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 ‘Madam Justice Ballance’

$85,000 Non-Pecuniary Assessment for Chronic Persisting Headaches

June 13th, 2016

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, assessing damages for long standing headaches caused by a vehicle collision.

In today’s case (Woelders v. Gaudette) the Plaintiff was involved in a rear end collision that the Defendant admitted fault for.  The Plaintiff suffered a variety of injuries some of which recovered and some of which did not.  By the time of trial, some 8 years following the collision, the Plaintiff continued to suffer with ongoing headaches and associated symptoms which were expected to continue into the future.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $85,000 Madam Justice Ballance provided the following reasons:

[150]     Ms. Woelders was 31 years old when the Accident happened.  For more than six years, she has been plagued by headaches and pain in her neck/upper back/right shoulder region and in her face and jaw, together with a simmering muscle tension that can transform into pain.  The intensity and frequency of Ms. Woelders’ chronic symptoms have declined over the years and her overall condition has improved in large measure due to her sheer grit and determination (to her credit) coupled with her diligent rehabilitation efforts and implementation of pain management strategies.  Even so, and while there is a slim chance she may enjoy some marginal improvement going forward, her symptoms are enduring and continue to be problematic and remain susceptible to exacerbation by commonplace tasks and maneuvers at work, at home and recreationally.

[151]     The ill‑effects of the Accident have negatively impacted the quality and enjoyment of Ms. Woelders’ interactions with her children.  She experienced pain and difficulty nursing her youngest and lifting and carrying both her children.  She is reluctant to pick them up for fear she will trigger her symptoms.  She goes through much of her life on-guard, evaluating whether certain movements will activate her symptoms and trying to make the modifications that may be required.

[152]     Ms. Woelders is from a close‑knit family.  Since the Accident, she has curtailed her participation in family gatherings, has all but ceased organizing them, and feels the need to leave get‑togethers early when her symptoms flare.

[153]     I accept the evidence of Ms. Woelders’ twin sister, Ann Pimentel, to the effect that Ms. Woelders was in peak physical condition before the Accident.  Ms. Pimentel spoke with emotion about how her sister’s injuries have visibly aged her and that she had lost her “spark” after the Accident.  Ms. Woelders’ husband and mother gave similar testimony, which I also accept.

[154]     Ms. Woelders’ formerly high-energy and optimistic personality has been overshadowed by a less positive, more serious self with less energy and spark.  I accept her mother’s evidence that she has recently made a point of taking the children after school on Fridays primarily because her daughter is drained at the end of the work week and needs time to rest and rejuvenate.

[155]     The medical evidence indicates that Ms. Woelders will be prone to headaches and periods of aggravation of her unresolved symptoms for years to come, and likely indefinitely to one degree or another.  In prior cases, I have observed that enduring pain, even when it is intermittent, can compel unfavourable adjustments to one’s work life and lifestyle and cloud the pleasures of life, as it clearly has in Ms. Woelders’ case.  Taking care to not aggravate her residual symptoms and trying to manage her pain, even during the times that things seem to be under control, has become part of Ms. Woelders’ everyday life or, as she aptly put it, her “new normal”.  This is an unwelcome new reality for Ms. Woelders and her family.

[156]     Ms. Woelders finds certain kinds of housework difficult.  Although she continues to perform most of her pre‑Accident share of the housekeeping, it is not done to her pre‑Accident standards.  The evidence concerning her compromised housekeeping capacity was under‑developed at trial.  I accept that she has impairments in this regard but am not persuaded that they justify a stand-alone award of damages as Ms. Woelders has urged.  Instead, I have considered it as a factor in the assessment of her non-pecuniary damages.

[157]     I have reviewed the authorities placed before me by counsel.  The cases submitted by the defendant are, for the most part, factually distinguishable in material ways and are less instructive than those relied by Ms. Woelders.  In any event, the case law only provides rough guidelines for what is, at its core, a highly individualized assessment: Karim v. Li, 2015 BCSC 498 at para. 120.  Having regard to the Stapley factors and to the other case authorities in the context of the evidence in the case at hand, in my opinion, a fair and reasonable award for Ms. Woelders’ non-pecuniary damages is $85,000.


$70,000 Non-Pecuniary Assessment for Chronic Neck and Back Soft Tissue Injuries

February 3rd, 2016

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, assessing non-pecuniary damages at $70,000 for chronic soft tissue injuries.

In today’s case (Suthakar v. Humble) the Plaintiff was involved in a rear end collision in 2011.  She sustained soft tissue injuries to neck, low back and shoulder.  The court accepted that the low back injury likely involved her sacroiliac complex.  The Plaintiff remained symptomatic at the time of trial  and her symptoms were expected to persist causing some interference in her daily functioning.

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

[118]     For several years now Ms. Suthakar has struggled with residual symptoms in her neck, left shoulder and low back.  Although her symptoms have improved over time and she may enjoy some modest additional improvement in the next while, they have nonetheless persisted and are susceptible to being exacerbated as a result of her work activities and daily domestic duties.  Her nagging pain leaves her exhausted at the end of her work shift.  When she arrives home, she is usually not able to do much of anything beyond taking a hot shower and resting on the couch with a hot pack.  Fortunately for Ms. Suthakar, her symptoms are manageable without medication on her days off.

