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 ‘Rule 12-6’

Jury Struck in Injury Claim With “Complex” Business Loss Element

November 22nd, 2018

Reasons for judgement were published today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, striking a jury notice for a personal injury claim with a complex business loss component.

In today’s case (Forstved v. Kokabi) the Plaintiff was involved in a collision and sued for damages.  The Defendant elected to proceed to trial with a jury.  THe Plaintiff argued that the claim, particularly with its business loss component, was too complex for a jury.  The court agreed and struck the Defendant’s jury notice.  In doing so Master Dick provided the following reasons:

[50]         In this case, I agree with the plaintiff. The evidence in this case is sufficient to establish that this case will require a prolonged examination of documents or accounts and that the issues require a scientific or local investigation.

[51]         I must now look to whether the examination or investigation may conveniently be made with a jury. In considering this question, I acknowledge that a party’s right to trial by jury is entitled to great weight and ought not to be disturbed except in the clearest of cases.

[52]         In this case, I must consider if the jury can not only understand the evidence as it is presented and rebutted, but also retain it over 19 days and engage in a reasoned analysis at the end of the trial.

[53]         The plaintiff will be calling at least 23 witnesses, of whom 11 are experts. There will be lay witnesses, including the plaintiff’s accountant Mr. Moody. The accountant will be introducing many of the business and tax documents to support the plaintiff’s business arrangements. There will be at least 22 expert reports to be considered.

[54]         If I was just considering the number of experts, the expert’s use of terminology, the volume of medical evidence, and divergent opinions alone, that would not necessarily cause me to strike the jury in this case. What makes this case more difficult is the fact the plaintiff’s income and business losses are not straightforward. The jury will have to review and understand the plaintiff and his spouse’s income tax information as well as the financial statements from all of the corporations he owned. The jury will then have to analyze, understand, and interpret the documents to assess his income and business loss.

[55]         In this case, I accept that the issues of causation and quantification of damages will require prolonged examination of documents and scientific matters going to many issues over a protracted period. The difficulties for the trier of fact in dealing with this task was set out in Wallman v. Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, 2012 BCSC 1849 at para. 57:

. . . It may be necessary to retain fine detail from the examination in chief and cross-examination of many witnesses on multiple issues for weeks before those issues are traversed by defence witnesses. Considered on their own, most, but not all, of the expert reports in this case may be understood by a jury in light of the full examination in chief and cross-examination of the experts, but retention of that understanding over several weeks is likely to be so difficult, in my view, that fruitful analysis at the end of the day may be impossible.

[56]         I have considered all of the submissions made by counsel and the factors set out in paragraph 25 of these reasons. In this matter there is a significant dispute about the injuries sustained by the plaintiff and the impact on his life. After consideration of all of the above, I find that the jury will be significantly challenged over the 19 days of trial to retain, understand, and analyze the complex and conflicting evidence and reach factual and legal conclusions on the issues of causation and damages. As a result, I am satisfied that this matter cannot conveniently be heard by a jury.

[57]         I therefore will exercise my discretion to strike the jury notice and there will be an order that the trial of this case will be heard by judge alone.


Medical Malpractice Claim Not Too Complex for a Jury to Understand

January 23rd, 2018

Reasons for judgement were published today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, dismissing a defence request to have a jury struck from hearing a medical malpractice lawsuit.

In today’s case (Howe v. Hwang) the Plaintiff commenced a lawsuit alleging negligence following a series of complications relating to the surgical treatment of diverticulitis.

The parties settled on damages but the issues of liability (fault) remained open for the court to decide.  The Plaintiff elected trial by jury.  The Defendants objected arguing a medical malpractice case was too complex for a jury to understand.  Master Keighley disagreed and provided the following reasons in upholding the Plaintiff’s right to trial by jury :

[41]         My authority to grant the order sought is discretionary. In exercising this discretion, I must consider the issues holistically, in determining whether, at the conclusion of my analysis, the considerations raised by Rule 12-6(5) support the defence assertion that this case is not appropriate for a decision by a jury.

[42]         It may go without saying that the jury in this case will be required to engage in a prolonged examination of documents, that the resolution of the issues before this jury will require a scientific or local investigation and that the issues are of an intricate and complex nature. Thus my discretion is engaged.  

