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 ‘mitigation of damages’

BC Court of Appeal Upholds Across The Board Mitigation of Damages Reduction

November 7th, 2017

Reasons for judgement were published this week upholding a trial judge’s 50% reduction of damages in a personal injury lawsuit for failure to mitigate.

In the recent case (Mullens v. Toor) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2012 collision caused by the Defendant.  The Plaintiff suffered physical and psychological injuries and the Court concluded the Plaintiff’s recovery could have been improved had she more diligently followed medical advice.  As a result the Plaintiff’s assessed non-pecuniary damages, loss of earning capacity, loss of pension and deferred profit sharing were reduced by 50% and the future cost of care by 10%.

The Plaintiff appealed arguing the failure to mitigate reduction should only apply to her non-pecuniary damages.  The BC Court of Appeal disagreed.  In upholding the trial result the Court provided the following reasons:

[54]         Failure to mitigate is a positive allegation that should be pleaded and argued at trial:  Hosking v. Mahoney, 2010 BCCA 465 at para. 34.  Ms. Mullens thus submits that the judge erred in deciding issues on a basis that was not specifically pleaded or argued before him and properly should have invited counsel to address the claim: see e.g., Carmel Pharmacy Ltd. v. Tri City Contracting (B.C.) Ltd., 2014 BCSC 337 at para. 2.

[55]         In their response to civil claim the respondents pleaded as follows:

The Plaintiff has failed to follow medical advice with respect to treatment or exercise.

The Plaintiff could, by the exercise of due diligence, have reduced the amount of any alleged injury, loss, damage or expense, and the Defendants say that the Plaintiff failed to mitigate her damages.

[56]         The respondents say it is a mischaracterization to say that they did not argue for a reduction across all heads of damages because of a failure to mitigate.  A fair reading of the written submissions and the evidence as presented at trial is that mitigation was a key issue for all of Ms. Mullens’ claims.

[57]         In my view, the respondents’ pleading is clearly not deficient.  In Saadati v. Moorhead, 2017 SCC 28 at paras. 10‑12, Brown J., for the Court, found that a claim for “general damages for pain and suffering, loss of earning capacity past, present and future, loss of opportunity, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of physical heath…” was sufficiently broad to put the opposing party on notice that the claim encompassed mental injury.  Here the pleading is explicit.

[58]         Much of the evidence at trial, both in direct and cross-examination, concerned matters related to the mitigation issue pleaded: the appellant’s failure to return to work, her delay in taking medication, not seeking psychiatric treatment, not having consistent treatment, and the delay in obtaining recommended treatment being a negative factor in her prognosis.  These issues were canvassed by both the expert witnesses (Dr. Zoffman, Dr. Finlayson, Dr. Robertson, Dr. Maloon) and lay witnesses (Mr. Gill, Ms. Macpherson, Ms. Percy and Mr. Towsley).

[59]         The issue of mitigation was both specifically pleaded and extensively explored at trial.  Experts testified to the mental health benefits of returning to work and the benefits of comprehensive psychiatric treatment.  Counsel raised a failure to mitigate in general terms during closing submissions, and made specific reference to the benefits of returning to work, such as improved mental heath.  The specific arguments made with respect to a failure to mitigate past loss of income were logically connected to the other heads of damage claimed.

[60]         In my view, it cannot fairly be said that mitigation was not an issue properly before the court with respect to all of Ms. Mullens’ claims for damages.  I see no merit to this ground of appeal.


Mitigation of Damages – “The Law Does Not Encourage Indolence”

September 15th, 2014

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, reducing a Plaintiff’s pain and suffering award by 20% for failure to take reasonable steps to mitigate damages.

In today’s case (Rasmussen v. Blower) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2008 rear end collision.  Fault was admitted.  The Plaintiff suffered “whiplash type injuries” with some symptoms persisting to the time of trial.  The Court found that the Plaintiff failed to follow reasonable treatments recommended to him.  In reducing his non-pecuniary damages by 20% as a result of this Mr. Justice Funt provided the following reasons:

[38]         The law does not encourage indolence.  An injured party has a duty to mitigate:  see Graham v. Rogers, 2001 BCCA 432, at para. 35.  In this type of case, the plaintiff must seek and follow the advice of his or her physician with the goal of overall improvement and recovery.

[39]         Regarding lack of mitigation, plaintiff’s counsel submits that the plaintiff did not follow the recommended treatment of physiotherapy and massage, stating that the two sessions that he did attend were painful, that he was constantly travelling, and that he could not afford the treatments.

