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 September, 2011

More on ICBC's Subrogated Costs Rights (Or Lack Thereof)

September 30th, 2011

Earlier this year the BC Supreme Court released reasons for judgement finding that when a Defendant succeeds in a lawsuit and is awarded costs the order is for their benefit not their insurer.  In short the Court held that ICBC has no subrogated right to costs awards under section 84(1) of the Insurance (Vehicle) Act.  Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, taking an opposite view of this issue.

In this week’s case (Habib v. Jack) the Plaintiff was injured while riding on a bus.  She sued the bus driver and bus company but had her claim dismissed at trial.  The Defendant was awarded costs with Madam Justice Ross giving ICBC the benefit of this costs award.  The Court provided the following brief reasons:

In the result, the defendants will have their costs. Under s. 84(1) of the Insurance (Vehicle) Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 231, the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (“ICBC”) is subrogated to its insured and is entitled to recover the costs to which the insured would be entitled. Accordingly, ICBC is entitled to recover the costs awarded to the defendants.

Given the contradictory recent court findings on this issue I suspect the BC Court of Appeal will be asked to weigh in on the topic of insurers subrogated rights to costs following the successful defence of a lawsuit.


$70,000 Non-Pecuniary Assessment for Mandibular Fracture

September 30th, 2011

Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, assessing non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) for a mandibular fracture.

In this week’s case (Besic v. Kerenyi) the Plaintiff alleged he was assaulted by the defendant.  After being ‘punched from behind’ the Plaintiff was briefly knocked unconscious.  He suffered a mandibular fracture which needed to be wired shut.  He also lost two teeth.   He went on to suffer permanent nerve damage to his trigeminal nerve which caused numbness and drooling.

In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $70,000 Madam Justice Russell provided the following reasons:

[13] There is no doubt that Mr. Besic’s life has been altered by this incident.  He had to undergo surgery to repair the fracture and his jaw was wired shut for over a month.  He was placed on a liquid-only diet and, consequently, experienced some short-term weight loss.

[14] The long-term consequences have been more severe.  Two of Mr. Besic’s left molars were knocked out.  He has not had the recommended dental repair performed so the gaps in his mouth are still there, eight years later.  He either has to undergo surgery, risking further nerve damage, or live without these two teeth for the remainder of his life.

[15] The mandibular fracture caused permanent damage to the trigeminal nerve. As a result, Mr. Besic experiences numbness in his chin, lips and jaw.  This causes him to drool while he eats and is a source of embarrassment.  He does not notice if food has dripped, or become stuck, on his face because he cannot feel it.  He finds himself constantly wiping his face in an attempt to ensure no food is lingering there.

[16] The nerve damage has caused a prickling pain in his face and jaw.  Both this and the numbness are unlikely to improve.  There is also a possibility that a future facial injury could cause the numbness to worsen.

[17] Since the incident, Mr. Besic finds that he has issues with his speech.  Occasionally, he will slur his words or mumble, particularly when he becomes tired or is out in the cold.  He believes that this is as a result of the numbness, although his neurologist, Dr. Frank Kemble, has questioned whether that is, in fact, the cause.

[18] The mumbling is also a source of social awkwardness, especially at his work at the North Fraser Pre-Trial Center in Surrey, where he is a correctional officer.

[19] Mr. Besic still experiences pain in his jaw joints and muscles, as well as neuropathic pain.  His jaw is often stiff, particularly in the morning.  His temporomandibular joint clicks and pops, especially when he eats.  This results in discomfort and headaches. Mr. Besic also suffers extreme ear pain when he flies…

[34] I find $70,000 to be an appropriate amount for Mr. Besic’s injuries.  While Mr. Besic does not suffer from a deformity of the jaw or dramatic weight loss, like the plaintiff in Pete, he does suffer from some similar injuries, such as numbness in the face and jaw, as well as jaw pain.  He also experiences the resulting social embarrassment these injuries cause.


