Tag: bc injury law

BC Injury Law Podcast – Pre-Existing Conditions and Your Personal Injury Claim


This is my latest in a series of podcasts discussing topics of interest in BC personal injury lawsuits.
Today I address pre-existing injuries and how these can be relevant in assessing damages in personal injury claims.
You can listen by clicking on the following link:  bc-injury-law-blog-pre-existing-conditions
If you want to learn more about pre-existing conditions and their treatment in personal injury lawsuits you can click here to access my archived posts on this topic.
UPDATE:  Since initially uploading this podcast the BC Court of Appeal released important reasons addressing injuries with multiple causes.  You can click here to read my article discussing this important case.

A Lesson in Math: Winners and Losers in Personal Injury Lawsuits


When a personal injury claim goes to trial there is a winner and a loser.  Who the winner is, however, is not always apparent by reading the Court judgement.  To know who the winner really is you have to know the behind the scenes formal settlement offers.
Reasons for judgment were released today demonstrating, yet again, the steep costs Plaintiffs can face when on the losing end of a BC personal injury lawsuit.
In today’s case (Smagh v. Bumbrah) the Plaintiff was injured in a motor vehicle collision.  She sued for damages.  Before trial the Defendants made a formal settlement offer for $20,000.  The Plaintiff rejected this offer and went to trial.  After 10 days of trial a BC Jury awarded $2,200.  The Defendant was awarded ‘costs’ from the date of the formal offer onward.  (You can click here to read my summary of the costs judgement).
On the face of it the Plaintiff clearly lost because she was awarded far less by the Jury than the settlement offer.  But the full extent of the loss is far greater than the difference between $20,000 and $2,200.  The Plaintiff actually ended up owing the Defendant money for this result.  How much money?  Approximately $40,000.
You can read today’s judgment in full to see the types of items a losing litigant can end up owing the winning side to a lawsuit and to see just how quickly a ‘costs’ award can add up.
Today’s case helps illustrate an important point I’ve previously stressed.  Before a case goes to trial it is important to fully consider the potential risks and rewards including the significant toll a costs award can have.  Without knowing and weighing these risks it is very difficult to make an informed choice about whether to settle or proceed to trial.

Pain and Suffering Without Objective Signs of Injury


The easiest personal injury cases to prosecute are those involving objective injuries.  If a person suffers a broken arm or leg in a car crash there is no dispute as to what the injury is or what caused it.  There may be some disputes regarding the consequences of the injuries but generally there is a lot of room for agreement in these types of lawsuits.
On the other end of the spectrum are chronic pain cases.  Many people involved in traumatic events go on to suffer long term chronic pain.  The pain can be invasive and sometimes disabling.  It can interrupt domestic, vocational and recreational activities, it can even negatively impact personal relationships.   Often the source of chronic pain cannot be objectively identified and people suffering from chronic injury face not only the pain but also the stigma that they are somehow exaggerating or even faking their injury.  This skepticism can take a further toll and add to the cycle of chronic pain.
These cases bring challenges in prosecution and create a sharp focus on plaintiff credibility.   Despite their challenges chronic pain disorders can be properly compensated at trial as was demonstrated in reasons for judgement released today by the BC Supreme Court.
In today’s case (Kasidoulis v. Russo) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2005 intersection crash.  Fault was admitted by the driver of the opposing vehicle.  The trial focused on the extent of the Plaintiff’s injuries and their value.
The collision caused several injuries to the Plaintiff which eventually turned into a chronic pain disorder.   As is sometimes the case there was a lack of objective proof of the Plaintiff’s injuries.  Dr. Travlos, the Plaintiff’s treating physiatrist gave the following evidence about the Plaintiff’s injuries:

[21] Dr. Travlos was of the opinion that the complaints reported by Ms. Kasidoulis to Dr. Kneifel, which included headaches, chest pains, neck pains; back pains and emotional difficulties were a direct result of the accident.  He was unable to identify any clinical or objective findings with respect to the back pain but was clearly of the view that Ms. Kasidoulis was genuinely experiencing the pain that she reported.  There does not seem to be any serious dispute between the parties that Ms. Kasidoulis’ pain is genuine and I accept that this is the case.

