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 ‘soft tissue injury’

$35,000 Non-Pecuniary Damages for Chronic Low Back Pain With Poor Prognosis

April 4th, 2010

Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, awarding a Plaintiff just over $64,000 in total damages as a result of BC car crash.

In this week’s case (Elgood v. Ellison) the Plaintiff was injured in 2006 when he was struck by a vehicle in Langley, BC.  The Plaintiff was walking in a marked cross-walk with the right of way when the Defendant driver made a left hand turn and struck the Plaintiff.  Fault was admitted and the trial focused solely on the value of the Plaintiff’s claim.

The Plaintiff suffered minor injuries to his legs and neck which quickly and fully recovered.  His most serious symptom was low back pain which persisted from the time of the accident through trial.   The evidence accepted by the Court was that the Plaintiff had mechanical pain around the lumbar spine and that these symptoms may be an ongoing problem for the Plaintiff.

(highlighted portion of illustration depicts the lumbar spine)

In awarding the 65 year old Plaintiff $35,000 for his non-pecuniary damages Mr. Justice Bracken made the following notable findings:

[39]        Dr. Hirsch concluded that the plaintiff has made a full recovery with respect to his legs and that he had a relatively minor neck injury that has now essentially resolved.

[40]        The more difficult problem is the lower lumbar spine area and Dr. Hirsch said that this condition was likely caused by the accident.  He described it as likely mechanical in nature and that it is exacerbated by stress or loading on the back.  He believes that the plaintiff should continue his home-based exercise program and perhaps attend for structured appointments with a kinesiologist or physiotherapist.  He also thought that some exercise such as tai chi, yoga, pilates or water-based exercises would be helpful.

[41]        He concluded that the plaintiff’s restrictions were attributable to chronic low back pain that was caused by the accident and that the prognosis for complete recovery was guarded given the plaintiff’s age and the duration of the symptoms.

[42]        He did believe that the plaintiff should be capable of performing his domestic chores but that he may have to pace himself and that he will have ongoing problems with more strenuous activities such as lifting, snow shovelling or completing significant household repairs.  He did not foresee any need for future care or for any surgery.

[43]        In summary, it appears that the plaintiff’s leg and shoulder injuries resolved very quickly and his neck pain diminished gradually over time, to the point where it is now only occasional pain and of a non-debilitating nature.  He had some early headaches which have now become occasional.

[44]        The significant pain that the plaintiff suffers is chronic low back pain that Dr. Hirsch predicts will likely be with him for the foreseeable future.  No doubt the low back pain will prevent him from doing many jobs, particularly those that require long periods of sitting.  Given his age and background, it is most likely that sedentary jobs will most likely be what are available to him.  He has sharply reduced his recreation, although some of the intense recreational and physical activities engaged in by the plaintiff would likely diminish in intensity over time due to the normal aging process regardless of his injury.  He will likely still have the ability to engage in mild recreational activities. The plaintiff says that even mild recreation or physical activity is too painful for him.

[45]        As Dr. Hirsch pointed out at p. 6 of his January 20, 2009 report:

Three years have elapsed since Mr. Elgood suffered his low back injury in the subject motor vehicle accident.  Given the duration of his symptoms, the prognosis regarding complete resolution of his low back pain has to be viewed as guarded at this juncture.  Given the temporal profile to date, I would consider it more likely than not that Mr. Elgood will experience low back pain indefinitely.  Low back symptoms of sufficient intensity will probably limit his ability to perform tasks which biomechanically stress his low back…

[51] While the plaintiff has been able to carry on with work, he and his wife both said that he has only been able to do so by enduring a level of chronic pain.  Based on the opinion of Dr. Hirsch, which I accept, his condition is not likely to be alleviated over time.  Bearing in mind his age and the impact of his injuries on his personal life and work life since the accident, in my view, the range of damages is between that of the plaintiff and defendant and I assess general damages at $35,000.


$75,000 Non Pecuniary Damages Awarded for Chronic Soft Tissue Neck Injury

January 6th, 2010

Reasons for judgement were released yesterday by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, awarding a Plaintiff just over $156,000 in total damages as a result of damages and loss from a BC Car Crash.

In yesterday’s case (Szymanski v. Morin) the Plaintiff was involved in a rear end collision in 2004.  Liability (Fault) was admitted by the Defendants leaving the court to deal with the value of the Claim.

The Plaintiff suffered mild/moderate soft tissue injuries but due to the nature of his physical work (a hard-wood floor installer) his injury continued to be aggravated and symptomatic through trial some 5 years later.

In valuing the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) Madam Justice Ker highlighted the following facts with respect to the accident related injuries:

[134] Upon a consideration of all of the evidence, I find that Mr. Szymanski’s complaint of continuing neck and trapezius pain was caused by the accident.  The fact that he suffered soft tissue injuries to his neck is not disputed.  The significance in this case is that the complaint continues.  I find that Mr. Szymanski continues to suffer neck and trapezius pain and that is because the accident and injuries occurred to a person with Mr. Szymanski’s particular occupation such that it has made it difficult for the injuries to fully resolve in the ordinary course.  As noted in the evidence of Dr. Tomaszewski, Dr. Hershler and Ms. Quastel, which I accept, Mr. Szymanski’s occupation as a hardwood floor installed has exacerbated the situation and made him more susceptible to suffering injury for a greater period of time than a normal person might have.  Mr. Szymanski has established that he has continuing problems with chronic neck pain and his continuing problems were caused by the defendants’ negligence.  He is entitled to be compensated for his injuries…

[142] I accept Mr. Szymanski’s evidence that he sustained a soft tissue injury to the left side of his neck as a result of the accident and that he still experiences pain in the left side of his neck that radiates into his upper left trapezius muscle area.  The injury can be described as mild to moderate in nature but has developed an element of chronic pain that continues to bother Mr. Szymanski.  The pain is most evident when Mr. Szymanski works.  His job as a hardwood floor installer is physically demanding although he has been able to find contracts that are less demanding than what he undertook prior to the accident.  This chronic neck pain still manifests itself some four years after the accident, albeit significantly reduced from what it was immediately after the accident and the two years following the accident.

