Updated LAT stats paint grim picture for timely access to justice
By Kirsten McMahon
Recent License Appeal Tribunal (LAT) statistics reinforce there are severe delays in proceedings, which may create increased pressure on a motor vehicle accident claimant to settle, says Easy Legal Group of Companies President and CEO Larry Herscu.
The data, obtained by the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association (OTLA) through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, reveals that it took an average of 505 days between an application and decision.
In breaking down the amount of time between events in the first quarter of the fiscal year 2020 – 2021, the stats show it took an average of:
- 190 days between the application and the case conference;
- 138 days between the case conference and the hearing; and
- 173 days between the hearing and the decision.
“These timeframes are concerning, especially considering a motor vehicle accident claim doesn’t begin at the LAT. In Ontario, there’s mandatory mediation so it could take a year or more to get the tribunal, and then it’s an average of a year and a half before a decision is rendered,” Herscu says.
“For a claimant who is trying to resolve a dispute about their entitlement to, or amount of, statutory motor vehicle accident benefits and is unable to work due to their injury, these delays can be demoralizing and could force a claimant to settle prematurely,” he says.
Law Times reports that “in an attempt to encourage improvements to the tribunal’s processes,” representatives for OTLA attended a consultation meeting in September with other stakeholders, including the Ontario Bar Association, The Advocates’ Society and the Insurance Bureau of Canada, who raised their concerns and recommended possible solutions.
The updated stats also show certain insurers continue to make up a disproportionately large share of disputes.
“It’s much easier for an insurance company to absorb the costs of delays compared to a claimant with a worsening health condition or a dire financial situation,” Herscu says. “It’s also sad to think these updated stats don’t account for the delays caused by COVID-19.”
The Financial Services Regulatory Authority of Ontario (FSRA) — the consumer protection body that administers and enforces the Insurance Act and its regulations — released guidance in the summer around COVID-19. The document outlines the pandemic’s impact on accident benefits claimants, and how insurance companies should meet their requirements under the Unfair or Deceptive Acts or Practices regulation.
According to FSRA’s guidance, reasonable accommodations by insurers may include but are not limited to:
- Communication: Flexibility in the way insurers obtain the necessary claim information and/or consent from a claimant. For example, allowing a claimant the opportunity to provide information by telephone or email rather than a hard-copy prescribed form with a signature.
- Requirements for determining initial or ongoing entitlement to benefits: After determining the merits of a Statutory Accident Benefits claim, waiving or relaxing requirements that would normally be required to determine a claimant’s entitlement to benefits and goods and services, such as medical assessments/examinations, that cannot be reasonably completed during the pandemic, or permitting these requirements to be met through alternative means, such as virtual assessments/examinations, where necessary and appropriate.
- Access to goods and services related to treatment: Paying for virtual care delivered by an appropriately licensed healthcare professional where reasonable and necessary during the pandemic to meet the medical/rehabilitation needs of the claimant and where the approach to virtual care is supported by the health service provider’s regulatory college.
As of March 2020, the LAT has held case conferences by teleconference and hearings via videoconference, teleconference or in writing, according to the Tribunals Ontario website.
This flexibility is promising, but Herscu says the fact that LAT statistics aren’t readily available is unfortunate.
“I appreciate groups like OTLA pushing hard for transparency,” he says. “Without meaningful data, it’s difficult to invoke significant changes to the system.”
The Easy Legal Group of Companies is a Canadian litigation financing firm. Its lending solutions service the personal injury sector including plaintiffs with pending injury claims, their legal representatives and the service providers involved in their cases. The firm is registered to conduct business in Ontario, B.C., Alberta and the Atlantic provinces. Services are delivered through three brands: Easy Legal Finance Inc., Rhino Legal Finance and Seahold Legal Finance.