BC Injury Law and ICBC Claims Blog

Erik MagrakenThis Blog is authored by British Columbia ICBC injury claims lawyer Erik Magraken. Erik is a partner with the British Columbia personal injury law-firm MacIsaac & Company. He restricts his practice exclusively to plaintiff-only personal injury claims with a particular emphasis on ICBC injury claims involving orthopaedic injuries and complex soft tissue injuries. Please visit often for the latest developments in matters concerning BC personal injury claims and ICBC claims

Erik Magraken does not work for and is not affiliated in any way with the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC). Please note that this blog is for information only and is not claim-specific legal advice.  Erik can only provide legal advice to clients. Please click here to arrange a free consultation.

Archive for October, 2008

ICBC Claims and the Thin Skull Principle

October 30th, 2008

If you are injured through the fault of another in a BC motor vehicle accident and are an average person and receive average injuries you are entitled to be compensated for these.  What if you are not an average person? What if you are particularly prone to traumatic injury?  Would you be entitled to your actual damages or only those damages that the average person should have received?   The answer is actual damages.

There is a principle in law known as the ‘thin skull‘ principle sometimes referred to as the ‘you take your victim as you find them‘ principle.  If a person is careless and that carelessness causes injury it is no defence to say that the victim was particularly prone to injury or that the injury would have been less if the victim was tougher.  So long as the injuries are real and related to the wrongdoing the injued party will be entitled to their fair damages.

Reasons for judgement were relesed today involving a claim for significant emotional damages as a result of a 1999 BC motor vehicle accident.  The claim was largely dismissed but in doing so Mr. Justice Chamberlist reviewed several important legal principles of BC tort law including the Thin Skull Principle.    The court reference some of the leading authorities and set out the law at paragraph 11 of the judgement.  I set this out below.  

[11]            Commencing at para. 19, Mr. Justice Cumming succinctly set forth the law as follows:

19        One of the most important principles, for the purposes of this case, is the principle that, for the purposes of assessing damages, a tortfeasor must take the person injured by the tort in the actual condition of that person at that time.  This has been called the “thin skull” principle.  In its application to psychological problems it has been called the “egg shell personality” application of the principle.  In my opinion there is no basis for giving a more restrictive application to this principle in cases where psychological injuries are suffered than would be given in cases where only physical injuries are suffered.  A predisposition to suffer psychological injury in circumstances such as those brought about in a particular injury in circumstances such as those brought about in a particular case by a defendant’s wrongful act does not relieve the defendant of the liability to compensate the plaintiff for the injuries represented by those psychological symptoms.  Such relief could only occur, as I have said, if the psychological symptoms would have occurred in any event, even without the defendant’s wrongful act, through an application of the cause-in-fact test.  Examples of the application of the “thin skull” principle to the award of damages for psychological symptoms in circumstances where there was an existing predisposition include Enge v. Trerise (1960), 26 D.L.R. (2d) 529 (B.C.C.A.), Cotic v. Gray (1981), 17 C.C.L.T. 138 (Ont. C.A.), Elloway v. Boomars (1968), 69 D.L.R. (2d) 605 (B.C.S.C.), and Marconato v. Franklin, [1974] 6 W.W.R. 676 (B.C.S.C.)

20        So, in this case, the evidence of Dr. Davis, accepted by the trial judge, to the effect that the plaintiff had a pre-existing disposition towards the psychological symptoms which actually occurred has no relevance in itself in the assessment of damages, as long as the first causation principle of cause-in-fact is met by it being established that the psychological symptoms would not have arisen but for the defendant’s wrongful act.

21        The other important principle, for the purposes of this case, as a principle applicable in dealing with questions of proximate cause, is the principle that a new intervening act, occurring after the defendant’s wrongful act, may given such a pronounced new impetus or deflection to the chain of causation that the original wrongful act of the defendant is no longer regarded as a sufficient cause upon which to rest legal liability.  That principle is sometimes referred to as involving the occurrence of a novus actus interveniens.

22        The application of the principle relating to intervening acts involves the difficult task of finding the facts correctly on the basis of the evidence.  It also requires a very nice judgment in balancing the causes of the psychological symptoms in order to decide whether the causes arising from the plaintiff’s own pre-existing subjective state and the plaintiff’s own individual conduct as well as from other sources such as the advice and actions of family, friends and healers, have had an independent new impetus or deflection on the existing chain of causation flowing through the defendant’s wrongful act, to such an extent that the defendant’s wrongful act must be regarded as a cause-in-fact for which no legal recovery is permitted.  At that point, the defendant’s wrongful act would no longer be sufficient “proximate cause” in law.  An example of a case where the cause-in-fact test was met, but the proximate cause test was not met because the plaintiff’s psychological symptoms were brought about by his own new acts after the accident and by his grief, so that the chain of causation was given a new impetus and deflection by his own acts which therefore constituted an intervening causative force, is to be found in Beecham v. Hughes (1988), 27 B.C.L.R. (2d) 1 (C.A.).

