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 Humphries’

Further BC Supreme Court Criticism of Late Plaintiff Testimony in Injury Litigation

November 2nd, 2012

Recently I highlighted judicial criticism of the practice of not calling the Plaintiff as the first witness in an injury trial.  You can click here to read Madam Justice Humphries previous criticism of this practice and here for the comments of Mr. Justice McEwan.

Last week further reasons for judgement were released addressing this practice.  In last week’s case (Gustafson v. Davis) the Plaintiff was injured in a motor vehicle collision.  Several witnesses took the stand before the plaintiff testified.  In criticizing this practice Madam Justice Humphires echoed her previous comments and provided the following feedback:

[112]  Ms. Bartholomew, Ms. Hunter, Mr. Sivertson, Mr. Gustafson, a teaching colleague, and Ms. Gustafson’s family practitioner, Dr. Verbonac, were called before Ms. Gustafson went into the witness box. Much of their evidence was hearsay and consisted of subjective complaints and accounts by Ms. Gustafson to them. As the court mentioned several times to counsel for Ms. Gustafson, it would have been helpful to hear her first, before the substance of her evidence was given second hand by other witnesses while she listened to it and to the issues that arose during cross-examination.

[113]  Aside from their recounting of things Ms. Gustafson had told them, these witnesses also had their own observations to make. While their observations of Ms. Gustafson are not hearsay, that evidence was given without the benefit of Ms. Gustafson’s presentation and her first hand testimony, and was difficult to put into a meaningful context, not having heard her testify.

[114]  Counsel has the responsibility to present his case as he sees fit and the court understands if obstacles are created by scheduling difficulties for expert and out of town witnesses, or other unavailability. However, from the point of view of a trier of fact, it is not only frustrating and even confusing to listen to evidence without a context, it can have an impact on the value of all of the evidence.

[115]  The practice of calling the plaintiff first is longstanding and is a common theme in advocacy texts for reasons that resonate with, and are often written by, trial judges. I refer, for example, to § 25.8 of Fraser, Horn & Griffin, The Conduct of Civil Litigation in British Columbia, 2nd ed. (Markham, Ont: Lexis Nexis Canada Inc., 2007):

Unsurprisingly, if a plaintiff is called as the first witness for his case, he tends to have more credibility than if he is called as the last witness, because of his opportunity, in the latter situation, to tailor his evidence to the evidence of the witnesses who have gone before him.

and to s. 8.20 of the British Columbia Civil Trial Handbook, 2nd ed. (Vancouver: The Continuing Legal Education Society ofBritish Columbia, 2005):

In many cases the plaintiff will be called first, such as in a non-catastrophic injury case or a family case. One reason for this choice is that the decision­maker usually wants to see the plaintiff to get a sense of the case, and may pay less attention to other witnesses if impatiently awaiting the plaintiff.

and to Donald S. Ferguson, ed., Ontario Courtroom Procedure (Markham, Ont.: Lexis Nexis Canada Inc., 2007) at p. 815:

It is common for counsel to call their party as their first witness to avoid any submission that the party may have tailored his or her testimony to that of other witnesses.

[116]   If persuasion is the objective, and if it rests largely on the credibility of the plaintiff, counsel might give consideration to the practical and sensible course suggested by experience and this common sense advice.

Given the preference of some injury lawyers to follow this practice the Trial Lawyers Association of BC sent a request to Chief Justice Bauman asking if this was a ‘wide-spread concern‘ for trial judges and if so invited the Chief Justice to a professional development seminar to discuss the concern.   Mr. Justice Bauman responded “I have not heard it suggested that this is a matter of general concern among trial judges on this Court…I do not believe a general discussion of the issue at this time is warranted but I thank you for bringing the issue to my attention”.

I am happy to provide a copy of Mr. Justice Bauman’s letter  to anyone who contacts me and requests one.


