Scott Shepherd was walking down a North Vancouver sidewalk when a car jumped the curb and launched him into the air.
The impact sent him hurdling into someone’s nearby garden, where his forehead bounced off a rock, knocking him unconscious.
That was 10 months ago. Since then, Shepherd’s life has been put on hold. A single father, he was one of the first in the province to trial the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia’s (ICBC) new “no-fault” insurance paradigm. Now, he says, he’s testament to a public institution mired in bureaucracy.
“It's been an absolute nightmare,” he recently told Glacier Media.
Branded “Enhanced Care,” ICBC’s “no-fault” insurance model went into effect May 1, 2021, as part of a government push to lower insurance premiums and pull itself out of debt.
To do that, most crashes now don’t go to court in order to hash out costly lawsuits; instead, ICBC directly pays victims money, reimbursing them for the cost of rehabilitation and lost income.
Of the $1.5 billion ICBC said it will save annually under the new system, most of the money is earmarked to go towards boosting benefits to crash victims with the intention to lead to improvements in access to everything from massage therapy, personal care assistants and payments for lost wages.
A SLOW RECOVERY
Initially, Shepherd said he was forced to pay out of pocket for some of his care. But since then, he says he has hounded ICBC with paperwork to ensure he has been reimbursed.
Shepherd had just started a new career in life insurance a month before the accident. Today, he says he still struggles to look at a screen for more than an hour or two. Going back to that job remains a distant possibility.
“I can't look at a computer screen that long without the room spinning. So I just… I'm not at a position where I can do it,” he said.
A former pro golfer, he also used to teach classes on a regular basis — sometimes travelling to other courses to host weekend clinics or training six clients at a time.
Today, one of his lasting injuries is a damaged ankle that sometimes leaves him limping and prevents him from teaching like he used to.
ICBC has covered twice-a-week physiotherapy, which Shepherd says has been intense but helpful.
“Some days are better than others. There are some days that I just hardly move,” he said.
Last week, Shepherd said he finally got a call from a doctor’s office, who on the behest of ICBC, asked him to come in to assess his injuries.
“You're calling 10 months after an accident to assess my injuries and come up with a bang for my recovery?” he questioned.
INCOME REPLACEMENT LESS THAN HALF OF CLAIM
Getting enough money to live has been a challenge, Shepherd says.
About a month after the accident, he submitted a claim for an Income Replacement Benefit from ICBC. That meant gathering letters from his employer testifying to what he would have earned had he been able to work and receipts from his golf clients to show how much he would have made on the side.
When Shepherd received a decision about two and a half months later, he says the corporation offered him less than half of what he had asked for. After deductions, he says he started receiving a little over $1,500 every two weeks in August, nearly three months after the accident.
Under Enhanced Care, ICBC pays 90 per cent of an individual's income if they are hurt in a crash. But unless you have purchased additional coverage, a crash victim is only covered up to $100,000 in gross income. That's more than double the $740-per-week ceiling available under the previous system.
But Shepherd says his bi-weekly income replacement payments work out to roughly $39,000 per year — barely enough to cover his rent and support his child, he told Glacier Media.
“You feel kind of strong-armed to accept whatever they're going to give you,” Shepherd said. “They just want to wait and drag it out and just accept whatever they'll give you and go away.”
The North Vancouver man says he’s been lucky because he had some savings to top up the ICBC payments. But those won’t last.
While accepting the payments, Shepherd has challenged ICBC’s Income Replacement Benefit assessment through its fair practices office.
Last week, he got a response: his challenge was rejected.
“I’m concerned that I start working even a little bit that's gonna jeopardize this whole thing,” he said.
In an email, ICBC spokesperson Brent Shearer said that in most cases, if a customer begins working and earns income, the enhanced care payments will be adjusted to keep their total income at the same level.
“For example, if a customer is earning $1,000/week on their income replacement benefit entitlement and they start a graduated return to work at $800/week, ICBC would top up the difference to their entitlement so they continue to earn $1,000/week,” said Shearer.
‘I COULDN’T BE LESS AT FAULT’
Shepherd says the whole experience has left him exasperated. North Vancouver RCMP confirmed to Glacier Media the person who hit Shepherd received a 24-hour driving prohibition and a violation ticket for driving without due care and attention.
“According to the police who followed up with me, that was the stiffest penalty they could give him under the law,” Shepherd said.
North Vancouver RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Peter DeVries noted if enough evidence exists to ticket, impound a vehicle or make a charge recommendation to the BC Prosecution Service, police will do so. In the last case, sentences are handed out by a judge.
But according to the ICBC website, people are only able to sue if the at-fault driver is convicted of certain Criminal Code offences that led to the accident, like impaired driving.
For Shepherd, the idea of applying the “no-fault” paradigm to an extreme situation like his is absurd.
“I was not jaywalking. I was on the sidewalk. I wasn't texting. My phone was in my pocket. I just simply did not have time to get out of the way,” he said. “And I couldn't be less at fault.”
A handful of other car accident victims have reached out to him since Glacier Media first published his story in May 2021. In what he described as a “mini support group,” the victims have tried to organize.
“It's just when we both have, you know, kids and we're trying to get our own recoveries underway, it’s tough,” he said.
Under the “no-fault” system, victims like Shepherd can’t seek help from a lawyer. So the victims have leaned on one another to piece together information from each of their cases, whether that’s appealing decisions to a fairness manager or guessing at timelines.
So far, Shepherd says he has been “at the mercy of ICBC.”
“They hold all the cards. They get to decide. Judge, jury, executioner. They get to decide how much my life is worth,” he said.
In one of his last chances to challenge ICBC’s decision, Shepherd is waiting for a chance to access a Civil Resolution Tribunal.
But some experts say victims will have a hard time representing themselves. Now the head of Stratford Underwriting in North Vancouver, Colin Brown is the former chief underwriter of ICBC, where he helped establish the corporation’s operational framework. He says the new system is stacked against people who get injured.
“There’s no way of resorting to litigation, which is sort of democracy’s way of saying 'you screwed me over, you’re going to regret it,'” said Brown shortly after Shepherd’s accident.
But according to ICBC spokesperson Shearer, "Enhanced Care" removes the "adversarial approach of suing drivers," lowering insurance premiums and redirecting money to "help people get better instead of funding legal fees."
Shepherd, for his part, says he has spoken to eight different law firms. Each of them has the same message: their hands are tied; only the public will be able to drive change.
Equally frustrating, he says, is the shame that comes with suffering chronic injuries that show few visible signs of physical trauma.
“They can't see when I'm dizzy or if I opt out of a social event because my head is killing me. People don’t see that.”
Shepherd says he and the other victims he’s in touch with are trying to organize themselves to push back against ICBC’s policies.
“I get everyone wanted lower car insurance rates,” he said. “But this is not a good trade-off,” he said.
“Realize, it’s gone a little too far… it's got to be able to take care of the people who get hurt.”