23        I propose to make three further observations before leaving this discussion of the principles governing the awarding of damages for psychological symptoms experienced by the victim of a tortious act. 

24        My first observation is that I think it is correct to treat a plaintiff’s own conscious wish to receive care, comfort and attention, or the plaintiff’s own conscious failure to exercise his or her willpower to bring about a healing of the symptoms, as coming within the principle of new intervening acts, and to treat those occurrences as giving such a sufficient new impetus or deflection to the chain of causation as to render the original wrongful act no longer a proximate cause.  But if the plaintiff’s wish to receive care, comfort and attention is accepted as being entirely unconscious and contrary to the plaintiff’s own apparent efforts to attain a healing of the symptoms, or if the plaintiff’s own failure to exercise his or her own willpower is unconscious and contrary to the plaintiff’s own apparent efforts to attain a healing of the symptoms, then I would not be prepared to say that the plaintiff is still excluded from compensation for the psychological symptoms.  In short, I think that the word “conscious” is implicit in points 3, 4, 5, and 6 that I have extracted from Mr. Justice Taylor’s reasons in Maslen.

25        My second observation arises from the concurring reasons of Madam Justice Wilson, sitting in the Ontario Court of Appeal, in Cotic v. Gray.  Madam Justice Wilson said, first, that the foreseeability test for remoteness of damage and the thin skull principle cannot co-exist in relation to psychological symptoms either directly brought about by the accident or triggered by the accident on the foundation of a predisposition to suffer such symptoms.

26        Madam Justice Wilson emphasized, second, that in a thin skull case, that is, a case of pre-existing vulnerability, the occurrence of the psychological symptoms should not, without more, be regarded as arising from a new sufficient cause in the nature of a novus actus interveniens.  Madam Justice Wilson said this, at p. 180:

In my opinion, it is inappropriate in a thin skull case to view the peculiar vulnerability of the victim as causative in law.  Undoubtedly as a factual matter the deceased’s psychiatric condition played a role in his subsequent suicide but the law would be taking away with one hand what it had given with the other if it were to permit the victim’s peculiar vulnerability to break the causal chain, or constitute a novus actus interveniens or, worse still, be treated as the effective cause of his damage.  I do not think it was open to the jury to view the motor vehicle accident and the deceased’s psychiatric condition as separate or concurring “causes” and to choose between them which was the “effective cause” of the death.  Given the deceased’s pre-existing mental frailty, the medical evidence referred to by my learned colleague established beyond peradventure that the accident and its effect upon Mr. Cotic drove him to his death.

27        I agree with those conclusions of Madam Justice Wilson.

28        My third observation is that there are many cases in which the assessment of damages depends upon an examination of this difficult area.  As Mr. Justice Taylor said inMaslen v. Rubenstein, we were referred to more than fifty authorities in argument in that case.  However, I wish to make a brief comment in relation to only British Columbia trial decisions.

29        Buteikis v. Adams (1994), 90 B.C.L.R. (2d) 213 (S.C.), is under appeal to this Court.  My comment is that I do not propose to say anything whatsoever about that case.

30        In Landry v. Cadeau (24 June, 1985), Vancouver B830850 (B.C.S.C.), it is suggested in obiter dicta that weakness of willpower should not enable a plaintiff to recover damages for psychological symptoms that cannot be healed by the weak will of the plaintiff, if a strong-willed person could have healed the same symptoms in the same circumstances.  To the extent that that suggestion is contrary to the application of the egg shell personality principle, I would not follow it.

31        In Smith v. Wensley (15 January, 1988), Victoria 85/0178 (B.C.S.C.), Mr. Justice Taylor said this, at p. 6:

It seems to me that if a person is reduced by an injury to a psychological state, so that continued pain is involuntarily experienced thereafter even though there is no physical basis for it, that pain might logically be attributed to psychological problems brought about by the accident, and the continued sensation of pain could properly be regarded in such a case as something caused by the accident.  But where depression or some other psychological condition leading the victim to experience revival or continuation of pain has not been shown to have been caused by the accident to which the pain is attributed, it cannot be said, for the purposes of the law, that a causal connection exists between the injury and the continued pain.  The only connection between them is that which exists in the mind of the sufferer – the injury is merely the subject on which the victim’s mind has happened to focus or “fixate” – and that is not, of course, sufficient to establish a connection in law between the injury and the continuing complaint.

