Two sides point to each other as reason for high insurance premiums. The truth is, they’re both responsible
By Alan Shanoff, Toronto Sun
A slugging match recently erupted between car insurance companies and Ontario personal injury lawyers.
The Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) opened by claiming the public needs regulatory oversight of contingency fees charged by personal injury lawyers.
The IBC feels a change is necessary to protect consumers and allow the government to evaluate the impact of lawyers’ fees on the auto insurance system.
The Ontario Trial Lawyers Association (OTLA) countered by releasing a study it commissioned concerning auto insurance premiums.
According to the study, prepared by two professors at York University’s Schulich School of Business, “consumers in Ontario may have overpaid for auto insurance by between $3 and $4 billion over the period 2001 to 2013.”
The OTLA urged an independent “thorough and truly transparent” review of auto insurance by Ontario’s Auditor General.
Reacting quickly, the IBC fired back through a press release, pointing the finger back at personal injury lawyers claiming, “lawyers’ fees are simply too high and have a significant impact on the cost of auto insurance.”
The IBC supported its conclusion by claiming some lawyers charge 40%, while others between 25% and 33% of any settlement or judgment.
I doubt many lawyers would dare charge a 40% contingency fee, although even a 25% to 33% fee may be too high in some cases.
But, the IBC forgot to mention clients don’t pay the entire contingency fee as a good part of the fee is paid by the insurance company.
To rub it in further, the IBC stated, “In 2013, lawyers received an estimated $500 million from injury claimants out of their insurance settlements for bodily injury claims. These are real dollars that never make it to the claimant. IBC will continue to fight for increased transparency so that consumers can actually see where their insurance dollars go.”
But I don’t think insurers want to open the transparency can of worms.
If they want to talk about “real dollars” that don’t make it to claimants, check out the vast sums paid by insurers for their so-called independent medical examinations (IMEs), used to belittle or deny claims.
According to the most recent Ontario Health Claims Database, insurance companies paid approximately $372 million for IMEs for accidents taking place in the last four years.
In some years, insurance companies forced almost half of all claimants to attend IMEs and in each year the average amount paid per assessed claimant for these exams exceeded the average amount paid per claimant for all medical and rehabilitation expenses.
Sending claimants for multiple and expensive assessments to pro-insurer experts is a major contributor to insurers’ costs and takes “real dollars” out of the pockets of claimants.
That’s not to say lawyers are free of blame.
There’s a long history of lawyers neglecting to act diligently to expose insurer experts who file partisan reports, sometimes outside their sphere of expertise, used by insurers to delay and deny claims.
As well, quality control at some law firms is substandard.
The FAIR Association of Victims for Accident Insurance Reform has recently posted an announcement stating, “ALERT – we are hearing about more and more cases where time limitations for filing have lapsed due to plaintiff’s legal representatives failing to meet limitation period deadlines.”
Then again, motor vehicle litigation and accident benefits claims are highly complex and insurance company tactics often lead to increased fees.
And if the insurance industry wants to point fingers at personal injury lawyers, perhaps they ought to make complete disclosure of the money they spend on defence lawyers and adjusters to deny, delay and defend claims.
Furthermore, how much do insurers pay to fund their massive public relations campaigns — including political contributions to those in power — which they effectively use to portray accident victims as opportunistic, malingering or just plain fraudulent?
It seems there is a lot of mud that can be thrown at each side in this messy debate.
But while the debate drags on, insurers continue to exact high premiums and lawyers receive handsome payments for their work.
And accident victims? They’re stuck in the middle.