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MPI's lost-wage deductible irks injured cyclist

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Cyclist Erin Essery suffered a broken arm after being hit by a car.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Cyclist Erin Essery suffered a broken arm after being hit by a car. Photo Store

The way Erin Essery tells the story, her summer got off to a bad start. "A really bad start."

And that's the way the 34-year-old started her mass email to every address of every Winnipeg newspaper and television newsroom she could find.

Turned out Erin's summer actually started with something going bang in the night.

Her and a car.

She was hit while cycling home from work after dark in early June. "T-boned," as Erin described it, by a woman who drove through a stop sign.

Fortunately, she was wearing a helmet and her worst injury turned out to be a broken right arm. Given that about 220 Manitoba bicycle riders are injured each year in collisions, Erin's experience hardly warrants what amounts to a mass news release from the victim.

What is newsworthy, the way Erin tells the story, is the off-road hit she took from Manitoba Public Insurance after her broken arm prevented her from doing her work as a travel consultant who types and writes all day.

What hurts most is the wage-replacement policy in MPI's Personal Injury Protection Plan, which has left her earning whatever the insurer gives her. In particular, an MPI policy that says for the first week, accident victims such as Erin get nothing.

As MPI spokesman Brian Smiley explained it when I contacted him, there's a seven-day waiting period before income replacement kicks in. It's akin to a deductible, he suggested, which is what Erin says her adjuster also said.

Erin said her adjuster suggested her employer should have short-term disability insurance and to use that.

"Well, my employer doesn't, and even if they did, how is it their responsibility to pay for lost wages due to a car accident that was clearly not my fault? So I was out a week of wages. Definitely a blow to my bank account."

Erin said the even bigger blow to her bank account is the income replacement MPI has provided.

"I was paid out under minimum wage and at less than 40 per cent of what I normally make, with less than $1,000 of income replacement for the entire month of June. In fact, the money they gave me to pay a caregiver was more than what they gave me as wage replacement! So the person MPI pays to cook and clean for me (since I can't do it myself) will have greater income than I will."

Really? Erin went on: "I'm sure the lady who hit me has no idea what kind of pain and financial strain she has put on me. She probably thinks the insurance she pays for every month will make sure I don't pay the price of her mistake. I wonder how she'd feel if she knew her actions caused someone not only a broken arm (among other injuries) but to lose 60 per cent of their income. If it was me, I'd be appalled. She didn't act maliciously.

"But her insurance company did."

MPI disputes that.

"Ms. Essery's explanation regarding her wage replacement and home-care payment is not factually correct," Smiley wrote in a measured emailed response. "Due to confidentiality issues, MPI is not able to disclose the exact amount Ms. Essery has received to date in income replacement. However, I can assure you that Ms. Essery is receiving the benefits/income replacement she's eligible to receive, as stated within PIPP."

Later, Erin acknowledged MPI is giving her $1,500 this month. That's take-home, remember.

And that's not "under minimum wage and at less than 40 per cent" of what she normally makes.

It's 90 per cent of what MPI calculated she's earned recently from her basic salary plus commissions as supplied by her employers.

Is that fair? I suppose 100 per cent of one's salary would be fairer.

In any event, as I suggested earlier, what is obviously unfair is MPI's not paying injured people -- whether they're cyclists, pedestrians or motorists -- for the first week they're off work. As Erin suggested, that's not close to the equivalent of a deductible.

MPI argues that not paying for the first week of lost wages is an industry standard. What it does, though, is re-victimize the victim.

I'd rather have MPI doing what it's supposed to do -- spend money properly looking after injured people -- than giving drivers rebates and paying for more police.

The provincial government needs to change the law to allow MPI to pay people all the wages they deserve when they're injured. It rewrote the law so convicted car thieves no longer get compensation from MPI. So if the Selinger government amends legislation to take away what bad guys don't deserve, surely it can do the same to give the good guys what they do deserve: fairness.

gordon.sinclair@frepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 13, 2013 B1

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