Recent revisions to the new Ontario provincial budget mean significant changes to benefits for “catastrophic impairment” motor vehicle accident victims. Gerald A. Swaye & Associates Barristers and Solicitors, personal injury specialists in Hamilton, Ontario, explain the key points of these changes and the consequences to accident victims.
The new provincial budget was announced on April 23, 2015. Seriously injured motor vehicle accident victims now face serious negative repercussions concerning benefits. Previously, when the Ontario provincial government contemplated making changes to automobile insurance legislation, extensive discussion with stakeholders was a standard protocol — but not so with the April 23rd budget. The announcement concerning these changes came unexpectedly. Prior to that budget, benefits to the most seriously injured victims, who meet the definition of “catastrophically impaired,” were considered sacrosanct. The April budget slashed those benefits, while also further reducing benefits to victims who do not meet the test.
Five major changes have been announced. Each of the revisions reduces the available funding for accident victims. Additionally, the changes put additional pressure on the public health care system while diminishing the chances of catastrophic impaired accident victims regaining their independence. The changes include:
• Maximum benefits for the catastrophically impaired will now be reduced from $2 million to $1 million. The $2 million maximum — which would cover $1 million in medical and rehabilitation benefits plus $1 million in attendant care benefits — has been in place for about 20 years. In addition, further accounting for inflation indexing makes the cuts tantamount to drastic for most seriously impaired accident victims. Only a very small percentage of accident victims are classified as catastrophic, requiring the highest levels of benefits.
• A newly revised definition of “catastrophic impairment” will now apply only to those who have the most devastating injuries. The new definition constricts the meaning of the classification. As a result, a definition that had been previously clearer and more easily understood, and that used the Glasgow Coma Scale test (a common scoring system used to evaluate the effects of traumatic brain injury), now makes understanding who qualifies as catastrophic impairment less clear.
• Tort deductibles are being indexed to the inflation levels of 2003. What this means is that an accident victim with a pain-and-suffering claim will face an increased deductible of approximately $37,000 on an award entitlement as opposed to $30,000. Only if the award for pain and suffering is evaluated as being greater than the inflated deductible might this not apply. Yet benefits that favour claimants, such as an income replacement benefit, are not indexed and remain at the same low rate.
• Maximum benefits for non-catastrophic impairment claims are reduced. Before the announcement, the maximum for medical and rehabilitation coverage and attendant care benefits was $86,000, which is now being reduced to $65,000. (The amounts are totals that combine medical and rehabilitation benefits and attendant-care benefits.) Furthermore, the period for accessing these benefits changes from 10 years to five years (excluding cases concerning children).
• Duration of eligibility for non-earner benefits is reduced from life to a maximum of two years (not including the current six-month waiting period). This will have a major impact on those who previously qualified for higher weekly benefits after two years. Students and teens, for example, who will never work again because of their injuries will have no right to the weekly benefit.
Clearly, the changes will have a devastating impact on accident victims in the stated categories. The new provincial budget provides more reasons why anyone who has experienced pain and suffering due to a motor vehicle accident should seek out legal expertise to benefit from the maximum possible compensation.
Gerald A. Swaye & Associates are personal injury specialists. Practice areas include catastrophic injuries and disability claims in addition to expertise in an extensive number of areas of personal injury law.