Buckle Up Or Pay the Price

Failing to wear a seatbelt can not only hurt you physically, it can hurt financially and I’m not referring to a traffic ticket.
A person advancing an ICBC claim who is injured through the fault of another motorist may be found “contributorily negligent” for failing to wear a seatbelt if it can be proven that injuries would have been prevented (or lessened) by the use of a seatbelt.
If a person advancing an ICBC claim is found contributorily negligent, the value of the ICBC claim goes down.
In these cases BC courts must apportion those injuries due to the failure to wear a seatbelt and deduct their value in compensating the injured person. Generally failing to wear a seatbelt results in reduction of the value of the claim by 15% – 25%, although the range of apportionment varies and can exceed this range.
When dealing with ICBC, it is important to keep in mind that failing to wear a seatbelt does not automatically reduce the value of the claim. It is for ICBC (or the insurance company / lawyer for the at fault driver) to prove that failure to wear a seatbelt caused or contributed to the injuries. Justice Fulton, the case Gagnon v. Beauliew, summarized the law as follows “In the case of this particular form of contributory negligence, the onus is on the defendant to satisfy the court, in accordance with the usual standard of proof, not only that the seat belt was not worn but also that the injuries would have been prevented or lessened if the seatbelt had been worn”
Also, there are some limited circumstances where failing to wear a seatbelt does not amount to negligence such as when a person has medical reasons making wearing a seatbelt unreasonable.
Circumstances excusing people from wearing seatbelts are the exception, not the norm so consider buckling up, failing to do so can not only add to your injuries, it can subtract from your pocket-book.

Who's That in the Bushes? ICBC Surveillance and You

A concern many BC personal injury clients have is the threat of surveillance when they are advancing an ICBC injury claim. Video surveillance is legal in British Columbia so this threat is real.
The thought of video surveillance is unsavory to say the least.  What concerns me, however, is not that ICBC may be conducting video surveillance, rather the misconseption that some BC personal injury claimants have regarding their behaviour and potential surveillance. I have been asked many times “Should I watch out because there may be surveillance” or “Should I limit my activities out in public because if I get filmed being active that will hurt my claim“.
My answer to this question is as follows: Video surveillance does not hurt a personal injury claim, overstating the effects of injuries does. It does not matter if you’re painting your house, lifting weights, or doing any number of physical activities that are caught on film. If you can be active and not aggravate your injuries that is a good thing. If, on the other hand, a personal injury claimaint tells others that they are limited and video surveillance shows otherwise, that could be very damaging. This goes to a person’s credibility. If a person is caught in a lie with respect to the effect of their injuries that will have a very negative effect on the value of an ICBC claim.
I like to assure people advancing ICBC claims that they need not live life any differently because of an ICBC claim or because of the threat of video surveillance. It is lies and lies alone that have the most damaging impact on a personal injury claim. If you are honest about your injuries and their impact on your life video surveillance should not be a concerning threat.  In fact, with an honest plaintiff, video surveillance should appear as nothing more than an unsavory insurance tactic.

Expert Witness Crosses the Line

Expert witnesses play a vital role at the trial of ICBC injury claims. Often judges or juries require the input of a qualified expert to help make sense of technical facts. No where is this more obvious than in ICBC injury claims where doctors give the court opinion evidence with respect to injuries, their causes, their treatment and prognosis.
Expert witnesses, doctors included, have a fundamental duty to be neutral and independent. It has been held that “expert evidence presented to the court should be, and should be seen to be, independent product of the expert uninfluenced as to form or content by the exigencies of litigation. An expert witness should provide independent assistance to the court by way of objective unbiased opinion in relation to matters withing his expertise.”
Experts owe the same duty to the court whether they are testifying on behalf of the Plaintiff, the Defendant or if they have judicially appointed. However, in some cases, experts hired by one side of a lawsuit forget or ignore their duty and engage in active advocacy. In other words, they go out of their way to fight for one side in the lawsuit. This is indeed a shameful development which does nothing but cloud the issues in a lawsuit.
When experts cross the line, they run the risk of having their opinions totally disregarded or declared inadmissible. A great illustration of this can be found in the recent judgment of The Honourable Madam Justice Martinson in which she declared that the report of a psychiatrist hired by the Defendants in a lawsuit was inadmissible.
She concluded that the expert stepped into the shoes of the jury while advocating for the Defendant. He “stepped outside of his area of expertise, commented on matters of general knowledge that the jury can determine, provided many opinions on credibility and made editorial comments, did not seperate his opinions from the fracts and assumptions he relied on, and engaged in advocacy“.
The judge went on to exclude the psychiatrists report from trial on the basis that he crossed the line and engaged in advocacy. In ruling the psychiatrist’s evidence inadmissible Madam Justice Martinson concluded that the doctor had a “lack of understanding of his role as an expert witness“.
Has ICBC sent you to a doctor that was not impartial and ‘crossed the line”? If so you can contact the author of this article for a free legal consultation.