$90,000 Non-Pecuniary Assessment for Labral Tear Requiring Surgery

July 13th, 2012

Reasons for judgement were released yesterday by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, assessing damages for a hip injury sustained in a vehicle collision.

In yesterday’s case (Combs v. Moorman) the Plaintiff was involved in an “extensive” rear end collision in 2007.   The Defendant was found wholly at fault for the crash.  The Plaintiff, a 38 year old massage therapist, suffered a labral tear (a tear of the cartilage cushioning the hip socket).

This injury caused ongoing problems and needed future surgical intervention.  It caused limits in the Plaintiff’s domestic and vocational abilities.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $90,000 Madam Justice Humphries provided the following reasons:

[19] Pain in her left hip is her primary concern presently.  She says it is very painful and affects every treatment she gives.  The pain makes her put her weight on her right leg, and consequently her right leg has begun to hurt as well.  After an MRI, it was determined that she has a labral tear, that is a tear in the material cushioning her hip socket.  A bone scan showed some tenderness on the left trochanter, that is the top of the femur.

[20] Dr. Smit, Ms. Combs’ treating orthopaedic surgeon, recommended freezing injections into the hip and the trochanter respectively as a diagnostic device to determine where the pain was coming from.  That is, if one area were frozen and the pain continued, it would show that the source was the other area.  Dr. Smit said the injections give temporary relief, but symptoms would return in 6 – 8 weeks.  He said in “a distinct minority” of cases the pain does not return.  Ms. Combs declined this procedure…

[27] Ms. Combs was a straightforward witness.  She is obviously used to coping with life in a businesslike manner and does what she has to do.  She works hard, runs a successful clinic, and looks after two children and the home with the help of her mother, her mother-in-law, and her husband.

[28] Ms. Combs suffered fairly extensive injuries in this accident, some of which are permanent.  The hematoma in her knee and the damage to her finger, though not interfering with her activities, will not improve.  She deals with daily neck, back and hip pain and has done so for four years.  While surgery will likely improve her hip pain, it is not likely that her neck and back pain will resolve.  Her prognosis is poor.

[29] She still works long hours, but only with pain, and foregoes activities she used to enjoy in order to work those hours.  Her social life has been impacted because she is too tired to participate.  She cannot sit up on the bed and read to her daughter because of her back pain…

[33] I am of the view that it would have been helpful for Ms. Combs to have the injections for diagnostic purposes and for temporary relief.  Her failure to do so was unreasonable, but although some of her pain may have been relieved temporarily by this procedure and diagnosis of the source of the pain would likely have been facilitated, failure to undergo this procedure does not affect any long term outcome.  Dr. Smit said the cases in which pain does not return after the injections are “a distinct minority”.  In any event, Ms. Combs must still face hip surgery, and according to the medical evidence, delay in having the surgery does not affect its success rate.  Her refusal to undergo months of recovery from surgery while running a busy practice and taking care of young children is simply a matter of weighing how much pain she could cope with and still carry on.  I cannot see her refusal to have the surgery until now as unreasonable.

[34] Obviously each case has distinctive facts, and it is often difficult to reconcile them as awards for pain and suffering are inherently individual.  The cases cited by the plaintiff involve considerably more severe and wide ranging symptoms that Ms. Combs has.  The cases cited by the Third Party involve symptoms that resolved faster than Ms. Combs’ have.  She is not a complainer, but four years post accident, she is still coping daily with its effects and now has to undergo the surgery and recovery time.  The effect of the chance of the early onset of arthritis in the distant future is not great, given the scant evidence that it is likely to occur.

[35] Considering the evidence and the cases cited to me, I set non-pecuniary loss at $90,000.


No Negligence For Crash Following Tree Suddenly Falling on Roadway

July 13th, 2012

Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, following a summary trial addressing negligence for a collision which occurred after a tree suddenly fell onto a roadway.

