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 June, 2010

Civil Damages for Intentionally Inflicted Injuries: BCCA discusses "Self Defence" and "Provocation"

June 22nd, 2010

Not many cases for damages as a result of intentionally inflicted injuries make their way through the BC Courts.   The main reason is that Defendants usually are not insured for damage claims for harm caused by their intentional actions.  When a Plaintiff sues a Defendant for intentionally inflicted injuries collecting on the judgement can sometimes lead to a dead-end.  (These are called ‘dry judgements’ and you can click here to access a previous article on this topic).

Although these cases rarely proceed to trial the law is straightforward, if someone causes injuries to you by intentionally applying force you can sue for your damages for the “battery“.  A few defences to a lawsuit for damages from battery can be raised and these include self defence and provocation.   Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Court of Appeal addressing these areas of law.

In last week’s case (Friedmann v. Thomson) the Plaintiff claimed damages as a result of an assault and battery committed by the Defendant.  The Defendant apparently struck the Plaintiff with an aluminum baseball bat.  The Plaintiff succeeded at trial with the Judge finding that “(the Defendant) came at (the Plaintiff) with the bat, and she turned away and he hit her on the back“.

The Court awarded the Plaintiff $27,276 for her injuries and losses.  The Defendant appealed arguing that the trial judge incorrectly applied the law of Self Defence and Provocation.  The BC Court of Appeal disagreed and upheld the award for damages.  In reaching this conclusion the BC High Court provided the following useful summary of the principles of self defence and provocation in Civil Lawsuits for damages from intentional assaults/battery:

[10]         The test that Mr. Friedmann had to meet at trial is set out in Mann v. Balabass, [1970] S.C.R. 74:

In an action for assault, it has been, in my view, established that it is for the plaintiff to prove that he was assaulted and that he sustained an injury thereby. The onus is upon the plaintiff to establish those facts before the jury. Then it is upon the defendant to establish the defence, firstly, that the assault was justified and, secondly, that the assault even if justified was not made with any unreasonable force and on those issues the onus is on the defence.

[11]         The trial judge carefully considered all of the evidence. There is nothing to suggest that she did not consider the totality of the circumstances confronting Mr. Friedmann when he said he was acting in self-defence. The ultimate focus was on the point of the assault on Ms. Thomson. By that time, she had indicated that the dispute was over, she had turned to leave, and Mr. Friedmann struck her. Central to the trial judge’s finding was that the earlier events, by that time, did not give rise to a reasonable apprehension by Mr. Friedmann that he would be assaulted.

[12]         Nor, in my view, can it be said that the circumstances amounted to provocation such as to cause Mr. Friedmann to lose his power of self-control. A.M. Linden, Canadian Tort Law, 6th ed. (Vancouver: Butterworths, 1997) at 81 states:

In order to amount to provocation, the conduct of the plaintiff must have been “such as to cause the defendant to lose his power of self-control and must have occurred at the time of or shortly before the assault.”  Prior incidents would have relevance only “if it were asserted that the effect of the immediate provocative acts upon the defendant’s mind was enhanced by those previous incidents being recalled to him and thereby inflaming his passion”. One cannot coolly and deliberately plan to take revenge on another and expect to rely on provocation as a mitigating factor.

[13]         Mr. Friedmann did not testify that he lost control and, even if he had, it is apparent that his testimony would not have been accepted. The trial judge did find, and was no doubt correct, that Mr. Friedmann was “in a rage”. That, however, does not necessarily equate to the loss of control amounting to provocation. Further, it is clear that, from Mr. Friedmann’s perspective, he held a degree of resentment toward the people milling about what he regarded as his private space. He did not call the police at any time. He was found by the trial judge to have hit Ms. Thomson because in his view she deserved to be hit.

[14]         In my opinion, to accede to the appellant’s arguments of provocation would give the principle a far too expansive meaning.

[15]         Notwithstanding Mr. Mackoff’s very able submissions, I would dismiss the appeal with costs to the respondent.


"Chinese Drywall" Lawsuits and BC Limitation Periods

June 21st, 2010

Chinese Drywall Lawsuits” are claims for damages based on the allegation that defective drywall, manufactured in China, was installed in homes across North America.  There are not only health complaints alleged to be associated with this drywall but also allegations that the drywall effects the integrity of the home.

To fix these problems some homeowners have resorted to gutting and replacing the drywall in their homes leading to significant repair costs.

There have been thousands of Chinese drywall lawsuits filed in the US and the first of these reached verdict earlier this month.  As reported on NPR, a US Jury just awarded a Florida couple $2.4 Million in damages to compensate them not only for the repair costs of “gutting and renovating their home” but also for the loss of enjoyment of their home and potential in reduction of the home’s resale value.

The Star reported on June 20, 2009 that an estimated 920,000 square metres of “Chinese drywall” came into Canada through Vancouver from 2001 – 2007.  While some of this was then further exported outside of BC some of this product may have been used in new construction in the lower mainland.

Thomas Martin was quoted as saying that the Chinese Drywall crisis is “the worst case of sick houses in US history“.  The question remains, is there an equally large problem of ‘sick houses‘ in Canada?

