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.

Posts Tagged ‘forseeability’

Court Holds Diminished Capacity To Care For Loved Ones Not Forseeable Unless Care "taking place or contemplated" at the time of the tort

December 7th, 2012

It is a well recognized principle that if a spouse needs to provide extraordinary services in caring for an injured loved one harmed by the negligence of others that this time can be compensated as an ‘in trust claim’ in the Plaintiff’s personal injury action.

What if the tables are turned, however, and the Plaintiff cares for a loved one but due to injuries to the Plaintiff he/she becomes unable to provide the care they otherwise would for their spouse?  The BC Court of Appeal released reasons for judgement, in a two one split, finding that such damages for such a loss are not ‘foreseeable’ unless they are taking place or contemplated at the time of the tort.

In this week’s case (Milliken v. Rowe) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2007 collision.   These had long term limiting consequences.  Subsequent to the collision the Plaintiff’s husband became ill.  The evidence proved that but for the injuries the Plaintiff would have cared for her husband.  The Court compensated the Plaintiff $30,000 for this loss.  In overturning this award, the BC Court of Appeal held it was not a foreseeable loss as this care was not “taking place or contemplated” at the time of the crash.  The majority provided the following reasons:

[31]         With respect, I disagree that the loss in this case reasonably could be foreseeable even under that standard. At its core, the award here is based merely on the fact that, at the time of the tort, the respondent and her husband were married with a possibility that at some future date the husband might require care of some kind. This did not make such care reasonably foreseeable at law. It might never occur: the respondent could die before care was required; the need for care might never arise; her surgery could eliminate the problem or diminish it significantly; or, her full-time employment may have eliminated or diminished her ability to provide care regardless of the accident. While plainly foreseeable as a theoretical, factual outcome in hindsight, this possibility was not a “real risk” in “the mind of a reasonable man in the position of the defendan[t]”.

[32]         In my view, the costs associated with caring for the respondent’s husband are too remote to be recoverable. As aptly stated by the Chief Justice in Mustapha, recoverability is based on reasonable foresight, not insurance.

[33]         The appellant also argued that even if damages were recoverable for the respondent’s diminished ability to care for her husband, as not too remote, as they were in Lynn, they would be recoverable under the heading of non-pecuniary damages and not as damages for loss of future care. I need not address this issue and leave it for a case in which it is engaged.

[34]         In my view, costs arising from the diminished ability to care for a disabled spouse of a plaintiff where no such care is required or contemplated at the time of the tort are not foreseeable at law; they are too remote.

[35]         I would allow this appeal and reduce the award of damages for the costs of future care by $30,000.

The decision also includes a well reasoned dissenting decision by Mr. Justice Donald which can be found starting at paragraph 36.

 


Post Crash Alcoholism Claim Dismissed at Trial

October 16th, 2012

Last year I highlighted a claim which successfully advanced damages for alcoholism which developed following motor vehicle collision related injuries.  Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, considering a similar claim which was rejected at trial.

In this week’s case (Dennis v. Fothergill) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2007 rear-end collision.   She alleged that the injuries resulted in chronic pain which led to post collision alcoholism.  Madam Justice Bruce noted “serious reservations about the credibility of the plaintiff’s evidence overall” and dismissed the claim for post collision alcoholism.  In doing so the Court provided the following reasons:

87]         Turning to the superimposed illnesses of depression and alcoholism, I find there is insufficient, cogent evidence to establish a causal connection between these illnesses and the accident. While there is evidence that people who suffer from chronic pain can develop depression and alcohol dependence in response to the pain experience, there is a lack of evidence to establish a causal connection on the facts of this case. The plaintiff did not raise any concerns about her mood or her alcohol dependence with her physicians until December 2009 during an unrelated consultation with Dr. Zentner when asked about alcohol consumption and in December 2010, when she reported symptoms of depression to Dr. Swope. Thus there is a significant time gap.

[88]         Further, the only evidence of when and how the plaintiff began drinking to mask the pain subsequent to the accident is the plaintiff’s testimony, which is significantly inconsistent. The plaintiff’s disclosure to Dr. Zentner in December 2009 that recently her consumption of alcohol had increased to two or three glasses per day is not consistent with her testimony that since the accident she was consuming the same amount or more each night. The plaintiff’s testimony regarding the motivation for drinking is also inconsistent with her description of her past history with alcohol and her pre-accident injuries. The plaintiff testified that growing up with an alcoholic stepfather taught her to fear alcoholism and steeled her against becoming alcohol dependent as an adult. Prior to the accident she rarely drank and often abstained entirely. This positive attitude toward a healthy lifestyle and aversion to alcohol generally is quite inconsistent with a decision to immediately resort to drinking to lessen pain and improve sleep after the accident. Surely it would have taken some considerable time to break down a resolve to abstain from alcohol consumption that had sustained the plaintiff until she was 42 years old. The plaintiff’s description of how the drinking began is also inconsistent with a failure to develop alcohol dependence when faced with a similar history of chronic pain in her neck, shoulders and back prior to the accident. Lastly, the plaintiff’s evidence that she immediately began drinking alcohol for pain reduction after the accident is inconsistent with the fact that her neck pain was actually improving in early October 2007, just a few days after the accident.

