In the appeal of an award for total damages of $31,380 for soft tissue injuries and psychiatric injuries, the BC Court of Appeal upheld the trial judgement and concluded that the trial judge did not err in his findings.
The Plaintiff unfortunately had experienced both a number of very significant stressors in her life. These came both before and after the October 2002 car accident that was at issue in the lawsuit.
The trial judge found that the 2002 accident “was very traumatic for (the Plaintiff). I accept that she was a very fragile person mentally before the motor vehicle accident. I accept that the motor vehicle accident increased her level of stress and anxiety that pre-existed the accident. I accept that she is in need of psychiatric counselling for this increased level of stress and anxiety caused by the motor vehicle accident. I also accept, however, that most of (the Plaintiff’s) physical complaints are not grounded in any physical injuries but are grounded in her somatoform pain disorder that preceded the motor vehicle accident.”
The trial judge ultimately concluded that the accident caused some “minor short terms soft tissue injury, but that the main injury that she had from the motor vehicle accident was to her mental state through the increase in her level of stress and anxiety requiring psychiatric counselling.”
The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal and made no changes to the trial judges awards which included $25,000 for pain and suffering.
After a trial that lasted over 20 days, A Plaintiff who was struck in a cross-walk in Whistler, BC was awarded $718,331 for his losses and injuries.
The accident was significant. The circumstances are canvassed at paragraph 2 of the judgement where it was held that “The Plaintiff was struck on his left side. He flew over the hood of the Defendant’s vehicle. His face smashed into the windshield. He then was thrown off the car landing on the pavement. ”
The Plaintiff suffered serious injuries including facial lacerations, a fractured nose, soft tissue injuries to the left knee, neck and back, a mild traumatic brain injury (also known as a concussion), dental and TMJ injuries, permanent facial scarring, depression, insomnia, fatigue, anxiety, panic attacks, chronic pain disorder and most significantly cognitive defecits due to his injuries.
As is often the case in ICBC claims involving chronic pain and head injury, the court had to deal with a mountain of medical expert witness testimony both for the Plaintiff and for the Defence.
In addition to obtaining opposing medical evidence, ICBC hired investigators to video the Plaintiff surreptitiously. As stated in my last blog, video surveillance is a common ICBC lawyer defence tactic. While ICBC lawyers defending claims don’t hire private investigators in every case, a safe general rule is that the more serious a Plaintiff’s injuries, the more likely the chance that ICBC defence lawyers have hired a private investigator.
Mr. Justice Williamson made an interesting comment regarding surveillance at paragraph 114 of his judgement where he held that “(the occupational therapist hired by ICBC) testified that there was a sense that (the Plaintiff) did not trust her and that (the Plaintiff) considered her as somehow or other a spy for ICBC. I note that the Plaintiff’ concern that ICBC was spying on him was accurate. The corporation hired investigators to video the plaintiff surreptitiously.”
After weighing all the evidence, the trial judge found that the Plaintiff “suffers from chronic pain syndrome, depression and continuing cognitive defecits.”
$135,000 was awarded for pain and suffering. The other damages awarded were as follows:
$450,000 for Loss of Earning Capacity (commonly referred to as future wage loss)
$101,436 for Past Wage Loss
$31,895 for Cost of Future Care
In a case that can be characterized as “the straw the broke the camel’s back”, a Plaintiff was awarded over $90,000 soft-tissue injuries and a L5-S1 disc herniation which were caused (at least in part) as a result of a 2003 car accident.
The Plaintiff was a 47 year old with a long history of back injuries. She had pre-exsting low back pain, neck pain and a bilateral facet-joint arthropathy.
She was involved in a fairly serious car accident in 2003. Her vehicle sustained damage which took close to $5,000 to repair.
At trial both a neurosurgeon and an physiatrist testified on behalf of the Plaintiff. The neurosurgeon’s opinion was that “(the Plaintiff’s) disk herniation was caused by small tears to the annular fibres surrounding the disc which eventually ruptured due to the ongoing stresses from day to day living” and that “(since the car accident) was the last major trauma before (the Plaintiff) experienced the disc herniation, it was a significant contributor to the problem.” The Plaintiff’s physiatrist largely shared this opinion.
ICBC lawyers defending claims often retain orthopaedic surgeons who disagree with treating physicians. This common insurance defence step was followed in this case as the defence lawyers retained an orthopaedic surgeon who testified there was “no objective evidence of ongoing injury to explain the Plaintiff’s ongoing pain“.
The Defence also showed video surveillance of the Plaintiff doing various activities including getting in and out of her car on many occasions with minimal difficulty. I have previously blogged about surveillance evidence and ICBC claims and don’t intend to re-visit this subject at length but will point out that this is a common tactic ICBC lawyers take when defending injury claims and Justice Fenton, at paragraph 10 and 11 of the judgement canvasses the position that many ICBC lawyers take at trial when they have surveillance evidence which shows a Plaintiff potentially overstating injuries.
