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 ‘icbc claims lawyer’

Medical Records and ICBC Injury Claims

May 5th, 2009

ICBC Injury Claims tend to be record heavy.  It is important to understand the types of records that are typically used in ICBC claims and how these records can be used.

One of the most frequent records reviewed and used by lawyers involved in these cases are clinical records of treating physicians.  These records can be a rich source of information documenting a person’s complaints of injury, course of improvement, medical advice prescribed and other useful information.

When ICBC claims proceed to trial these records are often put to some use by the lawyers involved.  The extent to which each lawyer can use the records varies.  For example, a Plaintiff’s lawyer usually can’t use the records to corroborate the Plaintiff’s evidence at trial as doing so can offend the rule of bolstering a clients credibility by leading evidence of ‘prior consistent statments’.

ICBC Defence lawyers, however, often use prior recorded statements when cross-examining a Plaintiff with respect to injuries sustained in an ICBC claim.  This is one of the most frequent uses made of clinical records in ICBC claims.

It is important for lawyers and clients alike to understand the use that can be made of clinical records at both examinations for discovery and trial in their ICBC Injury Claims.

Reasons for judgment were released today by the BC Court of Appeal shedding light on this topic.   In today’s case the Plaintiff was awarded damages as a result of a 2005 motor vehicle collision.  The defendant appealed claiming that the damages awarded were excessive in the circumstances and that the trial judge made several errors.  In dismissing the appeal the BC Court of Appeal noted that while some errors were made none of these prejudiced the Defendant in the trial.  In doing so the court made some comments on the use to which clinical records can be made at trial.  I reproduce the highlights of this discussion below:

Medical Records Issues

[7]                During cross-examination of the plaintiff’s family physician, Dr. Dwyer, counsel for the defendant asked to have his clinical notes admitted as an exhibit.  Counsel stated that the defendant intended to rely on the absence from the notes of any notation of a complaint by the plaintiff related to limitations on his work capacity, particularly with respect to script writing.  Dr. Dwyer testified that he would have noted such complaints if they had been made to him.  Counsel argued that the clinical notes were admissible as business records under s. 42 of the Evidence Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 124.  The trial judge questioned the admissibility of the portions of the notes that recorded the plaintiff’s complaints of symptoms.  He distinguished between the doctor’s notes of the results of his physical examination of the plaintiff and notes of the plaintiff’s subjective complaints to the doctor.  The trial judge considered the plaintiff’s statements to be hearsay.  He questioned the evidentiary value of the records apart from the doctor’s testimony, pointing out that the doctor was entitled to refer to his notes to refresh his memory and “there’s nothing preventing you from exploring all of these questions with this witness.”

[8]                The trial judge summarized his conclusions as to the attempted use of the notes to discredit the plaintiff’s account of symptoms in these terms (at paras. 35 to 37):

I accept Mr. Bancroft-Wilson’s evidence in regard to the onset of the headaches, and their intensity, frequency, and endurance.  Efforts to discredit him with alleged inconsistencies in doctors’ clinical notes were, in my view, not successful.  It must be borne in mind that the primary objective of physicians’ clinical notes is to refresh their own memories as to what transpired during a clinical examination, for the purposes of medical treatment.  These notes are not made for investigative and litigation purposes.  If this were the purpose then it would, in my opinion, be important for physicians to ensure that they have accurately recorded full and detailed accounts of what a patient said during a clinical visit and then have the patient verify the accuracy of the notes.

Physicians are not investigators.  They are neither trained to accurately record what a person says nor to draw out a fulsome account for litigation purposes.  The use of clinicians’ notes, made hastily during a clinical visit and never reviewed for accuracy by the patient, may operate unfairly to the patient as plaintiff or witness.  It should also be borne in mind that when a patient sees his or her physician with a complaint of significant pain, the circumstances are far less from ideal for obtaining full and accurate information.

I do not suggest by any of the foregoing that it is impermissible to use clinical notes to challenge a plaintiff’s credibility, but the frailties inherent in such recordings should be recognized. In the instant case, I find that the clinician’s notes do not have sufficient accuracy and reliability to undermine the plaintiff’s evidence where the notes allegedly differ from the plaintiff’s testimony at trial.

[Emphasis added]

[9]                The defendant contends that the trial judge erred in law by refusing to admit the clinical notes as admissions against interest.  This Court in Samuel v. Chrysler Credit Canada Ltd., 2007 BCCA 431, 70 B.C.L.R. (4th) 247, has recently confirmed that statements made by a plaintiff to doctors and recorded in clinical notes are hearsay and not admissible by the plaintiff to prove the truth of the symptoms complained of to the doctors.  The Court in Samuel was not concerned with the exception to the hearsay rule for admissions against interest.  Statements made by a plaintiff to doctors may be admissible under that exception when tendered for that purpose by the defendant or other party opposed in interest to the plaintiff; see Cunningham v. Slubowski, 2003 BCSC 1854 at para. 14.

[10]            I do not read the trial judge’s reasons as categorically rejecting the admissibility of clinical notes as a general proposition.  Rather he addressed the evidentiary weight of the notes.  I think that he went too far in the sentence underlined above when he stated that clinical notes are not made for investigative and litigation purposes.  That overlooks the fact that all of the medical doctors who testified, apart from Dr. Dwyer, were retained to provide independent medical opinions for the purposes of litigation.  Complaints of symptoms by a plaintiff to doctors must be supported by confirmation of those symptoms by the plaintiff’s testimony in court to provide an evidentiary foundation for the medical opinions; see, for example, Lenoard v. B.C. Hydro & Power Authority (1964), 50 W.W.R. 546 (B.C.S.C.).  Nonetheless, the accuracy of the doctors’ record of complaints is important to their opinions, and to that extent accuracy has obvious litigation implications.