If you are concerned that your health or property have been adversely effected by defective Drywall you may be wondering about the Statute of Limitations and your ability to file a suit.   In British Columbia, the Statute of Limitations requires lawsuits based on “damages in respect of injury to person or property“to be brought within two years.  However, as with many areas of limitation law, the Limitation Act provides a common sense exception to this relatively short time period in Sections 6(3) and 6(4) which hold that in lawsuits for “personal injury” and “damage to property

Time does not begin to run against a plaintiff..until the identity of the defendant is known to the plaintiff and those facts within the plaintiff’s means of knowledge are such that a reasonable person, knowing those facts and having taken the appropriate advice a reasonable person would seek on those facts, would regard those facts as showing that

(a) an action on the cause of action would, apart from the effect of the expiration of a limitation period, have a reasonable prospect of success, and

(b) the person whose means of knowledge is in question ought, in the person’s own interests and taking the person’s circumstances into account, to be able to bring an action.

If you are a BC home-owner and are concerned that your home may be contaminated with defective drywall you should have a proper inspection carried out from a qualified engineer or home inspector.  If in fact your concerns are justified you should promptly seek legal advice to ensure you don’t jeopardize your right to be properly compensated for your financial losses.


$90,000 Non-Pecuniary Damages Awarded for Torn Bicep Tendon; Video Surveillance Discussed

June 19th, 2010

(photo depicting muscle deformity from ruptured distal bicep tendon)

Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, awarding damages for a rather unique injury, a ruptured bicep tendon.

In this week’s case (Taylor v. Grundholm) the Plaintiff was involved in motor vehicle collision.  His vehicle was struck by the Defendant’s as the Plaintiff “opened the driver’s side door to reach into the back to retrieve a box of soap….His left hand was holding the steering wheel and he was leaning into the back seat area when the collision occurred.”

The Plaintiff’s vehicle sustained significant damage and was written off.  Fault for the collision was admitted.

The Plaintiff sustained a variety of soft tissue injuries.  The Plaintiff also tore his bicep tendon which caused a muscle deformity.  The most contentious issue was whether the tendon was torn as a result of the collision.  Ultimately the Court concluded that it was and went on to assess the non-pecuniary loss for this injury at $90,000.  In reaching this decision Madam Justice Maisonville noted as follows:

[42]         I find the injury to Mr. Taylor’s biceps tendon and to his upper left quadrant did occur as a result of the accident. Nowhere in the medical records is there a note of this injury — now described by Dr. Leith as a “noticeable deformity” — prior to the accident. The evidence from the physicians was that there would have to have been a significant event to cause this type of injury.

[43]         The biceps tendons are attached to the bone, which anchors the muscle.  When flexed, the muscle will appear to be at about the middle of the upper arm. If an individual has sustained a biceps tendon tear near the elbow (distal), the muscle is no longer anchored and will bunch up proximally, appearing much like the cartoon character Popeye’s arm. This is a noticeable deformity…

49] Dr. Leith further testified that a distal biceps tear is almost never repaired unless it is acute because people with this injury usually have no problems with function; rather (as noted), they will have problems with strength.  Mr. Taylor is thus left with a lifelong cosmetic deformity in addition to the attendant loss of strength…

[60] There is no issue that the plaintiff has suffered a debilitating loss. He will no longer be able to look after his cabin and it will have to be sold. He will no longer be able to enjoy the activities that he enjoyed with his friends and family. Additionally, Mr. Taylor was nearing retirement. As Griffin J. noted in Fata v. Heinonen at para. 88:

The retirement years are special years for they are at a time in a person’s life when he realizes his own mortality. When someone who has always been physically active loses his physical function in these years, the enjoyment of retirement can be severely diminished, with less opportunity to replace these activities with other interests in life. Further, what may be a small loss of function to a younger person who is active in many other ways may be a larger loss to an older person whose activities are already constrained by age. The impact an injury can have on someone who is elderly was recognized in Giles v. Canada (Attorney General), [1994] B.C.J. No. 3212 (S.C.), rev’d on other grounds (1996), 21 B.C.L.R. (3d) 190 (C.A.)…

[67] In all the circumstances, I award the plaintiff $90,000 in non-pecuniary damages..

The Court went on to reduce this award by 10% finding that the Plaintiff failed to mitigate his damages by not attending physiotherapy which was recommended by his treating physicians.

______________________________________________________________________________________________

  • Video Surveillance

This case is also worth reviewing for the Court’s discussion of the impact of video surveillance in injury litigation.