[43]         Amongst the factors which I have considered in determining that it is appropriate to have this case tried by a judge and jury, I have considered the following:

1.     The anticipated length of the trial.

[44]         The trial will not be a long one. It is presently anticipated by counsel that it will take perhaps ten or 11 days of the three weeks set aside. This reduction in time is primarily the result of the resolution of the claims against Dr. Crowley, and the agreement which has been reached with respect to damages. The jury will not be obliged to retain the technical knowledge they acquire for many weeks before delivering its verdict

2.     The number of experts to be called.

[45]         As I have indicated, the plaintiff will be relying on two experts and the defendant on three.

3.     The volume of expert evidence.

[46]         As is the case with most expert reports, the text is dense and replete with scientific terminology. But in objective terms the reports, as I have indicated, total 32 pages, far from a vast volume of expert reports.

4.     The nature and character of the expert evidence.

[47]         The jury will be obliged to consider conflicting opinion with respect to the conduct of the defendant. I have reviewed the medical reports. While I am untrained in medical matters I have no difficulty in following the rationale expressed by the experts or understanding the terminology used. I cannot see that a jury, properly instructed, will have difficulty in coming to a conclusion on the basis of technical issues alone. The opinions of all five experts are clearly stated and, apparently, objective. Juries are, of course, often called upon to deal with conflicting expert evidence with respect to medical issues in the context of personal injury litigation. I do not regard the terminology which appears in the pleadings or the expert reports as being mysterious or opaque. I am confident that with supplementary assistance from the experts, counsel and the presiding judge, the reports may be appropriately dealt with by a jury.

[48]         In summary, although the jury in this case will be obliged to deal with technically demanding scientific medical issues and unfamiliar terminology, as well as the conflicting evidence of experts, I am not satisfied that those considerations put this case beyond the range of functions credited to juries in our system.

[49]         As previously indicated to counsel, the application is dismissed. The issue of costs was dealt with at the conclusion of the hearing.


Potentially “Harsh” Result No Reason To Strike Jury in Injury Claim

November 14th, 2017

Reasons for judgment were published today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, dismissing a plaintiff request to strike a jury notice in an ICBC injury claim.

In the recent case (Froese v. Wilson) the 17 year old Plaintiff who “became severely intoxicated at a house party” left riding in the cargo box of a pickup truck which then moved and “caused him to fall out of the truck.”.

The Plaintiff sued for damages and the matter was set down for a 20 day trial with the Defendant electing trial by jury.  The Plaintiff objected noting that a total of 19 expert witnesses would likely testify, the matter was too complex for a jury and the jury “may take a harsher view of the plaintiff’s conduct than would a judge in assessing liability“.  The court noted that while this may be true it is no reason to strip a party’s right to trial by jury.  In reaching this conclusion Mr. Justice Smith provided the following reasons:

[17]         This trial is set for 20 days—a length no longer unusual for a jury trial. Although there is a multiplicity of expert evidence, it comes from experts in fields that are commonly at issue in personal injury cases and there appears to be a great deal of common ground as to the nature of the injuries suffered by the plaintiff in the motor vehicle accident. As said above, the main areas of disagreement relate to the long-term impact of those injuries and the cause of the plaintiff’s ongoing symptoms. I am not persuaded that those areas of disagreement are so complex that they cannot be considered by a properly instructed jury on the basis of properly presented and explained expert evidence.

[18]         Counsel for the plaintiff also alluded to a concern that a jury may take a harsher view of the plaintiff’s conduct than would a judge in assessing liability. That is entirely speculative and I presume jurors will be attentive to whatever instructions the trial judge gives them on how they are to go about assessing the relative blameworthiness of both parties. However, the possibility that a jury verdict may reflect community attitudes that differ from those of judges is one of the frequent justifications for retaining the jury system.

[19]         Counsel also argues that the outcome of this trial may determine the course of the rest of the plaintiff’s life and subjecting him to the uncertainties inherent in a jury trial is inconsistent with the object of a just determination on the merits set out in R. 1-3.

