I’ve said it before an I’ll say it again, the issue of FAULT and ICBC claims tends to be most heavily disputed when dealing with left hand turning vehicles in intersection crashes.
Reasons for judgement were released today determining fault as a result of a 2004 intersection crash that occurred in Vernon, BC.
The Plaintiff was travelling through the intersection. The Defendant, travelling from the opposite direction, was intending to make a left hand turn. A significant collision happened. The issue of fault was decided by Mr. Justice Brooke.
This is an interesting case because it appears that the Plaintiff suffered a serious brain injury (a frontal lobe injury) as a result of this crash. When motorists suffer from brain injuries in car accidents it is not unusual for them to suffer a period of amnesia, either before, during or after the event. Here it appears that the trauma of the crash caused the Plaintiff to have no recall of the crash.
How then, do you prove your case when you can’t remember what happened? This case shows some of the usual trial strategies in such a situation. In this case the defendant’s examination for discovery transcript was utilized, lay witnesses were called, the investigating police officer who took scene measurements was called as to where expert accident reconstruction witnesses.
In the end the court found that the Plaintiff vehicle was speeding at the time of the crash and that the left turning driver failed to see a ‘dominant’ vehcile that was ‘there to be seen’. The court reference s. 174 of the BC Motor Vehicle Act in finding the left hand turner largely at fault. The court also found the speeding ‘through’ driver at fault.
In BC personal injury claims, if both parties are at fault the court has to determine the degree of fault of each party. Here the court assigned 20% of the blame to the speeding through vehicle and 80% against the left hand turning vehicle.
One matter worth noting is the effect of the traffic ticket. Here the defendant was ticketed for ‘failing to yield on a left-hand turn.’. He paid the ticket. Such an act is an ‘admission against interest’ and a court can use this ‘admission’ to help decide who is at fault. However, such an admission is not binding on the court. Here the defendant testified that when he gets a ticket he pays it. The court found him to be a straighforward and credible witness and accpeted that in not disputing the ticket that spoke to his characger rather than admission of fault.
I’ve said it before an I’ll say it again, the issue of FAULT and ICBC claims tends to be most heavily disputed when dealing with left hand turning vehicles in intersection crashes.
In another example of our courts dealing with the issue of fault and intersection crashes, reasons for judgment were released last week faulting a ‘through driver’ 100% for a crash involving a left hand turner in Langley, BC.
I have previously blogged about this and will blog more on this topic in the future. The issue of fault is probably the most litigated when it comes to intersection crashes involving left hand turning vehicles.
In this case the Plaintiff was attempting to turn left. The Defendant, approaching in the opposite direction, was attempting to go through the intersection. The light was amber or red. This is a common recipe for disaster and indeed they crashed with each other. As is often the case in ICBC claims involving intersection crashes the 2 sides had different versions of evidence, particularly as to whether the light was red or amber at the time.
The court found that the light was red at the time of the crash. While both vehicles where, therefore, in the intersection on a red light, only the ‘through driver’ was found at fault because the Plaintiff was clearing the intersection.
The court quoted a case that is well known to ICBC claims lawyers which is helpful to left hand turning motorists in such a situation. The cases is Kokkinis v. Hall from the BC Court of Appeal where the court held that:
9 This discussion, however, detracts from the more important question of law, which is whether Mrs. Kokkinis was on one hand entitled reasonably to assume that Mr. Hall would stop before entering the intersection or on the other hand, whether she can be faulted for failing to see his van “until it was on top of her”, i.e. constituted an immediate hazard. In this regard, Mr. Johnson cites Feng v. Graham  5 W.W.R. 137 (B.C.C.A.), (not a left turn case), for the principle that the plaintiff’s entitlement to assume that other traffic will obey the law, is “subject to the proviso” (in counsel’s phrase) that where it is apparent or should be apparent that an oncoming driver is not going to yield the right-of-way, then at that point the other driver must act reasonably and cannot simply proceed into the collision, as it were. At the least, Mr. Johnson says, it was open to the trial judge to find that in the circumstances, Ms. Kokkinis failed to exercise reasonable care for her own safety and the safety of others, and that she must therefore bear some responsibility for the accident.