[40]         The Court rejects the plaintiff’s reasons for failure to mitigate.  Realistically speaking, perseverance is often the key to allowing medical treatments a chance to work.  During the approximately three months for which the plaintiff claims past wage loss, he could have attended physiotherapy and massage sessions.  The Court is satisfied that he had sufficient funds or, as noted by defence counsel, he could have claimed Part 7 benefits (Insurance (Vehicle) Regulation, B.C. Reg. 447/83, Part 7).

[41]         The defendant did not argue that, if the plaintiff had followed the medical advice he received, the plaintiff’s injuries would have resolved within “6 months to a year or so”:  Price, supra.  The defendant stated that the plaintiff’s non-pecuniary award should be reduced by 10%-20% in order to take into account the plaintiff’s failure to mitigate.  The defendant has satisfied the two-pronged test in Chiu v. Chiu, 2002 BCCA 618, set forth by the late Mr. Justice Low, writing for our Court of Appeal:

[57]      The onus is on the defendant to prove that the plaintiff could have avoided all or a portion of his loss.  In a personal injury case in which the plaintiff has not pursued a course of medical treatment recommended to him by doctors, the defendant must prove two things: (1) that the plaintiff acted unreasonably in eschewing the recommended treatment, and (2) the extent, if any, to which the plaintiff’s damages would have been reduced had he acted reasonably. These principles are found in Janiak v. Ippolito, [1985] 1 S.C.R. 146.

[42]         The Court will reduce the non-pecuniary award it would otherwise have ordered by 20%.  The plaintiff failed to mitigate by not following the reasonable treatments recommended to him.  He also consumed alcohol in quantity which, pragmatically viewed, probably reduced or nullified the effectiveness of the prescribed medications.


"It is Not for the Tortfeasor" To Dictate Timelines for a Plaintiff's Retirement

January 29th, 2013

Interesting reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, addressing mitigation of damages in a personal injury claim seeking compensation for reduced pension benefits.

In this week’s case (Wangert v. Saur) the Defendant died when his vehicle collided with a train operated by the Plaintiff.  The Plaintiff suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and missed some time from work.  The Plaintiff retired in 2012 and sought damages for a reduced pension arguing that had he not been psychologically injured by the collision he would have worked more hours thereby having greater pensionable earnings.

The Defendant argued that since, at the time of the Plaintiff’s retirement at age 55, he was able to work full time and had no residual difficulty from the Accident he failed to mitigate his damages by not working past his otherwise planned retirement in order to earn a greater pension.  Mr. Justice Abrioux rejected this argument providing the following reasons:

[34]         In this case, I accept the plaintiff’s evidence that he had always planned to retire at the age of 55. He had spent many years working for CP Rail.

[35]         The defendant did not cite any legal authority supporting his position that a plaintiff could have mitigated losses by working past his or her planned retirement age. I was also unable to find any.

[36]         In my view, planning for retirement is a very important stage in a person’s life. When one has the opportunity to retire at a certain age, even though continuing to work remains available, the decision to retire is not entered into lightly. It is not for the tortfeasor to take the position that the plaintiff‘s failure to change his life plan due to an accident which occurred through no fault of his own, amounts to unreasonable conduct.


Lack of Financial Means Defeats "Failure to Mitigate" Allegations

January 11th, 2013

As discussed on numerous occasions, a Plaintiff who fails to take reasonable steps to aid in their own recovery can have their damages reduced for a ‘failure to mitigate’.  In considering weather a Plaintiff’s failure to seek treatment is reasonable their personal circumstances are taken into account.  It is well established that lack of funding can reasonably excuse a course of otherwise helpful therapy.   Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, further demonstrating this principle.

In this week’s case (Rozendaal v. Landingin) the Plaintiff was injured in two collisions.  She was faultless for both.  She suffered soft tissue injuries to her neck, shoulders and upper back which continued to the time of trial and were expected to carry on in the future.  Non-Pecuniary damages of $40,000 were awarded.

The Defendant argued that the Plaintiff’s damages should be reduced due to her failure to carry on with physiotherapy.  Madam Justice Holmes found that greater therapy indeed would have made a difference but given the Plaintiff’s circumstances her failure to attend was not unreasonable.   In dismissing the defendant’s arguments the Court provided the following reasons:

[66]         On the medical evidence, I find that Ms. Rozendaal likely could have improved to a greater extent and more quickly had she undertaken a focussed course of strengthening and conditioning therapy or training designed for her particular injuries, such as Dr. O’Connor outlined in his second report.  The various forms of massage Ms. Rozendaal undertook gave her relief from her pain, but, as Dr. O’Connor explained, passive therapies did not help rehabilitate the muscles which, ultimately, were causing that pain.

[67]         The question is whether Ms. Rozendaal acted unreasonably by failing to undertake the recommended therapies or programs.  I find that in her particular personal circumstances, she did not.  ..

