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Lack of Financial Means Defeats "Failure to Mitigate" Allegations

As discussed on numerous occasions, a Plaintiff who fails to take reasonable steps to aid in their own recovery can have their damages reduced for a ‘failure to mitigate’.  In considering weather a Plaintiff’s failure to seek treatment is reasonable their personal circumstances are taken into account.  It is well established that lack of funding can reasonably excuse a course of otherwise helpful therapy.   Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, further demonstrating this principle.
In this week’s case (Rozendaal v. Landingin) the Plaintiff was injured in two collisions.  She was faultless for both.  She suffered soft tissue injuries to her neck, shoulders and upper back which continued to the time of trial and were expected to carry on in the future.  Non-Pecuniary damages of $40,000 were awarded.
The Defendant argued that the Plaintiff’s damages should be reduced due to her failure to carry on with physiotherapy.  Madam Justice Holmes found that greater therapy indeed would have made a difference but given the Plaintiff’s circumstances her failure to attend was not unreasonable.   In dismissing the defendant’s arguments the Court provided the following reasons:
[66]         On the medical evidence, I find that Ms. Rozendaal likely could have improved to a greater extent and more quickly had she undertaken a focussed course of strengthening and conditioning therapy or training designed for her particular injuries, such as Dr. O’Connor outlined in his second report.  The various forms of massage Ms. Rozendaal undertook gave her relief from her pain, but, as Dr. O’Connor explained, passive therapies did not help rehabilitate the muscles which, ultimately, were causing that pain.
[67]         The question is whether Ms. Rozendaal acted unreasonably by failing to undertake the recommended therapies or programs.  I find that in her particular personal circumstances, she did not.  ..
[70]         As I find, Ms. Rozendaal’s life circumstances left her unable to fund any form of ongoing treatment or therapy.   From their early days together, she and Mr. Landingin have worked extremely hard to educate themselves for careers and to provide financial support and loving care for their young family.  It is clear from the evidence that life was not easy for them.  I have no difficulty accepting that other financial priorities displaced ongoing physiotherapy or active rehabilitation for Ms. Rozendaal, particularly since it seemed to her that massages from Mr. Landingin and exercises she did at home were just as helpful. 
[71]         As I find, Ms. Rozendaal was mistaken in this assessment.  However, it was only when Dr. O’Connor saw Ms. Rozendaal before preparing his second report (of January 18, 2012), and asked her to demonstrate the exercises she had been doing since he had seen her six months earlier, that he realized that he had not given his instructions specifically enough:  Ms. Rozendaal was doing light aerobic work and some gentle neck exercises, but no real strengthening.  Dr. O’Connor testified that because Ms. Rozendaal had evidently misunderstood his recommendation in the previous report, he described the recommended conditioning more explicitly in the second report.
[72]         The law does not require perfection in the pursuit of rehabilitation.  It requires instead that a plaintiff make efforts which are reasonable and sincere in the plaintiff’s own personal circumstances:  Gilbert at para. 203.
[73]         On this basis, in Tsalamandris v. MacDonald, 2011 BCSC 1138 at paras. 227-30, varied on other grounds 2012 BCCA 239, the Court found no failure to mitigate where the plaintiff was unable to pursue the recommended treatments because of life circumstances that included a pregnancy, the care of small children at home, and her inability to perform the recommended exercises properly without the help of a personal trainer.
[74]         I find similarly that Ms. Rozendaal’s efforts at rehabilitation were reasonable and sincere in her own personal circumstances.

bc injury law, failure to mitigate, Madam Justice Holmes, mitigation of damages, Rozendaal v. Landingin

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