"When Should I Go Back To Work?"

A frequent question I encounter as a British Columbia personal injury lawyer is “when should I go back to work?” or “If I go back to work now will I hurt my ICBC claim?”.
The short answer is that going back to work rarely hurts an ICBC claim. Working is a good thing. Plaintiffs in personal injury claims have a duty to mitigate their damages. This means that they are required to take reasonable steps to minimize their losses as a result of an accident.
Keeping in mind the duty to minimize losses, the question of returning to work is best directed at a physician. The answer it seems, comes down to “Hurt vs. Harm“. Returning to work can be unreasonable if doing so aggravates accident related injuries. That is, if the physical or psychological demands of a job actually aggravate accident related injuries then returning to work is typically not recommended. If, on the other hand, working with your injuries causes pain but your physician tells you to work through the pain as best you can tolerate then returning to work (or at least trying to) seems like a sensible option.
A personal injury claim should never motivate a person to miss time from work. Unreasonably missing time from work can actually hurt a claim. Returning to work while still injured, if medically approved, not only demonstrates a good work ethic but can also fulfill a legal duty to “mitigate damages” and that certainly does not hurt a claim.
Do you have questions about a wage-loss claim? You can click here to contact the author for advice.

Judge states that $184,000 jury award is "Inordinately low" for Chronic Pain Disorder

In reasons for judgment released today, the Honourable Madam Justice Loo stated that the jury’s verdict in a case involving serious injuries including concussion, neck and back injuries, depression and a chronic pain disorder, was ‘inordinately low’ and not supported by the evidene.
The plaintiff was a 28 year old corrections officer who sustained serious injuries in an October, 2003 motor vehicle collision when his vehicle was struck by a semi-tractor trailer that ran a red light.
The jury heard 10 days of evidence. During this time a series of unusual developments occurred (the details of which could be found in Madame Justice Loo’s judgment at paragraphs 12-16) which include a juror getting discharged as a result of an anxiety attack, a juror getting discharged for unusual behaviour which caused him to be hospitalized and the jury discussing the case prematruely and against an express caution from the trial judge not to do so.
After hearing all the evidence the jury awarded $32,550 for past income loss, $17,673.86 for special damages, $30,000 for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life, $75,000 for future loss of earning capacity and $28,205 for future care costs.
Madame Justice Loo felt compelled to take the unusual step of commenting on the jury’s verdict and did so in detail. This was apparently done with a view towards assisting the British Columbia Court of Appeal in a judgment that very likely will be appealed. After pointing out that this jury spent no more than 2.5 hours in deliberations, Madame Justice Loo held that ‘no jury reviewing all of the evidence as a whole could have reached such a verdict’.

Plaintiff Awarded $173,000 for Physical and Psychological Injuries

In a judgment released today by the British Columbia Supreme Court, a plaintiff was awarded a total of $173,442.92 for her damages and loss as a result of a 2004 motor vehicle collision.
The Plaintiff was involved in a fairly serious rear-end collision while stopped at a red light. The Plaintiff’s vehicle was struck by a tractor-trailer causing significant damage to the Plaintiff’s vehicle.
The Plaintiff’s injuries included a soft-tissue injury to her right shoulder, sternum, rib cage and lower abdomen, as well as a mysofascial sprain affecting the neck, shoulders, and posterior cervical spine. She went on to develop myofascial pain which her treating physiatrist described as a ‘complicated
chronic pain syndrome”.
In addition to these physical injuries, evidence was presented that the Plaintiff suffered from a Panic Disorder and a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of the collision.
The trial judge concluded that the injuries resulted in a partial disability which was likely going to continue into the forseeable future.
The assessed damages included $81,000 for pain and suffering, $22,700 for past wage loss, $60,000 for loss of earning capacity, $5,130 for housekeeping services, just over $1,000 for past expenses and $3,549 for future care.

$50,000 Awarded for Pain and Suffering in Neck Injury Case

On February 21, 2008, the Honourable Mr. Justice Wong awarded $50,000 for pain and suffering for a neck injury.
The Plaintiff was involved in a forceful collision on June 2, 2004. She sustained various injuries including headaches, back pain and neck pain. By the time of trial some of the injuries improved, however the Plaintiff continued to suffer from back pain and neck pain. Evidence was presented that she likely had damage to the facet joints in the upper cervical spine and that the prognosis for resolution of her pain was poor.
In addition to compensation for pain and suffering, the Plaintiff was awarded damages for past income loss, loss of general earning capacity, special damages, and cost of future care.