As I’ve previously posted, video surveillance can and does occur and it can be intrusive.  However, video surveillance in and of itself does not harm a person’s injury claim.  Damage is only done if the video demonstrates that the Plaintiff has not been truthful about their injuries / limitations.   In today’s case Madam Justice Maisonville was quick to dismiss the impact of video that did not contradict the Plaintiff’s evidence as can be seen from the following passage:

[50] Mr. Taylor had been placed under surveillance and videotaped by investigators retained by the defendant on certain days in March and April of 2010. I find he was not shown to be doing anything inconsistent with his statement that he sustained an injury and was in pain. At one point, he was shown seated in the driver’s seat of his vehicle and reaching to about ear level with his left arm to grab the seatbelt. It was not a movement where he had to twist his body in any way, significantly arch his back or lift his arm directly over his head. Similarly, he was shown removing his hat with his right hand and smoothing his hair down with his left. I do not find those motions to be inconsistent with his injury. He was not directed by his physicians to cease using his left arm. The fact that he did not show obvious signs of distress when doing these movements is not inconsistent with his injury. He was not observed to be lifting anything. Accordingly, I do not find the videotape surveillance inconsistent with the evidence of the plaintiff and his physicians.


Non-Pecuniary Damages Update – the Kelowna Road Edition

June 19th, 2010

I’m writing today’s non-pecuniary damages case update in Kelowna, BC where I’m finishing up some work on a handful of ICBC claims.

Reasons for judgement were released earlier this week by the BC Supreme Court awarding non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) for headaches and chronic pain following soft tissue and TMJ injuries.

In this week’s case (Ho v. Dosanjh), the Plaintiff was injured in a 2006 BC motor vehicle collision.   It was a rear-end crash and the Plaintiff’s vehicle sustained over $7,000 in damage.   The Plaintiff’s injuries continued to cause him problems by the time of trial (nearly 4 years after the collision).  Mr. Justice Silverman awarded the Plaintiff $75,000 for his non-pecuniary loss and in reaching this figure the Court noted the following about the extent and severity of the Plaintiff’s injuries:

[21]         As a result of the subject MVA, the plaintiff suffered pain in his neck, upper back, shoulder, jaw, numbness down the left arm, headaches, and insomnia.  He was on a variety of medications for a period of time and was unable to work.

[22]         The most serious and ongoing consequences of the MVA are the TMJ and the headaches, which leave him in constant pain.

[23]         Dr. Mehta confirmed that the plaintiff suffers from pain in his jaw, teeth, and  related areas, and that he suffers from headaches as a result of the MVA.

[24]         He testified that these areas of concern had not improved significantly in the four years since the MVA and further recovery was unlikely; that the plaintiff will suffer long-term symptoms that impact on all aspects of his functioning; and that he should avoid any activities that involve jumping or jarring.  Dr. Mehta recommended conservative care, including continuation of various treatments which were already ongoing, such as physiotherapy and massage.

[25]         Dr. le Nobel diagnosed the plaintiff with diffuse myofascial pain syndrome, TMJ, and chronic headaches.  He testified that the plaintiff’s capacity for recreational pursuits has been compromised and that this will continue for the foreseeable future.  He testified that, given the amount of time that has passed since the MVA, there is unlikely to be any further improvement.

[26]         Dr. Weiss confirmed that the plaintiff has chronic neck, back, and TMJ pain and that, in his opinion, “they will remain a long term issue.”  He noted that the plaintiff had a pre-existing degenerative condition, which made him more susceptible to injury from the MVA.

[27]         Dr. Gilbart provided an independent medical report and was called as a witness for the defence.  He confirmed that the MVA aggravated the plaintiff’s pre-existing degenerative condition in his neck.  He opined that the “prognosis for significant further improvement in his symptoms at this point is guarded.”  He noted that the plaintiff was asymptomatic prior to the MVA and was functioning at a very high level in all aspects of his life.  Dr. Gilbart also noted that, despite the post-MVA pain complained of by the plaintiff, he still appeared to be functioning at a very high level.  Finally, he opined that, given the pre-existing condition of the plaintiff as well as his prior history, he likely would have had flare-ups in the future even if the MVA had not occurred.

[28]          With respect to the jaw pain and headaches, Dr. Gilbart deferred to the expertise of Dr. Mehta.

[29]         Presently, the plaintiff has not returned to most of his pre-MVA athletic activities.  He no longer is involved in volleyball, softball, aggressive hiking, or skiing.  He does still rollerblade, although not as aggressively as before, and he has recently begun to swim with the encouragement of his girlfriend, who is a physiotherapist’s assistant.

[30]         Various friends testified that the plaintiff’s personality has changed.  He is moody, irritable, withdrawn, quiet, rarely socializes, and not as pleasant to spend time with as he used to be.  It was clear to me, when watching the plaintiff in the gallery of the courtroom that he was distressed when he heard this testimony.  He subsequently testified that he had not actually heard these witnesses say this before…

76]         I am satisfied that the plaintiff has suffered neck, back, jaw, and shoulder pain, and that he continues to suffer on a daily basis, particularly from TMJ and headaches.

[77]         I am satisfied that it has affected his recreational and athletic activities, which were an important part of his life.

[78]         I am satisfied that there is unlikely to be much further improvement.

[79]         I am also satisfied that, while he is suffering pain, he is nevertheless able to function in a reasonably normal way.  He certainly appeared to be reasonably comfortable when giving evidence.  He also continued to work full-time after a period of months during which he was unable to work, although I accept that work is much less physically comfortable for him than it used to be.