[143] Mr. Szymanski is a stoic and determined person.  Despite the neck and upper left trapezius pain he has tried to remain physically active but is less active than he was prior to the accident.  He no longer goes for long hikes, electing shorter slower walks, he no longer canoes, he hunts less than he did prior to the accident, primarily by reducing the number of hours he goes out hunting.  His injuries have impacted on his ability to contribute to various household chores such as vacuuming and washing dishes, and he is not able to conduct the home renovations at the pace he had set before the accident.  He no longer socializes to the extent he used to prior to the accident because of the chronic pain and fatigue he experiences.  His plan of retiring and building and opening a bed and breakfast may well be compromised by the continuing pain he experiences and thus is a further component in the assessment of impairment and loss of his previous lifestyle.

[144] Taking into account all of these circumstances, the referenced authorities and the nature of Mr. Szymanski’s injuries, the fact that the injury of real consequence was to the left side of his neck, and the upper left trapezius muscles that lead to his left shoulder, the relatively enduring nature of this injury, the pain he has suffered and may continue to experience in the future, as well as the fact that he suffered some diminishment in lifestyle, I assess non-pecuniary damages in the amount of $75,000.


$45,000 Pain and Suffering Awarded for Neck, Shoulder and Jaw Injuries

May 20th, 2009

Reasons for judgement were released today (Romanchych v. Vallianatos) by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, awarding just over $132,000 in total damages to a Plaintiff injured in a 2006 BC Motor Vehicle Collision.  

The collision was a rear-ender on the Alex Fraser Bridge in Delta, BC.  The crash was forceful enough to write off the 24 year old Plaintiff’s vehicle.

Madam Justice MacKenzie of the BC Supreme Court summarized the Plaintiff’s injuries as follows:  

I find on the totality of the evidence that the accident caused the plaintiff’s neck and shoulder injuries with associated headaches and jaw pain. While her symptoms improved over time, they have not resolved.   She currently suffers chronic neck and shoulder pain. She can manage her pain  level if she avoids aggravating her injuries by limiting her activities. The plaintiff is  also vulnerable to future episodes of jaw pain. I find in favour of the plaintiff’s  submission, except for small adjustments to the quantum of damages claimed. 

In awarding $45,000 for the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages (pain and suffering) the court engaged in the following analysis:

Conclusion on Non-Pecuniary Damages 

[71] On the whole, the expert opinions support a strong inference that the plaintiff’s injuries are chronic and that they will continue to affect her permanently. Given that she must limit her activities to minimize and manage her pain, the  evidence shows that it is probable that her pain and resulting limitations will continue  indefinitely. 

[72] I find on the totality of the evidence that the accident caused the plaintiff’s neck and shoulder injuries with associated headaches and jaw pain. While her symptoms have improved over time, they have not resolved.   

[73] I also find that the jaw symptoms which arose in August 2007 were indeed caused by the accident of July 4, 2006. I also observe that the jaw symptoms experienced in December 2006 may have been related to the accident as well.    

[74] Both counsel rely on the non exhaustive list of factors in Stapley v. Hejslet, 2006 BCCA 34, 263 D.L.R. (4th) 19 at paras. 45-46. The award for general damages, will of course, vary according to the specific circumstances of the individual case, but the factors include:   

(a) age of the plaintiff;  

(b) nature of the injury;   

(c) severity and duration of pain;   

(d) disability;    

(e) emotional suffering; and   

(f) loss or impairment of life;    

(g) impairment of family, marital and social relationships;   

(h) impairment of physical and mental abilities;   

(i) loss of lifestyle; and   

(j) the plaintiff’s stoicism (as a factor that should not, generally speaking,   penalize the plaintiff: Giang v. Clayton, [2005] B.C.J. No. 163, 2005 BCCA 54 (B.C. C.A.)).   

[75] The defendant relies upon the following cases as being reasonably analogous to this case and as supporting an award in the range of $15,000 to $22,500 for general damages: Kain v. Kirkman, 2006 BCSC 1770; Nickerson v. Allen Estate, 2006 BCSC 562; Aulakh v. Poirier, 2006 BCSC 2027, and my own decision in Moore v. Cabral, 2006 BCSC 920. However, those cases are all distinguishable from this case.   

[76] The plaintiff relies upon the following cases as supporting an award of $50,000 for general damages in this case: Henri v. Seo, 2009 BCSC 76; Chin v. McCabe, 2006 BCSC 1589; and Pavlovic v. Shields, 2009 BCSC 345. In my view, these cases are reasonably similar to this case and reflect analogous general damages.    

[77] Therefore, an appropriate award of non-pecuniary damages in this case is $45,000

One of the points of interest in this case was the courts comments on Dr. Goldstein. an oral medicine specialist, who ICBC often retains in jaw injury cases.  His evidence was rejected over the Plaintiff’s treating oral medicine specialist Dr. Gardner.  