10 I must say this argument has given me pause; but ultimately I resolve it by asking whether in law Mrs. Kokkinis should be faulted for diverting her attention momentarily from oncoming traffic to check cross traffic at the point in time in question, i.e., as she prepared to start her turn – to see if any of those cars had jumped the light or were going to pose a threat to her turn. Was this an unreasonable or careless thing to do? I think not, given both the realities of the situation (which of course occurred over only a few seconds) and past decisions of this Court that have imposed on left-turning drivers the duty to be aware not only of oncoming traffic, but also of cross traffic, pedestrians, and whatever else may be present in the intersection. To say that the plaintiff can be found at fault because she relied on the assumption that Mr. Hall would stop, and because she checked cross-traffic, would in my view subvert the duty on Mr. Hall to bring his vehicle to a safe stop at the amber light as the other traffic did. An amber light is not, as the current witticism suggests, a signal to accelerate or to pass traffic that is slowing to a stop. Indeed, as Mr. Justice Esson noted in Uyeyama, in a busy city like Vancouver and at a busy intersection like 25th and Granville, an amber is likely the only time one can complete a left turn. Drivers approaching intersections must expect that this will be occurring. Putting a burden on a left turning driver to wait until he or she sees that all approaching drivers have stopped would, in my view, bring traffic to a standstill. We should not endorse such a result.
11 Accordingly, notwithstanding the principle (which I do not doubt) that questions of apportionment are generally questions of fact with which we should interfere only in exceptional cases, I would conclude that the issues I have referred to are ones of law and that the learned trial judge erred in law in placing too high a standard on the plaintiff and in failing to consider the assumptions she was entitled to make. I would not apportion any of the fault to her and would apportion 100 percent to Mr. Hall.
The court held that this was a similar case to Kokkinis and found the through driver at fault.
In terms of injuries the Plainitff suffered from general body trauma, bruising and soreness, soft tissue injuries to the neck, chest wrist and knee. The most significant injury was to the back and the court found that “3 years post-accident the Plaintiff continues to have significant pain from his back. Any prolonged activity, such as sitting in a lecture hall or travelling in a sitting position over 45 minutes causes soreness and pain. The Plaintiff is not recommended to pursue recreationbal activities of a physical nature such as football, which he had formerly done.”
The court awarded damages totalling $74,978.13 including $45,000 for non-pecuniary damages (pain and suffering).
BC Supreme Court Awards $75,000 Pain and Suffering for Soft Tissue Injuries – Disc Herniation Claim Dismissed
In reasons for judgment released today, the BC Supreme Court valued a Plaintiff’s pain and suffering at $75,000 for soft tissue injuries.
The Plaintiff was a nurse’s aid. She was injured in a BC car accident which occurred in 2004 in New Westminster. The crash occurred at an intersection and both liability (fault) and quantum (value of injuries) were in dispute at trial. This is often the case when ICBC injury claims resulting from an intersection crash go to trial.
The Plaintiff was making a right hand turn. When starting her turn she felt it was safe to do so. At about the same time the Defendant was proceeding through the intersection and had recently changed into the right hand lane. Both motorists failed to recognize the hazard they posed to each other until it was too late.
The court found that both drivers were at fault. The Plaintiff was liable for ‘not keeping a proper lookout’ and that she should have seen the Defendant travelling in the curb lane prior to the collision.
The defendant was also found at fault for changing lanes at an unsafe time. The key finding is made at paragraph 70 where the court held that:
I find that at the time that the defendant changed lanes on Braid from the eastbound inside lane to the curb lane, 80 feet west of the intersection of Garrett and Braid, the plaintiff had already left the stop sign on Garrett and was in the process of making a right hand turn into the eastbound curb lane on Braid. I find that in making his lane change at this point on Braid the defendant was in such close proximity to the plaintiff’s car that his lane change could not be made safely. The weight of the evidence leaves no doubt that the defendant’s van was far too close to the plaintiff’s car for the defendant’s change of lanes to be made safely.
When 2 or more people are responsible for a BC car accident the Negligence Act requires a court to apportion fault between the parties. In this case the court held that both the Plaintiff and Defendant were 50% at fault for the accident. In doing so the court stated that “I do not think it can be found that blame for the accident rests more with one party than the other. In my opinion, they are equally guilty of breaching the rules of the road.”
The Plaintiff was a nurse’s aid. She claimed that as a result of the accident she became disabled from not only that job but also from ‘any other employment at a competitive level’
The Plaintiff’s doctor diagnosed the following injuries:
1) New large left central parracentral disc herniation posterior to the L5 vertebral body secondary to new onset degenerative L5/S1 disc change. This would be rated severe.
2) Left L5/S1 nerve root compression, also rated severe.
3) Milder degenerative changes at L3/L4, L4/L5 levels with early neural foraminal stenosis at L4/L5 and L5/S1, which are rated moderate to severe.