[80]         While I accept the evidence that he might have suffered another flare-up even in the absence of the MVA, I am satisfied that the MVA was, and is, the primary cause of his current difficulties.

[81]         With respect to ongoing treatments for the rest of his life, I am satisfied that, while these might provide him with some periodic temporary relief, they are not likely to result in any improvement.  Consequently, what the plaintiff might perceive as the “need” for such ongoing treatments, will be reflected as an aspect of the non-pecuniary award.

[82]         In all the circumstances, I award $75,000 for non-pecuniary damages.


ICBC Ordered to Pay "Double Costs" In Breach of Insurance Case; Timing and Finances of Parties Considered

June 18th, 2010

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, ordering ICBC to pay ‘double costs‘ after losing a breach of insurance claim.

In today’s case (Barsaloux v. ICBC) the Plaintiff was the owner of a vehicle that was stolen and subsequently recovered.  It was damaged beyond repair.  The Plaintiff had insurance with ICBC and applied for coverage.  ICBC refused to pay stating that the Plaintiff was in breach of his policy of insurance for making a false declaration about the identity of the vehicle’s principal operator.

The Plaintiff successfully sued ICBC and was awarded $13,850 in damages.   Prior to trial, the Plaintiff made a formal settlement offer of $13,700.  The Plaintiff applied to Court to be awarded double costs under Rule 37B.

ICBC objected arguing that the offer was made only two days before trial and therefore there was no reasonable opportunity to consider it.  Mr. Justice Smith disagreed and awarded the Plaintiff double costs.  In doing so the Court made the following useful comments about two notable issues under Rule 37B, timing of settlement offers and the financial disparity between the parties:

[17] I stress that ICBC was directly a party to this action. That distinguishes this case from Bailey v. Jang, 2008 BCSC 1372, where Hinkson J. declined to consider the relative financial positions of the plaintiff and ICBC where ICBC’s involvement was in its capacity as insurer for the named defendant.

[18]         The unequal position of the parties is not determinative because, as counsel for ICBC points out, the same situation will exist in any case where there is a coverage dispute between the corporation and a policy holder. However, I am also of the view that, in this case, ICBC used its position of strength to maintain what it should have known was an untenable, or at least an insufficiently considered, position…

[22]         In the circumstances, ICBC should have realized the weakness of its position well before trial. The offer to settle was the only means the plaintiff had to exert additional, although modest, pressure and to provide ICBC with a further opportunity to re-assess and reconsider its position in light of the evidence that existed. I find that it was an offer that ought reasonably to have been accepted.

[23]         That conclusion is not altered by the fact that the revised offer to settle was delivered only two days before trial. ICBC relies on Bailey, where the court said seven days was a reasonable period of time to consider an offer and ordered double costs for the period beginning seven days after delivery of the offer.

[24]         I do not read Bailey as stating anything more than what was a reasonable period for consideration of an offer on the facts of that case. Rule 37B sets no time limit for delivery of a settlement offer. In that regard, it differs from the former Rule 37, where an offer delivered less than seven days before trial attracted different consequences than one delivered earlier. In fact, Rule 37B(6)(a) specifically refers to an offer that ought reasonably have been accepted “either on the date that the offer to settle was delivered or on any later date” (emphasis added).

[25]         In the circumstances of this case, including the issues involved, the delivery date of the offer gave ICBC sufficient time to consider its position before trial. As said above, ICBC should have known well before the offer was delivered that it could not prove an essential part of what it was alleging. I find the plaintiff is therefore entitled to double costs for the trial of this action.

As readers of this blog are likely aware, Rule 37B will be replaced with Rule 9 on July 1, 2010 when the new BC Civil Rules come into force. The new rule uses language that is almost identical to Rule 37B which will likely have cases such as this one retain their value as precedents moving forward.


Bus Driver Found 50% Responsible For Collision With Cyclist Riding in Crosswalk

June 18th, 2010

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, addressing the issue of fault for a collision between a school bus and a cyclist.

In today’s case (Torok v. Sekhon) the Plaintiff was travelling southbound on a sidewalk in Surrey, BC.  He was travelling on the left side of the street.    At the same time the Defendant was operating a school bus and driving in the opposite direction of travel.  As the Defendant approached an intersection he put on his right turn signal and proceeded to make a right turn.  The Plaintiff, who was travelling down hill, did not yield and entered the roadway from the sidewalk.  A collision occurred.

Mr. Justice Smith was asked to determine the issue of fault.  The Court found that both parties were equally at fault for the collision.  In reaching this decision Mr. Justice Smith reasoned as follows:

[18]         The essential fact in this case is that Mr. Sekhon did see Mr. Torok and Mr. Kolba approaching the intersection at which he planned to turn. Moreover, he was driving in an area and at a time of day when the presence of children was to be expected. The duty on a driver in such a situation was recently summarized by Greyell J. in Chen v. Beltran, 2010 BCSC 302 at para. 27:

[27]      The general principle underlying any determination of fault or blameworthiness rests on a finding whether the defendant could reasonably foresee that his or her conduct would cause or contribute to the accident. When it is known there are young children in the area drivers must use extra care and attention as children do not always behave as adults would in similar circumstances. In Chohan v. Wayenberg (1990), 67 D.L.R. (4th) 318 (B.C.C.A.), the Court of Appeal stated at 319:

… There is, of course, a need for constant vigilance for children on the roads, especially in suburban areas, for the very reason that they can not be expected always to act with the same care that is expected of adults.