[70]         As I find, Ms. Rozendaal’s life circumstances left her unable to fund any form of ongoing treatment or therapy.   From their early days together, she and Mr. Landingin have worked extremely hard to educate themselves for careers and to provide financial support and loving care for their young family.  It is clear from the evidence that life was not easy for them.  I have no difficulty accepting that other financial priorities displaced ongoing physiotherapy or active rehabilitation for Ms. Rozendaal, particularly since it seemed to her that massages from Mr. Landingin and exercises she did at home were just as helpful. 

[71]         As I find, Ms. Rozendaal was mistaken in this assessment.  However, it was only when Dr. O’Connor saw Ms. Rozendaal before preparing his second report (of January 18, 2012), and asked her to demonstrate the exercises she had been doing since he had seen her six months earlier, that he realized that he had not given his instructions specifically enough:  Ms. Rozendaal was doing light aerobic work and some gentle neck exercises, but no real strengthening.  Dr. O’Connor testified that because Ms. Rozendaal had evidently misunderstood his recommendation in the previous report, he described the recommended conditioning more explicitly in the second report.

[72]         The law does not require perfection in the pursuit of rehabilitation.  It requires instead that a plaintiff make efforts which are reasonable and sincere in the plaintiff’s own personal circumstances:  Gilbert at para. 203.

[73]         On this basis, in Tsalamandris v. MacDonald, 2011 BCSC 1138 at paras. 227-30, varied on other grounds 2012 BCCA 239, the Court found no failure to mitigate where the plaintiff was unable to pursue the recommended treatments because of life circumstances that included a pregnancy, the care of small children at home, and her inability to perform the recommended exercises properly without the help of a personal trainer.

[74]         I find similarly that Ms. Rozendaal’s efforts at rehabilitation were reasonable and sincere in her own personal circumstances.


Soft Tissue Injury Damages Round Up – The Kelowna Road Edition

August 1st, 2012

As regular readers of this blog know, I try to avoid ‘round up‘ posts and do my best to provide individual case summaries for BC Supreme Court injury judgements.  Sometimes, however, the volume of decisions coupled with time constraints makes this difficult.  After wrapping up holidays in the lovely City of Kelowna this is one of those times so here is a soft tissue injury round up of recent BC injury caselaw.

In the first case (Olynyk v. Turner) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2008 rear-end collision.  Fault was admitted.    He was 43 at the time and suffered a variety of soft tissue injuries to his neck and back.  His symptoms lingered to the time of trial although the Court found that the Plaintiff unreasonably refused to follow his physicians advise with respect to treatment.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $40,000 (then reduced by 30% to reflect the Plaintiff’s ‘failure to mitigate’) Mr. Justice Barrow provided the following reasons:

[83]I find that Mr. Olynyk suffered a soft tissue injury to his neck and low back. I would describe the former as mild and the later as moderate. There is no necessary correlation between the amount of medication consumed, the frequency of visits to the doctor, or the nature of the attempts to mitigate the effects of one’s injuries and the severity of those injuries and their consequences. There may be many explanations for such a lack of congruity: a person may be particularly stoic or may have an aversion to taking medication for example. On the one hand, in the absence of such an explanation, when there is a significant disconnect between these two things, that can be a reason for treating self reports of pain and limitation with caution…

[87]Given that it is now three years post accident, I am satisfied that Mr. Olynyk’s pain is likely permanent, although as Mr. Olynyk told Dr. Laidlow in the fall of 2011, his symptoms improved in the years since the accident, inasmuch as his level of pain declined as did the frequency of more significant episodes. Leaving aside the issue of his pre-existing back problems, and in view of the authorities referred to above, I consider that an award of non-pecuniary damages of $40,000 is appropriate. In reaching this conclusion, I have taken account of the dislocation that the plaintiff’s loss of employment has caused him. That loss is greater than the mere loss of income that it occasioned and for which separate compensation is in order. The plaintiff had to move to a different community to take a job that he was physically able to do. That is a matter of some consequence.

[88]The next issue is the effect of the plaintiff’s pre-existing back problems. According to Dr. Laidlow because of the plaintiff’s spondylolisthesis, and given the heavy nature of his work, he likely would have experienced back problems similar to those he now experiences in 10 years even if he had not been involved in an accident.

[89]As noted above, such future risks or contingencies are taken into account through a combination of their likely effect and the relative likelihood of them coming to pass (Athey at para. 27). I find that there was a 60 percent likelihood that Mr. Olynyk would experience the same symptoms he now experiences in 10 years in any event. It is not appropriate to reduce the award for general damages by 60 percent to account for that likelihood because the pre-existing condition would not have given rise to symptoms and limitations for 10 years. Mr. Olynyk is now 47 years old. I think it reasonable to reduce the award for general damages to account for his pre-existing condition by 30 percent.

