ICBC Denied Access to Plaintiff's Vacation Photos


Reasons for judgement were recently released by the BC Supreme Court, Victoria Registry, dismissing an ICBC application to compel production of a Plaintiff’s vacation photos.
In the recent case (Dawn-Prince v. Elston) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2007 collision.  In the course of her lawsuit she was examined for discovery where she “testified that she had been on these vacations…(and) about her activities on the vacations“.
ICBC brought an application to have access to any photos taken of these holidays.  The Court dismissed this application finding that while canvassing the scope of a Plaintiff’s vacation activities is fair game at discovery production of photos is not required.  In dismissing the application Master McCallum provided the following reasons:
[3]  In the authorities to which I was referred, the court has on some occasions ordered production of photographs in similar circumstances where on vacation…
[4]  The difference in this case is that the plaintiff acknowledges that she engaged in the sporting and physical recreational activities, including the very ones that are referred to in the Fric decision; hiking, scuba diving, and so on.  The photographs that are requested have been reviewed by counsel or someone in cosunsel’s office, Marler, who swears in her affidavit that she reviewed 23 photographs in which the plaintiff was shown and says that they do not depict the plaintiff in strenuous physical activities; rather they depict her standing, sitting, or walking, by the pool, or on the beach…I am satisfied from that evidence that production of this evidence, which is clearly the second stage of documentary discovery contemplated by the Rules, is not appropriate.  These photographs, from the evidence on this application, will not assist the defendant in defending the claim.  The evidence of the plaintiff, of course, with respect tow hat she did on her vacations nay well assist, but the photographs neither contradict nor confirm that.  They show the plaintiff on the evidence in activities that are not inconsistent with anything other than standing, sitting, or walking, none of which she says she cannot do,..
[6]  The application for production of photographs…is dismissed.

Facebook Photos Fail to Thwart ICBC Injury Claim


As previously discussed, Facebook photo production is becoming a common occurrence in personal injury litigation.   Despite the undesirable consequences on privacy expectations it is worth remembering that such photos, much like more conventional surveillance evidence, are not necessarily harmful in and of themselves.  Surveillance evidence is only damaging to a personal injury claim when it depicts activities inconsistent with the Plaintiff’s evidence.  Photographic evidence that does not reach this threshold is really of little value.  This was demonstrated in reasons for judgement released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry.
In today’s case (Guthrie v. Narayan) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2009 rear-end collision.  She suffered from chronic soft tissue injuries which were expected to cause on-going problems into the future.  At trial the Defence introduced Facebook photos depicting the Plaintiff on a trip to Las Vegas.  Mr. Justice Goepel found these to be of little value and assessed non-pecuniary damages at $65,000.  In doing so the Court provided the following reasons:

[27] I accept the testimony of Dr. Cordoni and Dr. Badii. I find that Ms. Guthrie sustained soft tissue injuries to the neck and back as a result of the motor vehicle accident. These soft tissue injuries have led to chronic neck and shoulder pain. I find that it is unlikely that there will be any significant change in her condition for the foreseeable future.

[28] I further find that Ms. Guthrie has aggressively attempted to deal with her injuries. She has followed the medical recommendations made to her. She has attended physiotherapy and message therapy. She took a series of painful IMS treatments. She works out regularly. She has done all she can to assist in her recovery.

[29] Unfortunately, however, Ms. Guthrie’s injuries have not resolved. They continue to seriously impact her daily life and will likely do so for the foreseeable future. The injuries have affected all facets of her life. She needs accommodation at work, cannot partake in some sports she formerly enjoyed, must avoid certain social events and even has difficulty when she attempts to cuddle with her boyfriend. She is no longer suited for many occupations and requires accommodation to carry out many of the occupations that are still available to her.

