Credibility, Chronic Pain and the "Inherent Frailty" of Subjective Injury Claims

Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, discussing credibility and chronic pain claims based on subjective symptoms.
In this week’s claim (Sevinksi v. Vance) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2007 collision.  Fault was admitted by the offending motorist focusing the claim on quantum.  The Plaintiff sought fairly significant damages for disability due to a diagnosed chronic pain syndrome.  Her injuries were largely subjective putting her credibility squarely at issue.
The Court expressed several concerns about the Plaintiff’s credibility noting that “the Plaintiff was not forthright in her evidence….There also appear to have been instances where the plaintiff was not forthright with the independent doctors she attended before”  and lastly that “Aspects of (the plaintiff’s evidence) go well beyond a frailty of memory or a natural and excusable tendency to exaggerate or place given evidence in a positive light.  Here the Plaintiff sought to mislead and crate a history that is not forthright“.
Despite all this Mr. Justice Voith did accept that the Plaintiff was injured in the collision and that she had ongoing limitations due to these injuries.  Non-Pecuniary damages of $60,000 were assessed but this award was then reduced to $45,000 to take into account the plaintiff’s failure to mitigate.  In assessing the Plaintiff’s credibility and damages the Court cited the well known passage from Mr. Justice McEachern in Butler v. Blaylok.  (making this an opportune place to repeat my views that the assertion that a higher burden of proof exists in subjective injury claims is questionable.)
Mr. Justice Voith provided the following reasons:

[43] The difficulties with the plaintiff’s evidence are magnified because of the lack of objective evidence to support her injuries. McEachern, C.J.S.C., as he then was, identified the difficulties associated with assessing the extent of an injury without the benefit of objective evidence in each of Butler v. Blaylok Estate [1981] B.C.J. No. 31 (S.C.) at paras. 18-19 and Price v. Kostryba(1982), 70 B.C.L.R. 397 (S.C.) at para. 1-4.

[44] In Maslen v. Rubenstein (1993), 83 B.C.L.R. (2d) 131 (C.A.), Taylor J.A., at para. 15.1, said:

…there must be evidence of a “convincing” nature to overcome the improbability that pain will continue, in the absence of objective symptoms, well beyond the normal recovery period, but the plaintiff’s own evidence, if consistent with the surrounding circumstances, may nevertheless suffice for the purpose.

[45] More recently, in Eccleston v. Dresen, 2009 BCSC 332, at para. 66, Barrow J. accepted that claims supported by only subjective evidence should be viewed with a “skeptical eye”. He further confirmed, however, that such claims can be supported by the “convincing force of collateral evidence”.

[46] Two propositions emerge from these cases. First, there is an inherent level of frailty in the case of a plaintiff whose assertions of injury are not supported by any objective evidence or symptoms. Accordingly, it is appropriate, in such cases, to treat the evidence adduced by or on behalf of the plaintiff with caution. Second, either the evidence of the plaintiff or collateral corroborative evidence may be sufficient to persuade the Court of the plaintiff’s position.

[47] In this case the usual difficulties associated with the wholly subjective complaints of a plaintiff are compounded by the reliability problems which are associated with the evidence of Ms. Sevinski.

[48] Notwithstanding some misgivings, however, I have accepted aspects of Ms. Sevinski’s evidence and am satisfied that these portions of her evidence are supported by additional collateral evidence before me…

[86] Having said this, the medical evidence establishes, and I have accepted, that the plaintiff does struggle with chronic pain syndrome. Her ability to function normally and to engage in the breadth of activities which she would like to, as well as to interact with her children and Mr. Rambold in a pain-free way, is diminished….

[89] Based on these considerations I assess Ms. Sevinski’s non-pecuniary damages at $60,000. This is without taking the question of mitigation into account.

bc injury law, chronic pain, credibility, failure to mitigate, mitigation, Mr. Justice Voith, Sevenski v. Vance

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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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