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Posts Tagged ‘Arbitration’

Scarlett and Belair Appeal Allowed – Remitted to Another Hearing

The Financial Services Commission of Ontario has allowed the appeal of a previous arbitration decision with respect to the Minor Injuries Guidelines (MIG).

In the appeal decision Scarlett and Belair Insurance [FSCO P13-00014] Director’s Delegate David Evans allowed the appeal of the earlier decision by Arbitrator Wilson.  Our original blog post on this decision can be referenced by clicking here.

Director’s Delegate Evans has ordered that all issues be subject to a full hearing before another arbitrator.

This appeal decision provides a few glimpses of what is likely to come from a new arbitration hearing with respect to the Minor Injury Guidelines:

  1. The dominant test of whether a person falls into the MIG is if the injury was predominantly a minor injury;
  2. The burden of proof always rests on the insured, not the insurer, of proving that he or she fits within the scope of coverage;
  3. “Compelling evidence” is more than “credible evidence”; and
  4. The MIG is binding and is not only advisory.

The Director’s Delegate also noted that the arbitrator’s decision breached procedural fairness by raising cases and statutory provisions of his own accord after the arbitration hearing without providing notice to the parties or an opportunity to respond.

FSCO Releases Decision Clarifying What Is a “Medical Reason” for Denial of a Benefit and Insurer’s Examination

The Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO) has released a decision clarifying what is considered to be a “medical reason” for an insurer to deny a benefit and for the insurer to demand that an insured attend an insurer’s examination under Section 44 of the Statutory Accident Benefits Schedule (SABS).

In the decision, Kadian Augustin and Unifund Assurance Company [FSCO A12-000452] Arbitrator Susan Sapin considers whether or not Ms. Augustin is allowed to dispute the insurer’s denial of treatment because she failed to attend an insurer’s examination.  In order to make a determination Arbitrator Sapin needed to consider whether or not the insurer’s examination was compliant with the SABS.

Unifund wanted to send Ms. Augustin to an insurer’s examination to determine if she was within the Minor Injury Group (MIG) after receiving a treatment plan that, if approved, would take her out of the MIG.  Unifund provided the following notice to Ms. Augustin in their Explanation of Benefits: “Based on our review of the medical documentation provided to date, we require an assessment by an independent medical assessor, in order to determine if your impairment is predominantly a minor injury as described in the Minor Injury Guideline. Please see the Notice of Examination for further details.”

Arbitrator Sapin found that this explanation did not comply with Section 38(8) of the SABS because it did not state that Unifund “believes” the MIG applies, or why.  Nor did it state the “medical reasons and all of the other reasons why the insurer considers any goods or services, or the proposed costs of them, not to be reasonable and necessary.  The arbitrator noted that it provided no reason, medical or otherwise, explaining why it refused to pay the benefit.

Arbitrator Sapin goes on to explain,

Although this might seem a very fine point, that is what the sections [38(8), 38(9) and 38(10)] actually say. The legislature chose this wording, and recognised principles of statutory interpretation require me to interpret it in a reasonable fashion and in the overall context of the accident benefits scheme. Given that an insured person’s treating practitioner must provide a factually based medical opinion to support a claim for treatment outside the MIG, I find it is reasonable to require an insurer who chooses to refuse to pay an initial claim to counter with something more than simply a desire “to determine if your impairment is predominantly a minor injury as described in the Minor Injury Guideline,” as Unifund has done in this case. This is particularly so where, as in the case here, Unifund refused to pay for the treatment pending an IE, a response I find undermines the stated purpose of the MIG to provide access to early treatment, a purpose based on sound medical principles.

The arbitrator also provides a guideline for insurers for a proper denial of an application for a benefit that would take the insured out of the MIG as follows:

I find it follows logically from these requirements that in its s. 38(8) notice to the insured person that medical benefits will not be paid, the insurer, in explaining why the benefits are not payable, must indicate that it has reviewed the Treatment and Assessment Plan and any medical documentation provided; compared it to the criteria in the MIG; and determined either that there is insufficient compelling evidence (of pre-existing injuries or conditions, for example) or insufficient medical documentation to persuade it that the accident injuries fall outside of the MIG, and therefore, the insurer believes the MIG applies and the treatment claimed is not reasonable or necessary (because the treatment does not conform to the MIG treatment protocols, for example). I find that type of response would meet the insurer’s obligation to provide “medical reasons” as required by s. 38(8) when it chooses to refuse benefits because it believes the MIG applies.

