ICBC Law

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 August, 2009

Can an ICBC Tort Claim be Worth Less for Not Going to the Doctor Regularly?

August 31st, 2009

Perhaps with the exception of the “failure to mitigate defence” the frequency of medical appointments attended by a plaintiff is not necessarily tied to the value of an ICBC tort claim.  The value of a claim is largely tied to the severity of injuries and the impact of the injuries on a persons life.  As a matter of common sense one would expect a Plaintiff with very severe injuries to receive more extensive medical intervention than a Plaintiff with relatively minor injuries.  In this sense there may be an indirect connection between the value of a claim and the number of medical treatments.  However, the number of doctor’s visits does not in and of itself add value to an ICBC tort claim and reasons for judgement were released today exploring this area of the law.

In today’s case (Brock v. King) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2006 T-Bone collision in Burnaby, BC.  The Court found that the Plaintiff suffered various injuries and in awarding $50,000 for her pain and suffering summarized the injuries as follows:

I find that the plaintiff continues to suffer from back pain, neck pain and headaches. These injuries continue to interfere with her work and her daily activities. It appears that some further improvement may occur but that some level of ongoing chronic pain is probable.

The Defence Lawyer argued that the Plaintiff’s injuries were not all that serious and in support of this conclusion drew the court’s attention to the fact that “there were large gaps in treatment and medical visits“.

Mr. Justice Punnett rejected this submission and in doing so summarized some of the principles courts consider in tort claims when reviewing the frequency and nature of post accident medical treatment.  The key discussion was set out at paragraphs 58-65 which I set out below:

[58]         The defendants place significant emphasis on the fact that the plaintiff had relatively little in the way of treatment, that there were no referrals to any specialists, that there was limited therapy, that there were large gaps in treatment and medical visits, little in the way of prescription medication and that there were no diagnostic examinations arranged by the family physicians.

[59]         The defendants rely on Mak v. Eichel, 2008 BCSC 1102, and Vasilyev v. Fetigan, 2007 BCSC 1759, in support of their position on the issue of gaps in the plaintiff’s reporting to her physician and the inference to be drawn. In Mak v. Eichel there appeared to be a gap in treatment with no evidence that the discomfort continued during that period and inVasilyev v. Fetigan there were credibility issues. As a result both cases are distinguishable.

[60]         The plaintiff relies on Travis v. Kwon, 2009 BCSC 63, and Myers v. Leng, 2006 BCSC 1582. In both cases there were gaps in the plaintiffs’ attendance on their physicians. InTravis v. Kwon, Mr. Justice Johnston states at paras. 74 and 77:

[74]      …Where a plaintiff gives credible evidence at trial, and is not significantly contradicted by entries in medical records or otherwise, the absence of a full documentary history of medical attendances it not that important.

[77]      In this case the plaintiff is generally credible, and I do not fault her for a commendable desire to avoid making a nuisance of herself by going to a doctor primarily in order to build a documentary records and thus avoid the risk of an adverse inference from failing to do so, or out of a misguided belief that by papering her medical files, she can prove her claim. A sensible plaintiff, having some knowledge of the medical system and its capabilities from her training, would be better advised to go to the doctor only when necessary, and thus avoid accusations that she is exaggerating, or suffering from what some authorities have referred to as “chronic benign pain syndrome”: Moon v. Zachary, [1984] B.C.J. No. 241, 1984 CarswellBC 2000, at para. 100.

[61]         In Myers v. Leng Madam Justice Gropper stated at para. 50:

[50]      I am not troubled by the gap in the plaintiff seeking treatment. His decision not to continue to see a doctor about his neck and back complaints was clearly based on a reasonable conclusion that the doctors could only provide temporary relief from the pain by prescribing medication and physiotherapy. The plaintiff did not consider either to be helpful. It is a sensible and practical approach to medical treatment. If continuous medical treatment can cure you, or make you feel better, then it is worthwhile to attend on a regular basis. If it cannot, there really is no point in taking the doctor’s time. The purpose of a seeing a doctor is not to create a chronicle of complaints for the purpose of proving that you have ongoing pain from an injury arising from a motor-vehicle accident. Rather than detract from the accuracy of the plaintiff‘s complaint, I consider the plaintiff‘s course of conduct, in not seeing the doctor on a continuous basis, to enhance his evidence.

[62]         Mrs. Brock testified that she is not sure if the physiotherapy helped that much and sometimes it increased her pain. Likewise she indicated that she did not like taking prescriptions and preferred to avoid medications other than Tylenol or Advil. She was told to exercise daily doing stretching and other exercises which she did.

[63]         I accept that she was aware that her doctor really could not do much more for her than he had already done. Given that, it made sense not to keep raising her injuries with him on a regular basis or, indeed, each time she visited with him.

[64]         The defendants also argued that the fact that Dr. Nakamara did not order further tests or investigations relating to the neck and back injuries while doing so for an earlier knee injury and a sprained thumb indicates that the neck and back injuries could not have been viewed by him as serious.

[65]         The defendants did not call Dr. Nakamara for the purposes of cross examination on his report. They are asking that the court infer the medical reasons for the lack of a more extensive investigation of the plaintiff’s injuries. That is a medical decision and not one for the court to make. It is likely more probable that he did not order more extensive investigations because in his opinion they were not required. He notes in his report that there was no structural damage. I decline to accept the defendants’ submission on this point.


Crushed Ankle and Torn ACL Valued at $95,000; "Agony of the Moment" Explained

August 28th, 2009

Reasons for judgement were released today (Wormell v. Hagel) by the BC Supreme Court, Kamloops Registry, awarding a Plaintiff just over $570,000 in total damages as a result of a 2003 injury.

The facts behind the injury are a little unusual.  The Plaintiff was standing on top of cargo on a flat bed truck.  At the same time, the Defendant was operating a crane and intended to lift the cargo.  The cargo shifted while the Plaintiff was still standing on it and in the “agony of the moment” the Plaintiff jumped off the truck to the ground which was some 12 feet below.  In jumping on the ground the Plaintiff suffered various injuries including a “crush fracture to the left ankle and a tear to the anterior cruciate ligament of his right knee“.