In this week’s case (Waters v. Mariash) the Plaintiff was involved in a collision after a cottonwood tree “suddenly fell across the the highway, cutting off both lanes“.  The Plaintiff was in the curb lane and struck the tree.  The Defendant was driving in the inside lane a few car lengths behind the Plaintiff.  He hit his brakes, his vehicle fishtailed and hit the tree and the Plaintiff’s vehicle.  The Plaintiff argued the Defendant was negligent but the Court disagreed dismissing the claim against him.  In doing so Madam Justice Humphries provided the following reasons:

[7] The defendant said on discovery that he was about 100-150 feet away from the tree when he started to brake.  He said he had switched into the fast lane to avoid the merging traffic from 176th Street, and had been travelling about 100 kph in a zone posted at that speed.  He reduced his speed to about 90 – 95 kph when the downpour started.  He was travelling 8 – 10 car lengths behind the plaintiff’s Bronco.  When he saw the tree begin to fall, he put on his engine brake and downshifted, breaking and beginning to slide a little on the wet pavement.  His tires were brand new Michelins…

[15] The accident occurred on a heavily travelled freeway near between Vancouver and Surrey.  While there is always the possibility of obstructions on such a highway, such as an animal or a child dashing out, it would be a very remote possibility in such a location.

[16] The accident was not the result of an obstruction such as branches or debris that one might expect in a wind storm and that would be there to be seen if one were travelling at a reasonable speed.  This accident occurred because a tree fell suddenly in front of both vehicles, blocking both lanes.  Both vehicles hit the tree.

[17] This is not similar to a situation where a driver is travelling in the winter and is expected to cope with unexpected icy patches (according to the Court of Appeal in Redlack v. Vekved, supra, but perhaps not inHearn v. Rowland, supra).  There is no evidence from which an inference could be drawn that the defendant in this case was driving beyond his own competence or that of his vehicle.  He was travelling below the speed limit.  He was faced with an unexpected event that could not be anticipated and he reacted reasonably.  The other options suggested by the plaintiff are not reasonable in these exigent circumstances, and may have been even more dangerous.

[18] According to Hearn v. Rowland, the defendant does bear a heavier onus if he asserts a defence of inevitable accident, but not if he seeks to show, as in this case, that the accident happened without any negligence on his part.  The onus is therefore on the plaintiff to show that the accident occurred as a result of the defendant’s negligence.  I am not persuaded that he has done so.

[19] The action against the defendant Mariash is dismissed, with costs at Scale B.


More On Withdrawing Admissions of Liability

April 12th, 2012

As previously discussed, Rule 7-7(5) canvasses the BC Supreme Court’s authority to allow a party to a lawsuit to withdraw a formal admission made the course of litigation.

A common admission canvassed under this rule deals with fault following a crash.  Occasionally ICBC admits fault on behalf of a Defendant and for various reasons wishes to withdraw such an admission as the lawsuit progresses.  Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, dealing with such a scenario.

In this week’s case (Goundar v. Nguyen) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2008 collision.  ICBC initially denied fault on behalf of the Defendant.  In the course of the lawsuit the Defendant’s lawyer ‘inadvertantly’ agreed to admit liability on behalf of the Defendant and an amended Response was filed.

The Defendant brought an application to withdraw its admission.  In allowing this the Court found that the admission was made inadvertently and provided the following reasons:

[35] Rule 7-7(5) provides:

A party is not entitled to withdraw…

(c) an admission made in a pleading…

except by consent or with leave of the court.

[36] The cases to which I was referred dealing with withdrawal of admissions treat admissions made by inadvertence with caution.  Many of the cases deal with deemed admissions through failure to respond to a Notice to Admit.  However, the considerations remain the same.  The court will consider if the admission was made inadvertently, if it is in the interests of justice to allow the issue to be resolved by a trial, and if there will be no prejudice to the party which cannot be compensated by costs.  If satisfied of those factors, leave to withdraw such an admission will generally be granted. (Abacus Cities Ltd. v. Port Moody [1980] B.C.J. No. 1749 and cases cited therein).