[90]The plaintiff is entitled to $28,000 in general damages ($40,000 less 30 percent). That amount must be further reduced to account for Mr. Olynyk’s failure to mitigate. The net award of non-pecuniary damages is therefore $22,400.

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In the second case released this week (Scoffield v. Jentsch) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2009 collision on Vancouver Island.  Although the Defendant admitted fault there was “a serious dispute between the plaintiff and the defendant as to the severity of the force of impact“.

Mr. Justice Halfyard noted several ‘concerns about the Plaintiff’s credibility‘ and went on to find that the impact was quite minor finding as follows:

[201]I find that, after initially coming to a full stop, the defendant’s vehicle was moving very slowly when it made contact with the rear bumper of the plaintiff’s car. The plaintiff’s car was not pushed forward. The damage caused by the collision was minor. The force of the impact was low. The defendant backed his car up after the collision, and the bits of plastic picked up by the plaintiff some distance behind her car, fell away from his car as he was backing up. I do not accept the plaintiff’s estimate that the closest pieces of plastic on the roadway were eight feet behind the bumper of her car.

Despite this finding and the noted credibility concerns, the Court found that the Plaintiff did suffer soft tissue injuries to her neck and upper back and awarded non-pecuniary damages of $30,000.  In doing so Mr. Justice Halfyard provided the following reasons:

[202]The defendant admits that the plaintiff sustained injury to the soft tissues of her neck, upper back and shoulders as a result of the collision of April 9, 2009. I made that finding of fact. But the plaintiff alleges that the degree of severity of the injury was moderate, whereas the defence argues that it was only mild, or mild to moderate in degree…

[221]I find that, from April 16, 2009 until August 9, 2009, the pain from the injury prevented the plaintiff from working. After that, she was able to commence a gradual return to working full-time, which took a further two months until October 10, 2009. For the first four months after the accident, the pain from the injury prevented the plaintiff from engaging in her former recreational and athletic activities. She gradually resumed her former activities after that time. I find that, by the spring of 2010, the plaintiff had substantially returned to the level of recreational and athletic activities that she had done before the accident. After that time, any impairment of the plaintiff’s physical capacity to work or to do other activities was not caused by the injury she sustained in the accident on April 9, 2009…

[226]The plaintiff must be fairly compensated for the amount of pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life that she has incurred by reason of the injury caused by the defendant’s negligence. In light of the findings of fact that I have outlined above, I have decided that the plaintiff should be awarded $30,000.00 as damages for non-pecuniary loss.

______________________________________________________________________

(UPDATE March 19, 2014 - the BC Court of Appeal overturned the liability split below to 75/25 in the Plaintiff’s favour)

In this week’s third case, (Russell v. Parks) the pedestrian Plaintiff was injured in a parking lot collision with a vehicle.  The Court found that both parties were to blame for the impact but the Plaintiff shouldered more of the blame being found 66.3% at fault.

The Plaintiff suffered a fracture to the fifth metacarpal of his right foot and a chronic soft tissue injury to his knee.  The latter injury merged with pre-existing difficulties to result in on-going symptoms.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $45,000 (before the reduction to account for liability) Mr. Justice Abrioux provided the following reasons:

[63]I make the following findings of fact based on my consideration of the evidence both lay and expert as a whole:

(a)      the plaintiff’s “original position” immediately prior to the Accident included the following:

·being significantly overweight and deconditioned;

·having a hypertension condition which had existed for many years;

·asymptomatic degenerative osteoarthritis to both knees, more significant to the right than the left; and

·symptomatic left foot and ankle difficulties.

(b)      prior to the Accident, the plaintiff’s weight and deconditioning, together with the left foot and ankle difficulties caused him to live a rather sedentary lifestyle. Although he was able to work from time to time and participate in certain leisure activities, these were lessening as he grew older.

(c)      the Accident did not cause the degenerative osteoarthritis in the right knee to become symptomatic. It did, however, cause a soft-tissue injury which continued to affect the plaintiff to some extent at the time of trial.

(d)      the plaintiff’s ongoing difficulties are multifactoral. They include:

·his ongoing weight and conditioning problems. Although Mr. Russell’s pre-Accident weight and lack of conditioning would likely have affected his work and enjoyment of the amenities of life even if the Accident had not occurred, the injuries which he did sustain exacerbated that pre-existing condition;

·the plaintiff’s pre-existing but quiescent cardiac condition would have materialized the way it did even if the Accident had not occurred. This condition would have affected his long term day-to-day functioning including his ability to earn an income;

·notwithstanding this, the injuries sustained in the Accident, particularly the right knee, continue to affect his ongoing reduced functioning. This will continue indefinitely, to some degree, although some weight loss and an exercise rehabilitation program will likely assist him;

·an exercise and weight loss program would have been of benefit to the plaintiff even if the Accident had not occurred.,,

[73]From the mid range amount of approximately $60,000 I must take into account the plaintiff’s original position and the measurable risk the pre-Accident condition would have affected the plaintiff’s life had the Accident not occurred. Accordingly, I award non pecuniary damages in the amount of $45,000.