[22] In his second report Dr. Travlos concluded that Ms. Kasidoulis suffers from chronic pain disorder.  That pain was affecting her daily activities, both social and work related.  He was of the view that Ms. Kasidoulis would benefit from a long-term “longitudinal” course of treatment designed to permit her to manage and cope with her pain.  On the other hand, Dr. Travlos was clearly of the view that there should be no expectation that the pain would resolve and that it was no more probable than not that she will continue to have permanent on-going pain.

[23] In both his reports, and in particular in his March 2010 report, Dr. Travlos focused considerable attention on the necessity of Ms. Kasidoulis undergoing treatment and having access to the resources necessary to reduce the stressors in her life.  As I read Dr. Travlos’ opinion, he was of the view that if Ms. Kasidoulis is given the opportunity to access a reasonable long-term treatment plan and the resources to relieve her household responsibilities, she could expect significant improvement in her ability to function and in her ability to cope with her pain.

[24] Dr. Travlos was of the view that it was unrealistic to expect that Ms. Kasidoulis would ever be able to work full-time, but that it was reasonable to anticipate that she could work between three and four days a week if the therapies that he recommended were pursued and were effective.

Mr. Justice Sewell accepted this evidence and awarded the Plaintiff over $900,000 for her injuries and resulting disability including $90,000 for her non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life).

In arriving at this verdict the Court made the following comments about causation and compensation for chronic pain cases with lack of objective proof:

[36] As is not uncommon in cases of this sort, the critical issue in this case is the extent to which the injuries Ms. Kasidoulis suffered in the accident are the cause of the difficulties described in the evidence…

37]         This case therefore requires consideration of the law as laid by the Supreme Court of Canada and our Court of Appeal with respect to causation.  The law with respect to causation has been recently addressed and reviewed in Athey v. Leonati, [1996] 3 S.C.R. 458; Resurfice Corp. v.  Hanke, 2007 SCC 7 and Hutchings v. Dow, 2007 BCCA 148.

[38]         These cases establish the proposition that to impose liability on the defendant  I must be satisfied that Ms. Kasidoulis would not have suffered her symptoms but for the accident or, in other words, that the injuries she suffered in the accident were a necessary cause of her post accident symptoms.

[39]         I find that Ms. Kasidoulis suffers from debilitating mid and low-back pain.  This pain and attendant low energy have had a significant impact on her life.  I find that the symptoms being experienced by Ms. Kasidoulis are an indivisible injury which would not have occurred but for the injuries she suffered in the motor vehicle accident.

[40]         I base this conclusion on a comparison of Ms. Kasidoulis’ energy and capabilities before and after the accident.  I accept her evidence that she is suffering debilitating back pain.  I also rely on Dr. Travlos’ conclusion that Ms. Kasidoulis is suffering from chronic pain syndrome.  I can see nothing in the evidence which supports the assertion that Ms. Kasidoulis would be experiencing the pain or the level of disability she currently experiences had she not been injured in the motor vehicle accident.  I therefore conclude that the defendant is fully responsible for the consequences of Ms. Kasidoulis’ present condition.

[41]         I make this finding notwithstanding the lack of objective clinical evidence of serious injury.  I note that neither Ms. Kasidoulis nor Dr. Travlos were cross- examined with respect to the genuineness of Ms. Kasidoulis’ reported symptoms.  In his cross-examination of Dr. Travlos, Mr. Robinson did establish that there was a paucity of objective evidence of injury present.  I note, however, that there is no indication that Ms. Kasidoulis was in any way feigning the symptoms she is experiencing.  Given this fact and the fact that there was ample evidence before me contrasting Ms. Kasidoulis’ personality and abilities before the accident from those she presently possesses and demonstrates, I have no hesitation in concluding that the difficulties that she now faces would not have been experienced but the wrongful conduct of the defendant.

In addition to the above this case is worth reviewing in full for the Court’s discussion of damages for ‘diminished earning capacity‘ at paragraphs 52-65.  The Plaintiff was awarded $550,000 for diminished earning capacity despite being able to continue working in her own occupation because the Court was satisfied that the accident related injuries would prevent the Plaintiff from working on a full time basis as a teacher and instead would be limited to working on a part time on-call basis.