[119]     The ill‑effects of the Accident have adversely impacted the quality and enjoyment of Ms. Suthakar’s interactions with her sons.  She is not able to play with them in the same way as before and is quick to anger.  Also of significance for this young woman is that her injuries have interfered with her intimate relationship with her husband.

[120]     In prior cases, I have observed that enduring pain, even when it is intermittent and mostly low-grade, can compel unwelcome adjustments to one’s work life and lifestyle and cloud the pleasures of life, as it has in Ms. Suthakar’s case.  Working in pain during the majority of her shifts has become part of Ms. Suthakar’s everyday work life and is likely to continue for many years to come, if not indefinitely.

[121]     I have reviewed the authorities placed before me by counsel.  The cases submitted by Ms. Suthakar’s counsel are more instructive than those relied on by the defendants.  In any event, the case law only provides general guidelines for what is, at its core, a highly individualized assessment.

[122]     Having regard to the Stapley factors and the other case authorities in the context of the evidence in the case at hand, in my opinion, a fair and reasonable award for Ms. Suthakar’s non-pecuniary damages is $70,000.


“Short Fuse” Formal Settlement Offer Triggers Double Costs

October 22nd, 2014

Reasons for judgment were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, addressing whether a formal settlement offer open for only 3 days could trigger costs consequences.

In today’s case (Henry v. Bennett) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2008 collision and sued for damages.  The claim was ultimately dismissed with the Plaintiff being at fault for the crash.  Prior to the trial the Defendant provided a formal offer of $30,000 which was only open for acceptance for three days.

The Plaintiff argued that the offer should not attract double costs in part due to its short window.  Madam Justice Ballance disagreed finding given the significant liability risks at trial it was a reasonable offer.  In addressing its short lifespan not being a barrier the Court provided the following reasons:

[41]         I would ordinarily regard a three-day fuse attached to an offer that was delivered close to the eve of trial, where it would be expected that the party would be engrossed in the demands of trial preparation, as posing an unreasonable time constraint within which to give it meaningful evaluation.  The difficulty facing Mr. Henry, however, is that due mainly to his own damaging discovery evidence, he ought reasonably to have anticipated that he faced significant exposure of not only faring poorly on the issue of liability, but losing his case altogether.  Knowing, as he did, his harmful evidence, Mr. Henry should have appreciated the deep weakness of his claim and the risk of significant apportionment against him or the outright dismissal of his suit and his exposure for an adverse costs award.  All things considered, the 2011 Offer was one that ought reasonably to have been accepted by Mr. Henry.

[42]         With respect to other the pertinent factors, in dismissing Mr. Henry’s case, the Court placed heavy emphasis on his discovery evidence concerning liability for the accident.  Relatively little is known about Mr. Henry’s specific financial circumstances.  Based on the evidence at trial, it is reasonable to infer that his financial situation is modest.  However, that, of itself or in combination with any other factor, is not reason enough in this case to refuse the defendant an award of double costs.

[43]         The defendant is entitled to costs of this proceeding at Scale B up to and including March 8, 2011, and double costs thereafter.


“Walk Away” Offer Fails to Trigger Double Costs in Liability Trial

July 30th, 2014

Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, addressing a defence application for double costs after a Plaintiff’s personal injury claim was dismissed.

In this week’s case (Miller v. Emil Anderson Co. Ltd.) the Plaintiff was involved in a motor vehicle collision alleging that an unidentified vehicle contributed to the incident.  Prior to trial the Defendant made a formal settlement offer of $1 which “expressed the defendants’ belief that the Court would conclude that Mr. Miller had suffered no compensable injury.”

Ultimately the Plaintiff’s claim was rejected with the Court concluding that “memory and perception of the key events preceding his loss of control of his vehicle were not reliable.”.  Despite this the Court found the walk-away offer was not reasonable as the plaintiff had a sincere belief in his perception of the event and that “ had he accepted the defendants’ offer, he would have been giving up, without adjudication, a claim that he believed had merit“.

In dismissing the Defendant’s request for double costs Madam Justice Ballance provided the following reasons:

[15]                      In the present case, Mr. Miller proceeded upon his hypothesis as to how the accident occurred, including the purported role of another vehicle.  He tendered no expert evidence in the field of engineering and/or accident reconstruction in support of his theory.  In weighing the evidence, I concluded that Mr. Miller had not proved his case on a balance of probabilities.  In reaching that conclusion, I found that his memory and perception of the key events preceding his loss of control of his vehicle were not reliable.

