Recently media focus has been on high-profile criminal cases being thrown out of court due to time delays. I am sure most law-abiding citizens of this province are dismayed when a presumed innocent but obviously guilty scumbag goes free, not due to inadequate evidence but court delays. We aren’t talking about good people here. I started to get curious about why these trials get delayed, so I did some research.
Criminal cases are heard in the Supreme Court of BC and there are approximately 1500 new criminal trials per year in BC. While this seems like a lot it pales in comparison to the roughly 65000 new civil cases tried in this court yearly. Even more remarkable is that 20% to 25% of these civil cases are personal injury claims involving ICBC.
This means that violent criminals are going free in part because lawyers and judges are tied up arguing about how much compensation a complainant deserves for their accident-related persistent neck or back pain. I’m not saying that people hurt in car accidents don’t deserve compensation. However, based on my experience the cases that go to trial aren’t about fractures, chest trauma, or abdominal injuries. They usually involve soft tissue injuries of the neck and back. Is this really what we want our Supreme Court to be doing?
We all have patients who are seen frequently for months and years after their fender benders. They have persistent pain and are often unable to work or enjoy their recreational pursuits (ever wonder why patients never seem to have persistent pain and disability after falling skiing or cycling?). These patients often have numerous treatments from physiotherapists, chiropractors, and massage therapists, often with little success.
Usually a lawyer is involved early on, often at the advice of their family, friends, co-workers, barista, or hairstylist. I will admit that all these office visits, ICBC reports, and medical-legal reports pad my income, but I would happily eliminate this part of my practice. The more time I spend on personal injury claims the less time I have to devote to patients with ear infections, coughs, abdominal pain, and so on.
I find these patients often become so focused on their upcoming litigation and entitlement to compensation that they forget what is important: their health and happiness. Often their lives are on hold during this long and arduous process. Interestingly, after a claim is settled these patient’s injury-related office visits and complaints seem to come to an end.
Perhaps there is a better way to deal with car accident victims? The other major provincial institution we interact with as physicians is WorkSafeBC. Dealing with workers’ injuries requires fewer lawyers, and their disputes aren’t plugging the court system. However, I am guessing that the compensation board costs large amounts of money to run.
How about if an individual injured in a motor vehicle accident isn’t satisfied with what ICBC offers they could request binding arbitration? These arbitrators would be appointed according to guidelines developed and agreed upon by both consumers and ICBC. I’m not saying that this is the best solution, but I think it is time to start a dialogue. We need to free up our Supreme Court so that it can do the important work of criminal justice.
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