Settlement Approved in Woodlands Abuse Class Action Lawsuit

The Woodlands School was a facility operated by the Province of British Columbia until 1996.  It housed children and adults with mental and physical disabilities.
Two well documented investigative reports highlighted a sad history which involved systemic physical, sexual and psychological abuse perpetrated against these vulnerable residents.  The reported abuse included “hitting, kicking, smacking, slapping, striking, restraining, isolating, grabbing by the hair or limbs, dragging, pushing onto table, kicking and shoving, very cold showers, very hot baths resulting in burns to the skin, verbal abuse including swearing, bullying and belittling, inappropriate conduct such as extended isolation, wearing shackles and belt-leash with documented evidence of injuries including bruising, scratches, broken limbs, black eyes and swollen face.”
A class action lawsuit was launched in 2002 seeking compensation for the Victims of the Woodlands School.  Reasons for judgment were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, (Richard v. British Columbia) approving a settlement for the survivors.
The settlement allows each survivor who was abused after August 1, 1974 to receive between $3,000 and $150,000 in compensation.  (the reason for the August 1974 cut off is because people abused before that time don’t have the right to sue the Province of British Columbia as a result of a law known as The Crown Proceeding Act).  In all this is a class of 1,168 individuals.
The approved settlement does not award each member a specific dollar figure, rather it approves a system in which each class member can efficiently seek access to compensation based on a negotiated system which focuses on the nature of abuse they suffered.
This settlement is an example of a creative resolution to a series of very difficult claims many of which may not have succeeded at individual trials due to technical issues of evidence and limitation defenses.  This judgement is worth reviewing in full for anyone involved in or interested in cases dealing with damages suffered through historic acts of institutional physical and sexual abuse.
Mr. Justice Bauman concludes his reasons by congratulating the parties on reaching compromise in the claim which is a sentiment well worth repeating.

ICBC Claims and Medical Treatment; How Often Should I See My Doctor?


One common question I’m asked by people advancing ICBC injury claims is “how often should I see my doctor?“.  The short answer is “as often as necessary to properly diagnose and treat your injuries“.  Recovery should always be the main reason behind physicians visits, not litigation.
There is no magic number of times you need to see a doctor in order to be properly compensated for your injuries.  A person who sees their doctor 100 times prior to settling may receive less than a person who only receives medical attention a handful of times.  The severity and duration of injuries are some of the most important factors when valuing loss, not the number of medical treatments.  Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, highlighting this.
In today’s case (Co v. Watson) the Plaintiff was involved in a “T-Bone” collision in 2006.  Fault was admitted by the offending motorist.  The trial focused on the value of the Plaintiff’s ICBC claim.   Mr. Justice Burnyeat found that the Plaintiff suffered from shoulder pain, back pain, neck pain and some sleep disturbance.  Some of the injuries improved prior to trial while other symptoms continued to bother the Plaintiff.
The Defendant argued that since the Plaintiff did not “regularly” attend to be treated by her GP that the Court should be weary of the Plaintiff’s credibility.  Mr. Justice Burnyeat rejected this argument and went on to award the Plaintiff $27,500 for her non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life).  In addressing the topic of frequency of medical treatment the Court stated as follows:

[26]         Ms. Co did not regularly attend to be treated by Dr. Porten.  The credibility of Ms. Co was put in questions by Mr. Watson as a result.  In this regard, I adopt the following statement made in Mayenburg, supra, where Myers J. stated:

The defendants challenge the credibility of Ms. Mayenburg. They point to the limited number of times she visited physicians to complain about her pain. They also refer to the fact that she did not raise the issue of her injuries when she visited Dr. Ducholke on several occasions for other unrelated matters.

I do not accept those submissions, which have been made and rejected in several other cases: see Myers v. Leng, 2006 BCSC 1582 and Travis v. Kwon, 2009 BCSC 63. Ms. Mayenburg is to be commended for getting on with her life, rather than seeing physicians in an attempt to build a record for this litigation. Furthermore, I fail to see how a plaintiff-patient who sees a doctor for something unrelated to an accident can be faulted for not complaining about the accident-related injuries at the same time. Dr. Ducholke testified how her time with patients was limited.

In summary, Ms. Mayenburg’s complaints to her doctors were not so minimal as to cast doubt on her credibility.

(at paras. 36-38).

[27]         Taking into account the injuries suffered by Ms. Co as a result of the accident and the duration of the suffering relating to those injuries, I assess the general damages of Ms. Co at $27,500.00.

