Court Turns to Wikipedia To Address Claimed Damages for Rolfing


Reasons for judgement were released this week with the BC Supreme Court citing Wikipedia when assessing damages following a motor vehicle collision.
In this week’s case (Parker v. Davies) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2009 rear end collision.  Fault was admitted by the Defendant.  The Plaintiff sustained a disc protrusion in her back and was expected to have long term symptoms as a result of this.  The Court assessed non-pecuniary damages of $90,000.
In addition to this the Plaintiff claimed fairly substantial damages for future care costs including over $24,000 for rolfing.  Mr. Justice Meiklem rejected this claim finding there was no medical evidence to justify the expense.  Prior to doing so the Court took the interesting move of referencing Wikipedia and provided the following reasons:
[40]         I had never heard of Rolfing before this trial and there was no authoritative evidence presented about what Rolfing is, much less any medical evidence that it is medically necessary in Ms. Parker’s case. I note that Ms. Henry adopted Ms. Parker’s description of Rolfing as a form of deep tissue work. Ms. Parker credits it as the most beneficial treatment that she has undergone in relieving the pain that radiates to her leg. Ms. Henry suggested that consideration be given to funding the treatment based on her understanding that it helped Ms. Parker, but would defer to a physician as to the medical benefits.
[41]         My curiosity led me to Wikipedia.org, where the following description appears:
Rolfing is a therapy system created by the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration (also referred to as “RISI”), founded by Ida Pauline Rolf in 1971.The Institute states that Rolfing is a “holistic system of soft tissue manipulation and movement education that organize(s) the whole body in gravity”. Manipulation of the muscle fasciae is believed to yield therapeutic benefits, including that clients stand straighter, gain height and move better, through the correction of soft tissue fixations or dystonia. A review found that evidence for clinical effectiveness and hypothesized mechanisms of Rolfing is severely limited by small sample sizes and absence of control arms, and that further research is needed, though controlled trials found that a single Rolfing session significantly decreases standing pelvic tilt angle, and that Rolfing caused a lasting decrease in state anxiety when compared to the control group. Only practitioners certified by RISI can use the title “Rolfer,” or practice “Rolfing,” due to service mark ownership. The Guild for Structural Integration is the other certifying body, whose graduates use the title “Practitioners of the Rolf Method of Structural Integration.”
[42]         In researching previous decisions of this court, I found two cases where Rolfing treatments were funded as part of special damages awarded, without medical evidence of medical necessity: Price v. Abdul, unreported, Vancouver Registry No B922911, BCSC, January 12, 1994; Schubert v. Knorr, 2008 BCSC 939, and one case, Cryderman v. Giesbrecht and Giesbrecht, 2006 BCSC 798, where the court acknowledged Rolfing costs as part of future care costs on the basis that, although not prescribed by her doctors, the plaintiff said the treatment gave her relief and the court found that the amount ($140 annually out of total annual care costs of $1,060) did not seem excessive.
[43]         The plaintiff in Cryderman sought a total future care costs award of $10,000, but was awarded $4,000, so the amount of the award notionally attributable to future Rolfing treatments would be approximately $550. Of course, assessing future care costs is not a precise accounting exercise, and perhaps the court felt that the very modest cost claimed obviated the need for evidence of medical necessity in that case. However, by comparison, Ms. Parker’s claim is for an award that would include $24,934 as the present value of annual Rolfing costs in the amount of $1,020 for the rest of her life expectancy. In my view, this is not a case where the court should deviate from the established principle that the appropriate award for the cost of future care is an objective one based on medical evidence. Accordingly, I will not consider potential future Rolfing costs in my assessment.
While it is easy to understand the desire to inform oneself by referencing on-line material, the same privilege clearly does not extend to a Jury as evidenced by this 2009 development where the BC Supreme Court discharged a juror for satiating his curiosity by referencing Wikipedia in the course of a trial.

bc injury law, disc protrusion, Mr. Justice Meiklem, Parker v. Davies, rolfing, wikipedia

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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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