The Defendant was found at fault for this incident for operating the crane at a time when it was unsafe to do so.  The Plaintiff was found faultless for jumping to the ground in the “agony of the moment” and Mr. Justice Goepel did a good job summarizing this principle of law at paragraphs 35-37 stating as follows:

[35] A party who acts negligently and creates a danger carries a heavy onus if he then seeks to cast any blame for the accident on the injured party:  Haase v. Pedro (1970), 21 B.C.L.R. (2d) 273 (C.A.) at para. 16, aff’d [1971] S.C.R. 669.

[36] The standard of care applied to individuals in emergency situations is not one of perfection. The law in such circumstances was explained in Walls v. Mussens Ltd. et al(1969), 11 D.L.R. (3d) 245 at 247-48 (N.B.C.A):

… I think the plaintiff is entitled to invoke the “agony of the moment” rule as an answer to the allegation of contributory negligence made against him. The rule is stated by Mr. Glanville Williams in his work Joint Torts and Contributory Negligence at p. 360-1:

It is well settled that where a sudden emergency arises through the fault of the defendant, the plaintiff who acts reasonably in an attempt to extricate himself is not guilty of contributory negligence merely because he unintentionally aggravates the situation. Also, where the plaintiff is compelled to make a quick decision in the ‘agony of the moment’ he is not expected to take into account all the considerations that a calmer appraisal of the situation might present to the mind. Perfect foresight and presence of mind are not required. This rule, sometimes called the ‘agony of the moment’ rule, is merely a particular application of the rule that the standard of care required of both plaintiff and defendant is that of a reasonable man.

The Law of Torts, 3rd ed., by J.G. Fleming contains the following statement at p. 247:

On the other hand, a person’s conduct in the face of a sudden emergency, cannot be judged from the standpoint of what would have been reasonable behaviour in the light of hind-knowledge and in a calmer atmosphere conducive to a nice evaluation of alternatives. A certain latitude is allowed when in the agony of the moment he seeks to extricate himself from an emergency not created by his own antecedent negligence. The degree of judgment and presence of mind expected of the plaintiff is what would have been reasonable conduct in such a situation, and he will not be adjudged guilty of contributory negligence merely because, as it turns out, he unwittingly took the wrong course.

The rule although applied originally in Admiralty cases, now has general application where danger to life and limb or to property is brought about by the negligence of the defendant: see The “Bywell Castle” (1879), L.R. 4 P.D. 219 per Brett, L.J., at p. 226, and Cotton, L.J., at p. 228; Rowan v. Toronto Ry. Co. (1899) 29 S.C.R. 717, and Tatisich v. Edwards,[1931] 2 D.L.R. 521, [1931] S.C.R. 167.

The test to be applied in circumstances such as those as in the case at bar is, in my opinion, not whether the plaintiff exercised a careful and prudent judgment in doing what he did, but whether what he did was something an ordinarily prudent man might reasonably have done under the stress of the emergency.

[37] In this case, Mr. Hagen’s negligent act caused the emergency situation. Mr. Wormell did not have time to determine with any certainty whether the load was going to fall or stay. He had to make a quick decision in the “agony of the moment”. He chose to jump clear. As it turned out, that was the wrong decision because the load itself did not come off the truck. Matters, however, could have turned out otherwise. In deciding to jump away from the load Mr. Wormell did something an ordinary prudent man might reasonably have done under the stress of the emergency.

In assessing the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) at $95,000 Mr. Justice Goepel noted the following about his injuries and their effect on his life:

[96] Mr. Wormell’s injuries are permanent and will impact him for the rest of his life. He has undergone one surgery and will have to undergo at least one more for an ankle fusion. He also possibly faces surgery to reconstruct his ACL.

[97] In the months immediately following the accident, he was in significant pain. The March 2004 surgery reduced his pain and made his injuries more manageable. He now works steadily but seldom can do more than three or four hours of physical work. As his ankle worsens during the day, more of his weight bears on his right leg which aggravates his knee problems.

[98] If the fusion surgery is successful, he will have less pain in his ankle and will be more functional at work. The fusion will, however, cause some permanent limitations.

[99] Prior to his injuries, he was active in sports but he has not been able to return to sports in any meaningful way. This will not improve…

[105] I accept Mr. Wormell’s evidence as to why he has not undergone the fusion surgery. That surgery will leave him incapacitated for six months to a year. Given his ongoing financial obligations, he has not been able to afford to take the necessary time off to have the surgery.

[106] As is often the case, none of the cited cases involve the identical combination of injuries as that suffered by Mr. Wormell. That said, the cases cited by the defendant are closer to the mark. In particular, in this regard, I refer to the Graham and Nicoll cases which both involved serious leg injuries to men of an age similar to Mr. Wormell. I award $95,000 in non-pecuniary damages.


$45,000 Non-Pecuniary Damages for Aggravation of Chronic Pain

August 27th, 2009

Reasons for judgment were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, awarding a Plaintiff damages for accident related injuries.

In today’s case (Cheng v. Kamboz) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2005 BC Car Crash. The other motorist admitted fault.  The issue the court dealt with was quantum of damages (value of the Plaintiff’s claim).

Mr. Justice Myers found that the Plaintiff suffered from pre-existing chronic pain at the time of the crash.  Specifically he found that the Plaintiff suffered from headaches, neck pain, shoulder pain, hip pain and low back pain.  Notwithstanding these pre-accident complaints the Court found that the Plaintiff’s pre-existing “chronic pain” was transformed into a “chronic pain syndrome” as a result of the collision.  In valuing the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) at $45,000 for this aggravation Mr. Justice Myers reasoned as follows:

[39]    I find that before the accident Ms. Cheng was suffering – to a lesser extent – from all the pain of which she now complains.  Ms. Cheng says that she had no hip pain before the accident; however, that is not what she told Dr. Feldman when she mentioned what she referred to as being symptomatic of myasthenia gravis, to which I referred above at para. 29.  Whether it was caused by the myasthenia gravis is, in this context, beside the point.

