronto’s steering committee, to the Globe. “If you release the names, I think people will be more apt to say: Should part of walking be running the risk of being killed?”

The Globe’s list of ideas also includes memorializing victims with a permanent monument.

  • Improve truck safety

Large commercial vehicles account for a disproportionate number of serious injuries and fatalities on Ontario roads. While Toronto can’t unilaterally change safety standards for trucks in general, it can improve the safety of its own fleet. In Montreal, the city equipped municipal trucks with sideguards to prevent injuries to vulnerable road users; the Globe suggests Toronto do the same.

  • Traffic enforcement

Early last decade, a dedicated Toronto police traffic unit patrolled busy corridors and enforced safety laws. The unit was disbanded in 2012 and the number of traffic tickets handed out in the city hit an all-time low in 2018. The Globe’s experts believe more enforcement could help pull fatalities back to pre-2012 levels. 

“Obviously, the more enforcement, the more people are going to get caught, the more they think they’re going to get caught and they change their behaviour,” said Walk Toronto’s Brown.

In this instance, road safety advocates may get their wish. Late last year, Toronto police announced plans to reintroduce a dedicated traffic squad in 2020.

  • Easier access to traffic calming measures

Concerned residents have to jump through a lot of hoops to get traffic calming measures installed on their streets in Toronto. According to the Globe, if a group of people living on a street wants speed bumps installed, the city will send voting ballots to everyone on the block – a majority of the ballots must be returned for the motion to advance, and 60 per cent of respondents must approve in order to proceed.

A simpler process could save lives – or the city could simply change its residential street parking policies. The Globe suggests allowing both-side parking on certain streets, which is itself a traffic calming action.

For a full list of suggestions, check out the Globe’s article here: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/toronto/article-10-quick-ideas-that-could-reduce-pedestrian-deaths-in-toronto/

Contact an Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer

If you’ve been injured in a traffic accident in Toronto, Oakville, or elsewhere in Ontario, contact Will Davidson LLP to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation. Our experienced team of car accident lawyers has represented seriously injured accident victims for decades. We will happily review your case, outline your legal options, and suggest next steps. If you choose to retain our services, our team will provide tough representation, open communication, and compassionate guidance and advice as you navigate the road to recovery.

How Do Trial Delays Hurt Personal Injury Victims?

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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Court Decision Puts Ontario Accident Victims in a Tough Spot

When the Government of Ontario enacted sweeping changes to the province’s auto insurance system in 2016, it did so with the aim of reducing premiums by streamlining and simplifying the claims and pushing through broad benefits cuts. According to most Ontario car accident lawyers, the changes to benefits and shifting injury definitions in Bill 15, the Fighting Fraud and Reducing Insurance Rates Act, have had a negative impact on injury victims while also failing to significantly reduce premiums.

Another stipulation of Bill 15 was that responsibility for resolving accident benefits disputes between injury victims and insurers moved from the Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO), a regulatory agency of the Ministry of Finance, to the Licence Appeal Tribunal (LAT). The change was met with skepticism by Ontario car accident lawyers, who noted that the LAT had no history of managing conflicts between insurance companies and vulnerable insureds.

The shift from the FSCO to the LAT has not been catastrophic for accident victims, but a ruling by the Superior Court of Ontario, recently upheld by the provincial Court of Appeal, may spell trouble. The case, Stegenga v. Economical Mutual Insurance Company, involved an allegation of bad faith against the insurer. The ruling confirmed the LAT’s jurisdiction over most bad faith cases, which limits potential awards for plaintiffs.

The Case

Fifteen-year-old Morgan Stegenga was seriously injured in a car accident in 2011. In addition to broken ribs, she suffered a head injury that affected her cognitive ability and caused personality, behavioural, and psychological changes, according to Canadian Underwriter.

Morgan’s family applied for accident benefits in 2012. Their insurer, Economical Mutual Insurance Company, failed to advise them that Morgan’s injuries may qualify as catastrophically impairment. It also failed, according to Law Times, to ‘investigate Stegenga’s condition, have her medically assessed, assign a case manager for her care and rehabilitation or respond to their requests for authorization of a neurologic psychoeducational assessment.’ The Stegenga family opted to sue, alleging that the insurer had breached its duty of good faith.

The Decisions

Ontario’s Insurance Act states that the LAT is responsible for “the resolution of disputes in respect of an insured person’s entitlement to statutory accident benefits or in respect of the amount of statutory accident benefits to which an insured person is entitled.” Superior Court Justice James Ramsay decided that Stegenga’s claim fell into this category and dismissed it.

