Tag: adverse inference

Adverse Inferences When Parties in an Injury Claim Fail to Testify

Further to my previous posts addressing this topic, two sets of reasons for judgment were released recently by BC Courts addressing the law of adverse inference in the failure of parties testifying in their own injury claim.
In a recent Court of Appeal decison (O’Connell v. Yung) the Plaintiff suffered a serious brain injury as a result of a 2007 tractor-trailer collision.  The consequences of her injury caused her to “lack insight into her difficulties”.  At trial the Plaintiff did not take the stand with counsel explaining that this choice was made because “she was an unreliable historian and could not add anything to the truth of the evidence she would be giving”.  The Plaintiff’s case instead consisted of medical evidence and that of collateral witnesses.
The Plaintiff was awarded significant damages at trial.  The Defendants appealed arguing the damage awards were too high and further that the trial judge erred in not drawing an adverse inference from the Plaintiff’s failure to testify.
The Court of Appeal, while somewhat reducing the damages awarded for cost of future care, found that no error was made in not drawing an adverse inference.  Madam Justice Kirkpatrick provided the following reasons:

[16] I first observe that this Court stated in Jones v. Trudel, 2000 BCCA 298 at para. 34, 185 D.L.R. (4th) 193, that the failure to address the question of whether an adverse inference should be drawn is not, in and of itself, reversible error: per Southin J.A. Mr. Justice Lambert agreed that the trial judge made no reversible error and stated, at para. 52:

In particular, it is my opinion that the trial judge was neither obliged to draw an adverse inference from the plaintiff’s failure to call the witnesses named by the appellants, nor to give reasons for not doing so. If a trial judge is asked to draw an adverse inference from a failure to call a particular witness, then whether the trial judge ought to deal with that point in her reasons must depend on an assessment of the significance of the point in the case, and on the trial judge’s concern to deal with all the points that might be thought to be significant by the losing party. I do not think that any more general rule than that is desirable.

[17] The application of that general rule is dispositive of this ground of appeal. I will nonetheless address the arguments raised in this case as they are important to the ultimate outcome of the appeal…

[31] In my opinion, the adverse inference advocated by the appellants cannot fairly be drawn in the circumstances of this case. First, the defendants at trial did not ask that an adverse inference be drawn. Second, the medical evidence supports the judge’s conclusion that Ms. O’Connell had limited ability to testify. Further, the evidence suggests that had Ms. O’Connell testified she may have left a false impression as to the extent of her severe brain injury. As Dr. Hirsch noted, [AB V. 4, p. 573] “On the surface, she looks fine and she has intact social skills, however, she would not be able to look after her needs properly.” Similarly, Dr. Anderson testified that Ms. O’Connell is “easily influenced by others” and tends to say whatever they want to hear. In my view, Ms. O’Connell’s limited ability to testify would have complicated rather than aided in the assessment of her claims.

[32] The judge recognized the difficulty presented by Ms. O’Connell not testifying but accepted the explanation given by her counsel. Her decision would obviously be informed by her assessment of all the evidence.

[33] In these circumstances, I consider the explanation given to be adequate and would reject the submission that the judge erred in not drawing an adverse inference from Ms. O’Connell’s failure to testify.

Also of note is a recent BC Supreme Court decision (McIlvenna v. Viebig) wherein the Plaintiff was seriously injured in a collision with a vehicle.  At trial neither the Plaintiff nor the Defendant testified.  Both parties asked the Court to draw an adverse inference from the opposing side’s failure to testify.  Mr. Justice Sigurdson refused to draw such an inference and in doing so set out comprehensive reasons addressing this area of the law at paragraphs 68-74 of the reasons for judgement which are worth reviewing in full.

$50,000 Non-Pecuniary Damage Assessment for Chronic STI's; Adverse Inference Discussed

Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, addressing damages for chronic soft tissue injuries arising from a motor vehicle collision.
In last week’s case (Milburn v. Ernst) the Plaintiff was operating a motorcycle when it was rear-ended by the Defendant’s vehicle.  The impact “resulted in the motorcycle becoming embedded in the gill of the (Defendant’s vehicle); to the point that only half of the motorcycle could be seen protruding from the front of the car“.
The Plaintiff, although he missed little time from work, suffered soft tissue injuries that were expected to pose long term limitations.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $50,000 Madam Justice Fitzpatrick made the following findings and provided the following reasons:

[96] After having considered the evidence from Mr. Milburn, the evidence of his independent witnesses and the medical evidence referred to above, I find as a fact that Mr. Milburn suffered the following injuries as a result of the accident:

a)       he was bruised in the pelvic region, he had wrist pain and he had some cognitive dysfunction and sleep disturbance, all of which were resolved shortly after the accident;

b)       he had some chest pain in the fall of 2007 arising from his temporary use of crutches after the knee surgery;

c)       he had severe pain in his neck, back and shoulder, all of which were largely resolved by December 2007;

d)       the disc bulges found to be present in Mr. Milburn’s spine were not caused by the accident but were rendered symptomatic as a result of the accident; and

e)       he continues to experience discomfort and mild pain in his neck and back from time to time, which increases to the point of severity depending on his level of physical activity and his level of physical fitness…

[105] I accept the evidence of Mr. Milburn that he enjoyed an active and physical life before the accident. In the aftermath of the accident, he experienced significant pain and discomfort relating to his injuries at that time which, for the most part, were resolved by December 2007.

[106] Since the accident, he has struggled to deal with the back and neck pain that arises from time to time, particularly given his employment, which is physically demanding and at times, can be quite physically demanding. He has not, however, required prescription medicine to deal with that, which speaks to the severity of the pain that he experiences from time to time. In addition, his doctors have recommended that with a proper exercise regime and with care taken in the manner of lifting and other physical activities, he should be able to minimize the difficulties that he might otherwise have. This recommendation appears to have been taken up by Mr. Milburn in that he is now regularly exercising on his own.

