Tag: bc tort claims

Gaps in Medical Treatment in ICBC Injury Claims


If you are involved in an ICBC Injury Claim and have significant gaps in your medical treatment will that reduce the value of compensation you are entitled to?  The answer is not necessarily.  If the gaps in medical treatment are unreasonable and the evidence demonstrates that more frequent medical intervention would have improved the course of recovery then the claim can be reduced for “failure to mitigate“.  However, a gap in medical treatment in and of itself will not reduce a claim for damages and reasons for judgement were released yesterday by the BC Supreme Court demonstrating this.
In yesterday’s case (Sidhu v. Liang) the Plaintiff was injured in 2 BC Car Crashes, the first in 2004 and the second in 2008.  He was not at fault for either crash.  He sued as a result of both accidents and the trials were heard at the same time.  The Court was asked to deal with the value of these ICBC Claims.  In the years from the first collision to the time of trial there were some significant gaps in accident related medical appointments.  One such gap was over 25 months.  The Defence Lawyer argued that the Plaintiff’s injuries were minor and healed quickly as evidenced by the significant gap in treatments.
Madam Justice Russell rejected this argument and held “I am prepared to conclude on the balance of probabilities of the evidence, that the current soft tissue injuries the plaintiff exhibits and the continuing pain that he has suffered are a result of the first accident which have continued to date, and have been aggravated by the second accident and therefore would not have occurred but for the defendants’ negligence.  I believe the plaintiff has continued to experience this pain despite the gap in his treatment, and while work has aggravated it, there is no evidence of an intervening event that could be attributed as the cause.”
The Court went on to award the Plaintiff $36,000 in Non-Pecuniary Damages.   In doing so Madam Justice Russell summarized the accident related injuries and their effect on the Plaintiff as follows:

67] The plaintiff’s position, which I accept, is that the medical evidence establishes that the first accident caused musculoligamentous injuries to his neck, back, hips, and elbows, resulting in chronic, persistent pain which continues to restrict his vocational, social and recreational activities.  Furthermore, the second accident caused a minor aggravation of the musculoligamentous injury to his neck.

[68] As a result of the injuries he sustained, the plaintiff has experienced functional limitations due to ongoing symptoms in his neck and left upper back, as well as residual symptoms in the elbows, and mid to low back.  These injuries interfere with his work ability as well as his ability to do chores and participate in his family construction project.  His wife and father have had to take on the physical household chores.  His wife testified that he became less physically active and has decreased his participation in family activities.  The plaintiff’s wife also testified that his pain has caused him to be moody and he also claims to have experienced emotional difficulties in the form of increased stress as a result of the accident.  Because of his modified work ability, the jobs he can take require him to work longer hours for less money and therefore he is facing increasing financial pressures, has less free time and therefore has decreased his social activities, all of which he asserts leads to his stress…

[71] While I have concluded that, according to the medical evidence, the accidents were the cause of the injuries, these injuries are improving, albeit slowly.  Dr. Gandham has estimated that the plaintiff will recover within two years and Dr. Heshler gives a similar guarded prognosis.  Dr. Connell is also optimistic.  Given that the plaintiff is young and healthy with a good prognosis for recovery, I am convinced that he will make a full recovery and thus assess his damages at 80% of the amount put forward by counsel, as I note the amount suggested is the upper range for these types of injuries.

ICBC Injury Claims and Pre-Existing Conditions

Imagine being injured as a result of the carelessness of another in a BC Car Crash.  You advance an ICBC tort claim for compensation for your injuries and loss.   You are able to come to an agreement with ICBC with respect to the value of your injuries and losses but then ICBC wants to reduce the the pain and suffering settlement by 25% to account for a pre-existing medical condition that you have.  Is this fair?
The answer depends on the nature and severity of the pre-existing condition.  BC Courts generally categorize pre-existing conditions affected by traumatic injury in 2 ways: the ‘thin skull‘ category and the ‘crumbling skull‘ category.  In a thin skull situation a Plaintiff has a pre-existing condition that makes them susceptible to injury however the condition would not otherwise become symptomatic absent the trauma.  In thin skull situations the pre-existing condition does not reduce the value of the claim.  The thin skull principle is sometimes referred to as the ‘you take your victim as you find them‘ principle meaning it is no defence to an injury claim to say that a healthier victimn with no pre-existing condition would have suffered less injury.
This can be contrasted with the ‘crumbling skull’ situation where the Plaintiff has a pre-existing condition which is active or likely to become active even without the trauma.  In crumbling skull situations the value of the injuries and losses must be reduced to reflect the fact that a Plaintiff would have likely had some problems in any event.
Reasons for judgement (Gohringer v. Hernandez-Lazo) were released today by the BC Supreme Court explaining and applying these principles.
In today’s case the Plaintiff was injured when her car was struck head on by a street sweeper in April, 2005.  As a result of this significant BC Car Crash she suffered various injuries.  The Plaintiff did, however, have pre-existing back and neck injuries.  In valuing the Plaintiff’s pain and suffering at $75,000 Madam Justice Russell explained and applied the law of thin skull v. crumbling skull as follows:

Pre-existing condition and independent intervening event

[90]            It is trite law that the general purpose in assessing damages is to restore the plaintiff to their original, or pre-accident, position.  Through an award of damages a plaintiff is entitled to be restored to his or her original position, but they are not entitled to be placed in a better position:  Athey v. Leonati, [1996] 3 S.C.R. 458 at para. 32, 140 D.L.R. (4th) 235.   Generally speaking, this requires the court to determine the plaintiff’s original position and position subsequent to the negligent act, and award damages to reflect the difference:  Athey at para. 32; Barnes v. Richardson, 2008 BCSC 1349 at para. 84.  In situations where the plaintiff has a pre-existing condition the thin skull or crumbling skull rule must inform the court’s assessment of damages.  

[91]            In a thin skull situation, the plaintiff’s pre-existing condition has not manifested, or in other words is not active or symptomatic, prior to the event in question.  As the tortfeasor takes his or her victim as they find them, the tortfeasor is liable for all injuries even if the injuries are “unexpectedly severe owing to a pre-existing condition”, as a result of their actions:  Athey at para. 34. 

[92]            In a crumbling skull situation, as in this case, the plaintiff has a pre-existing condition which is active, or likely to become active.  The pre-existing condition “does not have to be manifest or disabling at the time of the tort to be within the ambit of the crumbling skull rule”:  Barnes at para. 89, citing A. (T.W.N.) v. Clarke, 2003 BCCA 670, 22 B.C.L.R. (4th) 1 at para. 62. In crumbling skull situations, the defendant is only liable for damages caused by the accident and responsible for returning the plaintiff to their original position.  As Major J. stated in Athey: the defendant is liable for the additional damage but not the pre-existing damage: at para. 35.   The defendant is therefore not liable for the effects of the pre-existing condition that the plaintiff would have experienced in any event: A. (T.W.N.) at para. 52.  If there is a “measurable risk” that the pre-existing condition would have impacted the plaintiff in the future then, regardless of the defendant’s negligence, a court can take this into account in awarding damages: at para. 35. 

[93]            In addition, the defendant claims an independent intervening event, subsequent to the Accident, also had significant impact on the plaintiff.  An independent intervening event is an unrelated event, such as disease or a non-tortious accident, that occurs after the plaintiff is injured.  The impact of such events is taken into account in the same manner as pre-existing conditions: Barnes at para. 96.  Thus, the plaintiff is only entitled to damages which flow from the difference between his or her original position and their “injured position”: Athey at para. 32.  If the unrelated event would have impacted the plaintiff’s original position adversely, the “net loss” attributable to the accident at issue will not be as great and damages will be reduced proportionately: Barnes at para. 96.

[94]            I note that our Court of Appeal has stated that a reduction in damages to reflect the impact of independent intervening events or pre-existing conditions applies equally to non-pecuniary and pecuniary damages:  A. (T.W.N.) at paras. 36-37; Barnes at para. 90. 

[95]            In this case the defendant does not contest that the plaintiff suffered injuries as a result of the Accident.  The defendant does however contest the severity of those injuries and the impact that those subsequently had on the plaintiff’s physical and emotional health, as well as her employment situation. 

[96]            The plaintiff had pre-existing back and neck injuries and suffered a knee injury subsequent to the Accident.  At issue is the impact of such injuries on the plaintiff’s ability to continue her position as a skating instructor, or whether the injuries resulting from the Accident were responsible for causing her to change positions.

[97]            The pre-existing conditions and knee injury caused the plaintiff to miss a number of months of work when they occurred.  I accept the evidence contained in Dr. MacIntosh’s report (January 26, 2005) that the plaintiff’s pre-existing neck and back injuries would have materially impacted the plaintiff’s ability to continue working as a skating instructor, given the physical demands of that position.  Likewise, I find the knee injury would have further impacted her ability to continue that job into the future.  Prior to the Accident, the plaintiff had complained, of neck pain resulting from teaching four classes in one day.  Further, the plaintiff left her position at Sportsplex soon after she returned to work following her knee injury as she was not able to perform her duties to the same level as previously.