Unreasonable Search and Seizure, the Charter of Rights, and Civil Suits for Damages


Although the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms has been in force for almost 30 years the legal remedies available to Canadians for having their Charter rights violated are still developing.  One question that needs to be definitively answered is whether Canadians are entitled to damages in civil suits for having their Charter Rights violated.
Reasons for judgement are expected to be delivered shortly by the Supreme Court of Canada giving guidance in this important area of law.   In the soon to be released decision (Ward v. British Columbia) the Plaintiff was arrested and strip searched.  He successfully sued with the trial judge finding that the strip search violated the Plaintiff’s Charter rights and awarded him damages for this.  Both parties appealed and in a split decision the BC Court of Appeal upheld the award of damages for Charter Breach with the majority finding as follows:

[64]           I do not suggest that an award of damages is the appropriate remedy in all cases in which a government actor has breached a person’s Charter rights.  Section 24(1) vests the court with a broad judicial discretion to grant “such remedy as the court considers appropriate and just in the circumstances.”  Appropriate and just remedies must be determined judicially from case to case.  In the present case, I would not interfere with the trial judge’s exercise of discretion to award damages for the unreasonable search.

If the Supreme Court of Canada upholds this judicial discretion a very meaningful remedy will be available for individuals who have their Charter rights breached by Government bodies.
With this background in mind I want to share some thoughts on various Canadian Police Departments and their policies to conduct warrantless searches of individuals at public events.
At any large gathering (The Olympics, Canada Day celebrations, the G20, the Vancouver Celebration of Light to name a few) many people come together in one spot.  Most are well intentioned, some are not.  Alcohol often fuels poor behaviour.  Police have the difficult job of controlling the crowds.
Sometimes the police, however well intentioned, go further than their powers allow and conduct random, warrantless and potentially unlawful searches of individuals.  Such a policy was put in place by the Victoria Police Department for the 2010 Canada Day Celebrations as was recently highlighted by the BC Civil Liberties Association.
In short the police planned on conducting numerous warantless searches of individuals in an effort to control how much alcohol was being brought into the downtown core during the celebrations.  While there may be mixed feelings about this by many members of the public if the Supreme Court of Canada upholds the ability of Courts to award damages for violations of Charter rights the Victoria Police Departments actions can expose the City to numerous claims.
Clarity will be welcome and I will continue to monitor this interesting area of the law as it develops.  In the meantime police departments throughout Canada ought to take into serious consideration the fact that their policies when policing large events may expose them to significant lawsuits for damages if they choose not to respect individuals rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Instead of conducting wide scale warrantless searches it may be wise to follow the recommendation of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP who in 2008 concluded that “until such time that the required legislative bases are put in place, the RCMP’s participation in preventative and early interdiction liquor strategies in BC be limited to police presence and that searches only be conducted when the RCMP members have the requisite grounds under the applicable legal authority“.

Non-Pecuniary Damage Awards Discussed for Chronic Pain with Pre-Existing Depression


Pre-existing medical difficulties can and do play a role in the process of awarding a Plaintiff damages for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life (non-pecuniary damages).  Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, discussing this area of law.
In today’s case (Beaudry v. Kishigweb) the Plaintiff’s vehicle was rear-ended by a 1/2 ton pick-up truck.  Fault was admitted for the crash.   The Plaintiff sustained a variety of soft tissue injuries affecting her neck, upper back and lower back.  These went on to cause chronic pain and headaches and the Plaintiff never fully recovered from the consequences of her injuries.
Prior to the accident the Plaintiff suffered from some medical difficulties and these included a chronic low grade depression.  Her pre-accident health made her more vulnerable to having a poor outcome following the accident.  The Defendant, who basically conceded that the Plaintiff did suffer from chronic pain as a result of the collision, argued that “whether or not the Plaintiff was a vulnerable individual (as a result of pre-existing conditions), she cannot be put back to a better position than she would have been had the accident not occurred“.
The Court went on to find that the accident did cause chronic pain which was not resolved at the time of trial.  The Court further found that the chronic pain would continue into the future, however, it would not prevent the Plaintiff from working full time or from carrying out her household responsibilities.  In awarding the Plaintiff $85,000 for her non-pecuniary damages Mr. Justice Rice made the following comments about damages for non-pecuniary loss for chronic pain with pre-existing difficulties:

[25]         The difficulty of assessing damages for soft-tissue injuries where the plaintiff has a complicated psychological and behavioural background is described in Rod v. Greco, 2003 BCSC 935, at para. 35:

As to physical injuries, because of the mechanics of the motor vehicle accident [the plaintiff’s vehicle was rear-ended] some must have been sustained by the plaintiff.  However, the complex psychological and behavioural history both pre and post accident outlined above made it difficult to identify them with any precision.

