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Indivisible Injuries Cannot Get Around the Worker/Worker Defence to Recovery

Update May 16, 2016 – the below decision was apparently appealed and a settlement was reached prior to judicial disposition.  For a case calling the below reasoning “highly debatable” you can click here.
Adding to this site’s archives addressing the law of indivisible injuries, reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, addressing whether the principle of indivisible injury allows a claimant to collect damages for a claim that is otherwise barred by the Workers Compensation Act.  In short the Court ruled that this cannot be done.
In today’s case (Pinch v. Hofstee) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2010 collision and sued for damages.  In 2013 the Plaintiff was involved in a second collision which proceeded through WorkSafeBC as both motorists were in the course of their employment at the time.
At the trial for the first collision the Court found that both crashes resulted in indivisible injury.  The general rule with indivisible injuries from two non at-fault events is that the Plaintiff can seek full compensation for these from a single tortfeasor.  In finding this general rule does not apply in the case of indivisible injuries contributed to by an event caught by the worker/worker bar Mr. Justice Burnyeat provided the following reasons:

[53]         Having concluded that the injuries suffered were indivisible, the question that arises is whether Mr. Pinch is in a position to claim against Mr. Hofstee for the injuries suffered by him in MVA #2.  Despite my conclusion that the injuries suffered by Mr. Pinch in MVA #1 and MVA #2 were indivisible, I nevertheless conclude that Mr. Pinch is not in a position to claim damages against Mr. Hofstee arising out of the injuries that were incurred as a result of MVA #2.  I am satisfied that the effect of s. 10 of the Act precludes seeking damages arising from what are said to be indivisible damages.

[54]         Section 10(1) of the Act makes it clear that the provisions of that Part of the Act are “…in lieu of any right and rights of action, statutory or otherwise, founded on a breach of duty of care or any cause of action…”  [emphasis added].  Therefore, s.10(1) refers not only to “rights of action” but “any right…founded on a breach of duty of care or any other cause of action…”  I am satisfied that the “right” to claim for recovery for indivisible damages is a right that is precluded by s. 10(1) of the Act, being a right which is separate and distinct from a right to commence an action.  In this regard, s. 10(1) provides not only that the provision of the Part of the Act is in lieu of “any right and rights of action…” founded on the breach of duty of care that Mr. Pinch may have against an employee or an employer but also that “no action in respect of it lies” and that “any right…founded in a breach of duty of care” is precluded.  I am satisfied that this precludes any right that Mr. Pinch may have which is founded on a breach of duty of care by Mr. Hofstee.

[55]         The purpose of this section of the Act is to remove from the jurisdiction of the court the ability to deal with the rights of employees such as Mr. Pinch and the liability of employers when personal injuries are suffered in the course of employment. In this regard see DiCarlo v. DiSimone (1982), 39 O.R. (2d) 445 (H.C.) and Mitrunen v. Anthes Equipment Ltd. (1984) 57 B.C.L.R. 287.  In Mitrunen, Gould J. dealt with an action against Dominion Construction Company Limited which was an employer and Anthes Equipment Ltd. that was not.  After citing with approval the decision in DiCarlo, supra, in deciding that he was not bound by the unreported decision in Middleton v. Chen (C810663‑October 25, 1982), Gould J. determined that the Act governed and that it relieved the non‑employer defendant for liability for damages caused by the fault of the employer defendant.  On appeal, (1985) 17 D.L.R. (4th) 567, Seaton J.A., on behalf of the Court made this statement:

Section 10 first, in s-s (1), takes away the plaintiffs right of action against his employer and against co-employees. Subsections (2) to (5) deal with compensation and the bringing of an action against others. Subsection (6) talks about the worker, his dependant or the board bringing an action against some person other than an employer or worker. Subsection (6) thus leads logically to s-s (7) which, in its beginning words, clearly encompasses actions against those not employers or fellow workers. What it then says is that in that action if it is found that the death was due partly to a breach of duty of the employer or worker, then no damages are recoverable for the portion of the loss or damage caused by the negligence of the employer or worker. It does not say no damages are recoverable against the employer or worker; it is simply no damages are recoverable. On the face of it that must mean against anyone. The subsection, as I have mentioned, deals with an action brought against some person other than an employer or worker and it deals with actions brought by workers, dependants or by the board. It does not appear to deal with actions against employers or workers; they are covered by s-s (1).