Specifically, in finding bias in doctor Goldstein’s evidence, Madam Justice MacKenzie commented as follows:

[66] Dr. Goldstein’s bias in favour of the defendant’s case became evident during cross-examination. His attempt under cross-examination to distance himself from the meaning of the phrase emphasized in the above quote damaged his reliability as a witness. 

[67] I also view Dr. Goldstein’s opinion with scepticism because he was not forthright in his report about the fact that flexion extension injury from motor vehicle accident trauma could cause jaw symptoms. Under cross-examination, counsel for the plaintiff put one of Dr. Goldstein’s own articles to him in which he noted the close correlation between TMD and motor vehicle accident trauma. 


$63,000 Awarded for Soft Tissue Injuries and Chronic Pain in ICBC Claim

March 21st, 2009

Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court (Atwater v. Reese) awarding a Plaintiff just over $63,000 in total damages as a result of a 2006 motor vehicle collision.

The Plaintiff was a pedestrian who sustained injuries when struck by a car.  In my experience ICBC often denies liability in these circumstances with a hope of having the court find the pedestrian at least partially at fault for not keeping a proper lookout.  In this case the ICBC Defence Lawyer argued that while the motorist was at fault the Pedestrian was contributorily negligent.  The first part of the judgement deals with this allegation and in finding the driver 100% responsible Mr. Justice Macaulay stated as follows:

[16]            I do not accept that the plaintiff was negligent in failing to watch the car as she walked in front of it.  Nor do I accept that she could have avoided the accelerating car if she had been watching.  Once in front of the car, the pedestrians were within a foot or so of the car.  There is no evidence to support the contention that the plaintiff, who was walking ahead of her sister, could have avoided the impact in the circumstances.

[17]            The impact occurred because the defendant was going through the motions of driving without actually paying any attention to what was there by way of pedestrian hazard.  I find that the defendant is entirely responsible for the accident.

In assessing the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages at $50,000, Mr. Justice Macaulay made the following findings with respect to her injuries and prognosis:

[38]            I am satisfied that the plaintiff suffers from chronic pain but I share the view of the various professionals that her condition is still amenable to improvement provided she increases her tolerance for recreational activity.  She gave up too easily and must try harder so that she can avoid the physical and emotional downward spiral associated with inactivity.  I am also, however, satisfied that the plaintiff’s pain experience is real and not otherwise subject to conscious psychological control.

[39]            There is, accordingly, a risk that the pain will continue albeit, hopefully, at a lesser level with appropriate rehabilitation.  I do not expect her general pain level to increase nor is the plaintiff at risk of harming herself by increasing her activity level.

[40]            To the plaintiff’s credit, she missed minimal time from work after the accident.  This may have unwittingly contributed to her slow recovery and certainly affected her ability to participate in non-work activities.  She now has moved to more sedentary office work and is not waitressing as much.  The continuing waitressing she does now is of a lighter variety than before.  These changes should help over time, as well.

[41]            In my view, the plaintiff sustained a lower moderate soft tissue injury that has resulted in chronic pain and mild anxiety.  She is capable of achieving greater recovery than she has to date in spite of the time that has passed since the accident.

When trying to value your Non-Pecuniary Damages (pain and suffering) in an ICBC Injury Claim it is important to find cases with similar injuries and a similar prognosis to help establish a range of potential damages.  I intend to keep reporting non-pecuniary damages highlights in ICBC Injury Claims and look forward to growing this database.  As always, any feedback from my readers is welcome!


BC Personal Injury Claims Round-Up

March 14th, 2009

On Friday the BC Supreme Court released reasons for judgement dealing with awards for pain and suffering in 3 separate motor vehicle accident cases.

In my continued efforts to create an easy to access data-base of ICBC related claims for pain and suffering here are the highlights of these cases:

In the first case (Driscoll v. Desharnais) the Plaintiff suffered soft tissue injuries to his neck, back and shoulder in a 2003 BC motor vehicle collision.  In justifying an award for non-pecuniary damages (pain and suffering) of $55,000 the court summarized the injuries and their effect on the Plaintiff’s life as follows:

[101]        The trial occurred about five years following the accident.  Mr. Driscoll continues to suffer pain, significant sleep disturbance, and restrictions on his activities.  He is stoic and is inclined to push through pain until it becomes intolerable.  He has a reduced capacity to work, and despite his preference for working alone, he cannot operate his business without hiring other workers.  He is no longer able to participate in some of the activities he enjoyed, such as motorcycle riding, full-contact ball hockey, golf, and rough-housing with his children.  

[102]        The evidence demonstrated on a balance of probabilities that these problems were caused by the accident.  Although Mr. Driscoll had received physiotherapy prior to the accident, the treatments were all at least 18 months prior to the accident, and were for short periods.  All the problems had resolved prior to the accident.  The injury he suffered on the toboggan appeared to be a brief flare-up of his back symptoms, rather than a new injury.

A highlight of this decision for me was the court’s discussion of credibility.  One of the tricks of the trade for ICBC defence lawyers in ICBC Soft Tissue Injury Claims is to challenge the credibility of the Plaintiff.   That appeared to be a tactic employed in this case and the Defendant asked the court to consider the following well-known principle often cited in ICBC Soft Tissue Injury Cases:

[6]                The case of Price v. Kostryba (1982)70 B.C.L.R. 397 (S.C.), is often cited as a reminder of the approach the court must take to assessing injuries which depend on subjective reports of pain.  I quote portions of pages 397-399 of those reasons for judgment:

The assessment of damages in a moderate or moderately severe whiplash injury is always difficult because plaintiffs, as in this case, are usually genuine, decent people who honestly try to be as objective and as factual as they can. Unfortunately, every injured person has a different understanding of his own complaints and injuries, and it falls to judges to translate injuries to damages.