[37] The balancing of the interests of justice requires the applicant to show that there is a triable issue in respect of the admission.  The chambers judge must not make a final determination, but will simply determine if there is an issue worthy of being tried.  Prejudice resulting only from the benefit of relying on the admission occasioned by the inadvertence is not of significance (Can-Am, supra)…

[42] I am satisfied there is a triable issue on liability, based on the information put before me as to Goundar’s allegations, potential evidence from Maharajh, and Nguyen’s ticket on the one hand, and Nguyen’s and Stewart’s evidence on the other.  As well, Nguyen has her own action which is still outstanding.  There is a conflict in the evidence about the collision, which should be resolved by a trial.

[43] Although the plaintiff says the relevant admission was made deliberately and with no new facts available, that is not borne out by the affidavit material.  The lawyer has set out clearly how she came to make this admission in the face of her own assessment of the case and contrary instructions.  She admits she did not remember her instructions had changed and she did not conduct a review of the file before following a prompt from her paralegal to follow up on ICBC’s original letter.  The initial suggestion by ICBC to canvass plaintiff’s counsel regarding the proposal was made without the benefit of Mr. Stewart’s evidence, and the relevant instructions not to admit liability were in place at the time the lawyer amended the Response to admit liability.  I am satisfied that the defendant has demonstrated that the admission was made inadvertently.

[44] As for the balancing of prejudice, nothing irrevocable has been done that cannot be compensated for in costs.  The interests of justice require that this unfortunate situation be set back on track rather than allow the Goundar action to proceed on an untested and possibly erroneous foundation which has come about as a result of a mistake.

[45] If the admission of liability is left in place, the possibility of future remedies exists through an action by ICBC against the lawyer, and also possibly by Nguyen against ICBC for failure to defend her in this action.  However, that is not a satisfactory approach.  Goundar’s action would still be predicated upon a mistaken admission, and the interests of justice are not served by failing to rectify a mistake in circumstances where any prejudice can be compensated for in costs.

[46] The delay in bringing the application, once the lawyer became aware of her mistake, is not inordinate.  The trial date is four months away, which allows time for additional discovery.  While the deadline for expert reports is approaching, any prejudice arising from that factor can be compensated for in costs, as set out below.

[47] Goundar says this case is taken outside the usual bounds of withdrawals of admissions by the bargain she struck – discontinuing the action against Stewart in exchange for an admission of liability on behalf of Nguyen.  The defendants must be held to their bargain.  However, the Court of Appeal held in Drake (Guardian ad litem of) v. Clark (1996) 31 B.C.L.R. (3d) 289 that it is no longer necessary for the doctrine of promissory estoppel to be invoked in applications to withdraw admissions.  Withdrawal may be made if it is in the interest of justice.  As well, in this case, unlike Phil Whittaker Logging Ltd., supra, and the other cases referred to by the plaintiff, the admission was made inadvertently.


Indivisible Injury Assessment Where a Plaintiff is Partly At Fault

March 26th, 2012

In 2010 the BC Court of Appeal made it clear that a Plaintiff’s compensation is not to be reduced if an injury suffered in part by the negligent conduct of a Defendant is ‘indivisble‘ from other causes.  But what about circumstances where a Plaintiff’s own conduct partly contributed to the indivisible injury?  How should damages be addressed then?  Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, addressing such a scenario.

In last week’s case (Demidas v. Poinen) the Plaintiff was involved in 5 collisions.  He was not at fault for 4 of these and sued for damages.  The plaintiff was at fault for the fifth collision.  All five collisions caused a “cumulative” injury with each impact “exacerbating the symptoms that remained from the previous one to a collective whole“.