Sex Abuse Class Action Not Certified Due To Limitation Period Concerns for Victims

September 29th, 2011

Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, highlighting the important benefits of BC’s open ended limitation period for victims of sexual abuse.

In this week’s case (Lakes v. MacDougall) the Defendant worked as a correctional guard in BC’s prison system for over 20 years.  During this time he sexually abused a number of convicts.  He was criminally convicted for these deeds.  He was also successfully sued by some of his victims.

The Plaintiff, an alleged victim of this abuse, sued the Defendant and the Province of BC alleging the Province was vicariously liable for the abuse.  He proposed to make his lawsuit a class action on behalf of all of the Defendant’s victims.  The Province of BC agreed that a class action was appropraite.  The Plaintiff and the Province asked the Court to certify a class action and further to approve a settlement process which would permit the victims to seek compensation by way of private arbitration.

One of the Defendant’s alleged victims opposed class action certification.  This individual argued that the proposed settlement method would impose a de facto limitation period for the victims where one otherwise would not exist.  Mr. Justice Grauer agreed and refused to certify the action unless this issue could be addressed.  In doing so the Court provided the following helpful reasons:

[14] The objections can be succinctly stated.  By definition, members of the proposed class are persons who have spent time in jail from a relatively young age, have developed drug and alcohol problems, have damaged senses of masculinity, and have maintained their silence for years.  Mr. Lakes has deposed that the sexual abuse he endured caused him a great deal of humiliation and embarrassment that prevented him from coming forward with the information until August 13, 2010, some 30 years after the events occurred.  Precisely because of such problems, the Limitation Act, R.S.B.C. 1979, c. 266, provides in s. 3(4)(l) that causes of action based on sexual assault are not governed by a limitation period and may be brought at any time.  Yet the certification of this action and approval of the settlement will deny the benefit of this provision to members of the class who have not yet come to a place where they are capable of disclosure.  Instead, their claims will become effectively barred by the expiry of the claims period.  This is particularly troublesome, it is suggested, because this population is not one known for reading newspapers, where notices of the settlement are to be published…

[22] As I see it, the question is whether the loss of that benefit in this particular case is appropriately balanced by the gains offered by certification and approval of the settlement.

[23] I have concluded that, in the circumstances before me, it is not, and accordingly this requirement has not been met.  The advantage to potential members of the class of the resolution of the single common issue, together with the efficiencies of the process, do not match the loss to this particularly vulnerable group that will arise from the imposition of a six-month claims period.  I do not say that such a balance cannot be achieved in relation to MacDougall’s victims.  I say only that it has not been achieved.  If the process were structured differently to allow for a significantly longer claims period and improved notification procedures, I might well take a different view.  I do not, of course, have the authority to alter the terms of the proposed settlement…

[24] In these circumstances, I exercise my discretion under s. 5(6) of the Class Proceeding Act, and direct that the plaintiff’s applications be adjourned to permit the parties to engage in further negotiations and amend their materials if they choose to do so.


7 Hour Examination For Discovery Cap Does Not Permit Discovery Splitting

September 28th, 2011

Important reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, further clarifying the examination for discovery limit in the new Rules of Court.  In short the Court held that notwithstanding the time limit, generally only one examination for discovery is permitted.

In today’s case (Humphrey v. McDonald) the Plaintiff alleged injury following a collision.  In the course of the lawsuit the Plaintiff attended an examination for discovery.  It did not exceed the 7 hour cap set out in Rule 7-2(2).  Defence counsel brought an application seeking further discovery.  The Plaintiff opposed.  Madam Justice Gray dismissed the application finding that generally only one discovery is permitted.  The Court provided the following useful reasons:

[8] Defence counsel responds that it is implied that examinations should not be scheduled if it was abusive, but apart from that, a party can schedule multiple examinations for up to seven hours in total.

[9] In my view, the use of the plural “examinations for discovery” has to be read in the context of the entire sub-rule. It makes reference to examinations under other sub-rules, which relate to re-examination in subsection (17), in subsection (22) to informing himself or herself and it being adjourned for that purpose, and subsection (24) continuing an examination for discovery following receiving a letter.