[16]                      Despite the frailties in Mr. Miller’s testimony and his faulty recall of events, I did not doubt that Mr. Miller’s perception of events, including his theory as to how the accident occurred, was sincere.  He did not attempt to mislead or deceive the Court.  Had he accepted the defendants’ offer, he would have been giving up, without adjudication, a claim that he believed had merit.  A belief that was neither groundless nor frivolous…

[18]                      The Offer is to be considered in the context of a serious liability issue where neither side called expert engineering or accident reconstruction evidence in relation to the pivotal issue of what had caused the accident.  Mr. Miller was aware that he and the defendants held conflicting versions of the material events and that there was a risk that, if the Court found that the evidence did not support his case, his action would be dismissed.  However, it does not follow that the nominal Offer ought reasonably to have been accepted by Mr. Miller at any time.  As was the case in Stuart, the Offer provided nothing to Mr. Miller in relation to the claim itself and proffered little meaningful benefit to him.

[19]                      The evidence indicates that Mr. Miller was in his early 70s at the time of the accident and was retired or semi-retired from prospecting.  Beyond that, there was no cogent evidence of his financial circumstances and I am therefore unable to agree with his counsel’s submission that it was clear he is impecunious.

[20]                      Although Mr. Miller ultimately failed to make out his case on a balance of probabilities, I would not characterize his refusal to accept the Offer as unreasonable.

[21]                      Weighing the pertinent factors and giving the most weight to the fact that I am unable to say that it was unreasonable for Mr. Miller to refuse the Offer, I consider it a fair exercise of my discretion to decline to order double costs.  An award of costs at Scale B in favour of the defendants is appropriate in this case and will likely be of significant consequence to Mr. Miller.

[22]                      Accordingly, the defendants’ application for double costs is dismissed.  They will have their costs at Scale B.


$130,000 Non Pecuniary Assessment for Chronic Fibromyalgia

July 2nd, 2013

Adding to this site’s archived ICBC fibromyalgia cases, reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry dealing with such an injury.

In last week’s case (SR v. Trasolini) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2007 rear end collision.  Fault was admitted by the Defendant.  Although causation was vigorously contested, the Court conclude the collision caused a fibromyalgia condition which left the plaintiff partially disabled with chronic symptoms.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $130,000 Madam Justice Ballance provided the following reasons:

[169]      The injuries sustained by Ms. R. have caused her years of suffering, fluctuating degrees of chronic pain all over her body that is sometimes quite severe, and the concomitant diminution of joy and pleasure to most aspects of her life.  Although her symptoms have gradually improved, particularly in the year or so leading up to trial, they remain sufficiently significant to continue to meet the diagnosis of fibromyalgia.  The expert opinion evidence that I accept is skeptical that Ms. R. will ever fully recover to her former self despite her completion of the Pain Program, commitment to physiotherapy and other treatment modalities and reasonable exercise when she is able.

[170]     A formerly outgoing, sociable and highly energized and engaged woman, Ms. R. is now more reclusive and has had to lean heavily on her aging mother to perform her share of household chores and, for about a six-month period, to assume most of her personal grooming.  She worries about her future, including how she will be able to care for her elderly mother in the passing years.

[171]     The Accident has left Ms. R. to confront the grim reality that she has an incurable and complex syndrome that manifests as chronic pain and an array of other unwelcome physical, psychological and cognitive impairments.  For years to come, possibly indefinitely, she will be vulnerable to episodic aggravation of her physical symptoms, which in turn, will disrupt her sleep and produce an adverse effect on her overall emotional and cognitive well-being.  The person she was before the Accident has been forever altered.

[172]     While the toll taken on Ms. R. by the ill-effects of the Accident have been life- altering domestically, emotionally, recreationally, socially and vocationally, the most deleterious consequence for her is that it has limited her ability to fully realize her most passionate of life’s goals, namely to serve her faith.

[173]     I have reviewed all of the cases placed before me by counsel.  I do not propose to review them in detail as they provide general guidelines only, other than to say that only one of the authorities relied on by the defendants involved a plaintiff afflicted with fibromyalgia or a chronic pain syndrome.  Ms. R.’s authorities are far more instructive in light of their factual similarities to her circumstances; even still, they are not determinative.

[174]     Having considered the evidence as a whole and the application of the governing principles, it is my opinion that a fair and reasonable award for Ms. R.’s non-pecuniary damages is $130,000.


Bus Driver Negligent For Injuries Caused in "No-Impact" Incident

December 18th, 2012

As highlighted earlier this year, a motorist can be found negligent for injuries caused to a passenger even in the absence of a collision.  If a motorist makes an abrupt movement causing injuries to occupants liability can follow if the abrupt movement falls below the expected standard of care.  Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, addressing such an incident.

In last week’s case (Erickson v. Sibble) the Plaintiff was riding as a passenger in the Defendant’s bus.  As he approached an intersection he brought his vehicle to an abrupt stop to avoid running a red light.  The sudden breaking caused injuries to the Plaintiff.  In finding the bus driver negligent and liable for the injuries sustained in this ‘no-impact’ incident Madam Justice Ballance provided the following reasons:

[62]         I have found that Mr. Sibble made the following oral and written statements:

·       he apologized to Ms. Erickson and Ms. da Silva for the manner of the stop and declared that he did not want to get a “red light” ticket;

·       he told Ms. Erickson that he had applied the “emergency brake”, by which he was referring to the maxi-break, at the time of the stop;

·       the statements that Mr. Pearson captured in his incident report and those that Mr. Pearson testified about, as detailed above; and

·       that he had stopped “a little harder than normal”, as recorded in his incident report.

