$125,000 Non-Pecuniary Damage Assessment for TBI – Adverse Inference Discussed
Update March 21, 2014 – the Liability findings in the below case were upheld today by the BC Court of Appeal
Adding to this site’s ICBC Case Summary Archives, reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Victoria Registry, assessing non-pecuniary damages for a traumatic brain injury sustained in a BC vehicle collision.
In this week’s case (Meghji v. Lee) the Plaintiff was struck by a vehicle while walking in a marked cross-walk in 2003. Both the Defendant driver and BC Ministry of Transportation and Highways were found at fault for the crash. The former for failing to keep a proper lookout while driving, the latter for designing the intersection at question with inadequate overhead lighting. The driver was found 90% at fault with the Ministry shouldering 10% of the blame.
The Plaintiff suffered a fracture near her left shoulder, left elbow, ankle, knee and a traumatic brain injury. The consequences of these were expected to cause permanent dysfunction. In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $125,000 Mr. Justice Johnston provided the following reasons:
Mr. Lee struck Ms. Meghji on her left side. That caused a significant fracture to Ms. Meghji’s left upper arm, a less significant fracture just below and into her left knee and an injury to her left ankle, all of which required immediate medical intervention. There were also the soft tissue injuries that would reasonably be expected to accompany such trauma.
Within a day of the accident, Ms. Meghji had surgery to her left upper arm that involved the insertion of a rod that was fixed by screws just below her shoulder and just above her left elbow. She also had a screw placed into her left ankle…
Based upon the evidence of Dr. Ali and Mr. Brozak of the substantial change noted in Ms. Meghji during this time, as supported by similar observations from Ms. Chauncey’s and Ms. Wyeth’s description of Ms. Meghji’s abilities in her math class and as a teaching assistant before the accident, I conclude that Ms. Meghji has more likely than not suffered a brain injury in the accident, and that the combination of the effects of the brain injury and the depression and chronic pain disorder, which I also find was caused by the accident or flows from injuries suffered in the accident, are so inextricably intertwined that they cannot possibly be disentangled.
In all of the circumstances, the defendants are ordered to pay Ms. Meghji $125,000 for non-pecuniary damages for pain, suffering, and loss of amenities and enjoyment of life.
This case is also worth reviewing for the Court’s application of the ‘adverse inference’ principle. In the course of the lawsuit the Plaintiff’s lawyers had her assessed by a neurologist. The neurologist did not tender evidence at trial. Mr. Justice Johnston used his discretion to draw an adverse inference in these circumstances finding that the privately hired doctor likely did not have helpful evidence to give in support of the Plaintiff’s claim. The court provided the following reasons:
In ordinary circumstances, I would agree that a claim of litigation privilege should be sufficient explanation for the failure to produce evidence from an expert who examined a party, and no inference adverse to that party should be drawn from the failure to produce the evidence.
However, where, as here, counsel has assumed control of medical management of a plaintiff’s injuries, the circumstances are not ordinary.
Dr. Grimwood would ordinarily have been expected to coordinate Ms. Meghji’s treatment, including referrals to specialists as he thought advisable. In this case, Dr. Grimwood appears to have largely ceded that responsibility to Ms. Meghji’s counsel, largely because counsel were able to arrange examinations by medical specialists much sooner than could Dr. Grimwood.
Where counsel becomes actively involved in arranging treatment, or in treatment decisions, or in selection of treatment providers to the extent that it becomes difficult or impossible to determine whether any particular doctor is involved for treatment purposes, or to advise counsel, the protective cloak of litigation privilege becomes tattered.
In such circumstances, counsel and the party who permit the line between treating physicians and physicians retained to advise counsel to become blurred must accept some risk that the protection ordinarily afforded by litigation privilege might be lost.
Ms. Meghji testified that she saw Dr. Cameron for headaches. In the face of that evidence, I infer, from the refusal to produce evidence from Dr. Cameron, that any opinion generated as a result of his examination of Ms. Meghji was not helpful to the claims she makes in this trial. I also infer that, while examining for headache, had Dr. Cameron observed any signs that suggested to him that Ms. Meghji had suffered a traumatic brain injury in the accident, his observations or opinion would have been produced at trial.