32        It seems to me that there are two different types of psychological symptoms that may be covered by the principles that are here being discussed.  There are those where the psychological symptoms have their origin entirely in the defendant’s wrongful act.  Clearly they are compensable.  And there are those psychological symptoms where the defendant’s wrongful act triggers a pre-existing psychological condition so that both the defendant’s wrongful act and the pre-existing condition are causes-in-fact of the psychological injury.  In the latter cases the psychological injury will be compensable on the basis of a pre-existing thin skull, except only in cases where the psychological problem is so dominant as a pre-existing condition and the injuries sustained in the accident are so trivial that the accident can no longer be said to be sufficient cause in law to support an award of damages on the basis of proximate cause.

33        I have difficulty accepting that there will be any cases in which it could be said that damages should be refused on the basis that the injury suffered in the accident was merely the subject on which the victim’s mind has happened to focus or fixate, when it cannot also be said that if the accident had not happened something else would have provided the trigger for the focussing or fixating so that the psychological symptoms would have occurred in any event and the cause-in-fact test would not have been met.

34        It is noteworthy that though Smith v. Wensley was referred to in argument in Maslen v. Rubenstein, Mr. Justice Taylor did not return again to the notion that damages would not be awarded if the accident injuries were merely something on which the plaintiff focussed or fixated.  I think that if the focussing or fixating has its real origin in the accident, or if the focussing or fixating has its real origin in a pre-existing tendency to focus or fixate in that way, then the psychological symptoms arising from the focussing or fixating would be compensable unless the focussing or fixating would have occurred in any event, but would have chosen a different subject matter on which to crystallize, even if the accident had not occurred.

This case, and cases like it, are worth reviewing for anyone advancing an ICBC injury claim who was more prone to injury than the average person by virtue of their pre-existing physical make-up.

Can I Fire My ICBC Claims Lawyer?

October 29th, 2008

If you hired a lawyer to advance your ICBC tort claim on a contingency basis and are unsatisfied with the representation you are receiving, can you fire your lawyer?  The short answer is yes.

You are the client, you are in charge.   If you don’t like how your lawyer is handling your case you can send him/her packing.  HOWEVER, it will probably cost you money to do so.

Over the years I’ve been approached by numerous people indicating they wish to fire their current lawyer. My advice is almost always the same so I thought I would share it on this blog post.  Try to work things out with your lawyer.  Hiring a new lawyer means paying a new lawyer.  You want to avoid getting stuck with 2 legal bills for 1 Personal Injury claim if you can avoid it.  Often times the problems that strain the lawyer-client relationship are fixable.  Sit down with your lawyer, communicate your concerns and see if you can work out a solution.  If you can’t work things out then you can of course move on.  You need confidence in your lawyer to work towards a fair settlement of your ICBC claim.

If you want to fire your lawyer the first thing you should do is check your fee agreement.  A well written fee agreement will deal with how you can end your relationship with your lawyer and the consequences.  Often times a contingency fee lawyer will finance disbursements (expenses) involved in advancing an ICBC claim.  If you get a new lawyer you (or your new lawyer) will need to pay these expenses in order to get the file.

Arrangements will also have to be made to secure your former lawyer’s fees.   Often times the fee agreement will permit the lawyer to charge you an hourly rate for the work done prior to termination.  Other times the lawyer will be able to look at the final settlement amount and charge a fee based on how much his/her efforts contributed to the final settlement.  Typically a fired lawyer in these circumstances is prepared to wait until the case is settled to collect their fees but the disbursements usually need to be paid right away.

If you don’t think the lawyer is charging a fair fee for services you can have the lawyer’s account reviewed by a registrar of the Supreme Court.

If you don’t like your lawyer the  Bottom Line is this – Try to work things out, if you can’t, review your fee agreement and determine what your financial obligations to your lawyer will be.  From there get a lawyer that you trust and respect, if you don’t have confidence in your lawyer you will have a tough time working towards a fair settlement of your ICBC injury claim.

ICBC Claims and Treating Physicians

October 29th, 2008

In reasons for judgement released today Mr. Justice Holmes awarded an injured Plaintiff a total of $8,500 in damages as a result of injuries sustained in a 2005 BC car accident that occurred in 100 Mile House.

The Plaintiff was a passenger at the time.  His wife was driving.  The vehicle left the roadway and rolled onto its roof.  Liability for the accident was admitted by ICBC but the issue of damages was contested.

The Plaintiff led medical evidence that he suffered from ‘mechanical lower back pain’ amongst other injuries as a result of this crash.  He advanced a ‘significant claim of loss of earning capacity’.

