On March 4th, 2014, the Ontario Government introduced Bill 171, Fighting Fraud and Reducing Automobile Insurance Rates Act, 2014. Ontarians pay the highest auto insurance rates in Canada and have been waiting for them to drop [as the Liberals promised] since the Statutory Benefits Schedule [SABS] came in 2010. Well, they didn’t, they actually increased, so when Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne announced a 15% reduction by 2015 last year (*cue the cheering, confetti and balloons), it looked like there was something to celebrate.

But looks can be deceiving, and no one knows this more than victims of motor vehicle accidents suffering from “catastrophic impairment”. Since 2010, both the Insurance Bureau of Canada [IBC] and the Financial Services Commission of Ontario [FSCO] have lobbied hard to redefine this injury category in order to restrict eligibility to enhanced accident benefits, which include up to $1,000,000 in medical and rehabilitative benefits, up to $1,000,000 in attendant care benefits, up to $100 per week in housekeeping and home maintenance benefits, and up to $250 per week for a caregiver claim, plus $50 per dependant. Initially stalled by former Premier McGuinty’s resignation, Bill 171’s now being fast tracked by the Liberals just in time for the June election. As such, the provincial government may well [to quote Ralph Palumbo, vice-president of IBC’s Ontario Office] “introduce a new definition of catastrophic impairment. If you want to see some rate reductions, that’s the place to start to make sure that unnecessary costs related to catastrophic injuries are taken out so that money goes to people who really need it.”

“…people who really need it.”…? The “catastrophic impairment” definition listed in the 2010 SABS hasn’t really changed in fifteen years. When you read it, you’re struck by terms like “quadriplegia”, “amputation”, “brain impairment” and “total loss of vision”. Now, if losing a limb, your sight or the use of your upper and/or lower body doesn’t qualify you as “in need” of medical help or financial assistance: than what does? According to statistics from the National Collision Database, Ontario has averaged over 200,000 motor vehicle collisions per year for the past ten years. Out of those, only 1% end in “catastrophic impairment” and it’s their victims the Liberals are targeting. Basically, the Wynne government is willing to save Ontario voters money on auto insurance, as long as they don’t mind stepping on the backs of amputees and quadriplegics to get to it. If only a masochist would choose to tango with the FSCO, then only a sadist would pinch pennies at the expense of the blind and wheel-chair bound or aggravate their situation by making a horrendously lengthy and confusing process harder.

Personal injury lawyers understand how painful and frustrating this is for “CAT” victims. Accordingly, countless legal and medical associations have made submissions to the FSCO arguing against Bill 171. Among other things, they’re concerned about added complexity, particularly with respect to the new testing to be used in Catastrophic Assessment Reports. They’re also worried about the increased costs and delays, not to mention the uncertainty tied to new judicial interpretation. Arguably, a narrow definition of “CAT” has grave implications for CAT members of the disabled community. If Bill 171 passes, it will reduce or deny benefits and hinder access to vital medical and rehabilitative services needed to rebuild their shattered lives.

If so, victims will need clarity around CAT designations and testing, as well as additional costs and timelines. A qualified personal injury lawyer will know best how to navigate these new legislative waters and get them and their families on the road to physical and economic recovery.