[20]         Although I have a certain sympathy with the plaintiff’s concern about the risks and uncertainties in a jury trial, the fact remains that R. 12-6 continues to give either party the right to unilaterally select trial by jury. Unless the party who does not want a jury trial can meet the onus of showing that it is not appropriate in a particular case and the presumptive right to a jury trial should be denied, a jury trial and verdict must be considered to come within the “just determination” envisioned by R. 1-3.

[21]         The plaintiff has failed to meet the onus in this case and the application to strike the jury notice must be dismissed.


Complex Wage Loss Claim Fuels Successful Jury Strike Application

December 7th, 2016

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Victoria Registry, granting a Plaintiff’s jury strike application.

In today’s case (van Driesum v. Young) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2011 collision and sued for damages.  The trial was scheduled for 18 days before a jury at the Defendants election.  The Plaintiff succeeded in striking the jury from the case largely on the basis that his wage loss claim was complex.  In granting the application Mr. Justice Macintosh provided the following reasons:

[6]             The overall question is trial fairness, weighing the Defendant’s presumptive right to a jury against the risk of unfairness to the Plaintiff by having a jury attempt to decide facts and answer questions which are too intricate or complex.  My conclusion is that this case should not proceed with a jury.

[7]             The motor vehicle accident giving rise to the claim occurred on February 23, 2011.  That year also serves as the approximate dividing line between what I will characterize as two separate careers for the Plaintiff.  The methods for determining income loss and lost-earning capacity are complicated within each of his two careers.  In what I am viewing as the Plaintiff’s post‑accident career, or second career, determining income loss and lost-earning capacity are, in my view, particularly complex.

[8]             Before the accident, the Plaintiff practised law for 20 years.  For the last 17 of those years, he was a partner in a Victoria law firm.  During at least part of that time, he practised law through the business model of a personal law corporation.  Money he received from the firm went into his law corporation.  He did not take all that money out, at least not regularly.  Also, he split income with his wife in reliance on the applicable tax laws.  Accordingly, his income tax returns do not tell the full story of his pre‑accident earnings.  They need to be interpreted together with his personal law corporation’s annual financial statements, and the particulars of his income splitting with his wife.

[9]             In the result, determining the Plaintiff’s pre‑accident earning history will not be a straightforward exercise.  The complexity of that exercise, however, pales when it is compared with determining the Plaintiff’s earnings, lost earnings, and diminished earning capacity post-accident.

[10]         The Plaintiff has maintained, at different times, at least three personal companies:  through one, after his accident, he became the president of a mining company; through another, also after the accident, he consulted on WorkSafe BC claims; the other was his pre‑existing personal law corporation, which remained in place until December 31, 2014, to receive the Plaintiff’s declining earnings from his residual practise of law.  That included some post‑accident legal work by the Plaintiff, as well as some pre‑accident legal work which gave rise to post‑accident remuneration.

[11]         It will, in my view, be extremely difficult for the trier of fact to sort out both the Plaintiff’s true earnings in the post‑accident period, and the extent to which the accident impaired his earning capacity.

[12]         Furthermore, the Plaintiff’s post‑accident earnings history, and evidence of earning capacity, is over-layered with a dispute the Plaintiff had with a post‑accident business colleague, who was a former client from the Plaintiff’s law practice.  Plaintiff’s counsel characterized the evidence of that dispute as amounting to a trial within a trial in this proceeding, and that is not an unreasonable analogy.

[13]         The difficulties for a jury in this case would be increased by the difficulties a judge would have in properly charging the jury in matters of causation and the quantification of damages.

[14]         The brief summary above, of the complexities in determining both causation and damages, and in the judge charging the jury, probably would have caused me to strike the jury even if there were no other relevant facts.  When I add the other complexities of the case, which are associated with the accident itself, and the related medical evidence, the complexity is only increased.

[15]         I will preface this next part of the analysis by saying that what I call the accident evidence and medical evidence, viewed in isolation, would probably not have caused me to strike the jury.  That evidence becomes relevant on this application, however, when it is added to the evidence associated with determining the past and future income loss, and diminished earning capacity, discussed earlier in these reasons.

[16]         Liability is in issue.  All the elements of the damages claimed are also in issue.  The Defendant, through his pleadings and his expert witnesses, disputes diagnosis, causation, mitigation, prognosis and the Plaintiff’s working capacity.  It is probably the case, as well, that at least some clinical records will have to become part of the evidentiary record.