4) New onset degenerative CT spine changes rated moderate.
5) Musculoskeletal changes within the left side of her body, left arm, left chest, left hip and left leg, resolved within a week or two after the motor vehicle injury, rated mild.
6) Iatrogenic hypertension secondary to COX-2 inhibitor use for the treatment of the patient’s back injuries.
The bulk of the reasons for judgement focused on causation, that is, whether the above injuries were related to the accident or to other causes. As with most ICBC injury claims, the court heard from several ‘expert witnesses’ who commented on the plaintiff’s injuries and their cause.
In the end the court found that the Plaintiff failed to prove that the accident caused her disc herniation. The key findings can be found at paragraph 317 where the court held that:
 In the result, I find that the evidence does not establish a temporal link between the accident and the onset of the plaintiff’s low back symptoms ultimately leading to the diagnosis of disc herniation and disc herniation surgery. In my opinion, the plaintiff has failed to prove on a balance of probabilities that the accident caused or contributed to the plaintiff’s disc herniation. She has failed to prove that her disc herniation would not have occurred but for the negligence of the defendants.
 In arriving at this conclusion I accept the opinion of Dr. Maloon, in preference to that of the plaintiff’s medical experts, that the soft tissue injuries the plaintiff sustained in the accident would not have been “significant enough to alter the natural history of her neck or low back condition” and that the “disc herniation would be the result of the natural history of the lumbar degenerative disc disease and not the result of injuries that she may have sustained in [the accident].”
Since the court did not find the disc herniation related to the accident damages were assessed for soft tissue injuries. The court made the following finding prior to valuing the injuries at $75,000 for pain and suffering:
 I find that the plaintiff sustained mild to moderate soft tissue injuries to her neck and back as a result of the accident which have had an affect on her personal, employment, social and recreational pursuits and activities. However, I also find that the plaintiff has failed to establish that the injuries sustained by her in the accident have caused her disability from employment.
 In the result, I find that the plaintiff’s award for general damages should be based on the fact that her condition had improved and recovered to the stage that by March 4, 2005 he felt well enough to return to work on a gradual basis. Moreover, I find that the fact her physical and emotional condition deteriorated after her fall on March 5, 2005 cannot be attributed to the injuries she sustained in the accident.
The Plaintiff’s award was then cut by 50% to reflect the fact that she was 50% responsible for the accident. This is the direct result of ‘contributory negligent’ in ICBC injury cases. If a Plaintiff is any percent at fault then the value of what can be recovered in tort is reduced by that percentage.
Do you have questions about this case or about an ICBC injury claim involving soft tissue injuries or a disk herniation? If so please click here to arrange your free consultation with Victoria ICBC Claims Lawyer Erik Magraken (Services provided for ICBC injury claims throughout BC!)
Today reasons for judgment were released by the BC Court of Appeal dismissing the appeal of a very seriously injured Plaintiff who was involved in a single vehicle collision in 1998.
The Plaintiff was involved in a terrible motor vehicle accident. While driving from Tsawwassen to Vancouver on a January morning, his vehicle “left the road and overturned in the adjacent field. (he was) seriously and permanently injured, and had no recollection of the accident”.
There were, unfortunately, no witnesses to the accident itself.
When advancing a personal injury tort claim in BC, the Plaintiff has the burden of proof to prove why someone else is at fault for the accident. That is certainly difficult if the accident results in injuries that are so serious that they leave a person ‘with no recollection’ and even more difficult if there are no witnesses.
The Plaintiff sued the Ministry of Transportation and Highways and the contractor responsible for that particular stretch of roadway. The allegation was that they failed to adequately perform their maintenence duties. In other words, saying they should have and could have removed black ice from the scene of the accident.
The trial judge concluded that the Plaintiff failed to prove that the accident was caused by black ice and the claim was dismissed. The BC Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal concluding that “the trial judge made none of the errors alleged (on appeal). His findings of fact were well supported by the evidence.”
In reaching this conclusion the Court stated that:
The trial judge made no error by failing to compare the relative probability of black ice and an animal on the highway, or other circumstances, as explanations for the accident. He considered the evidence for and against the appellant’s theory and determined that he had not proven, on the balance of probabilities, the essential fact that black ice was present on the highway, and therefore could not prove causation. The trial judge was under no obligation to compare the relative probabilities of the theories, and his conclusion would not have differed had he done so.
The Court does a good job in discussing the burden of proof in personal injury tort claims in BC. This case is a strong illustration of the fact that Plaintiff’s must prove, on a balance of probabilities, that someone else is at fault for their injureis to succeed in a tort claim in BC.