Perhaps no injury has been the subject of so much judicial consideration as the whiplash. Human experience tells us that these injuries normally resolve themselves within six months to a year or so. Yet every physician knows some patients whose complaint continues for years, and some apparently never recover. For this reason, it is necessary for a court to exercise caution and to examine all the evidence carefully so as to arrive at a fair and reasonable compensation. Previously decided cases are some help (but not much, because obviously every case is different). …

In Butler v. Blaylock, decided 7th October 1981, Vancouver No. B781505 (unreported), I referred to counsel’s argument that a defendant is often at the mercy of a plaintiff in actions for damages for personal injuries because complaints of pain cannot easily be disproved. I then said:

I am not stating any new principle when I say that the court should be exceedingly careful when there is little or no objective evidence of continuing injury and when complaints of pain persist for long periods extending beyond the normal or usual recovery.

An injured person is entitled to be fully and properly compensated for any injury or disability caused by a wrongdoer. But no one can expect his fellow citizen or citizens to compensate him in the absence of convincing evidence — which could be just his own evidence if the surrounding circumstances are consistent – that his complaints of pain are true reflections of a continuing injury.

Fortunately for the Plaintiff a positive finding was made as to his reliability and damages were assessed accordingly.

________________________________________________________________________________________________

The second case released on Friday (Eccleston v. Dresen) involved a 2002 collision which took place in Salmon Arm, BC.  The injuries included chronic soft tissue injuries of moderate severity and a chronic pain syndrome.  Both liability and quantum of damages (value of the ICBC Injury Claim) were at issue.   The Plaintiff was found 60% at fault for the collision.

In assessing the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages at $108,000 Mr. Justice Barrow made the following findings:

[127]        I am satisfied that the plaintiff suffered a moderate soft tissue injury to her neck and upper back.  Further, I am satisfied that she developed and continues to suffer chronic pain as a result.  I am also satisfied that she is depressed and that the proximate cause of her depression is the pain she experiences.

[128]        I am not satisfied that her complaints of pain are motivated by any secondary gain; rather, I am satisfied that she has met the onus of establishing that, as Taylor J.A. in Maslen v. Rubenstein (1993), 83 B.C.L.R. (2d) 131, 33 B.C.A.C. 182, at para. 8 put it:

…her psychological problems have their cause in the defendant’s unlawful act, rather than in any desire on the plaintiff’s part for things such as care, sympathy, relaxation or compensation, and also that the plaintiff could not be expected to overcome them by his or her own inherent resources, or ‘will-power’.

[129]        Further, I am satisfied that the plaintiff’s condition is likely permanent; although it is more likely than not that it will moderate if she follows the advice of Dr. O’Breasail.  He is of the view that with intensive psychotherapy for at least a year, followed by two further years of less intensive therapy coupled with a review of her medications and particularly anti-depressant medication, there is some hope that she will either experience less pain or be better able to cope with the pain she does experience, or both.

________________________________________________________________________________________________

The final motor vehicle accident case addressing pain and suffering released on Friday (Murphy v. Jagerhofer) involved a Plaintiff who was injured in a 2004 rear end collision in Chilliwack, BC.   The injuries included a moderate to severe whiplash injury with associated chronic pain, disturbed sleep and headaches.  In justifying a non-pecuniary damages award of $100,000 Mr. Justice Warren made the following factual findings after a summary trial pursuant to Rule 18-A:

[112]        The issue of causation in this case is determined by applying the factors in Athey.  Here the defendants argue that there were pre-existing conditions that would have affected the plaintiff in any event.  I disagree.  I find on the evidence of both Dr. Porter and Dr. Bishop that the plaintiff was asymptomatic of the complaints he now has which have arisen from the injuries he suffered in this accident.  Using the rather macabre terms found in other cases, this plaintiff had a “thin skull” rather than a “crumbling skull” and on my reading of those medical opinions I prefer, I find there was no “measurable risk that the pre-existing condition would have detrimentally affected the plaintiff in the future. . . .” Athey, per Major, J. at para. 35. 

[113]        Accordingly, I find that the presenting complaints of the plaintiff were caused by the negligence of the defendant driver and I turn to address the issue of appropriate compensation.  In this, I am strongly influenced by the opinions of Drs. Porter and Longridge and the opinion of Mr. Koch.  The plaintiff suffered a moderate to severe whiplash type injury which had a significant physical and emotional effect upon him some of which have persisted to the day of trial and will continue into the future.  The back and neck pain caused him considerable pain and caused sleeplessness, headaches and general body pain for which he was prescribed pain medication.  Many of these symptoms continued well into 2005 despite his participation in a Work Hardening Programme in the fall of 2004.  I accept that he has tried every mode in an effort to alleviate his symptoms.  In his opinion, Dr. Bishop dismissed passive therapies, but I conclude it was understandable that the plaintiff would follow other professional advice and give these therapies every chance to help.  I say that with the exception of the later cortisone injections, which are painful and of very limited result, and also the later chiropractic attention.

