Like most of my readers I am sick of this drawn out winter and the sight of snow this week-end in Victoria seems like a cruel joke.
Snow in BC has two reliable results 1. Car Accidents, 2. Phone call to BC personal injury lawyers about those car accidents. The second is particularly true for Victoria personal injury and ICBC claims lawyers because of the local populations relative inexperience dealing with winter driving conditions.
In anticipation of the almost certain phone calls I will receive this week as a Victoria ICBC claims lawyer I write this post.
If you are the driver involved in a single vehicle accident in British Columbia, and you lost control due to the weather, all you can likely claim from ICBC are Part 7 Benefits (also referred to as no fault benefits). There is (except in some unusually peculiar situations such as an ICBC insured driver contributing to the road hazards) in all likelihood no claim from ICBC for pain and suffering (non-pecuniary damages) in these circumstances. A person’s right to claim pain and suffering and other “tort” damages only arises if someone else is at fault for your injuries. In these single vehicle accidents you usually only have yourself or the weather to blame, and last time I checked you can’t sue mother nature.
If someone else contributed to the accident (perhaps the road maintenence company for failing to act in a timely fashion or perhaps a mechanic for failing to bring your vehicle up to snuff last time you had it inspected) you will have to make a claim against them. Chances are they are not insured through ICBC for such claims and instead you will have to go against their policy of private insurance.
Now, if you are a passenger in a single vehicle, weather related accident, you may very well have a claim for pain and suffering. This claim would be against your driver (except perhaps in the unusual circumstances mentioned above). If your driver did not operate the vehicle safely in all the circumstances (for example driving too fast for the known or anticipated poor road conditions) and this caused or contributed to the collision then you have a tort claim. Assuming the driver is ICBC insured then you have the right to apply for both no-fault benefits from your own insurance and make a tort claim against the driver that will be covered through his third party liability ICBC insurance.
If you are advancing a tort claim against a driver be weary of the defence of “inetible accident”. ICBC defends claims. One of the best defences to a weather related accident is that it was “inevitable”. What this means is that the driver, operating safely, could not have avoided losing control of his vehicle. If this can be proven than the tort claim can be defeated.
People naturally don’t want to get those known to them in trouble and it is all too common that when reporting such a claim to ICBC passengers too readily agree to how unexpected the accident was and how the driver was operating the vehicle very carefully. If this is true that’s fine. My words of caution are as follows: If the driver was not safe (I’m not talking about driving like a maniac here, I’m talking about driving less than carefully for the winter driving conditions) and you give ICBC the alternate impression with a view towards helping the driver out, the result may be severely damaging your ability to bring a tort claim.
Tell the truth and know what’s at stake when doing so. If ICBC gets the false impression that the accident was inevitable you will have a much harder time advancing or settling your ICBC tort claim.
The bottom line is this: If an accident truly is inevitable and there is no tort claim so be it, but, don’t lead ICBC to this conclusion if it isn’t true. Doing so will hurt your claim for pain and suffering.
In reasons for judgement released today from a Rule 66 “fast-track” trial, Mr. Justice Masuhara awarded a Plaintiff a total of $27,427.67 in compensation as a result of a September, 2004 rear-end accident which occurred in Coquitlam, BC.
The Plaintiff, a 33 year old female at the time of the accident, suffered soft tissue injuries including headaches, dizziness, nausea, sleep disturbance, and various soft tissue injuries.
The majority of the Plaintiff’s pain resolved by the time of trial with the exception of pain in her shoulder girdle and mid back.
The Plaintiff’s family physician testified that she suffered from “soft tissue injuries to her neck and upper back as a result of the accident.” Treatments included trigger-point injections to the Plaintiff’s right shoulder blade muscles.
A physiatrist also gave expert opinion evidence that the accident caused neck injuries that had resolved and further had caused “injuries to her right posterior shoulder girdle region and mid back”. He expected the Plaintiff to make a good or very good recovery but his prognosis of a complete resolution was guarded.