This case is certainly worth reading for anyone advancing a claim against the Ministry of Highways in BC alleging that they or their contractors failed to safely maintian the roads under their watch.
NOTE: This case was overtunred on appeal on February 19, 2009, see my blog post of February 19 to read about this.
Reasons for judgement were released yesterday by the BC Supreme Court determining fault for a 2004 motor vehicle collision which occurred in Vancouver, BC involving a BMW and a bicyclist.
The collision happened at the intersetion of Main Street and East 2nd Avenue in Vancouver, BC. The Plaintiff cyclist was attempting to go through the intersection when the Defendant motorist turned left and collided with him. The light was green and the cyclist did enter the intersection “in accordance with traffic signals” when the Defendant turned into him (in other words, on a green light). The impact was significant as the Plaintiff “hit the passenger window of the car with enough force to smash the glass and he suffered personal injuries“.
Who was at fault for this intersection crash was the issue to be decided at trial. The trial proceeded by way of ‘summary trial’ pursuant to Rule 18-A of the BC Supreme Court Rules. For those not familiar with ‘summary trials’ they are commonly referred to as ‘paper-trials’ because no witnesses testify in court, rather the lawyers present their cases through sworn affidavit evidence. There has been much criticism of this rule over the years and BC personal injury lawyers seldom use this rule to advance ICBC claims to trial.
This case is interesting for Madam Justice Griffin’s analysis in determining fault. The 5 main factors she considered in reaching her conclusion were
1. The speed of the car
2. The speed of the bicycle
3. The light conditions
4. The location of the bicyle whent he car began its left turn
5. The response time of the bicycle rider
The key findings of fact made at trial were that “the Plaintiff was not speeding and was properly riding his bicycle in the correct lane, the curb lane, in accordance with the traffic signals. It is undisputed that (the bicyclist) was in breach of the Motor Vehicle Act by failing to have a headlamp or reflectors on his bicycle….Given that (the bicyclist) had no headlamp or reflectors on his bicycle, (he) was also negligent in wearing dark clothing insread of bright and reflective clothing…(he) had no opportunity to avoid the collision. Even though the BMW was clearly poised to mnake a left turn and had its left turn signal activated, there was no reason for (him) to expect that the BMW would turn in front of him. He would have seen that it had given way to other traffic.”
Madam Justice Griffin concluded that “the bicyclist presented an immediate hazard when the BMW began to turn the vehicle to the left…..(the driver of the BMW) should have considered (the bicylcist) to be an immediate hazard and should not have proceeded with the turn until (the bicyclist) was safely through the intersection. As such (the driver of the BMW) was negligent.”
When both parties are at fault for a collision BC courts must determine the degrees of fault as between them. This is required by the BC Negligence Act. Madam Justice Griffin ruled that the Plaintiff was 75% at fault for the accident and the motorist was 25% at fault. What this means is that the Plaintiff would only be entitled to recover 25% of the value of his injuries from ICBC in his tort claim.
In reaching this conclusion Madam Justice Griffen ruled that
 The streets of Vancouver are shared by drivers and cyclists. Those who use the streets must anticipate each other and the limitations inherent in each other’s response time and visibility.
 The plaintiff took a very big risk by riding his bicycle in the dark without any form of illumination or reflection. He ought to have appreciated the difficulty that drivers of motor vehicles have in seeing fast-moving dark objects. While he may have counted on the street lights to illuminate him, he was extremely careless and showed little concern for safety.
 In deciding to make a left turn across the intersection, Mr. Schwartz should have appreciated the need to be vigilant for the potential of a cyclist approaching in the curb lane.
 In conclusion, I apportion fault for the accident 75% to the plaintiff and 25% to the defendant.
This case is a difficult precedent for any BC cyclist injured in a BC car crash who either fails to wear reflective clothing or fails to have a headlamp or reflectors on their bicylce. It may be troubling to know that a cyclist can be found largely at fault for a collision even though he is “not speeding” “riding in the correct lane and in accordance with traffic signals” who has “no opportunity to avoid the collision” and have “no reason to expect (a car )to turn in front of him“.
What is striking about this case is the degree of fault attibuted to the cyclist despite all the above findings. This case serves as a stark reminder that if a cyclist fails to wear refelctive clothing or a headlamp, it may not only increase the risk of collision, but can drastically reduce the settlement value of an ICBC claim following a collision.
If you are an injured cyclist or pedestrian in a BC car crash and at the time did not have ‘any form of illumination’ you should be prepared to address the results of this case in your claim settlement negotiations with ICBC.