[10] In my view, the sub-rule does not suggest that there should be more than one examination for discovery of a party. A party should be able to know whether they are finished with examinations for discovery or whether more are pending.

[11] I do not accept the interpretation of the sub-rule advanced by defence counsel. Since defence counsel has effectively conceded that it has had one examination for discovery of the plaintiff, the defence application to have a further examination for discovery of the plaintiff is dismissed.


The Examination For Discovery Time Limit: When Multiple Cases are Tried Together

September 28th, 2011

Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Victoria Registry, addressing the time limit for examinations for discovery when two actions are set for trial at the same time.  In short the Court held that the Rules permit up to 14 hours of Plaintiff examination in these circumstances without the need for a Court Order.

In last week’s case (Campbell v. McDougall) the Plaintiff was involved in two separate motor vehicle collisions.  She sued for damages in both actions.  In the course of the lawsuit the Plaintiff was examined for discovery which was discontinued after 3.5 hours due to the Plaintiff’s fatigue.  The discovery was reset and continued for a full day for a total of 10.5 hours of examination.

The Defendant wished to have 2.5 further hours of examination.    The Plaintiff opposed and a Court application was brought.  It appears the the parties worked out many of their differences prior to the hearing of the application but ultimately the Court ordered that the Plaintiff attend a further 2.5 hours.

In doing so Master Bouck provided the following comments with respect to the discovery ‘cap’ of 7 hours set out in Rule 7-2(2):

[32] In the end, the plaintiff could be required to undergo up to 14 hours of an examination under Rule 7-2 without the defence having to obtain leave of the court.

[33] In this case, the defence has chosen to have one counsel conduct an examination, but effectively with respect to both actions.

[34] There is a sound basis for requesting the “additional” examination time, particularly with respect to the plaintiff’s new employment status. While it seems unlikely that the court would grant leave to exceed the specified hour allotment simply when some new information comes to light, the plaintiff’s earning abilities and capacity forms a significant part of the overall claim. A very large monetary amount for that loss will probably be advanced. An additional 2½ hours (and still less than the allowable 14 hours) examination time is not out of proportion to the amount involved in this proceeding.


$80,000 Non-Pecuniary Award for Chronic Shoulder Injury; Bradley v. Groves Applied

September 27th, 2011

Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, assessing damages for a shoulder injury caused by a motor vehicle collision and subsequently aggravated by an at-work incident.

In last week’s case (Kaleta v. MacDougall) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2008 collision.  Fault was admitted by the Defendant.  As a consequence the Plaintiff suffered from “chronic neck and left shoulder pain”.  The symptoms were due to soft tissue injury and there was a “moderate probability” for long lasting symptoms.

Prior to trial the Plaintiff aggravated his shoulder in an at-work incident.  He made a WorkSafe Claim as a consequence.  ICBC argued the damages need to be reduced as a result.  Mr. Justice Truscott disagreed relying on the BC Court of Appeal’s decision Bradley v. Groves.  In assessing damages at $80,000 the Court provided the following useful comments:

[33] In Dr. McAnulty’s last assessment on March 3, 2011 the plaintiff again reported with chronic neck and left shoulder pain, worse at night. His prior knee and back pain had resolved.

[34] Dr. McAnulty’s diagnostic impression at the time was of chronic myofascial pain post motor vehicle accident affecting the left neck and shoulder and the plaintiff was advised to continue with activity as tolerated.

