No-Fault Automobile Insurance: It's No Accident.

Dan Parrott

 

165 People Killed! 7562 Injured!

Over $100,000,000 in Property Damage!

Provincial Government Helpless - Expects Same Carnage Next Year!

Sounds like a major disaster hit the province, doesn't it? A force so powerful that even government is powerless to protect its citizens from injury and death. Welcome to the world of the automobile.

These statistics come from the 1997 Saskatchewan Traffic Accident Facts yearbook. According to this source there is nothing peculiar about these numbers. Every year Saskatchewan motor vehicle collisions routinely kill scores and injure thousands of people.

A Human Meat Grinder
While the mainstream media portrays these collisions as accidents, the constant recurrence of injury, death and property damage suggests that in reality they are simply the predictable costs of running an automobile based transportation system.

For years Saskatchewan’s Department of Highways emphasized the routine nature of the death and injuries by noting how many people were killed and injured in motor vehicle collisions every day and hour. For example their 1986 annual report noted that there was a traffic “accident” every 16 minutes, 24 people injured every day, and 1 person killed every 36 hours.(1)

These numbers haven’t changed much over the years. For instance in 1990 there was 1 “accident” every 16 minutes, 22 injured people per day, and 1 person killed every 57 hours.(2) More recently SGI ran an advertising campaign whose main theme was the number of Saskatchewan people being regularly hurt and killed in motor vehicle collisions.

The net effect is to show the automobile system for what it is: A human meat grinder, killing and maiming people every hour of every day, year in and year out.

Human Cost of the Auto Industry
This human cost represents a significant and necessary annual subsidy to the automotive industry. An automobile-based transportation system simply can not operate if it has to guarantee the safety every person using it. Nor can the industry operate if it had to fully compensate those people killed or maimed by its products.

Full compensation to automobile victims would represent a substantial cost. This cost can be calculated using one of two methods. The first is called the Minimum Cost Method. A second more comprehensive method is called the Human Capital Approach.(3)

The Cash Value of This Human Cost
Using the Minimum Cost Method motor vehicle fatalities, injuries and property damage in 1997 cost Saskatchewan people and the provincial economy $199,594,050.00 (1993 dollars). Using the Human Capital Approach these same 1997 fatalities, injuries and property damage cost $734,720,000.00 in 1993 dollars.

Again and again, each and every year Saskatchewan residents and the provincial economy absorb these kinds of costs on behalf of the multi-national corporations making up the industry. In fact since 1962 the automotive industry has cost Saskatchewan people approximately $29.6 billion in 1993 dollars using the Human Capital Approach. This does not include the hundreds of millions annually spent on road infrastructure, which is still yet another subsidy to this industry.

Provincial Response
Provincial governments have done little but tinker with this awful, costly transportation system. In 1995 Saskatchewan Highways and Transportation declared its intention to reduce motor vehicle fatalities and injuries in the province by 25% by the year 2000. Instead of acknowledging the inevitable danger inherent in this system and designing safer transportation alternatives, the department proposed little more than safety education for drivers.

And the result of this initiative? In 1995 motor vehicles killed 157 and injured 7471. In 1996 motor vehicles killed 135 and injured 6829. In 1997 motor vehicles killed 164 and injured 7606. 1998 had 148 killed and 7212 injured; 1999 had 186 dead and 7995 injured.

At the time of this writing it does not appear that Saskatchewan Highways will reach their year 2000 target using this “Driver Ed” approach. Worse, not only do the human and financial costs of motor vehicle collisions appear to be increasing each year, but the provincial government's response has been to cap compensation to victims.

Protecting Corporate Profits: Enter No-Fault Insurance
In 1994 the province passed legislation enacting a new no-fault insurance scheme for Saskatchewan.

Prior to this Saskatchewan had a hybrid automobile insurance system which provided basic benefits to all collision victims on a no-fault basis and unrestricted access to the tort system for innocent victims to recover compensation for losses not covered under the first party plan.

The new no-fault automobile insurance scheme was implemented in Saskatchewan in January 1995. This scheme virtually eliminated the right of an injured individual to seek compensation from the responsible driver for losses that are not covered under the no-fault plan.

Furthermore the wording of section 102 of the Automobile Accident Insurance Act appears to protect corporations who should be sued especially if they are clearly at fault. For example, if Toyota negligently designs and manufactures a car that injures or kills a driver, the Act protects Toyota from a lawsuit to compensate the survivors. Or if a municipal corporation negligently fails to repair a road, and this causes property damage or bodily injury or death, the municipality can not be sued by the survivors.

In the words of Ralph Nader: “They (corporations and individuals) are virtually immune from lawsuits. And guess what? You have also immunized General Motors and Toyota, and other auto companies and repair companies from liability, unless you’re rich and can tweak them for a few bucks, about $50,000. Nobody discusses this at all. They must have been clinking champagne glasses in Detroit, figuring, ‘Boy, they have trouble with the English Language in Saskatchewan. They swept us right in with the immunity crowd.’”(4)

No-Fault has already had effects on injured victims’ ability to recover compensation due to corporate and individual negligence. According to the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, a 23 year old man tried to sue General Motors after the seat belt in his 1993 Pontiac Sunbird broke and allowed him to fall out of the vehicle during a mishap. The man suffered head injuries, scars on his face, and aches and pains. The judge threw the case out saying that no-fault insurance protects GM.

The victim said that he was not impressed that GM will not have to answer his accusations. “I survived, but maybe the next time somebody won’t.”

The newspaper also stated that General Motors may not be the first to benefit from protection from no fault, and cited examples of where parties accused of negligence causing “accidents” were protected.(5)

Conclusion
As a result, injured parties and survivors can only recover compensation available under the no-fault plan. It pits individuals against a large SGI bureaucracy whose primary objective is to control and minimize its costs. If an individual does not agree with the insurance assessor regarding compensation there is no recourse to the courts for a judicial review.

As Ralph Nader noted, the big winners in this are the multi-national corporations whose profits are protected from negligence lawsuits and whose dangerous, polluting devices can now take human life with impunity. And while we can’t sue them, multi-nationals can sue us individually and even collectively, as they take governments to court for passing laws affecting their profits.

Unaccountable, inherently dangerous, polluting and a significant contributor to global climate change – maybe it’s time to permanently park these junkers or at least repeal some of the laws protecting them at our expense.

 

(1) Saskatchewan Highways and Transportation, 1986 Saskatchewan Traffic Accident Facts.
(2) Saskatchewan Highways and Transportation, 1990 Saskatchewan Traffic Accident Facts.
(3) Sask Highways, Traffic Safety Branch, Agenda 2000 (March 1995) at 12.
(4) The Law Society of Saskatchewan Bencher’s Digest, “Ralph Nader Speaks Out on Saskatchewan No-Fault”, Vol. 11, No. 4, August, 1998, at 1.
(5) (Star-Phoenix, “No-Fault no help: Victim” June 11, 2022)