The ICBC lawyer defending the case called an orthopaedic surgeon who had examined the Plaintiff on behalf of the defence. He testified that the Plainitff “suffered a mild to moderate soft tissue injury to her neck and upper back areas“, that he “would have expected the soft tissue symptoms to have resolved over the first 6-12 weeks following the accident ” and that the “ongoing musculoskeletal complaints are due to physical deconditioning that result from factors unrelated, or having little relationship to the accident“.
The court accepted the evidence of the Plaintiff’s physicians and found that the Plaintiff’s “persisting symptoms in the area of her right shoulder blade are as result of the accident”.
Damages were awarded as follows:
1. Non-pecuniary (pain and suffering): $25,000
2. Past Wage Loss: $974.67
3. Special Damages (out of pocket expenses) $1,453
Mr. Justice Masuhara deals with some common arguments often advanced by ICBC lawyers defending these types of claims including attacks on the Plaintiff’s credibility. His findings were favourable to the Plaintiff and a quick read of this judgement reveals some of the accusations Plaintiff’s often face whem advancing ICBC claims.
ICBC tells you you are at fault and you disagree. What do you do? You gather as much information as possible in support of your claim.
One of the main sources of information to examine is the BC Motor Vehicle Traffic Accident Police Investigation Report (the “Report”). Assuming the police attended the accident scene a copy of this report should have been provided to all motorists involved.
These reports often contain valuable information such as the names of all involved, the exact location of the accident, the names of witnesses and if any charges were laid. If charges were laid, the section of the Motor Vehicle Act that was allegedly violated is often cited in the report. It is a good idea to look up the exact section cited to see what the police allege against the other motorist.
Other information contained the report is coded and most ICBC lawyers know how to intepret this. I thought I would highlight some of the more important codes to share this useful information with my readers.
On the right hand side of the the Report are typed numbers. Assuming you were involved in a two vehicle collision fields 31-33A relate to the first motorist mentioned in the report and fields 34-36A relate to the second motorist mentioned in the report.
The police then fill in these fields with codes for all the “contributing factors” to the collision. Here is what some of these codes mean:
16 = extreme fatigue
19 = fell asleep
22 = illness
23 = Sudden Loss of Consciousness
26 = Pre-existing physical disability
80 = Ability impaired by Alcohol
81 = Alcohol suspected
82 = Ability impaired by drugs
83 = Drugs Suspected
84 = Ability impaired by medication
85 = Driver inatentive
86 = Driver internal / external distraction
87 = Deceased prior to colliison
11 = Backing unsafley
12 = Cutting in
17 = Failing to Signal
18 = Failing to yield the right of way
20 = Following too closely
21 = Improper Passing
24 = Driving on wrong side of road
25 = Pedestrian error / confusion
29 = Ignoring traffic control device
30 = Improper turning
32 = Ignoring officer / flagman / guard
33 = Avoiding vehicle / pedestrian / cycle
34 = Use of Communication / video equipment
35 = Exceeding speed limit
36 = Excessive speed over 40 KH Hour
37 = Driving too fast for conditions
38 = failure to secure stopped vehicle
39 = Driver error / confusion
In additon to the above, the police can code in various factors for “Environmental Conditions” or “other” conditions that contributed the the accident.
I should note that police officers who fill out these reports rarely witnessed the collision themselves and often their allegations of what happened are inadmissible hearsay evidence. It is important to track down all witnesses who can verify these allegations so that there is a source to provide admissible evidence should your ICBC claim ever go to trial.
These reports are a valuable source of information when advancing ICBC claims and it is important for you or your ICBC lawyer to properly interpret these reports to properly advance an ICBC claim.
If you have any questions about your ICBC claim or some of the codes contained in a BC Motor Vehicle Traffic Accident Police Investigation Report feel free to contact the author for help.
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.
In a judgement released today by the British Columbia Supreme Court, Madam Justice Humphries concluded that a taxi driver was 10% at fault for 2 young girls’ injuries because he left his high beams on thus obstructing the view of on-coming traffic in the early morning of September 6, 2003 in Langley, BC.
The taxi did not hit the girls, rather, the taxi driver’s fault rested with the fact that he stopped his taxi on the side of the highway to engage some potential passengers in conversation with his high beams on. The passengers were a group of 5 young people who had left a party and were looking for a taxi ride home. The taxi driver declined to give this group of 5 people a ride because his vehicle only had 4 available seatbelts.