(at para. 14)

[56]         The statement of Seaton J.A. is clear – “No damages are recoverable”.  I am satisfied that the decisions in Mitrunen, supra, relieve a non‑employer defendant such as Mr. Hofstee from liability for damages caused by his or her fault.

[57]         Section 10(2) reinforces this interpretation as it describes the ability of Mr. Pinch to “claim compensation” or “bring an action”.  I cannot conclude that the ability to “claim compensation” expands the right of Mr. Pinch to claim against Mr. Hofstee that which he could not claim directly against the driver of the vehicle involved in MVA #2.

[58]         Section 10(7) of the Act also re-enforces this interpretation of s. 10(1) of the Act as it is clear that “no damages, contributions or indemnity are recoverable for the portion of the loss or damage caused by the negligence of that employer or worker…”  If no “damages, contributions or indemnity” are recoverable by Mr. Pinch against the other driver involved in MVA #2, I cannot conclude that the indivisible damages caused by the negligence of the individual who caused MVA #2 would be recoverable against Mr. Hofstee.

[59]         Section 10(7) of the Act is broad enough to exclude the ability of the Mr. Hofstee to claim contribution or indemnity against the driver involved in MVA #2: Storey v. Canada Post Corp. (2006) 55 B.C.L.R. (4th) 131 (C.A.) at paras. 42‑45.  It could not have been intended by the Legislature that there be an exception to the general rule that no damages were recoverable and that a claim for contribution was not available, but that the full amount of the damages from MVA #1 and MVA #2 would be available against Mr. Hofstee despite the fact that he would not be in a position to look to the driver involved in MVA #2 for contribution.  I conclude that the effect of s. 10(7) of the Act was intended by the Legislature to protect not only those who were immune from suit under the scheme created by the Act from exposure to joint liability but also those who were not in a position to call upon another tortfeasor for contribution.

[60]         I conclude that the Legislature has made it clear that the principles set out in Bradley, supra, do not apply where there is a statutory bar to recovery of what may be found to be indivisible damages.  Section 10(1) of the Act is but one example of the inability to recover indivisible damages arising out of a separate breach of duty of care.  A further example might be illustrated by a situation whereby proceedings relating to a first tortious act were not commenced within the limitation period and a second tortious act occurred.  In those circumstances, I cannot conclude that damages would be available where an action was not commenced relating to the first act, a subsequent act caused injuries which were found to be indivisible from the first act, and a claim was advanced against the second tortfeasor for damages for the injuries caused both by the first and the second tortious acts.  Just as a claim for damages for a second tortious act could not “give life to” recovery of damages for a first act where a limitation period had expired so also s. 10(1) of the Act has taken away “any right and rights of action” available to Mr. Pinch and any recoverable “damages, contributions or indemnity” that might have been available to Mr. Pinch as a result of MVA #2.

[61]         I propose to deal with the damages suffered by Mr. Pinch as a result of MVA #1 as if MVA #2 had not occurred.  However, despite finding that the damages suffered in the two accidents were indivisible, I will then assess separately those damages which I can attribute only to MVA #2.  I do so in order to comply with s.10(7) of the Act which requires that I determine “…the portion of the loss or damages caused by…[the negligence of the driver in MVA #2]…although the…worker is not a party to the action”.  While it may seem inappropriate to determine the loss or damage caused by the driver involved in MVA #2 where a determination has been made that the damages arising out of MVA #1 and MVA #2 are indivisible, where the driver involved in MVA #2 is not a party to these proceedings, and where there has been no finding of liability for MVA #2, I will nevertheless do so because that is what is required under s. 10(7) of the Act.

bc injury law, Indivisible Injuries, Mr. Justice Burnyeat, Pinch v. Hofstee, section 10 worker's compensation act