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 May, 2009

BC Jury Discharched for Bringing Wikipedia Article to Court During ICBC Trial

May 30th, 2009

Everything that seemingly could go wrong in an ICBC Jury Trial went wrong when an injured Plaintiff brought her claim to court in early May 2009 (Sharamandari v. Ahmadi).  ICBC, the insurer on the case, insisted on a jury trial.  Certain concerns about the jurors behaviour came to the trial judge’s attention which ultimately caused him to discharge the Jury.

One of the many interesting developments (click here to read Vancouver Reporter Ian Mulgrew’s recent story shedding light on some of the other notable developments) in this trial was the jury’s reference to outside legal research in the course of the trial.

During the case mention was made of the legal principle volenti non fit injuria.  One of the jurors took it upon himself to research this via wikipedia and apparently brought this outside legal research back into the jury room.  This of course was improper and contradicted the presiding judges instructions as it had not yet been determined whether this principle of law was to be considered by this jury (and if volenti was to go to the jury Wikipedia fails to explain how this principle of law has developed in British Columbia car crash cases).

Upon learning of this transgression the following exchange took place between the trial judge and the juror:

THE COURT Its come to my attention that you may have brought outside legal research into the jury room what part of my instructions telling you not to do that did you think that you could do it

JUROR  I didnt think this was this is a term that I I was looking for a definition of the term

THE COURT Yes And isnt that within the purview of outside or doesnt that come within the definition of doing outside research

JUROR  I didnt think so at the time

THE COURT I see And what were your grounds for not thinking so

JUROR I dont have an answer for that question

THE COURT okay why did you think if it was research for your benefit that you thought it was appropriate to bring it into the jury room and start to discuss it

JUROR  I thought that everybody would want to know because it was a definition

THE COURT A definition of a legal term

JUROR well yes yes and no It was it was from wikipedia It was just like its not a legal its not something that I go to for legal terms Its just something that was on the internet

Ultimately the judge discharged the jury for this and other transgressions.  In discharging the jury Mr. Justice Burnyeat made the following comments which give insight into just how much went wrong in this ICBC Jury Trial:

THE COURT I have been a judge for 13 years and what Im about to say I havent had to say before so I say it with considerable regret.

You were told by me not to do outside research and yet one of you has decided to ignore that and bring a wikipedia article which has absolutely no relevancy in Canada or in the jury deliberations and may well be based on us cases which are of no relevance in Canada and on an issue which may or may not go to you as jurors.

You were told not to consider the evidence until all evidence was before you and you have decided to start in anyway.

You were told to put the question of whether awards do or do not result in higher insurance premiums out of your minds and yet someone has decided to mention that it probably and speculate that it probably results in higher  insurance premiums for all of us if in fact an award is made by you and the amount of award.

You  were told to deal with the evidence alone and not views that you might have that would interfere with that And I am advised that comments were made about the heritage of the party and some of the  witnesses.

You were told to weigh the evidence of all experts equally but assume that those who testify for one party are being paid for their opinions as hired guns and not for opinions that are professionally arrived.  You were told to each consider all of the evidence but then divide up the evidence so that not everyone will necessarily look at everything thats before them. You were told that it may be necessary to sit  this week and next but ignored that advice I have  given in order that you can save time by adopting  a procedure which is totally inappropriate.

You  were told to spend Friday afternoon reviewing the  evidence but decide that your own schedules are more important than my instructions.

You have failed collectively and in some cases individually to discharge your duties as jurors and I have no alternative but to discharge you as a jury . Your actions have resulted in considerable hardship to both the plaintiff and to ICBC and the defendant.  As a result an answer  will not be available to them.  All parties must have a consideration of matters delayed for what may be a further six to 12 months.

The cost of  having expert witnesses appear for the plaintiff will be thrown away The cost of having to cancel the appearances of expert witnesses who would be appearing for ICBC will be considerable All witnesses will have to go through the anxiety of appearing in court a second time And you have caused a blow to the system a blow to the parties from which there can be no particular recovery You are discharged as a jury and you can now leave and I will not thank you for your attendance

Can you be at Fault for a BC Car Crash if you are Rearended?

May 29th, 2009

Although such a finding is unusual the short answer is yes, you can be at fault for a car crash when rear-ended by another motorist.  Reasons for judgment were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry demonstrating this.

In today’s case (Saffari v. Lopez) the Plaintiff sustained injuries when she rear-ended the Defendant’s vehicle in West Vancouver on the on-ramp to the Lion’s Gate Bridge.

Traffic at the time of the crash was sparse.  The Plaintiff was following the Defendant’s vehicle.  The Defendant’s passenger attempted to ‘throw out a cigarette and thought it came back in‘ and in reaction to this the Defendant brought his vehicle to ‘a fairly sudden slowdown‘.  At this time the Plaintiff collided with the Defendant vehicle.

Mr. Justice Harvey of the BC Supreme Court found that both the Plaintiff and Defendant were equally to blame for this collision, he reasoned as follows in reaching this conclusion:

[41] Section 144(1)(b) prohibits drivers from driving without reasonable consideration for other persons using the highway.

[42] Such would include, in my opinion, consideration of the circumstances of stopping or suddenly slowing one’s vehicle in the flow of traffic where other viable options, such as exiting the roadway, existed.  The emergency resulting in the deceleration of the Lopez vehicle was self-created.  In any event, there is no suggestion that the cigarette had fallen onto the driver’s lap or otherwise onto his person.  Mr. Lopez’s reaction, that is to suddenly slow or stop his vehicle, was but one of several choices he had.  He acknowledged these included signalling an intention to change lanes to reach a point of safety where he could stop his vehicle without impeding traffic or putting on four-way flashers to alert following vehicles and other users of the road to an emergency.