______________________________________________________________________________________

In the final case (Hill v. Swayne) the 35 year old Plaintiff was involved in a 2009 collision.  Fault was admitted by the Defendant.  The Plaintiff sustained soft tissue injuries to his neck and back.   The Court noted some reliability issues with the Plaintiff’s evidence and found his collision related injuries were largely resolved by the time of trial.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $20,000 Mr. Justice Armstrong provided the following reasons:

[68]Mr. Hill suffered a neck strain and lumbar strain and received 13 physiotherapy treatments ending February 2, 2010. He was absent from work from December 14, 2009 to January 4, 2010..

[74]I accept that an injury of the type suffered by Mr. Hill was particularly troublesome in light of the heavy work in his role as a journeyman/foreman roofer. A back injury to a person in his circumstances, even if not disabling in itself, would require extra care and watchfulness on the job to ensure that the injury is not exacerbated. In considering the criteria in Stapely, it is significant that Mr. Hill, who was a heavy lifting labourer, injured his back and that the injury has lingering effects. The injuries have minimally impacted his lifestyle, and he has dealt stoically with his employment.

[75]The severity of his pain was modest and the extent to which the duration of his discomfort was related to the accident is uncertain. However, I accept that there is some connection between the collision and his ongoing complaints.

[76]I have considered various cases cited by counsel and additionally referred to the Reichennek case. Although comparisons are of some assistance, I am to focus on the factors set out by the Court of Appeal and the specific circumstances of the plaintiff in this particular case. In the final analysis, I would award the plaintiff non-pecuniary damages of $20,000.


BC Court of Appeal: Past Capacity Awards Permissible Even Where Wage Loss Fully Mitigated

July 6th, 2012

Important reasons for judgement were released yesterday by the BC Court of Appeal holding that an award for past diminished earning capacity can be made even when a plaintiff has fully mitigated their past wage loss.

In yesterday’s case (Ibbitson v. Cooper) the Plaintiff worked in the logging industry as a heli-faller.   He was injured in a collision and these injuries disabled him from his own occupation.  Despite this he was able to keep working in an alternate occupation which paid less.   By working longer hours at the lesser hourly rate the Plaintiff fully mitigated his past loss of income.  At trial the Court awarded the Plaintiff $95,000 for past diminished earning capacity.  The Defendant appealed arguing no award should have been made as there was no past wage loss.  The BC Court of Appeal disagreed and upheld the award.  In doing so the Court provided the following reasons for judgement:

[14] The issue on appeal may be stated in this way – did the trial judge err in giving an award for past loss of earning capacity in circumstances where the plaintiff had fully mitigated his loss of income but where the circumstances of his replacement employment required him to work longer hours?…

[19] While in many cases the actual lost income will be the most reliable measure of the value of the loss of capacity to earn income, this is not necessarily so. A hard and fast rule that actual lost income is the only measure would result in the erosion of the distinction made by this Court in Rowe: it is not the actual lost income which is compensable but the lost capacity i.e. the damage to the asset. The measure may vary where the circumstances require; evidence of the value of the loss may take many forms (see Rowe). As was held in Rosvold v. Dunlop, 2001 BCCA 1 at para. 11, 84 B.C.L.R. (3d) 158, the overall fairness and reasonableness of the award must be considered taking into account all the evidence. An award for loss of earning capacity requires the assessment of damages, not calculation according to some mathematical formula.

[20] In this case, the respondent clearly suffered as a result of the accident; he can no longer perform the job he was engaged in prior to the accident. He has suffered a pecuniary disadvantage as he needs to work longer hours to maintain his approximate pre-accident level of income.

[21] The trial judge considered pre-trial earnings both before and after the accident, explaining that calculating a precise value for the extra hours was a difficult task, and chose to assess the damages “at large”. Had Mr. Ibbitson worked the same amount of hours post-injury as he had pre-injury, he surely would have been found to have suffered a compensable loss of earning capacity. His entitlement to such damages does not disappear due to his industrious efforts to maintain his level of income, exceeding his legal requirement to mitigate. I agree with the trial judge’s conclusion and analysis.


