Costs and Disbursements Driving up ICBC Claim Costs

Wes Mussio

Costs and Disbursements Driving up ICBC Claim Costs

The media in British Columbia is regularly reporting on the rising costs associated with the ICBC insurance system in the Province of British Columbia. However, no one seems to be speaking about “the elephant in the room”.

I have been working in the area of personal injury litigation for over 25 years, initially working extensively with ICBC and now only against ICBC. I’ve seen one factor that has driven up claim costs which no one seems to be willing to speak of.

Claim costs are escalating due to an ever increasing amount of “costs and disbursements” on a file. In British Columbia law, ICBC is required to pay the costs and disbursements of their own defense lawyer as well as that of the injured party. Often times, costs and disbursements end up being 10% to 25% of the entire cost of the claim. Indeed, I just settled an injury claim where the claimant’s costs and disbursements were $135,000 because ICBC refused to fairly negotiate for five years on the claim until just before trial. Clearly, costs and disbursements are one very large ticket item that ICBC can easily manage with a few easy policy corrections. In essence, the current system, because of ICBC’s management or lack thereof, is driving up overall claims costs.

To start with, ICBC tends to “lowball” self-represented claimants. I’ve seen a case where ICBC offered $10,000 to a self-represented quadriplegic knowing full well that the claim is worth millions of dollars as the injuries were catastrophic. ICBC’s own procedures of “lowballing” basically forces many self-represented claimants out to lawyers and then what happens is ICBC has to cover more costs and disbursements for both their own defense lawyer and the claimant’s lawyer.

Even when the case starts with the lawyers, ICBC is extremely resistant to making settlement proposals early. The ICBC adjusters often give the excuse that they need more information and documentation before they can evaluate the claim yet everyone in this industry can predict where the value of the claim is without the information and documentation. The fact that ICBC wants to “paper their file” over the worry of an internal audit means that ICBC’s own policies and procedures drive up claim costs.

Exacerbating the cost and disbursement issue are the medical professionals of British Columbia. Our good doctors have “jacked up” the cost of medical-legal reports exponentially over the last two decades. When I was a young lawyer, a medical report would cost somewhere in the range of $200-$800 but now, even a one or two-page report, is in the range of $1,500- $5,000. Some doctors charge over $10,000 for a report on the basis that they are worth something in the range of $800-$1000 an hour. The end result is that the current system requires that ICBC pay these massive bills.

The fact that ICBC hasn’t taken on the doctors to obtain reasonableness on the part of this procession is driving up costs. The doctors are running an oligopoly in that only a certain segment of the medical profession can write the reports and so there are no real checks and balances to ensure the cost of a medical legal report, is in fact reasonable. There is a large number of medical professionals in British Columbia that are making well in excess of $1 million per year from writing medical reports now. This money is coming from the ICBC ratepayers because of the system of costs and disbursements in British Columbia.

So in summary, with a simple re-evaluation of ICBC’s own internal policies and procedures, ICBC could save literally hundreds of millions of dollars a year. All they have to do is start realistically evaluating and paying claims early as opposed to forcing everyone to spend money on costs and disbursements. The fact that ICBC requires lawyers to order expensive doctor reports in order to “paper the file” for committee review or an internal audit, is a cost the ratepayers should not be required to pay. ICBC also has to challenge doctors that are grossly over-charging ICBC for their services. It’s not every doctor for sure, but it’s a lot of them.

Originally posted on my LinkedIn.

  • Navraj S Heran, MD, Neurosurgeon
    Posted at 04:23h, 24 December Reply

    I read this. Some points are valid. Others not so.

    I agree that certain MDs are stretching fees to possibly there own advantage. This is particularly rampant amongst “fly by night” MDs from other provinces and certain near retired MDs with a limited shelf life and little concern for the future.

    But on the other hand, a simple discussion of fees up front by counsil and expert MD may prevent such tendencies. “Doctor shopping” for an opinion further adds to such costs.

    Certain MDs earn, from MSP, ie, government sources, easily $1000 to 1500/hr. For them, medicolegal work actually is a losing economic proposition but rewarding social endeavour, allowing the right thing to be done but in a different format than day to day medical practise.

    When you want the best steak, do you go to Denny’s? Typically not. Similarly, when you want a thoughtful expert medical opinion, do you go to a fresh graduate, or similarly, someone who no longer sees patients? Probably not. Do you go to the MD who is struggling to get patients or do you go to the one with a crazy busy, highly regarded practise? I would pick the latter. Guess what? Market value.

    What is missing is the “Joint Expert Model”. In several hundred reports, I have been retained in this capacity twice. This would work well for catostrophic injury and “simple” soft tissue injuries, if there are such things as the latter. Similarly, it would probably work well for FCEs, vocational assessments, costs of future care, etc. Why pay twice?

    These are just some unedited bits of thought.

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