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.”

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