[89]         I am also satisfied that there were many other stressors in the plaintiff’s life, apart from the injuries related to the accident, that are far more likely to be connected with her depression and alcoholism. The plaintiff had difficulties in her workplace; she left the Bee Hive because of disputes with clients that threatened the salon’s business. Had she not left voluntarily, Ms. White would have terminated her arrangement with the plaintiff. The plaintiff had significant financial problems. Her condominium leaked and she needed to raise $65,000 to pay for her share of the repairs. There was also an ongoing dispute with Visa over a $6,000 debt that led to a protracted lawsuit. She was behind on her mortgage, strata fees and income tax. It is significant that during the counselling sessions the plaintiff attended in 2011 and 2012, the subject of the accident never came up and pain was mentioned only once in the context of the plaintiff’s decision to go back to yoga for pain management. It was alcohol, relationships and financial problems that arose before the accident or were unrelated to the accident that formed the basis of her discussions with the counsellor. In addition, the plaintiff had a prior bout of depression in 2004 and 2005 that stemmed from financial worries and the troubling Visa lawsuit. She also had a significant family history of depression that created a risk for developing this illness.

[90]         While I find the evidence of Dr. Lu establishes that the plaintiff currently suffers from depression and alcoholism, I am unable to conclude on a balance of probabilities that these illnesses have a causal connection to the accident or to the injuries caused by the accident. Dr. Lu’s opinions about the causal connection to the accident are highly dependent upon the veracity of the plaintiff’s description of her chronic pain and its origins. As described above, the plaintiff has been dishonest with her physicians and has provided inconsistent evidence at trial. I found she was not a credible witness. Her explanations for these inconsistencies were neither candid nor reasonable. Dr. Lu agreed that alcoholics do not tell the truth about their drinking and try to appear functional when they are not. He testified that an alcoholic’s ability to work is the last to go. Thus the failure to call any corroborating witnesses outside of the workplace to describe the plaintiff’s drinking habits before the accident is a significant omission. I accept that the plaintiff may have lost contact with friends since the accident; however, this fact does not explain why she could not approach one of them to testify on her behalf about her pre-accident health and lifestyle. In all of the circumstances, it would be unsafe to accept the plaintiff’s description of her alcohol consumption as accurate either before or after the accident without some corroborating evidence. None of the collateral witnesses had any real knowledge of the plaintiff’s drinking habits because they did not socialize with her outside of the workplace. They could only say that she did not appear to come to work hung over. Ms. Hicks had no direct contact with her daughter until four years after the accident.

[91]         Accordingly, for these reasons I find that the plaintiff has failed to prove on a balance of probabilities that her current alcoholism and depression is causally related to the accident…


Relationship Breakup Following Collision "Too Remote To Create Liability"

December 27th, 2011

Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, finding that a claim for damages for a break-up of a relationship following a collision is too remote for liability.

In last week’s case (Shinkaruk v. Crouch) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2006 collision.  He was found 20% at fault for the crash with the Defendant shouldering 80% of the blame.  The Plaintiff had “a significant history of low back pain” and this pre-existing injury was aggravated by the collision.  He was awarded damages for this aggravation.

During the period of aggravation the Plaintiff experienced difficulties with his partner and eventually she asked the Plaintiff to leave.  The Court found that this event was too remote to attract damages and in doing so Madam Justice Saunders provided the following reasons:

[59] It was apparent from Ms. Wahlwroth’s description of their interaction with each other, during the period in which Mr. Shinkaruk was convalescing from the accident, that their disagreements were largely a function of the two of them having very different visions of their roles and responsibilities within their relationship. It may be that these differences did not become manifest when the two of them had different working schedules. But with Mr. Shinkaruk at home in the evenings, she testified that she found it difficult to have him there without him making any contributions to the housework, making meals, cleaning up dishes, and doing other tasks which she felt he was physically capable of. She contrasted his lack of contribution with efforts made by husbands of friends of hers, when the couples had dinner together. Their differences were compounded by their poor communication skills, and they became trapped in a cycle of angry arguments, sniping and a lack of mutual respect. This climaxed during the December 2006 family vacation, when they spent little time in each other’s company, and had heated arguments when they did. She did not want her 13 year-old son exposed to that kind of behaviour, and that was a key consideration in her asking Mr. Shinkaruk to leave. These communication problems are issues which, she testified, they have both done a lot of work on recently and now that they are seeing each other again, there is a greater deal of emotional maturity being exhibited by both of them.

