Local voice against wrongful benefit denials still speaking out

Thursday, March, 12, 2015


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.

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