In its appeal, the Stegenga family argued that the insurer’s duty to act in good faith was separate from its duty to provide benefits and could thus be addressed in court. Court of Appeal Justice Benjamin Zarnett disagreed and upheld the Superior Court’s decision. He cited lawmakers’ intent in his explanation.

“The legislature made a choice as to what disputes would be within the exclusive jurisdiction of the LAT, and what remedial powers the LAT would have. That was a policy choice it was entitled to make,” Justice Zarnett wrote. “The Insurance Act and its regulations form a comprehensive scheme for the regulation of insurers and insurance. The legislature must be taken to have armed the LAT with the remedial powers it considered appropriate to deal with improper insurer behaviour, knowing those remedial powers were different from the court’s.”

The Implications

The decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal in Stegenga v. Economical Mutual Insurance Company will prevent accident victims from seeking damages outside the LAT from insurers acting in bad faith.

“This was an attempt by the personal injury plaintiff’s lawyers to try to preserve that bad faith cause of action and pursue it in court,” one lawyer told Law Times. “This just firmly shuts the door on the potential to recover for bad faith in a standalone action.”

It also limits the amount of compensation available to plaintiffs. In cases of bad faith, the LAT can make a special award of up to 50 per cent of the benefits that the injury is owed and can order the insurer to pay a higher interest rate, per Canadian Underwriter. But this is “much lower than the potential risk for a bad faith claim,” the lawyer who spoke to Law Times said.

Will the reduced maximum penalty for bad faith actions embolden insurance companies to act unethically? That is certainly a concern for many Ontario car accident lawyers. However, it is still far too early to know how the Stegenga v. Economical decision will affect insurer behaviour moving forward.

Contact an Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer

If you have been injured in a motor vehicle accident and are considering claiming accident benefits, contact Will Davidson LLP today to learn how our experienced team of Ontario car accident lawyers can help. We will be happy to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation to review your case and offer advice on how best to proceed. Contact us today for more information.

Do Canadians Need In-Car Speed-Limiting Technology?

Technology is a mixed blessing on Canadian roads. On one hand, cutting-edge safety features like lane-keeping and automatic braking reduce injuries and accidents. On the other, smartphones and in-car navigation and entertainment systems cause distraction, which, as any car accident lawyer can attest, is a major safety hazard.

Now, the European Union is doubling down on in-car safety technology. It recently announced that intelligent speed assistance (ISA) systems, or speed limiters, must be added to new vehicles from 2022. The United Kingdom will follow suit, regardless of Brexit.

ISAs use GPS technology or smart camera software to identify speed limits wherever the vehicle is travelling. When the vehicle exceeds the posted speed limit, the technology limits engine power to reduce speed.

The European Transport Safety Council is bullish on the technology. It believes speed limiters are the single most effective driver assistance systems on the market, and estimates that mass adoption could reduce collision by 30 per cent and traffic deaths by 20 per cent.

Some members of the public, including more than one car accident lawyer, are less optimistic. There are concerns that the technology isn’t ready for adoption: what would happen, for example, if a vehicle’s GPS system indicated one speed limit while its camera system read another? A second issue is personal freedom. Should centralized governments control precisely how fast citizens drive?

While automobile manufacturers will be compelled to include speed limiters in new vehicles after 2022, drivers will be able to decide whether to use them. The EU and UK governments want drivers to see the technology as a helpful tool, not an imposition on their autonomy.

“One issue is acceptance. We don’t want to be turning off public support.” Professor Oliver Carsten of Leeds University’s Institute for Transport Studies told the BBC. “The other issue is unreliability – what happens if the car accidently picks up a limit that’s much too low, on a fast road? It could be a serious safety issue.”

There has been no talk in Canada about following the leads of the United Kingdom and European Union, but as automotive technology becomes more sophisticated, Canadian road safety activists will become more likely to promote it.

In the meantime, Will Davidson LLP can offer access to compensation or accident benefits when you’ve been involved in an automotive accident. Contact us today to arrange a free, no-obligation consultation with an experienced car accident lawyer.

Should Roll Bars be Mandatory on ATVs?

All-terrain vehicle (ATV) accidents are a prevalent issue across Canada. Each year, dozens of riders die and thousands are hospitalized (more than 2,800 in 2017) in single- and multi-vehicle crashes. Despite how common these accidents have become, little is being done to improve safety on Canadian trails, much to the frustration of Ontario ATV accident lawyers.

