Two women who were injured in motor vehicle accidents answered questions Monday before the Public Utilities Board (PUB) hearings as part of its review of automobile insurance in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Della Ryan, a single mother of two, was injured in a motor vehicle accident in December 2017 at age 47. She suffered severe whiplash and other injuries after her vehicle was hit from behind which have greatly affected her life and that of her family.
She lost months of work and income, and has struggled physically and psychologically since the accident.
“I would walk 10 kilometres every day, and I would spend at least two hours in the gym every day, and since the accident I have been back to the gym on a couple of occasions to try, but it just don’t work,” Ryan said. “I can’t walk anymore. I can’t lift the weights anymore. I can’t even lift my groceries out of the grocery store anymore.”
Ryan said she wanted to speak at the hearings because she wanted to be a voice for accident victims who might be negatively affected if a minor-injury compensation cap is imposed in the province.
She said it’s not just physical injuries that accident victims face, but mental challenges.
“I think that’s the part that most people overlook when it comes to accidents such as this. There’s so much focus put on the physical part of it, people don’t realize what you go through from a psychological perspective,” she said. “I was diagnosed with PTSD due to a very traumatic event in my life about eight years ago and I like to think I had that under control. I was dealing with that, and life was pretty good, and in the last nine months due to being, I guess, my doctors call my bedroom my safe place. That’s where I hide, that’s where I go to hide, and it has brought my PTSD to the forefront bigger, and uglier, and scarier than I could ever dream possible.”
The PUB has been directed by the provincial government to study the impact on insurance rates of a monetary cap on claims for non-economic loss due to minor injuries, and the implications of such a cap on claimants.
The PUB was also asked to review the impact on insurance rates of continuing with the current deductible of $2,500 or increasing the deductible. The board is also considering options regarding a definition of minor/mild injuries.
Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island all have minor-injury definitions for determining non-economic loss, which have been discussed during the hearings. Those provinces also have monetary caps that limit pain-and-suffering compensation for injuries legally defined as minor.
The PUB will review the impact on insurance rates, and implications on claimants, of monetary caps for non-economic loss of $5,000, $7,500 and $10,000, indexed for inflation.
The PUB was also asked to conduct an audit of taxi closed claims to determine the causes of poor claims experience, including details regarding the underlying causes of loss and high claim costs incurred, and provide any recommendations to reduce claim costs and reduce rates.
Sheila Elliott, 48, a single parent from Bay Roberts, was the victim of three motor vehicle accidents in the past eight years. In two, her vehicle was hit from behind, and in the third she was side-swiped in a hit-and-run. The injuries she has suffered — including neck and back injuries — have affected her daily life, and the life of her family, through the difficulty in performing daily activities.
“Well obviously you can tell it gets to me because I never had any of this (injury problems) before,” Elliott said, becoming emotional at the hearing. “My kids are so active, it does take a toll on you mentally because … like if I’m in pain or everything is slowed down, they got to wait on me because I can’t move that fast or I can’t get out of bed, or if I make any kind of gesture of ‘ow’ or ‘ooh’ they’ll say, ‘Are you OK, Mom? Are you OK?’ It’s like, ‘Yeah, just give me a minute,’ you know. They shouldn’t have to be my crutch to ask me if I’m OK, because I’m their parent.”
Elliott said her life would be much more difficult if it wasn’t for her lawyer advocating for her.
“She has been such an advocate for me and a shoulder to lean on, and has supported me in many ways and without her, I don’t know if I could have done or gotten as far as I could,” Elliott said.
“It’s a life-altering impact, so I wanted to be on this panel because I felt it was needed to be heard because you can’t go back. I can never go back to waking up without any pain anymore. I just wanted to be there for the people that might not speak up, and share my experiences and hopefully it will help in some way and make people understand the results of being injured and the lifestyle you have to lead afterwards.”
Among the foes at battle during the insurance review are the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) — the national trade association that represents 90 per cent of Canada's property and casualty insurers, which include the companies that provide the insurance for homes, businesses and automobiles throughout the country — and the Campaign to Protect Accident Victims, a group of lawyers and law firms representing accident victims in the province.
The IBC maintains that the imposition of a $5,000 cap, plus other reforms that will give accident victims faster access to health care and thus a quicker recovery, is the best option to stabilize insurance premiums.
The Campaign to Protect Accident Victims says accident victims will lose their right to sue for fair compensation if a compensation cap is imposed.
Others, such as Consumer Advocate Dennis Browne, have suggested that if a compensation cap is imposed on minor injuries, maybe a cap should also be imposed on the profits of the insurance companies.
The hearings continue Tuesday.