[11]            While clinical records may be admissible as a record of admissions against interest in appropriate circumstances, in the instant case the defendant seeks to rely on the clinical notes to support the inference that the plaintiff did not complain to the doctor of the symptoms he alleges because the notes do not contain any reference to those symptoms.  In effect, the defendant is contending for an admission by omission.  In my view, that overstretches the limits of the admissions exception in the circumstances here.  The notes standing alone are of little if any weight for the purpose intended by the defendant and I think that the trial judge adopted the proper course in limiting their use to refreshing the memory of the doctors during their testimony. 

[12]            Viewing the trial judge’s reasons as a whole on this aspect of the case, I am satisfied that he did not reject entirely the admissibility of the clinical notes and he treated their significance as a matter of weight in the context of the doctors’ testimony.  For example, the trial judge observed that Dr. Dwyer’s notes supported the plaintiff’s complaint of back pain within four days of the accident.  The judge advised counsel for the defendant that she could renew her application to admit the notes later and counsel did not take up that opportunity.  I think that any evidentiary value attached to the notes was merged in the testimony of the doctors and there was no prejudice to the defendant arising from their formal inadmissibility as admissions against interest.

 


ICBC Injury Claims and Future Wage Loss

February 24th, 2009

One of the most difficult types of damages to value when a person sustains serious and permanent injuries through the fault of another in a BC Car Crash is that of ‘Future Wage Loss’.

Courts in British Columbia often view a person’s ability to earn a living as a ‘capital asset’ and if disabling injuries are sustained then that capital asset becomes diminished.  Accordingly BC Courts often assess damages for future wage loss as damages for a ‘diminished earning capacity’.

The basic principles that courts consider in awarding damages for ‘diminished earning capacity’ were set out almost 25 years ago in a BC Supreme Court case named Brown v. Golaiy,  These factors are as follows:

The means by which the value of the lost, or impaired, asset is to be assessed varies of course from case to case. Some of the considerations to take into account in making that assessment include whether:

1.      The plaintiff has been rendered less capable overall from earning income from all types of employment;

2.      The plaintiff is less marketable or attractive as an employee to potential employers;

3.      The plaintiff has lost the ability to take advantage of all job opportunities which might otherwise have been open to him, had he not been injured; and

4.      The plaintiff is less valuable to himself as a person capable of earning income in a competitive labour market.

In 2007, in a case named Steward v. Berezan, the BC Court of Appeal rejected a trial judges award for diminished earning capacity stating that “… The claimant bears the onus to prove at trial a substantial possibility of a future event leading to an income loss, and the court must then award compensation on an estimation of the chance that the event will occur…

Ever since Berezan many ICBC Injury Defence Lawyers have argued that the law has changed since Brown v. Golaiy and that there is a higher burden to reach before damages for future wage loss can be awarded.

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court (Ashmore v. Banicevic) dealing with this argument and concluding that the factors set out in Brown v. Golaiy remain good law.  In a thorough analysis Madam Justice Smith gave the following reasons:

[140]          While a literal reading of that statement might indicate a change in the law, embodying an express direction to inquire first into whether there is a substantial possibility of future income loss before embarking on assessment of the loss (see Chang v. Feng, 2008 BCSC 49; 55 C.C.L.T. (3d) 203, and Naidu v. Mann, 2007 BCSC 1313, 53 C.C.L.T. (3d) 1), the Court of Appeal inDjukic v. Hahn, 2007 BCCA 203, 66 B.C.L.R. (4th) 314 (at para. 14) limited Steward v. Berezan to its facts, stating: 

…The error of the trial judge in Steward was in awarding damages for loss of earning capacity based on the plaintiff’s inability to work as a carpenter in circumstances where he had not worked as a journeyman carpenter for twenty years prior to the trial and, at age 55, did not contemplate any return to the trade.  The case turned on its facts and did not establish any new principle of law.  Conversely here, the assessment was based on a business actively pursued by both respondents when the accidents intervened and not on any long abandoned occupation without a prospect of their return to it.  I am satisfied that Steward has no application in the case at bar. 

[141]        In Sinnott v. Boggs, the plaintiff was a 16-year-old girl who had been 11 at the time of the accident.  The medical prognosis was that she would continue to suffer neck and shoulder aches, ongoing discomfort and intermittent headaches.  The trial judge assessed non-pecuniary damages of $35,000, past wage loss of $2,400 and lost earning capacity of $30,000 “for being less marketable as an employee because of the limitations on her ability to work competitively in all jobs previously open to her”.  The assessment of damages was upheld on appeal.  Mackenzie J.A. referred to the submission of the defendant on appeal that since there was no finding that any particular types of work were foreclosed to the plaintiff, no award for lost earning capacity could be made.  He referred to a number of authorities, including Steward v. Berezan, at para. 11, and stated:

All of those cases involved middle-aged plaintiffs in settled occupations.  Their continuing symptoms resulted in continuing pain and occupational discomfort but they did not reduce the plaintiffs’ ability to earn income in their chosen occupations.  There was no prospect that they would change employment to occupations where their earning capacity would be impaired.

[142]        MacKenzie J.A. then stated at para. 13 – 17:

In my view, the limitation on loss of earning capacity awards advanced by the appellant is not supported either in logic or by the authorities.

Three of the four factors outlined in Brown are broad enough to support an award in circumstances where a plaintiff is able to continue in an occupation but the ability to perform and the earning capacity resulting from that ability are impaired by the injury.

The line between non-pecuniary damages and damages for loss of earning capacity is between losses that sound in pain and suffering and loss of non-remunerative amenities on the one hand, and pecuniary losses in the form of a reduced ability to earn income on the other. There is no reason why an injury which permits a plaintiff to continue in a particular occupation but at a reduced level of performance and income should not be compensated for that pecuniary loss through damages for loss of earning capacity.