[107] His need of physiotherapy for some years now has been infrequent, a sign that the need for more formal treatment has not been great, despite what he describes as “flare-ups” in his condition.

[108] Based on the medical evidence of Dr. Badii, which I accept, his condition is not expected to materially improve from this time forward and as such, it is to be expected that Mr. Milburn will continue to suffer some pain in the future.

[109] In addition, I find that the accident has resulted in Mr. Milburn abandoning some of his recreational activities, such as kickboxing, snowboarding and rollerblading. In addition, some of his favourite activities have been curtailed. His love and enjoyment of motorcycling is now somewhat limited to the extent that he has to stop frequently while on long rides. In addition, acting roles with stunt assignments are no longer open to him, an activity that he particularly enjoyed although such roles were limited.

[110] I accept that the accident has also affected his personal life in that he has some pain accomplishing more physically demanding tasks around the home. I note, however, that he continues to enjoy what can only be called very physical activities, and no doubt more enjoyable activities, such as weightlifting, ATVing, scuba diving, snorkeling and horseback riding.

[111] I find that Mr. Milburn is entitled to non-pecuniary damages in the amount of $50,000.

This case is also worth reviewing for the Court’s discussion of the ‘adverse inference‘ principle.  In the course of the lawsuit the Plaintiff obtained two privileged medico-legal reports.  The Plaintiff maintained the claim of privilege through trial and did not introduce these reports into evidence.  The Defendant argued that an adverse inference should be drawn.  Madam Justice Fitzpatrick disagreed and provided the following reasons:

[87] The defence also points out that in Mr. Milburn’s list of documents, he listed two privileged medical-legal reports dated June 11 and 12, 2010. These were commissioned by Mr. Milburn’s counsel but were never served or presented at trial. The defence submits that an adverse inference should be drawn that the evidence in those reports would be contrary to Mr. Milburn’s case. Cases cited in support include Buksh v. Miles, 2008 BCCA 318 at paras. 30-35, 296 D.L.R. (4th) 608; Bronson v. Hewitt, 2010 BCSC 169 at paras. 323-337, 58 E.T.R. (3d) 14; Bouchard v. Brown Bros. Motor Lease Canada Ltd., 2011 BCSC 762 at paras. 118-122. In Buksh, at para. 31, the court cites from Barker v. McQuahe (1964), 49 W.W.R. 685 (B.C.C.A.) at 689, that in a personal injury claim, the plaintiff “ought to call all doctors who attended him in respect of any important aspect of the matters that are in dispute, or explain why he does not do so.”

[88] In my view, this is not an appropriate case to conclude that an adverse inference should be drawn. There is no evidence that the authors of those reports even saw Mr. Milburn. If so, Mr. Milburn could have been examined on the point and copies of clinical notes obtained, such as was done in Bouchard (see also para. 35 of Buksh). Mr. Milburn’s counsel has advised that this evidence was not submitted because it was of no assistance to the court, not that it was adverse to the current medical evidence. In fact, there may have been any number of reasons why the reports were not submitted and while it is possible that they contradicted the reports of Drs. Behroozi and Badii either in whole or in part, it is equally possible that they did not materially add to those reports. As was noted by the court in Bronson at para. 329, an adverse inference can only be drawn if such testimony would be superior in respect of the facts to be proved.

[89] Counsel for Mr. Milburn is entitled to prepare his case, and obtain whatever expert reports that might assist in advancing his case. To suggest that any decision not to use an unidentified expert report leads to an adverse inference in respect of any case is going well beyond the general proposition relating to adverse inferences. The disclosure process is intended to provide opposing counsel with the means of testing the claim of privilege, not to allow such claims to be made that an adverse inference should be drawn in these circumstances.

$65,000 Non-Pecuniary Damage Assessment For Chronic Pain; Adverse Inference Discussed

Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, awarding damages for chronic pain following a motor vehicle collision.
In this week’s case (Azuma-Dao v. MKA Leasing Ltd.) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2008 rear-end collision.  Fault was admitted by the rear motorist.  Following the crash the Plaintiff suffered from chronic pain from soft tissue injuries possibly with “spinal facet joint or disk pathology”.  Her injuries compromised her ability to work in her chosen profession and, despite room for improvement, were expected to continue to cause problems for the foreseeable future.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $65,000 Madam Justice Humphries provided the following reasons:

[80] The plaintiff’s life has changed substantially as a result of the accident, and she suffers chronic pain.  From a fit, very active person, she has become withdrawn, moody, and deconditioned.  Her friends and her husband find her to be a different person, no longer active and happy go lucky.  She endures pain every day, but she works very hard at her exercises.  Her work with disabled adults was very important to her and required a fit strong body, which she no longer has.  Despite her withdrawal, she maintains a social life, but the activities she and her friends do are now more sedentary.

[81] I set her non-pecuniary damages at $65,000

Another point of interest was the Court’s discussion of the Adverse Inference principle.  In the course of the lawsuit the Plaintiff obtained and produced clinical records from her GP.  She did not call the doctor in support of her case.  The Defendant argued that an adverse inference should be drawn but the Court refused to do so finding that it was open to the Defendant to call this physician if they wished.  Madam Justice Humphries provided the following reasons:

[45] I will mention the issue of adverse inference at this point.  Since all of Dr. Frank’s clinical notes were provided to the defence and Ms. Azuma-Dao admitted the relevant portions on cross-examination, I am not prepared to draw an adverse inference against the plaintiff for failing to call Dr. Frank, who was of course available to either side and was in fact on the defendants’ witness list.  However, since the defence gained what they required on cross-examination of the plaintiff, they cannot be faulted either for not calling Dr. Frank.