Do you have questions about this case, or about a BC crash involving a cyclist or pedestiran, or the issue of fault in an ICBC claim? Are you looking for a free consultation with an ICBC claims lawyer? If so, click here to arrange your free consultation with ICBC claims lawyer Erik Magraken.
In reasons for judgement released today, Madam Justice Boyd of the BC Supreme Court awarded a 53 year old paramedic $35,000 non-pecuniary damages (pain and suffering) as compensatory damages for a shoulder injury.
The Plaintiff was injured in Surrey, BC when his bicycle struck an SUV that turned left in front of the Plaintiff as he tried to clear an intersection. The collision was significant in that the bicycle struck the right front passenger side wheel area of the SUV, causing the plaintiff to fly over the hood of the vehicle and land some distance away.
Both Liability (fault) and quantum (value of loss) were at issue in this ICBC claim that proceeded to trial.
The court held that the driver of the SUV was 100% responsible for this BC motor vehicle accident.
The court found that “the plaintiff was an experienced trained cyclist, very much familiar with the challenges of urban vehicular travel.” The court summarized the findings of fault at paragraph 35 of the judgement where it was held that :
 Thus, in all of the circumstances, I find that the plaintiff was travelling lawfully along 140th Street at Laurel Drive when the defendant turned into his path. The defendant negligently failed to ensure he could complete his left hand turn without first ensuring before doing so that there was no traffic approaching so closely as to constitute an immediate hazard, thus breaching s. 174 of the Act. By the same token I find the plaintiff had no opportunity to avoid the collision and that accordingly he was not contributorily negligent.
The Plaintiff’s injuries were quite significant but he fortunately went on to make a ‘remarkable’ recovery. The most serious injury was to the Plaintiff’s right shoulder. The court held that
“Relying on Dr. Boyle’s report, I am satisfied that the plaintiff’s shoulder injury has not resolved entirely and that he faces the likelihood of chronic recurring discomfort. Further, there is a risk of his symptoms progressing, perhaps some day necessitating arthroscopic surgery. Based on the last paragraph above, I conclude that while the progression of the symptoms is not likely to occur within the next 2-3 years, there is indeed a possibility this progression of symptoms may occur during the plaintiff’s retirement years, exposing him to a period of reduced capacity and perhaps ultimately to surgery. “
The court awarded damages as follows:
1. Non-pecuniary damages: $35,000
2. Loss of income: $8,750.36
3. Special damages: $809.33
Do you have questions about an ICBC injury claim involving injuries to a cyclist or questions about the icbc settlement process? If so click here to arrange a free consultation with icbc claims lawyer Erik Magraken.
Today the BC Court of Appeal overturned a jury verdict finding a left hand turning motorist completely at fault for a motor vehicle collision and awarding the injured Plaintiff over $1.2 Million in compensation for serious injuries.
The car accident happend in 2000 in Coquitlam BC. The Plaintiff was travelling southbound in the right hand lane on North Road. There was stopped traffic in the two southbound lanes to his left. The Defendant was travelling North on North Road and attempted to make a left hand turn into the Lougheed Mall parking lot. At this time he collided with the Plaintiff’s vehicle.
The jury found the left-hand driver 100% at fault for this collision.
The jury went on to award damages as follows:
Non-pecuniary damages (pain and suffering) $300,000
Past Loss of Income: $275,000
Loss of Future Earning Capacity: $650,000
Cost of Future Care: $15,000
At trial the defence lawyer asked the judge to instruct the jury on the provisions of s. 158 of the Motor Vehicle Act. This section prohibits a driver from overtaking and passing a vehicle on the right when the movement cannot be made safely. The trial judge chose not to instruct the jury about this section.
The BC Court of Appeal held that it was an error in law not to do so, specifically that:
 In my opinion it was, in the circumstances of this case, a serious non- direction, amounting to a misdirection, to fail to draw the provisions of s. 158 to the attention of the jury. Section 158(2)(a) prohibits a driver from overtaking and passing another vehicle on the right when the movement cannot be made in safety. The jury could not have had a proper understanding of the parties’ relative obligations, and the standard of care each was to observe, without an instruction on the meaning and application of that section.
 I do not think this Court could properly decide how, if at all, fault should be apportioned. That question requires an appreciation of all the evidence, as well as a consideration of the credibility of the two drivers and the other witnesses.
 In my opinion, there must be a new trial on the issue of contributory negligence.
The Court ordered that the jury’s judgement be set aside and that the proceeding be generally returned to the BC Supreme Court for a new trial.
