ICBC Claims, Wage Loss, and Loss of Overtime Opportunities

In reasons for judgement released today Madam Justice Dillon of the BC Supreme Court awarded an injured Plaintiff just over $200,000 in damages as a result of a ‘hit and run’ accident.
The Plaintiff was 56 at the time of the BC car crash. He was on his way to work when he was rear-ended. The crash was significant enough to push the Plaintiff’s car the length of a city block prior to coming to a stop. The Defendant ‘took off around a corner” after the collision.
The Plaintiff is an apparently stoic man who returned to work despite being injured in this crash. He continued to work for several days ‘before (his) neck and back pain, headaches and dizziness steadily increased to the point that (he) was unable to perfrom the heavy work of a millwright.’
The Plaintiff was off work for almost 6 months prior to returning to work full time. Once returning he struggled and needed assistance from his work partners. He also struggled in taking advantage of over-time opportunities.
As in many ICBC injury claims that go to trial, the court heard from various doctors including an orthopaedic surgeon, a physiatrist, a neurologist and the Plaintiff’s GP. Again, as is common in ICBC injury claims, the doctors testifying had varying takes on the nature and severity of the Plaintiff’s injuries and their connection to the car accident.
No issue was taken a trial as to who was at fault for this rear-end accident. The trial focused on quantum of damages (value of the injuries). The theory advanced by ICBC’s expert was that, while the Plaintiff was injured, the Plaintiff ‘probably would have had these problems regardless of the accident because of his underlying degeneration of the cervical and lumbar spine‘.
The court heard evidence from the Plaintiff’s doctors that he had various injuries that would likely impact him well into the future.
The court’s key finding as to the extent of injury can be found at paragraph 28 where Madam Justice Dillon noted that:
[28] There is no medical opinion that the plaintiff would have suffered from chronic neck or back pain, to the extent and severity that he has incurred, but for the accident. Gold has developed severe and disabling chronic neck and back pain, which significantly limits movement. He continues to have headaches. His condition plateaued within two years after the injury and has not improved despite reasonable effort on his part. This has had a significant effect on his ability to work overtime to the extent that he did before the accident and requires cooperation with his work partners to fulfill the mandate of his job without formal accommodation being made. He has suffered a loss of lifestyle and recreational activity.
The court awarded $80,000 for ‘general damages’ (pain and suffering).
The court also made an award for past wage loss, past loss of overtime opportunities and loss of future earnings.
This case raised some common issues which often arise in ICBC claims. Particularly the amount of past loss income when a Plaintiff returns to work but is not able to work as many overtime shifts. I recommend this case for anyone involved in an ICBC injury claim who has missed overtime work as a result of injuries. This case gives an example of how this issue can be dealt with at trial. The personal injury lawyer representing the Plaintiff capably called evidence addressing wage loss and overtime and in the end the court addressed this loss fairly.
In awarding money for loss of future wages, the court noted that “there is more than a substantial possibility that the plaintiff will be unable to work overtime at his historical pre-accident rate into the future.’ and also that, given the Plaintiff’s age and injuries, that he would have ‘a difficult time finding work if his (current) job ended‘, As a result of this the court awarded $70,000 for loss of future earnings / loss of earning capacity.
Lastly, the ICBC lawyers argued that “damages should be reduced by 25% because the plaintiff failed to start an exercise programme as recommended by his general practitioner, his physiotherapist, and the rehabilitation medicine specialist
This argument is known in law as ‘failure to mitigate’. If a person injured in an ICBC claim does not take reasonable steps to recover from their injuries the value of compensation can be reduced.
The court summarized the law of ‘failure to mitigate’ as follows:
[44] To succeed in this submission, the third party must prove, on a balance of probabilities, that the plaintiff failed to undertake the recommended treatment; that by following that recommended treatment he could have overcome or could in the future overcome the problems; and that his refusal to take that treatment was unreasonable (Janiak v. Ippolito, [1985] 1 S.C.R. 146, 16 D.L.R. (4th) 1; Maslen v. Rubenstein, [1994] 1 W.W.R. 53 at 57-58, 83 B.C.L.R. (2d) 131 (C.A.); Fox v. Danis, 2005 BCSC 102 at para. 37). The remedial programme must be likely to achieve resolution of the problem or at least have a positive effect on the plaintiff’s injury arising from the accident (Hepner v. Gill, [1999] B.C.J. No. 1755 at paras. 5 and 7 (S.C.) (QL); Briglio v. Faulkner and Reichel, 1999 BCCA 361, 69 B.C.L.R. (3d) 122 at para. 44; Wong v. Stolarchuk, [1997] B.C.J. No. 2837 at para. 48 (S.C.) (QL)). The reasonableness of a refusal to undertake a recommended programme depends upon the risk that such a programme would impose, the gravity of the consequence of refusing to participate, and the potential benefits to be derived from it (Janiak v. Ippolito, supra).
The court rejected ICBC’s failure to mitigate arguments.
This case illustrates just how important credibility is in ICBC injury claims. The court clearly liked the Plaintiff and he made a good impression on the judge. His stoic attitude certainly helped. Contrary to what some believe, having a tough attitude in the face of injuries does not hurt the value of an ICBC case, as this case illustrates, this postitive attribute can in fact add to the credibilty of an injured person and help result in a good trial result.

