Life can change in the blink of an eye

After an accident, your insurer may not be in your corner

Hamilton Spectator

By Jeffrey Ennis

Ralph is a 49-year-old millwright. He was always healthy and never needed a family doctor. He paid his car insurance premiums just like everyone else in Ontario who drives. He has to; it is the law. One day, his life changed forever. It happened in the blink of an eye. He was at a red light when another car came barrelling into the back of his vehicle. Ralph hit his head on his side window and his knees smashed into the dashboard. He felt dazed and disoriented. Fire and police cut him from the car and took him to the nearest hospital. He was examined, X-rayed, told nothing was broken and discharged to the care of his family physician. From that point, Ralph's life would never be the same. He was now dependent on the car insurance industry for his and his family's welfare.

Ralph assumed that because he paid his insurance premiums for more than 20 years, he would receive service in return. He was in for a surprise. Ralph had a fairly quick assessment by an occupational therapist and an orthopedic surgeon. It was their opinion that Ralph could go back to work. Two weeks later, his income support of $400 per week was cut off. All treatment stopped. Now Ralph got a lawyer and an eight-year battle began.

During those eight years, Ralph went from earning a nice living to relative poverty. He lost his home and his car. He lost his ability to pay for his children's college education. Eventually, Ralph lost his wife. She could not tolerate the changes in her husband and the strain of living in poverty. She left by year six.

No matter what Ralph did, he could not access treatment. Any time a recommendation was made, the insurance company refused it. After each refusal, he was sent for an assessment by a doctor selected by the insurance company. Not one of these doctors overturned the decision of the insurance company. By the time his case settled, Ralph had gone to seven of these assessments. He was sure the assessments cost more than the treatment he was trying to get.

The insurance industry has become progressively more powerful, taking control of almost everything that happens after a car accident.

As time passed, Ralph started to gain weight because he was inactive. His friends abandoned him because he was not fun anymore. He ate poorly because fresh fruits and vegetables were expensive and he simply did not care. Ralph started to think his life was not worth living. One day, he tried to hang himself. He did a bad job of it and the rope he used broke. He knew he needed help and he was hospitalized in a psychiatric service for two weeks.

Eventually, Ralph's case came to an end. The insurance company refused to make any reasonable offer to Ralph, but one week before the official court date, it gave in. Ralph received what seemed like a large payment, but it did not cover his losses. He now had enough money to live on, if he was careful. The only problem was that Ralph no longer had his family, his friends or his wife. He had no life.

Ralph is just one of thousands of people whose lives have been changed by a simple motor vehicle accident. The automobile insurance industry in Ontario is designed to make a profit. It is the job of the Ontario government to protect us from inappropriate behaviours on the part of these companies in their efforts to increase profits. The government is not doing its job. It has supported the insurance industry in its efforts to increase its profits at the cost of its own citizens. Over time, the insurance industry has become progressively more powerful, taking control of almost everything that happens after a car accident.

Until the citizens of this province recognize that the behaviour of the insurance industry is not acceptable, nothing will change. It is not reasonable for us to be legislated to pay profit to a company while that company withholds its services when required. Anyone involved in a car accident will tell you their lives changed in the “blink of an eye.” Rather than waiting until there are enough people injured in motor vehicle accidents in Ontario to force a change to the system, the healthy citizens of Ontario must demand a change to the Automobile Insurance Act before their lives are changed forever — before they become like Ralph.

Dr. Jeffrey H. Ennis is medical director of The Ennis Centre for Pain Management in Hamilton.

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