Also of note is the arbitrator’s distinction between a “medical reason” and a “medical opinion”:

A medical opinion, such as that required of the health practitioner who submits the Treatment and Assessment Plan, is based on facts obtained from an assessment of the insured person’s medical condition, in person or otherwise. As stated above, an insurer does not have the benefit of its own medical opinion at the time it receives the initial treatment plan, and can only obtain one by exercising its right to an IE, founded in s. 38(10), and for which rules are set out in s. 44(5).

With respect to the need for a medical reason to be provided by an insurer when notifying the insured for their need to attend an insurer’s examination under Section 44 of the SABS, Arbitrator Sapin states as follows:

As stated above, I find s. 38 and s. 44 must be read together, as the right to an IE is founded in s. 38(10) and arises from the insurer’s right under s. 38(8) to refuse a claim for treatment. I have already identified that the “medical reasons and all of the other reasons” in the refusal notice should include, at a minimum, a statement that the claims adjuster has reviewed the MIG and the treating health practitioner’s medical opinion, and has concluded that the health practitioner has not provided compelling evidence that the person’s injuries are outside the MIG, or that the treatment claimed is reasonable or necessary. The “medical and other reasons for the examination” in the Notice of Examination under s. 44(5) should contain substantially similar information.

This decision can be read in its entirety by clicking here.

FSCO Arbitrator: Insurer Cannot Dictate Claimant to Have Amputation as a Remedial Procedure

The Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO) has released an arbitration decision regarding the calculation of a whole body impairment rating when assessing whether or not an insured meets the criteria for a catastrophic impairment under the Statutory Accident Benefits Schedule (SABS).

Under the Ontario Accident Benefits regulations, an insured who is deemed to be catastrophically impaired has increased limits on various accident benefits.

In D.B. and Economical Mutual Insurance Company [FSCO A12-000632] Arbitrator Killoran dealt with the complex issue as to whether or not the insured, D.B., who suffered serious orthopaedic and psychological injuries in a motor vehicle accident in November 2008, suffered at least a 55% whole body impairment rating under the AMA Guidelines, in order for her impairments to be deemed catastrophically impaired.

D.B.’s lower leg injuries required five surgeries and she is unable to walk independently.  She is confined to a wheelchair for 99% of her time.  The only time that she does not utilize a wheelchair was when she goes to the washroom, and only with the use of rails.

Economical tried to argue that D.B. should have her leg amputated, which would then reduce her impairment rating to the point that she would not meet the criteria for catastrophic impairment.

Arbitrator Killoran stated that,

No doctor, insurer, arbitrator or judge can dictate to D.B. that she must have an amputation as a remedial procedure.

This decision can be read in its entirety by clicking here.

Notice of Insurer’s Examinations Must be “Straightforward and Clear”: FSCO

A recent decision by the Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO) has clarified that an insurer cannot penalize an accident benefits claimant for not attending an insurer’s examination in certain circumstances.

In the decision Kelly Quinones and Unifund Assurance Company [FSCO A12-000866] Kelly Quinones wished to dispute Unifund Assurance’s stoppage of her attendant care and housekeeping and home maintenance benefits.  Unifund argued that Ms. Quinones was prohibited from proceeding to arbitration pursuant to Section 55(2) of the Statutory Accident Benefits Schedule (SABS) because she had failed to attend the scheduled insurer’s examinations.

Ms. Quinones’ accident benefits insurer, Unifund Assurance, sent out a notice to her that she was required to attend insurer’s examinations for the purpose of determining her entitlement to attendant care and housekeeping and home maintenance benefits.

In this particular case Unifund did not specify who the assessor would be in their notice and referred to the profession as “OT”.  Arbitrator Maggy Murray noted that “OT” is not a regulated health profession.  It was clarified that “OT” was an abbreviation for “Occupational Therapist”, which is a regulated health profession.  However, Arbitrator Murray noted that,

Insurers must “explicitly and unambiguously advise” insureds in “straightforward and clear language, directed towards an unsophisticated person,” the information set out in s.44(5) of the Schedule.  An unsophisticated person may not know what an “OT” is.

 

FSCO: Mediation Backlog will be over by September 2013

The Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO) is reporting that the backlog of mandatory mediations will be over by the end of August, 2013.

