Natalie Clarke sees herself as a crusader for Access to Justice representing the most vulnerable in our society – victims of other’s negligent acts. Because she represents injured and disabled individuals fighting multi-billion dollar insurance companies, she compares herself to the “David fighting the Goliath”. Clarke runs a small law firm but goes against lawyers of the insurance companies, which on the other hand, have limitless financial resources and can entangle her clients in procedural labyrinths before reaching justice. But she does not blink. She perseveres and pushes her clients’ claims with a sincere hope to reach a judge’s hearing. She is a strong believer in the Canadian justice system and believes once she is advocating in front of a judge, the size of the firm is no longer the dominating factor in the process.
For more than two decades, Natalie Clarke has advocated for personal injury victims (first as a paralegal and since 2003 as a lawyer) recovering compensations for seriously injured victims and individuals with a variety of post-trauma limitations.
If you get injured in a serious car collision, for example, you are unable to work, look after your house or your kids. At the same time you are unable to afford a lawyer to represent your rights. “This is where a trauma and injury lawyer steps in,” she says. The majority of her clients have been injured by the fault of someone else.
“I am dedicated to bringing justice to accident victims, their spouses and their children” she says. “I’m passionate about not letting insurance companies keep the money that should rightfully belong to the injured and their children.” The insurance companies ought not to off-load their responsibilities for the trauma victims onto the publically funded and overburdened OHIP or ODSP programs while making 17% returns, outlined in the 2014 study done by two professors from York University. The Auditor General of Ontario has long called for the review of insurance companies’ profits. Clarke believes the system is fundamentally broke, as in her experience, insurance companies do not pay out on a very high number of cases. She believes that Ontarians ought to look into government auto-insurance systems such as currently run in the Province of British Columbia.
“Since we, as tax payers, end up paying for those injured when insurance companies take drastic positions not to pay out on a very high number of cases, we might as well get some money into the public system – and not into multi-billion dollars insurance companies.” Some of these insurance companies are not even Canadian owned”, she says.
As you will note in this up close and personal interview, her dedication for helping people extends farther back than just her current legal practice. While studying at the University of Toronto, she represented clients under the compassionate and humanitarian program. Later, during law school, she volunteered for the family services at the Family Law Court and was involved in assisting victims of domestic violence as well as new immigrants.
We caught up with Natalie Clarke, to ask her what she’s most passionate about in terms of her work, her goals, and her experiences.
Q: What initially interested you in law, that is, what was the impetus to pursue it as a career?
My older sister was struck by a car as a pedestrian. She was in the hospital with two broken legs, collarbone fracture, and a concussion for two months. She has never been the same since and relies heavily on the family for help. The auto-insurance compensation system was not sufficient and my sister relies heavily on our family resources and availability to assist her with variety of tasks. I felt compelled to get into law and make the system better. It’s an insurmountable fight against a very strong insurance industry with numerous lobbyists working to protect their billion dollar profits on the backs of individuals like my sister, and ultimately, on the backs of all Ontario tax payers, as people end up on publically funded OHIP and ODSP programs.
Q: Can you give me an example that stands out of a case where you felt you made a particular difference in someone’s life?
I find it particularly rewarding working on cases that involve children or people with a mental disability. There is no one to protect them. The buck stops with me, and my performance as their lawyer. The degree of my success on their cases directly affects their lives. I am very passionate about those cases, and I work hard even if I don’t make any money. It’s my pro-bono contribution to our society. I don’t like seeing large insurance companies take advantage of the most vulnerable in our society.
Q: Who do you consider role models in your life and why?
Starting with my father in the Soviet Ukraine, who was an auto-engineer and a workaholic. He modernized every place he worked at, and had 18 patents of inventions. But he was squashed by the Communist Party for refusing to join, and died of a stroke at the age of 63. I could no longer stay in that country. After I graduated from high school, I left at the age of 19 and enrolled in high school here. Yes, yes… I graduated from two high schools and two Universities. Can you believe the agony? But I now do what I love most. I fight for the underdog in our society. I also had a great mentorship with the firm I joined right after my law school ran by the formidable Benjamin Levinter with the team of the most talented lawyers. That firm taught me the most valuable lesson: “it’s not what you earn on the file, it’s the access to justice through the quality of service you carry out as a barrister and an officer of the court”. That has been my motto ever since.
Q: Tell me about a time you sought out a detail nuance of a case that you think might have been missed by a cookie cutter team elsewhere?
A man came into my office asking me to sue a drunk-driver for causing a colossal collision. This driver slammed his car at a high speed into a pile of other cars and eventually into a building. My client, a front seat passenger, who was just getting a ride to the subway, was seriously injured. However, because he did not speak English he did not speak to the police, and was not noted in the motor vehicle accident report. The driver took advantage of that, and refused to admit that my client was a passenger. The drunk driver only paid a ticket for this accident. I had to go door to door at the location of the accident, until I found a restaurant owner who not only remembered my client, she helped him out of the smoking car and sat him on the curb. My client took a taxi to the hospital as he had a fractured wrist. No lawyer would believe my client or take his case on. When I saw tears rolling down this strong, large man’s eyes, I had to help. I ended up recovering good compensation for this fractured wrist.