$125,000 Non-Pecuniary Damage Assessment for TBI – Adverse Inference Discussed

Update March 21, 2014 – the Liability findings in the below case were upheld today by the  BC Court of Appeal
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Adding to this site’s ICBC Case Summary Archives, reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Victoria Registry, assessing non-pecuniary damages for a traumatic brain injury sustained in a BC vehicle collision.
In this week’s case (Meghji v. Lee) the Plaintiff was struck by a vehicle while walking in a marked cross-walk in 2003.  Both the Defendant driver and BC Ministry of Transportation and Highways were found at fault for the crash.  The former for failing to keep a proper lookout while driving, the latter for designing the intersection at question with inadequate overhead lighting.  The driver was found 90% at fault with the Ministry shouldering 10% of the blame.
The Plaintiff suffered a fracture near her left shoulder, left elbow, ankle, knee and a traumatic brain injury.   The consequences of these were expected to cause permanent dysfunction.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $125,000 Mr. Justice Johnston provided the following reasons:
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

[134]Mr. Lee struck Ms. Meghji on her left side. That caused a significant fracture to Ms. Meghji’s left upper arm, a less significant fracture just below and into her left knee and an injury to her left ankle, all of which required immediate medical intervention. There were also the soft tissue injuries that would reasonably be expected to accompany such trauma.

[135]Within a day of the accident, Ms. Meghji had surgery to her left upper arm that involved the insertion of a rod that was fixed by screws just below her shoulder and just above her left elbow. She also had a screw placed into her left ankle…

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

[270]Based upon the evidence of Dr. Ali and Mr. Brozak of the substantial change noted in Ms. Meghji during this time, as supported by similar observations from Ms. Chauncey’s and Ms. Wyeth’s description of Ms. Meghji’s abilities in her math class and as a teaching assistant before the accident, I conclude that Ms. Meghji has more likely than not suffered a brain injury in the accident, and that the combination of the effects of the brain injury and the depression and chronic pain disorder, which I also find was caused by the accident or flows from injuries suffered in the accident, are so inextricably intertwined that they cannot possibly be disentangled.

[271]In all of the circumstances, the defendants are ordered to pay Ms. Meghji $125,000 for non-pecuniary damages for pain, suffering, and loss of amenities and enjoyment of life.

This case is also worth reviewing for the Court’s application of the ‘adverse inference’ principle.  In the course of the lawsuit the Plaintiff’s lawyers had her assessed by a neurologist.  The neurologist did not tender evidence at trial.  Mr. Justice Johnston used his discretion to draw an adverse inference in these circumstances finding that the privately hired doctor likely did not have helpful evidence to give in support of the Plaintiff’s claim.  The court provided the following reasons:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

[240]In ordinary circumstances, I would agree that a claim of litigation privilege should be sufficient explanation for the failure to produce evidence from an expert who examined a party, and no inference adverse to that party should be drawn from the failure to produce the evidence.

[241]However, where, as here, counsel has assumed control of medical management of a plaintiff’s injuries, the circumstances are not ordinary.

[242]Dr. Grimwood would ordinarily have been expected to coordinate Ms. Meghji’s treatment, including referrals to specialists as he thought advisable. In this case, Dr. Grimwood appears to have largely ceded that responsibility to Ms. Meghji’s counsel, largely because counsel were able to arrange examinations by medical specialists much sooner than could Dr. Grimwood.

[243]Where counsel becomes actively involved in arranging treatment, or in treatment decisions, or in selection of treatment providers to the extent that it becomes difficult or impossible to determine whether any particular doctor is involved for treatment purposes, or to advise counsel, the protective cloak of litigation privilege becomes tattered.

[244]In such circumstances, counsel and the party who permit the line between treating physicians and physicians retained to advise counsel to become blurred must accept some risk that the protection ordinarily afforded by litigation privilege might be lost.

[245]Ms. Meghji testified that she saw Dr. Cameron for headaches. In the face of that evidence, I infer, from the refusal to produce evidence from Dr. Cameron, that any opinion generated as a result of his examination of Ms. Meghji was not helpful to the claims she makes in this trial. I also infer that, while examining for headache, had Dr. Cameron observed any signs that suggested to him that Ms. Meghji had suffered a traumatic brain injury in the accident, his observations or opinion would have been produced at trial.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

$90,000 Non-Pecuniary Damage Assessment for Headaches and PTSD


Reasons for judgement were released last month by the BC Supreme Court, Duncan Registry, assessing damages for PTSD and chronic headaches following a motor vehicle collision.
In last week’s case the Plaintiff was involved in a 2005 collision.  Fault for the crash was admitted focusing the trial on the value of the claim.   The Plaintiff suffered from some pre-existing difficulties including depression and anxiety.  The collision caused new injuries including pain, headaches and PTSD.  Mr. Justice Rogers assessed non-pecuniary damages of $90,000 and then made a modest reduction to take the pre-existing condition into account.  In assessing damages the Court provided the following reasons:
[32] Turning to the plaintiff’s injuries, the overall weight of the evidence paints a clear picture: before the traffic accident the plaintiff had some depression and she was sometimes anxious. The breakdown of her marriage and the emotional upheaval and fiscal uncertainty that flowed from that breakdown fuelled her depression and anxiety. Both conditions were sufficiently active as to prompt her to obtain medical attention. The plaintiff’s depression and anxiety were, therefore, present and active maladies before the accident. The plaintiff did not, however, suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or from pain in her neck, jaw and face, and the plaintiff did not suffer from migraine or neuralgic headaches. The plaintiff was not fatigued and her ability to function in everyday life was not limited in any significant way. After the accident the plaintiff does now, and will in the future continue to, suffer from myofascial pain in her face and jaw. She does, and will continue to, suffer from periodic migraine and neuralgic headaches. Her neck will be sore after physical activity. She will be fatigued and socially withdrawn. These changes in her life have deepened her depression and made her more susceptible to anxiety…




[34] That said, the plaintiff’s pain, headaches and post-traumatic stress disorder were not features of her life before the accident and there was no measurable risk that, absent the accident, they would have become features of her life. Likewise, the plaintiff’s difficulties with memory and concentration were not a problem before the accident. Although the plaintiff argued that these latter problems stemmed from a minor traumatic brain injury, I find that that they are, in fact, a product of the effect on her mentation of pain, depression and anxiety.