[40]    Ms. Cheng was suffering from headaches prior to the accident in question.  While she says they are more frequent now, the difference is minimal.  Further, they are often brought on by stress at work and that is a variable which has nothing to do with the accident.

[41]    That said, the accident exacerbated the injuries and escalated chronic pain into chronic pain syndrome.  Causation for the exacerbation and chronic pain syndrome has been shown.  The harm caused by the defendant is divisible from the harm caused by the prior accidents and the plaintiff’s pre-existing condition.  To be clear, this is not the type of case, as was Athey v. Leonati, [1996] 3 S.C.R. 458, in which a pre-existing condition of the plaintiff made him more amenable to a specific injury (a disc herniation).

[42]    Damages are to be assessed on the basis that Ms. Cheng is to be put in the position she was before the accident, but not in a better position.

[43]    Ms. Cheng referred me to cases in which the damage range was between $80,000 and $100,000.  The defendants’ cases ranged from $35,000 to $60,000.

[44]    The injuries will not result in a drastic change of lifestyle for Ms. Cheng.  As I have noted, she was not physically active before the accident.  None of the doctors have opined that she will not be able to resume the limited walking she was doing before the accident.  The same can be said with respect to going to the theatre.  The migraines were present before the accident and her reduced playing of video games because of the migraines cannot be blamed to any substantial degree on the accident.

[45]    On the other hand it must be recognised that the accident did cause her chronic pain syndrome and that it is likely to continue for some time.

[46]    In my view, the proper assessment of damages for the exacerbation of Ms. Cheng’s prior injuries and the addition of the chronic pain syndrome is $45,000.


Rule 37B and the Discretion of the Court

August 27th, 2009

As I’ve previously written, one of the biggest improvements in the new Rule 37B over it’s predecessor (Rule 37) is that it gives the Court discretion when assessing costs consequences when a party beats a formal settlement offer at trial.

Reasons for judgment were released today by the BC Supreme Court demonstrating the flexibility of this discretion in assessing fair costs consequences.

In today’s case (Petojevic v. Solari) the Plaintiff sued for personal injuries.  Prior to trial the Defendants made a formal settlement offer of $60,000.  After trial the Plaintiff was awarded a total of just over $42,000 in damages.  In the defence of the claim the Defendants incurred “costs” of $5,051 and disbursements of $2,060.

The Defendants brought an application to be awarded “double costs”.  Under the old Rule 37 the Judge would have had no discretion in making such an award and double costs would automatically be awarded in these circumstances.  Under the new Rule 37B, the court has significant discretion over the costs to be awarded when a formal settlement offer is beat due to Rule 37B(5) and (6) which read as follows:

Cost options

(5) In a proceeding in which an offer to settle has been made, the court may do one or more of the following:

(a) deprive a party, in whole or in part, of any or all of the costs, including any or all of the disbursements, to which the party would otherwise be entitled in respect of all or some of the steps taken in the proceeding after the date of delivery of the offer to settle;

(b) award double costs of all or some of the steps taken in the proceeding after the date of delivery of the offer to settle.

(c) award to a party, in respect of all or some of the steps taken in the proceeding after the date of delivery or service of the offer to settle, costs to which the party would have been entitled had the offer not been made;

(d)  if the offer was made by a defendant and the judgment awarded to the plaintiff was no greater than the amount of the offer to settle, award to the defendant the defendant’s costs in respect of all or some of the steps taken in the proceeding after the date of delivery of the offer to settle.

[am. B.C. Reg. 165/2009, s. 1 (a), (b) and (c).]

Considerations of court

(6) In making an order under subrule (5), the court may consider the following:

(a) whether the offer to settle was one that ought reasonably to have been accepted, either on the date that the offer to settle was delivered or on any later date;

(b) the relationship between the terms of settlement offered and the final judgment of the court;

(c) the relative financial circumstances of the parties;

(d) any other factor the court considers appropriate.

In today’s case Mr. Justice Williamson refused to award the Defendant double costs but did award increased costs at 125% of the actual costs.  In justifying this result Mr. Justice Williamson highlighted the following facts:

[5] Here, the offer was not accepted and the matter went to trial. Nevertheless, the Court retains a discretion with respect to costs. Generally, litigants will be limited to the maximum costs allowable pursuant to Rule 66 (29) unless the Court rules otherwise.  In determining whether to “otherwise order” the circumstances to be considered may include the making of an offer pursuant to Rule 37, the relationship of the award to the offer, the length of the trial, the degree of complexity, the conduct of the litigation, the financial circumstances of the parties, and any other relevant circumstances.

[6] In addition, I have in mind the express object of Rule 66 to provide a speedier and less expensive determination of certain actions, and the object of Rule 37 to encourage settlement.

[7] The defendant concedes that in exercising a discretion pursuant to Rule 37B(5) an award may be discounted for work done prior to the delivery of an offer to settle.  They note that the ceiling for double costs awards pursuant to Rule 66 would amount to $13,200. They therefore say that their claim for costs in the amount of $10,102.24 plus disbursements is reasonable as it is equivalent to a discount of approximately 25%. In addition, the defendants note that the plaintiff was granted several adjournments and given the fact that the plaintiff was represented by counsel during two periods after the delivery of the offer to settle, he had considerable time to consider the appropriateness of the offer and the consequences of failure to accept it.

[8] The plaintiff submits Rule 66 should apply. He submits in any case the offer came after examination for discovery, an attempt at mediation, and an application to strike portions of the plaintiff’s claim. As such, he submits, any award of costs to the defendants should be limited.

