Manitoba Public Insurance settlement for specially adapted van ‘a gut punch,’ says quadriplegic driver –

For Teulon, Man., farmer Doug Barker, his specially adapted van was the difference between freedom and boredom. 

“Driving changed my life,” said Barker, who has used a wheelchair since breaking his neck in a hockey accident in 1993.

“I became an even bigger part of the farm.… I can just jump in the van and do what I have to do.”

He even got his Class 3 licence and adapted a tractor so he can do farm tasks on his own. 

“I’ve just never been a quitter,” he said.  

So after an accident totalled his van just under two years ago — and he was not found at fault — he fully expected his insurance would help him get back on the road. 

That didn’t happen, he says.

Barker thought the coverage with Manitoba Public Insurance he bought in in 2012 would give him $80,000 of the $90,000 he originally spent to buy and retrofit the van for his needs.

“I found out through an adjuster that the $80,000 was just a suggestion — they could depreciate the van down to a dollar if they wanted to,” he said. 

“And that’s basically what they did.”  

Age, modifications considered in settlements: MPI

Barker got a $26,000 insurance settlement from the Crown insurance corporation, which he used to buy a van he can’t drive. He’s now saving up to for new adaptive equipment, like a loading ramp and special hand controls, which he says have become even more expensive since the last time he bought them.

“At this point I can touch my van, but it’s basically a big piece of metal sitting in the yard,” he said. 

An online fundraiser started in June at the website GoFundMe aims to help Barker buy the equipment. As of Saturday, it had raised over $11,000.

Barker’s accident occurred in August 2019. He was found not at fault. (Submitted by Tracy Barker)

While he’s saving up, he spends a lot of time just sitting at home. 

“It’s a gut punch.… I stare at the walls sometimes and I wait for my wife to come home from work,” he said. “When she comes home I can go for a car ride.” 

Barker says when he bought the insurance policy for his van, he was clear with the salesperson about making sure his specialty adaptive equipment was covered. He even paid an extra premium to bump his coverage up from $50,000.

“I was confident when I walked out of the insurance company that I was insured for $80,000,” he said. 

Manitoba Public Insurance told CBC News it could not comment specifically on Barker’s insurance policy due to confidentiality.

The insurer did send an emailed statement, which said settlement offers are “based on the actual cash value of the vehicle,” determined by factors like its age and condition, “in addition to any modifications which may have been added to the vehicle.”

“If a customer is not satisfied with the settlement offer they have the option of appealing the initial offer, or requesting to go to arbitration,” MPI said in its email.

Vehicles provide ‘priceless’ independence

Barker maintains the van and adaptive equipment was worth much more than $26,000 at the time of the accident, and said he considered appealing or arbitration, but decided the process would be too expensive and time consuming, so he accepted the settlement.

Barker says his skin crawls every time MPI announces rebate cheques.

“Part of their fiscal responsibility was selling me a policy that they never owned up to, in my opinion.” 

In the future, he wants MPI and insurance brokers to be clearer about what’s insured and what’s not when they sell policies to people with vans like his.  

“I want people who are coming to register these specialty types of vehicles not to run into the same type of problem I had,” he said. 

The Cerebral Palsy Association of Manitoba’s David Kron says MPI can do more to help people with disabilities insure their wheelchair-capable vehicles. (John Einarson/CBC)

David Kron, executive director of the Cerebral Palsy Association of Manitoba, says one of his members faced a similar issue with MPI after totalling their van. 

He wants the public insurer to offer a special insurance option for wheelchair-capable vehicles.

“I would hope MPI would consider that,” Kron said. “It’s a barrier for folks with disabilities.” 

Many people with disabilities would be more than willing to pay a higher premium to guarantee their wheelchair-capable vans are fully insured, said Kron.

“The independence that a modified van brings is priceless.”