[43] I find Mr. Lopez was negligent in suddenly stopping or slowing his vehicle on the roadway approaching the Lions Gate Bridge: Ayers.  Here, unlike in the authorities referred to by the defendant, traffic was not stop and go as was the case in Pryndik v. Manju, 2001 BCSC 502 at para. 2, aff’d 2002 BCCA 639, nor was there such a lapse of time between the action of the defendant and the happening of the accident to bring the circumstances of this case within the reasoning of the Court in Peterson v. Cabot, 2000 BCSC 1453.

[44] I also need to consider the actions of the plaintiff Ms. Saffari and what, if any, responsibility rests with her actions leading to the collision.

[45] I must reject, almost in its entirety, the evidence of Mr. Javanpour as it relates to the driving of Ms. Saffari prior to and leading to the accident.

[46] His evidence concerning matters such as the conversations he overheard, the use or availability of a cell phone during the journey preceding the accident coupled with his description and explanation as to the Jeep’s running lights, all make his evidence of events unreliable.

[47] Ms. Saffari’s description of events, while more credible in terms of the totality of the evidence, is equally wanting in some areas.  Her description of the conversation with Ms. Pfeifer coupled with her denial of it on discovery, her varying estimates of her speed and that of the Jeep, her admission that she “momentarily lost sight of the Jeep” coupled with the elaborate description of her evasive actions also cause me to question more important aspects of her evidence as it relates to the moments or seconds leading to the accident.

[48] Ms. Saffari never said the Lopez vehicle slammed on the brakes.  She testified she saw the brake lights of the Jeep come on as she entered the arc of the curve.  She did not describe a panic stop nor is such consistent with the evidence of Mr. Lopez.  Her evidence as to “losing sight of the Jeep” simply makes no sense if her estimate as to the separation between the vehicles and her speed is consistent and she was maintaining proper lookout.  Were she travelling both at the speed she describes and the distance from the Jeep when she saw the lights come on, she could have stopped.  This is not a case where the doctrine of “agony of collision” applies.  Drivers are daily confronted with vehicles in front of them stopping or slowing for all sorts of reasons.  If Ms. Saffari did react in the elaborate manner she and Mr. Javanpour described in their evidence then she did so because she was travelling either too fast for conditions or too close behind the Lopez vehicle to bring her car to a timely stop once confronted by the hazard posed by the defendant’s driving.

[49] In the circumstances, I find the plaintiff and defendant equally at fault for the accident.  The defendant Ms. Pfeifer is accordingly liable, as owner, in like proportion to Mr. Lopez.

BC Health Care Costs Recovery Act Gets Its First Judicial Consideration

May 28th, 2009

As of April 1, 2009 the BC Health Care Costs Recovery Act came into force.  This legislation applies to almost all non-ICBC personal injury claims in this Province.  (click here for some background on this act).

The first judgement that I’m aware of dealing with this legislation was released today by the BC Supreme Court.

In today’s case (MacEachern v. Rennie), the Plaintiff was seriously injured when her head came in contact with a tractor trailer driven by the defendant Rennie.   The Plaintiff’s personal injury trial started in March, 2009 (before the Health Care Costs Recovery Act came into force) and proceeded well beyond April 1 (when the Act came into force).  On April 21, well into the trial, the Plaintiff’s lawyer brought a motion to amend the claim to include $699,195 in hospitalization costs paid by the BC Government.

Mr. Justice Ehrcke concluded that it would be prejudicial to permit the Plaintiff to amend her claim to include these significant costs so late in the trial.  In dismissing the motion he reasoned as follows:

[30] Counsel for the plaintiff and counsel for the intervenor submit that it might not be necessary for the defendants to call evidence if the claim were limited to a claim for hospital costs.  The suggestion is that these costs are calculated on a simple per diem basis, and there would be no realistic basis on which the defendants could contest hospital costs.

[31] I cannot accept that submission.  During argument on this motion, counsel for the defendants advised that they still have not seen a copy of the Minister’s certificate.  Since counsel have not seen what would actually be in the certificate, it is speculative to hypothesize that the defendants would have no factual basis to challenge it.  The salient point is that in law, the defendants are at liberty to lead evidence to challenge the facts asserted in a s. 16(1) certificate.  Their opportunity to lead such evidence has been irreparably compromised by the fact that the application to amend the statement of claim, to add the claim for past health care costs was brought so late in the trial.

[32] Because of the prejudice that the proposed amendments would cause to the defendants, and in light of the fact that the plaintiff would not enjoy any personal benefit from the addition of a claim for past health care costs, the application for leave to amend the statement of claim is dismissed.

As the first precedent dealing with this Act today’s case is worth reviewing for all BC personal injury lawyers. Mr. Justice Erhcke goes through the Act in detail and analyzes the Act’s application to personal injury claims filed, but not resolved, prior to the Act coming into force.

BC Court of Appeal Discusses Future Wage Loss in Personal Injury Claims

May 28th, 2009

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Court of Appeal increasing the award a Plaintiff received at trial for Diminished Earning Capacity (future wage loss).

