'Excessive' delays at Workers Compensation 'an affront,' say P.E.I. judges

Two justices with the P.E.I. Court of Appeal offered harsh criticism of the province’s Workers’ Compensation system over delays in deciding whether to provide pension top-ups for two people disabled by workplace injuries.

Appeal court says retirees 'ensnared' by system for five years awaiting decision

Two justices with the P.E.I. Court of Appeal say two workers faced "unacceptable delays," waiting years for decisions from the Workers Compensation Board about benefits they applied for. (Robert LeClair/CBC News)

Two justices with the P.E.I. Court of Appeal offered harsh criticism of the province's Workers' Compensation system over delays in deciding whether to provide pension top-ups for two people disabled by workplace injuries.

WCB initially denied pension replacement benefits to both retirees when they reached age 65. The replacement benefits are meant to compensate workers for pension benefits lost as a result of reduced income from a workplace injury.

Both cases were appealed to the Workers Compensation Appeals Tribunal, and then ended up before the P.E.I. Court of Appeal.

The court upheld the board's initial decision to deny benefits — but criticized the length of time it took for the cases to be resolved.

"They were ensnared by the 'system' for five years," wrote Chief Justice David Jenkins, in a decision agreed to by Justice Michele Murphy.

"This is really an affront to the vision of expeditious access to justice for workers under the workers compensation scheme," wrote Jenkins.

Waited 22 months, then another 22 months

In the case of Bert Myers, who had both legs amputated following an accident on the job at Maritime Electric, the justices said it took 22 months for WCB to issue its final denial of his application, and then a further 22 months for his appeal to be heard.

P.E.I. Court of Appeal justices (left to right) Michele Murphy, David Jenkins and John Mitchell. (Prince Edward Island Court of Appeal)

"One can appreciate that there are steps in the process and circumstances that can arise," Jenkins wrote in the court's decision.

"However, the chain of events described in the record does not demonstrate anything approaching an acceptable excuse for the time lapse to which the workers … have been subjected."

"All participants who are contributors to the Accident Fund should be concerned by the attendant waste of money and resources."

In an email to CBC News, a spokesperson for WCB said the organization "strives to make timely and fair claim decisions."

"We recognize that some claims management processes can take longer than others, and as a result, we have enhanced our claims management service model and realigned resources within the WCB to support claimants with more complex cases. We also added an additional resource in 2016, the Service Quality Coordinator, to better support clients."

'I just feel like I've been wronged'

In June 2017, facing criticism over delays hampering WCB appeals, the province said its single, full-time position for a lawyer to assist workers through the process was temporarily vacant. The following month government said it was adding "temporary resources" to allow more appeals to be heard.

One of the workers involved in the most recent court ruling said his loss would come with a financial hit, but "money's just part of it. I just feel like I've been wronged," Bert Myers told CBC.

"It doesn't sit well with me at all. I hate it. Because anytime you get something done to you like this, for absolutely no decent reason, it just eats away at you."

Now 70, Myers said he applied for the benefit before he turned 65. "It was just five years wasted," he said. "I'd be willing to wait 10 years if I could be vindicated and treated fairly."

Dissenting opinion

The denial of benefits for both workers hinged on wording in the province's Workers Compensation Act.

The board ruled, and the court upheld the ruling, that neither worker was qualified to receive the benefits because the employer-sponsored RRSPs they maintained do not qualify under the legislation as "registered employer sponsored pension plans."

Justice John Mitchell offered a dissenting opinion, writing that both workers should receive the benefits. All three justices agreed the board should review the legislation to ensure its treatment of workers is consistent.

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About the Author

Kerry Campbell

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Kerry Campbell is the provincial affairs reporter for CBC P.E.I., covering politics and the provincial legislature.