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ICBC Injury Claims and the Relevance of Vehicle Damage

The law has become clear that while ICBC’s LVI policy is not a legal principle and is not a valid legal defence, the amount of vehicle damage is a factor judges and juries can consider in a BC injury claim.  Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Court of Appeal demonstrating this.
In this week’s case (Cahoon v. Brideaux) the Plaintiff was injured in a car crash.  There was minimal vehicle damage.  The Plaintiff’s claim was largely rejected by a Jury at trial.  Prior to giving their verdict the Trial Judge told the Jury that “From that evidence you are asked to draw inferences about how hard Mrs. Brideaux struck Mrs. Cahoon, and from those inferences you are asked to draw another inference about what injuries that impact caused to Mrs. Cahoon.
The Plaintiff appealed arguing in part that the Judge was wrong to give the above instruction to the Jury.  The BC Court of Appeal disagreed and gave clear reasons indicating that a Court can consider the amount of vehicle damage during an injury claim.  Specifically the High Court stated as follows:

[82] The issue addressed in the passage from Gordon v. Palmer (1993), 78 B.C.L.R. (2d) 236 (S.C.) quoted in Lubick was whether the “no crash, no cash” policy of the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia was founded on a valid legal or medical principle.  Mr. Justice Thackray noted that no evidence was called to substantiate the theory that minimal impacts could not cause injury and went on to resolve the nature and extent of the plaintiff’s injuries in that case on the lay and medical evidence before him.  Similarly, it appears the issue addressed in this passage in Lubick was the defence contention that such a minimal impact could not have injured the plaintiff.  However, these passages do not represent a statement of legal principle that in low-impact collision cases, the defendant has the burden of proving the plaintiff’s injuries were not caused by the collision.  It is well-settled law that the burden is always on plaintiffs in these cases to prove the nature and extent of their injuries and to prove they were caused by the defendant’s negligence.

[83] Here, the respondents did not argue that Mrs. Cahoon could not have been injured in the collision.  Rather, they conceded she suffered some injury but submitted that she was exaggerating her injuries and that she had not proven that all of the injuries and losses of which she complained were caused by the collision.  The burden of proof of these matters lay with Mrs. Cahoon – the respondents did not bear the burden of proving that the injuries she claimed were not caused by the collision.

[84] The evidence of automobile damage was relevant to the question whether Mrs. Cahoon suffered the injuries she claimed as a result of the collision.  In R. v. Watson (1996), 108 C.C.C. (3d) 310 at 323-24 (Ont. C.A.), Doherty J.A explained relevance as follows:

… Relevance … requires a determination of whether as a matter of human experience and logic the existence of “Fact A” makes the existence or non-existence of “Fact B” more probable than it would be without the existence of “Fact A.”  If it does then “Fact A” is relevant to “Fact B”.  As long as “Fact B” is itself a material fact in issue or is relevant to a material fact in issue in the litigation then “Fact A” is relevant and prima facie admissible.

[85] Human experience and logic, qualities for which juries are particularly valued, are the essence of common sense.  They suggest there is a relationship between the force of an impact between two vehicles and the resulting damage to the vehicles.  Thus, evidence of minimal damage makes it more likely the force of the impact was minimal (Fact A).  Human experience and logic also suggest there is a relationship between force exerted on the human body and injury caused by the force.  Thus, evidence of minimal force applied to the human body tends to make it more probable that the resulting injury would not be serious (Fact B).  It follows that the evidence of vehicle damage was relevant on this issue and the trial judge did not err in instructing the jury that they could use it as circumstantial evidence.

[86] It follows, as well, that I would reject Mrs. Cahoon’s submission that the trial judge erred in permitting the jury to use this evidence to “override” the expert medical opinion evidence on causation.  The weight to be given low-impact evidence will depend on the particular circumstances of each case.  Here, Mrs. Cahoon led expert medical opinion evidence that the collision caused her very serious injuries.  These opinions on the causation issue were based on various facts, including Mrs. Cahoon’s descriptions of her injuries and the dynamics of the collision.  The jury was required to consider the expert opinions but was not bound to accept them.  Rather, it was for the jury to determine what weight to assign to those opinions after weighing all of the evidence, including the circumstantial evidence of the force of the collision.

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