In the case at bar, Ms. Sinnott is a young person who has not yet established a career and has no settled pattern of employment. In such circumstances, quantifying a loss is more at large. Southin J.A. commented on this distinction in Stafford

[42]  That there can be a case in which a plaintiff is so established in a profession that there is no reasonable possibility of his pursuing, whether by choice or necessity, a different one is obvious. For instance, on the one hand, if a judge of this Court were to be permanently injured to the extent that he or she could no longer do physical, in contradistinction to mental, labour, he or she would have no claim for impairment of earning capacity because the trier of fact gazing into the crystal ball would not see any possibility that the judge would ever abandon the law for physical labour, assuming that immediately before the accident the judge was capable of physical labour. But, on the other hand, if a plaintiff is young and has no trade or profession, the trier of fact gazing into the crystal ball might well consider whether the impairment of physical ability will so limit his future employment opportunities that he will suffer a loss. See e.g. Earnshaw v. Despins (1990), 45 B.C.L.R. (2d) 380 (C.A.).

[43] There is, if I may use the word, a continuum from obviously no impairment of earning capacity from a permanent physical impairment, no matter how serious the impairment, to a very large potential loss which must be based on all the circumstances of the particular plaintiff.

I agree with those observations.  Ms. Sinnott is in a category of those who are young and without a settled line of work. The trial judge has found that Ms. Sinnott faces limitations on her ability to work competitively in jobs that were previously open to her. In my view, that finding is an adequate foundation for the trial judge’s award. I am satisfied that there was evidence to support the trial judge’s conclusions on the facts and there is no palpable and over-riding error of fact which would permit this Court to disturb her conclusion or award.

[143]        I conclude that the approach I should take to the assessment of lost earning capacity has not changed.  Accordingly, I must consider, with reference to the factors listed in Brown v. Golaiy, whether the evidence establishes the basis for an award in this case, and if so, at what level.

______________________________________________________________________________________

On another note, today’s case dealt with chronic soft tissue injuries and serious headaches.  In awarding $80,000 for the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary losses, the court made the following findings of fact about the Plaintiff’s injuries and prognosis:

[113]        I have considered all of the evidence given by treating physicians and other health care practitioners, as well as the evidence of Dr. Jung and Dr. Schweigel, who saw the plaintiff for the purpose of providing medical-legal reports.  Dr. Schweigel deferred to the expertise of Dr. Blasberg with respect to the jaw injury; as well, he saw the plaintiff on only one occasion, while Dr. Bowlsby and Dr. Condon both saw him on a number of occasions.  Both Dr. Bowlsby and Dr. Condon are very experienced practitioners and struck me as fair-minded witnesses who were not advocating for their patient.  Dr. Jung’s two examinations of the plaintiff were thorough and well-documented.  I accept the evidence of Dr. Condon, Dr. Bowlsby and Dr. Jung, who all had extensive contact with the plaintiff, and do not accept the evidence of Dr. Schweigel where it is in conflict with their evidence.  I also accept the evidence of Dr. Blasberg.

[114]        Upon consideration of all the evidence, I find that Mr. Ashmore suffered a whiplash injury in the motor vehicle accident affecting his jaw, neck, shoulders and back.  I find that he suffers a continuous low-grade headache and serious headaches at least twice weekly, and that he continues to experience right-sided neck and upper back pain, pain with swallowing, and pain in the region of the jaw joint.  There is no evidence that he suffered from these symptoms prior to the motor vehicle accident.  I do not find on the evidence that stress causes his symptoms, although it may exacerbate them.  I find that but for the accident Mr. Ashmore would not experience the persistent headaches which I find are his worst ongoing symptom, and that but for the accident he would not suffer the other symptoms I have referred to.  I find that the plaintiff has met the burden of showing on the balance of probabilities that the defendant’s negligence caused his injuries.

[115]        The plaintiff’s symptoms arising from the injuries caused by the accident have caused him frequently to require rest in the middle of the day, necessitating work late into the night.  The extent of those symptoms is shown by the fact that they have caused him to give up most of the very active sports he formerly enjoyed, and have constrained his ability to assist with the care of his young children and to enjoy the kind of life he led before the accident.  As well, these symptoms have reduced the amount of time and energy he has available for work outside his regular employment.  Finally, the symptoms have led him to spend considerable time pursuing relief through various forms of treatment.

[116]        Taking into account the opinion evidence of all of the expert witnesses as to the likelihood of further recovery, I find that Mr. Ashmore is not likely to make a full recovery, although he may experience some improvement to the point where he will be able to manage his symptoms better. 


ICBC Injury Claims and Mitigation of Damages

February 5th, 2009

One of the principles of tort law is that of mitigation.

If you are injured through the fault of another you have a duty to take reasonable steps to minimize your losses.  For example, if your doctor makes treatment recommendations and you refuse to follow these this can result in a ‘failure to mitigate’ argument by an ICBC Defence Lawyer.  If such an argument succeeds the court can reduce the amount of damages according to the severity of the failure to mitigate.

Reasons for judgement were released today discussing and illustrating this principle.e   In today’s case (Korosic v. Maitland) the trial judge found that the Plaintiff failed to mitigate her injuries and reduced damages accordingly.  The key discussion was set out at paragraphs 122-132 which I reproduce below:

Mitigation

[122]        The defendant contended that Ms. Kosoric had a positive duty to mitigate and, in failing to perform the strength and conditioning exercises recommended by her physicians and physiotherapists, she could have reasonably avoided some part of her loss.  The defendant agreed that they bear the onus of proof on this issue. 

[123]        The concept of mitigation was discussed in Graham v. Rodgers, 2001 BCCA 432, 90 B.C.L.R. (3d) 69, leave to appeal to ref’d [2001] S.C.C.A. No. 467.  The purpose of mitigation is to limit the recovery of an injured party based on their failure to take reasonable steps to minimize or limit their loss: see para. 35.  As the defendant submits in their argument, a plaintiff has a positive duty to mitigate in personal injury actions; however, if a defendant argues a plaintiff may have reasonably avoided some of the loss, they bear the onus of proof: see para. 35. 