[63]         Mr. Sibble’s statements constitute admissions and are admissible against him, either as admissions against interest or as an exception to the hearsay rule:  R. v. Evans, [1993] 3 S.C.R. 653; R. v. Foreman (2002), 169 C.C.C. (3rd) 489 (Ont. C.A.); R. v. Mapara, 2005 SCC 23.  If admitted on the latter basis, I find that the requisite features of reliability and necessity are present.  Under either doctrine, his admissions are admitted for their truth.

[64]         I am satisfied that from the outset of Ms. Erickson’s journey, Mr. Sibble’s driving pattern was erratic, by which I mean that he engaged in a pattern of acceleration and braking that caused the bus to lurch and jerk as it travelled along.

[65]         The evidence establishes that the bus was moving at not less than 40 kilometres per hour on its approach to the Intersection, and when Mr. Sibble was a distance of ten or, at most, fifteen metres from it, he became aware that the light was amber.  The evidence supports the inference that when he noticed the amber light, he could not be sure how long it had been that colour, and was therefore concerned that he was approaching the Intersection on a stale amber that was about to turn red.  Mr. Sibble was concerned about whether he had enough time to stop safely or sufficient time to proceed through.  He anticipated that were he to opt for the latter, the light could change to red and he might get a “red light” ticket.  By the time Mr. Sibble elected to stop, the bus was even closer to the Intersection than when he had first noticed the amber light.

[66]         I accept that, at first Mr. Sibble braked “softly”.  However, it became readily apparent to him that despite his braking efforts, the front of the bus was moving over the crosswalk and trespassing into the Intersection.  The probabilities of the situation show that in recognizing this unwelcome state of affairs, Mr. Sibble applied the brakes suddenly and with much greater force, equivalent to slamming hard on the brakes, to prevent the bus from ingressing further into the Intersection.  I think it is more likely than not that he also drew on the maxi-brake in a misguided attempt to fortify the conventional braking.

[67]         Mr. Sibble’s sudden and vigorous braking caused the bus to come to an abnormally abrupt and jarring stop.  The stop was not in the nature of a movement that would fall within the normal range reasonably expected by the transit travelling public, as was the case for example in Sawatsky v. Romanchuk, [1979] B.C.J. No. 964 (S.C.).  There was no reason, such as a pedestrian stepping out in front of the bus or a vehicle unexpectedly appearing or threatening to appear in Mr. Sibble’s oath, so as to justify stepping on the brakes with such sudden and excessive force.  Even by jamming on the brakes, Mr. Sibble was not able to stop the bus until approximately one-third of its length had intruded into the Intersection.

[68]         I find that Mr. Sibble glanced into his interior mirror as soon as he had made the stop to ensure that his passengers were safe precisely because he knew that the stop had been abnormally abrupt.  It is not clear why at that time he did not see evidence of Ms. Erickson’s mishap.

[69]         The evidence supports a finding that had Mr. Sibble been maintaining a proper lookout and exercising due care and attention as he advanced on this major intersection, he would not have been “caught short” in the sense of not having sufficient time to safely stop or proceed through safely before the light turned red.  The evidence as a whole supports the conclusion that he failed to exercise the due care and attention and otherwise conduct himself in a manner reasonably expected of a prudent bus operator in all of the circumstances.  Stated another way, I find that the Accident would not have occurred just the same had Mr. Sibble acted in accordance with his standard of care in discharge of the high duty that he owed to Ms. Erickson.


Defence Expert Opinion Rejected for "Compromised Objectivity"

May 24th, 2012

As previously discussed, the law in BC provides expert witnesses with immunity when they provide negligent opinions in the medico-legal context.  This gap in the law is unfortunate and has been done away with in the UK.  Unless BC follows suit, the only meaningful avenue in discouraging “advocate” expert evidence is judicial rebuke.

To this end I have been highlighting judicial criticism when it arises with respect to expert opinion evidence.  Adding to this collection are reasons for judgement released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, dismissing an expert’s opinion concluding it would be “unsafe for the Court to put any stock in his opinion“.

In this week’s case (Sooch v. Snell) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2006 collision in Kelowna, BC.   He sustained soft tissue injuries to his neck and shoulder and was awarded $45,000 for his non-pecuniary damages.  In the course of the lawsuit the Defendant had the Plaintiff examined by a retired orthopaedic surgeon.  This doctor testified at trial and provided an opinion that it was “unlikely that there was any direct injury to the cervical spine or shoulder at the time of the injury“.

After cross examination the Court was unimpressed with this experts opinion.  In rejecting this expert’s evidence Madam Justice Ballance provided the following criticism:

54] Dr. Christian retired from his practice as an orthopaedic surgeon in 2005.  Since then, he has focussed his practice on disability evaluation.

