$50,000 Non-Pecuniary Damage Assessment for Chronic STI's; Adverse Inference Discussed

Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, addressing damages for chronic soft tissue injuries arising from a motor vehicle collision.
In last week’s case (Milburn v. Ernst) the Plaintiff was operating a motorcycle when it was rear-ended by the Defendant’s vehicle.  The impact “resulted in the motorcycle becoming embedded in the gill of the (Defendant’s vehicle); to the point that only half of the motorcycle could be seen protruding from the front of the car“.
The Plaintiff, although he missed little time from work, suffered soft tissue injuries that were expected to pose long term limitations.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $50,000 Madam Justice Fitzpatrick made the following findings and provided the following reasons:

[96] After having considered the evidence from Mr. Milburn, the evidence of his independent witnesses and the medical evidence referred to above, I find as a fact that Mr. Milburn suffered the following injuries as a result of the accident:

a)       he was bruised in the pelvic region, he had wrist pain and he had some cognitive dysfunction and sleep disturbance, all of which were resolved shortly after the accident;

b)       he had some chest pain in the fall of 2007 arising from his temporary use of crutches after the knee surgery;

c)       he had severe pain in his neck, back and shoulder, all of which were largely resolved by December 2007;

d)       the disc bulges found to be present in Mr. Milburn’s spine were not caused by the accident but were rendered symptomatic as a result of the accident; and

e)       he continues to experience discomfort and mild pain in his neck and back from time to time, which increases to the point of severity depending on his level of physical activity and his level of physical fitness…

[105] I accept the evidence of Mr. Milburn that he enjoyed an active and physical life before the accident. In the aftermath of the accident, he experienced significant pain and discomfort relating to his injuries at that time which, for the most part, were resolved by December 2007.

[106] Since the accident, he has struggled to deal with the back and neck pain that arises from time to time, particularly given his employment, which is physically demanding and at times, can be quite physically demanding. He has not, however, required prescription medicine to deal with that, which speaks to the severity of the pain that he experiences from time to time. In addition, his doctors have recommended that with a proper exercise regime and with care taken in the manner of lifting and other physical activities, he should be able to minimize the difficulties that he might otherwise have. This recommendation appears to have been taken up by Mr. Milburn in that he is now regularly exercising on his own.

[107] His need of physiotherapy for some years now has been infrequent, a sign that the need for more formal treatment has not been great, despite what he describes as “flare-ups” in his condition.

[108] Based on the medical evidence of Dr. Badii, which I accept, his condition is not expected to materially improve from this time forward and as such, it is to be expected that Mr. Milburn will continue to suffer some pain in the future.

[109] In addition, I find that the accident has resulted in Mr. Milburn abandoning some of his recreational activities, such as kickboxing, snowboarding and rollerblading. In addition, some of his favourite activities have been curtailed. His love and enjoyment of motorcycling is now somewhat limited to the extent that he has to stop frequently while on long rides. In addition, acting roles with stunt assignments are no longer open to him, an activity that he particularly enjoyed although such roles were limited.

[110] I accept that the accident has also affected his personal life in that he has some pain accomplishing more physically demanding tasks around the home. I note, however, that he continues to enjoy what can only be called very physical activities, and no doubt more enjoyable activities, such as weightlifting, ATVing, scuba diving, snorkeling and horseback riding.

[111] I find that Mr. Milburn is entitled to non-pecuniary damages in the amount of $50,000.

This case is also worth reviewing for the Court’s discussion of the ‘adverse inference‘ principle.  In the course of the lawsuit the Plaintiff obtained two privileged medico-legal reports.  The Plaintiff maintained the claim of privilege through trial and did not introduce these reports into evidence.  The Defendant argued that an adverse inference should be drawn.  Madam Justice Fitzpatrick disagreed and provided the following reasons:

[87] The defence also points out that in Mr. Milburn’s list of documents, he listed two privileged medical-legal reports dated June 11 and 12, 2010. These were commissioned by Mr. Milburn’s counsel but were never served or presented at trial. The defence submits that an adverse inference should be drawn that the evidence in those reports would be contrary to Mr. Milburn’s case. Cases cited in support include Buksh v. Miles, 2008 BCCA 318 at paras. 30-35, 296 D.L.R. (4th) 608; Bronson v. Hewitt, 2010 BCSC 169 at paras. 323-337, 58 E.T.R. (3d) 14; Bouchard v. Brown Bros. Motor Lease Canada Ltd., 2011 BCSC 762 at paras. 118-122. In Buksh, at para. 31, the court cites from Barker v. McQuahe (1964), 49 W.W.R. 685 (B.C.C.A.) at 689, that in a personal injury claim, the plaintiff “ought to call all doctors who attended him in respect of any important aspect of the matters that are in dispute, or explain why he does not do so.”

[88] In my view, this is not an appropriate case to conclude that an adverse inference should be drawn. There is no evidence that the authors of those reports even saw Mr. Milburn. If so, Mr. Milburn could have been examined on the point and copies of clinical notes obtained, such as was done in Bouchard (see also para. 35 of Buksh). Mr. Milburn’s counsel has advised that this evidence was not submitted because it was of no assistance to the court, not that it was adverse to the current medical evidence. In fact, there may have been any number of reasons why the reports were not submitted and while it is possible that they contradicted the reports of Drs. Behroozi and Badii either in whole or in part, it is equally possible that they did not materially add to those reports. As was noted by the court in Bronson at para. 329, an adverse inference can only be drawn if such testimony would be superior in respect of the facts to be proved.

[89] Counsel for Mr. Milburn is entitled to prepare his case, and obtain whatever expert reports that might assist in advancing his case. To suggest that any decision not to use an unidentified expert report leads to an adverse inference in respect of any case is going well beyond the general proposition relating to adverse inferences. The disclosure process is intended to provide opposing counsel with the means of testing the claim of privilege, not to allow such claims to be made that an adverse inference should be drawn in these circumstances.

adverse inference, bc injury law, Madam Justice Fitzpatrick, Milburn v. Ernst

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ERIK
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Personal Injury Lawyer

When not writing the BC Injury Law Blog, Erik is the managing partner at MacIsaac & Company, based in Victoria, B.C. He is also involved with combative sports regulatory issues and authors the Combat Sports Law Blog.

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