Tag: causation

Leave to Appeal In Bradley Denied; Welcome Certainty for Indivisible Injury Compensation


In an ICBC Claim decided last year the BC Court of Appeal simplified the approach for compensation for indivisible injuries caused by multiple events.  ICBC sought to overturn this decision and recently the Supreme Court of Canada refused leave (meaning they decided not to hear the case putting an end to the appeal).  For the sake of convenience here are the Court of Appeals key reasons explaining how indivisible injuries should be treated in British Columbia:

[32]        There can be no question that Athey requires joint and several liability for indivisible injuries.  Once a trial judge has concluded as a fact that an injury is indivisible, then the tortfeasors are jointly liable to the plaintiff.  They can still seek apportionment (contribution and indemnity) from each other, but absent contributory negligence, the plaintiff can claim the entire amount from any of them.

[33]        The approach to apportionment in Long v. Thiessen is therefore no longer applicable to indivisible injuries.  The reason is that Long v. Thiessen pre-supposes divisibility: Longrequires courts to take a single injury and divide it up into constituent causes or points in time, and assess damages twice; once on the day before the second tort, and once at trial.  Each defendant is responsible only for their share of the injury and the plaintiff can recover only the appropriate portion from each tortfeasor.

[34]        That approach is logically incompatible with the concept of an indivisible injury.  If an injury cannot be divided into distinct parts, then joint liability to the plaintiff cannot be apportioned either.  It is clear that tortfeasors causing or contributing to a single, indivisible injury are jointly liable to the plaintiff.  This in no way restricts the tortfeasors’ right to apportionment as between themselves under the Negligence Act, but it is a matter of indifference to the plaintiff, who may claim the entire amount from any defendant.

[35]        This is not a case of this Court overturning itself, because aspects of Long v. Thiessen were necessarily overruled by the Supreme Court of Canada’s decisions in Athey,E.D.G., and Blackwater.  Other courts have also come to this same conclusion: see Misko v. Doe, 2007 ONCA 660, 286 D.L.R. (4th) 304 at para. 17.

[36]        It may be that this represents an extension of pecuniary liability for consecutive or concurrent tortfeasors who contribute to an indivisible injury.  We do not think it can be said that the Supreme Court of Canada was unmindful of that consequence.  Moreover, apportionment legislation can potentially remedy injustice to defendants by letting them claim contribution and indemnity as against one another.

[37]        We are also unable to accept the appellant’s submission that “aggravation” and “indivisibility” are qualitatively different, and require different legal approaches.  If a trial judge finds on the facts of a particular case that subsequent tortious action has merged with prior tortious action to create an injury that is not attributable to one particular tortfeasor, then a finding of indivisibility is inevitable.  That one tort made worse what another tort created does not automatically implicate a thin or crumbling skull approach (as in Blackwater), if the injuries cannot be distinguished from one another on the facts.  Those doctrines deal with finding the plaintiff’s original position, not with apportioning liability.  The first accident remains a cause of the entire indivisible injury suffered by the plaintiff under the “but for” approach to causation endorsed by the Supreme Court of Canada in Resurfice Corp. v. Hanke, 2007 SCC 7, [2007] 1 S.C.R. 333.  As noted by McLachlin C.J.C. in that case, showing that there are multiple causes for an injury will not excuse any particular tortfeasor found to have caused an injury on a “but-for” test, as “there is more than one potential cause in virtually all litigated cases of negligence” (at para. 19).  It may be that in some cases, earlier injury and later injury to the same region of the body are divisible.  While it will lie for the trial judge to decide in the circumstances of each case, it is difficult to see how the worsening of a single injury could be divided up.