[34]         With the virtual admission by the defendants that the plaintiff now suffers from chronic pain, I must first of all decide what the condition of the plaintiff was just before the accident.  Clearly she was not in the best of shape and that must be taken into account.  She was susceptible to pain and worse, depression, some of which could be said was the result of lifestyle mistakes made in the past.  Having recovered from most of those, I agree that it is not fair to reduce what she would otherwise receive simply on the basis of a greater susceptibility because of her past.  On the other hand, to the extent that those past experiences would have revisited her earlier in life than is normal, account must be taken of that too.

[35]         Considering the whole of the evidence, I find that, indeed, the plaintiff suffers chronic pain as a result of the collision.  I award her $85,000 in non-pecuniary damages.

How Do BC Courts Determine Fault for a Crash?: The "But For" Test


When suing someone for damages as a result of a BC motor vehicle collision it is important to understand how our Courts establish who is at fault.
BC Courts must, in most circumstances, use the “but for” test.  In the most basic terms, a driver has to exhibit some level of carelessness.  From there a Judge (or Jury) must ask themselves if “but for the carelessness the collision would not have occurred“.  If the answer is yes then the careless party must be found, at least partially, to blame for the accident.  This week the BC Court of Appeal discussed this area of law.
In this week’s case (Skinner v. Fu) the Defendant was driving a vehicle on a well travelled BC highway and came to a stop because a dead animal was in his lane.  It was dark and the Defendant remained stopped for a period of time.  The speed limit was 90 kilometers per hour.  He did not activate his brake lights or emergency flashers.  The Plaintiff, approaching from the same direction of travel, failed to realize that the Defendant’s vehicle was stationary and this resulted in a rear-end collision.
The Plaintiff sued for damages.  His claim was dismissed at trial with the Judge holding that while the Defendant was careless his carelessness was not the ‘proximate cause‘ of the crash.  (You can click here to read article discussing the trial judgement) The Plaintiff appealed and succeeded.  The BC High Court ordered a new trial finding that the trial Judge failed to use the “but for” test in determining fault.  In ordering a new trial the BC Court of Appeal set out the following useful discussion on the issue of fault for BC Motor Vehicle Collisions:

[16]         I now turn to the legal test to establish causation.  In Resurfice Corp. v. Hanke, [2007] 1 S.C.R. 333, 2007 SCC 7, the Supreme Court of Canada reaffirmed that the default test to establish causation in a negligence analysis remains the “but for” test.  The question is whether, but for the defendant’s breach of the standard of care, would the plaintiff have suffered damage?  At para. 21 of Resurfice, the Chief Justice said:

First, the basic test for determining causation remains the “but for” test.  This applies to multi-cause injuries.  The plaintiff bears the burden of showing that “but for” the negligent act or omission of each defendant, the injury would not have occurred.  Having done this, contributory negligence may be apportioned, as permitted by statute.

[17]         The Supreme Court’s articulation of the “but for” test might usefully be contrasted with the judge’s analysis, in this case, in which he posed the following question at para. 9:

… In determining the issue of liability for the accident, I must determine whether the negligence of the defendant was the proximate cause or materially contributed to the occurrence of the collision.

[18]         In my view the judge erred in the way he framed the analysis.  “Proximate cause” or “effective cause” are sometimes confusing terms.

[19]         The use and misuse of the term “proximate cause” was discussed by Smith J.A. in Chambers v. Goertz, 2009 BCCA 358, 275 B.C.A.C. 68 at para. 29:

“Proximate cause” is a phrase ill-suited to the task of identifying culpable causes in negligence.  It implies that the law recognizes only one cause and that this sole cause must be close in time and space to the event.  As I have explained, these implications are not correct – every event has multiple historical factual causes.  The phrase “proximate cause” is most often used in tort law synonymously with “remoteness”, that is, “to inject some degree of restraint on the potential reach of causation”: R. v. Goldhart, at para. 36.  It suggests a limit on the scope of liability.  There is also a doctrine of proximate cause in insurance law, where the term has been used to signify the main or dominant or effective cause of a loss, since the insurer has contracted to pay for the loss only if, or unless, it was caused by an event specified in the insurance policy.  It must be noted that the term’s usefulness in insurance law has also been questioned: see C.C.R. Fishing Ltd. v. British Reserve Insurance Co., [1990] 1 S.C.R. 814 at 823, 69 D.L.R. (4th) 112, [1990] 3 W.W.R. 501; Derksen v. 539938 Ontario Ltd., 2001 SCC 72, [2001] 3 S.C.R. 398 at para. 36, 205 D.L.R. (4th) 1.

