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ICBC should require injured victims to find out their rights

Would an insurance adjuster actively discourage you from hiring a lawyer so you won’t know any better than to accept the insurance company’s settlement offer?

Unless ICBC folds, that question is going to be answered in open court. I have learned from reading an interim court ruling that one of this province’s finest personal injury lawyers, Stephen Gibson, is taking the provincial insurance company to task over that very issue.  The Vancouver lawsuit is called Coates v. Triance.

Of course, I don’t need to wait for the outcome of that case to know the answer. I know from those who haven’t allowed themselves to be taken advantage of that there are adjusters right here at the Kelowna claims centre who actively discourage injured victims from hiring lawyers while trying to settle cases for a fraction of what some would consider “fair.”

The interim ruling in the Coates v. Triance case came about because the insurance adjuster who secured the settlement with the 19-yearold injured victim was not forthright in answering questions that had been put to her. In the words of the judge hearing the case: “Many responses are superficial and unhelpful”. As a result, the judge ruled the adjuster will be subject to an oral examination by Gibson.

It’s one thing to be evasive when giving written answers to written questions. It’s quite another to face the likes of Gibson while under oath. I wish I could be a fly on the wall for that one.

The plaintiff in that case was 19 when she settled her case directly with the insurance adjuster. It was approximately six months after the date of the crash, typically way too early to know the full extent of injury ramifications. Through her lawyer, she alleged the settlement was “manifestly unfair and unconscionable”.

Injured victims are entering into unfair settlements all the time. How else has it turned out that ICBC has ended up with $500 million in profits last year?

If you guarantee a mortgage, the bank will require you to obtain independent legal advice before signing the documents. The bank requires you to do so to ensure you go into the deal with full knowledge of your rights. In my view, that should be a minimum requirement of every injury settlement, particularly for an insurance company that uses the slogan “building trust, driving confidence”.

I am not suggesting that every personal injury claimant should have to hire a lawyer. No. I’m just suggesting that they should be required to take that very simple step of spending a few minutes with a lawyer to get independent legal advice before accepting a settlement.

Instead of making that a requirement, though, insurance companies actively discourages injured victims, including those who are just barely adults, from consulting with a lawyer.

Is that as distasteful to you as it is to me?

I hope this case sees the bright light of a public trial and isn’t settled with a gag order so that all British Columbians can hear the result.

Published March 21, 2010 in the Kelowna Capital News