The cause of the Plaintiff’s back pain was at issue at trial.  The court largely rejected the Plaintiff’s claim and found that the Plaintiff had pre-existing back pain which was exacerbated as a result of the collision.   The court found that the Plaintiff’s exacerbation ‘either resolved or significantly diminished within a few months of the accident.  The Plaintiff’s more serious complaints of back pain and spasm did not occur until months later…‘ 

The court summarized its findings at paragraph 48 as follows:

[48]            I do however accept the plaintiff did receive some injury in the motor vehicle accident of November 15, 2005.  That injury was an exacerbation of a long-standing pre-existing back injury, and he is entitled to non-pecuniary damages for the exacerbation injury which I consider was resolved within approximately a year of the November 15, 2005 motor vehicle accident.  He was restricted for a month or two following the accident in his ability to lift weights and for several months on a diminishing or sporadic basis and he was troubled by prolonged sitting or immobility.  Treatment was by continuing chiropractic and exercise.  He was able to perform his work and operate his business with minimal interference.  I assess the plaintiff’s damages at $8,500, inclusive of minimal interference with earning ability or loss of business income.

The Plaintiff did not call his treating chiropractor and his family physician to give evidence.  The court was critical of this and it appears that this was a main factor which fueled the court’s decision.  The court highlighted this fact as follows:

[37]            I conclude the plaintiff has failed to prove on a balance of probabilities the back pain he experienced after commencing the above-ground work in erecting the towers commencing in the fall of 2006 was caused or contributed to by injury he received in the motor vehicle accident of November 15, 2005.

[38]            Neither Dr. Carson, the chiropractor, nor Dr. Geerts, the family physician, gave evidence or tendered reports despite the very contentious causation issue in this action.  Dr. Carson’s records recording the plaintiff’s history and the treatment he received were highly contradictory to the plaintiff’s evidence and the explanations of the plaintiff make no sense even with allowance that he is a poor historian.

[39]            I conclude the plaintiff had an existing problem of back pain, symptomatic at the date of the motor vehicle accident, for which he was receiving chiropractic treatments prior to the subject motor vehicle accident of November 15, 2005.  I accept the motor vehicle accident exacerbated that pre-existing condition for a period of time, and the symptoms were manifested when lifting weight and by postural discomfort caused from prolonged sitting or immobility.

If you are advancing and ICBC claim and have pre-existing injuries it is a good idea to consider calling your treating doctor to give evidence to explain your pre and post accident status to the court.  Failing to do so may result in an ‘adverse inference’ where the court may conclude that your treating doctor would have given evidence damaging to your case.

Court of Appeal Orders Re-Trial for Contributory Negligence in Bicycle Accident Case

October 28th, 2008

Reasons for judgement were released by the BC Court of Appeal today ordering a new trial to deal with the issue of ‘contributory negligence’ of the Plaintiff.

The Plaintiff was an experienced tri-athlete and bicyclist.  He was

catastrophically injured in an accident on a steep and winding road in Langley on the morning of June 29, 2002.  Proceeding on his triathlon-model bicycle downhill towards a blind curve, he veered to the right to avoid a “cube” van coming over the centre line, lost control of his bicycle, travelled through a gap between two barriers at the side of the road, and fell down a ravine.  His spinal cord was injured at the C6-7 level, with the result that he has almost no sensation and almost no use of his body from his chest down and suffers chronic neuropathic pain.  He does have use of his arms and of his diaphragm muscles.  He has also been diagnosed with a mild traumatic brain injury.  He was 50 years old at the time of the accident.

Following a 33 day trial the BC Supreme Court found the Defendants liable in negligence and awarded close to $4.5 million for the Plaintiff’s severe injuries and damages.  The trial judge found that the Plaintiff was not contributorily negligent (that is that the Plaintiff was not even partially to blame for the accident).

The Defendants appealed on several grounds.  Their appeal succeeded on the issue of contributory negligence.  The BC Court of Appeal ordered that this issue be retried.  The court’s key finding of error at the trial level is set out at paragraphs 25-26 which I set out below:

[25]            The question that the trial judge was required to address was whether in all the circumstances Mr. Aberdeen was taking reasonable care for his own safety as a bicyclist, going down a hill he knew to be “nasty” and approaching a blind corner.  Did he use a wrong technique?  Was he going too fast?  Given that he was clearly exceeding the “advisory” speed for cars, was he creating an unreasonable risk of harm to himself as he rounded the curve?  Was he driving too closely to the centre line?  Should he not, if riding in a reasonably prudent manner, have been able to move to the right side of his lane, as Mr. McGee did, without losing control and going over the shoulder and off the road?  The trial judge did not answer these questions but, with respect, was content to base his conclusion of no negligence largely on the finding that Mr. Aberdeen could not have received a ticket.  As for the fact that the plaintiff and Mr. McGee had conversed, just before the accident, about the steepness of the hill, that could take one only so far.  As Lambert J.A. suggested in MacDonald v. Shorter [1991] B.C.J. No. 3714, 8 B.C.A.C. 179, it seems likely that “in the bulk of cases where negligence occurs, the negligent conduct is an exception to the general conduct of the person who is said to be negligent.”  (At para. 13.)

