Reasons for judgement were published today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, dismissing a defence request to have a jury struck from hearing a medical malpractice lawsuit.
In today’s case (Howe v. Hwang) the Plaintiff commenced a lawsuit alleging negligence following a series of complications relating to the surgical treatment of diverticulitis.
The parties settled on damages but the issues of liability (fault) remained open for the court to decide. The Plaintiff elected trial by jury. The Defendants objected arguing a medical malpractice case was too complex for a jury to understand. Master Keighley disagreed and provided the following reasons in upholding the Plaintiff’s right to trial by jury :
 My authority to grant the order sought is discretionary. In exercising this discretion, I must consider the issues holistically, in determining whether, at the conclusion of my analysis, the considerations raised by Rule 12-6(5) support the defence assertion that this case is not appropriate for a decision by a jury.
 It may go without saying that the jury in this case will be required to engage in a prolonged examination of documents, that the resolution of the issues before this jury will require a scientific or local investigation and that the issues are of an intricate and complex nature. Thus my discretion is engaged.
 Amongst the factors which I have considered in determining that it is appropriate to have this case tried by a judge and jury, I have considered the following:
1. The anticipated length of the trial.
 The trial will not be a long one. It is presently anticipated by counsel that it will take perhaps ten or 11 days of the three weeks set aside. This reduction in time is primarily the result of the resolution of the claims against Dr. Crowley, and the agreement which has been reached with respect to damages. The jury will not be obliged to retain the technical knowledge they acquire for many weeks before delivering its verdict
2. The number of experts to be called.
 As I have indicated, the plaintiff will be relying on two experts and the defendant on three.
3. The volume of expert evidence.
 As is the case with most expert reports, the text is dense and replete with scientific terminology. But in objective terms the reports, as I have indicated, total 32 pages, far from a vast volume of expert reports.
4. The nature and character of the expert evidence.
 The jury will be obliged to consider conflicting opinion with respect to the conduct of the defendant. I have reviewed the medical reports. While I am untrained in medical matters I have no difficulty in following the rationale expressed by the experts or understanding the terminology used. I cannot see that a jury, properly instructed, will have difficulty in coming to a conclusion on the basis of technical issues alone. The opinions of all five experts are clearly stated and, apparently, objective. Juries are, of course, often called upon to deal with conflicting expert evidence with respect to medical issues in the context of personal injury litigation. I do not regard the terminology which appears in the pleadings or the expert reports as being mysterious or opaque. I am confident that with supplementary assistance from the experts, counsel and the presiding judge, the reports may be appropriately dealt with by a jury.
 In summary, although the jury in this case will be obliged to deal with technically demanding scientific medical issues and unfamiliar terminology, as well as the conflicting evidence of experts, I am not satisfied that those considerations put this case beyond the range of functions credited to juries in our system.
 As previously indicated to counsel, the application is dismissed. The issue of costs was dealt with at the conclusion of the hearing.
In reasons for judgement released today, the Honourable Madam Justice Newbury of the British Columbia Court of Appeal increased the pain and suffering award for a BC auto accident victim from $15,000 to $42,000.
The Plaintiff was a 70 year old female. At trial in the British Columbia Supreme Court, the trial judge found that the Plaintiff suffered a soft tissue injury, namely a muscle strain to the trapezius area but concluded that “the evidence was not sufficient to establish a causal connection between the accident and the increase in frequency and intensity of (the Plaintiff’s) dizziness“.
On appeal, counsel for the Plaintiff argued that the trial judge was simply wrong in saying there was ‘no medical evidence’ that supported the causal connection between the accident and the Plaintiff’s increase in frequency and intensity of dizziness.
At trial an ENT specialist testified that “in my opinion the increased dizziness (experienced by the Plaintiff )subsequent to the accident in 2004 is probably from the accident in 2004“. Given this evidence the BC Court of Appeal agreed with the submission of Plaintiff’s counsel and concluded that the appeal must be allowed.