[60] It appears from the evidence that the most that could be said is that the motor vehicle accident contributed to the breakup in that it created a living situation, with Mr. Shinkaruk at home convalescing, in which fundamental and deep-seated issues between this couple became manifest. To the extent that Mr. Shinkaruk may have suffered emotionally or psychologically due to their breakup in December 2006, the defendant’s negligence is too remote to create liability.


Striking Pleadings Under Rule 9-5: The "No Reasonable Prospect of Success" Test

August 2nd, 2011

The Supreme Court of Canada recently addressed the legal framework for striking pleadings pursuant to Rule 9-5.  In short, the Court repeated the longstanding test that pleadings will only be dismissed under the BC Supreme Court Rules if they have ‘no reasonable prospect of success‘ and that the parties cannot tender evidence in support of these applications.

In the recent case (R v. Imperial Tobacco Ltd.) the Court was faced with a lawsuit by British Columbia seeking to recover health care costs for tobacco related illnesses.  In the course of defending the lawsuit the tobacco companies issued Third Party Pleadings against the Government of Canada pleading that if they are held liable to the Government of BC the Federal Government should indemnify the Tobacco Companies for damages payable.  The Government of Canada brought an application to dismiss the Third Party Pleadings.

The Supreme Court of Canada granted the application and dismissed the Third Party Pleadings.  In doing so the Court provided the following legal framework for Pleading strike applications:

This Court has reiterated the test on many occasions.  A claim will only be struck if it is plain and obvious, assuming the facts pleaded to be true, that the pleading discloses no reasonable cause of action… Another way of putting the test is that the claim has no reasonable prospect of success.  Where a reasonable prospect of success exists, the matter should be allowed to proceed to trial…

[19] The power to strike out claims that have no reasonable prospect of success is a valuable housekeeping measure essential to effective and fair litigation.  It unclutters the proceedings, weeding out the hopeless claims and ensuring that those that have some chance of success go on to trial.

[20] This promotes two goods — efficiency in the conduct of the litigation and correct results.  Striking out claims that have no reasonable prospect of success promotes litigation efficiency, reducing time and cost.  The litigants can focus on serious claims, without devoting days and sometimes weeks of evidence and argument to claims that are in any event hopeless.  The same applies to judges and juries, whose attention is focused where it should be — on claims that have a reasonable chance of success.  The efficiency gained by weeding out unmeritorious claims in turn contributes to better justice.  The more the evidence and arguments are trained on the real issues, the more likely it is that the trial process will successfully come to grips with the parties’ respective positions on those issues and the merits of the case.

[21] Valuable as it is, the motion to strike is a tool that must be used with care.  The law is not static and unchanging.  Actions that yesterday were deemed hopeless may tomorrow succeed.  Before Donoghue v. Stevenson, [1932] A.C. 562 (H.L.) introduced a general duty of care to one’s neighbour premised on foreseeability, few would have predicted that, absent a contractual relationship, a bottling company could be held liable for physical injury and emotional trauma resulting from a snail in a bottle of ginger beer.  Before Hedley Byrne & Co. v. Heller & Partners Ltd., [1963] 2 All E.R. 575 (H.L.), a tort action for negligent misstatement would have been regarded as incapable of success.  The history of our law reveals that often new developments in the law first surface on motions to strike or similar preliminary motions, like the one at issue in Donoghue v. Stevenson. Therefore, on a motion to strike, it is not determinative that the law has not yet recognized the particular claim.   The court must rather ask whether, assuming the facts pleaded are true, there is a reasonable prospect that the claim will succeed.  The approach must be generous and err on the side of permitting a novel but arguable claim to proceed to trial.

[22] A motion to strike for failure to disclose a reasonable cause of action proceeds on the basis that the facts pleaded are true, unless they are manifestly incapable of being proven: Operation Dismantle Inc. v. The Queen, [1985] 1 S.C.R. 441, at p. 455.  No evidence is admissible on such a motion: r. 19(27) of the Supreme Court Rules (now r. 9-5(2) of the Supreme Court Civil Rules).  It is incumbent on the claimant to clearly plead the facts upon which it relies in making its claim.  A claimant is not entitled to rely on the possibility that new facts may turn up as the case progresses.  The claimant may not be in a position to prove the facts pleaded at the time of the motion.  It may only hope to be able to prove them.  But plead them it must.  The facts pleaded are the firm basis upon which the possibility of success of the claim must be evaluated.  If they are not pleaded, the exercise cannot be properly conducted…

It is not about evidence, but the pleadings.  The facts pleaded are taken as true.  Whether the evidence substantiates the pleaded facts, now or at some future date, is irrelevant to the motion to strike.  The judge on the motion to strike cannot consider what evidence adduced in the future might or might not show.  To require the judge to do so would be to gut the motion to strike of its logic and ultimately render it useless.