[17]         The Plaintiff plans to call nine expert witnesses in at least seven disciplines, and the Defendant plans to call four expert witnesses and tender eight expert reports.  I further note that the Plaintiff intends to object to all or part of three of the Defendant’s expert reports, and the Defendant intends to object to all or part of four of the Plaintiff’s expert reports.

[18]         The law is clear in saying that the judge’s discretion on this application must be exercised having primary regard to his or her assessment of the relevant factors present in the particular application:  see Rados v. Pannu, 2015 BCCA 459, at paras. 30‑32 and Such v. Dominion Stores Ltd., [1961] O.R. 190 (Ont. C.A.).  In other words, the analysis, not surprisingly, is driven by the facts present in the application at bar.

[19]         What is appropriate for a jury to try has to do not only with the jury’s capacity to understand the evidence as it is presented and rebutted, but also to retain over several weeks what they have heard and then analyse it in the context of the questions they are required to answer.  (See Wipfli v. Britten, [1981] B.C.J. No. 1706 (F.C.) at paras. 30 and 31.)

[20]         When the facts in this application are viewed through the legal prism of the cases cited above, I find that the Plaintiff has established the three grounds he relies upon, noted above in paragraph 5.  As stated above in paragraph 6, I conclude that I should exercise my discretion to strike the jury.


Retrial Ordered After “Inconsistent” $765 Jury Award in Personal Injury Claim

November 27th, 2015

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, ordering a retrial after a jury awarded special damages but nothing for non-pecuniary loss in a personal injury lawsuit.

In today’s case (Harder v. Poettcker) the Plaintiff proceeded to jury trial after alleging injuries in a collision.  The jury found the Plaintiff 85% at fault for the crash and awarded a total $5,100 in damages, which were all based on out of pocket expenses and awarded nothing for non pecuniary damages.  After applying the split of fault this left an award of $765.

The presiding judge found a new trial was necessary as it was inconsistent to award money for special damages yet nothing for non-pecuniary loss for the injuries underlying the need for those damages.  In reaching this conclusion Mr. Justice Sigurdson provided the following reasons:

17]         Notwithstanding the importance of attempting to enforce a jury’s verdict and the fact that even apart from the 85% contributory negligence award against the plaintiff, the award was at best either very modest or nil, I am driven to conclude that to award nothing for non-pecuniary damages but award $1,200 for special damages is an inconsistent verdict.

[18]         Although a possible rationalization of the award is that the jury intended to award the plaintiff say $400 for non-pecuniary damages but rounded it down in accordance with my instructions to zero, I reject that. I find the jury intended to award nothing for non-pecuniary damages. Even if the jury intended to award only a nominal amount for non-pecuniary damages, I think that would still create an inconsistent verdict: see Le v. Luz, 2003 BCCA 640.

[19]         I also reject the submission that the jury verdict could properly be interpreted to mean that they intended to award something for non-pecuniary damages under a pecuniary heading.

[20]         Although the defendant argues forcefully that there was coherence and consistency in the jury verdict, I respectfully disagree. I find that the jury award, although small from the plaintiff’s perspective, is inconsistent and judgment cannot be entered on the defendant’s motion.

[21]         The question then arises whether I can and should sever the issues of liability and damages and enter judgment on liability for the plaintiff including the contributory negligence finding and direct a retrial only on damages, or whether I should order a retrial of the entire case.

[22]         I have concluded that I am bound by the considered decision of my brother Weatherill J. in Kalsi. Although severance may be ordered in many cases before trial, this is not an appropriate case to have issues that are largely dependent on credibility decided by different triers of fact.

[23]         Given that there must be a retrial, how should that take place? A further trial by a new jury would be months, or a year or more, ahead. The mode of trial by jury was at the plaintiff’s request but now he wants the retrial by judge alone. The plaintiff now consents to and requests a retrial being conducted before me.

[24]         I think for a number of reasons that the retrial should be before me. I heard all of the evidence and the submissions of counsel. Given the fact that it would be a lengthy time until the matter is retried before a jury, and given the age of the plaintiff and the question of cost to the parties, I think it is appropriate that I conduct a retrial based on the evidence I have heard and I so order. Accordingly I exercise my discretion under the governing rule that the retrial take place before me without a jury.

