OPINION COLUMN: Careful what you wish for when it comes to private insurance

OPINION COLUMN – By Dermod Travis | The Daily Courier 

Imagine a land where drivers pay 55 per cent more for auto insurance than other drivers in Canada, a land where an insurance company may not cover you because of the city you live in, a land where your automobile insurance premiums isn’t based on your driving record but your postal code.

It’s a land that allows British Columbians a peek into the future, if private auto insurance should come to pass in the province.

That land is Ontario.

A 2017 review for the Ontario government done by insurance expert David Marshall — Fair Benefits Fairly Delivered: A Review of the Auto Insurance System in Ontario — found that Ontario drivers paid 55 per cent more than the Canadian average for car insurance and the province had “one of Canada’s least effective auto insurance systems.”

In November, a former employee of Allstate Insurance Canada filed a lawsuit against her former employer for wrongful dismissal, after she pushed back against the company’s “discriminatory” effort to stop selling auto insurance to drivers who live in Brampton, Ont.

Brampton residents pay on average “$1,000 a year more in auto insurance premiums each year than a driver in north Toronto,” according to NDP MPP Gurratan Singh, one of two members of Ontario’s legislature who tabled private members bills last October to end what they called auto insurance postal code “discrimination.”

This month Ontario premier Doug Ford announced plans to review that province’s “auto insurance system in order to lower rates for drivers.” Good luck with that.

The problems plaguing Ontario’s system may sound familiar to B.C. drivers.

Marshall’s review pegged the cost of insurance fraud at $1.3 billion annually, he found “$1.4 billion annually — a third of all insurance premium benefits — goes to duelling lawyers and medical experts in court, instead of to treatment for crash victims” and complaints from auto insurers that “plaintiffs’ lawyers drive up costs by charging outrageously high contingency fees, which redirect money intended for the treatment of victims into the pockets of their lawyers.”

Venturing into the land of comparing auto insurance premiums by province is fraught with peril, as I have learned with my own grey hair count. It’s also a subject where everyone takes leave of their senses.

So perhaps it’s better to consider premiums in the context of the two auto insurance systems in Canada: public and private.

Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and B.C. all have public auto insurance with varying degrees of optional private insurance.

Three of the public insurers are profitable, B.C. is not.

According to an analysis by the Saskatchewan government — based on a composite index modelled after the index developed by the Consumers’ Association of Canada —Vancouver had the highest premiums of the four at $1,966 in 2018, followed by Montreal ($1,884), Regina ($1,199) and Winnipeg ($1,192).

Saskatchewan pegs premiums in Toronto at $4,669. The Insurance Bureau of Canada draws issue with that number, but all observers seem in agreement: among provinces with private insurance, Ontario has the highest premiums.

Last October, LowestRates.ca released updated annual increases which showed rates in Ontario jumped by 10.7 per cent (over 2017) and Alberta by 6.7 per cent. The Insurance Corporation of B.C. recently applied for an interim 6.3 per cent rate increase.

One Toronto driver illustrated that province’s rate hike well: “Never had an accident in my life and my insurance increased last year from $219 to $280 per month” or $3,360 annually.

Opposition leader Andrew Wilkinson has said in a number of media interviews that it’s time “for a complete root-and-branch overhaul (of auto insurance): Let’s figure out how it’s done in the rest of the world, take the best practices and make it better for B.C.”

It’s going to be tough to square the circle between stakeholders, rising auto repair costs and Autoplan franchisees, as B.C. Attorney General David Eby is already learning.

There is one fundamental question that needs a clear answer from those advocating for a private model, though: if Ontario drivers are among the best in Canada and B.C. drivers not so, how will private auto insurance result in lower premiums for B.C. drivers than those in Ontario?

Hate to be the bearer of bad tidings but there really isn’t a pot of gold at the end of the private auto insurance rainbow. Private or public, this is going to hurt.

Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC. www.integritybc.ca

Rates reach new peaks in Alberta and Atlantic Canada, increasing 10.05% and 3.75% in Q4

Read more

#DriveSmartBC – The Lowly Licence Plate

The licence plate has one purpose: to quickly and easily identify the vehicle that it is attached to. This is important enough that a whole division of the Motor Vehicle Act Regulations is devoted to the subject. Fines for failing to follow these rules may be expensive as well, ranging from $109 to as much as $196.

