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British Columbia B.C. turning to online tribunal to deal with some vehicle accident claims

B.C. Attorney-General David Eby, seen here on March 27, 2019, told a news conference on Friday, that he expects the tribunal’s new role will save about $1-billion a year in court costs.

CHAD HIPOLITO/The Canadian Press

As of Monday, British Columbians with motor vehicle accident claims of $50,000 or less will have to resolve them through an online dispute resolution tribunal that has been part of the justice system for the last three years, but has been used to deal with other types of cases.

It’s a new role for the Civil Resolution Tribunal, and a bid by the NDP government to deal with what the Attorney-General has previously called a “financial dumpster fire” of soaring coats associated with the operations of the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, which is the public auto-insurance provider.

David Eby, the Attorney-General, told a news conference on Friday that he expects the tribunal’s new role will save about $1-billion a year in court costs.

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The province has been trying to figure out how to narrow the expensive gap between the premiums that ICBC collects and the cost of resolving disputes. A financial update released last month showed ICBC had posted a net loss of $860-million in the first nine months of the fiscal year.

Mr. Eby said he expects 80 per cent of such claims now going to B.C. Supreme Court will be going to the Civil Resolution Tribunal, either because they fall under the “minor injury” category covered by the new system or because the value of the claim is $50,000 or less.

“The success of this will be that people are able to access quick resolution. That the system is proportionate to the amount of the claim, $50,000 or less for minor injuries – a faster process, an expedited process, an online process,” he said.

“It’s born out crisis, but I think that ultimately it will really show British Columbians that they have access to a new way of resolving disputes that will be very effective.”

Cases already in the B.C. Supreme Court will be allowed to proceed through to resolution, and accidents that occur before April 1 will also proceed under the former approach.

The Attorney-General acknowledged that the approach will not be popular with trial lawyers in the province and said he understands they have retained lawyers to challenge the new system.

“They believe you can resolve disputes appropriately through B.C. Supreme Court. We don’t obviously agree with their interpretation of the law.”

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Asked for comment, Todd Hauptman, public affairs director for the Trial Lawyers Association of British Columbia, issued a statement saying that his organization will be withholding any comment on Mr. Eby’s news conference until Monday.

He declined any further comment on the issue.

Dealing with motor vehicle injury claims expands the role of the CRT, which has previously dealt with such matters as small claims cases, strata cases and property disagreements.

Launched in 2016 by the previous B.C. Liberal government, the CRT, which the B.C. government touts as Canada’s first and only online dispute resolution tribunal, has operated apart from government as an independent organization.

Its new role, handled by its team of tribunal members and available through an online portal, will include helping determine if an injury is minor under legislation, as well as entitlement to accident benefits and responsibility for the crash at the heart of the matter.

If the parties cannot agree, the tribunal will make binding decisions.

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Michael Lee, the opposition B.C. Liberal critic for the Attorney-General, said his party, which was in power until 2017, never intended the CRT for this new role.

In an interview, Mr. Lee said the tribunal was supposed to improve access to justice, but deal with disputes of a more minor nature.

He said he is concerned about whether the organization can deal with the complexity of these new files, as well as the volume of the cases expected to come their way given their new responsibilities.

He also said it’s unclear whether “vulnerable” claimants suffering from concussions and the stresses of their injuries will be able to navigate the tribunal.

Mr. Eby said other measures will be required to deal with the troubles of ICBC, with further measures coming later this year including “significant increases” in rates for drivers who engage in excessive speeding, distracted driving and driving while impaired.

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