[25]         I have heard the submissions of counsel and a recording of those submissions is available to me to refresh my memory. Counsel may make further submissions in writing on liability and damages provided they do not repeat what I have already heard in the submissions to the jury. I ask that the plaintiff file his argument within three weeks and the defendant his argument within three weeks following, with the plaintiff having a right of reply within a week. I will then hand down a written decision.


BC Court of Appeal – Jury Trial OK in Case With 40 Expert Reports

November 10th, 2015

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Court of Appeal finding a personal injury lawsuit with 40 expert reports totaling over 700 pages was not too complex for a jury to determine.

In today’s case (Rados v. Pannu) the Plaintiff alleged serious injuries as a result of a motor vehicle collision including “a traumatic brain injury; a vestibular injury that has impaired the appellant’s balance and induced bouts of nausea, dizziness and vomiting; various musculoligamentous and other physical injuries; and, a major depressive disorder”.

The Defendants elected a jury trial and the Plaintiff objected arguing the case was ‘too complex’ and pointed to the sheer volume of competing expert evidence.  The Plaintiff pointed to many cases where discretion was exercised to strike a jury in similar cases.  In finding that judicial discretion does allow for competing results and more than ” adding up the number of experts and medical issues or the number of pages of documents or the length of trial” is needed the Court provided the following reasons:

[22]         As I turn to consider the appellant’s argument, it is useful to remember that a decision whether to strike a jury notice is not only discretionary, but also engages important issues of trial management. The determination of such issues is properly a matter for the trial court. Furthermore, the onus is on the applicant to displace the presumptive right to a jury: MacPherson v. Czaban, 2002 BCCA 518 at para. 17, leave to appeal ref’d [2002] S.C.C.A. No. 480. Accordingly and appropriately, decisions of this kind attract considerable deference from this Court. These decisions turn critically on an assessment by the trial court of multiple factors bearing ultimately on the question whether a matter can be conveniently tried with the jury or should be heard without one.

[23]         The appellant points to numerous cases in which jury notices have been struck which share similarities with this case in terms of the number of medical issues, the number of experts, the nature of the issues and the length of trial. He suggests the result in this case cannot be reconciled with the results in those cases. Thus, he argues that the bar for striking a jury notice has been raised to a level beyond anything that can be accounted for by the inevitable variability of outcome inherent in the exercise of discretion.

[24]         I accept that, as was pointed out in Cochrane v. Insurance Corp. of British Columbia, 2005 BCCA 399 at para. 28:

It is unassailable that decisions under Rule 39(27) are driven by the particular facts of the case.  Even so, the facts in prior decisions are helpful in determining whether the discretion to grant or refuse an order to strike a jury notice has been exercised judicially.

[25]         It follows from this that, even allowing for the inevitable variation in outcomes arising from exercises of discretion, one would expect decisions with broadly similar facts to produce broadly predictable outcomes if discretion is being exercised judicially…

[30]         In my opinion, while other similar cases can assist in assessing whether discretion has been exercised judicially, broad and general similarities may mask material differences. The analysis does not begin and end with adding up the number of experts and medical issues or the number of pages of documents or the length of trial. Those factors may be indicative of whether the trial may be conveniently heard with a jury, but they are not necessarily the last word. They were not here because the judge delved deeply into an analysis of the factual circumstances engaged in the trial and exercised his discretion based on his assessment of those circumstances.

[31]         The appellant is not able to point to any relevant factors the judge failed to take into consideration in exercising his discretion, nor can he point to any irrelevant factors he did consider. He is not able to point to any consideration receiving too much or too little weight. In short, the appellant was not able to direct us to any specific error in the exercise of discretion that would warrant this Court interfering with the order.

[32]         The appellant suggested that if this order is not set aside, this Court would be endorsing a much higher bar for striking a jury notice than has previously been the case in this province. I do not accept that submission. In my view, this case turned on its specific and particular factual circumstances as they stood at the time of the application and as they were analyzed by the judge.  The judge then properly applied the relevant considerations to the exercise of his discretion. The case turned on its facts and does not represent a departure of principle or a resetting of the height of a bar.