[124]        In situations where a plaintiff has not followed a course of recommended medical treatment, a defendant must prove two things: the plaintiff acted unreasonably in eschewing the recommended treatment, and the extent, if any, that the plaintiff’s damages would have been reduced had they acted reasonably: Chiu v. Chiu, 2002 BCCA 618, 8 B.C.L.R. (4th) 227 at para. 57, citing Janiak v. Ippolito, [1985] 1 S.C.R. 146.   In Chiu, the court of appeal overturned the trial judge’s decision to reduce damages by 10% on account of the plaintiff’s failure to mitigate his damages.  In overturning this part of the decision, the court stated that the defendant did not pursue cross examination of the plaintiff with respect to his failure to engage in counselling, nor did the defendant adduce any medical evidence demonstrating the consequences of the failure, on the part of the plaintiff, to obtain more counselling.  There was simply no evidence indicating the effect of counselling and whether it would have accelerated the plaintiff’s recovery or had other positive impacts. 

[125]        Conversely, in Briglio v. Faulkner, 1999 BCCA 361, 69 B.C.L.R. (2d) 122, rev’g , in part, 1996 Carswell BC 1818, the Court of Appeal upheld the trial judge’s decision to reduce the damages by 10%, as a result of the plaintiff’s failure to engage in a recommended exercise program.  At trial, the judge accepted medical evidence which stated that a structured exercise program would have assisted in the improvement of the plaintiff’s fibromyalgia condition.  The plaintiff’s failure to engage in such exercise “likely had some negative effect on her condition”: trial decision at para. 148. 

[126]        In Kero v. Love, 90 B.C.L.R. (2d) 299, CarswellBC 179 (C.A.), the Court of Appeal upheld a jury’s decision to deduct a 25% contingency ($40,000) from a damages award.  The court found that it was reasonable for the jury to make such a decision in light of the plaintiff’s failure to follow a prescribed exercise regime or seek alternative employment which would have been less stressful on his back. 

[127]        In the instant case, the defendant submitted that Ms. Kosoric failed to mitigate her loss through her failure to follow and adhere to an exercise routine, as outlined by her physicians and physiotherapists.  The defendant further argued that Ms. Kosoric was continually reminded of the need to continue with an exercise program and the likely (positive) effects of such a program.  Ms. Kosoric acknowledged, in cross examination, that her physiotherapist had told her that her spine strength could improve through exercise, which would assist her college studies with less disruption.  Furthermore, Drs. Mitha and le Nobel both instructed Ms. Kosoric, on a number of occasions, to engage in regular strength and conditioning exercises, as it was important for her recovery. 

[128]        Both physiotherapists who submitted reports for trial also made similar recommendations.  In his report, Mr. Rizzardo noted that he instructed Ms. Kosoric to adhere to an exercise program “constantly”, even when she was feeling “close to normal”.  Similarly, Ms. Guglielmini stated that Ms. Kosoric should continue with an exercise programme, involving three sessions per week over a 12 to 15 week period. 

[129]        In the period following the Accident, I acknowledge Ms. Kosoric’s life was difficult, in the sense that she had experienced a traumatic incident that had mental and physical impacts, her mother was diagnosed with cancer and she commenced a difficult and demanding educational program.  However, this does not absolve her of her duty to take reasonable steps to minimize her loss, particularly in light of the fact that the recommendation was conservative and would likely lead to reduced difficulties at school, work and in life generally.  I note that when Ms. Kosoric did perform exercise, there was no aggravation of her injuries nor did it cause additional pain. 

[130]        There is evidence that Ms. Kosoric did perform some exercise since the Accident, however, the evidence also demonstrates this was done infrequently over the past five years.  In her evidence, Ms. Kosoric admitted that the recommended exercise program was not a high priority for her during this period. 

[131]        Based on the evidence, I conclude that following a regular exercise programme would have had positive effects on Ms. Kosoric’s symptoms.  Since the medical evidence does not state the precise effectiveness of exercise, I must therefore determine what role this would have played in improving her symptoms: see Briglio, trial decision, at para. 149. 

[132]        I will take into account the plaintiff’s failure to adhere to an exercise routine in my assessment of non-pecuniary damages.


$115,000 Awarded in ICBC Low Velocity Impact (LVI) Claim

February 3rd, 2009

(Please note the case discussed in this post was overturned by the BC Court of Appeal in reasons for judgment released on September 21, 2010.  You can go to my September 2010 archives to read my summary of the BC Court of Appeal Decision)

Reasons for judgment were released today by the BC Supreme Court (Mariano v. Campbell) awarding a Plaintiff just over $115,000 as a result of injuries sustained in a 2006 rear end collision.

This was an ICBC Claim that apparently fit into ICBC’s Low Velocity Impact (LVI) Program.  The vehicles sustained modest damage and the ICBC Claims Lawyer defending the Claim argued the Low Velocity Impact defence.  The details of this are set out in paragraphs 33-41 of the judgment.

[33] The defendant says the accident was a low velocity impact claim.  The cost of repair for the Ms. Mariano’s 2005 Ford Escape was $1,712.96.  The cost of repair to Ms. Campbell’s 2000 Honda Civic was $3,714.07.

[34] The defendant argues that Ms. Mariano’s injuries should be consistent with a modest low impact accident and anything more than modest injuries from the accident are an unreasonable consequence.  Relying on Mustapha v. Culligan of Canada Ltd., 2008 SCC 27 at paras. 11-18, the defence argues that the injuries alleged are not a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the minor motor vehicle accident.

[35] Ms. Campbell was called by the defence presumably to testify that the collision was only a minor one.  However even Ms. Campbell admitted to sustaining whiplash injuries.