In addressing the “imperfect exercise” in assessing damages in these circumstances Madam Justice Humphries provided the following reasons:

[50] Counsel for the plaintiff approached the fifth “at-fault” accident as a question of contributory negligence which would reduce the non-pecuniary award to some extent.  When questioned about this by the court, he could provide no cases to support such an approach.  Counsel for the defendant said this was not a matter of contributory negligence but did not have an alternative approach.

[51] The effect of the at-fault accident on the overall damage award is not a matter of contributory negligence, although the effect on the overall result may be similar.  It is a matter of ensuring that the defendants are responsible only for the loss and damage they caused to the plaintiff.

[52] None of the cases cited to me by the plaintiff deal with sequential accidents, and none have at-fault accidents in the midst of accidents for which the plaintiff can claim damages.  InMacGillivary, supra, the provincial court judge applied Long v. Thiessen, (1968) 65 W.W.R. 577 and assessed damages separately for each of three accidents.  Where the effects of the injuries are not divisible, as here, that approach is not appropriate as between tortfeasors (Bradley v. Groves 2010 BCCA 1507).  On the other hand, the defendants are not responsible for the injuries Mr. Demidas caused to himself, so the effects of that accident have to be accounted for.

[53] Mr. Demidas says all his symptoms from the June 2009 accident resolved quickly and he was back to where he was before the accident.  In support of his position that the at-fault accident had little long-term effect on him, Mr. Demidas points to Dr. Sharp’s statement that it seems the third accident “set [him] on the road to chronicity”.  However Dr. Sharp says that statement is speculative.

[54] I do not accept Mr. Demidas’ evidence that the June 2009 accident did not exacerbate his symptoms to any significant degree.  This accident was no less serious than the others and in fact resulted in more vehicle damage.  As well, it seems to have caused Mr. Demidas considerable trouble with his knee.  It is very unlikely the exacerbation of soft tissue symptoms would all subside quickly after this accident, whereas the symptoms from the other four accidents would continue to the present time.  Dr. Sharp said the succession of all five accidents “served as the instrumental cause for his chronic neck pain, upper back pain and chronic cervicogenic headaches.”

[55] The effect of the accidents is cumulative, each one exacerbating the symptoms that remained from the previous one to a collective whole.  Therefore it is not appropriate to simply take one figure and multiply it by four as the defendant suggests.

[56] While this is not a situation where damage is divisible and capable of individual apportionment, nevertheless the loss and damage caused by the accident for which Mr. Demidas is at fault must be considered and removed from the overall award so that the defendants are not held responsible for that amount.

[57] This is an imperfect exercise, dealing with intangibles and hypotheticals.  Although each accident was fairly minor, the recurrence of accidents contributed to Mr. Demidas’ ongoing symptoms.  However, those symptoms are not as severe as those in the cases cited to me by the plaintiff.  Considering the authorities presented to me, the injuries sustained in the four accidents, and adjusting the amount for the effects of the at-fault accident, I set non-pecuniary damages at $45,000.


$85,000 Non-Pecuniary Damage Assessment For Annular Tear

February 27th, 2012

(Disk Herniation Image via Wikipedia)

Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, assessing damages for a vocationally disabling spine injury.

In last week’s case (Peers v. Bodkin Leasing Corporation) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2009 rear end collision.  Fault was admitted by the rear motorist focusing the trial on the extent of the Plaintiff’s injuries.

The Plaintiff worked his whole life in the forest industry as a boom boat operator.  The collision caused a spine injury (an annular tear which left him vulnerable to disk herniation) which fully disabled the Plaintiff from his own profession and largely disabled him from other professions.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $85,000 Madam Justice Humphries provided the following reasons:

[45] Dr. Kokan was of the view that the shocks experienced by Mr. Peers this past spring indicated an annular tear as a result of the accident that may be progressing into a herniated disk.  That could lead to neurological changes including numbness to his lower extremities and even weakness with loss of bowel and bladder control.  Mr. Peers would likely need surgery which could reduce but not necessarily eliminate the pain…