[33]         Finally, it should be pointed out, as the chambers judge did, that when this matter comes on for trial, the trial judge “may order the trial to proceed without a jury if the interests of justice then require the making of such an order”. It may be that the case that goes to trial may be quite different to what now appears to be the case. As noted by Seaton J.A. in Ball v. Novlesky, [1981] B.C.J. No. 677 (C.A.) at para. 16, we and the chambers judge can examine the issue only on the basis of the record before us. The case at trial may be different and the trial judge would be free to deal with the issue then, if necessary.

[34]         In my opinion, the submissions of the appellant do not rise above an attempt to reargue the case that was rejected by the chambers judge. I do not think that the appellant has identified any error in principle in the exercise of the chambers judge’s discretion. Accordingly, I would dismiss the appeal.


Jury Verdict Deemed Perverse For Failing To Award Non-Pecuniary Damages

October 2nd, 2014

Reasons for judgment were released today by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, ordering a retrial following a ‘perverse’ jury finding.

In today’s case (Kalsi v. Gill) the Plaintiff was injured in a vehicle collision.  A jury found both parties equally to blame and after factoring the liability split awarded the Plaintiff $10,000 for past wage loss and special damages.  The Jury awarded nothing for non-pecuniary loss.  Mr. Justice Weatherill ordered a new trial and in doing so provided the following reasons:

[23]         While the court should strive to give effect to a jury’s verdict, it cannot do so where the jury’s verdict is internally in conflict.

[24]         In this case, it is apparent that the jury did not accept the plaintiff’s evidence as to her losses. Put bluntly, the jury did not believe her. It is obvious, however, that the jury found that the plaintiff was injured, at least to some degree, by the award for special damages of $8,000 and past loss of earnings of $12,000.

[25]         While the jury is the judge of issues such as credibility, it was not open to them, after making the findings as they did regarding special damages and past loss of wages, to fail to make any award for non-pecuniary damages (Balla). Such a result was inconsistent.

[26]         The basis of any tort action rests on a finding that the plaintiff suffered an injury. It is illogical to conclude that a plaintiff was injured and suffered past wage loss and special damages but did not sustain and pain, suffering, or loss of enjoyment, no matter how transient. (Balla, Stewart).

[27]         The issue, then, is whether this result necessitates a new trial (Rule 12-6(7)) or whether I can pronounce judgement on some of the claims and order a retrial on the balance (Rule 12-6(8)).

[28]         There is a clear difference in wording of the two rules that sheds some light on the issue. Rule 12-6(7) demands a retrial when either:

a)    a jury answers some but not all of the questions directed to it, or

b)    the jury’s answers are conflicting so that judgement cannot be pronounced on the findings.

[29]         Conversely, Rule 12-6(8) allows partial judgment when a jury’s answer entitles a party to judgement in respect of some but not all of the claims of relief. It does not contemplate partial judgment when the jury’s answer is conflicting.

[30]         Respecting the jury’s finding of liability between the parties for the collision, that question has been answered. There is nothing in the rest of the jury’s verdict that is inconsistent with it.

[31]         Respecting the jury’s finding on damages, an inconsistency exists. An award for special damages and past wage loss and no award for non-pecuniary damages have repeatedly been characterized in all the relevant case law as a “conflict” and an “inconsistent result”.

[32]         This conclusion is reinforced by Balla, Banks and Binnie v. Marsollier, 2001 BCCA 543. Re-trials were ordered in all three pursuant to Rule 41(2) (now Rule 12-6(7)). There was no mention of the potential application of Rule 41(3) (now Rule 12-6(8)).


ICBC Rate Hike Letter to PolicyHolders Does Not Taint Injury Claim Jury Pool

July 14th, 2014

Interesting reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, discussing whether ICBC should lose the right to trial by jury due to a letter they sent their policy holders blaming increased insurance rates on ‘rising injury costs’.

