Tag: bc car accidents

How Much is the Pain and Suffering Worth in my ICBC Injury Claim?

One of the most frequent questions I get asked as a BC Personal Injury Lawyer is ‘how much is my pain and suffering worth?’.
This is an important question for anyone injured through the fault of another in a BC motor vehicle collision.  When negotiating with ICBC the playing field is typically imbalanced in that the ICBC claims adjuster has lots of experience in valuing personal injury claims.   Unless you are an injury claims lawyer you understandably would have little experience in valuing pain and suffering and may need help valuing this loss.  
It is important to empower yourself for the negotiation because in tort claims ICBC is negotiating on behalf of the person that injured you (the tort claim is, after all, made against the other persons policy of insurance). Practically speaking, this means that this imbalance in experience can work as a huge disadvantage, particulary if you think the ICBC adjuster is ‘your’ adjuster.  
With this in mind, here is some basic informaiton on paind and suffering and ICBC tort claims.  Pain and Suffering is awarded under the legal head of damages called ‘non-pecuniary loss’.  One of the best ways to value pain and suffering in an ICBC tort claim is to find cases with similar circumstances and injuries to see what damages were awarded.  When you find several similar cases a range of damages starts to become apparent and this range can serve as a useful guide in helping you understand the potential value of your ICBC personal injury tort claim.
Reasons for judgement were released today (Hoang v. Smith Industries Ltd.) dealing with the issue of pain and suffering in a BC motor vehicle collision tort claim.  In awarding the Plaintiff $19,000 for his non-pecuniary loss as a result of soft tissue injuries Madam Justice Russell summarized the law of non-pecuniary damages as follows:

[32]            The purpose of non-pecuniary damage awards is to compensate the plaintiff for “pain, suffering, loss of enjoyment of life and loss of amenities”: Jackson v. Lai, 2007 BCSC 1023, B.C.J. No. 1535 at para. 134; see also Andrews v. Grand & Toy Alberta Ltd., [1978] 2 S.C.R. 229; Kuskis v. Tin, 2008 BCSC 862, B.C.J. No. 1248.  While each award must be made with reference to the particular circumstances and facts of the case, other cases may serve as a guide to assist the court in arriving at an award that is just and fair to both parties: Kuskis at para. 136. 

[33]            There are a number of factors that courts must take into account when assessing this type of claim.  Justice Kirkpatrick, writing for the majority, in Stapley v. Hejslet, 2006 BCCA 34, 263 D.L.R. (4th) 19, outlines the factors to consider, at para. 46:

The inexhaustive list of common factors cited in Boyd [Boyd v. Harris, 2004 BCCA 146] that influence an award of non-pecuniary damages includes:

(a)  age of the plaintiff;

(b)  nature of the injury;

(c)  severity and duration of pain;

(d)  disability;

(e)  emotional suffering; and

(f)  loss or impairment of life;

I would add the following factors, although they may arguably be subsumed in the above list:

(g)  impairment of family, marital and social relationships;

(h)  impairment of physical and mental abilities;

(i)   loss of lifestyle; and

(j)   the plaintiff’s stoicism (as a factor that should not, generally speaking, penalize the plaintiff: Giang v. Clayton, [2005] B.C.J. No. 163, 2005 BCCA 54 (B.C. C.A.)).

How a Telephone Pole can be Responsible for a Car Crash

One thing that I find irritating as a personal injury lawyer is when cases with merit are mis-reported by the media and spun as ‘frivolous lawsuits’.
Yes there are frivolous lawsuits out there.  Yes some of the facts behind such cases are, to say the least, embarrassing for the profession.  But there are many cases with merit that at quick glance can appear frivolous but with deeper digging simply are not so.
Reasons for judgement in such a case were released today by the BC Court of Appeal.  In this case the Plaintiff suffered serious injuries when struck by a motor vehicle while crossing a marked cross-walk.  The trial court found that the District of Campbell River and the Telus Corporation were each 20% at fault for this crash for the negligent placement of a utility pole.  How can a utility pole be at fault for a crash between a motorist and a pedestrian?  I could see this getting spun the wrong way so I thought I would take the first crack at reporting this case.
The facts of the case are well summarized in paragraphs 6-7 of the reasons for judgment.  I reproduce these below:

[6]                Around 9:00 p.m. on 3 January 2003, in Campbell River, Robert Simpson was walking home from his job as a pharmacist.  It was dark and raining.  Mr. Simpson, who was wearing dark clothing and carrying an umbrella, stepped into a marked crosswalk from the south side of a wooden utility pole and was struck by a southbound pick-up truck driven by Mr. Baechler.