The result is, over 8 years after a very serious accident with serious injuries, If the Plaintiff is not able to come to a settlement of his ICBC Claim he will have to be involved in a second trial to address the allegations that he was partially at fault for his injuries and to prove the value of his losses all over again.
Section 158 of the BC Motor Vehicle Act is a rarely cited section but one of significant importance. Simply because you are in a through lane and are not governed by a stop sign or stop light does not mean you always have the right of way. If vehicles in your direction of travel have stopped and it is not clear why they have stopped it may not be safe to proceed. In this case it appears that vehicles may have stopped to permit the Defendant to turn left and the Plaintiff continued on. This case illustrates the potential use Section 158 of the Motor Vehicle Act may have for left hand turning motorists involved in a collision.
Do you have questions about this case or fault for an accident involving a left-turning vehicle that you wish to discuss with an ICBC Claims Lawyer? Click here to arrange a free consultation with ICBC Claims lawyer Erik Magraken.
In reasons for judgment released this week, Madam Justice Humphries of the BC Supreme Court awarded a 60 year old Plaintiff a total of $19,840 in compensation as a result of soft tissue injuries sustained in a British Columbia motor vehicle accident.
The Plaintiff’s vehicle was rear-ended on July 25, 2005. The accident is the kind that ICBC typically likes to call an LVI (Low Velocity Impact) as the damage to the vehicle totalled $200.
A year later, in August 2006, the Plaintiff was involved in another rear-end accident. This time she was a passenger. This accident also is the type ICBC likes to characterize as an LVI accident as the vehicle damage cost approximatley $480 to fix. The Plaintiff testified the second accident did not aggravate her symptoms from the first accident and no issue was taken with this assertion at trial.
The Plaintiff filed a report in court authored by her family doctor. The doctor’s evidence was that the Plaintiff suffered from “Whiplash, left shoulder (muscle strain) and back muscle strain.”
The court found the Plaintiff to be a credible witness. The Plaintiff’s injuries were accepted on the basis “of 9 months of pain causing restriction, and a further six months of gradual improvement with ongoing fairly minor symptoms of decreasing frequency“.
In the end the court awarded damages as follows:
Pain and Suffering: $15,000
Past Wage Loss: $4,790.50
Mileage Expenses for treatments: $50
This case was a short one day trial heard in Vancouver, BC and is a good example of a simple ICBC claim getting heard without excessive burden on our justice system or the parties involved.
Do you have have questions about an ICBC whiplash claim or an LVI claim that you wish to discuss with an ICBC claims lawyer? If so click here to contact ICBC claims lawyer Erik Magraken for a free consultation.
In reasons for judgement released today, the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed the appeal of a very peculiar case. In doing so they clarified the law regarding ‘forseeability of injury’ which is a necessary ingredient to prove in negligence cases.
While this case does not involve an ICBC claim, this case is important because ‘forseeability’ must be proven in all negligence cases, and this includes ICBC car accident tort claims.
The facts of this case are unusual. The Plaintiff allegedly sustained a psychiactric injury as a result of seeing dead flies in a bottle of water supplied by Culligan. He had used Culligan’s services for many years. As a result of this “he became obsessed with the event and its revolting implications for the health of his family”. He went on to develop a major depressive disorder with associated phobia and anxiety.
At trial he was awarded over $300,000 in compensation. The Ontario Court of Appeal overturned the verdict and thus this case was brought to the Supreme Court of Canada.
When suing for negligence (and this is the case in most ICBC car accident claims) a Plaintiff must prove 4 things:
1. That the defendant owed the Plaintiff a duty of care
2. That the defedant’s behaviour breached the standard of care
3. That the Plaintiff sustained damages
4. That the damages were caused, in fact and in law, by the Defenant’s breach.
The Supreme Court of Canada held that the Plaintiff met the first three tests to succeed in his action. It is the 4th test that the Plaintiff failed on and in explaining why the Supreme Court of Canada added some clarity to this area of law. The important portion of the judgement can be found at paragraphs 11- 18 which read as follow:
 The fourth and final question to address in a negligence claim is whether the defendant’s breach caused the plaintiff’s harm in fact and in law. The evidence before the trial judge establishes that the defendant’s breach of its duty of care in fact caused Mr. Mustapha’s psychiatric injury. We are not asked to revisit this conclusion. The remaining question is whether that breach also caused the plaintiff’s damages in law or whether they are too remote to warrant recovery.
