BC Personal Injury Law Round Up

The volume of ICBC and other personal injury cases released by our Superior Courts over the past 2 days has been higher than usual so I present today’s BC Injury Law Update in a ‘round up‘ fashion.
The first case of note was from the BC Court of Appeal and dealt with limitations under the Local Government Act.  When suing a local government for damages a Plaintiff must comply with s. 286 of the Local Government Act which holds in part that a Plaintiff must give “notice in writing…within 2 months from the date on which the damage was sustained“.  Failure to comply with this section can be a bar to suing.  An exception to this limitation period, however, is contained in s. 286(3) which holds that:

(3)        Failure to give the notice or its insufficiency is not a bar to the maintenance of an action if the court before whom it is tried, or, in case of appeal, the Court of Appeal, believes

(a)        there was a reasonable excuse, and

(b)        the defendant has not been prejudiced in its defence by the failure or insufficiency.

Today the BC Court of Appeal dealt with the issue of what is a ‘reasonable excuse’.

In today’s case, Thauili v. Delta, the Plaintiff sued for injuries sustained while in a fitness class in a community center operated by Delta.  The Plaintiff did not give notice within the 2 months set out in s. 286 of the Local Government Act.  Delta brought a motion to dismiss the Plaintiff’s claim but this motion was dismissed.  Delta appealed to the BC Court of Appeal.  This too was dismissed and in so doing the BC Court of Appeal added clarity to the issues that can be considered when addressing a ‘reasobable excuse’ for not giving notice within the required 2 month period.  The highlights of this discussion were as follows:

[10] In Teller, a five-judge division of this Court considered the construction to be placed on the words “reasonable excuse”, taken in the context of s. 755 of the Municipal Act, R.S.B.C. 1979, c. 290.  Section 755 contained the same notice requirement found in s. 286(1) of the Local Government Act as well as the same saving provision now found in s. 286(3).  Although not identically worded, there is no difference in substance between s. 755 of the Municipal Act and s. 286 of the Local Government Act.

[11] Teller did not propound a test to determine what constitutes “reasonable excuse”.  Rather, Teller instructs that “all matters put forward as constituting either singly or together a reasonable excuse must be considered.” (at 388)  The question is whether it is reasonable that the plaintiff be excused, having regard to all the circumstances.

[12] Teller expressly overruled those trial decisions which had excluded ignorance of the law as a factor to be considered in deciding whether there was reasonable excuse for the failure to give notice. …

[37] There can be no doubt that after its pronouncement, Teller became – and has remained – the governing authority on the construction of “reasonable excuse” found in the saving provision in s. 755 of the Municipal Act.

[42] As to the purpose of the section, Southin J.A. said, at 383:

What then is the purpose of the section?  Clearly one of the purposes of the section is to enable a municipality to investigate a claim fully.  But that purpose is addressed by the second branch of the concluding sentence.  The only other purpose I can think of was to protect municipalities against stale claims in order to enable them to estimate their future liabilities and make budgetary provision for them.  But I know of no authority for that surmise. It really is difficult to make much sense out of the words “reasonable excuse” in the context….

43]         After considering the provenance of the section, the state of the law as revealed by the case authorities in 1957 when the provision was, in effect, newly enacted, and the case authorities, including Horie v. Nelson (1988), 20 B.C.L.R. (2d) 1, [1988] 2 W.W.R. 79 (C.A.), leave to appeal to S.C.C. refused 27 B.C.L.R. (2d) xxxv [Horie], Southin J.A. concluded, at 388:

[T]he maxim “ignorance of the law is no excuse” is not a rule of law determinative of an issue of statutory interpretation in every instance.

In the end, the question is simply what do the words at issue mean in the context.  In my opinion, ignorance of the law is a factor to be taken into account.  So for that matter is knowledge of the law. But all matters put forward as constituting either singly or together a reasonable excuse must be considered.

Those decisions of the court below which exclude ignorance of the law as a factor are, therefore, overruled.

[50] The decision in Teller does not propound a test or establish criteria which must be met before the court may find a reasonable excuse for the failure to give notice; instead, the decision invites a determination informed by the purpose or intent of the notice provision, taking into account all matters put forward as constituting either singly or together a reasonable excuse.  The determination of whether there is reasonable excuse is contextual.  The question is whether it is reasonable that the plaintiff be excused, having regard to all the circumstances.