[26]            In these circumstances, I am reluctantly driven to the conclusion that the trial judge erred in failing to consider specifically whether Mr. Aberdeen had been taking reasonable care for his own safety.  (In addition, there was more than a “paucity” of evidence on the topic of speed, contrary to the trial judge’s finding.)  I would remit the issue of contributory negligence for retrial below

This case is worth reviewing for anyone involved in an ICBC tort claim involving a cyclist to see the types of factors BC courts look at when deciding whether a cyclist is partially responsible for an accident. 

ICBC, Tort Claims and Admitting the Issue of Fault

October 27th, 2008

Reasons for judgement were released today dismissing a claim where a Plaintiff sued ICBC alleging that ICBC infringed on her right to ‘freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression” as guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

This is a somewhat unusual judgement.  The Plaintiff was involved in a car accident in 2003.  She was apparently ticketed for her driving and ‘she felt alright with accepting total fault for the accident, because her car was in the pathway (of the other vehicle) when his car collided with hers.’

The other driver made a tort claim against the Plaintiff thereby triggering her policy of insurance with ICBC.  ICBC appointed a lawyer and defended the claim.  Ultimately the claim settled and the Plaintiff was indemnified for the damages she had to pay to settle the other motorists tort claim.

In the lawsuit ICBC denied that their insured was at fault.  ICBC often does this even if the Defendant is likely at fault for an accident.  The Plaintiff appeared displeased with this decision.  Some friction arose between the Plaintiff and her insurer ICBC.   This friction surrounded meetings between the Plaintiff and her ICBC appointed lawyer in preparing her for her evidence at an examination for discovery.    The Plaintiff was apparently concerned that her lawyer was ‘trying to influence her version of how the motor vehicle accident occurred‘.’  Ultimately ICBC sent the Plaintiff a letter informing her that ‘there is some indication that (the Plaintiff) did not meet a condition of your insurance contract‘.  The condition referenced in the letter was apparently the condition of an insured to co-operate with ICBC as required by s. 73 of the Insurance Vehicle Regulation.

This letter triggered the above lawsuit whereby the Plaintiff alleged ICBC infringed her Charter rigths.  ICBC applied to dismiss the claim arguing that the lawsuit contained no bona fide triable issue.  Mr.  Justice Halfyard agreed with ICBC and dismissed the claim.  In doing so he found that “I think it is arguable that the statement of claim could be amended so as to allege a cause of action for conspiracy to suborn perjury…In my opinion, no useful purpose would be served in allowing the Plaintiff to amend the statement of claim.  It is my opinion that most of the possible causes of action fail to disclose any reasonable claim, and those that might be amended so as to allege causes of action for intimidation and conspiracy to suborn perjury are bound to fail‘.

This case, while a little off the beaten path, goes to show that ICBC (in the course of defending one of their insured in a tort claim) has the right to decide whether the issue of fault for an accident will be admitted.  As Mr. Justice Halfyard notes, 

 It was counsel’s duty to assess Ms. Joe’s statement of how the accident occurred, and to then advise I.C.B.C. as to whether or not liability should be admitted.  Under the regulations, I.C.B.C. had the exclusive authority to decide whether liability would be admitted, in whole or in part, on behalf of Ms. Joe.  Many cases occur in which I.C.B.C admits 100% liability on behalf of insured drivers who deny they were at fault for the accident.  In the present case, there was nothing improper in defence counsel and I.C.B.C. taking the initial position that Mr. Knight was partly at fault for the accident.  Mr. Knight had apparently admitted he was not wearing a seat belt.  That position was also justified by Ms. Joe’s description of her actions, even accepting the statement she claims to have consistently given.  But counsel would understandably want to pin down the version of events that she would be giving on discovery, in the circumstances of this case.  That could never amount to an attempt to make Ms. Joe deny that she was at fault.  It was for counsel to predict what degree of fault should be attributed to her, based on her own statement and the other circumstances surrounding the accident.