[24] This is not unfair to the claimant.  The presumption that the facts pleaded are true operates in the claimant’s favour.  The claimant chooses what facts to plead, with a view to the cause of action it is asserting.  If new developments raise new possibilities — as they sometimes do — the remedy is to amend the pleadings to plead new facts at that time.

[25] Related to the issue of whether the motion should be refused because of the possibility of unknown evidence appearing at a future date is the issue of speculation.  The judge on a motion to strike asks if the claim has any reasonable prospect of success.  In the world of abstract speculation, there is a mathematical chance that any number of things might happen.  That is not what the test on a motion to strike seeks to determine.  Rather, it operates on the assumption that the claim will proceed through the court system in the usual way — in an adversarial system where judges are under a duty to apply the law as set out in (and as it may develop from) statutes and precedent.  The question is whether, considered in the context of the law and the litigation process, the claim has no reasonable chance of succeeding.

This decision is also worth reviewing for the Court’s discussion of the concepts of proximity, forseeability, and private law duties of care which I will address in a separate post.


Lawsuits Against Insurance Brokers: When Policy Exclusions Are Not Discussed

June 13th, 2011

Important reasons for judgement were released last month by the BC Court of Appeal making it clear that insurance brokers can be sued for professional negligence if they fail to properly advise clients of the limits of their insurance policies.

In last month’s case (Beck v. Johnston, Maier Insurance Agencies Ltd.) the Plaintiff’s home was intentionally burned down by her husband in a tragic murder/suicide.  The home was insured however the policy had an exclusion for losses that occurred as a result of “intentional acts by named insureds“.

The Plaintiff’s estate sued the insurance broker claiming they were negligent in failing to discuss this exclusion when the policy was renewed (which last occurred after the Plaintiff split up with her husband).  The claim succeeded at trial.  The insurance brokers appealed arguing the claim should be dismissed as this damage was not forseeable.  The BC Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal and in doing so provided the following reasons which should ring as a caution to insurance brokers when selling policies of insurance:

[17] Members of the public purchase insurance to protect themselves and their property from unforeseen events. Policies of homeowner’s insurance, rented dwelling insurance and tenant’s insurance are invariably written by insurers, who describe the coverage that they are prepared to provide and the exceptions to that coverage in the policies they write. They then quote the premium that they require to provide the coverage….

[21] Both Mr. Sache, an insurance broker retained by the appellant and Mr. Pat Anderson, a licensed insurance broker retained by the respondent agreed that it is standard practice for brokers to explain the intentional act exclusion in a homeowner’s policy to a customer when insurance is first placed for that customer….

[25] While Ms. Beck may not have had any knowledge or belief that Mr. Beck intended to harm the home at the time her insurance coverage was renewed in July of 2007, such knowledge was not the issue. The issue was whether her insurance broker ought to have discussed her insurance needs with her when it was clear that she and her husband had separated….

[27] The summary trial judge was bound to accept, as she did, the uncontradicted evidence before her of the standard of care to be expected on an insurance broker. In areas where the courts lack expertise with respect to a particular field of endeavour, it is necessary to rely on expert evidence of standard practice of those in that field of endeavour in order to determine whether the requisite duty of care has been met. In ter Neuzen v. Korn, [1995] 3 S.C.R. 674 at para. 39 Sopinka J. referred with approval to the following statement by Professor Fleming in The Law of Torts(7th ed. 1987) at p. 109:

Conformity with general practice, on the other hand, usually dispels a charge of negligence. It tends to show what others in the same “business” considered sufficient, that the defendant could not have learnt how to avoid the accident by the example of others, that most probably no other practical precautions could have been taken, and that the impact of an adverse judgment (especially in cases involving industry or a profession) will be industry-wide and thus assume the function of a “test case”. Finally, it underlines the need for caution against passing too cavalierly upon the conduct and decision of experts.

[28] It was unnecessary for the respondent to prove that Ms. Beck foresaw that Mr. Beck Sr. represented a “real” or an actual risk of intentionally damaging the home. On the evidence, Ms. Beck’s change in circumstances presented a foreseeable new risk to be considered vis a vis her insurance needs…

[33] The summary trial judge was clearly of the view that, when a renewal of insurance coverage is required, the broker similarly has a duty to provide relevant information about the types of coverage available to the client, to meet any change in needs that the client may have as a result of any changes in his or her circumstances of which the broker is or should be aware. There was ample evidence upon which the trial judge could make that finding, and no basis upon which this Court can interfere with it.