Videotape Evidence "Of Some Assistance" in Impacting Personal Injury Claim

January 2nd, 2012

As previously discussed, video surveillance is a reality in personal injury litigation and surveillance depicting a Plaintiff acting inconsistently with their evidence can impact an assessment of damages.  Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vernon Registry, demonstrating surveillance evidence in action.

In last week’s case (Wilkinson v. Whitlock) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2007 collision in Vernon, BC.  The Defendant drove through a red light and was found fully at fault for the crash.  The Plaintiff suffered from back problems as a result of the collision.  In the course of trial the Plaintiff testified as to the effects of these injuries.  ICBC introduced video surveillance evidence which gave the impression “of an individual less limited than (the Plaintiff’s) evidence at trial and on discovery would lead one to conclude“. Mr. Justice Barrow provided the following reasons considering this evidence:

[16] There is reason to approach the plaintiff’s evidence with caution. She was defensive and evasive in cross-examination. I accept that anxiety may explain her defensive posture, but it does not account for her tendency not to answer questions directly. I do not, however, take much from these circumstances.

[17] As to the videotape evidence, it is of some assistance. The plaintiff was videotaped in January and February of 2008, May of 2009, and June and October of 2010. The plaintiff’s left hip and groin became, on her description, excruciatingly painful for no apparent reason when she was shopping. Although Ms. Wilkinson could not recall the date of this event, I suspect it was likely in the fall of 2008. Ms. Wilkinson testified that although the pain in her hip or groin varies, it often causes her “to waddle” when she walks as opposed to walking with a normal gait. On examination for discovery she agreed that it caused her to waddle most of the time. She said that it was a particular problem when she walked after driving.

[18] The January and February 2008 videotape evidence is of little assistance – the recordings are brief and do not show the plaintiff walking to any extent. The May 2009 videotape evidence is much more extensive. On May 19, 2009 the plaintiff was at a gas station purchasing flowers. To my eye, her gait appeared normal. On June 14, 2009 the plaintiff was videotaped while at a garden centre, and again her gait appeared normal. A year later, on June 15, 2010, there is videotape of her walking. There is no apparent limp but she does appear stiff and careful in the way she moves. On June 17, 2010 Ms. Wilkinson was videotaped walking to her car with a grocery cart full of groceries. She was captured loading the groceries into the hatchback of her vehicle. She did all of that without apparent limitation. On June 19 of that year she purchased a three or four foot tall house plant which she loaded and unloaded from her car, again without apparent limitation. Finally, there is a lengthy videotape of her on June 19, 2010 at a garden centre with Mr. Bains and her daughter. She is captured squatting down, standing up, and walking about the store without noticeable limitation. In summary, the videotape reveals some minor stiffness or limitation on some occasions. There are also occasions when she appeared to have little or no visible limitation. Generally, the impression left by the videotape evidence is of an individual less limited than Ms. Wilkinson’s evidence at trial and on discovery would lead one to conclude.

  • Mitigation of Damages

This case is also worth reviewing for the Court’s application of the mitigation principle.  Mr. Justice Barrow found that the Plaintiff was prescribed therapies that she failed to follow and these would have improved the symptoms.  The Court did not, however, reduce the Plaintiff’s damages finding that it was reasonable for her not to follow medical advise given her financial circumstances.    Mr. Justice Barrow provided the the following reasons:

[50] Returning to the principles set out in Janiak, and dealing with the second one first, I am satisfied on a balance of probabilities that continued physiotherapy at least during 2008 would have reduced some of the plaintiff’s symptoms and increased her functionality. Further, I am satisfied that the supervised exercise program that Mr. Cooper recommended would have yielded ongoing benefits. I reach this conclusion because Ms. Wilkinson did benefit from both Mr. Saunder’s and Mr. Cooper’s assistance. There is no reason to think those benefits would not have continued and perhaps provided further relief.

[51] The more difficult issue is whether it was unreasonable for the plaintiff to not have followed up on these therapies. She testified that it was largely due to a lack of financial resources. I accept her evidence in that regard. She was in the midst of renovations which were costly. In addition she had lost the assistance that Mr. Harrison was to have provided. The renovations were also time consuming and physically taxing. Further, she underwent a very difficult separation from Mr. Harrison which extracted both a financial and emotional toll. In all these circumstances I am not persuaded that the defendant has established that it was unreasonable for the plaintiff not to pursue a fitness regime more diligently than she did. Most of the impediments to the pursuit of such a program will be no longer exist once this trial is over. I will address the implications of that when dealing with the damages for future losses.


BC Court of Appeal Discusses Mitigation of Damages in Injury Claims

March 31st, 2011

Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Court of Appeal providing a useful summary of the law of mitigation of damages in the context of a personal injury lawsuit.

