Cost of Future Care and Publicly Funded Benefits


Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Kelowna Registry, addressing whether future care damages can be awarded for health care items that are publicly available but more quickly available through private options.  In short the Court held that damages can be awarded for these damages provided there is evidence that electing the private route is reasonable and subject to the possibility the expenses will actually be incurred.
In this week’s case (Engqvist v. Doyle) the Plaintiff suffered chronic injuries as a result of two collisions.  These needed diagnostic nerve blocks and depending on the results rhizotomies.  Both procedures were available through BC’s public healthcare system but private options were available on a much more expedient basis.  The Plaintiff sought damages for the private procedures.  ICBC argued this was not necessary.
Ultimately Mr. Justice Rogers awarded some damages considering the cost of these private interventions but was conservative in the award noting some “reservations” about whether the Plaintiff would actually undertake private treatments.  In allowing damages for these items the  Court provided the following reasons:

[44] The parties brought to trial conflicting views concerning the plaintiff’s claim for money to pay for private health care. That claim is for money to pay for private provision of four to six medial nerve block injections and, if the injections are diagnostic of further therapy, one or more rhizotomies upon the indicated nerves. The parties differed on whether the plaintiff should receive an award sufficient to pay for the injections and rhizotomies at a private health care clinic, or whether the plaintiff should confine herself to the free-to-her public health care system. The plaintiff plumps for the former, the defendants argue for the latter.

[45] The first point to address on this issue is that it does not concern the Canada Health Act. It does not require a philosophical discussion of the pros and cons of a general public health insurance scheme. Neither does the issue raise concerns about “queue jumping” by a well-resourced patient.

[46] Instead, the fundamental issue is whether a particular future treatment modality is reasonably necessary to promote the plaintiff’s mental and physical health: Milina v. Bartsch (1985), 49 B.C.L.R. (2d) 33 (S.C.). In the case of medial nerve blocks, the evidence at trial was clear that the plaintiff should undergo at least one set of medial nerve block injections. The evidence at trial was also clear that the plaintiff could access medial nerve block injections on a fee-for-service basis at a private health clinic pretty much at her convenience, while publicly funded medial nerve blocks require that the plaintiff go on a four- to six-month waiting list. Similar time frames apply to rhizotomy procedures if such are indicated by the nerve blocks.

[47] In Moussa v. Awwad, 2010 BCSC 512, Russell J. considered a similar claim. The plaintiff suffered a shoulder injury and, after a lengthy period of investigation and diagnosis, elected to pay for repair surgery at a private clinic. He claimed the cost of that surgery as a special damage. Russell J. allowed the claim, saying:

[266] While the cost of private care will not be an appropriate special cost in every case, given the plaintiff’s emotional uncertainty about surgery and his continuing pain, this is a rare case and I find it reasonable in this case that the plaintiff chose to pursue private surgery with the doctor that he trusted and so that he could have his pain relieved immediately. I therefore award the plaintiff the costs of the surgery.

[48] In the present case, the evidence established that it is possible for the plaintiff to obtain nerve blocks and rhizotomies more quickly if she paid for them than if she waited for the public health system to provide them.

[49] Private fee-for-service care, therefore, offers the plaintiff the possibility of alleviating her symptoms more quickly than the public system. That is the only point of commonality on this narrow issue between this case and Moussa. More particularly, the plaintiff testified that she wants to try the medial nerve block injections and would consider a rhizotomy. She is not, therefore, unsure or uncertain about the therapy. Unlike the plaintiff in Moussa, the plaintiff here did not testify that she has any feelings of trust in or loyalty to any particular medical practitioner.

[50] The question in this case comes down to whether the plaintiff ought to mitigate her cost of future care by confining herself to the public health care system. That question can only be resolved by determining whether it is reasonable for the plaintiff to submit to the wait times and vagaries of the public health care system, thus increasing the length of time before she will know if a rhizotomy will reduce her pain. Private provision of medial blocks will considerably accelerate her coming to know whether a rhizotomy will likely help her.

[51] Reasonable in this context must be measured by an objective standard. What is reasonable in a given case must take into account not only the wait times involved, but also the degree of the plaintiff’s pain while sitting out those wait times and the effect that that pain will have on the plaintiff’s enjoyment of life. A minor ache in one’s little finger would be unlikely to be sufficient to underwrite expensive privately funded health care while a case of surgically curable paraplegia probably would.

[52] Accepting as I do the plaintiff’s evidence concerning the pain she has and its interference with her everyday life, I find that the plaintiff’s pain and its interference with her enjoyment of life is sufficient to merit acceleration of treatment via funding of private health care.

bc injury law, Cost of Future Care, Engqvist v. Doyle, Facet Rhizotomy, Mr. Justice Rogers, Rhizotomy

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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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