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Inspection powers under Ontario Bill 15 take effect April 1

DAILY NEWS, Canadian Underwriter Mar 19, 2015

Sections of an Ontario law aimed at reducing auto insurance claims costs, which would give inspectors power to enter premises without a search warrant and remove records for review, take effect in less than two weeks.

 

Bill 15, the Fighting Fraud and Reducing Automobile Insurance Rates Act, is an omnibus bill that was passed into law Nov. 20. Not all provisions have taken effect, but a section of Bill 15 – that changes to the Consumer Protection Act to provide for the appointment of inspectors and inspection powers – comes into force April 1, the province announced March 14 in the Ontario Gazette.

Bill 15 will “provide new enforcement tools, such as allowing inspectors to issue orders where violations are found,” said Laura Albanese (pictured below), parliamentary assistant to Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa, when Bill 15 was tabled for second reading last October. She was commenting on the parts of Bill 15 that impose additional requirements on towing and storage providers.

 

Bill 15 will change the Consumer Protection Act to require tow and storage providers to publish their rates, accept credit card payments and provide itemized invoices before receiving payment. It “would require tow and storage providers to get authorization from the consumer, or someone acting on behalf of the consumer, before charging for towing and storage services,” Albanese said during the debates last fall.

It also reduces, from 60, the number of days that a vehicle can be stored after an accident without giving notice to the owner and other persons.

“Currently, when a vehicle has been damaged in an accident, it may be brought to a storage facility after the collision by someone other than the owner, or without the owner's authority,” said Albanese, Liberal MPP for York South-Weston, of Bill 15 last October. “Those who store vehicles after accidents can begin charging for storage services right away, even though the owner of the vehicle may be unaware of where their car is located and that it is accumulating charges every day. Storers can hold a vehicle and accumulate storage charges for up to 60 days without giving any notice and then still claim a lien for the storage costs.”

One change to the Consumer Protection Act – that takes effect April 1 as a result of Bill 15 – stipulates that a provincial inspector “may, without a warrant, enter and inspect any place in order to perform an inspection to ensure this Act is being complied with.”

An inspector may also “require the production of a record or other thing that the inspector thinks may be relevant to the inspection” and “remove for review and copying a record or other thing that the inspector thinks may be relevant to the inspection.”

Bill 15 includes a number of measures affecting tow truck operators.

The Highway Traffic Act will be changed such that tow truck operators will require a Commercial Vehicle Operator's Registration (CVOR) certificate. The CVOR “is the best tool available, in our opinion, to deal with commercial vehicles on public roadways,” said Brian Patterson, president and chief executive officer of the Ontario Safety League, during a hearing last November before the Standing Committee on General Government. But other witnesses during the same hearing suggested there could be “unintentional consequences” if the hours of service requirement under CVOR applies to tow trucks.

“Tow operators do a lot of short tows, with a lot of time in between,” said Aris Marinos, a director of North American Auto Accident Pictures Towing Division, an association of independent tow truck operators, during the committee hearing. “There are no scheduled calls, so it's all emergency towing, which will not leave enough time off consistently or consecutively to satisfy the requirements of the program.”

Bill 15 includes a number of other measures intended to help reduce auto insurers' costs. For example, it reduces the prejudgment interest rate for non-pecuniary loss for auto accident victims. As of October, the prejudgment interest rate on damages for non-pecuniary loss in a personal injury action was 5% per year, while the rate “for most other damages is based on Bank of Canada interest rates and calculated quarterly,” Albanese said at the time.

“The 5%-per-year prejudgment interest rate for damages for non-pecuniary loss in a personal injury action increases the cost of bodily injury claims in the auto insurance system, which drives up costs for all consumers,” Albanese reported.

Bill 15 will also move the auto insurance claim dispute resolution system from the Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO to the Ministry of the Attorney General's licence appeal tribunal. The Liberals said last year that move “would help cut down on consumer frustration as well as curb financial and administrative stress on the system, which can increase costs and cause rates to go up.”

So under Bill 15, a new section of the Insurance Act will allow insured persons and insurers to apply to the Licence Appeal Tribunal in order to resolve 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.”

The Insurance Act will also prohibit parties from bringing such proceedings into court, “other than an appeal from a decision of the Licence Appeal Tribunal or an application for judicial review.”

Bill 15 will also give FSCO the authority to “revoke or immediately suspend the licences of agents and adjusters who act improperly and put the public at risk,” Albanese said last year. “Bill 15 would also align the process for these disciplinary hearings with modern principles of procedural fairness, including replacing the 90-year-old advisory board system with the existing Financial Services Tribunal.

Writing a book can lead to repercussions: Roseman

Business / Personal Finance

Jokelee Vanderkop fought two insurance companies to get benefits after a car accident. Now she’s fighting to keep her benefits after writing a book.