[35] In his summary and conclusions in his report of March 6, 2011, Dr. McAnulty says that despite the many interventions the plaintiff still remains symptomatic and now has more likely than not reached the point of maximum medical improvement, especially since two and one-half years have elapsed since the motor vehicle accident. He says the plaintiff may well suffer chronic myofascial pain in the future…

[57] I accept the opinion of Dr. McAnulty that the workplace shoulder injury of June 11, 2009 was an aggravation of the shoulder injury suffered in the motor vehicle accident which remained symptomatic, and was not a new injury unconnected to the previous injury…

[61] As a matter of law the defendant remains responsible for continuing problems with the left shoulder after June 11, 2009 (Bradley v. Groves, 2010 BCCA 361)…

[63] It may be concluded from all this that the prospect of a chronic injury in the nature of a permanent or indefinite injury is only a possibility, but in Dr. McAnulty’s report he also says that the patient has more likely than not reached the point of maximal medical improvement and that statement reflects a standard of probability and not possibility.

[64] It is my conclusion that Dr. McAnulty considers the shoulder pain to be a chronic or long-lasting pain as a moderate probability, and I will assess the plaintiff’s damages on that basis…

[70] I award the plaintiff $80,000 for general damages for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life.


Defence Doctor Opinion Rejected for Not Physically Examining Plaintiff

September 26th, 2011

Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, providing comments critical of the practice of obtaining medical opinion evidence without accompanying physical examination of a Plaintiff.

In this week’s case (Ruscheinski v. Biln) the Plaintiff was involved in three collisions.  She sustained soft tissue injuries to her her neck and shoulder in the initial crash.  The following crashes had a ‘cascading effect‘ on these injuries resulting in chronic pain with partial disability.  Non-Pecuniary Damages of $85,000 were assessed.

In the course of the trial the Court heard from competing expert witnesses.  The Defendant’s expert never examined the Plaintiff.  For this reason the Court preferred the evidence of the Plaintiff’s experts and provided the following critical comments:

[82] Dr. Turnbull, a neurosurgeon, provided expert evidence on behalf of the defendants. He was the only medical expert whose opinion was adduced as part of the defendants’ case. His assessment is set out in his report dated April 26, 2011.  In his report, Dr. Turnbull opined:

Ms. Ruscheinski evidently suffered soft tissue injuries in the MVA of February 24, 2006 which may have been aggravated by the MVAs of September 9 and September 17, 2006.

[83] In my opinion, Dr. Turnbull’s choice of the word “evidently” results from the fact that he did not conduct an examination of Ms. Ruscheinski. Dr. Turnbull has not met, nor has he ever examined Ms. Ruscheinski. His opinions are based solely on his review of medical records.

[84] Dr. Turnbull also expressed in an opinion, in his report, that although Ms. Ruscheinski’s “soft tissue injuries have had ample time to heal”, her “symptoms may persist for some time.” He does not recommend any further treatment because, he explained, “passive treatments conducted more than two years after soft tissue injury are recognized as having little value.”

[85] I prefer the evidence of Drs. Feldman and Wasti over the defence expert, Dr. Turnbull. I accept Dr. Feldman’s opinion (supported by Dr. Wasti) that meeting a patient, obtaining their history directly, and conducting a thorough examination are essential to provide an accurate diagnosis of a patient’s injuries and to determine an appropriate prognosis.

[86] In my opinion, when dealing with cases where chronic pain is suggested or suspected, an examination of a patient that is designed to look for objective evidence of injury, such as muscle spasm, as opposed to feigned pain behaviour, coupled with an appropriate and thoughtful approach to taking a patient’s history, will lead to a diagnosis and prognosis that is much more reliable than a records review. I accept Dr. Feldman’s evidence that without a physical examination of Ms. Ruscheinski, it would not have been possible to detect the winging of her scapula.

[87] Dr. Turnbull agreed in cross-examination that muscle spasm and tenderness provide an objective basis for a diagnosis and prognosis. Those objective findings were found by Drs. Feldman and Wasti. Dr. Turnbull is not in a position to contradict the findings of Drs. Wasti and Feldman because he did not examine Ms. Ruscheinski. Further, Dr. Turnbull did not address Dr. Feldman’s findings, the findings from the flexion/extension x-rays, nor the focused treatment recommended by Dr. Feldman that consists of active and passive treatments. Finally, I wish to note that Dr. Turnbull acknowledged that most of his patients with neck and back pain do not have a history of being involved in motor vehicle accidents.