Ultimately the Court held that ignorance of the law can be a reasonable excuse in certain circumstances under the Local Government Act.

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The second case released today dealt with Pain and Suffering Awards for Soft Tissue Injuries.  In this case (Robinson v. Anderson) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2005 rear end car crash in Tsawwassen, BC.  Liability was admitted leaving the court to deal with the value of the injuries.

Mr. Justice Bernard awarded the Plaintiff $25,000 for her non-pecuniary damages (pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life).  In so doing he summarized the Plaintiff’s injuries and their effect on her life as follows:

[18] It is not disputed that the plaintiff sustained soft-tissue injuries to her neck, back, left shoulder and right knee in the collision. Similarly, there is no suggestion that the plaintiff is a dishonest witness who is prevaricating or exaggerating in relation to her pain and the various consequences it has wrought upon her life….

[22] Causation is established where the plaintiff proves that the defendant caused or contributed to the injury: see Athey v. Leonati, [1996] 3 S.C.R. 458, 140 D.L.R. (4th) 235. In regard to the instant case, I am satisfied that the plaintiff has proved that the defendant caused or contributed to the injury which has manifested itself in ongoing symptoms of pain. The evidence establishes consistency and continuity in the plaintiff’s symptoms (albeit with some amelioration) and an absence of any intervening cause which might otherwise account for the plaintiff’s current pain. A dearth of objective medical findings is not determinative; this is particularly so for soft tissue injuries.

[23] Notwithstanding the aforementioned causal link, the evidence strongly supports finding that: (a) the plaintiff’s injuries are not permanent; (b) if the plaintiff takes reasonable steps to improve her fitness level, then significant, if not full, recovery is very likely; and (c) if the plaintiff does take those reasonable steps, then recovery is attainable within a relatively short time frame. In this regard, the medical opinions of both Dr. Hodgson and Dr. Werry (on May 6, 2009 and April 9, 2009 respectively) suggest that the plaintiff’s present symptoms would decrease substantially through a reduction of her “habitus” (body size and shape), increased physical activity, and working through that which is sometimes described as “the pain of reactivation”.

[24] There are similarities between the plaintiff in the instant case and the plaintiff in Nair v. Mani, [1991] B.C.J. No. 2830. Ms Nair was 49 years of age, overweight, and physically unfit at the time she was injured in a motor vehicle collision. She complained of ongoing back, thigh and knee pain. The plaintiff was not a malingerer, but the court found that she could have accelerated her improvement and lessened the impact of her injuries through exercise and weight loss. In relation to the plaintiff’s fitness the court said:

A defendant must take her victim as she finds her, be it with a thin skull or an out of shape musculature. But when it comes to the reasonable efforts expected of a plaintiff to aid her own recovery after the accident, then those reasonable steps include exercise and muscle toning so that an injury may be shaken off more quickly.

[25] The plaintiff’s weight is not relevant to causation; however, it is germane to the plaintiff’s duty to mitigate her losses. It is trite law that a plaintiff has an ongoing duty to mitigate his or her damages. In the case at bar, as in Nair v. Mani, the plaintiff’s duty to mitigate includes taking reasonable steps to reduce her body habitus and increase her fitness level…

[28] Assessment of just and fair compensation for non-pecuniary losses by reference to other cases is a daunting task. Each case is unique in its plaintiff and set of circumstances; nonetheless, I accept that the cases cited by the parties assist in defining reasonable upper and lower limits for a non-pecuniary damages award in the case at bar. The most salient factors of the case at bar are: (a) the absence of proof of a permanent or long-term injury; (b) the existence of some amelioration of symptoms; and (c) the absence of enduring and incessant debilitating pain. In relation to (c), I accept that the plaintiff has suffered from pain since the accident and that it has had an adverse effect upon many aspects of her life; I simply note that the intensity of the pain has not been to the degree suffered by many other plaintiffs.

[29] Having due regard to all the foregoing and the cases cited by counsel, I find that a fair and just award for the plaintiff’s non-pecuniary losses is $25,000.

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In the third case released today the Court was asked to deal with the issue of fault when the occupant of a parked car opens his door and is struck by a cyclist.