 By: Ellen Roseman On Your Side, Tue Feb 10 2015

Jokelee Vanderkop wrote a book about how to fight your insurance company to get benefits. Now she’s preparing for another fight about her benefits.

In 2008, she won a lawsuit against the Personal Insurance Co. after a car accident left her unable to continue working as a high school teacher. When the company appealed in 2009, she won again.

She was 44 when injured in 1997. Now 62, she lives on income replacement benefits paid by her insurer.

Hoping to share her experiences of a court battle that lasted more than a decade, she put out a self-published book, So You Think You’re Covered? The Insurance Industry Ripoff, in 2013.

Most of the 200 copies were given away to friends or dumped, she says. When told the writing was weak, she published a revised edition last fall and sold 84 copies (at $25 apiece).

As part of her publicity campaign, she was a guest on an hour-long CBC radio phone-in program on Jan. 21, Ontario Today. It didn’t take long for her insurance company to follow up.

“I received a letter, dated Jan. 31, saying I now had earnings that could be deducted from my benefits entitlement,” she says. “They said they could not consider any further payments until I submitted my earnings statements and my tax returns for the last five years.

“The insurance company has a right to request information, but normally they tell you it’s required in order to continue benefits. In my case, they cut me off first. This is pure intimidation.”

 

Desjardins General Insurance Co., which owns The Personal, said there was a misunderstanding about her benefits being cut off.

“When we learned that Ms. Vanderkop published and is promoting a book, we sent her a standard form asking for copies of her tax returns,” explained spokesperson Joe Daly.

“Under the legislation, a portion of any income she earns from the book, or any other source, could be deducted from the weekly income replacement benefits we send her. We naturally assume that she wrote the book to earn income.

“Please note that we have not cut off her benefits and have no intention of doing so. If her tax returns indicate that she has little or no income from the book or other sources, then her weekly entitlement payments will not be affected.

“We didn’t send the note to intimidate Ms. Vanderkop. We were just curious if she was now working as a writer, which is a difficult and demanding job, and earning income.

“In retrospect, the claims adviser who decided to send the form obviously didn’t understand the realities of publishing in Canada. It’s tough to make any money writing a book.”

Rhona Desroches is chair of a non-profit advocacy group called FAIR, the Association of Victims for Accident Insurance Reform. She was a guest on the CBC radio show with Vanderkop.

“We heard from six to eight callers, who all had benefit claims that were about seven years old,” she says. “The people were injured and not in the best shape. I found it very moving.”

Desroches has heard from many frustrated insurance customers. She finds Vanderkop’s story a bit more complicated than most because there were two insurers battling it out at her expense.

She was insured by Personal under a motor vehicle policy and by Manulife under her employer’s group policy. When Manulife denied her application for long-term disability benefits in 1997, she ended up settling for a $57,500 lump sum during a private mediation in 2002.

After the mediation, Personal refused to pay income replacement benefits to Vanderkop, even though she met the test for entitlement, because of the settlement she made with Manulife. Personal argued that it could deduct any long-term disability benefits that might have been payable had Vanderkop been successful in her litigation.

The Ontario Court of Appeal said income replacement benefits could be reduced by long-term disability benefits resulting from an accident. But Personal could not set off hypothetical benefits applied for, but refused.

The long legal fight has led to other health problems for Vanderkop. But she’s keen to give tips to accident victims, such as not keeping a journal during a hearing (since it may be confiscated and used as evidence).

Desroches draws a lesson from the author’s tussle with her insurer about potential book earnings.

“I think it is outrageous that a person’s benefits are always at risk,” she says. “Settling a case with an insurer is no guarantee that the negative experience of making a claim with auto insurance benefits is really over.”

Local voice against wrongful benefit denials still speaking out

Thursday, March, 12, 2015

BY SHANNON DUFF

EXPRESS MANAGING EDITOR (SouthwesternOntario.ca)

Editor’s note: The following is the second installment of a story featuring local insurance advocate Jokelee Vanderkop and her efforts to help legitimate claimants ensure they receive their rightful benefits.

Palmerston – After a life-altering motor vehicle collision and more than a decade of battling to receive the insurance benefits she paid for, Palmerston resident Jokelee Vanderkop said she refocused her anger into an energetic effort to expose “what goes on for the majority of motor vehicle accident claimants.”

Those efforts resulted in not only her book — So You Think You’re Covered! The Insurance Industry Rip-off — but also the opportunity to speak on CBC’s Ontario Today radio show in January.

“The host said she had never seen the [call-in] board light up so completely before a show had even started,” Vanderkop said. “The accident victims who spoke of their negative experiences with their insurers were very moving. One woman said she had spent six months in intensive care after an accident and was denied benefits. Another said the insurer’s lawyer told her that he was paid over $500,000 per year to deny her.”

