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Windsor lawyer pushing to get insurance companies to boost caregiver pay

Joanna Sweet, centre, is a partner at Greg Monforton and Sons representing Harry Spyridis, left and Raymond O'Keefe, right. Both gentlemen were offered caregiver benefits to pay personal support workers below minimum wage to help them with their daily tasks after suffering car crashes. (TJ Dhir/CBC - image credit)
Joanna Sweet, centre, is a partner at Greg Monforton and Sons representing Harry Spyridis, left and Raymond O'Keefe, right. Both gentlemen were offered caregiver benefits to pay personal support workers below minimum wage to help them with their daily tasks after suffering car crashes. (TJ Dhir/CBC - image credit)

Harry Spyridis and Raymond O'Keefe suffered life-altering injuries in car crashes. A Windsor lawyer representing them is calling on two auto insurance companies to end a practice that limits the pay for the personal support — now needed by both men to live their lives — to less than minimum wage.

"They were only willing to pay really minimal rates for the care, at the low end of the range. Less than minimum wage," said Joanna Sweet, a partner at Greg Monforton and Partners. "Well, personal support workers don't work for less than minimum wage."

Raymond O'Keefe suffered a car crash in May 2020 and was forced to use a wheeled walker. He now requires a personal support worker but his insurance company is only offering coverage below minimum wage.
Raymond O'Keefe suffered a car crash in May 2020 and was forced to use a wheeled walker. He now requires a personal support worker but his insurance company is only offering coverage below minimum wage.

Raymond O'Keefe suffered a car crash in May 2020 and was forced to use a wheeled walker. He now requires a personal support worker but his insurance company is only offering coverage below minimum wage. (TJ Dhir/CBC)

Spyridis, a 71-year-old retiree, was in his crash in October 2021 and lives alone.

O'Keefe, age 62 and working as a mechanic at the time, had his crash in May 2020. While his wife is able to help him with some daily tasks, he too requires professional help.

Sweet says both of them suffered broken bones in their legs, spine, pelvis, hips and shoulders.

"It's not right for insurance companies to rely on family and friends to provide care, not when it's part of the benefit that makes up a standard auto policy package here in Ontario," Sweet said.

Sweet said she's launched lawsuits against both men's insurance companies — Coachman Insurance and Economical Insurance respectively. The suits are still in early days.

"So it would be quite a while before they're able to recover money for the care that they need and it doesn't do a lot of good when they're trying to get better right now," she said.

Economical, O'Keefe's insurer, declined to comment citing privacy issues and a short timeline.

Coachman, Spyridis's insurer, has yet to respond to requests for comment.

According to the Financial Services Regulatory Authority of Ontario (FSRA) — a government consumer protection agency that regulates the insurance industry— Ontarians who own a vehicle are required to have auto insurance that includes accident benefits coverage for supplementary medical rehabilitation, and attendant care.

No specifics on policy details are mentioned.

"FSRA's guidelines do not set an hourly wage," said Russ Courtney, senior manager of media relations at FSRA, in an email to CBC News.

"The guidelines provide a dollar amount that should only be used to calculate the maximum insurance limit (total dollar amount) consumers are eligible to receive."

Harry Spyridis suffered a car crash in October 2021 and was forced to use a mobility scooter. He now requires a personal support worker but his insurance company is only offering coverage below minimum wage.
Harry Spyridis suffered a car crash in October 2021 and was forced to use a mobility scooter. He now requires a personal support worker but his insurance company is only offering coverage below minimum wage.

Harry Spyridis suffered a car crash in October 2021 and was forced to use a mobility scooter. He now requires a personal support worker but his insurance company is only offering coverage below minimum wage. (TJ Dhir/CBC)

Courtney said an individual's benefit is capped at $6,000 a month, which he said works out to roughly 420 hours of care based on a minimum rate of $14 an hour, provided they suffered "catastrophic injuries."

"If you choose a care provider that charges more than the hourly rate, you will pay the difference out of pocket," he said.

Ontario's minimum wage of $15.50 per hour.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada said insurer contributions have nothing to do with minimum wage and the FRSA prescribes contribution amounts.

However it did acknowledge that Ontario's auto insurance system has not been substantially changed in more than 30 years and the organization is working with the province to improve the system.

Sweet says she has heard anecdotes from other Ontarians that are similar to what Spyridis and O'Keefe are going through.

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