[35] On an overall assessment of the whole body of the evidence at trial, I am satisfied that the plaintiff’s claim for non-pecuniary damages should be reduced by a relatively modest amount in order to accurately reflect her pre-existing emotional condition. I fix that reduction at 10 percent of the total.

[36] I find that were it not for her pre-existing condition, I would have fixed the plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages at $90,000. I find that after subtracting the pre-existing condition, the plaintiff is entitled to judgment for general damages of $81,000.





This judgement is also worth reviewing for the Court’s discussion of principle of adverse inference.  The Plaintiff did not call her family physician in support of her claim.  ICBC argued that the Court should draw an adverse inference as a result.  Mr. Justice Rogers refused to do so and in dismissing ICBC’s argument the Court provided the following comments:
[31] I also accept the opinions of the plaintiff’s medical treaters. I am not worried about the lack of evidence from the plaintiff’s family physician. It was he who referred the plaintiff to specialists, and it was those specialists who diagnosed and treated the plaintiff’s accident-caused symptoms. The family physician’s evidence would, in my view, likely have consisted of little more than confirmation that the specialists were engaged and progress was made under their care. As such, I am confident that the family physician’s evidence would have added little new into the mix.

$160,000 Non-Pecuniary Damage Assessment for L4-5 Disc Herniation


(UPDATE August 8, 2012 The below judgement was modified in reasons for judgement released today by the BC Court of Appeal.  In short, the Court held the 40% damage reduction was not justified by the evidence and substituted a 20% damage reduction.  The BCCA’s reasons can be found here).
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Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, assessing damages for serious injuries following a BC motor vehicle collision.
In this week’s case (Bouchard v. Brown Bros. Motor Lease Canada Ltd.) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2005 rear-end collision.  He was faced in an awkward position when his vehicle was struck and he sustained injuries.  Fault for the crash was admitted focussing the trial on assessing damages.
Although there was competing medical evidence, the Court ultimately found the collision was a cause of a L4-5 disc herniation which required bilateral discectomies and foraminotimies at the L4-L5 and L5-S1 levels of the spine.
The Plaintiff’s symptoms of pain continued and he ultimately was diagnosed with a chronic pain syndrome.  The Court accepted that the Plaintiff would likely not work in his profession again.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) at $160,000 Mr. Justice Pearlman provided the following comments:
[117]     I find that the motor vehicle accident was a significant factor contributing to the herniation of the plaintiff’s disc at L4-L5, and the development of the plaintiff’s symptoms of severe and disabling lower back pain, and that there is a substantial connection between Mr. Bouchard’s low back injuries and the motor vehicle accident….
[155]     The assessment of non-pecuniary damages depends upon the particular circumstances of the plaintiff in each case. The factors that the court must consider include the plaintiff’s age, the nature of his injury, the severity and duration of pain, disability, emotional suffering, impairment of marital and social relationships, impairment of physical and mental abilities, and loss of lifestyle:Stapley v. Hejslet, 2006 BCCA 34 at para. 46, leave to appeal ref’d 2006 CarswellBC 2598 (S.C.C.). Here, I find that the appropriate award for Mr. Bouchard in all of the circumstances is $160,000.
This case is also worth reviewing for the Court’s discussion of causation and indivisible injuries set out at paragraphs 97-117 of the reasons for judgement.  The Court found that while the collision was a cause of the injury, that there was “a very significant risk” that the Plaintiff’s back problems would have developed even absent the collision and the damages were reduced by 40% to take this risk into account.
Lastly, this case is worth reviewing for the Court’s discussion of the adverse inference principle.  Following the Plaintiff’s surgery the Plaintiff obtained and exchanged copies of the relevant medical records.  The Plaintiff called various expert witnesses to support the case but the treating surgeon was not called.  The Defence asked the Court to draw an adverse inference.  Mr. Justice Pearlman refused to do so and provided the following helpful reasons:
[121] Here, there has been full disclosure of Dr. Heran’s consultation reports and his operative procedure report. Those records were available to the defendant when Dr. Hepburn prepared his second report of October 27, 2009. It was open to the defendants to interview and call Dr. Heran if they chose to do so. Furthermore, in my view, Dr. Hunt, whose practice is devoted to the treatment of patients with chronic pain, and who was directly involved in the ongoing testing, management, and treatment of the plaintiff’s symptoms from October 2008 through May 2010, was in a better position than Dr. Heran to provide an opinion on the extent of the plaintiff’s disability and his requirements for future care. Finally, I also take into account the explanation of counsel for the plaintiff that obtaining an expert report from Dr. Heran would have put Mr. Bouchard to additional expense, and would have involved yet another review of all of the reports and clinical records of those doctors who did testify at trial. For all of these reasons, I decline to draw an adverse inference against the plaintiff.