Normally when an appeal is allowed a new trial is ordered. Running a second trial is obviously time consuming and costly. Fortunately for the Plaintiff, the trial judge stated that he would have awarded between $40,000 and $45,000 for pain and suffering had he found that the Plaintiff’s dizziness was related to the 2004 car accident. Given this helpful finding, and to save the parties from the expense of another trial, the BC Court of Appeal exercised their discretion to substitute the higher award of $42,000 for pain and suffering.
In a judgement released today by the British Columbia Supreme Court, Madam Justice Humphries concluded that a taxi driver was 10% at fault for 2 young girls’ injuries because he left his high beams on thus obstructing the view of on-coming traffic in the early morning of September 6, 2003 in Langley, BC.
The taxi did not hit the girls, rather, the taxi driver’s fault rested with the fact that he stopped his taxi on the side of the highway to engage some potential passengers in conversation with his high beams on. The passengers were a group of 5 young people who had left a party and were looking for a taxi ride home. The taxi driver declined to give this group of 5 people a ride because his vehicle only had 4 available seatbelts.
After being rejected by the taxi driver the young people headed back across the street into the lane of westbound traffic. Unfortunatley the driver of a vehicle driving in the westbound lane failed to see the people and struck 2 young girls with her vehicle.
The court found that the girls, the taxi driver, and the westbound vehicle were all partly at fault. In assessing 10% of the blame to the taxi driver Madam Justice Humphries stated “He did not keep a lookout for oncoming traffic and he left his high beams on. This constitutes a departure of the standard of care expected of a prudent driver and was a contributing cause of the accident.”
If a person in British Columbia is partially to blame for an accident, it is important to seek compensation from all others who are at fault. Failing to do so will result in the Plaintiff receiving less than full compensation for injuries caused by the fault of others. This is called “several liability”. This decision is a great illustration of Plaintiff’s counsel seeking compensation from all those responsible for car accident related injuries. Had the taxi driver not been sued, on this reasoning, the young girls would have had the value of their claim reduced a further 10 percent.
Feel free to contact the author if you have questions about several liability and a current ICBC claim.
Failing to wear a seatbelt can not only hurt you physically, it can hurt financially and I’m not referring to a traffic ticket.
A person advancing an ICBC claim who is injured through the fault of another motorist may be found “contributorily negligent” for failing to wear a seatbelt if it can be proven that injuries would have been prevented (or lessened) by the use of a seatbelt.
If a person advancing an ICBC claim is found contributorily negligent, the value of the ICBC claim goes down.
In these cases BC courts must apportion those injuries due to the failure to wear a seatbelt and deduct their value in compensating the injured person. Generally failing to wear a seatbelt results in reduction of the value of the claim by 15% – 25%, although the range of apportionment varies and can exceed this range.
When dealing with ICBC, it is important to keep in mind that failing to wear a seatbelt does not automatically reduce the value of the claim. It is for ICBC (or the insurance company / lawyer for the at fault driver) to prove that failure to wear a seatbelt caused or contributed to the injuries. Justice Fulton, the case Gagnon v. Beauliew, summarized the law as follows “In the case of this particular form of contributory negligence, the onus is on the defendant to satisfy the court, in accordance with the usual standard of proof, not only that the seat belt was not worn but also that the injuries would have been prevented or lessened if the seatbelt had been worn”
Also, there are some limited circumstances where failing to wear a seatbelt does not amount to negligence such as when a person has medical reasons making wearing a seatbelt unreasonable.
Circumstances excusing people from wearing seatbelts are the exception, not the norm so consider buckling up, failing to do so can not only add to your injuries, it can subtract from your pocket-book.
On February 21, 2008, the Honourable Mr. Justice Wong awarded $50,000 for pain and suffering for a neck injury.
The Plaintiff was involved in a forceful collision on June 2, 2004. She sustained various injuries including headaches, back pain and neck pain. By the time of trial some of the injuries improved, however the Plaintiff continued to suffer from back pain and neck pain. Evidence was presented that she likely had damage to the facet joints in the upper cervical spine and that the prognosis for resolution of her pain was poor.
In addition to compensation for pain and suffering, the Plaintiff was awarded damages for past income loss, loss of general earning capacity, special damages, and cost of future care.