[53] I am satisfied that Mr. Peers made a determined effort not to let the pain interfere with the work he loved, but it eventually proved too much for him, and he was force to quit.  It may be that the shocks should be further investigated, and that Mr. Peers should not be as frightened of the potential for disk herniation as Dr. Kokan suggests.  Nevertheless, I accept that pain from the accident was the eventual cause of Mr. Peers’ inability to continue to work as a boom boat operator and at physical jobs in general…

[59] Mr. Peers must cope with a life that is very different from the one he led previously, and at the age of 53, he is unlikely to return to the activities he loved, even at a reduced level.  He has lost the ability to rely on his great strength and agility, which sustained his confidence and self-esteem, and although he can still participate in some activities, he is simply not the person he was.  He has tried, since the accident, to stay in the working world which defined him, and to remain active and replace the sports he loved and excelled at with others that he could at least participate in.  Since he quit work in March of this year when his symptoms became too much to handle and moved to Powell River, he describes a life which is reclusive and lonely.

[60] However, the future is not, in my view, completely bleak.  While testifying, Mr. Peers displayed stoicism and a sense of humour, underneath his evident uncertainty about the turn his life has taken.  Having only recently quit work, he is obviously still coming to terms with the need to find a different lifestyle to fulfil himself.  He has a number of concerned friends and family members who worry about him and want to assist him in improving his life and increasing his social contacts.  He has moved away from his long time home in the Gibsons/Roberts Creek area, but now lives near his son and grandchild.  This should provide him with opportunities to join in community activities if he will avail himself of them.

[61] Nevertheless, the loss of his former work and lifestyle is profound.  The cases cited by the defendants do not deal with such substantial loss.  I accept the plaintiff’s position that non-pecuniary damages should be $85,000.


$85,000 Non-Pecuniary Damage Assessment For Depression and Anxiety

February 17th, 2012

Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, assessing damages for accident related anxiety and depression.

In last week’s case (Yeung v. Dowbiggen) the Plaintiff was involved in 4 separate rear-end collisions.   These spanned from 2008-2011.  Fault was admitted by the rear motorist in each of the crashes.  The Plaintiff alleged that as a result of these crashes she suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  While this diagnosis was ultimately rejected by the trial judge, the Court did conclude that these collisions caused depression and anxiety.  These conditions remained symptomatic at the time of trial.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $85,000 Madam Justice Humphries gave the following reasons:

[103] Taking into consideration all of the evidence and the opinions of these three doctors, I do not accept that Ms. Yeung has post traumatic stress disorder, although she apparently has some symptoms of it.  I accept that she has a mild condition of depression and anxiety caused by these accidents, and that it did not, in any significant fashion, pre-date the accidents…

[119] Ms. Yeung is, as Dr. O’Shaughnessy said, vulnerable and emotionally young for her age, but I also accept that there is validity to Dr. Levin’s concern that she has some secondary gain from the devoted attention of her father, her boyfriend and Dr. Guest.

[120] However, it is extremely unfortunate that Ms. Yeung has suffered a series of accidents and that her recovery has been set back regularly and incrementally as a result.  Even a strong person would have difficulty dealing with a steady recurrence of similar accidents.  The effect of four sequential accidents is, according to the medical experts, cumulative, and each time she begins to start to improve and return to a better level of functioning, she has been hit again, which causes a regression in her improvement with an overall cumulative effect on her life.  While the physical symptoms are not extreme, they are still persisting and the psychological effect of the repeated events has seriously affected Ms. Yeung’s ability to enjoy life for a protracted period of time.  While it is likely she will continue to improve if she is fortunate enough not to be involved in more accidents, she has already spent four years in a state of turmoil and physical pain.