[36] Ms. Campbell was stopped in gridlocked traffic waiting for the traffic light to change.  When she saw the light turn green and traffic ahead of her starting to move, Ms. Campbell starting moving her vehicle.  When Ms. Mariano’s vehicle suddenly stopped, Ms. Campbell did not apply her brakes before she rear-ended the Ford.  When she got out of her vehicle, Ms. Campbell saw a stalled vehicle, one or two vehicles in front of her.

[37] Ms. Campbell could not estimate the speed of her vehicle at the time of impact but defence relies on her evidence that another car could not have fitted in between her vehicle and Ms. Mariano’s vehicle.  However, Ms. Campbell said that on the impact, she immediately felt pain in her neck, the middle of her back, and her right arm.  She went into shock and her whiplash injuries took three months to resolve.

[38] The defendant tried unsuccessfully to attack Ms. Mariano’s credibility and argues that because of the minimal impact, Ms. Mariano can only have suffered minimal injuries.  However I find Ms. Mariano a very credible witness.  She continues to work despite her symptoms.  The pain in her neck and shoulders prevents her from working the way she used to work, and from doing the things she used to enjoy doing.  She was unable to buy her sons a big pumpkin for Halloween as she had always done before because she is now unable to carry a big pumpkin.  Ms. Mariano became quite visibly distressed when she described the activities she can no longer participate in with her children because of her injuries or because she is now simply too tired at the end of the work day to do anything else.

[39] The defendant points to Ms. Mariano’s application for mortgage life and disability insurance where she filled in “March 2006” as the “date of the last episode” of neck pain and that Dr. Darby wrote a note to the insurance company indicating that Ms. Mariano had fully recovered from the accident with no complications or sequelae.

[40] The statements may not have been entirely accurate but it was understandable.  Ms. Mariano tried to put herself in the best light she could so that she could obtain, as she did before the accident, mortgage disability insurance with no exclusions.  The defendant’s negligence caused the insurance company to dramatically limit the mortgage disability insurance available to Ms. Mariano through no fault of her own.  The defendant should not be heard to be complaining too loudly.

[41] Terry Watson, an estimator for the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, testified that neither Ms. Mariano’s vehicle nor Ms. Campbell’s vehicle sustained structural damage.  However, the hood of Ms. Campbell’s vehicle collapsed and slid under the Ford Escape, striking the spare tire underneath.  Mr. Watson agreed that that the impact of the collision was likely not absorbed by the bumpers.

The Defendants ICBC Claims Lawyer went on to argue that minimal damages should be paid because more severe injuries are not reasonably foreseeable from a minor or modest collision.

Madame Justice Loo rejected the defence arguments and accepted that the Plaintiff was indeed injured in this collision.  The court found that the Plaintiff suffered soft tissue injuries which have resulted in chronic pain and that there was a chance that these symptoms would linger in the future.

Damages were awarded as follows:

1.  Non Pecuniary Damages: $30,000

2.  Past Wage Loss: $45,428.91

3.  Loss of Earning Capacity: $15,000

4.  Special Damages: $574.16

5.  Cost of future care: $1,000

6.  cost of re-training: $23,307


BC Personal Injury Claims and Sick Leave Benefits

January 24th, 2009

Imagine that you are injured through the fault of another in British Columbia.  As a result of your injuries you become disabled and are unable to return to work for a period of time.  Fortunately you have a good job and have built up a ‘sick bank’ at work and you are able to draw from this during your period of disability.  When you bring your claim against the person responsible for injuring you are you able to claim your lost wages?  Reasons for judgement were released yesterday by the BC Supreme Court addressing this issue.

In this case the Plaintiff was injured in 2005 in a motor vehicle collision.  The Plaintiff was unable to work for a few weeks as a result of injury.  The Plaintiff had built up a sick bank and drew from this.  In her ICBC claim she claimed compensation in an amount equivalent to the hours depleted from her sick bank.  In awarding the Plaintiff this money the court engaged in a very thorough and well reasoned discussion of the law addressing this topic which I am pleased to reproduce below:

[56]            This court has long recognized the loss of sick bank credits as a compensable loss (see generally: McCready v. Munroe (1965), 55 D.L.R. (2d) 338, 54 W.W.R. 65 (B.C.S.C.)).  InLavigne v. Doucet (1976), 14 N.B.R (2d) 700 at para. 12 (C.A.), the New Brunswick Court of Appeal held that the depletion of a plaintiff’s accumulated sick leave arising from injuries suffered in an accident removed a benefit that he or she would otherwise have and, therefore, constitutes a genuine loss.  That conceptual approach was approved of by McLachlin J. (now the Chief Justice) in Ratych v. Bloomer, [1990] 1 S.C.R. 940 at 972, 69 D.L.R. (4th) 25:

I accept that if an employee can establish that he or she has suffered a loss in exchange for obtaining wages during the time he or she could not work, the employee should be compensated for that loss. Thus in Lavigne v. Doucet the New Brunswick Court of Appeal quite rightly allowed damages for loss of accumulated sick benefits.

[57]            Some years later the issue was revived before the Supreme Court of Canada in Cunningham v. Wheeler, [1994] 1 S.C.R. 359, 113 DLR (4th) 1, where Cory J. confirmed at 13 that an employee who uses sick leave in order to receive wages while off work and loses those sick day credits is entitled to receive compensation.

[58]            In Roberts v. Earthy, 1995 CanLII 1421 (B.C.S.C.) [Roberts], Clancy J. held at para. 8 that it was not necessary to adduce evidence showing that any consideration was paid by the plaintiff or negotiated on the plaintiff’s behalf through a collective agreement or other employment arrangement.  He did so on the basis that the accumulation of sick days is not related to what has come to be known as the insurance exception to the compensatory principle where such supporting evidence is generally required.