One common sense move would be to mandate roll bars, sometimes known as crush-protection or operator-protection devices, in new vehicles. Australia is considering doing so, which has prompted manufacturers Honda and Yamaha to threaten withdrawal from the country. The effectiveness of roll bars has not been proven, the manufacturers say, and may even make accidents worse.

But other experts, including some ATV accident lawyers, disagree. ATVs’ high centre of gravity and narrow wheelbase make them inherently unstable, and their weight – between 200 and 400 kilograms – puts riders at risk of broken necks or being pinned beneath their vehicle.

“All of a sudden, you’re in a situation that you can’t correct,” said Don Voaklander, director of the University of Alberta’s Injury Prevention Centre, to CBC British Columbia. “That’s when you want a crush-protective structure to prevent that machine from rolling on you.”

David Sullivan, an Australian now living in British Columbia, manufactures roll bars for ATVs. He agrees that they save lives.

“This is absolutely a no-brainer,” he told the CBC. “It will prevent families from experiencing grief.”

However, many ATV riders and riders’ associations don’t want to be forced to drive ATVs with roll bars. They believe, correctly, that most ATV injuries and deaths are caused by human error.

“If a person rides within the limits of the machine, you shouldn’t have a problem,” said Quad Riders ATV Association of B.C. president Ralph Matthews. He believes roll bars should be “a personal choice.”

Dangerous behaviour like drinking and driving, speeding, and reckless driving cause the vast majority of serious ATV accidents. While roll bars won’t stop riders from engaging in these behaviours, they might protect them from death or serious injury when accidents occur. With riders unlikely to embrace roll bars willingly, it may be up to lawmakers and manufacturers to insist on them.

If you or a member of your family have been injured in an off-roading accident, contact Will Davidson LLP’s Oakville office to arrange a free consultation. Our team of experienced ATV accident lawyers can assess the viability of your claim and help you understand your legal options.

How Safe are Higher Speed Limits?

In May, Ontario Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek announced plans to review speed limits on provincial highways. Later in the month, the Conservative Government previewed plans to test a 110 km/h limit on three sections of 400-series highways. The announcements provoked mixed reactions from stakeholders, some who believe higher speed limits make perfect sense and others, including car accident lawyers, who fear they will lead to increased injuries and fatalities on Ontario roads.

Proponents of the plan often look to the United States for examples of successfully implemented higher speed limits. In 1995, Congress repealed a federal law capping speed limits at 65 mph (105 km/h) nationwide, allowing the states to set their own maximum speed limits.

Today, maximum speed limits vary widely state-to-state. According to the Globe and Mail, 22 have maximum speed limits of 70 mph (112 km/h); 12 have maximum limits of 75 mph (121 km/h); and seven – Idaho, Montana, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming – have maximum limits of 80 mph (129 km/h). In Texas, there is even a 41-mile stretch of highway with a mind-bending 85 mph (137 km/h) limit.

Like their southern cousins, Canadian provinces are able to set their own maximum speed limits. Ontario would join Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia by raising its maximum limit to 110 km/h. Only British Columbia’s is higher at 120 km/h on select roads.

Of course, the question for car accident lawyers is not whether Ontario should be able to raise its maximum speed limits, but whether it would be safe to do so. Evidence from the United States suggests not.

Chief researcher for the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) Chuck Farmer has studied the effects of higher speed limits on road safety extensively. Per the Globe, he believes increased speed limits have caused roughly 37,000 deaths in the United States since 1993. By looking at annual traffic fatalities per mile travelled in states that increased speed limits and factoring out other road safety factors like seatbelt usage, Farmer was able to calculate an 8 per cent increase in fatality rate for every 5 mph added to the speed limit on Interstates and freeways.

Less nuanced numbers provided by the World Health Organization offer similar conclusions. The United States experienced 11.6 traffic-related deaths per 100,000 people in 2016; Canada experienced just 5.8. In 2017, 1,841 people died on Canadian roads; 37,133 died in the United States. Closer to home, British Columbia was forced to roll back its 120 km/h speed limits on several routes when accidents more than doubled.

If you have been injured in a motor vehicle accident, contact Will Davidson LLP to learn how we can help. Our team of experienced car accident lawyers can provide guidance as you consider a personal injury claim.

Image credit: Bobby H./Wikimedia Commons

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