BC Court of Appeal Discusses Forseeability Limits With Psychiatric Injuries

June 8th, 2011

Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Court of Appeal succinctly highlighting some of the limits of the forseeability defence to personal injury lawsuits.

In today’s case (Hussack v. Chilliwack School District No. 33) the Plaintiff sustained a concussion when struck in the head with a field hockey stick as he approached another player.  He was a student in grade 7 at the time and the game was being supervised by a PE teacher.  Madam Justice Boyd of the BC Supreme Court held that the School District was responsible for this event because the teacher permitted the Plaintiff to play before he “learned any of the basic skills or even how to play the game” and that doing so breached the standard of care that the school should have exercised.

The Plaintiff developed serious psychological issues following his concussion.   At trial the Plaintiff was awarded  just over $1.3 million for his injuries and loss.

The School District appealed for many reasons but were largely unsuccessful.  The BC Court of Appeal made some modest reductions to the wage loss awards but left the trial judgement largely intact.  One of the Defendant’s arguments was that the Plaintiff’s severe psychiatric dysfunction was not a forseeable consequence of the event.  The BC Court of Appeal rejected this argument and in doing so provided the following useful reminder of the limits of the forseeability defence:

[71] It is not necessary for the plaintiff to show that the precise injury or the full extent of the injury was reasonably foreseeable.  What he must show is that the type or kind of injury was reasonably foreseeable:  Hughes v. Lord Advocate, [1963] UKHL 1; Jolley v. Sutton London Borough Council, [2000] UKHL 31; Ontario (Minister of Highways) v. Côté, [1976] 1 S.C.R. 595….

[74] The principle of reasonable foreseeability in relation to psychiatric injury is subject to a qualification:  where the psychiatric injury is consequential to the physical injury for which the defendant is responsible, the defendant is also responsible for the psychiatric injury even if this injury was unforeseeable.  See White v. Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police, [1999] 2 A.C. 455 at 470, Varga v. John Labbatt, [1956] O.R. 1007, 6 D.L.R. (2d) 336 (H.C.);  Yoshikawa v. Yu (1996) 21 B.C.L.R. (3d) 318, 73 B.C.A.C. (C.A.);  Edwards v. Marsden, 2004 BCSC 590; Samuel v. Levi, 2008 BCSC 1447.


PTSD Claim By Accident Witness Dismissed as "Too Remote"

February 18th, 2011

If a witness to a BC motor vehicle collision suffers psychological injuries as a result of what they see they can claim damages.  There are, however, restrictions on when these claims can succeed.  Reasons for judgement were released today addressing this area of law.

In today’s case (Deros v. McCauley) the Plaintiff witnessed a collision caused by an “inebriated” driver in 2001.  At the time the Plaintiff was working on Highway 97 near Bear Lake, BC.  The Plaintiff was installing rumble strips on the side of the highway.  The Plaintiff was operating a sweeper and his friend, (Mr. Lance) was operating a grinder nearby.  The Defendant lost control of a pickup truck and collided with the grinder.  The Plaintiff witnessed the crash and was concerned for his friend.  Fortunately Mr. Lance “was not seriously injured“.

The Plaintiff claimed the incident caused PTSD and sued for damages.  The Insurance company for the Defendant argued that even if the Plaintiff suffered from PTSD this injury was ‘too remote‘ and therefore not compensable.  Madam Justice Gerow agreed and dismissed the lawsuit.  In doing so the Court provided the following useful reasons addressing the restricted circumstances when a witness to a crash can successfully sue for psychological damages:

[17]         In order to show that the damage suffered is not too remote to be viewed as legally caused by Mr. McCauley’s negligence, Mr. Deros must show that it was foreseeable that a person of ordinary fortitude would suffer a mental injury from witnessing the accident. He has failed to do so…

[23]         The cases, to which I was referred, where damages for nervous shock have been awarded to witnesses of accidents who were not physically involved in the accidents, involve accidents or events which are more shocking than the accident in this case. All the cases involved accidents in which someone has died or been seriously injured: James v. Gillespie, [1995] B.C.J. No. 442 (S.C.); Arnold v. Cartwright Estate, 2007 BCSC 1602; Easton v. Ramadanovic Estate (1988), 27 B.C.L.R. (2d) 45; Stegemann v. Pasemko, 2007 BCSC 1062; James v. Gillespie, [1995] B.C.J. No. 442 (S.C.); Kwok v. British Columbia Ferry Corp. (1987), 20 B.C.L.R. (2d) 318 (S.C.).

