Liability Denial To the Cusp of Trial Brings Judicial Criticism

While an at-fault motorist is free to deny liability when sued for damages (even in obvious circumstances) doing so can create bad optics and be met with judicial criticism.  Such a result was demonstrated in reasons for judgement released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry.
In last week’s case (Eng v. Titov) the Plaintiff was stopped waiting to yield to traffic when he was rear-ended by the Defendant’s vehicle.  The Defendant denied fault in the lawsuit and maintained this position until shortly prior to trial.  Madam Justice Allan found there was no good reason to deny fault for so long and provided the following criticism:
[31] Mr. Eng also experienced significant stress as a result of the defendant’s denial of liability.  To suggest that Mr. Eng could have been, in any way, responsible for the accident, is unsustainable. Nevertheless, although ICBC did not charge Mr. Eng any deductible for the repairs to his car, the defendant denied liability in its pleadings and maintained that position through its Trial Management Brief and up until January 19, 2012. Mr. Eng is a professional driver with a Class 2 licence and is understandably proud of his driving record and driving skills. As a professional driver, he is responsible for the safety of his passengers. He was upset and frustrated that he was blamed for an accident that he could not have avoided…
The Plaintiff suffered chronic soft tissue injuries and headaches following the collision.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $40,000 the Court made the following findings:

[26] Soon after the accident, Mr. Eng experienced severe pain in his shoulders and neck, restricted range of motion, and headaches.  Mr. Eng’s injuries have plateaued in the last year.  He still suffers from pain to his neck and shoulders and occasional headaches about once every month. The headaches still last several hours and he needs to sleep to clear the headache. Overall, his sleep is 90% improved.

[27] The plaintiff suffered severe episodes of lower back pain that lasted two or three days.  They have not occurred for the past year. His right knee problems resolved after about six months. His irritable mood and short temper have improved although his girlfriend and best friend still find him changed for the worse in that regard.

[28] While the acute phase lasted only a few months, his condition is chronic and unlikely to improve significantly.  His neck and shoulders become tighter when he is driving as he is constantly turning to look in mirrors. His level of pain and discomfort fluctuates but he is now used to a nagging pain which is always present and he has good days and bad days.  As Dr. Koo testified, a person with chronic pain has to adjust to “the new normal”.

[29] Mr. Eng is not disabled. He is able to do most of his day-to-day activities although the pain and discomfort fluctuates from day to day.  Mr. Eng is a stoic plaintiff and he should not be penalized for continuing to work hard at a stressful job that exacerbates his neck and shoulder difficulties.

[30] Dr. Koo agreed, in cross-examination, that Mr. Eng’s best possibility for an optimal outcome would be to quit his job and devote himself to therapy and exercise.  Such a plan is clearly impractical as he needs to work and take care of his son and his parents.  However, Mr. Eng agrees that his condition would likely improve somewhat if he returned to swimming and exercise and is prepared to devote some time to those activities…

[32] His continuing injuries prevent Mr. Eng from working overtime driving shifts for which he can bid from time to time.  Overtime is given to drivers on the basis of seniority.  However, Mr. Eng readily agreed that his responsibilities to his son and parents also restrict his ability to work overtime.

[33] Mr. Teed, counsel for the plaintiff, referred me to cases involving comparable injuries where the Court awarded $45,000 to $60,000.  On the other hand, Mr. Langille relied on cases that suggest the appropriate award would be $25,000 to $30,000.   Each case is unique. I would describe Mr. Eng’s injuries, which have not resolved almost three years after the accident, as moderate soft tissue injuries. They are chronic, ongoing – albeit fluctuating – and will probably continue indefinitely. On the basis of the evidence and awards in roughly comparable cases, I conclude that a fair and reasonable award is $40,000, taking into account the extent of Mr. Eng’s initial injuries and his continuing myofascial pain in his neck and shoulders. The fluctuating pain is exacerbated by his work activities and he is restricted in engaging in physical activities that he enjoyed before the accident.

bc injury law, Eng v. Titov, Madam Justice Allan

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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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