ICBC Injury Claims and Relevance of Minimal Vehicle Damage

Further to my numerous previous posts on Low Velocity Impacts (LVI Claims) reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court dealing with the relevance of photographs depicting minimal vehicle damage in Injury Litigation.
In today’s case (Deventer v. Woods) the Plaintiff was involved in 3 rear-end collisions.  Fault was admitted for all three crashes.   The Plaintiff claimed she was injured as a result of these crashes.  The matter was set down for a Jury Trial (ICBC normally sets LVI cases for Jury Trial) and proposed to put photos which ‘show very little damage to an of the cars involved’ to the Jury.
The Plaintiff objected arguing that the photos were not relevant.  Madam Justice Fenlon disagreed with the Plaintiff and allowed the photos to be put to the Jury.  In coming to this conclusion Madam Justice Fenlon referred to and summarized 2 previous authorities dealing with this issue at paragraphs 8-13 and went on to hold as follows:

[14] In any event, I am of the view that photographs showing the extent of the damage to the vehicles in this case are relevant and therefore admissible. They are relevant because it is a matter of common sense and common understanding that the greater the force with which two vehicles collide, the more likely it is that occupants of those vehicles will be injured. The relationship between increased force and damage and increased probability of injury does not mean that parties involved in lower impact collisions that do not cause very much damage to the vehicles involved cannot suffer significant injuries. Many cases have recognized that serious injuries can result from collisions involving little or no damage, as Mr. Justice Thackray observed in Gordon.

[15] In Brar v. Johal, 2002 BCSC 150, Mr. Justice Cohen, at para. 11, held that the onus would be on the defendant to lead engineering or medical evidence to support the submission that a plaintiff’s injuries are inconsistent with the force generated by the impact between two vehicles.

[16] The relevance of photographs showing the extent of damage to the plaintiff’s and defendants’ vehicles can be tested by considering photographs of highly damaged vehicles. It would be hard to imagine plaintiff’s counsel in such a case arguing that photographs of the damage were not relevant to the issue of whether the plaintiff suffered injuries in the accident.

[17] I have considered whether the probative value of the photographs in this case is outweighed by their prejudicial effect on the jury’s assessment. For the reasons set out inMakara by Mr. Justice Barrow, I am of the view that such prejudice can be adequately addressed by way of appropriate instructions to the jury. Such directions would not simply be to ignore the photographs, as plaintiff’s counsel argued, but rather, a direction to put the pictures into the context of the evidence as a whole. The pictures are one piece of evidence about the impact and the vehicles, as is the plaintiff’s evidence.  There would also likely be a direction that the fact that no or little damage has occurred to vehicles does not mean that a plaintiff cannot be injured.

[18] In conclusion on this issue, the photographs are admissible, subject to objections about their authenticity or accuracy.

Another intresting aspect of this judgement is the Court’ discussion of the Plaintiff’s financial status.  The Defendants wished to highlight certain elements of the Plaintiff’s finances in support of an argument that  “such information is relevant in assessing the quantum of damages for future wage loss because that information provides the context within which the jury must determine whether the plaintiff would have worked full-time in the future if the injuries sustained in the accident had not occurred.”

Madam Justice Fenlon agreed that such evidence is admissible in addressing a claim for future wage loss holding that:

[35] The plaintiff argues that the cases cited by the defendants in which a plaintiff’s financial circumstances were considered in relation to future wage loss were not jury cases. However, if the plaintiff’s financial circumstances are relevant to the assessment of future wage loss in a judge alone case, they are also relevant in a jury trial. The only additional question on a jury trial is whether the prejudicial effect of such evidence outweighs its probative value. The concern raised by plaintiff’s counsel, and it is a real concern, is that the jury may assume that because the plaintiff is relatively well-off she does not need to be compensated for future wage loss and they may reduce their awards for general and special damages as well. That would indeed be improper, but as I stated in relation to this issue on the admissibility of the photographs, I am of the view that the jury can be properly instructed to avoid this error and can be trusted to properly assess damages.

[36] In the circumstances of this case, I find that the probative value relating to the life insurance proceeds and the absence or existence of a mortgage outweighs the prejudicial effect of such evidence. However, I also find that the value of the new family home has such little probative value in relation to the propensity of the plaintiff to be working full-time or part-time that it is outweighed by the prejudicial effect of such evidence. I would therefore disallow that evidence.

[37] In conclusion on this issue, evidence relating to life insurance proceeds received, the payout of the mortgage on the family home at the time as a result of another life insurance policy, the existence of a current mortgage, and other evidence of that nature is admissible. Evidence regarding the value of the home the plaintiff is currently living in is not.

Deventer v. Woods, financial circumstances and future wage loss, future wage loss, ICBC claims, Low Velocity Impact, LVI, Madam Justice Fenlon, photos of vehicle damage, vehicle damage

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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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