[55] Dr. Christian conducted an independent medical examination of Mr. Sooch on March 18, 2010.  He spent between 45 and 55 minutes assessing Mr. Sooch.  He did not keep detailed notes, preferring instead to occasionally jot down a point or two and then dictate his findings and opinion immediately after the examination…

[60] It is obvious on the face of Dr. Christian’s report that in reaching his conclusion on causation, he relied heavily on this misconception as to the timing of Mr. Sooch’s medical appointment on the day of the Accident.  Yet, after he became aware that Mr. Sooch had actually gone to the medical clinic some hours before the Accident had taken place, he denied placing any importance on his mistaken belief.  He insisted that it was not in his “consciousness”, and was of marginal importance, if any, and maintained that knowledge of the true state of affairs would not have changed his opinion one way or another.

[61] The unfolding of Dr. Christian’s cross-examination on that and related matters was uncomfortable to observe.  At times, his demeanour was combative and the entire exchange on the issue of causation called his impartiality into question.  Dr. Christian’s responses to other lines of questioning were also sometimes argumentative and displayed a compromised objectivity.

[62] I am not able to credit Dr. Christian’s assertion that his mistaken impression about the timing of Mr. Sooch’s appointment on the day of the Accident did not impact his opinion on causation.  It plainly did…

[73] Based on the criticisms I have already expressed about the lack of balance in Dr. Christian’s assessment of Mr. Sooch’s pre-Accident soft tissue complaints, and his refusal to concede that his opinion on causation was partially fastened to his misunderstanding about the timing of Mr. Sooch’s medical appointment on the day of the Accident and other troubling aspects of his testimony, I consider it unsafe for the Court to put any stock in his opinion…


ICBC Ordered to Pay $75,000 Punitive Damages for "Bad Faith" Breach of Insurance

February 27th, 2012

I have previously detailed the potentially high financial consequences for civil breach of insurance.   One way a motorist can be in breach relates to intoxication.  If as a result of intoxication an individual is “incapable of proper control of the vehicle” then the motorist can be in breach of their insurance pursuant to Section 55(8)(a) of BC’s Insurance (Vehicle) Regulation.  This means that the individual can lose all insurance coverage and be forced to pay all damages flowing from a collision.

This is a severe consequence and in appropriate circumstances a very deserving one.  However, if ICBC is too quick to breach someone from their coverage they may be forced to pay damages in bad faith.  Such a result was demonstrated in reasons for judgement released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry.

In today’s case (McDonald v. ICBC) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2007 collision.  She was at fault for the crash.  She consumed two to three glasses of wine prior to operating a vehicle.  As she was driving she “turned the wrong way into an oncoming van” causing a collision and injuries to the other motorist.

The Plaintiff was issued a 24 hour roadside suspension and charged criminally with dangerous driving and alcohol related offences.  Eventually the criminal charges were dropped and the Plaintiff plead guilty to careless driving pursuant to section 144 of BC’s Motor Vehicle Act.

The injured van driver brought a claim against the Plaintiff.  ICBC eventually settled the claim for just over $182,000.  ICBC held the Plaintiff in breach of her insurance arguing the collision occurred as a result of impairment and sought to collect the money from her.

The Plaintiff disputed ICBC’s allegations.  She sued ICBC for a declaration that she is entitled to coverage and further for punitive damages.  Madam Justice Ballance sided with the Plaintiff.  The Court found that ICBC failed to prove that the collision occurred as a result of alcohol consumption and further ordered that ICBC pay the Plaintiff $75,000 for their ‘bad faith’ denial of coverage.  In reaching this result Madam Justice Ballance provided the following reasons:

[249] An insurer does not have to have an iron-clad case in order to deny coverage.  It is not expected to investigate a claim with the skill and forensic proficiency of a detective.  Nor is it required to assess the collected information using the rigorous standards employed by a judge.  The duty of good faith does not impose a standard of absolute liability in respect of an insurer’s wrong decision.  The duty simply dictates that an insurer bring reasonable diligence, fairness, an appropriate level of skill, thoroughness and objectivity to the investigation, and the assessment of the collected information with respect to the coverage decision.  My criticisms of the calibre of Ms. Baadsvik’s investigation and the shortcomings of her ultimate assessment should not be interpreted as suggesting that each individual omission or failing is, of itself, necessarily a violation of good faith and fair dealing.  It is their cumulative effect that constitutes a breach of its duty of good faith.

[250] It is not possible to perform a fair and proper evaluation in the absence of a reasonably thorough underlying investigation.  The latter precludes achievement of the former.  And so it was, in the case at hand.  Here, that deficiency was compounded by the other failings of Ms. Baadsvik’s evaluation of whether the plaintiff had been Incapacitated…

[259] ICBC engaged in settlement negotiations and concluded a settlement binding the plaintiff without appointing legal counsel on her behalf, all the while investigating her potential breach of contract.  The plaintiff was never informed of the settlement discussions despite the fact that ICBC knew that the damages in the To Action were likely to be significant and that the plaintiff would potentially have to bear them personally.  Indeed, after Ms. Baadsvik’s final discussion with Constable Wood on April 1, she was essentially on the brink of deciding that the plaintiff was in breach and that ICBC would not be indemnifying her.  The nature and sequence of these events, all fully within ICBC’s control, was manifestly unfair.

