MSP hires more Lawyers

This little news story needs to get more press.

Apparently the Provincial Government has decided to cover Health Costs by giving money to Lawyers. At first glance, the politics of “suing those responsible” sounds like the kind of thing fiscally-prudent Governments should do. But read the story: a drunk driver hits a pedestrian, and the Provincial Government is suing a municipality for not having a crosswalk!?! So provincial taxpayers are paying lawyers to battle in court against lawyers working for a local government’s taxpayers … to save taxes?

But this is only a single silly example, that distracts from the real evil of the Health Care Cost Recovery Act. Am I the only one scared by this:

“The Third Party Liability Department is responsible for the recovery of health care costs when a British Columbia resident is injured due to a third party’s wrongful act or omission for both motor vehicle accidents and non motor vehicle accidents. For example: Injuries occurring from negligence involving incidents/accidents such as but not limited to slip and falls, boating, air and rail accidents, swimming, diving, skiing, explosion, fire, falling objects, and Class Actions.

The Provincial Government is now going to hire lawyers to go to court and sue someone (anyone?) to recover costs related to your slipping and falling, swimming, or skiing. If you are not scared yet, read on:

Let me tell you the story of a friend of mine.  One day we were riding our mountain bikes at Town Run Trail Park in Indianapolis. How we got there is not all that important (I was once an incredibly mediocre mountain bike racer in Indiana), but my riding partner had a pretty serious crash. Serious enough that there was an ambulance ride involved.

Now my friend and I both lived in an adjacent State, so the hospital she was sent to wanted to know how she was paying the moment she arrived. Luckily, she was gainfully employed and through her employer, was in a Health Maintenance Organization (HMO), a for-profit healthcare insurance plan. Once that was sorted out, she got very good care, as you would expect when they are charging you $1.50 a gauze and $1500 an X-ray (why scrimp?). She was not all that concerned as a) she had health care coverage; and b) she was pretty seriously concussed.

When she got home, she sent the 4-figure bill for the Hospital and the 3-figure bill for the Ambulance to her HMO, and after sending them her “co-pay” of a few hundred dollars, they paid for her care. That’s what you get for the thousand or so dollars that she and her employer paid every month to the HMO to keep her insured. What we call “health care”.

A few months later, she started to get letters and phone calls from a lawyer asking questions about her accident. She was reluctant to answer anything until they said they were working with her HMO. In that case, she asked for more details, and they explained they were seeing if there was anyone willing to share the liability. That is the euphemism they used “willing to share the liability”. At this point, she told them to get bent.

You see, her HMO had “sold” her accident to a lawyer. To recover the costs that the for-profit HMO had paid the for-profit hospital, they had sold the liability to a for-profit leech. The leech was looking for someone to sue. Anyone. Presumably, they could go after Giant Bicycles for making the bike, or Bell Helmets for not offering adequate protection, but those sound like big entities with their own raft of lawyers. It became apparent from their line of questioning (Where were you on the trail? Was the trail bumpy? Were there any warning signs? ) that they were interested in going after the people who ran the bike park.

Now, I ride a mountain bike a lot. I have fallen off of my mountain bike a lot (that is how you get to be good enough to be an incredibly mediocre racer in the mountain-bereft state of Indiana). Every time I went over the bars, I knew it was my fault. Either I overestimated my skill, or I underestimated the trail, or I got cocky, or I failed to check if my front wheel was attached. It would never occur to me to sue the person who set up and maintained a mountainbike trail system. Just like I didn’t sue the Ski Hill when I was concussed in a ski crash, and didn’t sue the beach resort when I broke my shoulder body surfing. Why? Because I like to mountain bike, I like to ski, I like to play on the beach (though I am now deathly afraid of body surfing). If I sue, I am transferring my personal responsibility to someone else, and they are less likely to set up opportunities for me to do these things, or if they do, they will need to be insured up the ying-yang and will price most people out of taking part in the activity.

However, there was no way that my friend could stop the leech who bought her liability from her HMO from suing the mountain bike park whose only crime was to set up a place where people could recreate outdoors in the middle of a mid-western urban centre. In fact, the HMO made it very clear that she could be compelled to testify in a civil suit against her will.

I suspect the majority of people have the same sense of personal decency to not sue people who provide you recreation. Break a leg doing a 720 at the local ski hill, would you sue? Slip and fall at the local swimming pool, would you sue? What if it was your neighbour’s pool? Slip on your grandmother’s step while shovelling it for her: Would you sue? You may not have a choice, as your Government will sue for you. Everyone who belongs to a curling club, who coaches a softball team, who has a grandmother who needs her walk shoveled, should be worried about this law. Yet I am betting you have never heard of it.

I expect that kind of shitty behaviour in the Tort-friendly Excited States of America, and I expect it from crappy HMO companies that must always acquiesce to the shareholders’ interests (what is suing a bike park compared to cutting cancer patients off of their meds?). I also expect from the con men who spill water on the floor at Safeway then “slip” and sue for whiplash.  I expect better from my elected government. I expect more for my tax dollars. This is not the kind of US-style health care I want to see.

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