By Kate Jackman-Atkinson, Neepawa Banner & Press
Dealing with insurance claims is seldom an enjoyable experience. We insure the things that we value and when we experience a loss, we usually need a speedy resolution. If you’ve lost your home, you need to get the claim settled quickly so you can go about rebuilding. If your car has been totalled, you usually need to settle in order to go about buying a replacement.
Last November, Manitoba Public Insurance announced that they would be launching a Claim Dispute Tribunal (CDT). In the announcement, Crown Services Minister Jeff Wharton explained that the CDT would bring a faster resolution for both physical damage claims and liability disputes. The CDT would be made up of government-appointed adjudicators. The bill, Bill 17 in the current legislative session, received first reading on November 27, 2019.
The goal of reducing red tape is one most voters can get behind. Anyone I know who has been unhappy with MPI’s valuation of their vehicle has found that trying to come to an agreement over the value of a badly damaged or written off vehicle is structured to make the insured take whatever they can get. It’s drawn out, all the while taking place when you’re without a vehicle, maybe even one that you’re still making payments on. The idea of a one-stop, impartial process sounds fantastic. According to MPI’s figures, of the close to 200,000 physical damage claims they handle each year, they are expecting the CDT to review about 700 annually.
Under the current process, any claimant who disagrees with MPI’s assessment of their vehicle’s value has a couple of options. First, they can move to the independent appraisal process. In this, their claim will be placed in the hands of two independent representatives, one representing the insured and one MPI. During this process, the insured can hire an independent vehicle appraiser as their representative. Both representatives will then try to agree on the vehicle’s value or the repairs that are needed. If they agree, both must accept the decision. If the representatives don’t agree, they select a third independent individual, known as an umpire, whose decision is final and binding on both parties. If the representatives can’t agree on the choice of an umpire, the courts will name one. This is a long and cumbersome process, which clearly has room for improvement.
Despite the expected improvement, there are some concerning parts of Bill 17. For example, the bill states that the claim dispute tribunal must make its decision solely on the basis of the written statements and other information or material submitted by the insured and the corporation. This puts MPI, which has a lot of experience preparing documents and valuing vehicles, against their customers, most of whom may only do this once or twice in their life. It also puts applicants who have challenges reading or writing English at an additional disadvantage.
Additionally, the bill outlines that decisions by the tribunal are final and binding. They aren’t subject to appeal or review by a court. Some have expressed concern that those with unique vehicles, such as classic cars, may find themselves with a payout that doesn’t reflect their vehicle’s true value.
There is only one other route for those who are unhappy with MPI’s value, they can take the insurer to small claims court. This option will remain available with the creation of the CDT, but it isn’t available to those with vehicles worth more than $10,000, the value at which small claims are capped.
A change was sorely needed, but care must be taken to ensure the process is truly fair and not rigged in favour of MPI.