If you feel you are at fault for an accident the best thing you can do is let ICBC know this in no uncertain terms.  If any indication is given that ‘an insured’ is not at fault for an accident ICBC will likely put the issue of fault into play in any subsequent tort claim.

Left Turn Inersection Crashes and the Law in BC

October 24th, 2008

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court concerning a 2005 intersection crash that occurred in the lower mainland of BC.

The Plaintiff was making a left hand turn from Hastings onto Willingdon.  At the same time the Defendant was operating a vehicle coming the opposite direction on Hastings.  A collision occurred.  There were no independent witnesses to this crash.  Both the Plaintiff and Defendant testified and as can be expected their evidence differed to several facts with each blaming the other for the crash.

Madam Justice Dardi preferred the Plaintiff’s evidence over the Defendant’s finding the Defendant testified in ‘an evasive and less straightforward manner’.

The court found that the Plaintiff was clearing the intersection on a stale yellow light and at the time the Defendant entered the intersection ‘it was not safe from him to do so on a very late stage amber or red light.  He should have stopped’.  The court found the Defendant 100% responsible for this intersection crash.

In reaching this decision Madam Justice Dardi summarized the law relating to left-hand turn intersection crashes as follows:

[34]            Section 174 of the Motor Vehicle Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 318 [MVA], governs the right-of-way in situations where a driver is making a left turn:

When a vehicle is in an intersection and its driver intends to turn left, the driver must yield the right of way to traffic approaching from the opposite direction that is in the intersection or so close as to constitute an immediate hazard, but having yielded and given a signal as required by sections 171 and 172, the driver may turn the vehicle to the left, and traffic approaching the intersection from the opposite direction must yield the right of way to the vehicle making the left turn.

[35]            An immediate hazard exists if the oncoming vehicle must make a sudden or violent avoiding action to prevent a collision: Aerabi-Boosheri v. Retallick, [1996] B.C.J. No. 143 at para. 8.

[36]            Section 128 of the MVA governs the duties of drivers when a traffic light turns yellow.  It states, as far as is relevant, as follows:

128      (1)        When a yellow light alone is exhibited at an intersection by a traffic control signal, following the exhibition of a green light,

(a)        the driver of a vehicle approaching the intersection and facing the yellow light must cause it to stop before entering the marked crosswalk on the near side of the intersection, or if there is no marked crosswalk, before entering the intersection, unless the stop cannot be made in safety…

[37]            Who has the statutory right-of-way is informative; however, it does not determine liability in an accident.  Drivers with the statutory right-of-way must still exercise caution to avoid accidents where possible.  In Walker v. Brownlee, [1952] 2 D.L.R. 450, Cartwright J. states at paras. 46-47:

[46]      The duty of a driver having the statutory right-of-way has been discussed in many cases.  In my opinion it is stated briefly and accurately in the following passage in the judgment of Aylesworth J.A., concurred in by Robertson C.J.O., in Woodward v. Harris, [1951] O.W.N. 221 at p. 223: “Authority is not required in support of the principle that a driver entering an intersection, even although he has the right of way, is bound to act so as to avoid a collision if reasonable care on his part will prevent it.  To put it another way: he ought not to exercise his right of way if the circumstances are such that the result of his so doing will be a collision which he reasonably should have foreseen and avoided.”

[47]      While the judgment of the Court of Appeal in that case was set aside and a new trial ordered [[1952] 1 D.L.R. 82] there is nothing said in the judgments delivered in this Court to throw any doubt on the accuracy of the statement quoted.

The Plaintiff suffered from various soft tissue injuries.  The court summarized the Plaintiff’s injuries at paragraph 57 as follows:

[57]            Dr. Steinson was an impressive witness.  I accept his opinion that the plaintiff has developed a myofascial pain syndrome in his neck and trapezius as a consequence of the injury in the motor vehicle accident.  I also find that the episodic pain that the plaintiff continues to experience is mild to moderate.  Dr. Steinson’s prognosis for the plaintiff is guarded.  Based on the medical evidence, the likelihood is that the plaintiff’s symptoms will continue to improve over the next few years although there is a possibility that his episodic pain may persist further into the future

The court awarded the following damages:

(1)        Non-pecuniary loss $30,000;

(2)        Loss of future earning capacity $20,000;

(3)        Cost of future care $2,000; and

(4)        Special damages $500.

Rule 37B and ICBC – J. Boyd Considers fact Defendant Insured by ICBC

October 23rd, 2008

As you may know Rule 37-B is the new BC rule dealing with formal settlements and costs consequences in the BC Supreme Court.  (to find my previous posts on this case search this cite for ’37B’).

This new rule will take some time to work itself out.  There are already conflicting reasons for judgement addressing whether it is appropriate to look at whether the Defendant is insured when considering costs consequences.