[59]            The case authorities do not appear to support a universal approach to the quantification of the loss flowing from the depletion of sick leave benefits.  For example, in Collins v. Ma, 1990 CanLII 1634 (B.C.S.C.), the court endorsed a contingency calculation being applied in order to take into consideration the likelihood of an employee drawing on the lost banked sick days in the future.  That approach was followed by the court in Olson v. Nixon, [1991] B.C.J. No. 155, 1991 CarswellBC 1346 (S.C.).

[60]            In Roberts, however, Clancy J. made no deduction for contingencies.  Likewise, more recently in Choromanski v. Malaspina University College, 2002 BCSC 771, the court rejected the defence argument that there should be a  reduction of the loss taken based on the plaintiff’s work history and the rate at which he had traditionally availed himself of his sick benefits. 

[61]            In my view, whether it is appropriate to make deductions for contingencies in quantifying the loss will depend upon the presence or absence of certain factors.  Those would include, for example, whether there is a maximum limit of accumulated sick leave, whether the plaintiff is able to cash out accumulated sick leave days on termination or retirement, whether the plaintiff has several years of employment remaining in which to potentially use the sick leave or has only a few months of employment left until retirement with a significant sick leave remaining, or whether the plaintiff has left the employment in which he earned the sick day credits altogether.  It cannot be predicted with any degree of certainty whether a person who is healthy today will be so tomorrow.  Illness or injury can afflict any one of us at any time.  Placing much if any reliance on the plaintiff’s past use of sick benefits strikes me as an unsound and potentially unfair approach because it fails to adequately protect a plaintiff against an unexpected serious or catastrophic illness in the future which could occur in any otherwise healthy plaintiff, or against a future injury, which, by its nature, is unpredictable.  In neither case would those future events necessarily be related to the plaintiff’s past use of sick benefits.

[62]            I accept that had Ms. Fenwick not used her sick leave credits, she would have been entitled to transfer them from her then employer, the Vancouver School Board, to her new employer, the Coquitlam School Board.  As well I am satisfied that, pursuant to her collective agreement, any monies awarded to Ms. Fenwick on account of lost sick days is repayable to her then employer in order to replenish her sick leave bank.  Beyond that, the evidence pertaining to the details of the portability of Ms. Fenwick’s sick day credits was not well developed.  I do not have cogent evidence as to whether there is a maximum number of sick days allowable, the formula for which she has earned them or whether she is able to cash them out on retirement or termination.

[63]            As best I can decipher from the evidence, the loss that Ms. Fenwick has sustained is a potential future loss in the sense that it would only be experienced if she has insufficient sick leave credits to adequately cover a future period of absence due to illness in respect of which she could have drawn upon the lost sick bank for income continuation.

[64]            Ms. Fenwick thoroughly exhausted her accumulated sick leave as a result of the accident.  She is a relatively young woman in the early stages of her career as a teacher.  I have found that she likely will experience flare-ups of her symptoms caused by this accident from time to time in the future which may require her to miss brief intervals of time from work.  She may also suffer from other illness or medical conditions in the future which will keep her from work. 

[65]            I am satisfied that fair and reasonable damages for this loss is compensation which reflects the actual hours Ms. Fenwick missed from work and used as sick time, multiplied by her approximate average hourly rate, without deduction.  To that, I would add her wage loss stemming from fifteen hours of unpaid absences attributable to her injuries.  The total damages amount to $5,469.18.

[66]            Ms. Fenwick’s counsel raised a concern about whether damages for Ms. Fenwick’s lost sick bank entitlement could be validly characterized as pre-trial earnings or income and thereby attract a deduction for income tax pursuant to sections 95 and 98 of the Insurance (Vehicle) Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 231.  In my view, this kind of loss is not in the character of past wage loss.  Accordingly, there will be no deduction for income tax


Can I Fire My ICBC Claims Lawyer?

October 29th, 2008

If you hired a lawyer to advance your ICBC tort claim on a contingency basis and are unsatisfied with the representation you are receiving, can you fire your lawyer?  The short answer is yes.

You are the client, you are in charge.   If you don’t like how your lawyer is handling your case you can send him/her packing.  HOWEVER, it will probably cost you money to do so.

Over the years I’ve been approached by numerous people indicating they wish to fire their current lawyer. My advice is almost always the same so I thought I would share it on this blog post.  Try to work things out with your lawyer.  Hiring a new lawyer means paying a new lawyer.  You want to avoid getting stuck with 2 legal bills for 1 Personal Injury claim if you can avoid it.  Often times the problems that strain the lawyer-client relationship are fixable.  Sit down with your lawyer, communicate your concerns and see if you can work out a solution.  If you can’t work things out then you can of course move on.  You need confidence in your lawyer to work towards a fair settlement of your ICBC claim.

If you want to fire your lawyer the first thing you should do is check your fee agreement.  A well written fee agreement will deal with how you can end your relationship with your lawyer and the consequences.  Often times a contingency fee lawyer will finance disbursements (expenses) involved in advancing an ICBC claim.  If you get a new lawyer you (or your new lawyer) will need to pay these expenses in order to get the file.

Arrangements will also have to be made to secure your former lawyer’s fees.   Often times the fee agreement will permit the lawyer to charge you an hourly rate for the work done prior to termination.  Other times the lawyer will be able to look at the final settlement amount and charge a fee based on how much his/her efforts contributed to the final settlement.  Typically a fired lawyer in these circumstances is prepared to wait until the case is settled to collect their fees but the disbursements usually need to be paid right away.

If you don’t think the lawyer is charging a fair fee for services you can have the lawyer’s account reviewed by a registrar of the Supreme Court.

If you don’t like your lawyer the  Bottom Line is this – Try to work things out, if you can’t, review your fee agreement and determine what your financial obligations to your lawyer will be.  From there get a lawyer that you trust and respect, if you don’t have confidence in your lawyer you will have a tough time working towards a fair settlement of your ICBC injury claim.