Ten days after the show, Vanderkop received an explanation of benefits from her insurer, stating that since she now had earnings, the company could not consider further payments until it received copies of her earning statements.

Vanderkop said the letter left her shaking her head.

“What earnings?” she asked. “No mention was made of how [I] was supposedly making these earnings.”

In a February interview with finance and consumer journalist Ellen Roseman, Vanderkop stated the insurance company does have a right to request information, but “normally they tell you it’s required in order to continue benefits. In my case, they cut me off first.”

Joe Daly of Desjardins General Insurance Co. said the situation was a misunderstanding and indicated questions arose once the company learned of Vanderkop’s book.

“When we learned that Ms. Vanderkop published and is promoting a book, we sent her a standard form asking for copies of her tax returns,” he explained to Roseman. “Under the legislation, a portion of any income she earns from the book, or any other source, could be deducted from the weekly income replacement benefits we send her. We naturally assume she wrote the book to earn income.”

“If her tax returns indicate she has little or no income from the book or other sources, then her weekly entitlement payments will not be affected.”

Daly continued, “In retrospect, the claims advisor who decided to send the form obviously didn’t understand the realities of publishing in Canada. It’s tough to make any money writing a book.”

Indeed, the book has been more of an expense than anything, said Vanderkop.

Rhona DesRoches, chairperson of FAIR Association of Victims for Accident Insurance Reform [FAIRAssociation.ca], a not-for-profit advocacy group for motor-vehicle accident victims and insurance reform, also appeared on the CBC radio show with Vanderkop.

Vanderkop’s and others’ experiences, said DesRoches, indicates that benefits aren’t a sure thing.

“I think it is outrageous that a person’s benefits are always at risk,” she said in an interview with Roseman. “Settling a case with an insurer is no guarantee that the negative experience of making a claim with auto insurance benefits is really over.”

Vanderkop and DesRoches have since kept in contact, joined in their efforts to help legitimate claimants receive their benefits.

FAIR treatment

FAIR is predominately made up of accident victims, their family members and supporters, DesRoches explained.

“We’re a voice for those victims who really can’t speak out for themselves. Accident victims tend not to speak very loudly,” DesRoches said in an interview with The Minto  Express.

“Jokelee is an unusual person in that she speaks up and speaks out. Predominately accident victims are very quiet about what’s happened to them,” she said.

FAIR members advocate for change and education. “We find a lot of accident victims don’t know what they’re entitled to or why this is happening to them. People are very isolated, and they’re not sure why,” said DesRoches.

The association was founded in 2011, and DesRoches, a member since 2012, said motor accident victims finally have a voice at the table.

“Prior to FAIR, there was always complications,” she said. “But, there really wasn’t anyone at the table to give the accident victims’ perspective on how difficult the system is, and why it isn’t working.”

“Auto insurance isn’t just unaffordable, it’s also problematic in the quality of service it delivers,” DesRoches continued. “We’ve made ourselves a voice. A lot of what we do is directed towards our legislators and various other stakeholders in the auto insurance field. We do consult and submit on various issues that come up.”

Vanderkop, whose book is available at www.deniedbenefitclaims.com and who is available for speaking engagements, says she is now concerned about the recent passing of Bill 15. The Fighting Fraud and Reducing Automobile Insurance Rates Act is being touted as a good thing, she said, but could only make things more difficult for accident victims making claims.

Editor’s note: Please see next week’s Minto Express for the next installment of this story.

Hamilton Spectator: Auto insurance must improve

Mar 09, 2015

 

Auto insurance

 

Ontarians pay far too much for auto insurance. It's time Ontario has a publicly-owned enterprise to provide auto insurance.

In Quebec, where insurance costs the least, the Crown corporation SAAQ regulates car insurance and licensing. It provides public auto insurance to all citizens involved in road collisions, at fault or not. However, coverage is limited to personal injury. Like Ontario, private insurers cover all property damage.

Meanwhile, Saskatchewan has been using Saskatchewan Government Insurance (SGI) since 1944, a public-enterprise with a monopoly on the province's auto-insurance. Not only does Saskatchewan pay less for insurance, but coverage is better: All drivers are covered whether at fault or not; all drivers pay the same $700 deductible when at-fault for an accident; a licence costs $100$ for five years; and no PST is paid when buying a used car. SGI's revenues are added to the provincial budget. For a provincial population of 1.2 million, SGI netted a profit of over $80 million in 2013.

Should Ontario create a public corporation to compete on the private auto-insurance market? Or create an entity like Quebec's SAAQ which covers personal injuries? Or perhaps full-out nationalization of the auto-insurance industry, like Saskatchewan, would be a better bet for Ontarians? Regardless, we ought to do something. Auto insurance here couldn't get any worse.

 

Jeremy Campbell, Hamilton