More on Soft Tissue Injuries, ICBC, and Expert Evidence

Reasons for judgement were released today awarding a Plaintiff $12,000 for ‘pain and suffering and loss of amenities‘ (non-pecuniary damages) for ‘a mild soft tissue injury which had essentially cleared within 3 months or so. ‘.
The Plaintiff was rear-ended in 2006 in North Vancouver. The court found that the impact was significant. The Plaintiff complained of headaches, neck pain, low back pain, mid back pain, left elbow and forearm pain and occasional pain shooting to his knees.
In what can be described as a very unusual occurrence, the trial proceeded without any medical opinion evidence addressing the extent of injury. The Plaintiff attempted to have his GP testify but the court would not permit it as proper notice of the ‘expert opinion’ was not provided per Rule 40-A.
The court admitted the doctor’s clinical notes into evidence. The Plaintiff then tried to treat these as notice of what the doctor was going to testify to. The court found this improper and did not permit the doctor to give opinion evidence stating that:

During the trial and following submissions on the issue, I ruled that medical/clinical records cannot be said to meet what was meant by the above-quoted Rule.

[12] In my view, the basis of Rule 40A is to provide adequate notice of evidence which is to be tendered by way of an expert’s opinion to avoid trial by ambush, to avoid unnecessary delays, and to generally permit trials to be run in an orderly fashion. Use of clinical records in the manner suggested by counsel for the plaintiff does not approach, let alone meet, that objective. Rarely is a concise and clear expression of any opinion capable of being gleaned from such records, provided that they can even be deciphered, which is indeed problematic in this case. Further, there is usually nothing in those records that might clearly identify what, if any, of the facts contained therein are being relied upon for any such opinion. Finally, clinical records often contain consultation reports which, while they may be evidence of their existence, most probably cannot be relied upon without proof of the facts or opinions contained in them. I am sure that there are other objections as well.

[13] To have permitted Dr. Marcos to testify as to his opinion on the basis that his clinical records amounted to compliance with Rule 40A would, in my view, have been impermissibly prejudicial to the defendant. In that regard I note that in this case none of the grounds enumerated in Rule 40A(16) had been met. Thus, I am faced with the task of assessing damages due to Mr. Murray based upon his largely uncorroborated testimony alone. I am obliged to be mindful of the observation of Chief Justice McEachern in Price and Kostryba where he said the following:

I am not stating any new principle when I say that the Court should be exceedingly careful when there is little or no objective evidence of continuing injury and when complaints of pain persist for long periods extending beyond the normal or usual recovery.

An injured person is entitled to be fully and properly compensated for any injury or disability caused by a wrongdoer. But no one can expect his fellow citizen or citizens to compensate him in the absence of convincing evidence — which could be just his own evidence if the surrounding circumstances are consistent — that his complaints of pain are true reflections of a continuing injury.

The court went onto award $12,000 for pain and suffering and $180 for special damages.
This case is a great reminder of the need to comply with Rule 40-A if you are advancing an ICBC injury claim in Supreme Court and wish to call expert evidence to give the court an opinion about injuries, causation, future treatment, and prognosis. Failure to do so can result in the court not admitting the evidence which can badly damage an ICBC claim. Here the court expressly stated that “although an opinion of a medical expert such as a medical/legal report from (the Plaintiff’s) GP may have provided a foundation for a factual finding of continuing pain and discomfort, I unfortunately do not have the benefit of such an opinion.
Another note-worthy result of this judgement is the apparent ‘cost’ consequences.
From reading paragraphs 25-29 of the judgement it appears that the lawyer for the defendant made a formal offer of settlement prior to trial which was greater than the judgement. In such circumstances a defendant can be awarded ‘costs’ for the trial. In this case the court awarded $4,400 in costs which would have to be subtracted from the judgement amount prior to the Plaintiff getting paid. In addition, the Plaintiff would not be reimbursed disbursements for the trial and would be responsible for the Defendant’s trial disbursements. After taking all this into account the true value of the judgement may in fact be $0. When considering ICBC claim settlement it is very important to consider the likelihood of beating ICBC’s formal offer at trial.

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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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