[121] Several of the cases referred to by the plaintiff are concerned with injuries with effects that are described as severe and devastating; in one case the plaintiff was competitively unemployable, in another the plaintiff could no longer work at the profession he had trained for.  In my view, the cases submitted by the defendant are of more assistance.  Considering all the evidence within the context of the cases referred to me, and considering that Ms. Yeung has undergone the effects of four accidents, I set non-pecuniary damages at $85,000.


Timing of Plaintiff Testimony in a Personal Injury Lawsuit

February 13th, 2012

While BC has no formal requirement addressing when (or even if) a Plaintiff needs to take the stand in the prosecution of a personal injury claim, the prevailing practice is for the Plaintiff to testify first.  Deviating from this practice comes with a downside as explained in reasons for judgement released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry.

In last week’s case (Yeung v. Dowbiggin) the Plaintiff was involved in four separate motor vehicle collisions.  The Plaintiff’s trial lasted over two weeks.  She was one of the last witnesses to testify.  Madam Justice Humphries highlighted the following practical difficulty which arose due to this decision:

[27] Since the plaintiff was one of the last witnesses called and was in the courtroom very rarely prior to her testimony, it was difficult to assess the evidence about the effects of the accidents as I listened to the various witnesses.  I had no idea who the plaintiff was, had no sense of her, and had heard no evidence about the accidents as I listened to all these witnesses.  I do not know if this was a tactical decision or whether it was necessitated by schedules, but it meant the evidence I heard was all without context.


$65,000 Non-Pecuniary Damage Assessment For Chronic Pain; Adverse Inference Discussed

January 12th, 2012

Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, awarding damages for chronic pain following a motor vehicle collision.

In this week’s case (Azuma-Dao v. MKA Leasing Ltd.) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2008 rear-end collision.  Fault was admitted by the rear motorist.  Following the crash the Plaintiff suffered from chronic pain from soft tissue injuries possibly with “spinal facet joint or disk pathology”.  Her injuries compromised her ability to work in her chosen profession and, despite room for improvement, were expected to continue to cause problems for the foreseeable future.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $65,000 Madam Justice Humphries provided the following reasons:

[80] The plaintiff’s life has changed substantially as a result of the accident, and she suffers chronic pain.  From a fit, very active person, she has become withdrawn, moody, and deconditioned.  Her friends and her husband find her to be a different person, no longer active and happy go lucky.  She endures pain every day, but she works very hard at her exercises.  Her work with disabled adults was very important to her and required a fit strong body, which she no longer has.  Despite her withdrawal, she maintains a social life, but the activities she and her friends do are now more sedentary.

[81] I set her non-pecuniary damages at $65,000

Another point of interest was the Court’s discussion of the Adverse Inference principle.  In the course of the lawsuit the Plaintiff obtained and produced clinical records from her GP.  She did not call the doctor in support of her case.  The Defendant argued that an adverse inference should be drawn but the Court refused to do so finding that it was open to the Defendant to call this physician if they wished.  Madam Justice Humphries provided the following reasons:

[45] I will mention the issue of adverse inference at this point.  Since all of Dr. Frank’s clinical notes were provided to the defence and Ms. Azuma-Dao admitted the relevant portions on cross-examination, I am not prepared to draw an adverse inference against the plaintiff for failing to call Dr. Frank, who was of course available to either side and was in fact on the defendants’ witness list.  However, since the defence gained what they required on cross-examination of the plaintiff, they cannot be faulted either for not calling Dr. Frank.


Formal Settlement Offers and Costs: A Matter of Discretion

December 15th, 2011

As recently discussed, costs consequences following trial where a formal settlement offer is not beat is a matter of judicial discretion.  While the principles behind the exercise of that discretion are reasonably well formulated the costs results can be a little trickier to predict.  Two sets of reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court demonstrating this discretion in action.

In the first case (Khunkhun v. Titus) the Plaintiff advanced a personal injury claim in excess of one million dollars.  She claimed she suffered from “a significant and disabling vestibular injury” as a result of a collision.  The jury largely rejected the Plaintiff’s sought damages and awarded $45,000.

