What the Ontario Budget Means to Innocent Accident Victims and the Administration of Justice in Ontario
The 2019 Ontario budget entitled “Protecting What Matters Most” was released on April 11, 2019. It purports to look after the interest of the ‘little guy’. Sadly the budget suggests that access to justice and protection of the rights of innocent accident victims is not a high priority for this Government. Despite an underfunded, complex and antiquated justice system, the Government plans to reduce overall funding to the justice sector. This will include significate cuts in the range of 30% to our already underfunded legal aid system resulting in even less access to justice for low income individuals. The number of unrepresented litigants before our courts, particularly in criminal and family law matters will continue to grow.
As noted in the budget, over the last 30 years Ontario’s auto insurance system has gone thorough a series of ineffective patchwork reforms implemented by different Governments. After each reform, costs came down temporarily, only to rise again. Unfortunately, the patchwork continues as no comprehensive review of the system is contemplated. Proposals in the budget for stronger anti-fraud measures and online claims process for auto accident benefits will not solve the serious current problems in our automobile accident compensation system. Similarly, eliminating lawyers from the accident benefit process will not make it easier for accident victims to access their entitlement to benefits and compensation. Without legal assistance many injured accident victims will be unable to access necessary benefits and services. Plaintiff lawyers who act for innocent accident victims by way of contingency fee agreements provide access to justice that would otherwise be unavailable.
The budget indicates that the Government plans to work with The Law Society of Ontario to make contingency fee agreements more transparent for injured claimants who choose to hire a lawyer. Transparency is a good idea. The Law Society of Ontario has already embarked on this work and most of the necessary reforms are either already in place or about to be enacted.
There are some positives in the budget. These include the Government’s plans to reform the flawed medical assessment process to bring credibility and accountability to the assessments that injured claimants must undergo after an accident. Also, the plan to restore the default limit (for medical and rehabilitation expenses) in catastrophic injury cases to $2 million from the current $1 million is a welcome change. Like all things, the proof will be in the details which have yet to be released.
The Provincial Government’s wide ranging budget fails once again to invest in our justice system that has been long ignored and underfunded. The Government’s plans to reduce funding for the justice system is disappointing and should be a concern to all citizens of Ontario. The proposed changes to the auto insurance sector and accident compensation regime will not likely make a real difference and will not address the current deficiencies.