[19]         The plaintiff in Chen was 11 years old. The plaintiff in this case was somewhat older, but still of an age when a reasonable driver would know that he would not necessarily act “with same care that is expected of adults”. Indeed, the tendency of teenagers to engage in reckless behaviour is well known.

[20]         Having seen Mr. Torok and knowing that their paths were about to cross, the duty of Mr. Sekhon was to proceed with caution and to complete his turn only when he could do so safely. That meant either satisfying himself that he could complete his turn before the boys reached the intersection or, more prudently, slowing or stopping until he knew that the boys had either passed the intersection or had stopped to allow him to pass.

[21]         Mr. Sekhon failed to take either precaution. Although he clearly saw the boys and knew their direction of travel before his turn, he was apparently unaware of their location as he was actually making the turn. There is no evidence of anything that would have prevented Mr. Sekhon from stopping briefly in order to ensure that he could turn safely. I therefore find that, in the circumstances, Mr. Sekhon failed to take sufficient care and was negligent.

[22]         However, I find that Mr. Torok also failed to take reasonable care for his own safety. He was riding his bicycle on a sidewalk, then into a crosswalk, and was riding on the left, rather than the right side of the road. All of those actions are violations of s. 183(2) of the Motor Vehicle Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 318. He was also riding without a helmet, in violation of s. 184. Mr. Torok was of sufficient age and experience to know, and in fact did know, that he was riding in an illegal manner. He also knew that he was approaching an intersection at a high speed and needed to be aware of the possibility of vehicles turning either into or from 150th Street. He saw the approaching school bus and failed to notice its turn signal. As a result, I find that Mr. Torok was contributorily negligent.

[23]         In such circumstances, the apportionment of liability must be based on the degree to which each of the parties was at fault, not on the degree to which each party’s fault caused the damage:  Bradley v. Bath, 2010 BCCA 10 at para. 25. In Bradley, the Court of Appeal adopted the following passage from Fleming on The Law of Torts:

[25]      The concept of contributory negligence was described in John G. Fleming, The Law of Torts, 9th ed. (Sydney: LBC Information Services, 1998) at 302, as follows:

Contributory negligence is a plaintiff’s failure to meet the standard of care to which he is required to conform for his own protection and which is a legally contributing cause, together with the defendant’s default, in bringing about his injury. The term “contributory negligence” is unfortunately not altogether free from ambiguity. In the first place, “negligence” is here used in a sense different from that which it bears in relation to a defendant’s conduct. It does not necessarily connote conduct fraught with undue risk to others, but rather failure on the part of the person injured to take reasonable care of himself in his own interest. … Secondly, the term “contributory” might misleadingly suggest that the plaintiff’s negligence, concurring with the defendant’s, must have contributed to the accident in the sense of being instrumental in bringing it about. Actually, it means nothing more than his failure to avoid getting hurt …

[Emphasis in original; footnotes omitted.]

[24]         The facts of Bradley are somewhat similar to this case. There, a bicycle on the sidewalk collided with a vehicle that was coming out of a gas station. The Court of Appeal said at para. 28:

[28]      In my opinion, the plaintiff was at fault, and his fault was one of the causes of the accident. Contrary to law, he was riding his bicycle on the sidewalk against the flow of traffic. He saw the defendant’s vehicle moving towards the exit he was approaching. Rather than making eye contact with the defendant or stopping his bicycle and letting the defendant’s vehicle exit the gas station, the plaintiff assumed the defendant saw him and would not accelerate his vehicle. In these circumstances, he was at fault for continuing to ride his bicycle across the path to be taken by the defendant’s vehicle in exiting the gas station.

[25]         Although I have found that Mr. Torok, at age 14, was old enough to be found contributorily negligent, I must still consider his age in the apportionment of fault. His conduct is to be measured against what is to be expected of a reasonable person of his age and experience, not against the standard of an adult:  see Parker v. Hehr, (20 December 1993), Vancouver B914957 (B.C.S.C.), citing Ottosen v. Kasper (1986), 37 C.C.L.T. 270 (B.C.C.A.); and McEllistrum v. Etches, [1956] S.C.R. 787.

[26]         In the circumstances, I find that Mr. Torok and Mr. Sekhon were equally at fault. Each saw the other and each failed to take the necessary precautions to allow for the other’s presence and possible movements. Balancing all of the factors, including Mr. Torok’s violations of the governing statute, his age, and Mr. Sekhon’s knowledge of the nature of the area and the likely presence of young people, I cannot say that one party is more culpable than the other. I therefore find that the defendants must bear 50 per cent of the liability for the accident.