In today’s case (Pett v. Pett) the Plaintiff sustained serious injuries in a 2003 BC motor vehicle collision.  The findings of fact made by the trial judge giving rise to the appeal were as follows:

[1] The appellant, Jacob Pett, now aged 23, was injured in a motor vehicle accident that occurred on a logging road near Rock Creek, British Columbia, on November 15, 2003.  He was a passenger in a pick-up truck being driven by his father, the defendant, David Pett.  The driver lost control and the vehicle slid off the road and rolled over a number of times before coming to rest in a farm field.  The appellant initially suffered from a concussion and an injured shoulder, but recovered satisfactorily from these injuries.  He complained of a very painful back shortly after the accident.  This back injury persists and continued to cause him difficulty at the time of trial…

[5] The judge found that the back injury had a negative impact on his recreational activities and that his enjoyment of those activities had been and will be diminished because of his back pain.  The judge awarded the appellant $85,000 for non-pecuniary damages.  He assessed damages for income loss between the date of the accident and the date of trial at $23,000.  The judge awarded the appellant the sum of $120,000 as damages for future loss.  It is this particular award that has led to the present appeal.  The appellant asserts that the amount awarded for future loss was unreasonably low.  The respondent submits it was an adequate award and says that if anything the award may have been on the generous side.

The BC Court of Appeal agreed with the Plaintiff that the damages for future wage loss were low given the findings of fact made by the trial judge.  In increasing the future wage loss award to $225,000 the Court summarized and applied the law of future wage loss as follows:

[18] In the recent case of Lines v. W & D Logging Co. Ltd., 2009 BCCA 106, Saunders J.A. said this:

[57]      There are two major components to an assessment of loss of future earning capacity.  One is the general level of earnings thought by the trial judge to be realistically achievable by the plaintiff but for the accident, taking into account the plaintiff’s intentions and factors that weigh both in favour of and against that achievement, and the other is the projection of that earning level to the plaintiff’s working life, taking into account the positive and negative vagaries of life.  From these two major components must be applied an analysis that produces a present value of the loss, adjusted for all appropriate contingencies.

[19] I think this to be a helpful framework for a court to follow in fixing a measure of damages for future loss.  Some cases speak of the loss of a capital asset and some of the loss of future earnings, but the essential matter that engages the attention of a court making an assessment in this area is to endeavour to quantify the financial harm accruing to the plaintiff over the course of his or her working career.

[20] In the case at bar, the trial judge said this in making his award for future loss:

[79]      Given the significant negative contingencies present here however, I am not satisfied that the award under this head of damages should be as high as suggested by plaintiff’s counsel.  I note that he is currently working alongside his father and being paid the same hourly rate.  He does, however, work fewer hours, partly in response to his lower back pain.  In all of the circumstances, I assess his loss of future earning capacity at $120,000.

[21] While there is unquestionably a measure of uncertainty about what the future holds for a person in the position of this appellant with a long working life ahead of him, the judge did not explain what he considered in arriving at that figure.  Particular contingencies are not identified and, perhaps more significantly, there is virtually no reference to the figures put forward by the parties’ experts, aside from a reference to some figure suggested by appellant’s counsel, presumably the $470,000 figure aforementioned.  The task of this Court in deciding on the adequacy of the award for future loss is made difficult because we are left with little to demonstrate how the figure of $120,000 was assessed as an appropriate damages award under this head by the trial judge.  Having regard to the evidence before the judge, particularly the reports of the two economic experts, the award appears to me to be unduly modest.

[22] I have considered whether the case might be remitted to the Supreme Court to deal with this issue in a more satisfactory fashion.  The appellant urged us, if we considered the award of damages inadequate, to set a figure.  It was submitted that considerations of cost and timing would support such an approach.  While this Court is usually reluctant to embark upon its own assessment of what is an appropriate figure for damages, I consider that this case calls for that treatment.  I reach this conclusion because there were no particular live issues of credibility in the instant case and the judge was of the view that he should generally accept the view of the medical experts called by the appellant.  We have the evidence of Messrs. McKellar and Gosling before us.  I consider it would not be appropriate to refer this matter back to the trial court for a new assessment having regard to the amounts involved and the additional delay and expense that would be occasioned.

[23] It seems to me that the figure adumbrated by Mr. Gosling, approximately $300,000, is a useful starting point for an analysis of the loss suffered by the appellant under this head.  Although the earnings history of the appellant did not indicate that he had a history of earnings at around $32,000, which was a statistical figure used by the experts for a person with slightly better educational qualifications, it must be borne in mind that the appellant was just starting out and his historic earnings reflected the situation when he was just entering his twenties.  The level of income referred to by the experts seems to me to be not unrealistic.  A person in the occupation of the appellant with his work ethic should be able to achieve such earnings.  He apparently expected to earn perhaps something over $35,000 in the period immediately preceding the trial.  Of course, his ability to continue to earn at such a level is thrown in doubt by the medical opinions accepted by the judge.  The substantial difference between the experts as to expected loss in future income appeared to relate to their differing treatment of labour market contingencies.  Mr. Gosling essentially took a more pessimistic view concerning labour market contingencies than did Mr. McKellar.

[24] In this case, I consider the approach of Mr. Gosling to be preferable because of the very long span of time left in the expected working life of the appellant.  The length of time to be considered in my view mandates a fairly conservative approach to any prediction of future loss.  However, I do not perceive, as I noted, how the judge arrived at the figure he did.  I view as erroneous his treatment of the educational level of the appellant.  Perhaps this led him to very heavily discount the loss predictions.  I consider that, if one utilizes the approach suggested by Mr. Gosling as a helpful starting point, having regard to the facts in this case, a reduction of the magnitude reflected in the award of $120,000 under this head is not justified.  I think it is significant that this appellant has a very good work ethic and there was and is wide scope for employment opportunities in the construction field through the extended family of the appellant.  Opportunities for advancement in, and indeed continuation by the appellant in this field of endeavour are now considerably attenuated as a result of the accident.  The appellant’s back problem is likely to persist, based on the medical evidence, and there is a very real narrowing of future opportunities for him.  Thus, this injury appears very likely to result in a diminution of career options and, consequently, a long term earnings impairment.