In today’s case (Yates v. Lee) the Plaintiff was injured in a 1998 collision.   He was 6 years old at the time.  His matter was set for trial in February, 2015 and ICBC, the insurer for the Defendant, elected to proceed via jury trial.  The Plaintiff argued that the Court should use its inherent jurisdiction to strip ICBC of their right to jury trial suggesting that the letter ICBC sent their policy holders “has tainted the jury pool by creating a real potential for bias against plaintiffs among jurors who are policy holders“.  Mr. Justice Pearlman disagreed finding there was no reason for the Court to use its inherent jurisdiction and the trial judge could deal with any suggestion of bias.  In reaching this decision the Court provided the following reasons:

[12]         Shortly after November 1, 2013, ICBC began including in the insurance renewal notices sent to each of its policy holders the following statement:

          ICBC Rate Changes:

Rising injury costs mean we’re asking the British Columbia Utilities Commission (BCUC) for 4.9% increase to Basic insurance rates. The BCUC has approved an interim rate increase of 4.9% effective November 1, 2013 and will make a final decision after a public hearing process. If a final approved rate differs from the interim rate, your Basic premiums will be adjusted for the difference, subject to the BCUC’s final Order. We are also able to reduce our optional rates to lessen the impact on you.

[13]         The renewal reminder also included a statement of the insured’s estimated total premium for the year…

[53]         Here, at best, the material filed by the plaintiff goes no further than establishing a possibility for bias on the part of some prospective jurors who are  ICBC policyholders. In addition to relying on the renewal notice itself, the plaintiff referred to Norsworthy v. Green, (30 May 2009), Victoria Registry 06 2644 (B.C.S.C.).  There, Macaulay J. commented, obiter, that every potential juror knows that ICBC funds damages awards, and that this creates the risk that prospective jurors may believe the higher an award in a given case, the greater the likelihood that their own insurance premiums may rise. Macaulay J. observed that such thinking is improper, and would, if disclosed, demonstrate bias. The plaintiff also filed newspaper and Internet articles referring to Shariatamadari v. Ahmadi (4 May 2009), Vancouver Registry S061583 (B.C.S.C.), where the trial judge’s investigation into complaints of juror misconduct revealed that one of the jurors, during deliberations, had expressed concern that a high damage award would drive up their own auto insurance rates. This material falls well short of establishing that a real potential exists in the circumstances of this case that some jurors may be incapable of setting aside any prejudice they may have as a result of the renewal notice, and deciding this case impartially, after receiving appropriate instructions from the trial judge.

[54]         Even if this court had the inherent jurisdiction to strike a jury notice for juror partiality, I would decline to exercise that jurisdiction in the circumstances of this case for the following reasons:

(a) the court is asked to find that ICBC’s communication to its policy holders through the renewal notices constitutes prejudicial pre-trial misconduct in the absence of an adequate evidentiary foundation;

(b) to grant the relief sought would skirt the challenge for cause process by having the court make a determination of juror partiality without requiring the plaintiff to satisfy both branches of the well-established test for juror partiality, and without any inquiry to determine whether particular members of the juror pool selected for this case could not serve impartially; and

(c) another decision-maker, the trial judge, has all the powers necessary to ensure trial fairness…

[59]         Chester provides further support for my conclusion that the plaintiff’s assertion of juror partiality is a matter which, if pursued, must be raised before the trial judge for determination through the challenge for cause process, rather than before a chambers judge who has neither the inherent jurisdiction to grant the relief sought, nor an adequate evidentiary foundation on which to do so.


NHL Player’s Wage Loss Claim Not “Too Complex” For a Jury

May 15th, 2014

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, addressing whether a Jury was capable of determining an NHL player’s wage loss claim in a personal injury lawsuit.

In today’s case (Franson v. Caldarella) the Plaintiff, Cody Franson, was injured a in 2008 collision.  At the time he “was in the second year of a three-year Entry Level two-way contract with the National Hockey League (NHL) and the American Hockey League (AHL), and was in training camp preparing for tryouts for the Nashville Predators.”

The lawsuit claimed that the collision related injuries delayed his entry into the NHL by one year.  He claimed damages for loss of opportunity for this year and further alleged that his subsequent NHL contracts would have been more favorable had the delay not occurred.  The Plaintiff brought an application to strike the Defendant’s jury notice arguing that the intricacies of NHL contract negotiations are too complex for a jury.  Madam Justice Fisher disagreed and dismissed the Plaintiff’s application.  In doing so the Court provided the following reasons:

[21]         The essence of the plaintiff’s position is that issues (2) and (3) will require answers to questions which rely on complex technical evidence. The main questions as I understand them are:

(a) What were the chances that the plaintiff would have played any games for Nashville in the 2008-2009 season?

