Monday, 2 December 2013

Scarlett and Belair MIG Decision Overturned in Appeal

In the well known Scarlett and Belair case, the claimant was injured in an accident on September 18, 2010. He took the position that he while he did suffer sprains and strains, he also suffered from pre-existing conditions and subsequent psychological disabilities that took him out of the Minor Injury Guideline. After the accident, he was diagnosed with temporal mandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome.  Later there were additional diagnoses of chronic pain and psychological impairments.

In a preliminary issue hearing, the arbitrator found that the MIG is informational and non-binding that was not altered by its incorporation in the SABS.  He also found that the insurer had the onus of proving that the claimant had sustained a minor and and was subject to the $3,500 minor injury limit. In coming to his conclusion, the arbitrator also relied upon a number of cases, his own arguments, and his own English/French translations – without providing the parties the opportunity to make submissions.

The arbitrator's decision caused considerable angst within the insurance industry and a concern that the introduction of a monetary cap for treating and assessing minor injuries would not hold - a significant change introduced by the government in September 2010. However, the Director’s Delegate has allowed the insurer’s appeal in the Scarlett and Belair decision and more importantly confirms that guidelines incorporated in the SABS are binding.  This is important to establish considering the MIG is not the only guideline incorporated in the SABS.

Some of the key points raised in the Director’s Delegate’s decision:
  • The arbitrator failed to address why he found that the claimant’s chronic pain, depressive symptoms and TMJ disorder were separate and distinct from his soft tissue injuries and were not the sequelae thereof.
  • The arbitrator never addressed the test in the SABS of whether the claimant’s impairment was “predominantly” a minor injury.  The SABS recognizes that a claimant may have mutiple injuries but that does not automatically bring he or she out of the minor injury category.
  • The arbitrator erred in finding that the burden of proof lay on the insurer to show that the claimant was subject to the MIG. The burden of proof always rests on the insured of proving that he or she fits within a scope of coverage.
  • The arbitrator was incorrect in implying that $50,000 in medical and rehabilitation expenses was some sort of default coverage.
  • The arbitrator erred in finding that “compelling evidence” simply means “credible evidence”, finding that the word “compelling” means more than “credible”.  As well, the discussion of "credible evidence" was not relevant to this case.
  • The arbitrator erred in finding that the MIG was not binding because it was only a Guideline. The Director’s Delegate found that the MIG is binding because it was issued pursuant to section 268.3 of the Insurance Act, the definition of “MIG in the SABS refers to section 268.3, and the MIG is then applied in section 18 of the SABS, thereby incorporating the MIG into the SABS by reference.
  • The arbitrator should not have been conducting his own research and relying on cases and statutory provisions that he then raised on his own after the hearing, which did not provide the parties the opportunity to respond.
The Director's Delegate remitted the matter to a full hearing before a different arbitrator, on all issues as between the parties.  The new arbitrator may still find that the claimant's impairments fall outside the definition of "minor injury" in the SABS.  It may well be that because of the claimant's other impairments (TMJ syndrome and chronic pain), an arbitrator may find that the claimant's impairment was not predominantly a minor injury.  Should that be the case, hopefully the decision will be based on the policy intent of the 2010 reforms and the SABS.

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