The standard blue on white Beautiful British Columbia licence plate design does the job well. It is immediately identifiable as belonging to our province and the renewal decal system gives it a long life. Simple, inexpensive and effective. What could possibly go wrong?

Vehicles may be issued either one or two licence plates. If two are issued, one must be securely fastened to the front and one to the rear of that vehicle. In the case of a single plate, it goes on the rear of the vehicle.

The characters are required to be displayed horizontally and the plate must always be entirely unobstructed so that they can be read.

During darkness, the rear licence plate must be lit with a white light to make the characters visible from a distance of at least 15 metres.

Transfer from one vehicle to another is strictly regulated as well.

Some people are lazy. They don’t attach the front plate or just throw it on the dash. Plates are left completely covered by dirt or snow. One loosely attached fastener allowing the plate to dangle should be enough.

What seems like a good idea is not. Plastic licence plate covers, clear or tinted, can prevent a plate from being read in some circumstances and must not be installed.

Other people are dishonest. Number plates are moved to their vehicle of convenience without doing a proper transfer. Plates are covered or purposely obstructed in some manner to thwart tolls and enforcement.

Even our provincial government has lost sight of the intent. Designs such as personalized, veterans, Olympic and B.C. Parks make it more difficult to read the characters and determine where they are from.

Oddly enough, failing to display any licence plates at all is a $109 ticket while obstructing a plate that is displayed costs $196.

Yes, the lowly licence plate has an important job to do. There is not logical or legal to make that difficult.

 

Ontario consulting on municipalities’ worries on ‘liability chill’

TORONTO — Ontario is taking a look at municipalities’ concerns about a legal rule that they say causes “liability chill” and leads some to ban activities such as street hockey and tobogganing.

In a speech Monday to the Rural Ontario Municipal Association, Premier Doug Ford said the province will launch consultations about “the joint and several liability” rule, which says that if one party is found to have only some responsibility, they would still be liable for total damages if other liable parties were unable to pay.

“We have heard your concerns about increasing insurance costs and the impact that these costs can have on property taxes, on municipal taxpayers, and on the average Ontario resident,” Ford said.

“We will look at the evidence and develop a solution that makes sense.”

Rural municipalities have long been calling for reforms, saying they fear the legal convention could mean they face steep costs from lawsuits for even minor injuries on public property, being forced to pay 100 per cent of the cost in an accident in which they were only found to bear minimal responsibility.

If a drunk driver has no insurance, lawyers could go after the municipality, arguing that the road surface was partially responsible for a collision, the Association of Municipalities of Ontario says.

“Victims of any type of accident obviously have to be fairly compensated, we get all that,” said Gary McNamara, warden of Essex County and a past AMO president. “They should be treated fairly and with respect. We get that, but it shouldn’t be solely on the backs of municipal taxpayers. We can’t be held accountable 100 per cent. It just doesn’t make sense.”

It is costing municipalities across the province more than $300 million to insure their communities, McNamara said. In his community of Essex, insurance costs increased 41 per cent in one year as a result of one claim, he said.

Some communities have even taken to banning street hockey and tobogganing, and it’s unfortunate, said McNamara.

“When an eight-year-old child has got a toboggan in tow and he goes up to that hill and then somebody, a bylaw enforcement officer, says, ‘Sorry but you can’t toboggan down this hill’ — why? Because there’s a massive lawsuit in Hamilton that’s driven other municipalities to say, ‘Can we take the risk?” McNamara said.

Tobogganing was banned for years in Hamilton, where a man won a court settlement of nearly $1 million after his toboggan hit a snow-covered drainpipe and he injured his spine.

But Allen Wynperle, the president-elect of the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association, said there were no other defendants in the Hamilton case, so it was not a matter of joint and several liability. Municipalities appear to be concerned about liability overall, and while certainly a challenge, joint and several liability is a specific issue, he said.

“Very few cases have this problem where the municipalities end up paying more than their liability in the case, but they’re usually very, very serious cases,” Wynperle said.