[9] Here the trial took two days, the period contemplated by Rule 66. Liability was admitted, and the trial was not particularly complex, although previously existing injuries were a somewhat complicating issue. The defendant submits the plaintiff’s conduct of the litigation had a negative impact on the proceedings, a situation unfortunately not unusual when litigants represent themselves. I have no direct evidence of the financial circumstances of the plaintiff, although I infer from the evidence of impact of his injuries that he is in financial difficulty.

[10] The amount awarded at trial is more than two thirds of the amount offered by defendants. As well, on the second day of the proceedings the plaintiff succeeded in obtaining an award of special damages greater than that offered at that point by the defendants.

[11] The defendants proffered Bill of Costs in the amount of $5,051.12 plus disbursements of $2,060.02. They seek a doubling of the costs plus the disbursements ($10,102.24 plus $2,060.02 = $12,162.26).

[12] Taking all of these factors into consideration, and exercising the discretion permitted a trial judge pursuant to the Rules, I am satisfied that it would be contrary to the object of these Rules to deny the defendants application. However, I am not persuaded in the circumstances of this case that the award of costs sought by the defendants is warranted. In the result, I award costs to the defendants at 125% of their claimed costs ($5,051.12 X 1.25 = $6,313.90) plus disbursements of 2,060.02 for a total of $8,373.92.


More on BC Injury Claims, Pre-Existing Conditions and Causation

August 26th, 2009

(UPDATE:  The below decision was upheld by the BC Court of Appeal in Reasons for Judgement released on January 19, 2012)

Reasons for judgment were released today by the BC Supreme Court (JFC v. Ladolcetta) awarding a Plaintiff just over $500,000 in total damages as a result of a serious BC motor vehicle collision.

The Crash occurred in 2005 and was a near head-on collision for which the Defendant was found 100% at fault.  As a result of this crash the Plaintiff suffered various serious injuries including a compression fracture in the low back, a brain injury with post concussive problems and various cuts, bruises and soft tissue injuries.

The majority of the judgement dealt with the Plaintiff’s pre-existing psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis and the extent to which this was affected by the collision.

Mr. Justice Brown concluded that in addition to the above serious injuries the Plaintiff’s pre-existing conditions were made significantly worse by the car crash.   The Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages were assessed at $150,000 although this award was then reduced to $120,000 to account for the plaintiff’s ‘failure to mitigate’.

In summarizing the Plaintiff’s accident related injuries and their effect on his life Mr. Justice Brown found as follows:

[112] I find no sufficiently persuasive reason to doubt that the plaintiff sustained significant soft tissue neck, thoracic, lumber spine, right shoulder, ankle, right knee and other soft tissue injuries, as set out in paragraph 3 of these reasons, together with a compression fracture in the lumbar spine, and ongoing sequelae. The ultimate residual effect of these injuries absent the influence of the plaintiff’s psoriatic arthritis will have to wait on the full remediating effects of medication, unfortunately unknown to the date of trial. However, given the history and opinions in this case, I find that the evidence supports a finding that, more likely than not, he will continue to experience some residual symptoms that may be alleviated to a degree by further therapy….

In this case, a belief based on clinical experience that physical or psychological trauma can initiate or influence the course of both psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, is one, based on the sufficiently weighty evidence heard in this case, widely held among dermatologists and rheumatologists in their respective fields…

[153] Given the evidence before me from rheumatologists and dermatologists, as well as Dr. O’Shaughnessy and other experts called, there are sound and substantial reasons for concluding that emotional trauma/stress, as well as physical trauma, may exacerbate both psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis…

I find the evidence, including the plaintiff’s, persuades that the plaintiff’s psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis worsened sufficiently soon after the accident…

[158] What is important here is that the evidence sufficiently establishes that the plaintiff was struggling when he returned to work in mid-February 2006 experiencing joint pain and limitation that he thought he needed to hide for the sake of job security. He saw some improvement in the summer, to be expected because of the sun’s benefits and the fact that he had most of June and July off work, presumably a time when he golfed and was in the sun more. As it is, I note that by early October 2006, he saw Dr. Hong, reporting a flare-up. I accept the plaintiff’s evidence that over-all he had experienced a change in the pattern of the disease from a slow gradual worsening over time between treatments to one of intense flares involving both skin and joints. The basic pattern and course of the disease had manifestly altered; I accept the plaintiff’s evidence that pre-accident he never had to abrade the skin for over two hours each day; that the plaques and other aspects of the disease had taken on an aggressive flaring pattern. This is not to overlook the fact that the worsening condition went largely untreated, which likely worsened his situation; but that points to questions of mitigation discussed below.

[159] Further, as also discussed below, I find that the evidence well establishes that accident-induced ongoing emotional trauma and persistent stress are the pre-dominant and most significant exacerbating factors of both the plaintiff’s psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.

[160] I also reject the defence argument that the onset of psoriatic arthritis suffered by the plaintiff was too temporally removed from the accident to be related to it. There is sufficient accepted evidence to show that the plaintiff’s psoriatic arthritis flared within a few weeks of the accident and involved new areas and that to the date of trial he has not returned to his pre-accident level of functioning…

[216] It must be borne in mind that although the plaintiff in this case did suffer from a psoriatic arthritis condition pre-accident, it was very mild; and he was able to work in what were heavy labor intensive positions. Accepted evidence indicates that the plaintiff’s condition, both in relation to his psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, were set upon a new and more aggressive course after the accident. This was not a short term exacerbation—which said, is not to over look the contribution that the plaintiff’s failure to seek or follow treatment advice played in his worsening condition psoriasis. Further, I find that the plaintiff suffered significant sequelae from his brain injury; and further, and very significantly, as earlier explained, that his other physiological and emotional accident-induced stressors amplified his symptoms, which gradually became worse over time. He has obviously suffered a serious depression and remains vulnerable in that regard. Moreover, he suffered significant soft tissue injuries, the ultimate prognosis for which is not certain. As Dr. Shahid explained, most people do make a good fairly uneventful recovery from compression fractures and are able to return to work; but a significant proportion of those people continue to suffer pain and disability and some of those are unable to return to labor intensive work.