[20]         The judge’s use of the term “proximate cause” in this case, diverted the analysis from the correct approach, the “but for” test.  The judge must have employed a last clear chance analysis when he used the term “proximate”.  That term implies a finding of no liability based on a determination that the appellant could have entirely avoided the accident if only he had been more attentive to the road ahead of him.  The judge found that the defendant was negligent.  Indeed he could hardly have found otherwise.  The respondent did create an unreasonable risk of harm by remaining stationary in the way he did.

[21]         The judgment in Resurfice Corp. v. Hanke refines the test of causation and reminds us that the defendant’s breach of the standard of care need only be a cause of the plaintiff’s injury and not the sole cause (see also Athey v. Leonati, [1996] 3 S.C.R. 458).  There may exist other causes that materially contributed to the injury, but that does not relieve the defendant of liability.  In such circumstances, relief from liability follows only if the defendant’s breach of his standard of care did not materially contribute to the plaintiff’s injury.  The analysis should be focused on the question: “but for” the defendant’s breach of the standard of care, would the plaintiff have suffered damage?  Here the judge did use the term “materially contributed” at paragraph 9, as set out above, but I conclude that he used the term synonymously with “proximate cause”.  I reach this conclusion because he did not analyze the facts consistently with the Athey material contribution test but rather in the proximate or only one cause analysis that was criticized in Chambers.

[22]         In summary, it is my view that the judge erred by focusing his inquiry on the conduct of the appellant to the exclusion of the admitted negligence of the respondent.  That inquiry properly was one of apportionment, but the judge neglected the essential underlying inquiry into the respondent’s negligence, and whether it was connected causally to the appellant’s injury (Resurfice at para. 23).  The judge erred in failing to consider whether the respondent’s conduct created an unreasonable risk of harm and secondly, in failing to apply the “but for” analysis.  If he had done so, he would have had to conclude that the respondent’s breach of the reasonable standard of care was a cause of the accident.

[23]         This is not to say that there is anything wrong with the generally accepted rule that following drivers will usually be at fault for failing to avoid a collision with a vehicle that has stopped quickly in front (Ayers v. Singh, 85 B.C.A.C. 307, [1997] B.C.J. No. 350).  Normally a sudden stop does not create an unreasonable risk of harm.  However, here the respondent’s act of remaining stationary, in the dark, on a well-traveled highway, where the speed limit was 90 kilometres per hour, without activating either brake lights or emergency flashers, did create an unreasonable risk of harm as that term was used by the Chief Justice in Lawrence.

[24]         I would order a new trial because the necessary findings of fact that would enable this court to determine, and if necessary apportion, fault have not been made.

If you are thinking of bringing a claim for compensation for personal injuries you should first ask yourself “did the other party do something wrong?”.  From there you need to ask “but for that wrongful act, the injury would not have occurred?“.  If the answer is yes then you have a theory on which to advance your case.

More on ICBC Injury Claims and Plaintiff Credibility

As I’ve previously written, Plaintiff credibility plays an important role in most personal injury lawsuits.  This is particularly true in soft tissue injury cases.  Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court highlighting the impact that an adverse finding of credibility can have on a claim.
In today’s case (Sarowa v. Gill) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2006 motor vehicle collision in the lower mainland.  The defendant lost control of his vehicle and entered the Plaintiff’s lane of travel causing an impact which resulted in “significant damage” to the Plaintiff’s vehicle.  Fault was admitted focusing the trial on the value of the Plaintiff’s personal injury claim.
The Plaintiff gave evidence that that she suffered various soft tissue injuries which continued to bother her by the time of trial.  This was supported by the evidence of a physiatrist.  However, the Physiatrists evidence was not accepted by the Court because of  “deficiencies, omissions, and factual errors in (the doctor’s) report“.
Instead the Court preferred the evidence of Dr. Boyle, an orthopaedic surgeon ICBC arranged for the Plaintiff to see.  Dr. Boyle’s evidence included the following damaging observations:
Dr. Boyle’s opinion was that she had suffered a myofascial strain of the cervical and lumbar muscles as a result of the accident, but that the injury was mild.  He observed Ms. Sarowa to display exaggerated “pain behaviour” throughout the interview and examination.  He noted that she moaned, groaned and grimaced.  He said that patients who are in pain generally avoid a lot of movement in order to avoid discomfort, but Ms. Sarowa was restless.  When she was specifically asked to demonstrate range of motion it appeared quite limited, but she demonstrated a much freer range of motion spontaneously during the interview and other parts of his assessment.  He said that she could freely straight-leg raise from a sitting position, but couldn’t bend forward when standing ? an inconsistent presentation from an anatomical point of view.
The Court went onto to award little in the way of damages and in doing so made the following findings about the Plaintiff’s credibility:

[68]         Ms. Sarowa testified that she has not fully recovered from her accident injuries and continues to have neck and back discomfort, and frequent headaches.  As is usually the case, much of the plaintiff’s case rests on the extent to which the plaintiff is found to be a credible witness.  In this case, Ms. Sarowa was a less than satisfactory witness.  She was frequently evasive and non-responsive.  She was unable, or declined, to explain why she had claimed to be separated from her husband on December 31, 2007 when filing her 2007 tax return; but claimed at trial that she and her husband were back together at that time.

[69]         If she was being truthful at trial about the severity and duration of her accident injuries, than I would have to conclude that she omitted relevant information about her health when she applied for the job at Tim Horton’s in April 2007, and was deliberately untruthful when she applied for work at Brinks in September 2008.  I think it more likely that she was exaggerating the severity and duration of her injuries when testifying here at trial; as the evidence of her employers at Tim Horton’s and Brinks indicates she did not, in fact, demonstrate any difficulty with the physical performance of her job duties.

For those interested in this topic, this case is worth reviewing in full to get a sense of some of the factors courts look to when weighing a Plaintiff’s credibility in a soft tissue injury prosecution.

Can Interest on Unpaid Special Damages be Recovered in a Personal Injury Claim?


Special damages are out of pocket expenses incurred as a result of the intentional or negligent actions of others.  In personal injury lawsuits the most common special damages relate to medical treatments such as physiotherapy, massage therapy, medications and similar expenses.
When a Plaintiff pays their own special damages and succeeds at trial they are entitled to be reimbursed for these expenses along with a modest amount of interest under the Court Order Interest Act.  What about expenses that were not paid before trial where the medical providers charge interest on the unpaid accounts?  Can a plaintiff recover damages for these additional expenses?  Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court considering this issue.
In today’s case (Bortnik v. Gutierrez) the Plaintiff sued for injuries sustained as a result of a 2007 BC motor vehicle collision.  Mr. Justice Myers found that the Plaintiff had “exaggerated his injuries“.  Despite this finding the Court concluded that the Plaintiff suffered “some minor whiplash injuries as a result of the accident” and awarded the Plaintiff $20,000 for his non-pecuniary damages.
The Plaintiff also was awarded damages to account for the expenses related to some of his post accident chiropractic treatments.  The plaintiff did not pay these accounts before trial and the chiropractor charged interest on the unpaid accounts.  The Plaintiff asked the court to award damages to account for this interest.
Mr. Justice Myers refused to make this award finding as follows:

[54]    It appears to me that the plaintiff acted reasonably in seeking chiropractic treatment.  I would allow the expenses until December 31, 2009, when he was largely recovered.

[55]    With respect to interest, while counsel have found some authority dealing with interest on disbursements, counsel advise they have not found any case dealing with interest on special damages.  I therefore approach the matter on first principles.

[56]    If the plaintiff had paid the chiropractor, he would have been limited to interest as provided by the Court Order Interest Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 79.  Assuming that interest on special costs may in some instances be recoverable as damages – something which I need not decide – it follows from my finding that the plaintiff has not proved a past wage loss that he cannot hold the defendants responsible for his inability or failure to pay the bills as they became due and owing.  He therefore is not entitled to claim interest as damages.

The BC Supreme Court has recently allowed interest on disbursements levied by service providers to be recovered in a personal injury case.  In that decision the Plaintiff’s ability to pay for the disbursement was also a relevant factor.  Today’s case leaves the door open for a similar result in appropriate circumstances for unpaid special damages.

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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