[30] In making these findings, I have not overlooked the pictures posted on Ms. Guthrie’s Facebook page concerning her trip to Las Vegas. Those pictures are of limited usefulness. Ms. Guthrie is seeking compensation for what she has lost, not what she can still do. The fact that she can spend a weekend with her friends in Las Vegas does not gainsay her evidence that she continues to suffer from the aftermath of the accident. She should not be punished for trying to get on with her life and enjoying it the best she can regardless of the limitations imposed on her as result of the accident…

[35] While the subject cases are of general assistance and provide a guideline as to the range of damages awarded in cases with some similarities to the case at bar, each case must be decided on its own facts. Of primary importance in this case is the age of the plaintiff, the manner in which the injuries have impacted on her life, and the medical evidence which suggests that any future improvement is unlikely. I note in the cases cited by the defendant the prognosis for the plaintiffs was much more favourable than that concerning Ms. Guthrie. I award $65,000 in non-pecuniary damages.

Videotape Evidence "Of Some Assistance" in Impacting Personal Injury Claim


As previously discussed, video surveillance is a reality in personal injury litigation and surveillance depicting a Plaintiff acting inconsistently with their evidence can impact an assessment of damages.  Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vernon Registry, demonstrating surveillance evidence in action.
In last week’s case (Wilkinson v. Whitlock) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2007 collision in Vernon, BC.  The Defendant drove through a red light and was found fully at fault for the crash.  The Plaintiff suffered from back problems as a result of the collision.  In the course of trial the Plaintiff testified as to the effects of these injuries.  ICBC introduced video surveillance evidence which gave the impression “of an individual less limited than (the Plaintiff’s) evidence at trial and on discovery would lead one to conclude“. Mr. Justice Barrow provided the following reasons considering this evidence:

[16] There is reason to approach the plaintiff’s evidence with caution. She was defensive and evasive in cross-examination. I accept that anxiety may explain her defensive posture, but it does not account for her tendency not to answer questions directly. I do not, however, take much from these circumstances.

[17] As to the videotape evidence, it is of some assistance. The plaintiff was videotaped in January and February of 2008, May of 2009, and June and October of 2010. The plaintiff’s left hip and groin became, on her description, excruciatingly painful for no apparent reason when she was shopping. Although Ms. Wilkinson could not recall the date of this event, I suspect it was likely in the fall of 2008. Ms. Wilkinson testified that although the pain in her hip or groin varies, it often causes her “to waddle” when she walks as opposed to walking with a normal gait. On examination for discovery she agreed that it caused her to waddle most of the time. She said that it was a particular problem when she walked after driving.

[18] The January and February 2008 videotape evidence is of little assistance – the recordings are brief and do not show the plaintiff walking to any extent. The May 2009 videotape evidence is much more extensive. On May 19, 2009 the plaintiff was at a gas station purchasing flowers. To my eye, her gait appeared normal. On June 14, 2009 the plaintiff was videotaped while at a garden centre, and again her gait appeared normal. A year later, on June 15, 2010, there is videotape of her walking. There is no apparent limp but she does appear stiff and careful in the way she moves. On June 17, 2010 Ms. Wilkinson was videotaped walking to her car with a grocery cart full of groceries. She was captured loading the groceries into the hatchback of her vehicle. She did all of that without apparent limitation. On June 19 of that year she purchased a three or four foot tall house plant which she loaded and unloaded from her car, again without apparent limitation. Finally, there is a lengthy videotape of her on June 19, 2010 at a garden centre with Mr. Bains and her daughter. She is captured squatting down, standing up, and walking about the store without noticeable limitation. In summary, the videotape reveals some minor stiffness or limitation on some occasions. There are also occasions when she appeared to have little or no visible limitation. Generally, the impression left by the videotape evidence is of an individual less limited than Ms. Wilkinson’s evidence at trial and on discovery would lead one to conclude.

  • Mitigation of Damages

This case is also worth reviewing for the Court’s application of the mitigation principle.  Mr. Justice Barrow found that the Plaintiff was prescribed therapies that she failed to follow and these would have improved the symptoms.  The Court did not, however, reduce the Plaintiff’s damages finding that it was reasonable for her not to follow medical advise given her financial circumstances.    Mr. Justice Barrow provided the the following reasons:

[50] Returning to the principles set out in Janiak, and dealing with the second one first, I am satisfied on a balance of probabilities that continued physiotherapy at least during 2008 would have reduced some of the plaintiff’s symptoms and increased her functionality. Further, I am satisfied that the supervised exercise program that Mr. Cooper recommended would have yielded ongoing benefits. I reach this conclusion because Ms. Wilkinson did benefit from both Mr. Saunder’s and Mr. Cooper’s assistance. There is no reason to think those benefits would not have continued and perhaps provided further relief.