[25] The work ethic of the appellant has to be taken account of in an assessment of a proper figure for future loss.  His positive work ethic suggests that, but for the accident, the appellant might have looked forward to earning more than the statistical average figures posited by the experts.  Thus, one could suggest his loss could be greater over his future earning years than suggested by the statistical figures.  His attitude to work, however, also means that he may in fact do better than expected in future despite his injury because he will not be as affected as might be the case with a person with a less robust work ethic.  This consideration would suggest a lesser loss than the statistical figures relied upon by the experts.  While the defendant tortfeasor must take the appellant as he finds him concerning educational level, he also in this case gets the benefit of a plaintiff with a positive work attitude.  These factors are to be taken account of and balanced in arriving at a fair assessment of damages for future loss.  Doing the best I can with the evidence and adopting a cautious approach because of the long time span, I am of the view that some discount from the amount resulting from the approach of Mr. Gosling would result in an appropriate award under his head of damages.  A discount ranging around $75,000 to $80,000 seems to me justifiable because of the work ethic of the appellant.  This yields a figure of about $225,000 for future loss and this is the amount I would substitute for the figure set by the trial judge.  I would accordingly allow the appeal in these terms and award the sum of $225,000 under the head of future loss.

The Law of "Adverse Inference" Exlpained in BC Brain Injury Case

May 28th, 2009

One of the most important decisions a personal injury lawyer needs to make when going to court is deciding which witnesses to call in support of the claim.  This is particularly true when it comes to deciding what medical experts will be called in support of an injury claim.

Typically a seriously injured plaintiff will have seen many medical practitioners (GP, specialists, physiotherapists etc.)  If you  fail to call some of these witnesses can that harm your case?  The answer is yes and is contained in the law of ‘adverse inference’.   The law of adverse inference means that the judge or jury are permitted to, in certain circumstances, presume that you failed to call a certain witness (such as your doctor) because that witness would not have helped your case.

Reasons for judgment were released yesterday by the BC Supreme Court, Nanaimo Registry, (Hodgins v. Street) explaining and applying this legal principle in a BC brain injury case.

In this case the Plaintiff was injured in a serious accident in 2004 in Courtenay, BC.   The Plaintiff suffered a moderate brain injury which was expected to have permanent consequences.  In awarding just over $650,000 in total damages for the Plaintiff’s losses Mr. Justice Kelleher summarized the Plaintiff’s injuries and their effect on her life as follows:

[81] In this case, the plaintiff has suffered constant headaches and continues to do so.

[82] Her emotional and other difficulties arising from the brain injury are permanent and affect many aspects of her life.

[83] I am persuaded that Ms. Hodgins’ pleasure in life has been significantly reduced.  Both the plaintiff’s cognitive and physical conditions limit what she can do outside the home.  Her ability to be a mother will be complicated by these injuries.  She will have a loss of opportunity of engaging with her children while they are growing up.  I accept, as well, Dr. Anton’s opinion that neurological recovery after a traumatic brain injury is usually maximal within two years and therefore further recovery cannot be expected.  I accept, as well, neurologist Dr. Donald Cameron’s opinion that she is “functionally disabled to a significant degree”.  Her fatigue, hypersomnilance and dizziness will be permanent.  She is more vulnerable than before to episodes of depression.

In reaching his judgement Mr. Justice Kellehar was asked to draw an adverse inference because the Plaintiff failed to call her GP of many years as a witness.  The judge did in fact draw this adverse inference and in doing so did a great job summarizing this area of the law as follows:

Adverse Inference

[51] The defendant argues that I should draw an adverse inference from the failure of the plaintiff to have Dr. Law, the plaintiff’s family doctor, provide a report or to call him as a witness.

[52] Dr. Law is the only physician (other than the chiropractor Dr. Kippel) who treated the plaintiff extensively before and after the accident.  A central issue in this case is the plaintiff’s pre-accident medical history and the extent to which the accident is the cause of the plaintiff’s difficulties today.

[53] Dr. Law’s clinical records were produced.  But they are, by the terms of a document agreement between the parties, simply records kept in the ordinary course of business.  They do not contain any opinion.

[54] The principle was stated in Wigmore on Evidence, (Chadbourn rev. 1979) vol. II at 192:

…The failure to bring before the Tribunal some circumstance, document, or witness, when either the party himself or his opponent claims that the facts would thereby be elucidated, serves to indicate, as the most natural inference, that the party fears to do so, and this fear is some evidence that the circumstance or document or witness, if brought, would have exposed facts unfavourable to the party.  These inferences, to be sure, cannot fairly be made except upon certain conditions; and they are also open always to explanation by circumstances which make some other hypothesis a more natural one than the party’s fear of exposure.  But the propriety of such an inference in general is not doubted.

[55] Sopinka and Lederman in The Law of Evidence in Canada, 2nd ed., (Toronto: Butterworths Canada, 1999), describe the principle at para. 6.321:

In civil cases, an unfavourable inference can be drawn when, in the absence of an explanation, a party litigant does not testify, or fails to provide affidavit evidence on an application, or fails to call a witness who would have knowledge of the facts and would be assumed to be willing to assist that party.  In the same vein, an adverse inference may be drawn against a party who does not call a material witness over whom he or she has exclusive control and does not explain it away.  Such failure amounts to an implied admission that the evidence of the absent witness would be contrary to the party’s case, or at least would not support it.