[217] Further, the plaintiff has suffered a substantial loss of enjoyment of life, is now unable to participate in golf and other activities he enjoyed before the accident. With successful treatment, he may be able to return. As I view the evidence, his suffering, both physiological and physical, has been quite intense, albeit partly in relation to his failure to follow treatment recommendations.

[218]     Considering all of the evidence and the submissions of counsel, for non-pecuniary damages I award $150,000, and taking into account the plaintiff’s failure to mitigate before the date of trial, reduced to $120,000.

In addition to the above, today’s case contained an interesting discussion of causation when it comes to traumatic injury.  Often in ICBC Injury Claims different experts come to different conclusions as to the reasons for a Plaintiff’s disabilities.  In this case there was a debate whether many of the Plaintiff’s problems were due to a head injury, depression, chronic pain or perhaps other causes.  Mr. Justice Brown gave useful reasons holding that it is not necessary to pigeon-hole a Plaintiff’s injuries into specific categories to find that a compensable loss occurred.  Specifically he stated as follows:

I find the conclusion that most accords with the testimony and medical evidence that I have accepted is this: All of the plaintiff’s injuries and associated symptoms, including those from his mild concussive frontal lobe injury, his subclinical PTSD and its symptoms, the stress and anxiety he experienced related to pain from his soft tissue injuries, his incrementally worsening psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, and his inability to work operated over time to produce a serious depression. These factors in varying degrees punctuated the plaintiff’s experiences from the time of the accident onwards, and produced the levels of psychological stress that produced the ongoing exacerbation of the plaintiff’s condition that plaintiff experts identified as the cause of the worsening of the plaintiff’s psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. Given the extensive evidence heard, I find this consilient view of the evidence and medical opinions removes the need to reduce judicial findings to specific diagnostic categories; at the same time more accurately reflecting the actual subjective experiences of the plaintiff. These causative stressors were caused directly or indirectly by the accident, subject to consideration of mitigation arguments.

The above quote, particularly the bolded part, could prove persuasive in ICBC Injury Claims where experts agree that a Plaintiff suffers a deterioration in health and functioning following a colliison but cannot agree on the exact medical cause for the same.


$60,000 Non-Pecuniary Damages Awarded for Chronic STI's and an Anxiety Disorder

August 25th, 2009

Reasons for judgment were released today by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, awarding a Plaintiff close to $120,000 in total damages as a result of motor vehicle related injuries and losses.

In today’s case (LaFarge v. Natt) the Plaintiff was involved in 3 BC motor vehicle accidents.  The Plaintiff was not at fault for any of the crashes.  The lawyer representing the defendants admitted the issue of liability so the trial focused on the sole issue of damages.

Since all 3 defendants were represented by the same lawyer and fault was admitted for each of the crashes the court did not attribute damages to each specific crash rather damages were assessed globally.  This is not uncommon in BC Injury Claims were ICBC is the insurer for multiple at fault defendants.

Mr. Justice Truscott found that the Plaintiff suffered chronic soft tissue injuries and an anxiety disorder as a consequence of these collisions.  In assessing the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) at $60,000 he summarized the Plaintiff’s injuries and their effect on her life as follows:

[165] I accept that the plaintiff is continuing to suffer from physical injuries sustained in the first accident of March 1, 2002 and aggravated slightly in the following two accidents of October 5, 2002 and May 1, 2003.

[166] I accept that her injuries are now chronic as it is over seven years after the first accident when these injuries were first sustained.

[167] I do conclude that she has developed a restriction of movement as a pain avoidance technique as Dr. Feldman says.  As he states her chronic pain is clouded by her pain focused behaviour without any real pain behaviour being identified…

[169] The critical issue on the plaintiff’s claim for damages for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life is whether her anxiety issues constitute a psychological disorder or something less, and whether they are caused by the injuries she sustained in the motor vehicle accidents…

[180] I conclude that the initial attack in August 2004 has not been proven to be causally related to her motor vehicle injuries, and some attacks since, as Dr. Buch says, are possibly caused by unrelated aversive social transactions or other stresses in her life.  In fact on consideration of all the evidence of the other stresses in her life I find it just as likely that some of her anxiety attacks are not related to her motor vehicle injuries.

[181] Whether or not her anxiety attacks have reached the level of a psychological disorder, I also conclude the plaintiff has satisfied the onus of proving that at least some of her anxiety attacks are causally related to the injuries in her motor vehicle accidents.

[182] Accordingly, with some of these anxiety attacks caused by injuries in the motor vehicle accidents and some by other stresses in her life, the issue becomes what the defendants should be responsible for…

[185] My conclusion that some of the anxiety attacks are causally connected to the plaintiff’s motor vehicle injuries while the initial anxiety attack of August 2004 is not proven to be so causally connected, and other unidentified anxiety attacks thereafter are likely not causally connected appears to fit the legal doctrine described in Athey as the “crumbling skull” doctrine which recognizes a pre-existing condition inherent in the plaintiff’s original position.  The defendants are not obliged to compensate the plaintiff for any disability effects of the pre-existing condition which the plaintiff would have experienced anyway or did in fact experience.

[186] Here it is my conclusion that the plaintiff’s damages throughout should be discounted by 25 percent to reflect my finding that the first anxiety attack in August 2004 was not causally connected to her injuries and also to take into account the likelihood that other identified anxiety attacks since are unrelated to her injuries and are therefore unproven to be causally connected to her injuries.

[190] I consider the plaintiff’s cases to be more appropriate to consider, particularly Pelkinen v. Unrau where the injuries and psychological consequences to the plaintiff there were somewhat similar and the award for non-pecuniary damages was $90,000 less ten percent for failure to mitigate for a net award of $81,000.

[191] Here the plaintiff submits that an appropriate award to her would be $80,000 and I am prepared to accept this figure for general damages subject to a reduction by 25 percent to allow for the unrelated anxiety attacks to include the August 2004 attack.  The award for non-pecuniary damages will therefore be in the amount of $60,000.