Appeal of $70,000 Soft Tissue Injury Claim Dismissed

October 14th, 2008

In reasons for judgement released today, the BC Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal of a $70,000 award of damages as a result of 2004 BC car accident.

The case possibly fit into ICBC’s LVI criteria based on the fact that the trial judge found that the ‘force applied to the Plaintiff as a resultof the collisions to her rear was actually very little indeed.’

The Plaintiff sued claiming various injuries including soft tissue injury, depression, anxiety, irremediable personality change, brain damage, concussion, post-consussion syndromne, post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain syndrome.  The Trial Judge recjected the medical diasnoses of brain injury, PTSD and post-concussion Syndrome.  In rejecting some of the alleged injuries the trial judge found that the Plaintiff was ‘unreliable’ as a witness.

The Plaintiff sought damages of over $1.7 Million.  Given the trial judges findings a total of $70,000 in damages was awarded.

The Plaintiff appealed arguing tha the trial judge disregarded the evidence of four lay witnesses and three expert witnesses.  The Plaintiff also argued that the trial judge should have confronted the Plaintiff during the trial to address the court’s concerns with her reliability.

The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal.  In doing so the court found that the trial judge did not disregard the evidence and had this to say about ‘confronting’ the Plaintiff

(a)  Confronting the Plaintiff

[33]            The plaintiff maintains that the rule established in the case of Browne v. Dunn (1893), 6 R. 67 (H.L.) applies to trial judges as well as opposing parties.  The rule is that “if you intend to impeach a witness you are bound, whilst he is in the box, to give him an opportunity of making any explanation which is open to him” (at 70).  The plaintiff says that, before determining that the plaintiff was lying, the trial judge was required to put that proposition to the plaintiff while she was testifying.

[34]            The plaintiff cites no authority to the effect that the rule in Browne v. Dunn applies to judges.  This is hardly surprising because such a rule would be antithetical to the role of a judge in Canada.  In this country, we have an adversarial system, not an inquisitorial one.

[35]            Such a rule would be unworkable with respect to judges in our system.  Judges are required to be fair and impartial, and are expected to hear all of the evidence before making final decisions on the credibility of witnesses.  They should not be required to confront a witness if they are concerned that there is any possibility that, after hearing all of the evidence, they may not accept all of the testimony given by the witness.

[36]            The rule in Browne v. Dunn is not suited for application to judges.  The rule stipulates that if the opposing party is intending to introduce evidence contradicting the testimony of a witness, such evidence should be put to the witness so that he or she will have an opportunity to provide an explanation.  What is being suggested in this case is not that anticipated evidence be put to the witness, but that the judge should confront the witness with the possibility that the judge may conclude that the witness is not credible.  That is not the rule in Browne v. Dunn – the rule does not require opposing counsel to confront a witness with the proposition that the witness is being untruthful before making submissions to the judge at the end of the trial that the witness should be found not to be credible.

[37]            In addition, the rule in Browne v. Dunn has not been treated as an absolute rule.  Evidence contradicting a witness’s testimony may be admitted despite a failure to put it to the witness, and the failure goes to the weight to be given to the evidence.  This feature of the rule is not adaptable to judges.

[38]            The plaintiff says the case of Volzhenin v. Haile, 2007 BCCA 317, 70 B.C.L.R. (4th) 15, is an example of what a trial judge is supposed to do in confronting a witness about whose credibility the judge has reservations.  The ground of appeal in that case was that the plaintiff had not been given a fair trial because, among other things, “the trial judge intervened excessively, thus giving an inquisitorial aspect to the trial that detracted from the disinterested and impartial hearing to which he was entitled” (paragraph 14).  In dismissing the appeal, this Court was not recommending the approach taken by the judge in that case.  It simply held that the judge had not “improperly interjected himself into the hearing, or otherwise created an appearance of an unfair trial” (paragraph 25).  Indeed, Volzhenin v. Haile illustrates the type of problem that could arise if judges were required to confront witnesses about their veracity.

 


ICBC Claims and Credibility

October 8th, 2008

Interesting reasons for judgement were handed down today following a 2 day trial in Vancouver.

The Plaintiff was a passenger on a bus.  The bus was involved in a collision in 2005.  Fault for the accident was admitted by the negligent motorist.  Upon impact the Plaintiff apparently ‘fell from his seat behind the driver of the bus onto the floor, allegedly injuring his hips and shoulder’.

In most ICBC claims the credibility of the injured party is of great imporatance.  In this case the Plaintiff’s credibiilty was closely scrutinized.  In the course of advancing his ICBC claim he gave false information to ICBC contrary to s. 42.1(2)(a) of the Insurance (Motor Vehicle) Act.  He was charged for this, plead guilty and was fined.

The Plaintiff admitted that he had lied to various persons including officials from ICBC, to his family doctor and to his phyisiotherpist.  During his examination for discovery the Plaintiff admitted to lying at least 6 times.

Notwithstanding all of this, the court found that the Plaintiff suffered a shoulder injury in the bus accident.  MR. Justice made the following findings:

[39] In light of the history of this claim, Gabrilo’s admitted lies, and conviction for those lies, I accept that the evidence concerning the present claim must be carefully, if not scrupulously, examined.  On balance, however, I accept that Gabrilo hurt his shoulder in the Accident.  ….

[46] In summary, the Plaintiff is entitled to damages arising from the Accident.  I am satisfied that the claim arising from his shoulder injury is one that, in the ordinary course of events, would likely have resolved by trial.  While he may have ongoing symptoms, it has not been shown that these symptoms were caused by the original Accident.  Thus, in my view, he is entitled to damages based only on a claim where the symptoms would have resolved by trial.

The court awarded $13,000 for the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages.

This case is worth reading for anyone interested in how issues of credibility come into play when advancing an ICBC claim.


