More on ICBC Claims: Chronic Pain, Surveillance and Credibility

(Update: December 14, 2011 – the  below decision was upheld by the BC Court of Appeal in reasons for judgement released today)
I’ve written on this topic a few times in the past.  Surveillance in and of itself does not harm a Plaintiff’s ICBC Injury Claim.  It’s when surveillance contradicts a Plaintiff’s testimony that the damage is done.  Reasons for judgment were released today by the BC Supreme Court demonstrating this in action.
In today’s case (Fan v. Chana) the Plaintiff was injured as a passenger in a rear-end collision in Vancouver BC. The crash happened in 2000 and the Plaintiff was 9 years old at the time.
At trial the Plaintiff testified that she suffered various injuries in this collision and that these continued to affect her at the time of trial some 9 years later.   Mr. Justice McEwan noted that the Plaintiff “twisted, turned, stretched and pushed herself against the edge of the (witness) box almost constantly” while testifying.
The Court concluded that the Plaintiff’s injuries were not as severe as presented and instead found that this crash caused “soft tissue injuries of an immediate duration of less than two years” and awarded $25,000 for the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages.
In coming to his conclusions about the extent and severity of the Plaintiff’s injuries the Court noted the following about video surveillance evidence that was gathered on behalf of the defendant:

[50] The plaintiff was shown a surveillance video taken March 18 and 19, 2009, apparently showing her going about without any apparent pain.  After spending four hours at a wave pool she went to a very long movie without the sort of getting up and walking around that she suggested she needed.  In redirect she identified a few occasions on the video where she appeared to “crack” her neck…

[74] The plaintiff’s case is somewhat unusual in that there appear to be two quite different dimensions in which she moves.  The first is her ordinary, public life.  This is the world of school and teachers and social friends.  In the aftermath of the accident, the plaintiff’s physical education teachers noted no change.  The plaintiff’s marks were those of a diligent, hard working student.  Her social activities are in all respects normal.  The plaintiff’s friends consider her an outgoing, lively companion.  Significantly, the most obvious sign of pain they were able to remark upon was her habit of “cracking” her neck and back, something that is medically of no import according to those who have treated her, including Dr. Hahn.

[75] The surveillance video and the plaintiff’s observed behaviour do not show anything like the pattern demonstrated in court.  There may be a few occasions when the plaintiff “cracked” her neck, but it is very difficult to say.  The observations made by the surveillance operators specifically do not bear out the plaintiff’s suggestions that she is a drag on her friends, frequently holding them up to take rest breaks and unable to sit through movies.  She was observed to sit through a very long film with no trouble.  I recognize the caution with which surveillance of a brief sample of a person’s life must be approached, but I also note that the observers managed to spend a number of hours watching the plaintiff doing things she specifically cited as current examples of her disability, without noting any of the overt signs her evidence would suggest.

In addition to a useful and lengthy discussion on credibility in chronic pain cases Mr. Justice McEwan had the following statement of interest when it comes to doctor’s opinions regarding the severity of Chronic Pain in Subjective Injury Cases:

[72] The balance of the medical opinion divides along lines that depend on the degree of scepticism the doctors bring to the description of symptoms with which they were presented.  These range from very strong endorsements of the plaintiff’s claims (Dr. Kuttner, as reported by Dr. Hahn) to the blunt, contrary opinions offered by Dr. Weeks.

[73] I see very little purpose in parsing the medical reports to sort out who has the greater credibility based on their qualifications (i.e. “paediatric” physiatrists v. “adult” physiatrists).  As courts have observed on any number of occasions, the approach taken by medical professionals is not forensic: they assume that the patient is accurately reporting to them and then set about a diagnosis that plausibly fits the pattern of the complaint.  In the absence of objective signs of injury, the court’s reliance on the medical profession must, however, proceed from the facts it finds, and must seek congruence between those facts and the advice offered by the medical witnesses as to the possible medical consequences and the potential duration of the injuries.

When prosecuting a Chronic Pain claim the above quote is important to keep in mind.  Just because a physician accepts that a Plaintiff suffers from Chronic Pain as a consequence of a car accident and makes a diagnosis accordingly does not mean a Court has to accept the diagnosis.  The Court can and will make an independent finding of credibility and decide if the pain a Plaintiff complains of is sincere.

chronic pain, credibility, Fan v. Chana, icbc injury claims, Mr. Justice McEwan, privacy, surveillance, video

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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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