[emphasis added]

[56] There have been recent developments in the application of this principle in British Columbia.

[57] In Barker v. McQuahe (1964), 49 W.W.R. 685 (B.C.C.A.), the Court of Appeal stated an adverse inference may be drawn if a litigant fails to call a witness who might be expected to give supporting evidence.  Mr. Justice Davey stated at 689 that a plaintiff seeking damages for personal injuries “… ought to call all doctors who attended him in respect of any important aspect of the matters that are in dispute, or explain why he does not do so”.

[58] That approach was modified in Buksh v. Miles, 2008 BCCA 318, 83 B.C.L.R. (4th) 162, at para. 34:

[34]      Taking the admonition of Mr. Justice Davey to the extreme in today’s patchwork of medical services raises the likelihood of increased litigation costs attendant upon more medical reports from physicians or additional attendances of physicians at court, with little added to the trial process but time and expense, and nothing added to the knowledge of counsel.  Perhaps the idea that an adverse inference may be sought, on the authority of Barker, for the reason that every walk-in clinic physician was not called fits within the description of “punctilio” that is no longer to bind us, referred to by Mr. Justice Dickson in R. v. Sault Ste. Marie, [1978] 2 S.C.R. 1299, in a different context.

[59] Mr. Justice Macaulay considered this issue in Prato v. Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, 2003 BCSC 76, in circumstances similar to those before me.

[60] In that case, the defendant had access to the clinical records.  Mr. Justice Macaulay noted that in Barker, the plaintiff failed to call the specialist and the inference was that the specialist did not support the view of the general practitioner.  In Prato, the specialists were called but not the general practitioner.  His Lordship said at para. 26: “I am less concerned about the lack of supporting evidence from a general practitioner than I would be if the situation were reversed”.

[61] The defendant points to Djukic v. Hahn, 2006 BCSC 154, aff’d 2007 BCCA 203, 66 B.C.L.R. (4th) 314, where Josephson J. at para. 60 gave five reasons for declining to draw an adverse inference:

1.         Both parties have produced volumes of medical evidence from a number of doctors;

2.         The complete clinical records of these doctors were disclosed to the defence;

3.         These same records were expressly considered and subsumed in the opinions of doctors whose reports are before me;

4.         Having had disclosure of these records, it was open to the defence to interview and call these doctors as witnesses without risk of being blindsided;

5.         These were not doctors whom Mrs. Djukic consulted on a regular basis.

[62] As the plaintiff points out, the decisions in Prato, Djukic and Buksh are consistent with the initiative to streamline trials and make them less costly.

[63] However, there were two peculiarities in the Prato case that bear mentioning.  Of concern was the evidence or lack of evidence from two family doctors.  One of them, Dr. Leong, was not available to testify at trial.  Therefore, the records that were sought to be admitted, which contained opinion evidence, were not admitted.  In the circumstances, Mr. Justice Macaulay declined to infer that the doctor held views inconsistent with those of the specialist.

[64] The other physician was Dr. Hayes.  He had provided a medical report directly to an adjuster at ICBC.  (This was an action for temporary total disability benefits.)  Thus, the defendant had the opinion of Dr. Hayes but declined to call Dr. Hayes.

[65] In all the circumstances of this case, I infer that the plaintiff did not call Dr. Law because he would not have provided evidence helpful to the plaintiff’s position on these points:

1.         The plaintiff’s medical condition, both physical and psychological, at the time of the accident.

2.         The medical cause for the plaintiff’s fatigue before and after the accident.

3.         How the plaintiff progressed following the accident with the effects of the brain injury and the other soft tissue injuries.

ICBC's Trial Policy Gets Judicial Attention

May 27th, 2009

It used to be that when ICBC claims went to trial ICBC would only require the people they insure to participate at trial as necessary.  For example if fault was at issue the defendant would testify as to how the crash happened or if the Plaintiff seemed uninjured at the scene the Defendant would share his/her observations with the court.

More recently, ICBC has created a policy where the people they insure have to get extensively involved in the trial even if they have no vital role to play.   Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court discussing this ICBC trial policy.

In today’s case (Coates v. Marioni) the Plaintiff was injured 2006 car crash.  The at fault driver was insured by ICBC.  In the lawsuit the issue of fault was admitted leaving the court to only deal with the issue of the value of the ICBC claim.  The matter went to jury trial.  Just before trial ICBC made an offer to settle.  The Victoria jury returned a verdict just below ICBC’s formal settlement offer.  The trial judge was asked to decide what costs consequences should follow under Rule 37B since ICBC beat their formal offer (click here to read my previous posts about Rule 37B in ICBC Claims).

Madam Justice Gerow, who presided over this jury trial, refused to give the Defendant their costs despite beating their formal offer.  The Plaintiff was awarded costs through trial.  2 factors leading to this decision were the late delivery of ICBC’s formal settlement offer and the fact that the jury award was very close to the formal offer.

In asking that the Plaintiff be deprived of trial costs the lawyer hired by ICBC noted that the Plaintiff attended fewer days of the trial than the Defendant.  The court rejected this argument and in doing so discussed ICBC’s policy of forcing their insured defendants to sit through trial even if they have nothing to add to the evidence at trial.  Below are the highlights of this discussion:

[53] The defendant also argues that the plaintiff should be deprived of her costs because the defendant attended all of the trial and the plaintiff did not.  However, the defendant chose to attend the trial.  Although she testified, her evidence was very brief as liability had been admitted.  There was no requirement that the defendant attend throughout the trial, particularly in circumstances where she had to take time off work and travel to Victoria.

