Auto insurance injury benefits in Ontario plummet

New figures released by Ontario's insurance industry regulator show that auto insurance companies are paying out dramatically less in accident benefits over the past two years.

Figures released Tuesday by the Financial Services Commission of Ontario show that insurance companies were paying $300 in injury benefits for every car on Ontario's roads in 2012. That's well down from the $764 paid out on average in 2010.

Yet the average premium hasn't dropped anywhere near that rate — auditor general Jim McCarter said in a report last December that Ontario drivers pay significantly more for auto insurance than other Canadians.

"It's not a system that's working. It's not a system that's fair," said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.

"The only people benefiting by the Liberals' initiatives in auto insurance [are] the insurance companies themselves."

But Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan said things are improving.

"Ontario's benefits are now equal to the rest of the country," he said. "They were way out of line before."

The new numbers come as FSCO urges the Ontario government to cut benefits even further. The agency is recommending that those applying for catastrophic injury benefits will have to meet stricter criteria in order to receive the maximum $1 million in benefit coverage.

Lawyers and therapists say this could cut insurance payouts for many victims of serious accidents who have suffered severe spinal cord injuries, paraplegia or who have to undergo amputations.

Jaisa Sulit, who partially severed her spinal cord in a motorcycle accident two years ago, is thankful for the coverage she received. Because of her insurance benefits, she was able to undergo extensive rehabilitation for two years and is now able to walk with the aid of a support stick. She hopes to go back to work later this year.

But under the new rules, she would have only had coverage for half a year and isn't sure if she would be where she is now without that funding.

"I am very scared for anyone who is ever going be in my shoes," she told CBC News in an interview.

"They are not going to have the resources they need to get their life back on track."

Adam Wagman, a personal injury lawyer, says it is important to talk about this issue, because it is "going to get pushed through if people don't know anything about it."

About 800 people suffered catastrophic injuries such as severe brain impairment or paraplegia in 2009, the last year in which such statistics are available. That accounted for about one per cent of all auto accident-related injuries.

The government hasn't yet decided whether to make the change. Duncan said he wants to hear from the public first.

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