ICBC, Aggravation of Prior Injuries and "Failure to Mitigate"

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court awarding damages to a Plaintiff as a result of a 2003 rear-end accident.
In this case the court found that the Plaintiff ‘had significant problems with her neck and back prior to the 2003 collision…..that the collision markedly aggravated her pre-existing condition. Her level of functioning has gradually improved between the time of the collision and the time of the trial….(although) she continues to suffer greater pain and disability than she did before the collision.
In valuing the Plaintiff’s accident related pain and suffering at $50,000, the court made the following findings:
It is clear that Ms. Antoniali was suffering from a previous injury to her back and neck at the time of the November 2003 collision. I am satisfied that the November collision caused substantial new or aggravated injury to Ms. Antoniali’s lower and mid back. She has suffered substantial disability, pain and suffering for the approximately four and one-half years since the collision. She has not been able to engage in most of the recreational pursuits that she engaged in before the collision. Her enjoyment of her new role as a mother has been negatively impacted. However, not all of the pain and disability she suffered during this period was attributable to the November collision. In the absence of the new injury she suffered in that collision she would have been troubled by the likely continuation of her pre-collision back and neck difficulties. I am satisfied that an award of $50,000 for non-pecuniary general damages for her collision related injuries, both past and future, is appropriate to reflect her loss. I assign those damages approximately equally to the pre-trial and post-trial periods.
In addition to interesting comments made about the aggravation of pre-existing injuries, the court made some key findings regarding ‘failure to mitigate’.
When a person is injured in a BC car crash and makes and ICBC tort claim, that person has a duty to take reasonable steps to minimize their losses. This is called the ‘duty to mitigate’. In this case the court found that the Plaintiff did fail to mitigate her losses and reduced some of her damages by up to 50% as a result of this failure. The key finding fueling this decision was that the Plaintiff’s symptoms would have been lessened had she followed the recommended program of stretching and exercises recommended by her physician.
In discussing the law of failure to mitigate Mr. Justice Preston referenced some well known passages canvassing this area of the law – for your convenience I will reproduce these below:
From Graham v. Rogers

Mitigation goes to limit recovery based on an unreasonable failure of the injured party to take reasonable steps to limit his or her loss. A plaintiff in a personal injury action has a positive duty to mitigate but if a defendant’s position is that a plaintiff could reasonably have avoided some part of the loss, the defendant bears the onus of proof on that issue.

From Humphrey v. Rancier Estate

Another issue in assessment of damages, both non-pecuniary and pecuniary, is the plaintiff’s alleged failure to mitigate. The plaintiff has followed all her medical advice with the exception of reducing her weight. She was grossly obese before the accident, weighing about 260 pounds; she is not quite five feet tall. She now weighs over 200 pounds and continues to be grossly obese. There is no doubt on the medical evidence and the evidence of the therapists that her disability and pain would be less if she lost a considerable amount of weight.

The question is whether the plaintiff has taken reasonable steps to minimize her loss. The court must assess whether this test has been met by looking at all the circumstances of the case. Here we have an obese lady before the accident – someone who had been obese all her adult life. Her brother and sister are both obese. She appears, as her counsel put it, to be a weak woman in the sense that she has not had very good success at controlling her smoking or her eating on a consistent basis in the past despite medical advice and despite her clear efforts. She has tried to lose weight and has succeeded to an extent, at least temporarily. She is still trying, she says.

Of equal importance to the principle that the plaintiff must act reasonably in minimizing her loss and her damages, is another principle, namely that the defendant takes his victim as he finds him or her. In the circumstances in this case, given the plaintiff’s pre-accident history of obesity, given her particular personality, given her honest efforts from time to time to lose weight and kept it off, I am not satisfied that it can be said that the plaintiff has acted unreasonably and has failed to mitigate her damages, with the result that her damages should be lessened because she has not lost weight.

From Sagave v. Townsend

A defendant who injures a plaintiff is not entitled to expect perfection from the injured person in pursuing rehabilitation. The plaintiff must be reasonable and sincere in her efforts to promote recovery. The plaintiff was less than perfect, and undoubtedly paid a price in pain and discomfort on occasion. I accept however the plaintiff met a reasonable standard of care concerning exercise with regard to her own rehabilitation.

The defendant has not met the onus of proof required for the plaintiff to be found to have contributed to her own damages. In the assessment of her non-pecuniary damages however I have taken account of the need for the plaintiff to follow an almost daily regime in the future and assumed she will benefit accordingly.

This case serves as a striking example that an unreasonable failure to follow medical advice can have a severe impact on an ICBC claim. Here the Plaintiff’s awards for post trial pain and suffering, post trial loss of earning capacity and post trial cost of medical care were reduced by 50%!

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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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