[260] Ms. Baadsvik was asked whether, in making the decision that the plaintiff was in breach, any consideration was paid to the settlement of the To Action.  She gave the unsatisfactory answer that she understood she had to wait until that settlement was concluded before she could advise the plaintiff about the breach and tell her how much money was involved.

[261] In my opinion, ICBC’s multiple failings in the investigation, assessment and breach decision that I have outlined, and its misconduct in relation to the To Action, respectively, contravened the duty of fair dealing and good faith owed to the plaintiff…

[263] This is an exceptional case.  The nature of ICBC’s bad faith behaviour took different shapes throughout the time line.  The overall handling and evaluation of the claim was overwhelmingly inadequate.  ICBC also allowed its objectivity to be tainted by the fact that the claim indirectly involved the “very difficult” Mr. McDonald.  While I recognize that the tainting of impartiality was only slight, it was nonetheless real and improper.

[264] In my opinion, ICBC’s conduct was harsh, high-handed and oppressive as those concepts have been developed in the jurisprudence, and marked a significant departure from the Court’s sense of decency and fair play.  Some of the acts of bad faith were inadvertent and others were not and they persisted over a considerable period.  The plaintiff was in a vulnerable position and suffered harm in consequence of ICBC’s misconduct, not all of which is tidily rectified by this Court confirming her right to be indemnified.  ICBC would not be accountable for its bad faith in the absence of an award of punitive damages, which it can well afford.  Such an award is justified to deter other insurers from engaging in similar types of misconduct, and to punish ICBC and condemn its breaches of duty…

[267] I declare that the plaintiff is entitled to indemnity from ICBC for all claims arising from the accident, including the To Action.

[268] I also award her the sum of $75,000 in punitive damages.


Left Hand Turning Vehicle Found Faultess for Intersection Crash

November 14th, 2011

Motorists are entitled to commit to an intersection and wait until its safe to proceed prior to making a left hand turn.  If the light turns red prior to a safe moment arriving it is appropriate for a motorist to wait that long prior to completing their turn.  In such circumstances a turning motorist can be found fully faultless if a collision occurs which was demonstrated in reasons for judgement released last month by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry.

In last month’s case (Henry v. Bennett) the Defendant was driving NorthBound on King George intending to make a left hand turn on 68th Avenue.  At the same time the Plaintiff was travelling Southbound on King George intending to drive through the intersection.

The Court found that the Defendant entered the intersection on a green light.  She waited for a gap in traffic.  The light eventually turned amber and then red.   Southbound traffic visible to the Plaintiff stopped.  She began her turn when the Plaintiff came through the intersection and the collision occurred.  The Plaintiff sued for damages but the claim was dismissed with the Court finding him fully at fault for entering the intersection on a red light when it was unsafe to do so.  In finding the Defendant faultless Madam Justice Ballance provided the following reasons:

[72] Ms. Bennett was in a position remarkably similar to that of the plaintiff in Kokkinis. Although she did not see Mr. Henry prior to the collision, Kokkinis indicates that it does not necessarily follow that she was in any way negligent. Having said that, I wish to clarify that I do not read Kokkinis as standing for the proposition that left-turning drivers are entitled to proceed blindly on the assumption that oncoming drivers will obey the rules of the road, without regard to their concurrent obligation to act reasonably as the circumstances dictate. In my view, Ms. Bennett was entitled to proceed on the assumption that oncoming traffic, including Mr. Henry, would act in accordance with the law and come to a stop on the late amber, absent any reasonable indication to the contrary and provided she comported herself with reasonable care. Here, there was no contrary indication from Ms. Bennett’s standpoint. Indeed, she could see that the SUV across from her had complied with the rules and she was aware as well that the flow of straight through traffic had ceased some seconds earlier. She had no reasonable indication that oncoming traffic in the form of Mr. Henry would proceed through the intersection in clear violation of the rules of the road. Moreover, I find that in all the circumstances she conducted herself prudently and with reasonable care in negotiating her left turn. In contrast, Mr. Henry knew or reasonably ought to have known that in all likelihood Ms. Bennett would have carried through with her left turn at the final stage of the amber light, and most assuredly when the signal turned red. He created an extremely unsafe situation in failing to come to a stop.

[73] I endorse the case authorities that cast doubt over the legitimacy of portraying a driver in Mr. Henry’s shoes as having the presumptive right-of-way or otherwise qualifying as the dominant driver for the purposes of assessing liability using the Walker paradigm: see, for example, Snow v. Toth, [1994] B.C.J. No. 563 (S.C.); Shahidi v. Oppersma, [1998] B.C.J. No. 2017 (S.C.); Ziani v. Thede, 2011 BCSC 895. The dominant/servient driver analysis in Walker is predicated on the footing that the dominant driver has proceeded lawfully and, it seems to me, is of utility in that circumstance only. I, therefore, question whether that framework is of any assistance to a driver like Mr. Henry, who has acted in breach of his statutory duty. In any case, it cannot be said that Ms. Bennett attempted to execute her turn in complete disregard of her statutory duty to yield, which is an integral component of the Walker analysis. Indeed, it is my view that Ms. Bennett can be validly characterized as the dominant driver in the circumstances. There is no cogent evidence to remotely suggest that she could have avoided Mr. Henry by the exercise of reasonable care. To formulate it in the terms of s. 174, Ms. Bennett posed an immediate hazard to Mr. Henry, which he should have appreciated, and it is he who ought to have yielded the right-of-way.