[7]                Mr. Simpson’s injuries were serious: they included a fracture of both knees that required surgery and will require future surgical attention, a fractured pelvis, an abrasion to the forehead, and a moderate closed head injury that has impaired Mr. Simpson’s functional capacity

A Claim was made against the driver of the vehicle, the City and the telephone Company (who were co-owners of the pole).  The Claim against the City and the utility company were that they placed the pole in a hazardous place in relationship to the road and the pedestrian crossing.  Frivolous?  Consider these facts that the Court of Appeal reviewed in upholding the trial judge’s finding that the City and the telephone company were partially to blame for this crash:

[12]            The utility pole was embedded in the sidewalk on the northwest corner of the intersection.  Its near edge was about 14.6 inches from the curb.  Telus Corporation, part owner of the utility pole, had installed a plastic pilaster on the westerly aspect of the pole, to protect some cables.  With the pilaster, the pole was about 18.9 inches wide at eye level and 23.6 inches wide at its base. (BC Hydro was co-owner of the utility pole.  Mr. Simpson’s action against BC Hydro settled and was dismissed by consent).

[13]            The pole had not always been embedded in the sidewalk.  It was originally west of the sidewalk, but in the process of widening Dogwood Street in the 1980s the pole’s base was incorporated into the sidewalk.

[14]            In 1996, Campbell River, the RCMP and the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia identified Dogwood Street between 11th and 13th Avenues as accident prone and problematic with respect to traffic operations.  An engineering firm studied the corridor, found that the pole obscured pedestrians from the view of southbound drivers, and recommended (among other things) the relocation of the utility pole.

[15]            In 1997, Campbell River authorized relocation of the pole.  BC Hydro agreed. Telus Corporation was opposed, apparently because its cables were an impediment. All of the other recommended improvements to the intersection were made, but the pole remained where it had been.

[16]            The location of the utility pole was a continuing safety concern for Campbell River.  It was recognized as a safety hazard by the City’s engineering services manager.  In 2001, a second safety review of the Dogwood corridor found that the Dogwood Street and 12th Avenue intersection had a low accident frequency and severity history, but that rear-end collisions occurred in the southbound lanes with “relatively high” “pedestrian involvement”.  A new plan to modify the corridor was approved.

[17]            The trial judge held that the T intersection at 12th Avenue and Dogwood Street had “long been considered dangerous among Campbell River residents (para. 6).  He also found that Mr. Baechler was familiar with the intersection (para. 40) and with its “dangerous nature” (para. 23).

[18]             In 2003, after the accident involving Mr. Simpson and Mr. Baechler, the utility pole was relocated about 3 metres away and the other Telus equipment reinstalled.  The cost of about $3,000 was shared by Telus, BC Hydro, and Campbell River.  The obstruction to visibility was eliminated.

[19]            Embedded in the sidewalk as the utility pole remained at 9:00 p.m. on the night of 3 January 2003, when Mr. Baechler was driving home after dinner with some friends, and Mr. Simpson was walking home after work, the pole continued to obscure the view of pedestrians on its south side looking north for vehicles and the view of southbound drivers looking for pedestrians on the northwest corner of the intersection.

In upholding the liability of the City and the Telephone Company the court gave the following reasons:

[52]            There was ample evidence to support the finding that the pole was a contributing cause of the accident.  There was evidence that the pole presented a hazard known to both Telus and Campbell River that they had failed to remove.  The learned trial judge found that had the pole not obstructed his view, Mr. Simpson would have been able to see and would have seen Mr. Baechler’s vehicle approaching.  Telus and Campbell River have not established any error with respect to that factual finding.  Mr. Simpson’s failure to see oncoming traffic when he had the opportunity to do so does not render “irrelevant” the fact of his view’s being obstructed by the hazardous utility pole as he waited to cross the street.  I would not disturb the finding of the trial judge that the utility pole was a cause of the accident.

When frivolous lawsuits are reported the cases are worth taking a detailed look at.  In this case there was compelling pre accident evidence that the pole “obscured pedestrians from view of drivers” and that this created a hazard with “relatively high”  “pedestrian involvment” yet to save about $3,000 this known hazard was not moved!  

Don’t always believe the headlines that summarize lengthy legal proceedings in a sound bite.  Surly there are frivolous cases out there but decisions such as this one show that things are not always as they first appear.  This case also illustrates that the discovery powers given to litigants in the BC Supreme Court can go a long way in uncovering blameworthy conduct which is not so apparent at first glance.

Soft Tissue Injury Nets $35,000 for Pain and Suffering in Rule 68 Claim

I’m on the road working on ICBC claims in Kelowna today so today’s BC personal injury update will be a little lighter on detail than usual.
Yesterday the BC Supreme Court released reasons for judgement awarding just over $82,000 in damages as a result of injuries and loss sustained in a 2005 BC Car Accident in Victoria, BC.
The Plaintiff was a 24 year old graphic designer at the time of the accident.
The court made the following finding with respect to injury:

[83]            From the foregoing evidence and my findings, I find that the plaintiff has established that he suffered a soft tissue injury to his cervical and lumbar spine in the accident.  Dr. Chan’s report does not attempt to classify the severity of the injury, but he did note the injury to be resolving at about two months post-accident, with a conservative treatment regime.  The plaintiff missed a week of work immediately after the accident, then returned to work half days for three to four months, and then went back to full-time hours of seven to eight hours a day.  He considers the last significant improvement in his condition to be about six months post-accident.

