A proposed class action lawsuit has been filed in B.C. Supreme court which, if successful, could mean every provincially-insured driver and injured crash victim in British Columbia will be in line for a share of almost $1 billion.
The civil action, launched against the B.C. government and the Insurance Corporation of B.C. (ICBC), packs a one-two punch.
It alleges a secret agreement has allowed the B.C. government to skim hundreds of millions of dollars from ICBC to pay doctors’ fees for injury victims — instead of billing the province’s taxpayer-funded Medical Services Plan.
And the lawsuit claims the claw-back by the province of up to $60 million a year from ICBC has driven-up the public insurer’s annual operating costs — contributing to rising driver insurance premiums and lower injury pay-outs to crash victims.
The accusations come after revelations the previous B.C. Liberal government raided the insurance corporation’s surpluses to fill provincial coffers— something Attorney General David Eby has promised to end, declaring the practice “treated ICBC like an ATM.”
The proposed class action claims the newly revealed medical drain on the Insurance Corporation also “raided ICBC’s budget”— taking medical fees from the insurance corporation, which passed the cost to drivers and injury victims.
It alleges the “unlawful scheme” has been used by every provincial government since the creation of the public insurer in 1973 — including Eby’s NDP.
The action seeks to recover an estimated $899,724,536, plus damages and interest.
‘You can’t trust them’: Brayden Methot
The lawsuit has been filed by the prominent Murphy Battista law firm on behalf of two types of plaintiffs: the “ratepayer class,” representing all insured drivers, and the “accident class,” representing injury victims.
Brayden Methot, 29, is the lead plaintiff for those severely hurt in crashes.
He says the civil action sends a message to the provincial government and the public auto insurer.
“Thanks for ripping me off,” he says.
Methot was rendered a quadriplegic in a roll-over crash near Kamloops in 2014 and has struggled to survive on the $1,300 a month he receives in benefits.
He lives in Williams Lake with his parents.
Methot was awarded $160,000 for his injuries, but believes doctors fees were deducted.
The lawsuit alleges “ICBC wrongfully represented to [accident victims] they had reached the limit of their accident benefits, when they had not.”
“I thought you could trust ICBC to look after these things while I [was] in the hospital,” says Methot. “I’m already overwhelmed with the injury. And knowing that they take advantage of somebody that’s in my situation … you can’t trust them for sure.”
‘I want my money back’: Bob Rorison
Bob Rorison, 70, is the second lead plaintiff, and represents all B.C. motorists who have paid compulsory auto insurance through ICBC.
“I want my money back,” says Rorison. “And everybody in British Columbia deserves their money back if they purchased insurance from ICBC.”
Rorison has had coverage through the insurance corporation since 1973 and hasn’t had an at-fault accident in those ensuing years.
Yet as an “impeccable driver” he’s watched his premiums rise steadily.
Now Rorison says he believes the alleged “remittances” for medical fees contributed to those increases.
“I feel like it’s dishonest. It’s not right.”
Lawsuit in the works for 2 years
The proposed class action comes as the B.C. government is embroiled in a bitter fight with trial lawyers over its move toward “no fault” insurance.
But Murphy Battista lawyer Scott Stanley says his firm has been working on this lawsuit for more than two years.
“People need to be able to trust public institutions, especially when they have no choice and are forced to use them,” says Stanley. “Even [multi-billionaire] Warren Buffett would have a tough time running an insurance company if government was allowed to just take money from it.”
The civil claim alleges negligence, misfeasance, breach of trust and breach of contract by the B.C. government and ICBC.
The allegations haven’t been proven in court.
Both the government and ICBC say they have yet to be served with the lawsuit, and will review it before determining their next steps.
The B.C. Supreme Court will ultimately decide if the proposed class action is to be certified — and fought.
‘It needs to be fixed’
If the civil suit is approved and succeeds, both Rorison and Methot would share in any settlement reached on behalf of all B.C. drivers and crash injury victims.
But they say it’s not about the money.
“I’m here for the moral stance,” says Rorison. “You don’t let people take money from you incorrectly for 45 years and then ignore it. It’s simply not right. It needs to be fixed.”
With files from Paisley Woodward
CBC Vancouver’s Impact Team investigates and reports on stories that impact people in their local community and strives to hold individuals, institutions and organizations to account. If you have a story for us, email email@example.com.