I’m unconvinced no-fault insurance has to go

The Gazette’s Max Harrold has an interesting feature today on Quebec’s no-fault driving insurance system. He asks whether or not we should consider eliminating it and allowing victims of vehicular injuries to sue in cases where negligence or recklessness directly leads to serious injury or death. It features three interviews with grieving family members (the third is the mother of Jessica Holman-Price, who was killed by a dump truck turning a corner). All three want the law changed so the guilty pay the innocent instead of getting compensation from the government. (See comment below)

The no-fault system is pretty simple: Everyone’s a part of it, drivers can’t sue each other even if one is clearly at fault, and anyone who sustains an injury gets compensated. In exchange, Quebec has Canada’s lowest insurance premium rates.

But the problem, as the article points out, is that even in cases of dangerous driving (speeding) and impaired driving (drunk driving), perpetrator and victim are treated the same, both compensated based on their level of injury. Only criminal charges can be brought, which then result in probation or light sentences.

Despite the opinions of the families (and really, it’s kind of hard to argue with a grieving widow or mother), I remain unconvinced. It’s not that there isn’t a problem of justice here, but I think other methods are more likely to solve it:

  1. Impose stiffer sentences for drunk driving and dangerous driving, especially when such actions result in death. Speed racing that causes death, for example, should be considered homicide. Make license suspensions longer or even permanent in extreme cases.
  2. Use Manitoba’s system where drivers convicted of criminal charges related to an accident have to pay back any compensation they’ve been given as a result.
  3. Increase the number of police cars on the road so these accidents don’t happen in the first place.
  4. Find some way of forcing those found guilty of criminal offenses to pay the innocent, either by imposing a fine or by allowing lawsuits only when serious convictions have taken place.

Nobody wants to get into a car accident. Even those who are insanely reckless don’t expect to crash. So nothing will seriously act as a deterrent to accidents causing injury (though there are ways to attack the causes of those accidents).
In the end, no-fault insurance isn’t always perfectly fair, but it’s a compromise that keeps lawyers from sucking out all our money after we’ve already been hurt.

16 thoughts on “I’m unconvinced no-fault insurance has to go

  1. HCD

    The problem with the present state sponsored insurance is that the payouts are capped and for most middle-class people do not even come close to paying for the loss of income from being disabled or killed. The SAAQ does a decent job of providing for a rehab that is generally quicker and more thorough than RAMQ, but financial support for survivors is often minimal.

    The problem with the alternative litigation-oriented system is that the administrative court costs and legal delays involved in litigation put a heavy burden on the injured or survivors. Also, anyone injured by a driver who is driving illegally without a license, or who has no insurance for any other reason (stolen car, under-age, restricted licence) will be left high and dry. Suing someone with no money won’t get a victim very far.

    If the SAAQ was more realistic about future income replacement, a public system would probably win my support.

    Anyone planning to drive in the US should make sure they have adequate insurance coverage because the SAAQ coverage that we pay for in the driver’s licence is completely insufficient for the size of awards that are typical to the south of us.

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  2. Denis Canuel

    A friend of mine was hit by a car while walking (hit and run) so I can confirm that our system sucks. She basically paid some care herself as the system was too complex. It was a small sum and she preferred handing it over to her private insurance.

    However, and not sure where I saw this, premiums in Quebec are much lower than in Ontario and they would “take off” like a rocket if we were to switch our system. So, which one is better? I’m not sure but the current system does suck and I think people will be a bit more nervous if you could sue their asses off (especially drunkies and Civic boyz). I lived in the US for a while and over there, you need your basic insurance, PLUS insurance agaisnt people without any insurance (i.e. how can you sue an uninsured & bankrupted individual?)

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  3. Fagstein Post author

    But do you seriously think street racers and other reckless drivers are going to get deterred by the possibility of lawsuits if they’re not deterred by criminal prosecution or even death?

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  4. Denis Canuel

    Err… good point… It might help a little as I think kids (who race) think of themselves as good drivers and invincible (they cannot die). So perhaps we need to think outside the box and allow car modification (in that particular case) but then introduce a special class/condition (you know like 5A). That special class could require yearly car inspections, special driving class/test or a special license place (like those antique cars). I don’t know… Just typing out loud here but there’s probably a way out :) Outlawing never worked so better make some money out of it…

    As far as drunk drivers, I think this will never stop until you make the bar owner part-responsible of the acts caused by the drunk guy (not just driving). It’s pretty fun to get all these drunks money but they (and the alcohol industry) have a social responsibility as well. Some states have a zero tolerance policy, which I think should be the norm in the world but that’s just my way of thinking… Cars don’t kill people, people do. Social pressure should be stronger (like it is with smoking now). We could go on and on and on. Same with guns…

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  5. lori

    While negligent drivers may jeopardize our safety on the roads… a negligent understanding of how SAAQ’s “no fault” insurance operates is just another “crash” waiting to happen.

    Like you mentioned, Quebec drivers pay SAAQ premiums – without question, without choice… but what percentage of this population know all the sides of SAAQ that they are paying into and what they will get back from it – should they unfortunately find themselves in such need. I would like to see the “dark” side of SAAQ publicly exposed.