[98]            I accept however, that the injuries from the Accident also impacted the plaintiff at work.  The evidence indicated that a number of her duties at Sportsplex aggravated the injuries suffered in the Accident.  While the evidence did not demonstrate that those injuries alone caused the plaintiff’s departure from Sportsplex, the evidence did show that the plaintiff’s abilities to perform her job duties were adversely affected as a result.

[99]            I conclude there was a real and significant chance that the plaintiff’s pre-existing injuries and the injury suffered after the Accident would have shortened the plaintiff’s career as a skating instructor, regardless of the injuries from the Accident.  These injuries ultimately affect the plaintiff’s original position and must be taken into account in the assessment of damages.  The risk that these injuries would have reduced the plaintiff’s chosen career will be taken into account based on its relative likelihood in determining the overall assessment of damages:  McKelvie v. Ng, 2001 BCCA 341, 90 B.C.L.R. (3rd) 62 at para. 17.  Accordingly, non-pecuniary damages should be reduced by 10% to reflect such a risk. 

[100]        In assessing all of the relevant evidence, I conclude the injuries continue to adversely affect the plaintiff in a number of ways and award $75,000 for non-pecuniary damages.  I will deduct 10% as a contingency to reflect the plaintiff’s pre-existing condition and the effect of the subsequent knee injury.

ICBC Claims, Low Velocity Impacts and Engineering Evidence

Like many insurance companies the ICBC has a “Low Velocity Impact Program” (LVI) where tort claims are denied on the basis of little vehicle damages in collision.
When these claims are prosecuted one of the strategies often used by ICBC defence lawyers is to try to have the trial focus on the amount of vehicle damage sustained in the collision.    This can be done in many ways.  Often the Defendant is called to give evidence on the lack of vehicle damage, photos of the vehicles can be put into evidence and evidence of ICBC Vehicle Repair Estimators is sometimes put before the court.  Sometimes ICBC goes further and retains a professional engineer to give evidence about the amount of force involved in the collision.
British Columbia courts are not always receptive to engineering evidence being permitted in motor vehicle tort claims.  Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court ordering that such a report was indeed inadmissible.  Since the judgement is very succinct and easy to follow I reproduce it in its entirety below:

[1]                The plaintiff applies for an order that the expert report prepared by James Bowler, a professional engineer, not be admitted as evidence on the basis that it is neither relevant nor necessary. 

[2]                Mr. Bowler graduated in 1995 and since then has worked for MEA Forensic Engineers & Scientists.  The report makes the assumption that “the provided materials accurately describe the vehicle damages from this accident.”

[3]                Some of the material that was provided and referred to in the report was a final I.C.B.C. CL14 Repair Estimate and an I.C.B.C. CL14E Low Velocity Impact claim form on the plaintiff’s vehicle, and an I.C.B.C. CL14E Low Velocity claim form on the defendant’s vehicle.

[4]                None of this material is before me.

[5]                The purpose of the report was to prove what speed change occurred when the plaintiff’s vehicle was struck by the defendant’s vehicle.  The vehicles were not examined by the engineer.  He relied entirely upon the photographs and the materials supplied by I.C.B.C.

[6]                Mr. Bowler stated that the impact severity was assessed by comparing the damage in the incident with two staged collisions tests previously conducted by MEA.

[7]                The tests involved a 1985 Mazda RX7 and a 1984 Chevrolet Celebrity.  The plaintiff was driving a Nissan 2002 Sentra GXE 4-door sedan and the defendant was driving a Honda 2005 Element 4-door wagon. 

[8]                The experiment that was conducted by the MEA concluded that on the white Celebrity used in the experiment, which had a mass similar to that of the plaintiff’s vehicle, there was a speed change of 1.3 km/hour. 

[9]                The conclusion reached was that the plaintiff’s vehicle likely sustained a speed change (slowing of 1.3 km/hour to 2.9 km/hour in the accident). 

[10]            The defendant says that the change in speed is a factor that I can consider when determining the injuries suffered by the plaintiff.  However, without medical evidence as to the effect of the change in speed, this information is not of assistance.

[11]            It is trite to say that the opinion expressed by an expert is only as good as the facts that have been proven.  Here, there is no evidence as to the validity of the two-stage collision test conducted by MEA.  There is no evidence as to the qualifications of the people that performed these tests, whether or not this experiment was published in a peer review article, or whether or not Mr. Bowler had anything to do with those experiments.  It seems from the evidence that he did not, as he reviewed two video tapes of these staged collisions.  Additionally, the defendant has not put into evidence the I.C.B.C. Low Velocity Impact claim forms or the repair estimate.

[12]            I find that the report is not admissible.