ICBC made a more generous settlement offer prior to trial which the Plaintiff did not accept (about 30% higher than the jury award).   As a result, Mr. Justice Willcock stripped the Plaintiff of her costs from the time of the offer onward.  The Court did not go so far as to order that the Plaintiff pay the Defendant costs finding that it would be unjust.  Mr. Justice Willcock repeated the following reasoning from Madam Justice Humphries in Lumanlan v. Sadler:

Given the significant injury to the plaintiff, which was caused by the defendant’s foolish and reckless behaviour, and the effect on the award of a further reduction for costs, even if not doubled, and taking into account all of the above considerations, in my view it would not be fair or just to require the plaintiff to pay ICBC’s costs after the date of the offer.

In the second case released this week (Mazur v. Lucas) the Plaintiff was awarded $538,400 following a jury trial to compensate her for injuries sustained in a collision.  ICBC appealed and succeeded in having a new trial ordered.

Prior to the second trial ICBC made a formal settlement offer of $300,000.  The Plaintiff rejected this and proceeded to trial again.   This time the jury came in lower awarding $84,000 in damages.

ICBC brought an application seeking costs for both trial.  The result of this would have been financially significant.    Madam Justice Humphries declined to allow this and instead awarded the Plaintiff costs for both trials despite not besting ICBC’s offer.  In exercising its discretion the Court provided the following reasons:

[62] This court has stated many times that parties should be encouraged to settle, and if unreasonable in not doing so, may be punished in costs.  As well, the fact that an award of costs against a party may wipe out their award of damages is not determinative.  However, given all the circumstances that existed at the time the offer was made which did not change throughout the trial, I am not persuaded that the plaintiff ought to be denied her costs on the basis that she ought reasonably to have accepted the offer that was made twelve days before the trial began.  Having in mind the amount of the first award, the narrow issue upon which a new trial was ordered, the amount of the second offer, and the expected similarity of the evidence at the second trial, the plaintiff was reasonable in deciding not to accept the offer and to have the action adjudicated by a second jury.

In addition to this final result, this case is worth reviewing for the Court’s discussion of advance payment orders.  Prior to the second trial ICBC paid the Plaintiff $250,000 in exchange for a stay of execution so the Plaintiff would not collect the damages from the Defendants personally.  Madam Justice Humphries found that an advance payment after judgement should not be factored into a costs assessment.  The Corut provided the following reasons:

[14] The defendants argue that the plaintiff should be deprived of her costs of the second trial as of December 24, 2009, the date on which the negotiated agreement was signed.  They cite cases dealing with situations in which awards at trial are less than an advance, and in which plaintiffs have been deprived of costs as of the date of the advance (McElroy v. Embelton (1996), 19 B.C.L.R. (3d) 1 (B.C.C.A.); Baxter v. Brown (1997), 28 B.C.L.R. (3d) 351 (B.C.C.A.).

[15] However, those cases are all advances before trial.  The basis on which the Court of Appeal in those cases concluded that the date of the advance was relevant to costs was because the plaintiff “had in hand more at the start of the action than the amount of the jury’s verdict.” (see McElroy).  The plaintiff, upon receipt of an advance, must realistically assess his or her claim knowing that proceeding to trial carries a risk in costs (Carey v. McLean, 1999 BCCA 222).

[16] This advance was one paid to avoid execution on an existing judgment, pending an appeal that would proceed regardless of whether the plaintiff wished to accept the money in final settlement of the action or not.  That option was not open to her.  The agreement signed by the plaintiff required repayment if a new trial were ordered and the results were not favourable to her, but did not give her the option of accepting the money and ending the proceedings.  This advance payment, unlike those in the cases cited by the defendant, is not the equivalent of an offer to settle.

[17] The date of the advance is not appropriately considered in these circumstances.