[74] Based on the foregoing, I am satisfied that the accident was caused solely by the negligent driving of Mr. Henry. As he is entirely at fault for the accident, his claim is dismissed.


$70,000 Non-Pecuniary Damages for Chronic Soft Tissue Injuries

December 2nd, 2009

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court Awarding damages as a result of a BC Car Crash.

In today’s case, (KT v. AS) The Plaintiff was involved in a motor vehicle collision while seated as a passenger in 2005.  It was a significant intersection collision.  The Plaintiff was 17 years old at the time.  The Plaintiff claimed that she suffered both physical and psychological injuries as a result.

Madam Justice Ballance largely rejected the Plaintiff’s claim for accident related psychological injuries but did accept the claim for physical injuries.  In awarding the Plaintiff $70,000 in non-pecuniary damages the Court summarized the Plaintiff’s accident related physical injuries as follows:

[210]     According to the plaintiff, since the accident she has felt an ache along with tightness and sore muscles in her low back.  She says that every few weeks the pain is so intense that she keels over.  She testified that in the first six months or so following the accident, her neck and muscles were stiff and knotted, particularly when her head was bent.  Her headaches would follow at least once per week, building up slowly from the back of her neck.  At times they lasted an entire day.  Unlike the headaches that she experienced prior to the accident, eating did not alleviate the pain in her head.  Also within the initial six months time frame, the plaintiff said she would feel a sharp pinching sensation in her upper back/trapezius area a few times each month that seemed to come out of nowhere.  She testified that at her last appointment with Dr. Smith roughly 22 months post-accident,  her neck was still stiff and she was still experiencing intermittent sharp pinching pain in her shoulder blade/trapezius area.  Her low back continued to produce a dull ache most of the time that fluctuated considerably in intensity depending on her activity.

[211]     The plaintiff says that she has not had a pain-free day since the accident.  In terms of her current symptoms, the plaintiff claims that her low back pain, of variable intensity, persists and is her dominant problem.  Physical activities such as soccer, jogging and extensive walking, climbing up or descending stairs can cause a flare-up of pain.  However, the postures that are most aggravating are those which appear to be innocuous, such as sitting and static standing for prolonged periods.

[212]     The plaintiff also continues to experience episodic pain in her neck and upper trapezius area.  She claims that the jabs of pain in her shoulder blade area have become infrequent, flaring up roughly once per month.  Although she still suffers headaches, especially when she sits down for long periods to study, they have substantially diminished in their frequency.  Her hips and “upper butt” area have not caused her difficulty for a very long time.

[213]     The defence concedes that the plaintiff sustained mild to moderate soft tissue injuries to her neck and back.  As to her low back injury, the defendants assert that, at most, the accident caused a temporary aggravation of an “ongoing injury process” due to her pre-existing injuries and core weakness.  It should be evident from my discussion of the expert medical evidence and, specifically, my disapproval of Dr. Hepburn’s opinion, that I find the evidence does not support the defendants’ position that the plaintiff’s current low back pain is basically the same as the dysfunction in her upper “butt” sacroiliac joint or hip regions experienced before the accident.

[214]     The evidence amply establishes that the accident caused musculoskeletal injuries to the plaintiff’s neck, upper trapezius (left shoulder area) and her lumbar spine.  Relying on Dr. Hershler, Dr. Jung and Ms. Cross, I also find that it is more probable than not that the accident injured the facet joints of the plaintiff’s lumbar spine.  I find, as well, that it caused her headaches secondary to her neck pain, injured her left sacroiliac joint and aggravated her pre-accident difficulty with the right side of that joint.  On balance, I am not persuaded that she suffered a costovertebral injury as opined by Dr. Jung.

Another interesting aspect of this decision was the Court’s discussion of the Defence Medical Evidence.  The Defence hired Dr. Hepburn, a retired orthopaedic surgeon, to conduct a so-called ‘independent medical exam‘ of the Plaintiff.  Madam Justice Ballance largely rejected this expert’s evidence and in doing so made the following critical comments:

191]     Since his retirement in 2007, Dr. Hepburn’s medical practice has been solely devoted to conducting independent medical examinations.  Virtually every referral examination he receives comes from defence counsel and ICBC.

[192]     By his own admission, a mere 10%-15% of Dr. Hepburn’s practice prior to his retirement involved soft tissue injuries, and even then he was not involved in their ongoing management and treatment.  Dr. Hepburn testified that, while in practice, he did not treat patients with back injuries who had not suffered a fracture, slipped disc, disc prolapse or other type of injury requiring surgical intervention.  Generally, he would not even see such patients and would typically refer them to a specialist better trained to treat ongoing non-orthopaedic soft tissue injuries, such as a physiotherapist and physiatrist.