[24]         As set out in Devji v. District of Burnaby, 1999 BCCA 599 at para. 75, the courts have been careful to limit the circumstances in which injuries for nervous shock are awarded:

The law in this province, as formulated by Rhodes, requires that the plaintiffs, in order to succeed, must experience something more than the surprise and other emotional responses that naturally follow from learning of the death of a friend or relative. Instead, there must be something more that separates actionable responses from the understandable grief, sorrow and loss that ordinarily follow the receipt of such information. In Rhodes, Taylor and Wood JJ.A. described the requisite experience as alarming and startling (and therefore sudden and unexpected), horrifying, shocking and frightening, and Southin J.A. referred to a “fright, terror or horror”.

[25]         In this case, Mr. Deros witnessed a collision that involved no serious injuries. Even if I accept Mr. Deros’ evidence at trial that he initially thought a rod had skewered Mr. Lance, he knew within minutes this did not occur and Mr. Lance had not suffered serious injury….

[29]         There is no evidence that a person of ordinary fortitude would have suffered nervous shock injury or mental illness as a result of witnessing this accident. The experts testified about Mr. Deros’ particular reaction to the accident, but not that a person of ordinary fortitude would have suffered mental injury.

[30]         Mr. Deros does not argue that a person of ordinary fortitude would suffer mental injury from witnessing this accident. Rather, Mr. Deros argues that the evidence from the experts establishes that he was more prone to suffer from PTSD than an ordinary person was from witnessing this accident. As stated earlier, Mr. Deros argues that the evidence supports a finding he suffered mental or psychological injury from witnessing this accident because he was more prone to injury as a result of his pre-existing condition, i.e. he was a thin skull, and was not a person of ordinary fortitude.

[31]         Having failed to establish that a person of ordinary fortitude would suffer a mental injury from witnessing this accident, it follows that Mr. Deros’ claim must fail.


Post Accident Alcoholism Deemed Compensable in BC Tort Claim

January 20th, 2011

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, addressing an interesting issue: whether alcoholism following accident related chronic pain is compensable in a tort claim.  In short, Mr. Justice Voith held that it could be.

In today’s case (Zawadzki v. Calimoso) the Plaintiff pedestrian was struck by a U-Haul truck driven by the Defendant.   The Defendant was found fully at fault for the collision.  The Plaintiff sustained various physical injuries the most serious of which was an elbow joint fracture which required three surgeries and resulted in a permanent partial disability.

Following the collision the Plaintiff began to drink in excess.  This turned into clinical alcoholism the extent of which caused serious health consequences.  In his lawsuit the Plaintiff claimed compensation not only for his physical traumatic injuries but also for the consequences of his alcoholism.  The Defendant argued that the Plaintiff cannot be compensated for this as it is ‘too remote‘.

Mr. Justice Voith addressed this issue at length and paragraphs 99-123 are worth reviewing in full for the Courts analysis.  Ultimately Mr. Justice Voith held that the Plaintiff’s alcoholism was caused in part by the consequences of the crash and was therefor compensable.  The Court provided the following reasons:

[99]         Shortly after the Accident, the plaintiff began to drink heavily. The results of blood tests performed on the plaintiff in late December 2004 indicated that certain liver enzyme levels were extremely elevated. The medical evidence uniformly establishes that such elevated results are directly referable to alcohol consumption. Dr. Smith confirmed that such elevated enzyme levels would not arise as a result of binge drinking, but rather reflected weeks or months of drinking.

[100]     The plaintiff admits he began to drink excessively after the Accident and that his alcohol consumption reached the point where he was drinking 26 ounces of vodka on a nightly basis. ..

[117]     In this case, Mr. Zawadzki’s original physical injuries were foreseeable. So too, the defendants concede, were his depression and anxiety. It was the combination of pain and mood that Drs. Shane and Smith said gave rise to the plaintiff’s excessive drinking. Dr. Smith also confirmed that Mr. Zawadzki had a “genetic predisposition”, by virtue of the alcoholism of his parents, to alcohol abuse. A genetic vulnerability to alcohol abuse is the very type of pre-existing susceptibility that the “thin skull” rule addresses.

[118]     It is clear that both a susceptibility to physical harm and to psychological harm fall within the ambit of the “thin skull” rule: Hussack at para. 143; Yoshikawa v. Yu (1996), 21 B.C.L.R. (3d) 318 (C.A.) at para. 19. I can see no principled reason why a similar vulnerability to an addiction disorder should be treated or viewed differently…

[123] I find that Mr. Zawadzki’s alcohol abuse was caused by the Accident and that such alcohol abuse was reasonably foreseeable.


BC Supreme Court Finds Liability Can Follow Unreasonably Low Certification Standards

October 8th, 2010

(UPDATE October 27, 2011:  An appeal of the below decision was dismissed by the BC Court of Appeal on October 27, 2011. Despite upholding the trial result the BC Court of Appeal provided comments on the Duty of Care of CSA at paragraphs 58-61 differing from the below analysis.  The Court of Appeal concluded that “For policy reasons, CSA does not have a duty of care in negligence to hockey players who are injured while wearing certified hockey helmets“)

Earlier this week the BC Supreme Court, Victoria Registry, released reasons for judgement dismissing a lawsuit for compensation as a result of a traumatic brain injury sustained during a hockey game (More v. Bauer Nike Hockey Inc).