[88] My view of the matter is also supported by the remarks of Burnyeat J. in Dhaliwal v. Bassi, 2007 BCSC 549, 73 B.C.L.R. (4th) 177, where he wrote at paras. 2-3:

[2]        The role of an expert is to assist the Court. I am not assisted by receiving the “opinion” from a psychiatrist who has not seen a person and who bases his opinion only on documentation made available to him where much of that documentation will ultimately not be in evidence. Ordinarily, counsel will provide the factual assumptions to the expert that counsel will then proceed to prove in evidence. Those factual assumptions should be clearly stated in the statement of the expert. It is not for an expert to merely review a number of documents, many of which will not be in evidence and make certain findings of fact. …

[3]        As well, the Court has commented a number of times on it being inadvisable to rely on the opinion of a medical advisor who has not seen a plaintiff: see for instance Parish v. Scott, [1966] B.C.J. (Q.L.) No. 2839 (B.C.S.C.) at paras. 5 and 29. …


$200,000 Non-Pecuniary Damage Assessment in Jay Walking Collision

September 26th, 2011

Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, dealing with fault for a collision involving a jaywalking pedestrian.

In last week’s case (Wong-Lai v. Ong) the elderly Plaintiff and her husband where involved in a serious collision in 2009.  It was a dark and rainy Vancouver Autumn evening.  As they crossed the street to return to their car they were struck by a vehicle driven by the Defendant.  The Plaintiff was not in a marked cross-walk at the time.  Her husband died and the Plaintiff suffered severe injuries.

The Court found that while the Plaintiff was jay-walking she should have been visible to the Driver.  The Court found that the driver was not paying sufficient attention and assessed him 25% at fault.  In reaching this conclusion Mr. Justice Sewell provided the following reasons:

[56] I have concluded that Mr. Ong must bear some of the legal responsibility for the accident.  The law is well-settled that a driver of a vehicle owes a duty to keep a proper lookout and to avoid exercising his or her right of way in the face of danger of which he or she was or ought to have been aware.  In some cases the expression used is that that person must avoid dangers of which he or she was aware or which were reasonably apparent.  I do not think that the defendant in this case can avoid liability merely because he did not see Ms. Lai before impact.  The critical question is whether he ought to have seen her or, in other words, whether her presence was reasonably apparent at a point when Mr. Ong could have taken steps to avoid running her down.

[57] Drivers of motor vehicles are not to be held to a standard of perfection.  However I do not think that the possibility that persons may be crossing a highway at a point other than a crosswalk or intersection is so remote that a driver has no duty to take it into account in keeping a lookout.  The evidence in this case persuades me that Mr. Ong was not keeping a proper lookout immediately prior to the accident.  His own evidence is that he was not looking forward.  While it is perfectly permissible and prudent for a driver who is changing lanes to do a shoulder check I think it is also incumbent on such a driver to take the steps necessary to ensure that it is safe for him to do so.

[58] I have also concluded that Mr. Ong was probably concentrating on the manoeuvre of changing lanes and on the parked car in front of him to the exclusion of keeping a proper lookout.  I therefore find that Mr. Ong was negligent and that the defendants must bear some portion of the liability for Ms. Lai’s injuries…

[64] In all of the circumstances I find that Ms. Lai is 75% liable for the accident that occurred and Mr. Ong 25%.  Ms. Lai is therefore entitled to recover 25% of the damages she suffered as a result of this tragic accident.

The Plaintiff’s damages were assessed at just over $307,000.  $200,000 of this assessment were for the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary loss.  In arriving at this figure Mr. Justice Sewell provided the following summary of the Plaintiff’s injuries:

[65] In this case Ms. Lai suffered very grievous injuries. She was struck by a car which I have found to be travelling at close to 60 kilometres per hour.  A good summary of her injuries is found in the report of Dr. Ng.  It is as follows:

1) Gross bleeding from urine requiring emergency urological consultation. A CT cystogram ruled out bladder rupture. Ct scans of the kidneys did not show any severe renal damage and she only required observation and support. However angiogram showed the pelvic fractures has ruptured blood vessels and she had bleeding in the blood supply to the pubic bone and these required embolisation to stop the bleeding.

