Managing Change in a No-Fault Environment

The times they are a-changing

Managing Change in a No-Fault Environment

The introduction of no-fault style automobile accident insurance in British Columba took effect May 1, 2021, after which anyone injured in a motor vehicle accident will not have the right to an action in tort against the person who injured them. Further, the enabling legislation provides any dispute about insurance benefits payable by ICBC must be heard by the Civil Resolution Tribunal. As such, there will be substantially less litigation arising from motor vehicle accident claims. The runway is long: the number of newly commenced motor vehicle accident tort actions will likely begin to decline about a year after no fault comes into effect, and the number of outstanding motor vehicle accident tort actions will likely begin to decline about three to four years later. Roughly 1500-1800 lawyers practice in the area of motor vehicle accident litigation in British Columbia, roughly 2/3 representing plaintiffs and the other 1/3 (including the writer) representing ICBC insured defendants. Although there’s time, those lawyers will have to find new practice areas — but where?

In Trial Lawyers of British Columbia v. British Columbia (Attorney General) 2021 BCSC 348, Chief Justice Hinkson held the legislation granting the Civil Resolution Tribunal exclusive jurisdiction over certain motor vehicle accident injury tort claims and liability disputes unconstitutional as usurping the role of s. 96 courts; however, the Chief Justice upheld the provision granting the Civil Resolution Tribunal exclusive jurisdiction over entitlement to accident insurance benefits under the Insurance (Vehicle) Act. Insurance claimants will likely wish assistance navigating their early interactions with ICBC and matters before the Civil Resolution Tribunal, although there will most certainly be substantially less work than currently available for tort claims. There is opportunity to find creative ways to provide affordable legal support such as assistance writing demand letters, filing CRT claims, or providing legal opinions for their submissions to these claimants.

Lawyers practising motor vehicle accident litigation are regularly in trial, whether for plaintiff’s or insured defendants. They are also experienced at applying foundational legal principals to the specific facts of their client’s case. That experience is transferrable to other areas of litigation. Indeed, some personal injury lawyers have already started expanding their practices into employment litigation, estate litigation, medical malpractice litigation, and class action litigation. Further, there will continue to be litigation surrounding many other types of injury claims. The significant number of self-represented parties in the family courts system suggests there may be an opportunity for seasoned trial lawyers to explore that field, although it will require learning the foundational law, which can be complicated and technical.

Lawyers representing plaintiffs in injury claims have demonstrated innovation in fee arrangements with their clients and in marketing to attract clients. They have learned to trust experts with matters such as marketing and website design. Their sense of innovation will help them develop new practice niches and new ways to make legal services more accessible to the public.

The many lawyers practising in this area are ably supported by talented administrative professionals who may also be affected by this change. Lawyers should remember to support their administrative professionals with training and/or career counseling as they transition their careers.

A substantial majority of people with a legal problem don’t seek any legal advice. Perhaps they don’t know their problem is a legal problem, or that they have legal rights; perhaps they are intimidated by the high cost of legal fees. Lawyers in motor vehicle accident practices have an opportunity to reflect upon opportunities like unbundled legal services and alternative fee arrangements to increase access to justice for those people.

Lawyers practising motor vehicle accident litigation have time and opportunities to diversify their practices. There’s no time like the present to start!

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