Pedestrian Struck on Road at Night Found 90% at Fault for Crash

August 18th, 2009

Reasons for judgment were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, dealing with the issue of fault in a pedestrian collision case.

In today’s case (O’Connor v. James) the Plaintiff was walking along No. 6 Road in Richmond, BC, when he was struck by the Defendants vehicle.  The Plaintiff consumed some alcohol before the collision and was struck while he was walking on the actual roadway (as opposed to the shoulder) at the time of impact.  As a consequence the Court found that the Plaintiff was in breach of various provisions of the BC Motor (Vehicle) Act.

Specifically, Mr. Justice Burnyeat made the following findings of fact with respect to this accident:

[22] It was the consensus of all witnesses that Mr. O’Connor was dressed entirely in black that night and was wearing no reflective clothing.  I also find that the approaching vehicle driven by Mr. Hockley had the low beams activated.  I also find that the street light at the corner of No. 6 Road and Triangle Road was not operating.  Taking into account all of the evidence, I find that Mr. O’Connor was on the road surface, and not on the grass median beside the southbound lane of No. 6 Road when he was hit….

[23] I accept the evidence of Ms. Journeau, Mr. Hockley, Ms. Kamayah, and Mr. James that Mr. O’Connor was in the southbound lane of No. 6 Road when he was hit by the vehicle driven by Mr. James.  I find that it would have been impossible for the collision to have occurred on the grassy median and for the vehicle driven by Mr. James to have come to rest where it did if the contact with Mr. O’Connor had been on the grassy median.  Walking where he was walking, Mr. O’Connor violated a number of provisions of the Motor (Vehicle) Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 319:

179      (2)  A pedestrian must not leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle that is so close it is impracticable for the driver to yield the right of way.

182      (1)  If there is a sidewalk that is reasonable passable on either or both sides of a highway, a pedestrian must not walk on a roadway.

(2)  If there is no sidewalk, a pedestrian walking along or on a highway must walk only on the extreme left side of the roadway or the shoulder of the highway, facing traffic approaching from the opposite direction.

[35] From the evidence, I make the following findings:  (a) the temperature that night in the area approached the freezing point; (b) the road surface was either icy or covered with dew as a result of the new-freezing atmospheric conditions; (c) the posted speed limit on No. 6 Road is 50 km/h; (d) the vehicle being driving by Mr. James was travelling at somewhere between 55 km/h and 65 km/h that night; (e) it was the intention of Mr. James to make a left turn at the intersection of No. 6 Road and Triangle Road and this intersection which would be to the left of Mr. James was being approached by Mr. James; (f) the vehicle driven by Mr. Hockley was being driven towards Mr. James and the low-beam lights of the Hockley vehicle were activated; and (g) the street light at the intersection of No. 6 Road and Triangle Road was not operative so that illumination of No. 6 Road at that point was diminished.

The court went on to find that the Pedestrian Plaintiff was 90% to blame for this collision and that the Defendant motorist was 10% to blame.  In dividing fault this way Mr. Justice Burnyeat made the following analysis:

I am satisfied that Mr. James was negligent in the operation of the vehicle which struck Mr. O’Connor.  Mr. James ignored the road conditions, visibility on No. 6 Road, the speed limits, his knowledge that there were no sidewalks, and his knowledge that there might be pedestrians.  All of these factors contributed to a need for Mr. James to drive more slowly than even the speed limit which was in effect.  Mr. James owed a duty of care to Mr. O’Connor and did not meet that duty by driving his car at the speed he was going when it hit Mr. O’Connor….

It is clear that the judgment of Mr. O’Connor was somewhat impaired by alcohol.  As well, he was dressed entirely in black without reflective clothing.  His clothing made it difficult if not impossible for drivers to see him.  Contrary to s. 182(2) of the Motor (Vehicle) Act, Mr. O’Connor was not walking facing traffic, and was not walking on the shoulder of No. 6 Road.  Mr. James has shown that the conduct of Mr. O’Connor that evening showed a want of reasonable care for his own safety and that this contributed to causing his injuries.  Mr. James has proven that Mr. O’Connor did not conduct himself in a reasonable manner so that his injuries could have been avoided or, at least, diminished.  In the circumstances, I assess liability at 90% against Mr. O’Connor and 10% against Mr. James.


More on ICBC Claims: Chronic Pain, Surveillance and Credibility

August 18th, 2009

(Update: December 14, 2011 - the  below decision was upheld by the BC Court of Appeal in reasons for judgement released today)

I’ve written on this topic a few times in the past.  Surveillance in and of itself does not harm a Plaintiff’s ICBC Injury Claim.  It’s when surveillance contradicts a Plaintiff’s testimony that the damage is done.  Reasons for judgment were released today by the BC Supreme Court demonstrating this in action.

In today’s case (Fan v. Chana) the Plaintiff was injured as a passenger in a rear-end collision in Vancouver BC. The crash happened in 2000 and the Plaintiff was 9 years old at the time.

At trial the Plaintiff testified that she suffered various injuries in this collision and that these continued to affect her at the time of trial some 9 years later.   Mr. Justice McEwan noted that the Plaintiff “twisted, turned, stretched and pushed herself against the edge of the (witness) box almost constantly” while testifying.

The Court concluded that the Plaintiff’s injuries were not as severe as presented and instead found that this crash caused “soft tissue injuries of an immediate duration of less than two years” and awarded $25,000 for the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages.