Close to $900,000 Awarded for Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (MTBI)

October 1st, 2008

Following a trial that lasted over 6 weeks, reasons for judgement were released today awarding a Plaintiff close to $900,000 in damages as a result of a 2002 car crash that occurred in Vancouver, BC.

The Plaintiff, while stopped at a red light, was rear-ended by a Ford F150 pick up truck.  The force of the collision was found to be ‘sufficiently strong to cause the plaintiff to suffer bruising across his chest where the seat-belt had restrained him’.  The Plaintiff was able to drive away from the scene.

The Defendant did not admit fault but was found 100% at fault for this rear-end car crash.

The Plaintiff alleged various serious injuries including a Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (MTBI), Post Concussion Syndrome, Tinnitus, Dizziness, Loss of Balance and Depression.

The defence denied these injuries and insisted that the Plaintiff’s complaints were exaggerated.

The Plaintiff’s claim was largely accepted.  The court found that the Plaintiff ‘indeed suffered a mild traumatic brain injury which has resulted in a constellation of problems including a post concussion syndrome, a cognitive disorder, a major depressive disorder with anxiety, a pain disorder; and the significant exacerbation of his tinnitus.’

In the end the Court assessed damages as follows:

(i)

General damages – non-pecuniary

$200,000.00

(ii)

Past loss of income

$171,250.00

(iii)

Future loss of income earning capacity

$400,000.00

(iv)

Loss of opportunity

$10,000.00

(v)

Special damages

$26,955.75

(vi)

Costs of future care

$77,449.00

(vii)

Management and Tax Gross up

(to be determined)

This case is worth reviewing for anyone advancing an ICBC injury claim involving a mild traumatic brain injury.  Madam Justice Boyd engages in a thoughtful discussion of the competing medical evidence and provides articulate reasons why the Plaintiff’s physicians opinions were preferred over those of the Defence experts.

The court also makes interesting commentary on Waddell Signs starting at paragraph 34 of the reasons, particularly that:

[34] The defence also stressed the findings of Dr. Sovio, the orthopaedic surgeon retained by the defence, who examined Young in January 2006.  He concluded the plaintiff had exhibited significant exaggeration of his symptomology during several tests- thus exhibiting a number of positive Waddell signs.  As he put it, the plaintiff’s perception of his symptoms did not match the findings on physical examination.  The defence relies heavily on this opinion to support a finding the plaintiff is guilty of malingering or symptom exaggeration.

[35] I accept both Dr. Coen’s, and Dr. Rathbone’s evidence that the Waddell signs are notoriously unreliable for detecting malingering.  As Dr. Rathbone testified, the Waddell signs are “distinctly unreliable” in cases where the patient suffers depression.  Indeed the literature presented to Dr. Sovio at trial echoed that warning.  In cross-examination, Dr. Sovio adopted the extract from the SPINE journal (Exhibit 67, Tab 6, SPINE Volume 23, Number 21, pp. 2367-2371) to the effect that non organic signs cannot be interpreted in isolation.  He accepted the following summary at the outset of that article:

Behavioural responses to examination provide useful clinical information, but need to be interpreted with care and understanding.  Isolated signs should not be overinterpreted.  Multiple signs suggest that the patient does not have a straightforward physical problem, but that psychological factors also need to be considered.  …Behavioural signs should be understood as responses affected by fear in the context of recovery from injury and the development of chronic incapacity.  They offer only a psychological ‘yellow-flag’ and not a complete psychological assessment.  Behavioural signs are not on their own a test of credibility or faking.

Of course, as I will later note, in early 2006 the plaintiff was significantly depressed.  I have no doubt that any number of psychological factors were at play in the course of Dr. Sovio’s examination which may well have presented as the non-organic signs detected.  However, I do not conclude that the plaintiff was deliberately malingering or exaggerating his symptoms during that examination.


$40,000 Pain and Suffering for Neck, Back and Shoulder Soft Tissue Injuries

September 29th, 2008

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court awarding a Plaintiff close to $90,000 in damages as a result of a 2005 collision.

The Plaintiff was 25 at the time of the BC car crash.  He was not at fault for the crash and the trial focussed exclusively on the issue of damages.

The court heard from a variety of experts.  The court also viewed surveillance footage of the Plaintiff playing hockey and doing other physical activities.  Such surveillance footage often comes to light at the trial of ICBC claims, particularly those inovlving on-going soft tissue injuries.

In awarding $40,000 for non-pecuniary damages (pain and suffering) the court made the following findings:

[15] I am persuaded by the evidence to conclude on the balance of probabilities that (the Plaintiff) suffered a flexion extension injury to the soft tissues of his neck, back and shoulder.  Considering the persistent difficulty that he has had with his lower back, the injury is fairly described as moderate in nature.  (the Plaintiff) had back trouble related to his rugby injury and on occasion his extremely heavy work load prior to his injury for which he sought treatment, but I accept his evidence that his previous back problems were intermittent and less severe before the accident.  (the Plaintiff) had already given up rugby and snowboarding prior to his injury.  His ability to play in-line hockey demonstrates that he does not have a functional disability, his problem is that demanding activities can cause the onset of significant pain.

[16] I accept Dr. Travlos’ opinion that:

He will likely still experience intermittent pain flare ups, but should be capable of reasonable physical activity.  He will learn to avoid certain recreational activities and certain types of work activities in order to manage his pains and by doing so should have reasonable pain control.

As I have noted earlier, (the Plaintiff) had pain in his back prior to the collision and would have had it in the future if the collision had not occurred, but his motor vehicle injuries have increased his susceptibility to back pain and made that back pain worse when it occurs.  I assess (the Plaintiff’s) claim for general damages for pain and suffering which has been and will be caused by his motor vehicle injuries above and beyond that which he would have had had he not been so injured at $40,000.