When an accident benefits insurer denies a benefit, such as medical treatment, a mediation through FSCO is the mandatory first step in the dispute resolution process.  In previous years a mediation date would often take up to one year from the date the mediation application was submitted.  Judicial and arbitration decisions (ironically from arbitrators at FSCO) deemed that a mediation must be conducted within 60 days in accordance with the Dispute Resolution Practice Code or it can be deemed to have been failed.

FSCO provided statistics and timelines with respect to the backlog.  These can be viewed by clicking here.

First MIG Decision Released by FSCO

The Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO) has released the very first decision with respect to injuries that fall within the Minor Injury Guidelines (MIG).

In Lenworth Scarlett and Belair Insurance Company Inc. [FSCO A12-001079], Arbitrator John Wilson has provided clarification regarding what injuries subject an insured person to a maximum of $3,500.00 in medical and rehabilitation benefits.

While Mr. Scarlett suffered soft-tissue (whiplash) injuries in his motor vehicle accident, he was also diagnosed with Temporal Mandibular Joint Syndrome, as well as psychological issues.  Despite the provision of documentation that supported injuries beyond those subject to the MIG, Belair maintained its position that he was subject to the MIG limits for accident benefits.  As Arbitrator Wilson pointed out, “In essence, Mr. Scarlett’s attempts to claim certain benefits from Belair were being rebuffed because Belair took the position that he was within the MIG and either the benefits were not payable or they were in excess of what was required to be paid under that approach.  This appeared to be a major stumbling block since, even when Mr. Scarlett provided further evidence of complicating features of his claim that in his mind took it outside of the MIG framework, he was met with the same response.”

Arbitrator Wilson outlined the critical elements of the MIG as follows:

  • Persons who suffer minor injuries (as defined) should be treated appropriately, with early, quick and limited intervention to assist in recovery.
  • The decision or not to treat an insured either within the Minor Injury Guideline or not should be made on the basis of credible medical evidence and not on speculation.
  • Even those persons who otherwise might be within the MIG can be treated outside of theGuideline if there is credible medical evidence that a pre-existing condition will prevent the insured person from achieving maximal recovery from the minor injury.

Arbitrator Wilson then goes on to determine that the onus is on the insurer, not the insured, with respect to determination of a person’s injuries falling within the MIG.  He states, “I accept that in the absence of clear legislative direction that would override the existing jurisprudence as to burden of proof, it remains the Insurer’s burden to prove any exception to or limitation of coverage on the civil balance of probabilities.”

The Arbitrator concludes his decision as follows:

The insurer is in effect mandated to make an early determination of an insured’s entitlement to treatment beyond the MIG.  In essence, because of the necessarily early stage of the claim when the MIG is applied, the determination must be an interim one, one that is open to review as more information becomes available.

What is not is the “cookie cutter” application of an expense limit in every case where there is a soft tissue injury present.  Such does not respond either to the spirit of the accident benefits system or the policy enunciated in the Guideline of getting treatment to those in need early in the claims process.

While it is quite possible that the majority of claimants can be accommodated within the MIG, averages are misleading when applied to individual cases.  Each case merits an open-minded assessment, and an acceptance that some injuries can be complex even when there are soft tissue injuries present amongst the constellation of injuries arising from an accident.

 

Ontario Court of Appeal Upholds “60 Day” Rule for FSCO Mediations

The Ontario Court of Appeal has upheld a decision from the Superior Court of Justice of Ontario that declared a mediation by the Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO) failed if it has not been mediated within 60 days of the application being submitted.

In Cornie v. Security National [2012 ONSC 905], which was heard with three other similar cases, Justice J.W. Sloan found the insurance companies’ postion that accident victims must simply wait to be ”preposterous” and suggests that FSCO can continue to try to comply with the 60 day period or seek a change and/or ask for some legislative direction to extend the 60 day period in appropriate circumstances.  This decision was posted in our blog on February 9, 2012.

This ruling means that, when an accident benefits insurer has denied a benefit, the insured can apply for mediation at FSCO and, 60 days after the mediation has been filed, the insured can then move on to either arbitration or a lawsuit against the insurer if the mediation has not been conducted within that timeframe.

The Court of Appeal concluded their decision by stating the following:

[56]        The legislative scheme for resolving disputes about statutory accident benefits requires that insured persons resort to a mandatory mediation process before commencing a court proceeding or submitting their disputes to arbitration. The Act, the regulations and the DRPC make it clear that this process is intended to be completed within 60 days from the filing of an application for mediation with FSCO, unless the parties agree to an extension of time. The scheme postpones the right of insured persons to commence civil actions against their insurer in order to allow the mediation process to be completed within the time prescribed, but leaves them free to commence actions once that period has expired.