Prior Expert Reports, Cross-Examination and Notice


When a Plaintiff is cross examined in the trial of a personal injury claim can opinions from medico-legal reports from prior litigation be introduced into evidence without complying with the notice requirements set out in the Rules of Court?  Reasons for judgement were recently released by the BC Supreme Court addressing this issue.
In the recent case (Hosking v. Mahoney) the Plaintiff was injured in three separate motor vehicle collisions.  The first collision was in 2000, the second in 2001 and the third in 2004.
The Plaintiff advanced claims for compensation as a result of all three collisions.  In the course of the first two claims the Plaintiff’s physician authored a medico-legal report in 2003 addressing the extent of her injuries.  The Plaintiff settled both these claims prior to her third collision.
The claim arising from the third collision did not settle and proceeded to trial.  At trial the Defendant introduced the prior medico-legal report during cross examination.  The Court allowed this and further permitted the previous opinion to go into evidence even though the usual notice requirements for the introduction of opinion evidence were not complied with.  In permitting this evidence to be introduced Mr. Justice Warren provided the following reasons:
[171] I found the medical opinion of Dr. Gurdeep Parhar, the plaintiff’s attending physician for the first two accidents and the author of the medical/legal report of March 10, 2003, important and difficult to resolve with the evidence and submissions of the plaintiff that she had largely recovered prior to the February 2004 accident.  This evidence was entered by the defendant when cross-examining the plaintiff and was not rebutted or varied by Dr. Parhar who was not called to testify.  The court is entitled to draw an adverse inference when a witness who could provide relevant evidence on an issue before the court, is not called.  In my view the defendant was entitled to rely upon the letter and opinion of Dr. Parhar without providing the usual notice.  It was a report prepared for and at the request of the plaintiff and it was identified and portions adopted by the plaintiff in cross-examination.  The plaintiff had the opportunity to call Dr. Parhar or evidence to rebut the opinion or to object to its introduction prior to its use in cross-examination.

BC Court of Appeal Discusses In Trust Claims and Document Disclosure Requirements


Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Court of Appeal discussing two important legal principles in the context of personal injury claims, “In Trust” Claims and Document Disclosure requirements.
By way of brief background, in today’s case (Dykeman v. Porohowski) the Plaintiff was injured in two motor vehicle accidents.  Her matter went to trial and a Jury awarded $44,000 in total damages.  The Plaintiff was seeking substantially greater damages and she appealed alleging the trial judge made multiple errors.
The BCCA granted the appeal and ordered a new trial.  In doing so the Court made some useful comments about the above areas of law.
1.  In Trust Claims
Generally speaking when a person is injured through the fault of another and has limits they can be compensated for hiring others to help them with their limits.  If the help is provided free of charge by family members a claim can still be made and this is called an ‘in trust’ claim.
In today’s case the trial judge refused to put the “in trust” claim to the jury reasoning that injuries were not “grievous” enough for an in trust claim.   The Court of Appeal agreed that this was incorrect and that “grievousness” is not required to advance an in-trust claim.  The Court provided the following useful summary of the law:

[28] Since Kroeker, it has been settled law in this province that “housekeeping and other spousal services have economic value for which a claim by an injured party will lie even where those services are replaced gratuitously from within the family.”  In Kroeker, such recovery was allowed under the heading of ‘loss of future ability to perform household tasks’, but obviously, damages for loss of such ability prior to trial may also be properly claimed and recovered: see, e.g., McTavish v. MacGillivray, 2000 BCCA 164 at paras, 43, 51-7, perHuddart J.A.; West v. Cotton (1995) 10 B.C.L.R. (3d) 73 (C.A.) at para. 25; and Campbell v. Banman 2009 BCCA 484.  The reasoning in Kroeker has been extended beyond “spousal” services to services rendered by other members of a family: see Boren v. Vancouver Resource Society, Dufault, McTavish v. MacGillivray; Bystedt v. Hay, all supra.  Such awards are colloquially referred to as “in trust” even though it is the plaintiff who recovers them, and British Columbia courts do not generally impose trust terms in their orders, regarding the loss as that of the plaintiff: see Feng v. Graham (1988) 25 B.C.L.R. (2d) 116 (C.A.) at 9-10; McTavish, supra.

[29] The majority in Kroeker was alive to the possibility that awards for gratuitous services by family members of plaintiffs could “unleash a flood of excessive claims” (supra, at para. 29) and for that reason, urged courts to be cautious in making such awards.  In the words of Gibbs, J.A.:

… as the law has developed it would not be appropriate to deny to plaintiffs in this province a common law remedy available to plaintiffs in other provinces and in other common law jurisdictions. It will be the duty of trial judges and this Court to restrain awards for this type of claim to an amount of compensation commensurate with the loss. With respect to other heads of loss which are predicated upon the uncertain happening of future events measures have been devised to prevent the awards from being excessive. It would be reasonable to expect that a similar regime of reasonableness will develop in respect of the kind of claim at issue in this case.  [At para. 19; emphasis added.]

I do not read Kroeker or Ellis, however, as establishing a threshold of “grievousness” in terms of the injuries which may necessitate such services.  A plaintiff who has a broken arm, for example – presumably not a “grievous” injury – and who is obliged to seek assistance in performing various household tasks should not be foreclosed from recovery on this basis.  This was recognized in Ellis in the quotation reproduced above.  Thus I disagree with the trial judge’s reference to grievous injury as a threshold that the plaintiff was required to surmount if her claim was to go to the jury.  Instead, claims for gratuitous services must be carefully scrutinized, both with respect to the nature of the services – were they simply part of the usual ‘give and take’ between family members, or did they go ‘above and beyond’ that level? – and with respect to causation – were the services necessitated by the plaintiff’s injuries or would they have been provided in any event?  Finally, if these questions – which I would have thought are appropriate for determination by a jury – are answered affirmatively, the amount of compensation must be commensurate with the plaintiff’s loss.  The assessment of such loss has been the subject of several considered judgments in this province, most notably McTavish and Bystedt, both supra.