2] Cervical Cl C2 unstable fracture. This required immobilisation and stabilisation in a collar and traction for the first eight weeks. She also has a moderate central cervical disc protrusion at level C6-7 which indented her cervical spinal cord.

3] Chest contusions left upper lobe, right middle lobe, and multiple rib fractures of the left 3 to 6 ribs and left 8 rib.

4) Multiple pelvic comminuted fractures bilaterally, namely superior and inferior pubic rami. She required immobilisation for her neck and leg fractures as well as for these fractures for the first eight weeks. She remained in the intensive care unit for a few weeks for treatment and stabilisation of all her injuries.

5) The left Tibial and left Fibular fractures require manual reduction and internal fixations on December 1, 2009. She returned to the intensive care unit post operatively.

6) Brain injury, which on CT scan showed multiple bleeding present inside areas of her brain and a small subdural hematoma (within the skull but outside the brain), located in between the cerebral hemispheres. There is a large left scalp hematoma. Her conscious levels and neurological state were monitored in intensive care over the next few weeks

[83] In my view the most important factors in this case are the severe and painful injuries suffered by Ms. Lai, the marked degree of permanent disability, the loss of independence and the increased risk of morbidity and mortality identified in Dr. Guy’s opinion.  I also note that Ms. Lai’s stoicism and determination to make the best of her predicament should not diminish the amount of damages awarded to her.

[84] I have reviewed the numerous decisions on pecuniary damages involving serious injuries cited to me by counsel.  These cases are all of course fact specific.  My review of them, coupled with a consideration of the principles restated in Stapley, leads me to conclude that an award of non pecuniary damages in the amount of $200,000 is appropriate in this case.


Plaintiff Statement to Police Excluded Based on Hearsay Objection

September 25th, 2011

(Update: November 6, 2012 – the trial judges liability decision was upheld by the BC Court of Appeal in reasons for judgement released today)

In my effort to archive ‘voir dire‘ rulings dealing with civil procedure issues in personal injury cases, I summarize recent reasons for judgement released by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, addressing the admissibility of a Plaintiff’s post accident statement to police.

In last week’s case (Nerval v. Kherha) the Plaintiff was involved in an intersection collision in Abbotsford in 2007.  She sued for damages.  Following the collision the Plaintiff provided a statement to the investigating officer regarding the circumstances of the crash.  At trial the Plaintiff testified as to how the collision occurred.  She also wished to introduce her statement to the investigating officer.  The Defendant objected arguing this statement could not properly be admitted.  Mr. Justice Armstrong agreed and ruled that the statement was inadmissible.  The court provided the following concise reasons:

[47]Ms. Nerval applied to tender her statement to Cst. Baskin because she could not recall the events surrounding the collisions. A voir dire was held. Cst. Baskin reported that Ms. Nerval had told him that she was making a left-hand turn to go westbound on Sandpiper. At the time there was a van facing southbound indicating a left turn and an intention to go eastbound on Sandpiper. She said she did not see any other motor vehicle coming towards her. She did not remember if she had her signal light on; there was no mention of a signal light in his notes. Ms. Nerval told him that the other van had its signal on. That is the totality of his conversation with Ms. Nerval.

[48]The defence opposed the admission of this statement into evidence on the basis that it fails to meet the requirement of necessity. The defence argues that to be admissible the statement must be used to rebut an allegation of recent fabrication, be a prior inconsistent statement, or be a statement contemporaneous with an event reported in the statement.

[49]I conclude that the statement is not admissible. The circumstances under which the statement was taken do not reflect that it was taken contemporaneously with the event. The evidence did not support the suggestion that it was a contemporaneous report. There was no suggestion that the statement was inconsistent with the evidence given by Ms. Nerval at the trial and no suggestion that the there was an allegation of recent fabrication of evidence.

