The Occupational Therapist:  
How They Can Help With Your ICBC Claim

An occupational therapist may become involved as part of your personal injury claim. The appointment will be arranged by the lawyers involved.   

Some immediate questions:

This can all become confusing.  What does such an expert do?  Don’t they just work in hospitals? Why are they involved in your claim? What will the assessment be like? What is a Functional Capacity Assessment? Who pays for it?

So let’s start with:  What is an occupational therapist?

Occupational therapists in Canada have completed a university degree that includes classes on anatomy, psychology, psychiatry, neurology, human development and rehabilitation.  WE have a unique focus on enabling our clients to engage in the activities they need to perform and those that give their life meaning or ‘occupations’.

We work with people of all ages, from birth to death and with any type of barrier to engage in their lives.  We understand health to be a function of psychological, spiritual and physical wellness and that people who are actively involved in their lives have better overall health than those that are not. Our aim is to enable our clients to be engaged in life to their best ability.  This might be done through adaptive equipment, new strategies and skills, trying new activities or changing their environment.  We work in hospitals, schools, care facilities, private practices, jails and community centres. We work for agencies on developing public health policy and with governments on developing healthy communities.   

Why is an occupational therapist involved in an ICBC claim?

There are two main reasons for this kind of expert to become involved in your claim.  One reason is to help you in your recovery.  Some people don’t make speedy recoveries from injuries.  They need assistance with staying involved in their lives while they get better or with adjusting to some permanent losses. 

They might be asked to meet with you to talk about what the barriers are – is it pain, feeling low and depressed, feeling traumatised or another challenge like living in a 2 storey house when you can’t climb the stairs?  The occupational therapist can often make some recommendations for some short-term services such as a house cleaner, some equipment to make a task safer (a bath seat for instance) or some more therapy or treatment.

The other reason for this expert's involvement is that within the BC legal system, occupational therapists are commonly regarded as experts in the assessment of disability and the impact of injuries upon a person’s function.  This means that such an expert may conduct an assessment with you (often at your home) in order to prepare a report for the court on the day-to-day implications of your injuries on your life.  All of us are different people and no two people respond in the same way to the same injuries. 

Your Story Will Be Told:

It is important that, in terms of claiming adequate compensation for your injuries, that your story is told.  Not just about your symptoms but also about how your participation in your domestic responsibilities, hobbies, your job and even just being able to look after yourself, may have changed.  From this assessment, the occupational therapist writes a report and makes recommendations on the type of (and cost of) assistance or equipment or treatment you will need in the future as a result of your injuries and the motor vehicle collision (or other injury).

He or she may ultimately be asked to explain their report (a Cost of Future Care report) in court.

What is an Occupational Therapy assessment like?

An occupational therapy assessment at your house can vary somewhat according the particular therapist who sees you.  It usually includes a detailed interview about what your life was like before the injuries.  How did you spend your time? What were your daily responsibilities?  Were you looking after other people like children or elderly family? How was your health before the accident? Did you have a fitness routine? 

Once the assessor has a good understanding of your usual life, they will want to know about your life since the MVA and how your injuries are impacting it. They may ask you to complete some questionnaires to help with that.  They will also ask to watch you walk or reach or bend or squat or climb stairs or show them whatever mobility you are finding difficult.  They will likely ask to see around your home so they can understand how significant your domestic responsibilities are but also to see if there are any aspects of your home environment that make your life harder or risky.

You may be asked to attend a clinic to see such a therapist for a functional capacity assessment. This test is often done to assist with determining what work you are capable of.  The exact type of assessment definitely varies according to the therapist and the clinic.  Functional Capacity Assessments are also completed by physiotherapists and kinesiologists in BC.  Regardless of the exact Functional Capacity Assessment being done or the professional conducting it, you can expect to have your ability to lift, carry, stand, walk, push and pull measured.  This often requires you to wear a heart rate monitor and the test may take several hours.

Seeing an Occupational Therapist can help

The most important message here is that when you are injured, seeing such an expert can really help. First, and most importantly, with your recovery from your injuries and moving on with your life. Second, with assisting your lawyers and ICBC to best understand how your injuries have impacted your life. This latter way is important because this is important knowledge for determining a fair and equitable resolution to your claim.  

This is a Guest Post By Occupational Therapist Claudia Walker written in conjunction with Jim Monier-Williams, lawyer.

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