The incident occurred in 2004 when the Plaintiff was 17 years old.  He was playing an organized game of hockey.  He was wearing a helmet which was certified by the Canadian Standards Association (the “CSA”) and met all CSA standards.   During the game the Plaintiff fell into the boards and suffered a subdural hematoma.  This was apparently the only reported incident of a helmeted player sustaining a subdural hematoma while playing organized hockey in Canadian history.

The effects of the injury caused severe and profound disability in the Plaintiff.  The Plaintiff sued various Defendants including the manufacturer of the helmet and the CSA.  The Plaintiff alleged that the helmet was negligently manufactured and that the CSA was negligent in failing to adopt proper standards for helmet certification.  The Plaintiff’s claims were ultimately dismissed with the Court finding that the helmet was not defectively manufactured and that the standards set by the CSA were appropriate.

This case has received considerable press in Canada and abroad even gaining mention in the New York Times sports blog.  What interests me most about this case is not the ultimate result rather it was the Court’s discussion of the potential liability of institutions which set inadequate safety standards.

In the course of the lawsuit the CSA argued that even if their standards were unreasonably low they could not be sued because they did not owe the Plaintiff a duty of care.  Mr. Justice Macaulay disagreed and held that institutions that set certification standards for safety equipment can be sued in negligence if they set their standards too low.  Specifically the court held as follows:

212] I am satisfied that it was reasonably foreseeable that a hockey player and wearer of a mandatory certified hockey helmet might suffer harm if the CSA set the certification standard unreasonably low in the circumstances. On the question of proximity, I extrapolate from Cooper at paras. 32–34. Is the player, who must obtain and wear a certified helmet in order to participate in organized hockey, so closely and directly affected by the CSA decision respecting the adequacy of the certification standard that the latter ought reasonably to have the player’s legitimate interest in safety in mind? In my respectful view, the answer must be yes.

[213] By legislative definition, any hockey helmet that is not certified is a hazardous product and cannot be sold in Canada. No matter how well designed the helmet may, in fact, be, no manufacturer can offer it for sale unless it is certified. The consumer hockey player has no choice and buys, or otherwise obtains, the helmet for the purpose of self-protection in a game that has inherent dangers. Nonetheless, there is some reliance by the consumer on the fact of certification and an expectation that the risk of at least some injuries is reasonably reduced. Otherwise, there would be no need for any helmet at all.

[214] With the greatest of deference to the possibility that Hughes stands for a different outcome, I am satisfied that there is sufficient proximity in the present case for a prima facie duty of care.

In short, this decision means that if an institution sets certification standards for products to be sold in British Columbia that institution may be liable if their standards are set at an unreasonably low level.


When Can a Third Party Be Responsible for Preventing Harm Intentionally Caused by Another? The Supreme Court of Canada Weighs in

February 27th, 2010

If someone is injured/killed intentionally by someone else can a third party be held civilly liable for failing to prevent the harm?  While the answer to this question turns heavily on the facts the answer can be yes and earlier this month the Supreme Court of Canada released a decision discussing this complex area of personal injury law.

In Fullowka v. Pinkerton’s of Canada Ltd. nine workers were killed in the course of a contentious labour dispute.   During the bitter strike one of the strikers “evaded security and surreptitiously entered the mine.  He set an explosive device which, as he intended, was detonated by a trip wire, killing nine miners.”

The survivors of the dead miners brought a lawsuit against various parties including the mine’s owners, their security firm and the territorial government claiming damages for “negligently failing to prevent the murders“.

The lawsuit largely succeeded at trial but was overturned by the Court of Appeal.  The Supreme Court of Canada ultimately sided with the Court of Appeal but before dismissing the case highlighted some important legal principles addressing the need to take reasonable steps in certain circumstances to prevent foreseeable intentionally inflected harm at the hands of others.  Some of the highlights of the Court’s discussion were as follows:

The analysis turns on whether the relationship between the appellants and the defendants discloses sufficient foreseeability and proximity to establish a prima facie duty of care and, if so, whether there are any residual policy considerations which ought to negate or limit that duty of care… The analysis must focus specifically on the relationships in issue, as there are particular considerations relating to foreseeability, proximity and policy in each…

[19] In my view, the relationship between the murdered miners and Pinkerton’s and the government meets the requirements of foreseeability and proximity such that a prima facie duty of care existed.  I also conclude that these prima facie duties are not negated by policy considerations…