After being rejected by the taxi driver the young people headed back across the street into the lane of westbound traffic. Unfortunatley the driver of a vehicle driving in the westbound lane failed to see the people and struck 2 young girls with her vehicle.
The court found that the girls, the taxi driver, and the westbound vehicle were all partly at fault. In assessing 10% of the blame to the taxi driver Madam Justice Humphries stated “He did not keep a lookout for oncoming traffic and he left his high beams on. This constitutes a departure of the standard of care expected of a prudent driver and was a contributing cause of the accident.”
If a person in British Columbia is partially to blame for an accident, it is important to seek compensation from all others who are at fault. Failing to do so will result in the Plaintiff receiving less than full compensation for injuries caused by the fault of others. This is called “several liability”. This decision is a great illustration of Plaintiff’s counsel seeking compensation from all those responsible for car accident related injuries. Had the taxi driver not been sued, on this reasoning, the young girls would have had the value of their claim reduced a further 10 percent.
Feel free to contact the author if you have questions about several liability and a current ICBC claim.
Failing to wear a seatbelt can not only hurt you physically, it can hurt financially and I’m not referring to a traffic ticket.
A person advancing an ICBC claim who is injured through the fault of another motorist may be found “contributorily negligent” for failing to wear a seatbelt if it can be proven that injuries would have been prevented (or lessened) by the use of a seatbelt.
If a person advancing an ICBC claim is found contributorily negligent, the value of the ICBC claim goes down.
In these cases BC courts must apportion those injuries due to the failure to wear a seatbelt and deduct their value in compensating the injured person. Generally failing to wear a seatbelt results in reduction of the value of the claim by 15% – 25%, although the range of apportionment varies and can exceed this range.
When dealing with ICBC, it is important to keep in mind that failing to wear a seatbelt does not automatically reduce the value of the claim. It is for ICBC (or the insurance company / lawyer for the at fault driver) to prove that failure to wear a seatbelt caused or contributed to the injuries. Justice Fulton, the case Gagnon v. Beauliew, summarized the law as follows “In the case of this particular form of contributory negligence, the onus is on the defendant to satisfy the court, in accordance with the usual standard of proof, not only that the seat belt was not worn but also that the injuries would have been prevented or lessened if the seatbelt had been worn”
Also, there are some limited circumstances where failing to wear a seatbelt does not amount to negligence such as when a person has medical reasons making wearing a seatbelt unreasonable.
Circumstances excusing people from wearing seatbelts are the exception, not the norm so consider buckling up, failing to do so can not only add to your injuries, it can subtract from your pocket-book.
A concern many BC personal injury clients have is the threat of surveillance when they are advancing an ICBC injury claim. Video surveillance is legal in British Columbia so this threat is real.
The thought of video surveillance is unsavory to say the least. What concerns me, however, is not that ICBC may be conducting video surveillance, rather the misconseption that some BC personal injury claimants have regarding their behaviour and potential surveillance. I have been asked many times “Should I watch out because there may be surveillance” or “Should I limit my activities out in public because if I get filmed being active that will hurt my claim“.
My answer to this question is as follows: Video surveillance does not hurt a personal injury claim, overstating the effects of injuries does. It does not matter if you’re painting your house, lifting weights, or doing any number of physical activities that are caught on film. If you can be active and not aggravate your injuries that is a good thing. If, on the other hand, a personal injury claimaint tells others that they are limited and video surveillance shows otherwise, that could be very damaging. This goes to a person’s credibility. If a person is caught in a lie with respect to the effect of their injuries that will have a very negative effect on the value of an ICBC claim.
I like to assure people advancing ICBC claims that they need not live life any differently because of an ICBC claim or because of the threat of video surveillance. It is lies and lies alone that have the most damaging impact on a personal injury claim. If you are honest about your injuries and their impact on your life video surveillance should not be a concerning threat. In fact, with an honest plaintiff, video surveillance should appear as nothing more than an unsavory insurance tactic.