[30] The trial judge’s second reason for not putting the claim to the jury in this case was that the services which were the subject of the in-trust claim were not personal or household services but were related to the business operated by the plaintiff’s family.  As mentioned above, counsel evidently agreed that the plaintiff’s parents’ claim for ‘business losses’ had not properly been made.  It is not correct to say, however, that the plaintiff herself could not claim for assistance provided by family members in a family enterprise (see Johnson v. Miller, supra) or that there was no evidence of personal or household services having been provided by Ms. Dykeman’s parents to her.  The mother testified that she was “supposed to spend” a third of her time on the farm – in accordance with the partnership agreement in evidence – and had planned on going back to practice on a part-time basis.  Instead, she found herself spending at least 10 to 12 hours per week assisting in the business and babysitting her grandchildren when her daughter had medical appointments or migraine headaches.  At the time of trial, she testified, she was caring for her grandchildren “pretty well every day” plus assisting in the equestrian business.  The plaintiff’s migraines had become less frequent, but the medication she took for them essentially ‘knocked her out’ for 12-14 hours – during which Ms. Dykeman’s mother slept in the same room with her granddaughter.  The thrust of her evidence was that at least until her grandchildren were in school, she would not be able to return to practice even on a part-time basis.  Mr. Dykeman’s services, on the other hand, related almost entirely to “physical work” in the Freedom Fields Farm operation.

[31] In all the circumstances, it seems to me that there was evidence of household and other assistance provided by Ms. Dykeman’s parents that could have been the basis of an award and that the trial judge erred in effectively granting a ‘no evidence’ motion in respect thereof.  I would allow the appeal on this ground.

2. Document Disclosure Obligations

The second area highlighted in this case relates to document disclosure.  In pre-trial investigation the Defendants gathered a number of Internet postings apparently written by the Plaintiff.  They listed these documents as ‘privileged‘ and did not reveal them until shortly before trial.  In describing the privileged documents they labelled them as a “diskette containing an index to the Plaintiff’s web postings“.

The Plaintiff objected to these documents being used in cross examination but the trial judge allowed the cross examination.  On appeal the BCCA found that this was an error finding that the documetns were not properly described and this may have pejudieced the Plaintiff.  Specifically the BCCA said as follows:

[41] Applying these observations to the case at bar, can it be said that the descriptions reproduced above were such as to enable the plaintiff and her counsel, or a judge in chambers, to assess the validity of the claim of privilege?  In my opinion, none of the items was sufficiently described for this purpose.  Item 77, an index to the plaintiff’s “web postings”, could contain any number of “writings” posted on any number of websites, relevant or irrelevant to the case.  With respect to item 78, one does not know who wrote the “articles” regarding the plaintiff’s equestrian business or the date of such articles; with respect to item 79, there is no description of the “pictures printed out from the Internet regarding horse riding”, where they are from or what connection, if any, the plaintiff had with them; and with respect to item 80, there is again no description of the “articles”, who wrote them or when.  Counsel told the court below that the postings had all been written by the plaintiff, but even that was not apparent from the disclosure document.  Thus I disagree with the trial judge’s ruling that the postings had been adequately “listed” for purposes of R. 26.  (For a discussion of ‘e-discovery’ generally, see The Sedona Conference Working Group 7, The Sedona Canada Principle: Addressing Electronic Discovery (2008).)  If the defence had been more forthcoming, counsel for Ms. Dykeman might well have challenged the claim of privilege asserted by Mr. Harris – via the Form 93 filed by Mr. Gibb.

[42] Assuming, then, that the defence failed to make proper discovery of the Internet documents, the next question is whether it can be said the trial judge nevertheless properly exercised his discretion under the opening words of R. 26(14) to permit Ms. Dykeman to be cross-examined on some of those documents.  In Stone v. Ellerman, the majority stated that the factors relevant to the exercise of such discretion include the question of prejudice to the party being cross-examined, whether there was a reasonable explanation for the other party’s failure to disclose, whether excluding the document would prevent the determination of the issue on its merits, and whether in the circumstances of the case, the ends of justice require that the document be admitted.  In this case, counsel did not provide any “explanation” for the non-descriptiveness of Mr. Gibb’s list and argued only that disclosure hadbeen sufficient.  The trial judge therefore had no explanation to consider, even if he had been of the view that the listing was deficient.

[43] It is difficult to square the trial judge’s ruling on this second question with his prior ruling that the documents had been properly disclosed or ‘listed’.  If the latter was correct, there was no need to ‘balance’ the interests of justice in avoiding trial by ambush against the interests of justice in assessing Ms. Dykeman’s credibility by cross-examining her on the Internet postings.  Given that her lawyer had only half an hour to discuss the 124 pages with her, it cannot be said with any certainty that she was not prejudiced by what transpired.  At the end of the day, I am not confident that the apparent exercise of the trial judge’s discretion was fair to the plaintiff or rested on a correct understanding of the Rule.  I would therefore allow the appeal on this basis as well.

This case contains some other interesting comments which are worth reviewing, particularly with defence statements to the jury regarding adverse inference.  I urge all personal injury lawyers in BC to read this case in full as it thoroughly canvasses many areas that routinely arise in injury prosecution in this Province.