[114]        Added to his back and neck pain, the plaintiff has experienced some hearing loss, tinnitus and episodes of dizziness.  These are frustrating and to some extent debilitating.  He also has jaw, or temporal mandibular joint arthralgia and myofascial pain.  He was given an oral appliance which he is to wear on a daily basis yet he continues to experience jaw stiffness and fatigue. 

[115]        It is understandable that these conditions have affected him emotionally.  The opinion of Mr. Koch corroborates the plaintiff’s evidence.  I accept the opinion of Mr. Koch that the plaintiff “downplays” the difficulties in his life and that the plaintiff has a phobia of motor vehicle travel, post-traumatic stress disorder and related repressive symptoms. 

I hope these case highlights continue to be a useful resource for my readers in helping learn about the value of non-pecuniary damages in ICBC Injury Claims.  As always, I welcome any feedback from all my visitors.


Loss of Commission Income and ICBC Injury Claims

March 10th, 2009

Reasons for judgement were released today (Tong v. Sidhu)awarding a Plaintiff $30,000 for non-pecuniary damages (pain and suffering) as a result of injuries sustained in a 2007 BC Car Accident.  

Mr. Justice Cohen of the BC Supreme Court made the following findings with respect to the Plaintiff’s injuries:

[40]            In my opinion, the medical evidence and the plaintiff’s testimony supports the conclusion that the plaintiff suffered mild to moderate soft tissue injuries, and that he has made an overall improvement to a level where if he dedicates himself to learning and correctly performing the exercises recommended by Dr. King he will probably experience a full recovery within six to twelve months.

[52]            Upon a consideration of the severity and duration of the plaitniff’s accident related injuries and symptoms, and upon a review of the authorities on the range of the general damages submitted by the parties, I find that an award of $30,000 is a fair and appropriate sum to compensate the plaintiff for his general damage claim.

The Plaintiff, who was a commodities broker, also alleged a past and future loss of income although these claims were dismissed.   The Plaintiff sought approximately $50,000 for past income loss and $44,000 for future income loss.

In dismissing these damages Mr. Justice Cohen found that the Plaintiff ‘has not proven on the requisite standard that he has suffered past or future income loss‘.  Following this conclusion Mr. Justice Cohen engaged in a lengthy analysis of the Plaintiff’s claim for lost income and stated as follows:

[63]            First, the only documentary evidence the plaintiff has brought forward to support his claim are his income tax returns and payroll slips for 2007 and 2008.  Although he signed an authorization for release of employment information to the defendant, the onus remains on the plaintiff to bring to court any records which would help him to identify the details of his earnings history.  He has not produced any employment records to indicate or establish a month over month or year over year trend based on details of income from client or personal trading accounts.

[64]            Moreover, the plaintiff did not elicit evidence from Mr. Mok on his commission earnings to provide some comparative evidence regarding the level of earnings from commissions experienced by commodities brokers at Union Securities, or for that matter evidence of the earnings of brokers in other firms with a similar level of experience and client base as that of the plaintiff.

[65]            With respect to Mr. Mok, he and the plaintiff were performing the same work and both were earning income from commissions generated by client trades, as well as income from self trades.  Mr. Mok did say that he had two streams of earnings and that while his earnings from trades in his own account would not be shown on his T4, both streams of income were shown on his income tax returns.  He said that earnings from trading on his own account would be declared under the item of “business income” in his income tax returns.

[66]            I find that the plaintiff’s evidence on his precise earnings was at times both contradictory and confusing.

[67]            For example, the plaintiff was asked in chief about the line in his 1999 income tax return for “business income”, which shows an amount of $20,805.89 gross and a net loss of $8,323.15.  Although the plaintiff initially testified that the loss amount was due to amounts that he had to pay out of his pocket for losses sustained by his clients due to his trading errors, he later changed this testimony to say that the business income item related to a tax shelter investment that he had made, and that this was the amount reported to him by the company as a unit holder.  With respect to where he reported his income from self trades he said that he did not report this income in his income tax return as the earnings had gone into his RSP account, although he produced no records to substantiate his evidence on this point.

[68]            Finally, I think that there is evidence that completely undermines the plaintiff’s assertion that he is entitled to damages for loss of income, past or prospective.

[69]            In cross-examination, the plaintiff agreed with defence counsel that it was not common for him to make earnings in excess of $100,000.  He agreed that his earnings jumped substantially in 2004 because of the financing he worked on.  He also agreed with the figures from his income tax returns that since 2001, with the exception of 2004, he has earned in the range of $40-50,000 annually.  He agreed that 2004 was unusual, adding that it was unusual in the sense that his hard work paid off.  He also agreed with counsel that the last year he earned a figure in the same range was in 1996.  He agreed with counsel that his average income for the past 7 years has not been in the $80,000 range, but rather closer to $50,000.

[70]            The plaintiff agreed with counsel that based on his average earnings over the period leading up to the accident that his income in 2007 was similar to what he had earned in earlier years, with the exception of the year 2004.

[71]            The plaintiff testified that for the years 2001-2008 he would rank himself against his peers as being in the middle of the pack, and not on average a top performer.  He agreed that his assessment of his ranking has not changed since the accident, and also agreed that essentially, with the exception of 2004, his income has not significantly changed.

[72]            Counsel reminded the plaintiff of his evidence that his focus and concentration had been affected by the accident and he was asked whether it had affected his number of clients, to which he replied that he gained and lost clients for all kinds of reasons.  When counsel suggested to the plaintiff that he had not lost clients as a result of the accident, he replied that he may have lost or gained clients during the period following the accident.  He was not able to say whether in fact the accident related injuries had resulted in a loss of clients.