In coming to his conclusions about the extent and severity of the Plaintiff’s injuries the Court noted the following about video surveillance evidence that was gathered on behalf of the defendant:

[50] The plaintiff was shown a surveillance video taken March 18 and 19, 2009, apparently showing her going about without any apparent pain.  After spending four hours at a wave pool she went to a very long movie without the sort of getting up and walking around that she suggested she needed.  In redirect she identified a few occasions on the video where she appeared to “crack” her neck…

[74] The plaintiff’s case is somewhat unusual in that there appear to be two quite different dimensions in which she moves.  The first is her ordinary, public life.  This is the world of school and teachers and social friends.  In the aftermath of the accident, the plaintiff’s physical education teachers noted no change.  The plaintiff’s marks were those of a diligent, hard working student.  Her social activities are in all respects normal.  The plaintiff’s friends consider her an outgoing, lively companion.  Significantly, the most obvious sign of pain they were able to remark upon was her habit of “cracking” her neck and back, something that is medically of no import according to those who have treated her, including Dr. Hahn.

[75] The surveillance video and the plaintiff’s observed behaviour do not show anything like the pattern demonstrated in court.  There may be a few occasions when the plaintiff “cracked” her neck, but it is very difficult to say.  The observations made by the surveillance operators specifically do not bear out the plaintiff’s suggestions that she is a drag on her friends, frequently holding them up to take rest breaks and unable to sit through movies.  She was observed to sit through a very long film with no trouble.  I recognize the caution with which surveillance of a brief sample of a person’s life must be approached, but I also note that the observers managed to spend a number of hours watching the plaintiff doing things she specifically cited as current examples of her disability, without noting any of the overt signs her evidence would suggest.

In addition to a useful and lengthy discussion on credibility in chronic pain cases Mr. Justice McEwan had the following statement of interest when it comes to doctor’s opinions regarding the severity of Chronic Pain in Subjective Injury Cases:

[72] The balance of the medical opinion divides along lines that depend on the degree of scepticism the doctors bring to the description of symptoms with which they were presented.  These range from very strong endorsements of the plaintiff’s claims (Dr. Kuttner, as reported by Dr. Hahn) to the blunt, contrary opinions offered by Dr. Weeks.

[73] I see very little purpose in parsing the medical reports to sort out who has the greater credibility based on their qualifications (i.e. “paediatric” physiatrists v. “adult” physiatrists).  As courts have observed on any number of occasions, the approach taken by medical professionals is not forensic: they assume that the patient is accurately reporting to them and then set about a diagnosis that plausibly fits the pattern of the complaint.  In the absence of objective signs of injury, the court’s reliance on the medical profession must, however, proceed from the facts it finds, and must seek congruence between those facts and the advice offered by the medical witnesses as to the possible medical consequences and the potential duration of the injuries.

When prosecuting a Chronic Pain claim the above quote is important to keep in mind.  Just because a physician accepts that a Plaintiff suffers from Chronic Pain as a consequence of a car accident and makes a diagnosis accordingly does not mean a Court has to accept the diagnosis.  The Court can and will make an independent finding of credibility and decide if the pain a Plaintiff complains of is sincere.

Can Past Wage Loss be Recovered in an ICBC Claim When You're Paid "Under the Table"?

August 17th, 2009

When a person is injured through the fault of another in British Columbia and suffers a past wage loss from an “under the table” job can that past wage loss be recovered in a personal injury action? The answer is yes, however, it is much more difficult to do so than in cases where past income is accurately reported to Revenue Canada.

In a 1992 case from the BC Court of Appeal (Iannone v. Hoogenraad) the law was summarized as follows:

This plaintiff, like others in similar circumstances, had the burden of leading evidence of past accident wages losses.  That will be a difficult burden to discharge where there is no corroborating evidence such as income tax returns, but it is not an impossible burden to discharge.  Here the trial judge was satisfied on the evidence that the injuries sustained by the plaintiff prevented him from earning income which he would otherwise have earned.  The burden of proof was therefore discharged.  The loss was proven.  It is not, in my opinion, open to the defendant to avoid compensating for that loss on the ground that unreported income was taken into account in computing it.

Reasons for judgment were released today by the BC Supreme Court demonstrating the difficulty in succeeding in a past wage loss claim in these circumstances.

In today’s case (King v. Horth) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2006 Car Crash in Saanich, BC (greater Victoria).  The Plaintiff claimed damages for various losses including past loss of income.  At trial he asserted that “he would have been capable of earning greater income as a gardener had he not been injured in this accident”. This claim was largely rejected and paragraphs 25-26 of the decision demonstrate Mr. Justice Johnston’s skepticism of this claim for lost income where pre accident income was not reported to Revenue Canada:

[25]      A second concern respecting Mr. King’s credibility relates to his claim for loss of earning capacity arising out of this accident. This claim centers around his assertion that he would have been capable of earning greater income as a gardener had he not been injured in this accident. Prior to this accident the plaintiff did not record, in any fashion, the income he claims that he earned as a gardener, nor did he declare that income on his income tax returns. There is some evidence from a former employer that he had employed Mr. King as a gardener before the accident, however, that employer kept no record of the plaintiff’s work hours or his wages.

[26]      In a document he submitted to ICBC in February 2006, the plaintiff stated his occupation as a surveyor. He did not mention any work as a gardener. Mr. King testified that he felt it was advisable not to refer to his gardening income in his dealings with ICBC, at least in the beginning, because that income had been earned “under the table.”

In addition to making it more difficult to succeed in a past wage loss claim, a further dilemma that can arise in these types of cases are problems with Revenue Canada after trial.  Whether or not a past income award is made at trial, Revenue Canada can come after a Plaintiff for back taxes when these types of cases are advanced.

The reason for this is, to discharge the burden of proof, a Plaintiff usually needs to take the stand and testify under oath as to how much money he/she earned historically but failed to report to Revenue Canada.  Trial testimony is generally a public record and Revenue Canada can use this sworn evidence to come after Plaintiffs.  So, in summary, pay your taxes!


BC Court of Appeal Discusses Causation in Negligence Claims

August 17th, 2009

The law of ‘causation’ was discussed extensively in reasons for judgment released today by the BC Court of Appeal.

Today’s case (Chambers v. Goertz)  involved the appeal of the trial judge’s findings of liability.  At trial the court found a taxi driver partially responsible for a crash for leaving his high-beams on which made it difficult for another motorist to see various Plaintiffs crossing a street.  The other motorist then struck the Plaintiffs causing injuries. (Click here to read my post on the trial judgment).

