Egan: Left blind in one eye in 2015, OC passenger still has zero compensation

On Dec. 21, 2015 — a wet, gloomy day — Michael Deriger left his public service job in downtown Gatineau and boarded a crowded OC Transpo bus bound for Ottawa, where his truck was parked.

By the time he disembarked a few minutes later, he was half-blind, bleeding from his right eye, his vision never to recover.

And here, literally, is the insult added to the injury: three years later, he’s yet to receive a penny in compensation, nor anything approaching an apology from OC Transpo.

“I have had nothing come back to me from the City of Ottawa,” said Deriger, 62, of his two-year-old injury claim. “I’m very disappointed with that way OC Transpo has decided to handle this.”

As the No. 8 made the right turn onto Eddy Street that day, just before 3 p.m., Deriger was standing right off the driver’s shoulder, one of 60 passengers onboard. Once the turn was made — Deriger remembers “oohs” and “aahs” at the speed — the bus travelled a few dozen metres when it had to brake suddenly, just before the Chaudière Bridge.

Unable to brace himself, Deriger was flung forward, striking his eye on the driver’s overhead communications tablet, mounted near the windshield.

“My eyeglasses drove deep into my eyeball, but they did not shatter or break.” The pain was immediate, causing Deriger to crouch, his face in his hands, with fluid leaking from his eye.

“The pain was searing!,” he wrote in a seven-page summary of the episode.

Michael Deriger is seen after the incident on an OC Transpo bus in December 2015.
Supplied photo

The driver stopped almost immediately and passengers came to Deriger’s aid, one even grabbing a baby wipe from her purse. After a quick assessment, the driver continued to the Ontario side, eventually pulling over near the corner of Booth Street and the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway.

By then, an OC supervisor had been alerted, paramedics were on the way and all the passengers had disembarked. As he waited the 14 minutes for paramedics to arrive, a couple of curious things happened. Deriger says the driver approached him and said, in a hushed voice, that the bus had no first-aid kit.

Moments later, he said the driver and supervisor engaged in a loud, tense exchange. When he finally saw the accident report, months later, Deriger learned the driver was not carrying his driver’s licence. “So I could not allow the operator to continue,” the investigator wrote.

“Operator was fine and refused EAP (Employee Assistance Program).”

(The OC report says the bus “hit a bump on the EB Eddy Bridge”, which does not jibe with Deriger’s vivid recollection, nor does it explain how a bump would throw someone forward with such force. The police were never called and no charges were ever laid.)

Deriger underwent surgery that evening at the General campus of The Ottawa Hospital and, by mid-January 2016, the verdict was clear: he had virtually no vision in his right eye and the damage was permanent.

He would be off work for almost four months, be forced to give up recreational hockey, struggle with depression, deal anxiously with his altered looks and take to painkillers for weeks. Eye fatigue was a daily struggle.

And, to add a great irony, Deriger is a professional chauffeur with the Public Service Commission, a job he stopped doing by mutual agreement. (He now has other duties with the PSC as he eases into retirement next year.)

Here is the part of the story where, for lack of better expression, Deriger enters the insurance rabbit hole. OC Transpo is an Ottawa-based municipal service, with some federal regulation, but the accident happened about 200 metres on the Quebec side of the provincial border.

Who is responsible?

In the ensuing months, Deriger has corresponded with the City of Ottawa legal and claims department, an official in Mayor Jim Watson’s office, Quebec’s public automobile insurance authority (the SAAQ), his private vehicle insurer, Aviva, and their Quebec sub-agent, Crawford & Company, based in Montreal.

The bottom line: three years later, he hasn’t received any compensation and it isn’t even clear the city and the private insurer are on the same page.

It is a jurisdictional tangle only the national capital could produce, with head-scratching howlers, like this one in writing from the SAAQ, eight months after the accident:

“After analysis, we have concluded that we cannot consider you a resident of Quebec because: — you do not live in Quebec.”

So the file was referred to a “subrogation specialist” who wrote in August 2016 that Deriger should go through his private insurer, who would use a 1990 inter-provincial agreement to decide whether he should pursue benefits under Quebec’s scale or Ontario’s basic benefits regime.

After consulting with three lawyers, Deriger is pursuing compensation through his private insurer. The last correspondence from Crawford, meanwhile, reads:

“I almost have everything to make my recommendations to the Insurer, but I am still trying to have a few missing information from the SAAQ, because all information are not public.”

It shouldn’t take long, writes claims adjuster Patrick Forand, “but without the answer to our questions I cannot complete my calculation.” Calls and emails to the Crawford company, says Deriger, have gone unanswered.

Neither was this newspaper able to reach anyone at Crawford for comment. The City of Ottawa reports that a claims adjuster will be “reaching out” to Deriger.

Three years and counting. None so blind, as they say.

To contact Kelly Egan, please call 613-726-5896 or email kegan@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/kellyegancolumn

Why an Ontario resident can’t sue in Quebec crash

A snapshot of applicable automobile insurance laws, summarized from an interview with Joseph Obagi, a personal injury lawyer who often handles Ontario-Quebec cases.

  • Ontario has what is sometimes called a hybrid system. There are basic accident benefits available to anyone hurt, but there is also an option to sue through the courts, especially if one party bears a large responsibility for injuries and the damages are severe.

 • Quebec has a no-fault system. It doesn’t matter who is liable for an accident, the benefit scale is the same and there is no possibility to sue for greater damages.

  • For insured Ontario residents injured in Quebec accidents, they are given an extra option. By inter-provincial agreement, they can elect to use Quebec’s payment scale or Ontario’s basic benefit system. However, they cannot sue if the crash occurred in Quebec.

  • When an OC Transpo passenger is hurt in an accident, lawyers say the first recourse is through the passenger’s private (automobile) insurer. The city responded by saying claimants can pursue both avenues, depending on legal advice: through the city and through private insurance.

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