Last week J. Hinkson refused to consider the insurance status of a defendant when deciding whether to award ‘double costs’ after trial.

Reasons for judgement were released today considering the fact that the defendants were ‘represented by ICBC’ when weighing the ‘financial circumstances’ of the parties.

In addition to being the first precedent that has looked at the insurance status of the defendant as a relevant consideration, this case is interesting because it is the first to trigger ‘double costs’ even though a matter settled before judgement.

In this case the Plaintiff alleged a Mild Traumatic Brain Injury after a BC car accident.  She sued and made a formal offer to settle for $500,000 which expired at the start of trial.  The case settled on the 11th day of trial when the defendant’s offered to settle for $1 Million ‘plus assessable costs and disbursements’ less advances paid.  The Plaintiff’s accepted this offer.

The parties could not agree on the costs implications of the settlement were.  The Plaintiff asked for double costs because the Plaintiff’s reasonable settlement offer (which complied with Rule 37B) was rejected and the Plaintiff had to incur significant expense in running 11 days of trial prior to achieving settlement.

The court agreed the Plaintiff was entitled to double costs in these circumstances.  The key finding being made at paragraph 42 which I set out below:

  In the case at bar, on a review of the Rule and the authorities, I conclude that the plaintiff is indeed entitled to double costs from the date of the August 12th offer of settlement forward.  Since the defendants ultimately settled for an amount which was double the plaintiff’s original pre-trial offer, it is clear in my view that her original offer to settle “…was one that ought reasonably to have been accepted”.  Certainly the terms offered in August were far more advantageous to the defendants than the ultimate amount represented by the settlement agreement.  It is also clear that there is a substantial disparity in financial circumstances between the parties.  The defendants, represented by ICBC, had substantially greater resources to finance a trial than the individual plaintiff.  Had the defendants accepted the plaintiff’s initial reasonable offer, the plaintiff would not have had to incur the significant costs associated with nearly two weeks of trial


British Columbia Bus Accidents and the Law

October 22nd, 2008

Reasons for judgement were released today dismissing the claim of a Plaintiff against the Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority for injuries sustained while on a bus in White Rock in 2005.

At some point after boarding the bus the Plaintiff stood up, “She held the floor-to-roof stanchion adjacent to the courtesy seat with her right hand.  She rotated clockwise so that her back was to the collapsible seat.  As she did so, she changed her grip in order to hold the stanchion with her left hand.  (the Plaintiff) let go of the stanchion she had been holding with her left hand as she proceeded to sit down in the collapsible seat and before she was seated.  (the Plaintiff) testified to her recollection that the bus accelerated from the bus stop causing her to lose her balance and to descend with some force.  The sacral-lumbar portion of her back struck the plastic armrest affixed to the left side of the collapsible seat.  A photograph of the injury taken later in the day indicates that the point of contact was directly on the sacral-lumbar area or the coccyx, and not to the left or right of the spine.”

The court dismissed the claim finding that “On the evidence that has been adduced, I conclude and find as a fact that the sole cause of the accident was (the Plaintiff’s) omission to take precautions to ensure her own safety on a moving bus.  She omitted to hold the stanchion that was readily available to her as she sat down.  I am not persuaded on a balance of probabilities that the bus was operated in any manner which could be classified as negligent.”

While this is by no means an exciting claim, Mr. Justice Pitfield did a great job in summarizing some of the authorities that deal with the duty of care owed by bus drivers to their passengers.  He recited the following well known principles when dealing with injured occupants on a bus:

Although the carrier of passengers is not an insurer, yet if an accident occurs and the passenger is injured, there is a heavy burden on the defendant carrier to establish that he had used all due, proper and reasonable care and skill to avoid or prevent injury to the passenger.  The care required is of a very high degree

…once an accident has occurred, the defendant must meet the heavy burden of establishing that he used all proper and reasonable care and skill to avoid or prevent injury to the passenger.  The standard of care imposed is the conduct expected of a reasonably prudent bus driver in the circumstances.  The court must consider the experience of an average bus driver, as well as anything that the particular driver knew or should have known about the passenger.  The standard of care required is higher when the driver knew or ought to have known that the passenger was handicapped or elderly.


ICBC Tort Claims and Net Wage Loss

October 22nd, 2008

If you have been injured in a BC motor vehicle accident and suffered a wage loss you may have had ICBC tell you that they can only pay you your ‘net wage loss’ in your tort claim.

I have often often seen ICBC calculate a person’s gross wage loss and deduct 25% to account for income taxes prior to paying the past wage loss.  Is this proper?  The answer is sometimes.  It depends on the amnount of your past wage loss award.