 The remoteness inquiry asks whether “the harm [is] too unrelated to the wrongful conduct to hold the defendant fairly liable” (Linden and Feldthusen, at p. 360). Since The Wagon Mound (No. 1), the principle has been that “it is the foresight of the reasonable man which alone can determine responsibility” (Overseas Tankship (U.K.) Ltd. v. Morts Dock & Engineering Co.,  A.C. 388 (P.C.), at p. 424).
 Much has been written on how probable or likely a harm needs to be in order to be considered reasonably foreseeable. The parties raise the question of whether a reasonably foreseeable harm is one whose occurrence is probable or merely possible. In my view, these terms are misleading. Any harm which has actually occurred is “possible”; it is therefore clear that possibility alone does not provide a meaningful standard for the application of reasonable foreseeability. The degree of probability that would satisfy the reasonable foreseeability requirement was described in The Wagon Mound (No. 2) as a “real risk”, i.e. “one which would occur to the mind of a reasonable man in the position of the defendant … and which he would not brush aside as far-fetched” (Overseas Tankship (U.K.) Ltd. v. Miller Steamship Co. Pty.,  A.C. 617, at p. 643).
 The remoteness inquiry depends not only upon the degree of probability required to meet the reasonable foreseeability requirement, but also upon whether or not the plaintiff is considered objectively or subjectively. One of the questions that arose in this case was whether, in judging whether the personal injury was foreseeable, one looks at a person of “ordinary fortitude” or at a particular plaintiff with his or her particular vulnerabilities. This question may be acute in claims for mental injury, since there is a wide variation in how particular people respond to particular stressors. The law has consistently held — albeit within the duty of care analysis — that the question is what a person of ordinary fortitude would suffer: see White v. Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police,  3 W.L.R. 1509 (H.L.); Devji v. Burnaby (District) (1999), 180 D.L.R. (4th) 205, 1999 BCCA 599; Vanek. As stated in White, at p. 1512: “The law expects reasonable fortitude and robustness of its citizens and will not impose liability for the exceptional frailty of certain individuals.”
 As the Court of Appeal found, at para. 49, the requirement that a mental injury would occur in a person of ordinary fortitude, set out in Vanek, at paras. 59-61, is inherent in the notion of foreseeability. This is true whether one considers foreseeability at the remoteness or at the duty of care stage. As stated in Tame v. New South Wales (2002), 211 C.L.R. 317,  HCA 35, per Gleeson C.J., this “is a way of expressing the idea that there are some people with such a degree of susceptibility to psychiatric injury that it is ordinarily unreasonable to require strangers to have in contemplation the possibility of harm to them, or to expect strangers to take care to avoid such harm” (para. 16). To put it another way, unusual or extreme reactions to events caused by negligence are imaginable but not reasonably foreseeable.
 To say this is not to marginalize or penalize those particularly vulnerable to mental injury. It is merely to confirm that the law of tort imposes an obligation to compensate for any harm done on the basis of reasonable foresight, not as insurance. The law of negligence seeks to impose a result that is fair to both plaintiffs and defendants, and that is socially useful. In this quest, it draws the line for compensability of damages, not at perfection, but at reasonable foreseeability. Once a plaintiff establishes the foreseeability that a mental injury would occur in a person of ordinary fortitude, by contrast, the defendant must take the plaintiff as it finds him for purposes of damages. As stated in White, at p. 1512, focusing on the person of ordinary fortitude for the purposes of determining foreseeability “is not to be confused with the ‘eggshell skull’ situation, where as a result of a breach of duty the damage inflicted proves to be more serious than expected”. Rather, it is a threshold test for establishing compensability of damages at law.
 I add this. In those cases where it is proved that the defendant had actual knowledge of the plaintiff’s particular sensibilities, the ordinary fortitude requirement need not be applied strictly. If the evidence demonstrates that the defendant knew that the plaintiff was of less than ordinary fortitude, the plaintiff’s injury may have been reasonably foreseeable to the defendant. In this case, however, there was no evidence to support a finding that Culligan knew of Mr. Mustapha’s particular sensibilities.
 It follows that in order to show that the damage suffered is not too remote to be viewed as legally caused by Culligan’s negligence, Mr. Mustapha must show that it was foreseeable that a person of ordinary fortitude would suffer serious injury from seeing the flies in the bottle of water he was about to install. This he failed to do. The only evidence was about his own reactions, which were described by the medical experts as “highly unusual” and “very individual” (C.A. judgment, at para. 52). There is no evidence that a person of ordinary fortitude would have suffered injury from seeing the flies in the bottle; indeed the expert witnesses were not asked this question. Instead of asking whether it was foreseeable that the defendant’s conduct would have injured a person of ordinary fortitude, the trial judge applied a subjective standard, taking into account Mr. Mustapha’s “previous history” and “particular circumstances” (para. 227), including a number of “cultural factors” such as his unusual concern over cleanliness, and the health and well-being of his family. This was an error. Mr. Mustapha having failed to establish that it was reasonably foreseeable that a person of ordinary fortitude would have suffered personal injury, it follows that his claim must fail.