$60,000 Non-Pecuniary Damages for Accident Related Fibromyalgia

(Please note the case discussed here was overturned by the BC Court of Appeal in May, 2010)
Reasons for Judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, (Poirier v. Aubrey) awarding a Plaintiff just over $220,000 in total damages as a result of a BC Car Crash.
The Collision occurred in 2006 and was a rear-end crash.  The Plaintiff suffered from some pre-existing injuries but the trial judge found that the Plaintiff did not have a ‘relevant’ pre-existing condition.  Mr. Justice Stewart concluded that the accident caused fibromyalgia and awarded $60,000 non-pecuniary damages.  In arriving at this figure Mr. Justice Stewart noted the following:
there was no relevant significant pre-existing condition and the doctors may differ as to what label should be applied to the plaintiff’s condition – fibromyalgia, fibromyalgia-like syndrome, chronic pain condition – but the fact is that she suffers from chronic widespread pain that is, for her, debilitating and with respect to which the prognosis is guarded.  An “optimal fibromyalgia based treatment protocol”, including biofeedback, is recommended and there is a real and substantial possibility, bordering on likelihood, that her pain and discomfort will be relieved and her functioning improved.  (Exhibit 5 Tab B Page 6).  But no “cure” is in prospect…
I find as a fact that the plaintiff’s persistent, consistent and, ultimately, chronic pain and suffering arose only immediately after the September 5, 2006 motor vehicle accident.  The schism in the expert medical evidence placed before me was not as to whether the September 5, 2006 trauma was a materially contributing cause of the plaintiff’s ongoing chronic pain condition but as to whether it so contributed by exacerbating a pre-existing chronic pain condition or by simply triggering a chronic pain condition.  It is now a fact that there was no significant pre-existing condition.  The only available conclusion in the case at bar is that but for the defendant’s negligence on September 5, 2006 the plaintiff would not be burdened with the chronic pain condition that has been her lot since September 5, 2006.

[23] Soft tissue damage is the source of her problems.  I have kept Maslen v. Rubenstein (1993), 83 B.C.L.R. (2d) 131 (C.A.) in mind.  I find that the plaintiff is one of that small percentage of people, well known to the law, whose pain and suffering continues long after science would say that the injured tissue must have healed.  I have cautioned myself about the need to be slow to rely on what are uncorroborated reports of long-standing pain and discomfort.  But, on the whole of the evidence I have decided that her complaints of pain are true reflections of a continuing injury and are not a product of desire by the plaintiff for things such as care, sympathy, relaxation or compensation and that she has used every ounce of willpower she has to overcome her problems and could not reasonably be expected to have achieved more by her own inherent resources or willpower.  (Maslen v. Rubenstein,supra, paragraphs 8 and 15).

[24] I turn to the future.

[25] To use language employed by Dr. Jaworski, the prognosis is “guarded”.  Taken together, the evidence of Dr. Hyams, Dr. Shuckett and Dr. Jaworski bottoms the conclusion that what is now in place – an ongoing, positive, pro-active approach, to echo Dr. Shuckett – means that there is a real and substantial possibility that significant improvement is in the offing.  To date, the plaintiff has sought help in such things as prescription drugs, chiropractic treatments, physiotherapy, massage, acupuncture and trigger point injections.  Only now is the plaintiff in the course of an organized effort to both alleviate her pain and discomfort to the extent possible and teach her techniques and methods of dealing with and surmounting her pain and discomfort.

[26] I turn to the assessing of non-pecuniary damages.  The plaintiff has been burdened thus far for 39 months.  Her prospects are not bleak, but guarded.  The level of the pain and discomfort she has endured was such that her life apart from work has been turned from one full of activity to one devoted to rest and recovery.  She is not housebound.  She drives a car for up to 20 hours a week and makes herself useful in the lives of her children.  The level of her pain and discomfort resulted in this woman – whom I am convinced is not a slacker and enjoyed her job in the world of insurance adjusting – being off work for six weeks, returning to work at half-time for two months and, ultimately, stopping work after having her employer cooperate in every way possible to reduce the demands of the job so that she could continue working.  That speaks volumes about her condition.  Additionally, the fact she actually enjoyed her work and has had it curtailed as a result of the defendant’s negligence must weigh heavily in the assessment of non-pecuniary damages.  I have considered the cases placed before me by counsel.  To track some of the language used in Knauf v. Chao, 2009 BCCA 605, I classify this as a case in which there is a real and substantial possibility that the plaintiff’s soft tissue injury will prove to be “permanent” but the degree of pain and discomfort cannot be considered to be “the most severe in nature” when compared with that of plaintiffs in other such cases.  Taking into account not just what I have said here but the whole of the evidence and all I have said thus far in these reasons for judgment, I award the plaintiff $60,000 by way of non-pecuniary damages.

This case was interesting for Mr. Justice Stewart’s very specific reasons setting out why he rejected many of the defence positions advanced at trial and also for the Court’s discussion of the law of adverse inference for failing to call a treating physician in an injury claim.

ICBC Injury Claims and Credibility

Reasons for judgment were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Prince George Registry, dealing extensively with Plaintiff credibility in ICBC Injury Claims.
In today’s case (Willing v. Ayles) 2 Plaintiffs were involved in a 2005 crash that was described as a ‘significant rear end collision causing some significant physical damage to the vehicle occupied by the plaintiffs
The court found that both Plaintiffs sustained injuries and non-pecuniary damages of $20,000 and $35,000 were made for various soft tissue injuries.
The lion’s share of this 43 page judgement focuses on the Plaintiff’s credibility.  I reproduce some highlights of the courts discussion on this topic below.   Anyone interested in seeing how BC Courts deal with Plaintiff credibility in ICBC injury claims in encouraged to read this judgment in full:
[75] For reasons which will become apparent these statements are demonstrably inaccurate and untrue.  Of more concern, they appear to be repeated consistently to create a particular impression, namely that she was far more active before the accident and that her injuries had restricted her activities and resulted in a major weight gain…

[153] I am satisfied that both Dr. Haskins and Dr. McKenzie suffered in the preparation of their reports and opinions from information that was, at best, exaggerated and inaccurate.

[154] This factor alone diminishes the value of their reports and opinions but when it is combined with the absence of evidence from either family doctor the difficulties become even greater.

[155] Ms. Willing struggled to fill the void created by the absence of her family doctor by repeatedly offering her own opinions on a wide variety of topics ranging from the reason for notes found in Dr. Scott’s clinical records to the cause of her weight gain after the accident.  These opinions, though revealing, are of extremely limited evidentiary value and do not supplement the actual medical evidence before the court.