[73]            Mr. Steven Engh is manager of sales at Union Securities.  He met the plaintiff when they both worked at C.M. Oliver.  He was asked how he would rank the plaintiff as a commodities broker. He replied that the plaintiff would fall in the middle of the pack, and that as far as he knew this had been the case for the past five years.  He also said that all of the brokers in his firm have been affected by the current securities market conditions and that this would include the plaintiff’s area of trading.  He did agree with plaintiff’s counsel in cross-examination that the securities business is very demanding and that it takes a focused person to succeed.

[74]            In the result, I find that on the whole of the evidence the plaintiff has failed to prove his income loss claim. With the exception of the year 2004, the plaintiff’s history of earnings in the seven years leading up to the accident disclose a trend of income much closer to the $50,000 range than his claim of $80,000.  This is clearly borne out by his income for the year 2006, a year in which he was completely healthy, had his list of prospects, and presumably was focused and determined to increase his income to a level closer to his exceptional result in the year 2004.  Yet, his income for the year 2006, at least from commissions on trades, was not very far off his usual annual earnings in the $50,000 range.

[75]            In my opinion, the evidence falls far short of the claim that the plaintiff is making for income loss, past and prospective, and therefore this head of damage must be rejected.

This case is worth reviewing for anyone on commissioned or self employed basis who suffers a wage loss in an ICBC Injury Claim to see how courts scrutinize such claims and to get some insight into the factors and the type of evidence courts find useful in determining whether there has been a past loss of income.


Over $250,000 Awarded for Serious Injuries in ICBC Claim

February 12th, 2009

Reasons for judgement were released today (Tchao v. Bourdon) in an ICBC Injury Tort Claim awarding $276,504.46 in total damages as a result of injuries suffered in a 2004 collision in the Lower Mainland. 

I am still in trial still and only have time for bare bones reporting.  In this case it appears the Plaintiff suffered significant injuries including a mild traumatic brain injury, significant soft tissue injuries, PTSD, depression and a lumbar facet syndrome.  The court’s key analysis of injuries is set out below:

[73]                  I am satisfied that, as a result of the accident at issue in this action, the plaintiff suffered a knee injury that recovered within approximately a month, a significant soft tissue injury to the neck and upper back that recovered within approximately seven months but which has left the plaintiff more vulnerable to degenerative changes in the neck, a concussion with post-concussion syndrome that still causes headaches once or twice a week, but is likely to resolve, a mild post-traumatic stress disorder that is resolving but remains problematic, and a depressed mood.

[74]                  Counsel for the defendant suggested that the plaintiff did not suffer a concussion because there was no clear evidence of loss of memory.  There is, however, evidence of a loss of awareness, a blow to the head, and ongoing symptoms consistent with post-concussion syndrome.  Dr. Duncan, the treating GP, Dr. Bozek, the treating neurologist, and Dr. Hunt were all of the view that Mr. Tchao indeed suffered a concussion and post-concussion syndrome, and I find that conclusion to be consistent with all of the evidence.

[75]                  That brings us to the most serious of Mr. Tchao’s ongoing difficulties, his lower back.

[76]                  Counsel for the defendant conceded that Mr. Tchao suffered a soft tissue injury to his lower back in the accident, but submitted that Mr. Tchao had recovered from that injury by some point in 2005, and that his ongoing symptoms relate to his pre-existing degenerative condition.  He based this argument on the absence from Dr. Duncan’s clinical record of any notes of complaints from the plaintiff about his lower back, as opposed to his upper back and neck, in the relevant period.  I observe, however, that throughout that period, the plaintiff was attending at CBI undergoing rehabilitation therapy for his lower back, and I do not find it surprising that during the course of that treatment, he did not raise lower back issues with his GP.

[77]                  Defendant’s counsel also urged me to treat Dr. Hunt’s opinion with great caution because of his apparent advocacy.  I find that the passages defence counsel brought to my attention in this regard are more consistent with a certain degree of impatience and curmudgeonliness on the part of a very senior and experienced surgeon, than with improper advocacy.  There are nevertheless aspects of Dr. Hunt’s opinion that I am not prepared to accept.  In particular, I do not accept his suggestion that Mr. Tchao possibly suffered a hiatus hernia in the accident, nor do I accept his opinion that Mr. Tchao may require surgery in the future as a result of the motor vehicle accident – although to be fair, Dr. Hunt raised these as possibilities, not probabilities.

[78]                  I do accept, however, Dr. Hunt’s opinion that Mr. Tchao’s pre-existing degenerative condition made him more vulnerable to injury in the motor vehicle accident (no expert disagrees with this), and that as a result of the effect of the accident on Mr. Tchao’s pre-existing condition, Mr. Tchao suffers from bilateral lumbar facet syndrome.  This is supported by Dr. Purtzki’s findings of “predominately mechanical back pain due to a facet joint dysfunction”, and by Dr. Adrian’s impression of mechanical low back pain with radicular features.  None of the pre-accident investigations demonstrated any facet joint issues.

[79]                  I observe further that regardless of how one characterizes the effect of the accident on Mr. Tchao’s pre-existing condition, there is no question that the accident aggravated it as noted by the defence expert, Dr. Arthur.  There is also no doubt that, as reported by both Dr. Arthur and by Dr. Hunt, the plaintiff’s prognosis remains guarded.