(b) If his chances were good, how many games would he have played?

(c) If he had played a certain number of games in that season, would he have been able to negotiate more favourable terms in his contract in subsequent years as a Restricted Free Agent?..

[26]         The plaintiff submitted that the trier of fact will be required to understand the methodology, assess it, and determine which statistics and methodology is appropriate in order to calculate these damages. I do not disagree that the trier of fact will have to understand the methodology used by Mr. Gurney but I question whether it will be necessary to determine another appropriate methodology and apply that. These kinds of hypothetical damages in circumstances of uncertainty are not normally assessed by way of a mathematical calculation. The expert evidence is presented as a tool to assist the trier of fact in its assessment. In my view, a jury will be capable of understanding Mr. Gurney’s methodology when it is properly explained and it will also be capable of assessing the criticisms of that methodology by Prof. Weiler.

[27]         It is my view that a jury is capable of assessing this kind of evidence and determining the issues arising from it, including the use of hypotheticals and contingencies, with proper direction.

[28]         Moreover, this will not be in inordinately long trial, set for up to 14 days, a time estimate that is reasonable given the number of witnesses and issues to be addressed. In my opinion, a jury will be able to understand the evidence and retain that understanding for the length of the trial.

[29]         For all of these reasons, the plaintiff’s application is dismissed.

 


Paraplegia Claim Not Too Complex For Jury Trial

January 6th, 2014

Reasons for judgement were released recently by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, addressing a jury strike application in a paraplegia injury claim.

In the recent case (Laktin v. Vancouver (City)) the Defendants “were responding to a call that the Plaintiff might be suicidal” when one of the Defendant police officers “shot the plaintiff, rendering him paraplegic“.

The Plaintiff sued for damages and elected trial by Jury.  The Defendants brought an application to strike the jury notice arguing the trial was too complex for a jury to hear.  Mr. Justice Pearlman disagreed finding that despite the severe nature of the injury the matter was appropriate for jury trial.  In reaching this conclusion the Court provided the following reasons:

[35]         This is not a trial that involves multiple accidents or actions, or that raises complex issues of causation of the plaintiff’s physical injuries. The jury may have to determine the extent to which the  psychological injuries claimed by the plaintiff result from a pre-existing condition rather than the incident of January 21, 2006. That will involve the jury making findings of fact that are well within the capabilities of a modern jury.

[36]         The defendants have identified numerous issues of fact and law relating to issues of liability, the statutory and common law defences to the plaintiff’s claim of battery available to the defendants, the apportionment of fault, and damages.  It is the responsibility of the trial judge to instruct the jury concerning the legal principles that will apply to the facts as found by the jury.  The court will instruct the jury on the application and interpretation of the relevant provisions of the Police Act and the Criminal Code. 

[37]         The duties of care owed by the defendants to the plaintiff are a matter of law for determination by the trial judge rather than the jury. It will be the responsibility of the trial judge to determine whether the City of Vancouver owed a duty of care to the plaintiff, and whether, as a matter of law, there is any basis for the plaintiff’s claim against the City, other than its liability under s. 20 of the Police Act for the torts of municipal police officers.

[38]         Whether, as a matter of law, the application of the doctrine of ex turpi causa would be justified in the circumstances of this case is also a matter for the trial judge.

[39]          The defence correctly submits that the provisions of ss. 34 and 37 of the Criminal Code in force at the time of the incident that gave rise to this action add a level of complexity to this trial.   However, juries in criminal cases have been frequently called upon to apply those provisions, and with the assistance of instructions from the trial judge, have done so. I see no reason why a civil jury, properly instructed, cannot perform a similar task.

[40]         In my view, finding the facts regarding what occurred in the sequence of events that culminated in Constable Coulthard shooting the plaintiff, and determining whether the force used by the police was justified in all of the circumstances are tasks well suited to a jury composed of eight members of the community.