In this week’s case (Gregory v. ICBC) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2006 collision in White Rock, BC.  She was injured and sued for damages.  At trial her damages were assessed at just over $140,000 and then reduced by 10% for an alleged ‘failure to mitigate‘.  In short the trial judge held that the Plaintiff unreasonably failed to follow her doctor’s recommendation to have cortisone injections.

The Plaintiff appealed this deduction arguing that there was no evidence before the Court that these injections would have improved the Plaintiff’s symptoms.  The BC Court of Appeal agreed and overturned this deduction.  In doing so Madam Justice Garson provide the following short but useful discussion of the law of mitigation of damages in personal injury lawsuits:

[53] In Chiu v. Chiu, 2002 BCCA 618 at para. 57, this Court set out the test for failure to mitigate as follows:

[57]      The onus is on the defendant to prove that the plaintiff could have avoided all or a portion of his loss. In a personal injury case in which the plaintiff has not pursued a course of medical treatment recommended to him by doctors, the defendant must prove two things: (1) that the plaintiff acted unreasonably in eschewing the recommended treatment, and (2) the extent, if any, to which the plaintiff’s damages would have been reduced had he acted reasonably. These principles are found in Janiak v. Ippolito, [1985] 1 S.C.R. 146.

[56] I would describe the mitigation test as a subjective/objective test.  That is whether the reasonable patient, having all the information at hand that the plaintiff possessed, ought reasonably to have undergone the recommended treatment.  The second aspect of the test is “the extent, if any to which the plaintiff’s damages would have been reduced” by that treatment.  The Turner case, on which the trial judge relies, uses slightly different language than this Court’s judgment in Chiu: “there is some likelihood that he or she would have received substantial benefit from it …”.

[57] In this case the trial judge found as a fact that the cortisone shots were “not necessarily curative, they reduce the inflammation… Sometimes the relief is only temporary but sometimes the injections bring long term benefits”.  She did not find that the treatment would have reduced the symptoms.  In addition there is the fact that the plaintiff reasonably believed the diagnosis was a tear and that the injections would have no healing effect on a tear.

[58] Regardless of whether the trial judge erred in finding on the evidence that it was objectively reasonable for the plaintiff to undergo the injections, I conclude that she erred in her application of the correct test, as articulated in Chiu.  The physicians testified only that it was a reasonable treatment to try, and it might afford some relief.  In my view such an opinion does not meet the threshold for reducing an award as described in Chiu.

[59] I would accede to this ground of appeal and reverse the judge’s decision to reduce the award by 10%.


More on Mitigation of Damages: Working When Your Doctor Says Stop

March 14th, 2011

As previously discussed, if you sue for damages as a result of personal injuries you have a duty to minimize you losses.  If you fail to take reasonable efforts to do so the damages you are entitled to can be reduced.  This legal principle is called “failure to mitigate“.

The most common argument addressing mitigation relates to following doctor’s advice.  If a person fails to follow medical advice without good reason their damages can be reduced.  Earlier this week the BC Court of Appeal had an opportunity to address an interesting mitigation issue: Does a Plaintiff fail to mitigate their damages when they ignore their doctor’s advice to take time away from work?

In this week’s case (Bradshaw v. Matwick) the Plaintiff was in a 2006 rear-end crash.   Following the collision the Plaintiff’s doctor “recommended that the plaintiff stop working and enter into a full-time rehabilitation program.  He felt that the plaintiff’s recovery would be hastened by entering into such a program”  The Plaintiff did not follow this advice.  When asked why he explained that he simply could not afford time away from work testifying that “his financial situation was such that he needed to continue working“.

At trial the Plaintiff was awarded just over $268,000 in total damages for his injuries and loss.  The Defendant appealed arguing, amongst other things, that the trial judge erred in failing to reduce the damages for the Plaintiff’s failure to follow his doctor’s advice.  The BC Court of Appeal disagreed with this argument finding that the Plaintiff’s decision to continue working out of financial need was reasonable.  In dismissing this aspect of the appeal the Court provided the following helpful reasons:

[16]         The trial judge found that the plaintiff had acted reasonably in returning to work in August 2006, and that he had generally followed recommendations for rehabilitative exercise:

[40]          In regards to Mr. Bradshaw continuing to work in August 2006, against his doctor’s advice, Mr. Bradshaw had no choice.  The plaintiff had a less than accommodating employer.  The plaintiff was aware that in order to keep his job, he had to work at his job.  It would be reasonable for the plaintiff to conclude based on his job circumstances, that taking a substantial time off to recover would result in the loss of his job.  The effects for the plaintiff in this respect would be devastating.  He has worked for Rebelle for over twenty years.  He has limited reading and writing skills which would make any new job which would require training difficult for him.  It was not unreasonable for the plaintiff, in light of this circumstance, to make the decision to struggle on and hope for the best in his recovery while continuing to work.