After hearing all the medical evidence the court accepted the opinions of the Plaintiff’s physiatrist and neurologist and stated that “(the Plaintiff’s) earlier accidents, along with degenerative changes to her spine, made her more vulnerable to lower back injury. Accordingly, while I cannot find the defendant’s negligence was the only cause of the Plaintiff’s problems after February 13, 2003, on a balance of probabilities, I find that the defendant’s negligence materially contributed to the occurrence of those injuries”
The court assessed the Plaintiff’s damages as follows:
1. Pain and Suffering: $65,000
2. Special Damages (out of pocket expenses): $3,118
3. Past Wage Loss: $88,000
4. Cost of Future Care: $5,000
Justice Fenlon then reduced the total award by 40% to account for the risk that the Plaintiff’s pre-existing condition in her spine and her psychological fragility would have detrimentally affected her in the future, regardless of the car accident.
Justice Fenlon did a great job in canvassing the applicable law in determining whether the car accident caused the Plaintiff injury. This case is worth reading to get insight into the factors courts consider when addressing pre-existing injuries that were aggravated by a car accident, and further to see the “thin-skull” legal principle in action which is well canvassed at paragraphs 42-44 of the judgement.
In reasons for judgement released by the BC Supreme Court today, The Honourable Madam Justice Griffin awarded a police officer, who was 26 at the time, a total of $87,231.53 as compensation for her injuries from a 2004 rear end motor vehicle accident.
The Plaintiff was diagnosed with back and neck soft tissue injuries.
The trial judge found that “it is now unlikely that (the Plaintiff) will recover completely from her injuries. She has recovered considerably….however, she is likely to have flare-ups of her symptoms from time to time“.
The Plaintiff called a total of 5 medical witnesses in support of her claim. The medical evidence in support of the claim included:
1. The Plaintiff’s former GP who testified that the Plaintiff did not complain of back or neck pain prior to the car accident.
2. The Plaintiff’s current family physician who testified that the Plaintiff’s injuries cause her to remain vulnerable to aggravated symptoms with physical activity
3. A chiropractor
4. An occupational and sports medicine physician who testified that the Plaintiff had Post Trauamtic Myofascial Pain Syndrome and Mechanical Low Back Pain. He went on to state that “it is my opinion that (the Plaintiff) now has a permanent impairment of her mid back and low back.”
5. A specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitiation (commonly referred to as a physiatrist). He diagnosed the Plaintiff with mechanical low back pain and mechanical neck pain.
The Defense hired an orthapoedic surgeon to assess the Plaintiff. (This is a common step taken by ICBC lawyers in defending soft tissue injury claims). He testified that the Plaintiff had a resolving cervical sprain, that her complaints were minimal and that they would resolve with the passage of time and a continuing exercise program.
The defence doctor’s evidence was challenged in cross-examination and he made some useful admissions including that “the chance of spontaneous recovery is less with the passage of time“.
The trial judge assessed damages as follows:
1. $30,000 for pain and suffering
2. $5,112.60 for past loss of income
3. $2,391 for cost of future care
4. $5,227.93 for special damages (out of pocket expenses incurred as a result of the accident)
5. $70,000 for loss of earning capacity (future wage loss).
The damages awarded for pain and suffering and future wage loss were then reduced by 25% by the trial judge. The reasons provided for this were that “because (the Plaintiff) had a vulnerability to back injury due to her earlier accidents, there was a measurable risk prior to the July 2004 accident that if (the Plaintiff) was to suffer a work injury in her position as a police officer the effects would be serious.”
This reduction of damages is an example of a basic legal principle (that a Plaintiff is not to be over-compensated) in action. The court heard evidence that the Plaintiff suffered previous injuries and the Plaintiff’s own physician testified that “(a previous accident) directly caused her complaints of mid and low back pain and that July 2004 accident aggravted her symptoms”.
This case is a great illustration of the fact that previous injuries do not disentitle a person for compensation if these injuries are aggravated in a later accident. The extent of the pre-existing injuries simply have to be taken into account when properly valuing the damages of the subsequent accident.
Are you looking for an ICBC Lawyer to discuss a similar ICBC injury claim? If so feel free to contact the author for a free consultation.
In reasons for judgement released today, the Honourable Madam Justice Newbury of the British Columbia Court of Appeal increased the pain and suffering award for a BC auto accident victim from $15,000 to $42,000.
The Plaintiff was a 70 year old female. At trial in the British Columbia Supreme Court, the trial judge found that the Plaintiff suffered a soft tissue injury, namely a muscle strain to the trapezius area but concluded that “the evidence was not sufficient to establish a causal connection between the accident and the increase in frequency and intensity of (the Plaintiff’s) dizziness“.
On appeal, counsel for the Plaintiff argued that the trial judge was simply wrong in saying there was ‘no medical evidence’ that supported the causal connection between the accident and the Plaintiff’s increase in frequency and intensity of dizziness.
At trial an ENT specialist testified that “in my opinion the increased dizziness (experienced by the Plaintiff )subsequent to the accident in 2004 is probably from the accident in 2004“. Given this evidence the BC Court of Appeal agreed with the submission of Plaintiff’s counsel and concluded that the appeal must be allowed.
Normally when an appeal is allowed a new trial is ordered. Running a second trial is obviously time consuming and costly. Fortunately for the Plaintiff, the trial judge stated that he would have awarded between $40,000 and $45,000 for pain and suffering had he found that the Plaintiff’s dizziness was related to the 2004 car accident. Given this helpful finding, and to save the parties from the expense of another trial, the BC Court of Appeal exercised their discretion to substitute the higher award of $42,000 for pain and suffering.