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Ontario’s redefinition of catastrophic impairment puts injury victims at risk

Last June, the Government of Ontario enacted widely-publicized changes to its Statutory Accident Benefits Schedule (SABS) which dictates how benefits are distributed to motor vehicle accident victims. Motor vehicle accident lawyers and advocates for injury victims were particularly disturbed by harsh cuts to available benefits, and for good reason: catastrophically injured individuals had access to a combined $2-million in medical, rehabilitative, and attendant-care benefits prior to the changes, and just $1-million after.

Slashed benefits were not the end of injury victims’ troubles, however. The Government also redefined “catastrophic” injuries, which has had significant negative impacts on some victims’ lives.

What are catastrophic injuries?

Determining whether a person is “catastrophically” injured depends on a number of criteria, including what part of the victim’s body is affected. Brain and spinal injuries are the most common causes of catastrophic impairment, though afflictions like blindness and chronic pain may also qualify.

The Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO), which regulates the province’s auto insurance industry, defines a variety of impairments as catastrophic, including paraplegia and quadriplegia; other injuries that permanently prevent a person from walking or using both arms; total blindness or vision loss in both eyes; and extreme impairment from mental or behavioural disorders.

In general, catastrophic impairment implies that an injury victim’s life has been severely – and often permanently – affected and that their ability to function in daily life has declined. This overarching sentiment holds true following the Government’s 2016 changes, but changes in methodology have impacted accident victims’ ability to access compensation. In particular, the decision to abandon the Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) in favour of imaging technology has drawn the ire of motor vehicle accident lawyers and their clients.

How redefining catastrophic impairment harms victims

An October 2016 report from the CBC illustrates why motor vehicle accident lawyers continue to be distressed by the province’s changes.

“Adam Bari, 34, was mistakenly pronounced dead by police when his motorcycle was T-boned on a rural road in Delhi, southwest of Hamilton, on June 1,” the report reads. “Investigators concluded he was not at fault in the crash.”

Bari suffered major injuries, including brain trauma. He scored a three on the GSC upon arrival in hospital, and an eight later on. Prior to June 1, any score under nine automatically qualified the victim as catastrophically impaired.

Because Bari’s injury occurred on June 1, however, this definition did not apply, and he was deemed not to have suffered catastrophic impairment. As a result, he and his family were able to collect just $86,000 in accident benefits. Had the crash occurred a day earlier, he would have been eligible for benefits of up to $2-million.

The Ontario Government instituted its changes to the SABS in an attempt to reduce auto insurance rates. Unfortunately, the move has done more to disadvantage injury victims – particularly those suffering from catastrophic impairment.

If you or a member of your family has been injured in a serious automobile accident, contact the motor vehicle accident lawyers at Will Davidson LLP today to learn how our dedicated, experienced team can help you access compensation.

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