[51] The more difficult issue is whether it was unreasonable for the plaintiff to not have followed up on these therapies. She testified that it was largely due to a lack of financial resources. I accept her evidence in that regard. She was in the midst of renovations which were costly. In addition she had lost the assistance that Mr. Harrison was to have provided. The renovations were also time consuming and physically taxing. Further, she underwent a very difficult separation from Mr. Harrison which extracted both a financial and emotional toll. In all these circumstances I am not persuaded that the defendant has established that it was unreasonable for the plaintiff not to pursue a fitness regime more diligently than she did. Most of the impediments to the pursuit of such a program will be no longer exist once this trial is over. I will address the implications of that when dealing with the damages for future losses.

Social Media and Computer Hard Drive Requests "A fishing expedition…without the appropriate bait"


Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, dismissing a defendant application requesting the production of a Plaintiff’s Facebook postings, Twitter postings, Computer Hard Drive and Iphone.
Today’s case (Dosanjh v. Leblanc and St. Paul’s Hospital) involved allegations of medical malpractice.  The plaintiff said she suffered “cognitive impairment that has affected her thinking process“.  She sued for damages.  The Defendants brought an application seeking that the Plaintiff produce her private social media account information and computer hard-drive data arguing that this information would be relevant to the claimed damages.  Master Taylor dismissed the application finding such a broad application, even in the face of alleged cognitive injuries, was “a classic fishing expedition, but without the appropriate bait.“.  Master Taylor provided the following reasons:

[28] The defendant has not indicated the material fact or facts which it believes can be proved by searching the plaintiff’s personal computer and her social media sites.  Rather, the defendant merely says that health, enjoyment of life and employability are in issue.  Surely more is or should be required to meet the test of Rule 7-1(1)(a)(i) than just saying a particular matter is in issue in order to infringe on a litigant’s privacy.

[29] To be able to obtain a litigant’s private thoughts and feelings as expressed to friends or family members after the fact is, in my view, similar to a party intercepting private communications of another party.

[30] I am unable to envisage any rational justification for breaching the privacy rights of an individual in civil proceedings simply because it is alleged that the individual’s general health, enjoyment of life and employability are directly at issue.  Merely because a record may be made of the communication shouldn’t make it any different than a private telephone conversation.  If not, surely applications in civil proceedings for recordings of private communications can’t be far behind…

[33] I am satisfied that the defendant’s application is entirely too broad and lacks the focus required by Rule 7-1(1)(a)(i).  In fact, I am more inclined to call this application a classic fishing expedition, but without the appropriate bait.  I observe as well that the order made by the court in Bishop, supra, was focussed on the times the plaintiff spent on his Facebook account on his computer, and did not give the defendant cart blanche to troll through the plaintiff’s correspondence as is sought in the application before me.

Examination For Discovery Upcoming? Don't Forget to Google Yourself


Last year I uploaded this video providing a basic overview of some key information for Plaintiff’s attending an examination for discovery in an ICBC Claim.  If I could add one more tip to the issues discussed it would be this: Google yourself before attending.  It’s a safe bet that ICBC already has.
One of the most basic tasks any lawyer can undertake in preparing for discovery is to Google their subject.  Who knows what will come up.  Maybe some embarrassing photos on Facebook, maybe a boastful biography on a dating site, perhaps even some unwitting self-surveillance on YouTube.  Whatever comes up, if it can harm your interests, it likely will be brought out at discovery.
10 minutes of your time can help you and your lawyer greatly in preparing for discovery.  If there is something that needs to be explained its better that this gets discussed for the first time in the privacy of your lawyer’s office as opposed to under oath before a Court Reporter.  A bit of time reviewing potentially harmful (or embarrassing) information can go a long way in taking the bite out of an examination for discovery.
For more on examinations for discovery in ICBC Claims you can click here to access my archived posts on the topic.