In today’s case (Hagreen v. Su) the Defendant was parked and opened his car door.  As he did so the Plaintiff, who was travelling on his bicycle, drove into the open door and was injured.  The Defendant was found 100% at fault for the Plaintiff’s injuries and in so finding Mr. Justice Brooke summarized and applied the law as follows:

] On the day of the accident, Mr. Hagreen was wearing a helmet as well as reflective stripes on his jacket and boots and was proceeding eastward. Cars were parked on his right side in the 2400 block of East Broadway, and as a matter of course, the plaintiff said that while monitoring the vehicle traffic in the two lanes to his left, he also monitored the driver’s side of the parked cars, in order to alert himself to any potential risk. Mr. Hagreen estimated his speed at 25 to 30 km/hr when he said, without any warning, the driver’s door of Mr. Su’s vehicle opened; that he, Mr. Hagreen, yelled, “Whoa,” but immediately hit the door. He described his upper body hitting the door, and he injured his ankle as well when he hit the ground. Emergency services were called, the first responder being a fire truck before the ambulance arrived, and Mr. Hagreen was transported to hospital. He indicated that he believes that he passed out in hospital, but after being seen by a physician, he was told that he could go home. Mr. Hagreen said that when he tried to put his shirt on, he could not lift his left arm above his head, and this resulted in x-rays being taken of his left arm region. Mr. Hagreen saw his family doctor, Dr. Montgomery, who prescribed Tylenol and Codeine to treat the pain throughout the plaintiff’s upper body, principally in the area of the right collar bone. As a result of continuing complaints of pain in the left collar bone, the plaintiff was referred for physiotherapy which provided some relief for what he was told were soft tissue injuries. Mr Hagreen was off work for seven days, and on his return, he avoided heavy lifting and stretching which resulted in other employees having to do that work.

[4] The defendant, Mr. Su, said that on the day of the accident, it was raining and his child was ill, so he had moved the car to the front of the house to take the child to the doctor. He said that he checked what was behind him, and he saw a cyclist about six or seven houses back, and he felt that he had enough time to get out. He said that he put one leg out and turned his body when the bicycle crashed into the door. In cross-examination, Mr. Su acknowledged giving a statement shortly after the accident, and in that statement, he said that he opened the car door slightly and made shoulder check, then he opened the door further and moved both of his legs out, when he saw the bike approaching “really fast” and the resulting collision occurred. Mr. Su had earlier indicated that he had passed the test in English for a second language, although most of his customers speak Chinese rather than English. Mr. Su was asked in cross-examination whether it was true that he did not see the bicycle until the door was opened and that it was then too late, and he acknowledged that that was true but indicated that it was some few years past. It was put to Mr. Su that he did not see the bicycle until it was too late, to which he said yes, and it was put to him that that was the truth, to which he also said yes.

[5] I am satisfied that the defendant is solely responsible for the collision, having opened his door when it was unsafe to do so. Section 203(1) of the Motor Vehicle Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 318, says:

(1) A person must not open the door of a motor vehicle on the side available to moving traffic unless and until it is reasonably safe to do so.

[6] I find that the defendant, Mr. Su, is wholly responsible for the collision and that the plaintiff took all reasonable steps available to him to avoid the collision, but that the door was not opened by Mr. Su until the plaintiff was so close that he had no opportunity to brake or to take evasive action. I now turn to the question of damages.

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The last ICBC related case released today dealt with the issue of costs.  In this case (Mariano v. Campbell) the Plaintiff sued for injuries as a result of a car crash.  The claim was prosecuted under Rule 66 and the trial took 4 days (which exceeds the 2 days allowed under Rule 66).

When a Plaintiff sues and succeeds in a Rule 66 lawsuit their ‘costs’ are capped at $6,600 “unless the court orders otherwise” as set out in Rule 66(29).

In today’s case the Plaintiff was awarded a total of just over $115,000 after trial.  She brought an application to be permitted an additional $3,200 in costs.  Madam Justice Loo allowed this application.  This case is worth reviewing in full to see some of the factors courts consider when addressing additional costs to the successful party in a Rule 66 Lawsuit.

bicycle accidents, costs, Hagreen v. Su, icbc injury claims, liability, Limitaiton Periods, Local Governent Act. s. 286 Local Government Act, Madam Justice Loo, Mariano v. Campbell, Mr. Justice Bernard, Mr. Justice Brooke, Notice Periods, opening door, parked car, Reasonable Excuse, Robinson v. Anderson, rule 66, section 203 Motor Vehicle Act, soft tissue injuries, Thauli v. Delta

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If you would like further information or require assistance, please get in touch.

ERIK
MAGRAKEN

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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