The Alberta Court of Appeal has overturned a decision on payouts for soft-tissue injuries, prompting the Alberta government to announce Friday that the cap for injuries such as whiplash or strains is once again in effect.
The amount, which was originally $4,000 when it was introduced in the Minor Injury Regulation (MIR) in 2004, will now be $4,504 to account for inflation, Alberta Justice Minister Alison Redford announced Friday afternoon. The MIR does not cap compensation for medical expenses and lost wages.
The cap on payouts for soft tissue injuries was put in place by the province in an effort to keep insurance rates affordable.
In February 2008, a Court of Queen's Bench judge decided the government's payout cap was unconstitutional because it discriminated against specific victims of vehicle accidents.
In a written decision released Friday morning, however, the Alberta Court of Appeal overturned that decision.
'We feel our auto insurance system is a good system and does strike that balance.' —Alison Redford, Alberta justice minister
In a unanimous decision, the judges ruled that the provincial legislation is not discriminatory.
"The MIR, when considered with the entire scheme of insurance reforms, does not infringe section 7 or 15 of the Charter," the decision says.
"While the legislation does make a distinction on the basis of disability, it is not discriminatory. The legislation, as a whole, responds to the needs and circumstances of those suffering minor soft-tissue injuries."
The Alberta government is pleased with the court's ruling, Redford said.
"We feel our auto insurance system is a good system and does strike that balance," she said in a statement. "Today’s unanimous decision of Alberta’s Court of Appeal supports this and confirms that government’s auto insurance system, as a whole, responds to the needs and circumstances of those suffering minor injuries."
Fight about fairness, not money: lawyer
Edmonton lawyer Fred Kozak represented the two women who suffered soft-tissue injuries in separate auto accidents.
The women are "disappointed but absolutely committed to establishing on what they think will be a much fairer approach to people who are innocently injured," Kozak said.
"They see this as a fight about fairness, not about money. Nobody would embark on this expensive endeavour thinking that somehow it was worth it financially."
While a decision won't be made to seek leave to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court of Canada until there's a chance to analyze the judgment, Kozak is almost certain the case will carry on.
"Because they've embarked on this litigation to establish fairness, not money … I'm confident that they'll give us instructions to seek leave," he said.
Peari Morrow suffered soft tissue injuries to her neck and upper back in October 2004 when her vehicle was struck on the passenger side while she was driving through a green light at a Calgary intersection.
The other woman, Brea Pedersen, suffered soft tissue injuries to her neck, shoulders, back and wrists when her vehicle was rear-ended in Edmonton in March 2005.
In the trial, the judge assessed general damages for pain and suffering of $20,000 for Morrow and $15,000 for Pederson.