BCCA Addresses Burden of Proof of "Failure to Mitigate" Defence in Injury Claims

June 17th, 2010

If you’re injured through the fault of another and successfully sue you are entitled to be compensated for your losses and damages.  However, if you ignore medical advice or otherwise fail to take reasonable steps to minimize your losses your damages may be reduced.  This principle in personal injury law is called “failure to mitigate“.

The Defendant has the burden to prove that a Plaintiff failed to mitigate their damages.  If the evidence does not establish that absent the alleged ‘failure‘ the injuries would have appreciably improved then no reduction in damages will be made.  Today the BC Court of Appeal released reasons for judgement upholding a trial verdict addressing this.

In today’s case (Mattu v. Fust) the Plaintiff suffered reasonably serious injuries in a 2004 BC motor vehicle collision.  These included symptomatic disc herniations in his back.  At trial the Plaintiff succeeded and was awarded just over $170,000 for his damages.  (You can click here to read my summary of the trial verdict).

The Defendant appealed arguing the Judge should have reduced this award because the Plaintiff did not take reasonable steps to rehabilitate his injuries.  The BC Court of Appeal disagreed and concluded that the trial judge appropriately applied the law.    In reaching this verdict the BC High Court provided the following useful comments about mitigation in personal injury lawsuits:

[7] I am not prepared to assume the judge ignored the evidence, nor can I say that the evidence was so important that it required specific mention. The judge concluded the respondent was well motivated in seeking recovery from his accident injuries and that conclusion is reasonably based on the record. The judge was not, in my opinion, looking for absolute proof of a failure to mitigate. The fact of the matter is that on the civil standard the appellant failed to establish that the respondent’s less than full compliance with medical recommendations would have made any difference to his continuing disability. The respondent never took the case on mitigation beyond generalities, such as: it is always preferable to follow your doctor’s advice. The judge drew an inference from the evidence that the respondent did not fail to mitigate. On the palpable and overriding error standard, I can see no basis for interfering with her finding in this regard.

When faced with an argument from ICBC or another defendant that you ‘failed to mitigate‘ your injuries keep in mind that they need to prove this allegation with evidence.  If you’re looking for more information about the law of mitigation in injury claims you can click here to access my archived posts.


Can Interest on Unpaid Special Damages be Recovered in a Personal Injury Claim?

June 17th, 2010

Special damages are out of pocket expenses incurred as a result of the intentional or negligent actions of others.  In personal injury lawsuits the most common special damages relate to medical treatments such as physiotherapy, massage therapy, medications and similar expenses.

When a Plaintiff pays their own special damages and succeeds at trial they are entitled to be reimbursed for these expenses along with a modest amount of interest under the Court Order Interest Act.  What about expenses that were not paid before trial where the medical providers charge interest on the unpaid accounts?  Can a plaintiff recover damages for these additional expenses?  Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court considering this issue.

In today’s case (Bortnik v. Gutierrez) the Plaintiff sued for injuries sustained as a result of a 2007 BC motor vehicle collision.  Mr. Justice Myers found that the Plaintiff had “exaggerated his injuries“.  Despite this finding the Court concluded that the Plaintiff suffered “some minor whiplash injuries as a result of the accident” and awarded the Plaintiff $20,000 for his non-pecuniary damages.

The Plaintiff also was awarded damages to account for the expenses related to some of his post accident chiropractic treatments.  The plaintiff did not pay these accounts before trial and the chiropractor charged interest on the unpaid accounts.  The Plaintiff asked the court to award damages to account for this interest.

Mr. Justice Myers refused to make this award finding as follows:

[54]    It appears to me that the plaintiff acted reasonably in seeking chiropractic treatment.  I would allow the expenses until December 31, 2009, when he was largely recovered.

[55]    With respect to interest, while counsel have found some authority dealing with interest on disbursements, counsel advise they have not found any case dealing with interest on special damages.  I therefore approach the matter on first principles.

[56]    If the plaintiff had paid the chiropractor, he would have been limited to interest as provided by the Court Order Interest Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 79.  Assuming that interest on special costs may in some instances be recoverable as damages – something which I need not decide – it follows from my finding that the plaintiff has not proved a past wage loss that he cannot hold the defendants responsible for his inability or failure to pay the bills as they became due and owing.  He therefore is not entitled to claim interest as damages.

The BC Supreme Court has recently allowed interest on disbursements levied by service providers to be recovered in a personal injury case.  In that decision the Plaintiff’s ability to pay for the disbursement was also a relevant factor.  Today’s case leaves the door open for a similar result in appropriate circumstances for unpaid special damages.


BC Sexual Assault Civil Claims Legal Update

June 17th, 2010

Two judgements were released this week by the BC Supreme Court dealing with issues relating to civil claims arising in the context of alleged sexual assaults.  The first case dealt with improper statements during closing arguments to a jury, the second with disclosure of records relating to a criminal prosecution.

In the first case (RK v. BR) the 17 year old Plaintiff became intoxicated at a party.   The Plaintiff “stopped at his best friend’s home to see if he could spend the night“:.    His friend was not home but his friend’s father let him spend the night.  The defendant (the father) “sexually assaulted the plaintiff later that night.”