“In a joint and several liability case, remember, the municipality has been found at fault for conduct or an omission and so a person already has an assessment of damages in that situation and the municipality has been found at least partly at fault.”

The trial lawyers hope Ontario holds compensating accident victims as the top priority, Wynperle said.

 

 

5 Hyundai, Kia models have high fire insurance claim rates

The Associated Press | By Tom Krisher

January 22, 2019

DETROIT — An insurance study shows that owners of five Hyundai and Kia cars and SUVs file fire insurance claims at a rate far higher than the average for comparable vehicles.

The Highway Loss Data Institute analyzed claims data from insurers representing about 85 per cent of the U.S. industry. It found that some Hyundai and Kia vehicles equipped with four-cylinder engines have at least double the noncrash fire claim rates than the average of comparable vehicles.

The institute began the study after a consumer group found that owners of some Hyundai and Kia models made a higher-than-normal number of fire complaints to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Last week the South Korean brands announced they would recall about 168,000 vehicles to fix a fuel pipe problem that can cause engine fires.

No Hands on the Wheel: Automated Vehicles and the Insurance Industry

Lexology | Borden Ladner Gervais LLP

The day when you hop into a driverless vehicle without giving it a second thought may be closer than you think.

Car manufacturers are betting heavily on autonomous vehicle technology. Toyota has committed nearly $3 billion U.S. to develop new AV software. Ford recently bought start-up Argo AI for $1 billion and will spend $4 billion on AV development through the year 2023.

There are even non-traditional players like tech companies making waves in the AV space. Case in point, the self-driving car project Google began back in 2009 is now Waymo, a wholly independent company with a fleet of self-driving SUVs and minivans.

As AV technology gains momentum, it is even influencing the way we design our cities. Construction on Quayside, Toronto’s first autonomous vehicle-only neighbourhood, is set to begin in 2020. This ambitious $50-million project, spearheaded by Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs, will also enable data collection on a massive scale. How that data is used is just one legal issue the industry will need to come to grips with.

On the regulatory front, it is still unclear who is in the driver’s seat when it comes to autonomous vehicles. Myriad issues lie ahead for all industry players — especially insurance companies.

A Premium Impact

The rise of AVs has major implications for the Canadian insurance industry. If this new technology drives collision rates down by 40 per cent or more as predicted, insurance premiums will likely decline – and revenues along with them.

Not surprisingly, Canada’s insurers are anxious for provincial governments to come up with a fair model for insuring AVs.

One they might consider is the U.K.’s recently enacted Automated and Electric Vehicles Act. In addition to regulating the deployment of AVs, the Act extends insurance coverage to the operator of vehicles even when the vehicle is in automated mode.

This shift is significant. Currently in Canada, it is driver conduct that is insured. If a driver causes an accident, his or her insurance policy will pay for damages and injuries up to limits available under the policy. But there is confusion as to whether insurance will cover third-party damages if a vehicle was operated in autonomous mode. In order to get compensation, an injured party might have to sue the driver, the vehicle manufacturer and the makers of the various self-driving sub-systems.

The U.K.’s so-called “one policy” approach lifts that confusion. Insurance policies there must provide drivers with coverage whether their vehicle is operating autonomously or not. Because they are essentially covering both driver and manufacturer — at least as far as the injured party is concerned — U.K insurers may be able to maintain higher premiums because they are absorbing all of the risks associated autonomous vehicles, including driver behaviour and product liability. The insurer can, however, seek recovery against the manufacturer or technology provider where warranted.

Evolving Regulations Despite a number of fatal accidents involving self-driving vehicles, the U.S. National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) has decided it is too early to regulate that country’s growing AV industry. Instead, it developed voluntary guidelines for designers and manufacturers, telling them what safety and other factors they should take into account. Canada has not yet followed suit, although there are signs that regulators here are moving in that direction, including the October 2018 release of guidelines for testing highly automated vehicles.

An Eye on the Future of AVs

For the legal community and those clients touched by this transportation revolution, self-driving technologies pose many fascinating legal questions. The hardest part at this early stage of the AV game is discerning which ones are critical.

Source: Lexology

 

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