[156] In the absence of medical evidence based on a proper foundation I am not prepared to accept Ms. Willing’s opinions as to causation.  To be clear, I am satisfied that, above all, Ms. Willing demonstrated a remarkable capacity to blame the collision in question for virtually everything which crossed her path.  This included attributing her weight gain to the accident, her move to Smithers, and complaints of headaches with orgasm which appears to have surfaced on March 21, 2007, approaching two years post-accident, and that of lower back and hip pain after sex which appears to have been reported to Dr. Haskins on February 11, 2008.

[157] This penchant for exaggeration and attribution appears to have been passed on to her husband who, at least in the reports of Dr. Haskins, attributes the change from his job as a mechanic to a salesman to the after effects of his injuries.

[158] Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the evidence in this case arises again in the reports and the opinion of Dr. McKenzie about the plaintiff, Kristina Willing.

[159] This report is replete with qualifications which make it clear that Dr. McKenzie’s opinion that her reported complaints were caused by the collision in question were based on the fact that she had recovered completely from previous injuries and she was asymptomatic from the degenerative disc condition prior to the accident.

[160] Those qualifications include the following –

(a)      For approximately 10 years following her last pregnancy however she had no significant back pain;

(b)      She was involved in a previous motor vehicle accident with some neck and right shoulder pain.  By her history the neck pain completely resolved although she had some mild residual shoulder pain;

(c)      The degenerative disc disease almost assuredly pre-existed but was minimally or completely asymptomatic.

[161] It seems clear that Dr. McKenzie’s opinion as to causation, even couched as it is on the various contributing factors, is based on his acceptance of her evidence of her health and condition prior to the accident.

[162] Clinical records produced apparently from the Glover Physiotherapist Corporation (Exhibit 3, Tab 10) contain an intake form dated April 9, 2002.  The symptoms recorded include neck problems, headache and problems with her right shoulder area.  After the initial assessment Ms. Willing is recorded as attending for three treatments – April 16, 2002; April 18, 2002; and April 25, 2002, before apparently discontinuing physiotherapy.

[163] A second intake form on February 17, 2004 references an “old mva” and contains a similar pain diagram to that found in the earlier intake form.  This assessment goes on to record constant pain and a series of difficulties mainly centred on her right shoulder.

[164] On this occasion Ms. Willing apparently attended four physiotherapy treatments over a period of some 16 days from February 21, 2004 to March 9, 2004 before discontinuing her attendances.

[165] During the course of her evidence Ms. Willing was insistent that she recovered completely from these symptoms and that they had completely resolved after March 9, 2004.

[166] Coincidently her claim arising from the 2002 motor vehicle collision was settled on February 27, 2004.

[167] The third intake form is dated August 19, 2005 and follows the present collision.  The pain diagram in this case covers a somewhat larger area of the neck and upper back and includes the lower back.

[168] On this occasion Ms. Willing apparently attended on some 26 occasions from August 29, 2005 until April 7, 2006 before apparently discontinuing the treatments.

[169] Upon arriving in Smithers Ms. Willing began attending at the Bulkley Valley Chiropractic Clinic.  These attendances began on August 9, 2006 and concluded on October 18, 2006 after some 16 visits which apparently included two acupuncture sessions.

[170] On July 27, 2007 Alpine Physiotherapy in Smithers completed an initial assessment form which records, amongst other information, that she had just returned from a trip to France.

[171] The physiotherapist, Graham Pollard, notes in a letter dated July 14, 2008 that he has treated her on five occasions since her initial assessment.

[172] What is interesting about this entire sequence of events in Smithers, I hesitate to describe it as a pattern, is the gaps in what she now claims are necessary therapy treatments.

[173] When Mr. Pollard refers to five treatments after her initial assessment he is not speaking about the July 27, 2007 initial assessment, because after that assessment she did not attend a single physiotherapy treatment until she returned for another initial assessment on June 3, 2008, some eleven months later.

[174] Dealing initially with the initial assessment on July 27, 2007, this appointment took place immediately after the plaintiffs retained counsel to pursue the present claims.  The writs were prepared and signed on July 25, 2007, and they were filed and these actions commenced on July 26, 2007.  The next day she attended Alpine Physiotherapy.

[175] On June 3, 2008 she returned, was assessed and began a series of five treatments.  This followed her attendance at her examination for discovery some weeks before.

[176] Once again I am forced to conclude that this is not a pattern that supports the recital of symptoms and problems presented by Ms. Willing in her evidence.

[177] The adverse credibility findings in this case go to the heart of the factual underpinnings of Dr. McKenzie’s opinion.

[178] The absence of evidence from Dr. Scott and, indeed, from the time of the accident until Ms. Willing first saw Dr. Haskins leaves the court without any medical assessment from the time of the accident until nearly two years later.  More importantly, it leaves the court without any evidence from her doctor concerning the extent of her recovery at the time of the present accident.

[179] There is, in the body of evidence before the court, little in the way of objective evidence let alone convincing evidence of any significant injury.

[180] A medical/legal report or evidence from Dr. Scott may have provided a clearer picture and the basis for a factual finding of continuing pain and discomfort related to the accident; but we do not have the benefit of any such evidence.

[181] A decision must not be based on speculation, supposition or facts not placed in evidence.  While this may possibly result in Kristina Willing being under-compensated she has only herself to blame.

[182] The absence of evidence from Dr. Scott in this case fulfills the circumstances necessary for the drawing of an adverse inference.  The inference in this case is, that if his evidence had been called, Dr. Scott’s evidence would not have supported the ‘complete recovery’ scenario found in Ms. Willing’s evidence and on which, to a significant extent, Dr. McKenzie’s opinion is based.

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.

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