The taxi driver appealed this finding arguing that “the trial judge erred in law in finding that his conduct was a ‘contributing cause’ of the plaintiffs injuries“.

This appeal was dismissed and the trial judgment was upheld.  In dismissing the Appeal the BC Court of Appeal discussed the law of Causation in personal injury actions, specifically what the law requires for there to be a compensable relationship between the wrong act and injury to the victim.

The Court summarized this area of law as follows:

[18] The Supreme Court’s other use of “material contribution” is seen in Athey v. Leonati, [1996] 3 S.C.R. 458, 140 D.L.R. (4th) 235, [1997] 1 W.W.R. 97, where Major J., writing for the Court, held in the following passage that causation will be established if it is shown that the defendant’s negligence “materially contributed” to the occurrence of the plaintiff’s injury:

The “but for” test is unworkable in some circumstances, so the courts have recognized that causation is established where the defendant’s negligence “materially contributed” to the occurrence of the injury:  Myers v. Peel County Board of Education, [1981] 2 S.C.R. 21, Bonnington Castings, Ltd. v. Wardlaw, [1956] 1 All E.R. 615 (H.L.);McGhee v. National Coal Board, supra. A contributing factor is material if it falls outside the de minimis range: Bonnington Castings, Ltd. v. Wardlaw, supra; see also R. v. Pinske(1988), 30 B.C.L.R. (2d) 114 (B.C.C.A.), aff’d [1989] 2 S.C.R. 979.

]      In Snell v. Farrell, supra, this Court recently confirmed that the plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s tortious conduct caused or contributed to the plaintiff’s injury. …

[17] It is not now necessary, nor has it ever been, for the plaintiff to establish that the defendant’s negligence was the sole cause of the injury.  There will frequently be a myriad of other background events which were necessary preconditions to the injury occurring.  To borrow an example from Professor Fleming (The Law of Torts (8th ed. 1992) at p. 193), a “fire ignited in a wastepaper basket is … caused not only by the dropping of a lighted match, but also by the presence of combustible material and oxygen, a failure of the cleaner to empty the basket and so forth”.  As long as a defendant is part of the cause of an injury, the defendant is liable, even though his act alone was not enough to create the injury.  There is no basis for a reduction of liability because of the existence of other preconditions: defendants remain liable for all injuries caused or contributed to by their negligence.

This proposition has long been established in the jurisprudence.  Lord Reid stated in McGhee v. National Coal Board, supra, at p. 1010:

It has always been the law that a pursuer succeeds if he can shew that fault of the defender caused or materially contributed to his injury.  There may have been two separate causes but it is enough if one of the causes arose from fault of the defender.  The pursuer does not have to prove that this cause would of itself have been enough to cause him injury.

[Emphasis in original]

[19] As this passage illustrates, every injury has multiple necessary or “but for” factual causes.  The function of tort law is to identify those for which the defendant should be held responsible.  Thus, in Snell v. Farrell, [1990] 2 S.C.R. 311, 72 D.L.R. (4th), 4 C.C.L.T. (2d) 229, Sopinka J., writing for the Court, said, at 326,

Causation is an expression of the relationship that must be found to exist between the tortious act of the wrongdoer and the injury to the victim in order to justify compensation of the latter out of the pocket of the former.

[20] For purposes of determining whether a breach of duty was a “but for” cause of particular harm, there are no degrees of causation – specific conduct was either necessary for the harm to occur or it was not.  However, not every cause necessary for the harm to occur can reasonably be considered a candidate for liability.  For example, in this case, the accident would not have occurred but for the taxi company dispatcher’s sending Mr. Ahmad to respond to Ms. McDonald’s call, but no one would suggest that the dispatcher should be found liable for what happened.  Therefore the law takes cognizance only of those causes that play a significant role in bringing about the outcome.

[21] This concept has been expressed in different ways.  As I have noted, in Athey v. Leonati, the Court said at para. 15 that “causation is established where the defendant’s negligence ‘materially contributed’ to the occurrence of the injury”, and that a “material contribution” is one that “falls outside the de minimis range”.  To similar effect the Court said, inSnell v. Farrell, at 327, that proof of causation requires “a substantial connection between the injury and the defendant’s conduct”.  “Substantial connection” was also used to describe this idea in R. v. Goldhart, [1996] 2 S.C.R. 463 at 480, 136 D.L.R. (4th) 502, 107 C.C.C. (3d) 481, where the Court said,

The happening of an event can be traced to a whole range of causes along a spectrum of diminishing connections to the event.  The common law of torts has grappled with the problem of causation.  In order to inject some degree of restraint on the potential reach of causation, the concepts of proximate cause and remoteness were developed.  These concepts place limits on the extent of liability in order to implement the sound policy of the law that there exist a substantial connection between the tortious conduct and the injury for which compensation is claimed. …

[22] Clearly, the “material contribution” test discussed in Resurfice Corp. v. Hanke has nothing to do with the circumstances of this case.  Here, it was not impossible for the plaintiffs to prove causation.  Rather, whether the breaches of duty of the parties played legally significant causal roles in the outcome was in each case a question of fact to be answered by rational inference drawn in the usual way from the evidence.  Causation is essentially “a practical question of fact which can best be answered by ordinary common sense”:  Snell v. Farrell at 328, citing Alphacell Ltd. v. Woodward, [1972] 2 All E.R. 475 at 490 (per Lord Salmon).

[23] It was this conventional “but for” test of causation that the trial judge applied when she held that Mr. Ahmad’s breach of duty was a “contributing cause” of the accident and that he was therefore liable.  Her use of the phrase “contributing cause” signifies that she found as a fact that Mr. Ahmad’s conduct played an important enough role in the combination of events necessary for this occurrence to fix him with liability for the consequences.  This was the correct approach in the circumstances and I would reject the submission that she erred in adopting it.