If you are advancing and ICBC tort claim (a claim for damages against an at fault motorist insured by ICBC) you will have to keep the ‘forseeabilty’ test in mind and know the law as set out in this judgement.
The court also made an interesting comment about how the law views physical as compared to psychological injuries. At Paragraph 8 of the judgement, the court adopted the reasons from a 1996 case from the House of Lords which stated that “In an age when medical knowledge is expanding fast, and psychiatric knowledge with it, it would not be sensible to commit the law to a distinction between physical and psychiatric injury, which may already seem somewhat artificial, and may soon be altogether outmoded. Nothing will be gained by treating them as different “kinds” of personal injury, so as to require the application of different tests in law.”
It is good to know that the Supreme Court of Canada does not separate physical injuries from phychological injuries and treats both as real and compensable.
Do you have questions about this judgement or an ICBC injury claim that you wish to discuss with an ICBC claims lawyer? If so click here to contact ICBC Claims lawyer Erik Magraken for a free consultation.
In an important judgment released today by the BC Court of Appeal, the law relating to what inferences a court can draw regarding liability (fault) when a vehicle leaves its lane of travel was clarified.
As in many areas of law, there were some competing authorities addressing this topic and today’s judgment reconciled these. For anyone advancing a tort claim as a result of a single vehicle accident in BC this case is must reading.
In 2002 the Plaintiff’s were injured when the driver of their vehicle lost control in winter driving conditions. The accident was significant. The truck “traversed a bridge, travelled about ten feet after leaving it, and then rolled over and landed on its wheels below the road, resulting in injury to the Plaintiffs“.
The Plaintiffs sued several parties as a result of this accident, most importantly the driver of the vehicle. The Trial Judge found that the Plaintiffs “had failed to prove negligence on (the drivers) part” and that the driver “had driven with reasonable care and that any presumption of negligence arising from his loss of control was rebutted by his explanation that the truck had fishtailed when it went over a bump between the road surface and a bridge.”
The Court of Appeal upheld the trial judgement. In doing so some important clarifications in the law were made.
The Appellant sought to rely on the judgment of Savinkoff v. Seggewiss, in which the court held that “sliding out of control…gives rise to an inference of negligence…in that (the driver) was either not sufficiently attentive to the road conditions, or he was driving too fast, or both.” In Savnikoff the court quoted with approval a passage from an old case where it was held that “if roads are in such a condition that a motor car cannot safely proceed at all, it is the duty of the driver to stop. If the roads are in such a condition that it is not safe to go at more than a foot pace, his duty is to proceed at a foot pace“.
In today’s judgment the Court of Appeal referred to the authoritative judgment of Fontaine v. British Columbia. In that decision the Supreme Court of Canada held that “(the bald proposition that an inference of negligence should be drawn whenever a vehicle leaves the roadway in a single vehicle accident) ignores the fact that whether an inference of negligence can be drawn is highly dependent upon the circumstces of each case“.
The Court reconciled the Fontaine and Savinkoff decisions as follows:
If and to the extent that the Court in Savinkoff intended to establish or confirm a legal rule that negligence must be inferred as a matter of law whenever a vehicle goes off the road and that the defendant must always meet it in the matter suggested, I believe the decesion has been superseded by Fontaine. Wherever the court finds on all the evidence that negligence has not been proven, or that the defendant has shown he drove with reasonable care, the defendant must succeed, whether or not he is able to ‘explain’ how the accident occurred. This is not to suggest that an inference may not be drawn as a matter of fact in a particular case, where a vehicle leaves the road or a driver loses control; but as the trial judge stated at paragraph 53 of her reasons, such an inference will be ‘highly dependant on the facts’ of the case and the explanation required to rebut it will ‘vary in accordance with the strength of the inference sought to be drawn by the plaintiff.
Bottom Line: If a driver loses control of a vehicle he/she is not automatically at fault nor is there a shifting of the burden of proof. The court simply MAY draw the inference that he/she is at fault and whether it is appropriate to do so is ‘highly dependant on the facts of each case’.