Ontario Court of Appeal Rules on Pastore Decision in Favour of Claimants

A major decision with respect to the definition of “catastrophic” under the Statutory Accident Benefits Schedule was released by the Ontario Court of Appeal today.

It its decision, Pastore v. Aviva Canada [2012 ONCA 642], the Court has supported the findings of the Director’s Delegate at the Financial Services of Ontario, who decided that only one functional impairment due to a mental or behavioural disorder at the marked level is necessary to declare a person’s injuries as catastrophic.  Furthermore, the decision supports that a marked psychological impairment caused by physical pain is valid for the purpose of determining a catastrophic impairment.

The decision can be read in its entirety by clicking here. Pastore Appeal

 

Attendant Not Required to Provide Academic Records to AB Insurer

An arbitrator at the Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO) has ruled that a person providing attendant care for an insured is not required to provide their academic records to the accident benefits insurer.

In Mary Anthonipillai and Security National Insurance Co./Monnex Insurance Mgmt. Inc. [FSCO A11-001168] the daughter of the claimant, Mary Athonipillai, was providing housekeeping and attendant care services for her mother while she was attending university.  The insurer, Security National, requested a copy of the daughter’s academic records because it took the position that the amount of attendant care and housekeeping services provided seemed excessive if the daughter was attending school at the same time.  It was unknown if she was a part-time or full-time student and the daughter ignored all requests from the insurer for this information.  Security National believed that the lack of this information was prohibitive to any meaningful settlement discussions.

Arbitrator Jessica Kowalski stated,

I am not persuaded that the records are so relevant that their non-disclosure now would prejudice a just and fair hearing so that I should therefore set aside privacy concerns around documents that contain information personal to a third party but none about a party to this proceeding.
Nor am I persuaded that the academic schedule is as probative as Security National asserts. That schedule will not disclose how often, or even whether, Ms. George attended her classes.
For these reasons, the motion is dismissed.

Attendant Care and Treatment can be Claimed Simultaneously

A recent decision by the Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO) confirms that an insurer cannot necessarily deduct attendant care benefits from times when a claimant is receiving medical or rehabilitation treatment.

In Ms. T.N. and The Personal Insurance Company of Canada [FSCO A06-000399] the Arbitrator Suesan Alves stated the following:

The Personal submitted that it should be permitted to deduct chiropractic, osteopathic, massage therapy and six hours of rehab social worker and one hour of social worker treatment from any award of attendant care benefits. I disagree.

The benefits that The Personal seeks permission to deduct are provided under section 14 and 15 of the Schedule. Attendant care benefits are provided under section 16 of the Schedule. Each section of the Schedule provides for different and distinct services.

The focus of the Schedule is to provide services which meet the needs of an insured person. Under the statutory scheme, an insured person is entitled to medical, rehabilitation and attendant care benefits based on the criteria of need or necessity and reasonableness. In this context, it seems an odd concept to contemplate deducting one equally necessary benefit from another. If that were permissible, then an insured person would be required to choose, for example, between receiving assistance with a bath from his or her attendant, or receiving a physiotherapy treatment.

I am not persuaded that double payment would result from the provision of both attendant care and medical and rehabilitation benefits. Although the Form 1s filed by the Applicant contemplate the provision of attendant care 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, the rate prescribed for care in the completed forms is $7.00 per hour. Effective March 31, 2010, the minimum wage in Ontario became $10.25 per hour.

In a letter dated October 9, 2008, the claims handler informed counsel for the Applicant that the cost of the services of a certified support worker from a private agency which provides attendant care services in Ms. N’s area is $21.00 per hour. If Ms. N purchases attendant care services from that agency, she will be able to purchase approximately eight hours of attendant care per day.

I do not see attendant care and treatment as being mutually exclusive. Had the Legislature intended to permit the deduction of medical and rehabilitation benefits from attendant care benefits it could easily have done so expressly. For these reasons, I am not persuaded that the Legislature intended that other benefits would be deducted from attendant care. For these reasons, I reject The Personal’s submission that I permit the deduction of chiropractic, osteopathic, massage therapy and six hours of rehab social worker and one hour of social worker from any award of attendant care benefits.

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