[193]     Dr. Hepburn could not recollect treating any costovertebral joint injuries, and testified that he only treated orthopaedic facet joint injuries (dislocations and fractures) for which surgery can produce some benefit.

[194]     As Dr. Hepburn testified, it became apparent that, although he was qualified as an expert in the diagnosis and prognosis of soft tissue injuries, his expertise lies almost exclusively in the field of orthopaedics.  This, however, is not an orthopaedic case.  It is a claim involving chronic soft tissue injuries which cannot be repaired through surgical intervention.

[195]     The plaintiff told Dr. Hepburn that her major problem related to her low back.  She also complained of pain in her left shoulder, a stiff neck, and headaches.  Dr. Hepburn agreed that the plaintiff likely suffered some soft tissue injury to her neck and knee from the accident.  However, he found it unclear as to whether her lower back pain was connected to the accident.  In this regard, he seemed to place some reliance on his understanding that there had been no complaint of back pain noted in the plaintiff’s medical records in the months following the accident.  That is a misconception.  The physiotherapy records are replete with the plaintiff’s complaints of low back pain in the months immediately after the accident.  The treating physiotherapist’s discharge note, which formed part of Dr. Smith’s file, leaves no doubt that the plaintiff’s lumbar spine was the chief area of treatment throughout the many sessions.  I can only conclude that Dr. Hepburn’s review of those records was superficial.

[196]     As an aside I would also note that the plaintiff’s controversial ICBC statement tendered into evidence by the defence itself refers to complaints of low back pain within the first two weeks following the accident.

[197]     In addressing the plaintiff’s pre-accident physical difficulties, Dr. Hepburn seemed to suggest that it would be legitimate to interpret her physiotherapist’s notations of sacroiliac joint pain as being medically equivalent to a notation of unspecified low back pain.  The implicit suggestion was that the plaintiff’s post-accident low back pain is the same as her sacroiliac joint complaints before the accident and, accordingly, was not caused by the accident.  He went so far to say that, in all likelihood, the plaintiff actually had low back pain and not sacroiliac joint dysfunction when she saw her physiotherapist before the accident.  I have previously made clear that I reject the free-floating notion that a physiotherapist would confuse those distinct anatomical areas.  His evidence on this point distinguished Dr. Hepburn from the other medical experts who gave evidence on the point.  It caused me considerable concern.

[198]     I also found it strange that in his report, Dr. Hepburn described the plaintiff’s headache complaints as falling beyond his area of expertise.  The preponderance of all of the other medical opinion evidence, which I find credible, is that the plaintiff’s post-accident headaches probably stem from her injured neck.  In his report, Dr. Hepburn did not allow for the prospect that the plaintiff’s headaches could be cervicogenic in origin, and represented referred pain from her injured neck.  He was only prepared to admit that potential in cross-examination.  Instead, in his report he had implied that the plaintiff’s headaches had a psychological source by suggesting that they could be addressed by medication for anxiety.  In my view, Dr. Hepburn’s assessment of the plaintiff’s ongoing headaches was not evenly balanced.  That too was of concern.

[199]     Dr. Hepburn did not find a restricted range of movement in the plaintiff’s spine.  He explained that the dual inclinometer applied by Dr. Jung is not used by him or any orthopaedic surgeon to his knowledge.  That does not mean that measurement with that device is not the gold standard.  I was most impressed with Dr. Jung’s explanation of the frailties of the so-called “eyeballing” assessment of range of motion and the superior measurement capability of the device he used.

[200]     Dr. Hepburn was adamant that the manner in which Dr. Jung and Dr. Hershler purported to diagnose a potential facet joint injury was not adequate.  He testified that a definitive diagnosis cannot be made without proper imaging studies such as a bone scan, CT scan or MRI.  He stood by his opinion that there was no facet joint injury that he could detect on his examination of the plaintiff.  Dr. Hepburn’s comments regarding the diagnosis of facet joint injury illustrates the difference between the medical approach to diagnosis for the purposes of determining causation, and the legal approach to the question of causation.  As noted by the Supreme Court of Canada in Snell v. Farrell, [1990] 2 S.C.R. 311, [Snell ] at para. 34:  “Medical experts ordinarily determine causation in terms of certainties whereas a lesser standard is demanded by the law.”

[201]     With respect to Dr. Jung’s diagnosis of costovertebral injury, Dr. Hepburn opined that such an injury is quite rare and would normally be associated with severe trauma such as in an individual with broken ribs.  He suggested that it would take a “divine talent” to diagnose this type of injury based on physical/clinical presentation alone.

[202]     Relying on Dr. Hepburn’s opinion, the defence argues that the plaintiff’s subjective pain complaints which have continued for more than four years after the accident are inconsistent with the fact that her spine has suffered no structural damage or other ominous pathology.  The underlying logic appears to be that pain and chronic injury do not occur in the absence of orthopaedic or other structural injury.  That notion offends common sense and is blind to the credible explanations given by Drs. Jung and Hershler and Ms. Cross as to the nature of soft tissue injury.

[203]     In the end, I consider it unsafe to give any weight to the opinions expressed by Dr. Hepburn.