[26] In cases of this nature, the law requires close examination of the question of proximity. The inquiry is concerned with whether the case discloses factors which show that the relationship between the plaintiff and the defendant was sufficiently close and direct to give rise to a legal duty of care, considering such factors as expectations, representations, reliance and the property or other interests involved….  Proximity is not confined to physical proximity, but includes “such close and direct relations that the act complained of directly affects a person whom the person alleged to be bound to take care would know would be directly affected by his careless act”…

[27] The Court discussed proximity in detail in Childs, at paras. 31-46.  In Childs, as here, the proposed duty was to take care to prevent harm caused to the plaintiff by a third party; in other words, what was proposed there was a positive duty to act even though the defendant’s conduct had not directly caused foreseeable physical injury to the plaintiff. The Court noted that there are at least three factors which may identify the situations in which the law has recognized such duties (paras. 38-40).  The first is that the defendant is materially implicated in the creation of the risk or has control of the risk to which others have been invited.  The second is the concern for the autonomy of the persons affected by the positive action proposed.  As the Chief Justice put it: “The law … accepts that competent people have the right to engage in risky activities … [and] permits third parties witnessing risk to decide not to become rescuers or otherwise intervene” (para. 39). The third is whether the plaintiff reasonably relied on the defendant to avoid and minimize risk and whether the defendant, in turn, would reasonably expect such reliance….

The relevant question is whether the miners reasonably relied on Pinkerton’s to take reasonable precautions to reduce the risk.  The Court of Appeal found that was their reasonable expectation. This reasoning, in my view, supports rather than negates the existence of sufficient proximity.  The fact that, as the Court of Appeal noted, any higher expectation on the miners’ part would have been unreasonable was not relevant to the analysis.

[31] Pinkerton’s must have shared the miners’ expectation.  It was there to protect property and people. The whole point of its presence was to help secure the site so that the mine could continue to operate. The miners who continued to work during the strike made up a well-defined and identifiable group. Pinkerton’s surely ought to have expected that the very people it was there to protect would rely on it to exercise reasonable care in doing so.

[32] Pinkerton’s also undertook to exert some control over the risk..Pinkerton’s undertook to exert some control over everyone who came onto the property, including Mr. Warren…

[34] I conclude that the reasonable expectations of both the miners and Pinkerton’s as well as Pinkerton’s undertaking to exert some control over the risk to the miners supported the trial judge’s finding of proximity…

[70] The concern about indeterminate liability is not valid here.  This policy consideration has often held sway in negligence claims for pure economic loss. But even in that context, it has not always carried the day to exclude a duty of care.  The concern is that the proposed duty of care, if accepted, would impose “liability in an indeterminate amount for an indeterminate time to an indeterminate class”, to use the often repeated words of Cardozo C.J. in Ultramares Corp. v. Touche, 174 N.E. 441 (N.Y. 1931), at p. 444.  At the root of the concern is that the duty, and therefore the right to sue for its breach, is so broad that it extends indeterminately.  In this sense, the policy concern about indeterminate liability is closely related to proximity; the question is whether there are sufficient special factors arising out of the relationship between the plaintiff and the defendant so that indeterminate liability is not the result of   imposing the proposed duty of care: see, e.g., Canadian National Railway Co. v. Norsk Pacific Steamship Co., , [1992] 1 S.C.R. 1021, at p. 1153.  What is required is a principled basis upon which to draw the line between those to whom the duty is owed and those to whom it is not: see, e.g., Bow Valley Husky (Bermuda) Ltd. v. Saint John Shipbuilding Ltd., , [1997] 3 S.C.R. 1210, at para. 64, per McLachlin J. (as she then was).

[71] I do not see this as a difficulty here and, as a result, I do not think that the proposed duty of care exposes the government to indeterminate liability.  What is in issue is liability for physical injury to miners caused by an explosion in a mine which, it is alleged, would have been prevented had the government taken reasonable care in discharging its  statutory duties in relation to mine safety.  The duty is to the finite group of miners working in the mine which the inspectors had inspected repeatedly.  The potential liability is no more indeterminate than in the building inspector cases I reviewed earlier.

While this case was highly factually specific the legal principles discussed by the Supreme Court of Canada can be applied to more commonly seen fact patters.  One example of intentional harm at the hands of others are the unfortunate cases involving sexual abuse.  Where priests, teachers or other adults in authority sexually abuse young victims liability may extend beyond the person committing the crime.  In certain circumstances religious hierarchies have been found liable for sexual abuse committed by priests and school boards have been found liable for abuse committed by teachers.

The Supreme Court of Canada’s detailed reasoning in this case is welcome for anyone advancing a personal injury lawsuit involving an intentional harm seeking to extend liability further and I suggest that any Canadian lawyers prosecuting such a claim familiarize themselves with this judgement in full.