    The side that chooses to treat criminally convicted drivers with equal compassion and entitlement as their victims. The side that pays out just over one third of its’ total indemnities to convicted drivers! The side that is a financial advocate for the minority who break the law with the monies from a majority who abide by it. The side that slaps a license out of – or a jail sentence into – one hand while, in the case of injury or death, caresses the other with cash. The side that – along with the judicial system – is equally negligent in representing “accountability” that is fair, acceptable, and respectful to victims and their families.

    Exactly how much does this “dark” side of indemnities, lump sum payments, legal proceedings, medical treatments, and repeat offenders cost SAAQ? How much is spent on a victim VS the criminally convicted – in death VS disability?

    I believe that the genuine dissatisfaction that these affected families feel stems from the perverseness that the criminals responsible for their loss are alive and indemnified indefinately and indifferently. In the long run the cost to SAAQ for negligible drivers (who we will assume sustain injuries or psychological trauma) is sure to surpass the payments that were awarded to the victims’ families as a result of the death of a loved one. This is insultingly unfair and I believe is what is reponsible for the desire for entitlement to sue. This is where I agree that SAAQ should implement a “payback” policy like Manitoba and redirect the funds to those affected by a criminally convicted driver… thereby eliminating the need for “blood sucking lawyers” and maintaining a sense of conscious justice.

    Angie Callaghan, one of the widows represented in the article, is a best friend and neighbour of mine. I have been in the trenches of her and the boys’ heartache since that dreaded day 2 years ago… 2 years! And still, justice is lost in a tangled mass of legal scheduling conflicts! Accomodating for everyone involved except the victim’s family. Money is only a very small yet realistic avenue of associated anger.

    The families featured in Max Harrold’s article now know this “dark” side of SAAQ… a side they never expected they were paying into financially… a side they now wish they weren’t paying into emotionally.

    While future ammendments to SAAQ are requested by some – majority support is only possible through public awareness of how the system works today.

    Lori Timmons

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  6. Jeannette Holman-Price

    I can’t comment on what “All three want”, but thank you for your interpretation of my thoughts “the law changed so the guilty pay the innocent instead of getting compensation from the government.”

    I am the mother of Jessica Holman-Price who was slaughtered on the streets of Montreal, and also the mother of Peter Luc Holman-Price who lay on his broken pelvis with the print of one of the 12 wheels etched into his body from his temple to his hip as he watched the rear wheels drive over his sister.

    I for one do not feel that allowing future victims the right to sue would give us compensation from the guilty. It would give us the satisfaction of admission that there was a “guilty party”. Satisfaction which “no fault” in its very essence denies us.

    You are quick to assume that we would sue the driver. The driver was just a catalyst of a system which legalizes vehicular manslaughter. Our nightmare began on 19 December, 2005 – since that date we haven’t been given the luxury to grieve our daughter – we have been constantly dealing with the SAAQ’s demands for personal information, forms completed by doctors in triplicate, proof that my son’s doctors are reporting his condition accurately and under constant scrutiny by their officers.

    If I were to dream of the basic civil right to justice – it would be the SAAQ that I would sue. As the employees of the SAAQ are protected in their ivory towers with the strength of the Automobile Insurance Act standing behind their archaic practices and single focus guidelines we have no hope of reasonable treatment – compensation doesn’t come into the picture. Given the ability to sue – we could hire a lawyer to answer their ridiculous questions on their never ending forms.

    There are two (sometimes four) officers of the SAAQ who we communicate with on a weekly basis. They are able to send out their decisions and their nominal reimbursements when they feel an expense such as a wheelchair falls under their “weekly limits” and we are a family torn apart and with no hope of respite or aid in a fight that we didn’t enter willingly, a fight for which my family are the only players in this game who truly have “NO FAULT”.

    Jeannette Holman-Price
    http://www.thejessicacampaign.com

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  7. Fagstein Post author

    Thank you for your thoughts.

    I hadn’t considered the principle of laying blame on a guilty (or even simply irresponsible) party, which is not an insignificant thing for grieving families.

    No matter what our opinions on no-fault insurance in principle, it’s clear the system doesn’t work, and unfairly punishes the victims.

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  8. karen

    I am currently in a suit whereby my father was driving and we were hit head on by a car that came into out lane . There are five in accident and her insurance is not enough to cover all injuries, my lawyer is asking me if i would consider sueing the driver of the car i was in (Not his fault ) ? I have sustained injuries but have not discussed what the benefits, how come, why I should and not receiving clear answers.?

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  9. Michael

    No-Fault is a GIANT SCAM. Reduced benefits and costs rising. Mostly it’s about the fairness and especially the RESPONSABILITY. With No fault, even if you haven’t done anything, your premium goes up. When you know that you can get sued and get premiums sky rocket, then you think twice before acting. But there is always the moron, who wont think. Then punish him hard enouugh that he’ll just get off the road by not being able to afford auto insurance. No-Fault is basically the good driver subsidizing the bad driver. That’s fair? Premiums dont go up when you have “at fault” exept for the bad driver.