BC Supreme Court Awards $50,000 Non-Pecuniary Damages for Dislocated Elbow

In reasons for judgement released today, Mr. Justice Wilson awarded a total of $180,995.90 plus Court Costs in compensation to a young man who was injured as a passenger in a 2004 motor vehicle collision in Ucluelet, BC.
The Plaintiff was a back seat passenger. His vehicle left the road and hit a tree.
The court made its findings of fact addressing injuries at Paragraph 26 of the judgement where the court held that:
[26] In the result, then, I conclude that Mr. Thorp sustained a minor injury to his wrist which had cleared up within two weeks. I also conclude that he sustained a posterolateral dislocation of the right elbow. Although Mr. Thorp did well in his recovery in the initial period, he continues to have some restriction on range of motion and ongoing discomfort, particularly in performing physical activities. Although the pain may be due to the calcification in the elbow which might go away over time, he can expect to have that for a considerable period of time. I accept the opinion of Mr. Vanderboer that Mr. Thorp does have pain-related limitations in the strength of his right arm, and his endurance and tolerance for activity. I thus accept Mr. Vanderboer’s opinion that he is not physically capable of manual labour-type occupations, and the opinion of Dr. Gutmanis that if he chose to pursue more physical work, he would have greater likelihood of the development of post traumatic arthritis. I also accept Mr. Thorp’s evidence that, as a result of the ongoing pain, he has restricted many of his previous physical activities.
The court did a great job reviewing applicable case law addressing loss of future earning capacity at paragraphs 53-68 of the reasons for judgement.  This was necessary because the Plaintiff was a young man with a potentially permanent elbow injury.  The effects of this closed the door to certain employmnet opportunities thus giving rise to a claim for future wage loss.  After applying the facts to the law Mr. Justice Wilson awarded a total of $50,000 for Loss of Future Earning Capacity.
Damages of $50,000 were awarded for Pain and Suffering and a further $80,000 was awarded for past wage loss.
This is one of the few recent BC court cases addressing fair compensation for non-pecuniary loss (pain and suffering) for a dislocated elbow.  The difficulty the lawyers had finding similar elbow injury cases to help guide the court is acknowledged at paragraph 29 of the judgement.  If you are engaged in settlement negotiations with ICBC for pain and suffering for an elbow injury this case is worth a quick read.
Do you have questions you would like answerd by an ICBC Claims Lawyer regarding an elbow injury? Click here to contact Erik Magraken for a free consultation to discuss your claim.