[80]                  That the accident has had a significant and lasting impact on Mr. Tchao is also consistent with his own evidence.  This brings me to the issue of his credibility.  In general, I found the plaintiff to be a believable witness.  I observed nothing that would suggest malingering or exaggeration on his part, and there is nothing in any of the medical records or reports, including those submitted by the defence, that would suggest that I may be mistaken in my impression.

[81]                  As previously noted, the CBI discharge report considered that his perceived functional ability was the same as his actual, demonstrated ability, and that there was maximal effort on his behalf.  Ms. Jodi Fischer, who carried out a Functional/Work Capacity Evaluation, administered a number of tests from which she was able to conclude that Mr. Tchao was devoting his best efforts to the evaluation, and was reliably reporting his levels of pain and disability.  There were no non-organic findings.  I found Ms. Fischer to be a compelling witness.

[82]                  In these circumstances, I conclude that, as a result of the effect of this accident on his pre-existing degenerative condition, the plaintiff has suffered a significant injury in the form of a lumbar facet syndrome that causes him ongoing pain and disability, and which has left him with a guarded prognosis.

[83]                  There was very little evidence concerning what lower back problems the plaintiff would likely have suffered in the future as a result of his pre-existing degenerative condition, in the absence of the accident.  Dr. Arthur, the defendant’s expert in orthopaedic surgery, was silent on this point.  I nevertheless find that, as conceded by Dr. Hunt, problems of the sort that plagued Mr. Tchao before the accident would likely have recurred in the future.  There is no evidence, however, that they would have been as disabling as the condition in which Mr. Tchao now finds himself.  As I will explore further below, he was able to carry on with physical labour at his jobs at Safeway, Nexus and The Blox in the past, but is no longer able to do physical labour of any kind.  No expert witness, including Dr. Arthur, has suggested that Mr. Tchao is presently capable of more than light and sedentary duties.

Damages were assessed as follows:

D.        CONCLUSION

[127]              I find the defendant 100% liable for the plaintiff’s damages.  Those damages are assessed as follows:

non-pecuniary damages:                                   $70,000.00

past loss of income:                                          $67,500.00

loss of income earning capacity:                     $120,000.00

future care costs:                                               $17,317.00

special damages:                                                $1,687.46

Total:                                                               $276,504.46

 


$25,000 Awarded for Pain and Suffering in ICBC Low Back Injury Claim

January 21st, 2009

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court awarding a Plaintiff just over $50,000 in total damages as a result of a motor vehicle collision, $25,000 of which represented non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering).

The collision occurred in 2005.  The Plaintiff’s vehicle was rear-ended.  The court concluded that the force of the impact was mild.  

The court accepted that the Plaintiff suffered a mild muscular injury to his lower back in the motor vehicle accident.  The court also found, however, that the Plaintiff was partly to blame for his ongoing symptoms stating that:

[53]            The fact that Mr. Moojelski has been long-delayed in returning to a normal state of health results from a combination of inadequate or ineffective exercise and supervision, Mr. Moojelski’s refusal to take prescribed medications in prescribed dosages and his decision to exceed the recommended dosages by some substantial margin.  In that regard, Mr. Moojelski admitted that he reported to Dr. McPherson that when he had been prescribed Tylenol 3, he had used 6 tablets every 2 hours, greatly in excess of the prescribed quantity.  I find that it is likely that Mr. Moojelski’s mental health was adversely affected by his personal decision to rely on marijuana as a source of relief rather than adhering to his physician’s prescription of anti-depressants, and by not pursuing physical reconditioning of the kind Dr. le Nobel considers appropriate to a man of his pre-accident physical ability and age. 

The court found that the Plaintiff should fully recover from his injury.  In valuing the pain and suffering claim at $25,000 the court noted the Plaintiff’s role in his prolonged symptoms stating as follows:

[60]            In all of the circumstances, I am satisfied that an award of $25,000 as general damages adequately compensates Mr. Moojelski for the pain and suffering he has endured, and for the adverse effect upon his enjoyment of life and the loss of amenities.  In that assessment, I have taken into account the onset of a mild depression in March 2006, which was accident-related.  However, the depression was prolonged by Mr. Moojelski’s failure to adhere to the use of prescribed medications.  His refusal was unreasonable and is therefore reflected in the assessment of general damages.


ICBC Claims, Medical Experts and Evasive Opinions

December 29th, 2008

Reasons for judgement were released today awarding a Plaintiff $50,000 for non-pecuniary loss (pain and suffering) as a result of injuries sustained in a 2004 rear-end BC car crash.

The Plaintiff suffered various injuries including chronic pain, a disc herniation in her neck, a soft tissue injury to her neck, anxiety and depression.  The chronic pain was the most significant symptom that was focused on at trial.

The Plaintiff called various witnesses to support her injuries including her family doctor.  The Defendant, on the other hand, relied on the opinion of an ‘independent medical examiner’ who ICBC frequently uses in the defence of car accident injury claims (Dr. Schweigel).

In awarding $50,000 for pain and suffering the Court made the following findings:

[26]            I am satisfied that as the result of the Defendants’ negligence, the Plaintiff suffered an injury to her shoulder and knee, a soft tissue injury to her neck and back which included a disc herniation; and an aggravation of her anxiety disorder and depression symptoms.