Great reasons for judgement were released today by Madam Justice Boyd of the BC Supreme Court.  In this case the court awarded $8,750.36 for past wage loss.  ICBC then tried to deduct income taxes on this amount prior to paying it.  Madame Justice Boyd summarized the applicable law very well and concluded that the leading BC Supreme Court dealing with this issue(Hudniuk v. Warkentin) applies, and using its principles

the Plaintiff’s net income loss should be calculated by deducting the necessary income tax from the agreed gross income loss of $8,750.36.  Further, as Hudniuk requires, for the purposes of tax calculations, this formula assumes that this amount is the only income earned by the Plaintiff in 2008.  Since the first day of trial was May 12, 2008, the tax rates in effect of the previous calendar year, as or December 31, 2007, are applicable

The court then noted that at the time personal income under $9,027 was exempt from taxation meaning the Plaintiff was entitled to the whole amount of past wage loss.

So, according to this judgement, if the past income loss you are entitled to in a BC ICBC tort claim is less than the personal income amount that is exempt from taxation you are entitled to the whole of your past wage loss.

I have heard through the grape-vine that the BC Court of Appeal will soon further clarify this area of the law, but until that time today’s case sets a great precedent for Plaintiff’s with less than $9,000 in past wage loss.


ICBC, No-Fault Benefits and 'Sickness and Disease'

October 21st, 2008

Interesting reasons for judgement were released today concerning traumatic injuries and pre-existing degenerative disc disease.

The Plaintiff was a building siding installer.  He had a pre-existing degenerative lumbar spine condition which was largely asymptomatic, that is it caused occasional pain but did not disable him from work.  He was injured in a BC car accident on November 22, 2005.  He became totally disabled from his work after this collision.  He applied to ICBC, and received, Part 7 wage loss benefits.

ICBC obtained a report from Dr. Dommisse in June 2006.  He stated that ‘(the Plaintiff’s) complaints have been caused by this motor vehicle accident in part.  His pre-existing condition is likely contributing to his ongoing symptoms….His continued symptoms, in my opinion, are related to the degenerative changes at L4/5 at this time.’

As a result of this opinion ICBC cut off the Plaintiff’s wage loss benefits on August 31, 2006.  ICBC did so because they took the position that the Plaintiff’s ongoing disability was ‘caused directly or indirectly by sickness or disease.’

Can ICBC do that?  The answer is yes.  Section 96 of the Insurance Vehicle Regulation places some limits on benefits ICBC has to pay their insured including those ‘whose injury was caused, directly or indirectly, by sickness or disease, unless the sickness or disease was contracted as a direct result of an accident for which benefits are provided under this Part’

The Plaintiff sued ICBC asking the court to reinstate the Plaintiff’s no-fault wage loss benefits.   In support of the Plaintiff’s case, Dr. Hirsch, a Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Specialist, gave evidence that 

Based on today’s obtained history and review of the forwarded clinical documents, it is my opinion that the acute onset of low back pain and resultant decline in function is causally related to the November 2005 motor vehicle accident

(the Plaintiff) reported that he has made a 20 to 30% symptomatic recovery regarding his low back injuries.  He reported that for the past four months he has not noticed any further symptomatic gains.  Accordingly, I would view the prognosis for a good recovery as guarded at this juncture.

At present and in the foreseeable future, I do not foresee that (the Plaintiff) will improve sufficiently to get back to his pre-motor vehicle accident line of work. Furthermore, at present I would question whether he is gainfully employable as a locksmith.

Mr. Justice Meiklem of the BC Supreme Court dismissed the Plaintiff’s claim finding as follows:

[29]            In my view, the medical evidence in this case, notwithstanding the differences of opinion on the relative significance of the concurrent causes of (the Plaintiff’s) continuing disability and whether the injuries suffered in the accident had resolved by August 31, 2006, clearly establishes that the degenerative lumbar spine, specifically at the L4/5 facet joints was a contributing cause of his disability after that date.  While I do not find it proven that the effects of the accidental injury were fully resolved by that time, the defendant has established that, but for his degenerative disease, Mr. Wafler would not be totally disabled within the meaning of the covering provisions after August 31, 2006.

[30]            Consequently, I find that the defendant has established that the s. 96(f) exclusion applies and I decline to make the declaration sought by the plaintiff.

If you are in a dispute with ICBC regarding the payment of no-fault wage loss benefits it is important to canvass decisions such as this one addressing the potential consequences of pre-existing conditions on your ICBC insurance claim.  Ensure that your physicians carefully canvass the relationship between any ‘sickness or disease’ and traumatic injury when applying for ICBC no fault benefits.