More On Video Surveillance and Chronic Pain


A regular reader of this blog shared some views with me recently and I thought these were worth repeating.  These relate to chronic pain complaints and the value, if any, of video surveillance.   Specifically the reader shared the following thoughtful observation:
This Fall we will again be watching hockey on tv [ video evidence ] Can you tell me which player[s] are playing hurt ? And trust me …. they are …. some very much. We often know this at the end of the year …. as teams ” hide ” or deny that certain players are hurt … in that the opposing players do not focus on and target their injuries. Video tapes ? I don’t trust them
What do you say?  Is there value to video surveillance?   Does it effectively weed out fraudulent claims or is it an unnecessary invasion of privacy?
As always I welcome others views, feel free to leave a comment.  You can click here to read a 2008 article sharing some of my views of video surveillance.

Exclusion of Witnesses Results in New Trial in Chronic Pain Case

This week the BC Court of Appeal released reasons for judgement ordering a new trial following a chronic pain case which resulted in a $525,000 damage assessment.
In this week’s case (Houston v. Kine) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2006 collision.  She allegedly suffered from PTSD and a chronic pain disorder as a result of the crash.  The matter went to trial although did not conclude in the time initially allotted.
There was a 5 month gap before the trial recommenced.  During this break ICBC undertook surveillance of the Plaintiff over two periods of time.  The Defence lawyers, however, failed to disclose this evidence in compliance with the Rules of Court.  As a result the trial judge refused to let the evidence in.  The Court went further, however, and held that the witnesses who made the videos could not testify as to their observations of the Plaintiff as doing so would undermine the decision to exclude the video evidence.
The Defendants appealed arguing that the witnesses were wrongly excluded.  The BC Court of Appeal agreed and found that while “the defendants’ choice at trial to withhold the existence of the videotapes….was inappropriate” and that this evidence was rightly excluded it was improper to exclude the witnesses themselves to testify.  In ordering a new trial the BC Court of Appeal provided the following reasons:






[31] The obvious difficulty with the viva voce evidence was that the observers were unknown to the defendants prior to the hiatus in the trial. The earliest that they could have been identified was in November of 2009. By then, the plaintiff’s preparation for trial was all but over. To constrain the defendants’ ability to react to the plaintiff’s evidence to “prevent surprise or ambush” in my view unfairly restricted their ability to have the proceeding determined on its merits. As the trial judge accepted that there was no restriction on calling lay witnesses, she erred in imposing that restriction respecting witnesses who could comment on the plaintiff’s activities during the hiatus in the trial.

[32] The trial judge’s second reason for refusing to allow the observation witnesses to testify was that:

It would be inconsistent with my previous order and with the objects of the Rules, expressed in R. 1(5), “to secure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every proceeding on its merits,” to allow the defendants to, in effect, ambush the plaintiff with this evidence, which has been disclosed only recently.

[33] In my view the trial judge here misapplied Rule 1(5), focussing on speed in the completion of the proceedings at the expense of their merits. The Rule and the third factor in Stoneemphasize the importance of the determination of a proceeding on its merits. In order to determine a proceeding on its merits, the admissible evidence that is tendered by a party and is relevant to matters in issue should be considered.

[34] In addition, given that the original trial estimate was exceeded by the plaintiff’s case, necessitating the adjournment of the trial that caused the hiatus that brought about the acquisition of new evidence by the defendants, I am unable to accept that the delay resulting from the proposed evidence should have been treated any differently from the delay that was occasioned by the initial inadequate trial time estimate. The failure to do so prevented the determination of these proceedings on their merits. I conclude that the trial judge erred in law in refusing to permit the witnesses to give viva voce evidence at the trial…







[36] Here, the credibility of the plaintiff was a critical factor in the trial judge’s assessment of quantum, and the evidence of the observers was intended to directly address the plaintiff’s credibility. In my view, the refusal of the trial judge to permit the defendants to adduce evidence to challenge the plaintiff’s physical abilities at the date of the trial was unfair, and given the importance of this evidence to the ultimate award of damages for future diminished earning capacity and future cost of care, I see no alternative but to order a new trial on damages. I would thus allow the appeal and order a new trial.

Contact

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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