[27]            Specifically, with respect to her psychological injuries, I am satisfied that as a result of the collision her anxiety disorder and depression symptoms worsened, and that the worsening included the development of additional phobias such as a fear of crowds, social interaction, and driving.  There has been some improvement with respect to these symptoms.  For example, the Plaintiff is now able to drive her vehicle and her fear of social interactions has lessened some.

[28]            There has also been some improvement in her physical injuries.  In particular, her knee and shoulder injuries resolved within a short period.

[29]            As far as her chronic pain injury is concerned, I am satisfied that it arises primarily from the soft tissue injuries to her neck and back and from her disc herniation.  However, the severity of the pain from these injuries is aggravated or intensified by her anxiety disorders.  As her anxiety or stress levels increase, her chronic pain also increases in severity.

In ICBC injury claims judges and juries are often asked to pick between competing medical opinion evidence.  It is not uncommon to read reasons for judgment in ICBC injury claims where a Plaintiff’s treating physicians support injuries while ICBC’s doctors testify that the injuries are not related to the trauma or that the injuries are not as severe as presented by the Plaintiff.

In today’s case Madam Justice Sinclair Prowse gave the following reasons in preferring the treating doctor’s opinion over Dr. Schweigel’s.  Cases such as this one are worth reviewing for anyone preparing to take their ICBC injury claim to trial where there is competing medical evidence:

[34]            In any event, on all material issues, the Plaintiff’s evidence was consistent with and supported by other evidence.  In particular, the evidence of her injuries was supported by the evidence of her family doctor, Dr. Leong – a witness whom I found to be credible and on whose evidence I relied.

[35]            As the Plaintiff’s treating physician, Dr. Leong had seen the Plaintiff over a long period of time. Dr. Schweigel, on the other hand, only saw the Plaintiff on one occasion for about an hour to an hour and a half.

[36]            Throughout her testimony, Dr. Leong presented as a measured person who was endeavouring to be clear, accurate and fair.  Her answers were thoughtful and balanced.  Her testimony was both internally consistent and consistent with the other evidence.

[37]            For example, it was Dr. Leong’s opinion that the collision caused the Plaintiff’s disc herniation in one of two ways:  (1) either the collision caused the herniation completely; or (2) if the herniation pre-dated the collision, then the collision caused the herniation to become symptomatic.  This evidence was based on the fact that the Plaintiff did not display any symptoms of cervical disc herniation prior to the collision.  Although she had experienced some pain in her neck which had occasioned the earlier x-ray, that pain was occasional rather than chronic.  It was also different in kind from the type of pain that can arise from disc herniation and that the Plaintiff experienced after the collision.  Furthermore, the x-ray taken shortly before the collision did not show a disc herniation.

[38]            Dr. Schweigel, on the other hand, was evasive and argumentative in his evidence.  He gave opinions in this trial that were inconsistent with opinions that he had tendered in other trials, demonstrating that he was not impartial but, rather, tailored his evidence to favour the party that had called him.  For example, in this trial he opined that arthritis could not be triggered by trauma whereas in another action he gave the opposite opinion.

[39]            Dr. Schweigel opined that the Plaintiff had suffered a mild soft tissue injury to her neck and back as a result of this collision and that that injury had probably resolved itself within 3 to 4 months.  He opined that the disc herniation pre-dated the collision as such conditions can arise from a longstanding arthritic condition and that, in any event, the Plaintiff’s chronic pain arose from neither the herniation specifically nor the collision generally but, rather, from her psychological or psychosomatic problems.

[40]            However, during cross-examination, he did concede that trauma could trigger further degeneration. He further went on to testify that if this injury did not pre-date the collision, that it would probably have arisen within 2 to 3 years to a maximum of 5 years.  In my view, this opinion contradicts his initial opinion that a disc herniation cannot be caused by trauma or become symptomatic because of trauma.

[41]            For all of these reasons, I found Dr. Schweigel’s evidence to be unreliable.  I preferred the opinion of Dr. Leong.  Where her opinion differed from the opinion of Dr. Schweigel, I relied upon her opinion.


Small Claims Court Awards $10,000 for 4 month Soft Tissue Injury ICBC Claim

December 11th, 2008

 (Image created by and used with permission of High Impact)

I usually focus my ICBC case law reports on cases from the BC Supreme Court and BC Court of Appeal but reasons for judgement were recently released from the Provincial Court of BC (commonly referred to as Small Claims Court) which caught my eye.

The Plaintiff was involved in a rear-end crash in May 2005.  From the judgement it appears to me to be a claim that fit ICBC’s Low Velocity Impact criteria (LVI) where ICBC takes the position that no compensable tort claim exists. 

The Plaintiff’s vehicle sustained little damage.  The evidence presented by the Plaintiff, her husband and her doctor was ‘fairly consistent’ and the court accepted that the Plaintiff suffered a ‘whiplash injury’ to her neck and back.

The court made the following findings “I accept that there is a four month injury from start to finish with approximately two months off work.  On those facts, it is my standard view and backed up by a number of cases, which oddly enough comes in directly between what the claimant puts forward way up at the upper end and what the defendant puts forward way down at the lower end, my view of this has been throughout coming towards the figure of $10,000 and that is the figure that I do award“.

The Plaintiff was also awarded her lost wages and special damages (out of pocket accident related expenses).

This judgement was only 3 pages long which is unusual for an ICBC personal injury case and makes for very easy reading.  I can’t find this judgment on the BC Provincial Court website but will post a link to the judgement if it becomes published.  This case shows how well suited the Provincial Court can be in some circumstances in dealing with ICBC injury claims involving minimal injuries which resolve quickly.