The Plaintiff sued for damages and selected trial by Jury.   The Defendant admitted to the assault and during the course of the trial conceded that the Plaintiff was entitled to some damages.  The question was what amount was appropriate.

During closing arguments the Plaintiff’s lawyer made statements to the Jury that the Defendant objected to.  Particularly the Plaintiff’s lawyer  “questioned the defendant’s decision to stay in the courtroom while the plaintiff testified. He suggested the jury could infer the defendant had remained in court to intimidate the plaintiff, or to draw pleasure from seeing his victim again. He also suggested the jury could infer that the defendant had been grooming the plaintiff for a sexual encounter. Plaintiff’s counsel also suggested to the jury that the plaintiff would see the defendant’s face whenever he made love.”

The Defendant argued that these comments were inappropriate and inflammatory and asked that the judge dismiss the Jury.    Mr. Justice Brown reluctantly granted the motion.  In doing so he provided the following reasons:

[25]         Considering all the circumstances and applying the above framework to the case at bar, I find that the impugned portions of counsel’s submissions were highly prejudicial. First of all, the submission that the plaintiff will see the defendant’s face every time he makes love for the rest of his life has no foundation in the evidence. It was a highly speculative statement, with the sole purpose of inflaming the jury against the defendant. Counsel for the plaintiff says the statement did have a basis in the evidence because the plaintiff testified that he remembered the assault a couple of times a week, sometimes upon waking. He says Dr. Pulleyblank’s evidence that similar situations could trigger painful memories is a further factual basis for his argument.

[26]         This argument is unconvincing. The evidence counsel relies on does not support the inference he asked the jury to draw; especially given evidence from the plaintiff that directly contradicts this statement. The plaintiff testified that since the assault he has had a positive sexual experience. There was also evidence that the plaintiff’s symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder have diminished over time. To suggest the plaintiff would see the defendant’s face every time he made love for the rest of his life was more than mere rhetoric verging on the extravagant; it was a highly inflammatory statement that had no basis in the evidence.

[27]         Likewise, counsel’s statement that the defendant groomed the plaintiff for a sexual encounter by inviting him to sleep over and providing him with alcohol has no basis in the evidence. Counsel says the basis for it lies in several statements made during trial. He relies on the statement of the plaintiff’s mother that two or three months earlier the defendant had phoned to ask if the plaintiff could sleep over. Counsel for the plaintiff also points to the plaintiff’s testimony that the defendant sometimes bought beer for his son and his friends. He also relies on the defendant’s testimony that in his youth he arranged consensual sexual acts with other males by asking them to ‘sleep over’. He says these statements, taken together, provide a basis for the jury to draw an inference that the defendant was grooming the plaintiff for a sexual encounter.

[28]         The evidence does not provide a foundation for the statement that the defendant was grooming the plaintiff. There is no evidence the assault was premeditated. The defendant admitted he had called the plaintiff’s mother at an earlier time, but this was at his son’s request and to let the plaintiff’s mother know it was all right for the plaintiff to sleep over. The plaintiff’s arrival on the defendant’s doorstep that evening was clearly unplanned. Again, the sole purpose of this statement was to inflame the minds of the jury against the defendant. It was improper and amounts to misconduct.

[29]         Counsel’s comments on the defendant’s presence in the courtroom were also inflammatory and prejudicial, and amount to misconduct, especially in light of the exchange of letters between the parties prior to trial. A party has a right to be in a courtroom. To suggest otherwise is improper. Even more improper is the suggestion that the defendant remained in court to intimidate or leer at the plaintiff. The defendant expressed a willingness to absent himself from the courtroom to spare the plaintiff’s feelings. Casting aspersions on a party for exercising his right to be present is misconduct. Suggesting a lack of empathy for remaining in court when counsel knew he had received a letter from the counsel for the defendant specifically offering to absent himself if doing so would make the plaintiff feel more comfortable is also misconduct.

[30]         Counsel’s submission significantly prejudiced the defendant. The submission was relatively short. Taking all of Mr. McLeod’s inflammatory and improper statements together, I concluded that if I were to try to disabuse the jury of these matters I would simply re-emphasize them in the jurors’ minds. If I instructed the jury to disregard these portions of counsel’s brief submission entirely, my comments would likely rebound against anything he had said and against the plaintiff’s case. I concluded that I could not right the scales of the resulting prejudices with instructions anywhere close to neutral again. I must ensure there is no prejudice to either side. I do not see how any corrective judicial comments could do anything but suggest that counsel had misled the jury, intentionally or not.

[31]         A judge discharges a jury with great reluctance. In this case, the jury was well constituted. They were attentive. At the beginning of the trial, I carefully explained their important role in the judicial system in British Columbia and the confidence placed in them. Discharging a jury in these circumstances embarrasses the court and, more importantly, tends to undermine public confidence in the justice system.

[32]         However, given the circumstances, and considering the potential prejudice, no less to the plaintiff’s case then to the defendant’s, it would be unfair to continue with the jury in the circumstances. The only appropriate response was to discharge the jury with the regrets and thanks of the court.