[54] The plaintiff argues the fact that the defendant attended more of the trial than the plaintiff is not a factor to be considered in assessing whether the plaintiff should be deprived of her costs.  The plaintiff points to an ICBC claims bulletin dated June 13, 2008 outlining a policy that requires defendants to attend the trials from start to finish.  In the bulletin it sets out that:  “This policy applies even if they will not be testifying.  The intent of the new requirement is to present a ‘face’ for the defendant to the court.  Defence counsel will be instructed to have the defendant sit at counsel’s table if possible.”  In the circumstances, I do not accept the defendant argument that her attendance at the trial is a factor that should favour depriving the plaintiff of her costs.

[55] Having considered the factors set out in subrule 6, including the relationship between the offer and the award, I have concluded that this is not an appropriate case in which to exercise my discretion to deprive the plaintiff of her costs on the basis of the offer to settle.

If you are insured with ICBC and are at fault for a car crash and injure another do you think there is any value in being forced to trial even if you have nothing to add?  Does giving a ‘face to the defendant’ make any sense when the lawsuit is an insured claim?  As always, feedback is welcome.

Lawyers Opinions, Mistrials and ICBC Injury Claims

May 27th, 2009

US Trial Lawyer Elliott Wilcox recently wrote a great article on why “I” is one of the most dangerous words for a lawyer to utter in court during a jury trial.  The short answer is because it is inappropriate for lawyers to share their personal opinion as to the merits of a case.  When a lawyer uses the word “I” there is a good chance a personal opinion is going to follow.

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Court of Appeal demonstrating the repercussions of counsel sharing their opinions during jury trials.

In today’s case (Joy v. Atkinson) the Plaintiff’s lawyer made several comments during his opening statement to the jury which the ICBC defence lawyer took objection to.  After hearing submissions in the absence of the jury the trial judge granted a motion for a mistrial (click here to read my previous post about the trial judgement).

In dismissing the appeal the BC Court of Appeal said the following about lawyers sharing their personal opinion of the merits of the case in jury trials:

[20]          Whether the plaintiff’s argument is otherwise sound need not be decided because there is a further aspect of counsel’s opening that is of particular concern.  Counsel expressed his personal belief in the strength of the plaintiff’s case when he told the jury “we had to satisfy ourselves that Mr. Joy’s injuries are real, serious, and permanent” and that “Geno Joy has and will continue to suffer real harms and losses now and into the future”.  In my view, there is no doubt this was clearly an improper statement.  Counsel acknowledged that to be the case in submissions on the application for a mistrial.  He was in effect giving evidence, albeit inadmissible evidence that could never be challenged, about the plaintiff’s injuries and his losses. 

[21]          Counsel’s suggestion before the judge was that any damage done could be corrected by a jury instruction or what he referred to as a “rebuke”.  But no meaningful suggestion as to what that instruction might be was made nor is one advanced now.  I am unable to see what instruction the judge could have given the jury that would have afforded the defence any confidence counsel’s expression of his satisfaction with the plaintiff’s claim would be ignored.  The jury had been told counsel had satisfied himself – he knew, apparently by investigation – the injuries suffered which the defence was challenging were real, serious, and permanent and they had caused, and would in the future cause, real losses.  That was not an assertion each member of the jury could be expected to completely ignore no matter what they were told, and it bore directly on the fairness of the trial.

[22]          The judge did not refer to this part of the opening statement in the reasons he gave for declaring a mistrial but, in my view, it is fatal to the success of this appeal.  It cannot now be said there was no sound basis for a mistrial.

BC Personal Injury Claims and Circumstantial Evidence

May 26th, 2009

If you are injured in BC through the actions of another but can’t gather any direct evidence proving that the other party is at fault can you still succeed in a claim for damages?  The answer is yes a lies in circumstantial evidence.

Direct evidence is evidence that stands on its own to prove a fact :”I saw the Defendant get drunk, get behind the wheel speeding like a maniac and hit the pedestrian“.  Circumstantial evidence, on the other hand, is evidence that proves a fact by an inference “the defendant had 12 drinks on his bar tab and at the scene of the accident he was found unconscious in the driver seat, smelling of alcohol, in front of the pedestrian who was found injured in the crosswalk“.  In the first example there is direct evidence of drunk driving causing injury, in the second example there is evidence that can lead to the reasonable conclusion of drunk driving causing injury.

Negligence in BC Personal Injury cases can be found wholly on circumstantial evidence and today reasons were released by the BC Court of Appeal dealing with the law of circumstantial evidence in an ICBC claim.

In today’s case, Michel v. Doe and ICBC, the Plaintiff was “seriously injured by an object that had come off a loaded logging truck being driven by an unidentified driver.”   The Plaintiff sued for damages.   Since the driver left the scene of the injury and could not be identified the Plaintiff could not prove what specifically, if anything, the driver did wrong in contributing to this object coming off the logging truck.  The lawsuit was dismissed at the trial level due to a lack of evidence of negligence.  The Plaintiff appealed.