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  10. Jeannette Holman-Pri

    Michael, I liked your use of highlighted words – as we continue to battle the SAAQ for payment of appropriate treatment for our son. The word SCAM is right on the mark – given their “rehabilitation” objectives and responsibilities – they MAY cover $35 of the Occupational Therapy prescribed for my son (which actually costs $85/hour) or $65 of the Psychology treatment (which actually costs $140 – $180/hr). Even at these half-price compensatory measures – they still argue each and every therapy. We have to prove that the OT, Physio, Psychology etc. is necessary because of his broken hip, broken pelvis, broken shoulder or brain injuries….and if their doctors believe there could have been another cause or they can find one… they relinquish RESPONSIBILITY and we get no coverage at all.
    RESPONSIBILITY – my children were at a street corner, on the sidewalk near a cross walk with a green light in their favour and they were struck down by an IRRESPONDIBLE (?) driver and we are left to subsidize the saaq’s RESPONSIBILITY and cover the payment of our son’s care – while we also have to deal with the carnage of what this has done to our daughter, our son and our family. I assure all Quebecers – if you find yourself a victim of the saaq you would have hoped you opted for higher premiums which could have offered you appropriate – affordable care.

    How many people are aware of the compensation received by the drivers of these murder weapons. Do you know that while we fight for pennies – the families of the “no fault’ drivers are left to support their loved one with a salary reimbursement of 90% up to a maximum of $57,000 per year. The drivers don’t receive increased premiums – but their salary reimbursement is index linked – so it goes up with inflation. I haven’t received a salary since the day by family was torn apart! We could cover a lot of OT, Physio and Psychology if I were able to receive 90% of my salary as we take RESPONSIBILITY for the care, treatment and recovery of our son.

    I can think of more words for the SAAQ – and the entire “no fault” system. ARCHAIC, BARBARIC, OUT-OF-DATE, IMMORAL, NEGLIGENT, DELUSIONAL. the word I would like to see attached to them would be “OUTLAWED”#

    FAGSTEIN – please feel free to publish my email and website.

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    1. randy

      you got that right sorry to hear about your daughter and son they like to take all the money from us but give us nothing back the system is 40 years behind i got hit by car driver was distracted by her radio and ran into me i was ajected ten feet from the car i fractured my wrist hurt my left leg hurt shoulder and neck still sore after two and half months and i have ptsd they sent me a check for 988 dollars for pain and suffering i wasnt working they told me to go on well fare 713 per month how do you live on 713 per month when you cant work it sucks . i,m a truck driver drove many years thank god i never hurt anyone most truck drivers are like me good drivers i will tell you one thing i see some of these truck they cant drive a car nevermind a truck there are drivers they buy there lic here these day anywhere you drive you have to wacth for your self and others at all times i wish you and your family the best of luck in the future .

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      1. Jeannette

        Randy I hope you’d make contact. I can’t offer legal advice or financial help, but I can give you the benefit of my experience fighting this organization.

        If Fagstein is OK to share my contact – I am always open – Jeannette@thejessicacampaign.com, please get in touch and mabye I can help by showing you some of the appeals we’ve launched – and won!

        Take care, thanks for the encouragement and good luck.

        Jessica’s mom

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  11. Jeannette Holman-Price

    Still unconvinced….I would hope that the many other families out there who continue to fight for what little help they can get to cover rehabilitation costs….Look at the recent articles in both French and English press….Holman-Price vs. SAAQ – may help them to have hope that the system can be beaten – and give them the one case they need as an example to go forward. Until we manage to have the whole sytem updated/removed…let’s do our best to beat the SAAQ with their own rules.

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    1. Theresa Campese

      September 22 09 will be 5 years that I have been ruined for life. I was hit by a car while I was crossing the street. No I do not hate the driver, no, I can not blame anybody without hurting him too, but, it is I that suffer the conse

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      1. randy

        hi i got hit by car crossing street lady ajusting radio and going 10 kelometers over the speed limit its been a month now i have a fractured wrist injurd left leg sore neck headacke almost every day i,m stressed out don,t even want to go out for walk to corner store with no fault saaq wont even pay for bus pass because i wasn,t working at the time of the accident thats sucks i have to live on 588 per month on well fare until i,m better

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  12. Joe

    What really is culminating here in our car driving society is that the whole system has to be changed. The cars are still way to big and heavy, the speed limits are way to high for a big chunk of the population (misfits). Thousands of bad accidents will keep happening cause of 120 km speeds, crazy roads, crazy insane weather… I feel, i mean we really feel that it’s time to slow everything down and bring back affordability to the car lifestyle and keep auto insurance has low as possible. What is not surprising enough is the lack of concern that people have, we never hear from the general population how crazy our society is, of having to share the roads/highways with complete strangers who could not care less about ourself/family. I’m including also the nice people in general in our society that can be so careless and heartless at the snap of the fingers. I say we should change the whole car commute system for the sake of humankind and nature.

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