[84]            To date, just over three years as of the date of trial,  the plaintiff remains unable to work the additional hours per day to bring him to his pre-accident level of 50 to 60 hours per week, and continues to experience “flare ups” with pain in his lower back when engaging prolonged periods of standing or sitting.  Certain physical activities and sports that he previously enjoyed, he now engages in at a reduced level or has declined to continue with, for example snowboarding and mowing his parents’ lawn.  In my view, the evidence establishes a minimal ongoing impairment arising from the soft tissue injuries he sustained in the accident. 

Damages were awarded as follows:

(a)        Non-pecuniary damages:                                           $35,000.00

(b)        Damages for lost income:                                          $15,647.18

(c)        Damages for loss of future earning capacity:            $30,000.00

(d)        Special damages:                                                       $  1,845.36

Total:                                                                                       $82,492.54

This is one of the few ICBC injury claims that I’m aware of that proceeded through trial under the relatively new Rule 68.  Rule 68 should be carefully reviewed for anyone prosecuting an ICBC injury claim that may be worth less than $100,000 as this rule presents some benefits and restrictions in the way in which an ICBC claim can be advanced.

ICBC, Tort Claims and Admitting the Issue of Fault

Reasons for judgement were released today dismissing a claim where a Plaintiff sued ICBC alleging that ICBC infringed on her right to ‘freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression” as guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
This is a somewhat unusual judgement.  The Plaintiff was involved in a car accident in 2003.  She was apparently ticketed for her driving and ‘she felt alright with accepting total fault for the accident, because her car was in the pathway (of the other vehicle) when his car collided with hers.’
The other driver made a tort claim against the Plaintiff thereby triggering her policy of insurance with ICBC.  ICBC appointed a lawyer and defended the claim.  Ultimately the claim settled and the Plaintiff was indemnified for the damages she had to pay to settle the other motorists tort claim.
In the lawsuit ICBC denied that their insured was at fault.  ICBC often does this even if the Defendant is likely at fault for an accident.  The Plaintiff appeared displeased with this decision.  Some friction arose between the Plaintiff and her insurer ICBC.   This friction surrounded meetings between the Plaintiff and her ICBC appointed lawyer in preparing her for her evidence at an examination for discovery.    The Plaintiff was apparently concerned that her lawyer was ‘trying to influence her version of how the motor vehicle accident occurred‘.’  Ultimately ICBC sent the Plaintiff a letter informing her that ‘there is some indication that (the Plaintiff) did not meet a condition of your insurance contract‘.  The condition referenced in the letter was apparently the condition of an insured to co-operate with ICBC as required by s. 73 of the Insurance Vehicle Regulation.
This letter triggered the above lawsuit whereby the Plaintiff alleged ICBC infringed her Charter rigths.  ICBC applied to dismiss the claim arguing that the lawsuit contained no bona fide triable issue.  Mr.  Justice Halfyard agreed with ICBC and dismissed the claim.  In doing so he found that “I think it is arguable that the statement of claim could be amended so as to allege a cause of action for conspiracy to suborn perjury…In my opinion, no useful purpose would be served in allowing the Plaintiff to amend the statement of claim.  It is my opinion that most of the possible causes of action fail to disclose any reasonable claim, and those that might be amended so as to allege causes of action for intimidation and conspiracy to suborn perjury are bound to fail‘.
This case, while a little off the beaten path, goes to show that ICBC (in the course of defending one of their insured in a tort claim) has the right to decide whether the issue of fault for an accident will be admitted.  As Mr. Justice Halfyard notes, 
 It was counsel’s duty to assess Ms. Joe’s statement of how the accident occurred, and to then advise I.C.B.C. as to whether or not liability should be admitted.  Under the regulations, I.C.B.C. had the exclusive authority to decide whether liability would be admitted, in whole or in part, on behalf of Ms. Joe.  Many cases occur in which I.C.B.C admits 100% liability on behalf of insured drivers who deny they were at fault for the accident.  In the present case, there was nothing improper in defence counsel and I.C.B.C. taking the initial position that Mr. Knight was partly at fault for the accident.  Mr. Knight had apparently admitted he was not wearing a seat belt.  That position was also justified by Ms. Joe’s description of her actions, even accepting the statement she claims to have consistently given.  But counsel would understandably want to pin down the version of events that she would be giving on discovery, in the circumstances of this case.  That could never amount to an attempt to make Ms. Joe deny that she was at fault.  It was for counsel to predict what degree of fault should be attributed to her, based on her own statement and the other circumstances surrounding the accident.
If you feel you are at fault for an accident the best thing you can do is let ICBC know this in no uncertain terms.  If any indication is given that ‘an insured’ is not at fault for an accident ICBC will likely put the issue of fault into play in any subsequent tort claim.

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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