[41]          Additionally, the plaintiff had significant commitments to a wife and two children.  He, at best, earns a moderate to good income in the $50,000 range.  It is highly unlikely that he could have survived on the modest wage loss funds available to him either through the defendants’ insurer or through the employment insurance program.  His wife, Ms. Bennett, has only ever worked part-time and although she no doubt contributes to the family expenses, the household consists of two adults, and two children, in a home they own with a mortgage.

[17]         On appeal, the defendants point to evidence from the plaintiff’s doctor to the effect that he would have given the plaintiff a medical note recommending full-time rehabilitation if one had been requested, and to the employer’s evidence that it would have given the plaintiff a leave of absence if such a note had been provided.  They also argue that the plaintiff presented only minimal evidence of his financial position in August 2006, and contend that the trial judge relied on inadmissible hearsay.  The defendants say that, in the face of that evidence, the judge’s finding that it was reasonable for the plaintiff to return to work represents a palpable and overriding error.

[18]         I am unable to accept the defendants’ assertion.  There was considerable evidence concerning difficulties in the relationship between the plaintiff and his employer.  In the circumstances, it was open to the trial judge to accept that the plaintiff had a reasonable apprehension that he might lose his employment if he did not return to work.  While the evidence of the plaintiff’s precise financial position in August 2006 was limited, there was sufficient information before the trial judge to allow him to conclude that the plaintiff’s financial position was not sufficiently secure to allow him to risk losing his job.

[19]         In any event, even if it had been unequivocally established that the plaintiff’s recovery was delayed by his decision to return to work in August 2006, it would not prove that the decision resulted in an exacerbation of his damages.  The plaintiff’s immediate wage losses were significantly reduced by his decision to return to work.  It is not at all apparent that any consequential increase in his non-pecuniary losses or subsequent wage losses would have offset the immediate gains.  Thus, the defendants have failed to show that the decision to return to work in August 2006 resulted in any net increase in the plaintiff’s damages.


Damages Reduced by $35,000 for Failure to Follow Exercise Program

December 14th, 2010

As I’ve recently written, a Plaintiff has a duty to mitigate their losses after being injured otherwise the damages they are entitled to can be reduced.

The most common example of the ‘failure to mitigate’ defence comes up in personal injury claims where defence lawyers argue that a Plaintiff would have recovered more quickly and more completely had they followed through with the suggestions of their medical practitioners.  If evidence supporting such an argument is accepted then a Plaintiff’s award can be reduced.  Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, demonstrating this defence in action in an ICBC claim.

In today’s case (Cripps v. Overend) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2006 “t-bone” collision.  The Defendant came through a stop sign at high speed and was responsible for the crash.  Fault was admitted and the trial focused on the value of the claim.   The Plaintiff’s injuries totally disabled him for two months and continued to partially disable him by the time of trial.

Madam Justice Stromberg-Stein assessed the Plaintiff’s damages at just over $141,000 then reduced the award by 25% to account for the Plaintiff’s failure to mitigate.  Specifically the Court found the Plaintiff unreasonably failed to follow his physician’s recommendation to undertake an exercise program and had he done so his injuries would have had a better course of recovery.  In reaching this conclusion the Court provided the following reasons:

[96]         There is evidence to satisfy the onus in this case. Mr. Cripps failed in his duty to mitigate his loss by exercising consistently and getting active. Mr. Schneider provided exercises in 2006. He had abandoned these by the time he saw Dr. Adrian in 2007. Dr. Adrian recommended reconditioning in 2007. There is no proof of any impediment to exercise other than Mr. Cripps felt sorry for himself. Dr. Smith highly recommends vigorous exercise to elevate mood.

[97]         The court must reduce damages based on its assessment of the consequences that flow from the failure to mitigate: Tayler v. Loney, 2009 BCSC 742.

[98]         The defendants seek a significant reduction of damages in the range of 25% to 40%: Middleton v. Morcke, 2007 BCSC 804; Latuszek v. Bel-Air Taxi (1992), Limited 2009 BCSC 798.

[99]         The benefits of exercise were proven when Mr. Cripps began to go to the gym in 2009. Once Mr. Cripps started this exercise program he was a different person. Had Mr. Cripps started and maintained an exercise program as his doctors and physiotherapist urged him to do, it is probable his prognosis would be more favorable. The failure to mitigate implicates not only his physical injuries, but any emotional ones, including irritability that may have contributed to his marriage breakdown.

[100]     There will be a reduction of damages of 25% for failure to mitigate.

For more information about the law of mitigation in injury claims you can click here to access my archived posts.