[50]If I am wrong in my conclusions regarding the admissibility of the statement, I would otherwise have concluded that the statement did not contain any information that materially augmented the evidence of Ms. Nerval at trial.


"Investigative Stage" Trumps ICBC's Litigation Privilege Claim

September 23rd, 2011

Given ICBC’s monopoly over vehicle insurance in BC they typically have to perform multiple roles following a collision including investigating the issue of fault in order to make internal decisions regarding the premium consequences for the customers involved in the crash.  Documents prepared during this ‘investigative‘ stage generally need to be produced during litigation and claims for litigation privilege will fail.  Reasons for judgement were released this week further demonstrating this fact.

In this week’s case (Fournier v. Stangroom) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2007 collision.  In the early days following the crash and well before litigation got underway ICBC retained an engineering firm to inspect the Plaintiff’s vehicle.  The engineering firm communicated their findings to ICBC.  In the course of the lawsuit the Defence lawyer commissioned an expert report from the same firm but did not exchange it with the Plaintiff’s lawyer.

The Plaintiff made the typical document disclosure demands from the Defendants.   These were not complied with in a satisfactory fashion resulting in a Court application.   The Defence lawyer argued that the full file from the engineering firm is subject to litigation privilege.  Master Caldwell disagreed and ultimately ordered better document disclosure inlcuding production of the engineering firms materials documenting their initial investigation.  In making this order Master Caldwell provided the following reasons:

[11] On August 9, 2007 the initial adjuster on the file requested MEA or one of their engineers to examine the plaintiff’s vehicle in order to determine whether the plaintiff was wearing his seatbelt at the time of the collision. The engineer did so, communicated with the adjuster the following day with questions and subsequently reported to the adjuster on September 13, 2007. That adjuster referred to that report as being sufficient for his purposes; the next adjuster, Ms. Madsen referred to the “verbal report” as being “sufficient for the purposes of handling the claim SHORT OF LITIGATION” (emphasis mine).

[12] In early 2011 defence counsel commissioned MEA to prepare an expert report, apparently regarding the seatbelt issue, for possible use at trial; he says that since such a report has now been requested, the engineer’s file material, notes and such are not producible unless and until the report is received and provided to plaintiff’s counsel 84 days before trial.

[13] In cases such as this one, the adjuster or adjusters have duties of investigation on behalf of both the plaintiff and the defendants; there must, almost of necessity, be an initial period of adjusting or investigating to discover the factual matrix within which the adjusters will perform their duties and assess the file and the claims or roles of the interested parties. Absent such period and process of investigation the adjuster can have no reasonable basis upon which to conclude that there is a reasonable prospect of litigation and that all or part of what is done from any given point in time forward is done for the dominant purpose of litigation. In this regard see Hamalainen (Committee of) v. Sippola (1991) 62 BCLR (2d) 254 (BCCA).

[14] These engineers were approached within the first 3 weeks following the collision, clearly within the period of initial investigation and was even seen by at least one of the adjusters as being used for purposes of handling the file short of litigation. The investigative material, notes, correspondence and other such recordings of the engineers were not created at a time when litigation was a reasonable prospect; neither were they created for the dominant purpose of litigation. The fact that counsel has now requested an expert report from MEA does nothing to change that any more than a request to a G.P. or plaintiff’s medical expert that he or she provide an expert report renders that practitioner’s clinical records privileged.

[15] The MEA investigative material, notes, correspondence and working papers which arose between August 9, 2007 and September 13, 2007 inclusive are not subject to a valid claim of litigation privilege; they are ordered to be listed and to be produced to plaintiff’s counsel within 14 days. If there are any other MEA materials which arose between September 14, 2007 and the date when defence counsel commissioned their expert report, those are to be listed with the required clarity, date and description in order that any further claim of litigation privilege can be properly assessed.