BC Supreme Court Awards $58,000 for Soft Tissue Injuries and Depression

In a judgement released today by Madam Justice Humphries, a total of $58,000 was awarded to a 37 year old plaintiff as a result of a 2004 motor vehicle accident in Vancouver, BC.
The Plaintiff suffered soft tissue injuries in her neck, shoulder and low back. The accident also caused depression which was, according to the court, at least as debilitating as the physical injuries. The court found that the physical and psychological injuries were inter-connected.
The Plaintiff did suffer from pre-existing injuries in all of the above areas as a result of a 1996 motor vehicle accident. Evidence was presented that she was largely recovered from her pre-existing soft tissue injuries and depression by the time of the 2004 accident.
The court summarized her injuries as follows:
From all the medical reports and from her own evidence, (the Plaintiff) appears to have recovered from the physical effects of this accident by late 2005 or early 2006 in the sense that she had ceased experiencing daily and ongoing pain. However, she continues to have and can expect to have bouts of pain depending on her activities. This is somewhat similar to the same state she was in prior to the accident, when she could work long hours, attending physiotherapy once in awhile if she was experiencing discomfort caused by her job. However, I accept that the effects of over-exertion and work-related activities since the second accident are more limiting than they were just prior to it
In the end the court awarded $45,000 for pain and suffering (non-pecuniary damages), $3,000 for past wage loss and $10,000 for loss of earning capacity.
If you have an ICBC claim and have suffered from pre-existing injuries that were re-injured or aggravated by a subsequent car accident this case is worth reading to see some of the factors courts consider in these circumstances.
Also of interest is the courts reasoning in awarding some money for past wage loss despite the “flimsy” evidence that was advanced in support of an income loss claim. The Plaintiff was a self-employed photographer and there was no hard evidence of lost income. The court, at paragraph 40, held as follows:
It is only common sense that a self-employed person whose work depends on dealing with the public, persuading people to hire her, and being able to carry heavy cameras and position herself quickly in order to take pictures must be able to rely on physical agility and a pleasant personality in order to work to her full capacity. I accept that (the Plaintiff) was putting in many hours building her contacts and working on various facets of her business just prior to the accident, and due to her temporary physical limitations and some periods of depression, she was able to work less after the accident for a period of time. However, the amount of the loss is not amenable to a calculation, and many of the hours she put in were not necessarily hours for which she would be able to bill a client. As well, her earnings in the years prior to the accident were very low; in fact, she made more in 2004 than she did in 2002 and 2003. I assess an amount of $3,000 for past wage loss based on the plaintiff’s evidence of the restrictions she faced in carrying on with her existing business and the delay in her plans to expand her baby/pet photography.
If you are having difficulty agreeing to settlement of an ICBC claim because of pre-existing injuries or because of a disputed claim for past-loss of income from a self-employed business this case is worth a read to see how our courts sometimes deal with these issues.
Do you have any questions about this case? If so feel free to contact the author.

Plaintiff Awarded $96,970 For a Disc Herniation

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.

Police Officer Awarded $87,231.53 for Back and Neck Injuries

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.

"When Should I Go Back To Work?"

A frequent question I encounter as a British Columbia personal injury lawyer is “when should I go back to work?” or “If I go back to work now will I hurt my ICBC claim?”.
The short answer is that going back to work rarely hurts an ICBC claim. Working is a good thing. Plaintiffs in personal injury claims have a duty to mitigate their damages. This means that they are required to take reasonable steps to minimize their losses as a result of an accident.
Keeping in mind the duty to minimize losses, the question of returning to work is best directed at a physician. The answer it seems, comes down to “Hurt vs. Harm“. Returning to work can be unreasonable if doing so aggravates accident related injuries. That is, if the physical or psychological demands of a job actually aggravate accident related injuries then returning to work is typically not recommended. If, on the other hand, working with your injuries causes pain but your physician tells you to work through the pain as best you can tolerate then returning to work (or at least trying to) seems like a sensible option.
A personal injury claim should never motivate a person to miss time from work. Unreasonably missing time from work can actually hurt a claim. Returning to work while still injured, if medically approved, not only demonstrates a good work ethic but can also fulfill a legal duty to “mitigate damages” and that certainly does not hurt a claim.
Do you have questions about a wage-loss claim? You can click here to contact the author for advice.

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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.

“Work hard, be kind and enjoy the ride!”
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