[33]         The defendant’s application to dismiss the jury and continue by judge alone is granted.

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The second case released this week addressed the ability of a party to have the BC Supreme Court order production of materials relating to criminal charges arising from allegations of sexual abuse.

In this case (The British Columbia College of Teachers v. British Columbia (Attorney General) ) a former teacher was “criminally charged with sexually offending against a child.“.  In the course of the prosecution a preliminary inquiry was held and the alleged victim testified.   The Attorney General stayed the prosecution before trial.

The BC College of Teachers wanted to access a copy of the transcript of the preliminary inquiry evidence to use against the former teacher in “disciplinary proceedings“.   The former teacher opposed this.

Madam Justice Griffin ordered that the records be produced and provided the following reasons:

[41]         In an analogous context of considering an ongoing publication ban, the Court of Appeal of this province considered that a trial judge’s analysis should not be based on whether a benefit to the administration of justice could be gained by the publication of redacted information, but rather, should be based on whether a serious danger could be avoided by declining to provide the information: Global BC, A Division of Canwest Media Inc. v. British Columbia, 2010 BCCA 169 at para. 72.

[42]         Here, so long as the information is provided in a way that protects the identity of the complainant and thereby maintains the publication ban, there is no danger to be avoided by declining to allow the sought-after information to be provided.  To put it another way, I do not consider that the administration of justice will be harmed if the preliminary inquiry transcript is produced to the College in a way that continues to protect the identity of the complainant.

[43]         I am therefore persuaded that this is a case where I ought to exercise my inherent jurisdiction to allow for production of a transcript of the preliminary inquiry to the College, in such a way as to continue to maintain the publication ban pursuant to s. 486.4(2).

[44]         In the circumstances of this case, I grant the following declaratory relief:

(a)      the publication ban imposed under s. 539(1) of the Code in relation to Abbotsford Provincial Court Registry file No. 60526, no longer applies, and thus does not apply to any request by the College for a copy of the transcript of the evidence that was taken at the preliminary inquiry; and

(b)      the continuing publication ban imposed under s. 486.4(2) of the Code will not be violated if the Crown redacts all information that could identify the child complainant from the transcript of the evidence that was taken at the preliminary inquiry in Abbotsford Provincial Court Registry file No. 60256 and produces the redacted transcript to the College for its use in disciplinary proceedings against Mr. Sidhu.


BC Court of Appeal to Consider Discretionary Costs Awards and Formal Settlement Offers

June 16th, 2010

After dozens of trial judgements which have applied Rule 37B (the current rule dealing with formal settlement offers which will be replaced with the almost identical Rule 9 on July 1, 2010), the BC Court of Appeal has agreed to hear what I believe will be their first case dealing with the application of this rule.

Reasons for judgement were published today on the BC Court’s Website where the BC High Court agreed to hear such an appeal.  In today’s case (Gehlen v. Rana) the Plaintiff was injured in a BC motor vehicle collision.  The Plaintiff sued.  Prior to trial ICBC made a formal settlement offer of $22,000.  The Plaintiff rejected this and proceeded to trial.  At trial a jury awarded just over $13,000 in damages.

In these circumstances the trial judge had the discretion to order that the Plaintiff pay the Defendant’s trial costs.    Mr. Justice Leask refused to do so and instead ordered that the Defendant pay the Plaintiff’s costs.   (You can click here to read my article discussing the trial decision).

The Defendant (through ICBC) asked for permission for the BC Court of Appeal to hear the case and they agreed to do so.  In deciding that this case merits an appeal the BC High Court reasoned as follows:

[3]             I am satisfied that the defendant has met the test for leave to appeal on both grounds, as that test is set out in Power Consolidated (China) Pulp Inc. v. British Columbia Resources Investment Corp. (1988), 19 C.P.C. 3d 396 (B.C.C.A.) (Chambers). With respect to the merits of the appeal, I appreciate that an order for costs is a discretionary order to which an appellate court will give considerable deference. I am nevertheless satisfied that the first ground of appeal may be characterized as a question of law, and the second as an error in principle. In fact, counsel advises that leave has been granted in another appeal on the question of whether it is appropriate to adjust costs on the basis that one party chose a jury trial.

[4]             The issue is of significance to the parties as the order under appeal entitles the plaintiff to costs in the range of $47,000, while if the defendant is successful he will recover costs in the range of $8,000.

[5]             It is more difficult to see significance to the practice in this appeal, but I do not find that militates against granting leave. The defendant does say that this court has not had the opportunity to hear many cases that provide guidance on R. 37B and its interaction with R. 57(10).

[6]             Finally, being an order for costs at the end of the action there is no need to consider possible delay due to the appeal.

As I recently wrote, ICBC has asked the Court of Appeal to also consider the issue of ‘costs’ awards when Plaintiff’s receive a judgement below $25,000 at a BC Supreme Court trial and these appeals may be heard together.

Clarity from the BC High Court will be welcome on numerous issues regarding the effects of formal settlement offers and costs awards after trial and I will be sure to report the highlights of the decisions when they are pronounced.