December 10, 2018. Vancouver Sun, by David Eby. As quoted in the article:
Recently, Ron Nairne, the incoming president of the Trial Lawyers Association of B.C., wrote in this newspaper that I was “Trump-like” for implying that the actions of lawyers were increasing the financial bleeding at ICBC. I respectfully disagree.
In Metro Vancouver and South Vancouver Island, it’s impossible to miss advertisements of lawyers offering a phone number for you to call immediately following a car crash.
One of these ads even features an actor from the film Good Will Hunting, portraying what a reasonable person would assume is a distinguished looking silver-haired lawyer wearing a suit. He is not a lawyer. He is an actor. The ad describes him in the fine print as a “non-lawyer/paralegal employee of Preszler Law LLP.”
Well, I guess that’s true. What’s also true, according to data from Numerator Advertising, is that Preszler Law is the top advertising injury law firm in B.C., spending $617,000 on advertising last year, and $468,000 from January to September of this year.
More broadly, Numerator reports that plaintiff injury lawyer advertising is up 21 per cent in the last year in B.C. Google confirms that personal-injury plaintiff lawyers in B.C. spend the most in Canada for Google search advertising to capture audiences, spending three times as much as Alberta lawyers and more than double Ontario lawyers.
The explanation for the spike in B.C. advertising spending is simple: the current insurance system in our province has been uniquely generous to lawyers. Not so much to those paying for insurance and those injured in collisions, whose benefits haven’t increased since the 1990s. Our system is the last in Canada to face significant reforms curtailing legal costs despite the fact that ICBC now reports that almost half of the average collision settlement in B.C. isn’t going to the injured person, but toward legal costs and lawyers’ fees.
ICBC tracks these numbers because ICBC cuts the cheques at the end of the day. Cheques drawing on money paid into ICBC by drivers through their insurance premiums.
I can understand why some B.C. personal-injury lawyers are defensive when I point this out. They don’t get the respect they deserve for their work. While it is true that legal costs are out of control, it is also true that many lawyers in B.C. provide real and meaningful help to people who are injured and who can’t help themselves.
I know this from personal experience. My father was a personal-injury lawyer. He put food on our family’s table by helping people who were injured in car crashes, or otherwise through the negligence of someone else. I’ve personally brought personal-injury actions as a lawyer on behalf of low-income clients attempting to seek justice.
I have great respect for the work of personal-injury lawyers and I understand that they are only working to maximize the interests of their client within the system as it stands. I also appreciate the concern that some lawyers have about the major reforms that will be fully implemented April 1 of next year. At the risk of sounding Trump-like, we expect the financial impact to be “huge.”
Reforms to Ontario’s car insurance regime to try to get costs under control in the 1980s just about put my father’s law practice out of business. My mother returned to work earlier than planned to close the financial gap for our family.
This isn’t happy work for me, but the reason we’re taking these steps should be obvious. Almost every accident claim dispute in B.C. goes to B.C. Supreme Court. Multiple expert reports, costing thousands of dollars each, are deployed by both sides throughout the average dispute, many of which will last five years. ICBC, or rather B.C. drivers, pay for the reports, the lawyers on both sides, and all of the costs of delayed resolution. And things aren’t getting better. Since March 2017, plaintiff counsel are spending more to build their files, increasing their average cost of experts and reports by 20 per cent.
No lawyer who does ICBC work should tell you that the current system is cost-efficient or that there is no issue with the legal system driving costs at ICBC. Nobody knows better than these lawyers do about what is happening.
The previous government tried to avoid this reality by cutting out pages from a report that recommended these changes years ago before releasing that report to the public. That’s not our government’s approach. There is now a new board at ICBC and a new CEO. We are doing the work to get costs at ICBC under control in a way that is fair to drivers, collision victims, and preserves as best as possible the best parts of our tort law system for those facing catastrophic injuries.
The major parts of the legal reforms related to ICBC kick in on April 1. It’s not a moment too soon. In fact these changes are about five years overdue. Our government will continue this necessary work until ICBC is back on track, providing affordable insurance and great benefits to British Columbians.
David Eby is B.C. attorney general.