The New Brunswick government should boost the cap on damages for minor personal injuries sustained in automobile accidents to between $4,000 and $6,000, a provincial report is recommending.

Michel Leger, the chair of a working group that studied the existing $2,500 cap on court awards and the definition for soft-tissue automobile injuries, handed in his long-awaited report to Justice Minister Marie-Claude Blais on Wednesday.

Proposed definition of minor personal injury

A minor personal injury is a sprain or strain or whiplash-associated disorder, or a combination thereof, which results in minor consequences to a person’s life.

"Minor consequences" means that neither the impairments nor the limitations resulting from the injury last more than six months and a person substantially retains his or her preaccident bodily functions, level of activities and participation in life.

Leger's report is recommending the cap on soft-tissue awards be raised from the existing $2,500 to between $4,000 and $6,000 and be indexed to inflation.

"Based on all of the available information and the examples presented during the consultation process, the working group agreed that the current amount of the cap — $2,500 — is too low," the report said.

The province's justice minister said the government will now review the working group's recommendations.

"We must now evaluate the impact that the recommendations brought forward by the working group could have on insurance premiums charged to consumers," Blais said in a statement.

The justice minsiter said that keeping insurance premiums "accessible and affordable" is a top priority.

Blais said the provincial government will respond "quickly" to the working group's recommendations.

Recommendations linked

The working group is also recommending the definition of soft-tissue injury be reworked.

The report stated the groups that presented to the working group "without exception" said the definition must be changed.

The report said it heard from people who described injuries that surpassed a "minor personal injury" but were told their injuries fell within the definition provided in the law. And that meant they were not eligible for more than the $2,500 provided for pain-and-suffering injuries.

"Such examples, thankfully, are not frequent, but the goal of the working group was to develop a definition that would prevent such injustices," the report said.

The definition was described as "too vague, too complex" and confusing. The working group said it used two World Health Organization reports when it drafted its new definition for minor personal injury.

The current definition says a minor injury should not result in "permanent serious disfigurement" or "permanent serious impairment of an important bodily function caused by a continuing injury which is physical in nature."

The report also said the two main recommendations — increasing the cap on damages and changing the definition of minor personal injury — are linked.

"The definition and the amount of the cap are intrinsically linked. The wording of the proposed new definition takes into careful consideration the cap amount we have recommended, and vice versa," the report said.

"Any changes in either the cap or the definition must be reflected by changes to the other."