The BC Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal but in doing so discussed the law dealing with circumstantial evidence in BC personal injury claims.  The highlights of this discussion are reproduced below:

[21]          In Marchuk v. Swede Creek Contracting Ltd. (1998), 116 B.C.A.C. 318, this Court observed that Fontaine had not modified the underlying principles governing the use of circumstantial evidence with respect to liability in negligence, and emphasized that the burden of proof remained on the plaintiff:

[9]        The Supreme Court of Canada has recently said that the Latin maxim res ipsa loquitur should be abandoned as confusing and unhelpful in cases involving circumstantial evidence of negligence:  Fontaine v. Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (1997), 156 D.L.R. (4th) 577.  That case was decided after the judgment at trial in the case at bar.

[10]      While the Supreme Court was critical of the Latin maxim, the underlying principles governing the use of circumstantial evidence in determining liability for negligence were not modified.  The issue becomes simply whether, after weighing the whole of the direct and circumstantial evidence, the plaintiff has established a prima facie case of negligence against the defendant, and that inference has not been negated by the defendant’s evidence.  The legal burden of proof, of course, remains on the plaintiff throughout.

[22]          The appellant argues that the “question which must be asked and which the learned trial judge did not ask is whether, in the particular circumstances established by the evidence, the accident would ordinarily occur without negligence.”  However, this question was posed in Fontaine in the context of the Court’s discussion regarding the requirements for the application of res ipsa loquitur during the course of its “obituary” for the Latin maxim (Gillis v. B.C. Transit, 2001 BCCA 248 at para. 4, 88 B.C.L.R. (3d) 163).  Nonetheless, it is arguable that despite the reformulation given in Fontaine, this question remains relevant to the issue of whether a prima facie case of negligence has been made out.  In Fontaine itself, in concluding that the circumstantial evidence present did not discharge the plaintiff’s onus, the Court stated “it should not be concluded that the accident would ordinarily not have occurred in the absence of negligence” (paras. 31-32).  Moreover, as previously noted, Marchuk held that despite its criticism of res ipsa loquitur, the Court in Fontaine had not actually modified the underlying principles governing the use of circumstantial evidence in determining liability for negligence.  Further, in Lemaire v. Ashabi et al, this Court upheld the trial judge’s decision finding negligence, a decision which referenced Fontaine, stating with respect to the trial judge’s finding of prima facie negligence that:

[7]        She first considered whether the prima facie inference of negligence could be drawn.  She cited (at para. 56) United Motors Service Inc. v. Hutson et al, [1937] S.C.R. 294, for the principle that:

… the fact that an operation is under the control of the defendant coupled with the fact that the accident is such that in the ordinary course of things it would not happen if those having the management use proper care, is sufficient to establish a prima facie case of negligence.

[23]          In this case, the trial judge held that he was unable to infer from the evidence that a breach of the standard of care had occurred.  In my view, the appellant’s argument that the standard was breached “because it is obvious that a rock that might foreseeably dislodge and pose a hazard did in fact get dislodged and injured [the appellant]” is a misinterpretation of the trial judge’s formulation of the standard of care.  Instead, the judge concluded that the fact that the rock came off the logging truck was not, by itself, sufficient to establish that the standard of care, as he had stated it, was breached.

[24]          The trial judge held that log haulers owed a duty of care to people such as the appellant, the standard of which was “that they must diligently perform a complete inspection of their vehicle and their load to identify and remove debris or any foreign matter that might foreseeably dislodge and pose a hazard to the person or property of any member of the public who might foreseeably be harmed by such debris falling from the vehicle or load.”  Having defined the standard of care in terms of a prudent inspection, the trial judge considered the evidence of how the rock had come off the truck to determine whether the rock ought to have been discovered by such an inspection.  He concluded that he was unable to determine where the rock had probably been located in the load, and accordingly, was unable to find that it probably would have been discovered by a proper inspection.  In other words, the possibilities of non-negligence (a prudent and diligent inspection in which the rock nevertheless eluded detection) and of negligence (no inspection or a negligent one) were equally consistent with the available evidence.

[25]          In my view, this case is analogous to the application of Fontaine in Hall v. Cooper Industries, Inc., 2005 BCCA 290 at para. 59, 40 B.C.L.R. (4th) 257: “[the appellant] did not establish aprima facie case of negligence which caused the accident.  Therefore the case never reached the point where [the respondent] was required to produce ‘evidence to the contrary.’”

[26]          The trial judge’s conclusion that the evidence was equally consistent with the possibility that the rock was “somewhere in the middle of the load but near the front, where it could have eluded detection without negligence” as with the possibility that it was somewhere it ought to have been discovered, is consistent with the trial judge having considered the question of whether the accident would ordinarily occur without negligence.  His conclusion was that the accident was equally as likely to have occurred without negligence as with it.

Did ICBC Snoop in my Private Records When I Was Called for Jury Duty?

May 22nd, 2009

Given ICBC’s admitted snooping in jurors private records in a recent personal injury trial in Victoria, BC, many people who have sat as jurors or even called as witnesses in ICBC Injury Cases may be wondering whether their records were compromised when they were called to court to perform their civic duty.

ICBC’s public take on the matter is that to the very best of ICBC’s knowledge “this was an isolated incident“.

For the sake of people who have sat on civil juries in the past and for the integrity of the administration of justice in BC I certainly hope that is the case.  However, ICBC has by their own admission not completed a full review of past jury cases at this time.  As I write this article ICBC’s website states that “we have already begun a full review of previous cases handled by the defence counsel in question” and “we are undertaking a review of past jury trials and will report on our findings”  so the possibility of this occurring in other ICBC jury trials cannot be excluded.