ICBC Claims and Formal Admissions

ICBC personal injury claims lawyers know all too well that the true issues in an ICBC injury claim are not always narrowed down at the beginning of a claim.
Typically, after a Writ of Summons and Statement of Claim are filed, rather boiler-plate Statements of Defence are filed.  Oftentimes not only is the issue of fault not admitted but allegations are made that the Plaintiff was not injured, if injured the Plaintiff is at fault for such injuries, if injured the injuries are not connected to the trauma and on and on.  Such defences can significantly broaden the scope of a lawuit.  As the lawsuit progresses the true focus of the claim often times becomes narrower.  
One of the tools in a litigants arsenal in the BC Supreme Court to help narrow the focus of a lawsuit is the Notice to Admit.  Rule 31 permits either side in a BC Supreme Court lawsuit to ask the other side to make formal admissions.  This tool can be effective in helping narrow the scope of an ICBC injury claim.  If a side fails to make reasonable admissions in a BC lawsuit the court can penalize that party with a costs order pursuant to Rule 31(4).
Rule 31 reads as follows:

Rule 31 — Admissions

Notice to admit

(1)   In a proceeding in which a statement of defence, answer or answer and counter petition has been filed, a party may, by delivery of a notice to admit in Form 23, request any party of record to admit, for the purposes of the proceeding only, the truth of a fact or the authenticity of a document specified in the notice.

[en. B.C. Reg. 143/94, s. 6.]

Effect of notice to admit

(2)   Unless the court otherwise orders, the truth of a fact or the authenticity of a document specified in the notice to admit shall be deemed to be admitted, for the purposes of the proceeding only, unless, within 14 days, the party receiving the notice delivers to the party giving the notice a written statement that

(a) specifically denies the truth of that fact or the authenticity of that document,

(b) sets forth in detail the reasons why the party cannot make the admission, or

(c) states that the refusal to admit the truth of that fact or the authenticity of that document is made on the grounds of privilege or irrelevancy or that the request is otherwise improper, and sets forth in detail the reasons for the refusal.

Copy of document to be attached

(3)   Unless the court otherwise orders, a copy of a document specified in a notice to admit shall be attached to the notice when it is delivered.

Unreasonable refusal to admit

(4)   Where a party unreasonably denies or refuses to admit the truth of a fact or the authenticity of a document, the court may order the party to pay the costs of proving the truth of the fact or the authenticity of the document and may award as a penalty additional costs, or deprive a party of costs, as the court thinks just.

Withdrawal of admission

(5)   A party is not entitled to withdraw

(a) an admission made in response to a notice to admit,

(b) a deemed admission under subrule (2), or

(c) an admission made in a pleading

except by consent or with leave of the court.

Application for order on admissions

(6)   An application for judgment or any other application may be made to the court using as evidence

(a) admissions of the truth of a fact or the authenticity of a document made

(i)  in an affidavit or pleading filed by a party,

(ii)  in an examination for discovery of a party or a person examined for discovery on behalf of a party, or

(iii)  in response to a notice to admit, or

(b) admissions of the truth of a fact or the authenticity of a document deemed to be made under subrule (2)

and the court may, without waiting for the determination of any other question between the parties, make any order it thinks just.

Repealed

(7) to (9)   Repealed. [B.C. Reg. 95/96, s. 14.]

 
The reason why I author this blog post is because interesting reasons for judgement were released today dealing with the issue of when ‘deemed’ admissions can be set aside.
In this case the Plaintiff delivered a Notice to Admit.  The Defendant failed to deliver a response as required by Rule 31thus deeming that the facts noted in the Notice to Admit being admitted by the Defendant.
The Defendant brought a motion asking that the deemed admissions be set aside.  The court granted the motion noting that ‘the interests of justice require that the Defendants be at liberty to withdraw (their admissions)
In doing so the court summarized the following factors which can be considered when considering whether deemed admissions should be judicially set aside:

1)         That the test is whether there is a triable issue which, in the interests of justice, should be determined on the merits and not disposed of by an admission of fact.

2)         That in applying that test, all the circumstances should be taken into account including the following:

3)         That the admission has been made inadvertently, hastily, or without knowledge of the facts.

4)         That the fact admitted was not within the knowledge of the party making the admission.

5)         That the fact admitted is not true.

6)         That the fact admitted is one of mixed fact and law.

7)         That the withdrawal of the admission would not prejudice a party.

8)         That there has been no delay in applying to withdraw the admission.

If you are involved in an ICBC injury claim in the BC Supreme Court and beleive the focus of your lawsuit can be narrowed you may wish to consider delivering a Notice to Admit under Rule 31.

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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