Alberta Soft Tissue Injury Cap Declared Unconstitutional

On February 8, 2008, Associate Chief Justice Neil Wittmann concluded that the Alberta Minor Injury Regulation (a regulation which imposed a $4,000 cap on auto-accident victims who sustained soft tissue injuries) is unconstitutional.
Justice Wittmann concluded that the cap on damages for soft tissue injuries”sacrifices the dignity of Minor Injury victims at the altar of reducing insurance premiums.”
In striking down the legislation Justice Wittmann held that the Minor Injury Regulation is discriminatory against victims who sustained soft tissue injuries and that this violated Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
This is a great decision as it restores the rights of victims of Alberta auto accidents who sustained soft tissue injuries to seek fair compensation for their losses from the courts. The decison has been hailed a success by the Alberta Civil Trial Lawyers Association who have urged the government to accept the decision.
The government, however, has announced that they will indeed appeal the decision. Justice Wittmann’s reasoning appears sound and hopefully will withstand appeal. However, nothing in the judgement prevents Alberta’s legislature from introducting new legislation which would limit the compensation available for pain and suffering for auto accident victims.
Only time will tell whether Alberta’s legislature will institute revised legislation capping damages for ‘minor injuries’ in a way that is not inconsistent with Justice Wittman’s interpretation of Section 15 of the Charter or if the government will allow Alberta auto accident victims with soft tissue injuries to have unfettered access to the courts for fair compensation. In the meantime, however, many plaintiff’s may now have access to the courts to receive fair compensation for their soft tissue injuries.

BC Court Awards $102,680 for Soft Tissue Injuries and Chronic Pain

In a judgement released on March 19, 2008, The BC Supreme Court awarded a Plaintiff a total of $102,680 for various soft tissue injuries that resulted in chronic pain.
The Plaintiff was a passenger in a mini-van that was involved in a relatively severe collision on January 11, 2004.
As is often the case in ICBC injury claims, competing medical evidence was presented at trial. The trial judge accepted the opinions of the Plaintiff’s treating GP and her physiatrist. It was accepted that the Plaintiff sustained significant soft tissue injuries in the collision. As a result of these, the judge concluded that the Plaintiff will be left with chronic pain that will affect her future employability, the number of hours she will be able to work, and the duration of her working years.
The Plaintiff’s damages included $50,000 for pain and suffering.
The case includes an interesting analysis as to whether a subsequent accident was to blame for the Plaintiff’s injuries and whether or not the Plaintiff did a reasonable job in mitigating her injuries.

MS and Trauma – Difficult to Legally Link

Two recent BC Court decisions illustrate the difficulty in proving a legal link between MS and trauma on a balance of probabilities.
In a unanimous decision of the British Columbia Court of Appeal pronounced February 20, 2008, the court dismissed the appeal of a Plaintiff’s claim in which the trial judge found that she did not sustain brain injuries in 2 motor vehicle accidents.
The trial judge found that “Ms Roeske has received a diagnosis of probable multiple sclerosis. She has multiple sclerosis of a remitting/relapsing type. All of her neurological signs, including her cognitive deficits, can be explained by multiple sclerosis. The later improvements in her test results in the areas that Dr. Amell found deficient due to brain injury suggest that her remitting/relapsing multiple sclerosis caused those deficits. There is no evidence that traumatic brain injuries can be relapsing/remitting in nature
On appeal, the court found no errors in the trial judgement and concluded that “The judge merely was relating the test result evidence to the diagnosis of probable multiple sclerosis. He concluded in that context the test results did not support a traumatic brain injury. The judge did not conclude Ms. Roeske’s condition was attributable to multiple sclerosis. He concluded she did not establish on the balance of probabilities that her condition was caused by the accidents
In an other interesting decision considering the potential link between trauma and MS, Mr. Justice Cullen disposed of an alleged connection by way of summary trial.
Mr. Justice Cullen was specifically asked “Does the Evidence Prove on a Balance of Probabilities that there is a Causal Relationship between Trauma, including Mild Head Trauma or Whiplash, and the Onset or Exacerbation of MS Symptoms?
Competing medical evidence was called making this a difficult issue to resolve. Mr. Justice Cullen thoroughly reviewed much of the leading scientific evidence with respect to this topic making this decision must-reading for anyone advancing a claim connectin MS and trauma.
In the end, Mr. Justice Cullen dismissed the Plaintiff’s claim concluding that “the question before me of whether trauma, including mild head trauma or whiplash injury, can cause the exacerbation of MS symptoms, was the precise question before the court in Dingley supra. As did the Lord President and the House of Lords in that case, I conclude that the plaintiff has not proved on a balance of probabilities that such a causal connection exists.”
The judgement went on to state that “In finding that the evidence falls short of establishing a causal link on a balance of probabilities, I also rely on the fact that a substantial majority of the relevant scientific community has rejected the notion of a causal connection based on developments in understanding the pathogenesis of the disease, epidemiological studies, reanalysis of previous studies said to support the link, and a weakening of the biological plausibility of the theory through studies such as the Werring Study and the Filippi Study. In the result, I have an advantage over the court in Dingley, supra, in knowing what the future held for the issue in the scientific community in the years following that judgment.”

Contact

If you would like further information or require assistance, please get in touch.

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.

“Work hard, be kind and enjoy the ride!”
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