If you sat on a jury in an ICBC Case or were called as a witness in an ICBC case and are wondering whether your private records were compromised and misused can you do anything to get to the bottom of matters?  

The answer is yes and is contained in the BC Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.  This act makes public bodies (such as ICBC) more accountable to the public with respect to the protection of personal privacy and gives members of the public certain rights with respect to the access of records held by these bodies.

So, if you sat on a jury in an ICBC Claim and during that time had an active claim of your own and are wondering if ICBC misused your private records you can make an application under section 5 of the Act and ask ICBC to share your records with you including information about whether anyone from ICBC accessed your file during the time you were on jury duty.

If you have any questions about making a Freedom of Information Request for your ICBC records you can contact a BC Personal Injury Lawyer or a Lawyer experienced in privacy matters.  These requests are routinely made in ICBC claims and assistance can be provided by experienced people if needed.

What if you find out that your records were misused?  Hopefully ICBC will make proper amends if this is the case as “The responsibility of protecting the private information of our customers is something that ICBC takes very seriously.”  As I previously posted, a separate law called the BC Privacy Act, makes it a tort if your privacy was violated “willfully and without claim of right” and this legislation is worth reviewing for anyone concerned about their privacy and the potential misuse of private records by public bodies.

$45,000 Pain and Suffering Awarded for Neck, Shoulder and Jaw Injuries

May 20th, 2009

Reasons for judgement were released today (Romanchych v. Vallianatos) by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, awarding just over $132,000 in total damages to a Plaintiff injured in a 2006 BC Motor Vehicle Collision.  

The collision was a rear-ender on the Alex Fraser Bridge in Delta, BC.  The crash was forceful enough to write off the 24 year old Plaintiff’s vehicle.

Madam Justice MacKenzie of the BC Supreme Court summarized the Plaintiff’s injuries as follows:  

I find on the totality of the evidence that the accident caused the plaintiff’s neck and shoulder injuries with associated headaches and jaw pain. While her symptoms improved over time, they have not resolved.   She currently suffers chronic neck and shoulder pain. She can manage her pain  level if she avoids aggravating her injuries by limiting her activities. The plaintiff is  also vulnerable to future episodes of jaw pain. I find in favour of the plaintiff’s  submission, except for small adjustments to the quantum of damages claimed. 

In awarding $45,000 for the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages (pain and suffering) the court engaged in the following analysis:

Conclusion on Non-Pecuniary Damages 

[71] On the whole, the expert opinions support a strong inference that the plaintiff’s injuries are chronic and that they will continue to affect her permanently. Given that she must limit her activities to minimize and manage her pain, the  evidence shows that it is probable that her pain and resulting limitations will continue  indefinitely. 

[72] I find on the totality of the evidence that the accident caused the plaintiff’s neck and shoulder injuries with associated headaches and jaw pain. While her symptoms have improved over time, they have not resolved.   

[73] I also find that the jaw symptoms which arose in August 2007 were indeed caused by the accident of July 4, 2006. I also observe that the jaw symptoms experienced in December 2006 may have been related to the accident as well.    

[74] Both counsel rely on the non exhaustive list of factors in Stapley v. Hejslet, 2006 BCCA 34, 263 D.L.R. (4th) 19 at paras. 45-46. The award for general damages, will of course, vary according to the specific circumstances of the individual case, but the factors include:   

(a) age of the plaintiff;  

(b) nature of the injury;   

(c) severity and duration of pain;   

(d) disability;    

(e) emotional suffering; and   

(f) loss or impairment of life;    

(g) impairment of family, marital and social relationships;   

(h) impairment of physical and mental abilities;   

(i) loss of lifestyle; and   

(j) the plaintiff’s stoicism (as a factor that should not, generally speaking,   penalize the plaintiff: Giang v. Clayton, [2005] B.C.J. No. 163, 2005 BCCA 54 (B.C. C.A.)).   

[75] The defendant relies upon the following cases as being reasonably analogous to this case and as supporting an award in the range of $15,000 to $22,500 for general damages: Kain v. Kirkman, 2006 BCSC 1770; Nickerson v. Allen Estate, 2006 BCSC 562; Aulakh v. Poirier, 2006 BCSC 2027, and my own decision in Moore v. Cabral, 2006 BCSC 920. However, those cases are all distinguishable from this case.   

[76] The plaintiff relies upon the following cases as supporting an award of $50,000 for general damages in this case: Henri v. Seo, 2009 BCSC 76; Chin v. McCabe, 2006 BCSC 1589; and Pavlovic v. Shields, 2009 BCSC 345. In my view, these cases are reasonably similar to this case and reflect analogous general damages.    

[77] Therefore, an appropriate award of non-pecuniary damages in this case is $45,000

One of the points of interest in this case was the courts comments on Dr. Goldstein. an oral medicine specialist, who ICBC often retains in jaw injury cases.  His evidence was rejected over the Plaintiff’s treating oral medicine specialist Dr. Gardner.  

Specifically, in finding bias in doctor Goldstein’s evidence, Madam Justice MacKenzie commented as follows:

[66] Dr. Goldstein’s bias in favour of the defendant’s case became evident during cross-examination. His attempt under cross-examination to distance himself from the meaning of the phrase emphasized in the above quote damaged his reliability as a witness. 

[67] I also view Dr. Goldstein’s opinion with scepticism because he was not forthright in his report about the fact that flexion extension injury from motor vehicle accident trauma could cause jaw symptoms. Under cross-examination, counsel for the plaintiff put one of Dr. Goldstein’s own articles to him in which he noted the close correlation between TMD and motor vehicle accident trauma.