Chronic Whiplash Associated Disorder and the "Unrelated Pain" Defence

It is well established that a small percentage of people who suffer from whiplash associated disorder following a collision go on to experience pain for a prolonged period of time.
When cases with prolonged injury go to trial it is not uncommon for the Court to hear competing medical evidence as to the cause of the chronic pain.  Oftentimes defence doctors provide opinions that causes unrelated to the collision are responsible for a Plaintiff’s ongoing symptoms.  Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Powell River Registry, dealing with and dismissing such a defence.
In today’s case (Borgfjord v. Penner) the Plaintiff was involved in a rear-end collision.  Fault for the crash was admitted by the Defendant.  The trial focused on the value of the Plaintiff’s claim.
The Plaintiff injured her neck in the crash.  She went on to have chronic symptoms of pain.  The Defendants acknowledged that the Plaintiff likely had on-going pain but argued that this was unrelated to the crash and instead was as a result of ‘degenerative changes’ .  Mr. Justice Shabbits rejected this argument and went on to assess the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages for her chronic whiplash injury at $85,000.  In rejecting the defence argument the Court provided the following useful reasons:
[74] Dr. Dommisse’s opinion is that cervical strain caused the plaintiff’s early problems and that her cervical strain symptoms likely resolved within 6 months to 2 years post accident. His opinion is that degenerative changes caused the plaintiff’s later problems. He says that degenerative changes are the cause of the plaintiff’s continuing problems…

[98]         In my opinion, the plaintiff has established that the accident caused her to suffer a cervical strain.

[99]         In my opinion, Dr. Dommisse is speculating when he opines that the plaintiff’s accident caused symptoms have already resolved. The usual pattern of soft tissue injury may well involve the resolution of symptoms within 6 months to two years post injury, but the plaintiff’s complaints have continued unabated and there is no certainty that the plaintiff’s disc protrusion or degenerative condition of the spine is now or ever has been symptomatic. Dr. Waterman’s opinion is that what he saw on the MRI, (which includes the disc protrusion), is unlikely to be clinically significant. He says it is difficult to attribute spine pain to what he observed.

[100]     I accept the opinion and prognosis of Dr. Waterman. In my opinion, his evaluation and analysis of the medical evidence is persuasive.

[101]     I find that the plaintiff suffered a whiplash injury in the motor vehicle accident and that her whiplash caused injuries are ongoing. I think it more likely than not that the plaintiff falls within that category of patients referred to by Dr. Waterman who experience whiplash caused pain for years post-accident. I find that the most likely outcome of the plaintiff’s injuries is that she will be improved in several years, but that she will suffer intermittent pain which she will be able to largely control by modulating her activities…

[124] I assess the plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages at $85,000…

BC Court of Appeal Clarifies "Causation" in Tort Law

(Please note the case discussed in this post is currently under appeal at the Supreme Court of Canada)
(UPDATE June 29, 2012the below decision was overturned by the Supreme Court of Canada in reasons for judgement released today.  You can click here to read the Supreme Court of Canada’s reasons)

In order to successfully sue for personal injuries in negligence you must prove that the person you are suing was a cause of your injuries.  This sounds simple enough but in fact it is a fairly involved area of personal injury law.   Today the BC Court of Appeal released reasons for judgement attempting to clarify the principle of causation.
In today’s case (Clements v. Clements) the Plaintiff, a passenger on a motorcycle, was seriously injured when the driver “pulled out to pass another vehicle, (then) a sharp object, likely a nail, punctured the rear tire of the motorcycle causing it to rapidly deflate”.  This caused the motorcycle to capsize and flip over resulting in injuries to the Plaintiff.
The Plaintiff sued and succeeded at the trial level with the judge finding that the Defendant was driving too fast and the bike was overloaded and this materially contributed to the loss of control.  The insurer for the Defendant appealed arguing that the judge was wrong in using the ‘material contribution‘ test.  The BC Court of Appeal agreed and dismissed the Plaintiff’s lawsuit.
The Court discussed the law of causation at length at paragraphs 38-62 and the judgement is worth reviewing in full for anyone interested in this issue.  The Court concluded with the following short summary of the test Judges are to use in establishing ‘causation’ in BC negligence lawsuits:

[63]         In summary, having regard to the over-arching policy that the material-contribution test is available only when a denial of liability under the but-for test would offend basic notions of fairness and justice, I agree with the following statement made by Professor Knutsen in setting out his conclusions (at 187):

g)         The “but for” test rarely fails, and currently only in situations involving circular causation and dependency causation:

1)         Circular causation involves factual situations where it is impossible for the plaintiff to prove which one of two or more possible tortious causes are the cause of the plaintiff’s harm;

2)         Dependency causation involves factual situations where it is impossible for the plaintiff to prove if a third party would have taken some action in the face of a defendant’s negligence and such third party’s action would have facilitated harm to the plaintiff;

h)         If the “but for” test fails, the plaintiff must meet two pre-conditions to utilize the material contribution test for causation:

1)         It must be impossible for the plaintiff to prove causation (either due to circular or dependency causation); and,

2)         The plaintiff must be able to prove that the defendant breached the standard of care, exposed the plaintiff to an unreasonable risk of injury, and the plaintiff must have suffered that type of injury.

[64]         What does this mean for the present case?  It means that once the trial judge determined that Mrs. Clements had failed to establish that the motorcycle would not have capsized but for Mr. Clements’s negligence, he should have found that causation had not been proven.  This is not a case involving either circular or dependency causation.  Rather, it is a case like many others in which, given the current state of knowledge, it is not possible to prove whether the negligent actions of a defendant caused harm.  I do not consider it either unfair or unjust, or, to use the words of Professor Knutsen (at 172), “just plain wrong” not to fix Mr. Clements with liability when Mrs. Clements has been unable to show factually that his negligence was a cause of her damages.

Challenging Opposing Witnesses: The Rule in Browne v. Dunn


(Update March 8, 2012 – The case discussed below was set for a new trial after the Court of Appeal found the trial judge made errors applying the law of mitigation, causation and credibility.  The Court of Appeal Judgement can be foud here)
Browne v. Dunn is an English case that’s almost 120 years old.  Despite it’s vintage its a case all British Columbian’s should be familiar with when going to trial.
The rule in Browne v. Dunn states that if you intend to contradict an opposing witness on a significant matter you must put the contradictory version of events to the witness on cross examination.  Failure to do so permits the Court to prefer the witness’ version over the contradictory version.  In practice, failure to follow the rule of Browne v. Dunn can prove damaging to a case and this was demonstrated in reasons for judgement released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry.
In today’s case (Wahl v. Sidhu) the Plaintiff was involved in a significant collision in Surrey, BC in 2006.  The Plaintiff sustained various injuries.  At trial he sought over $1.1 million dollars.  Much of his claim was dismissed but damages of $165,000 were assessed to compensate him for physical and psychological injuries from the crash.
During the course of the trial the Defence lawyer argued that the Plaintiff was not credible and was exaggerating his claim.   The lawyer relied on evidence from various treating medical practitioners who had negative opinions about the Plaintiff’s efforts and argued that “the plaintiff is intentionally faking symptoms“.   The Defence lawyer did not, however, cross examine the Plaintiff with respect to these witnesses allegations.  Mr. Justice Chamberlist relied on the rule in Browne v. Dunn and refused to place any weight on these challenges to the Plaintiff’s credibility.  Specifically the Court provided the following useful comments:
[213] I wish to comment on what occurred and what did not occur with respect to the evidence of Mr. Wahl at trial.  My notes of his evidence, particularly his evidence given under cross-examination, indicate that negative comments made by the various treators and Mary Richardson and Gerard Kerr were not put to him under cross-examination so that he would have an ability to deal with that evidence.  It is my view that the witness must be confronted with these opinions before the opinion can be properly dealt with (Browne v. Dunn, (1893) 6 R. 67 (H.L.)).  This is especially required in a case such as this where the defence submits that the plaintiff, in this case, is not motivated to get better and that the credibility of the plaintiff is at issue.
[217] The defence, in this case, called Dr. Bishop as a witness. …As indicated earlier Dr. Bishop was originally retained by the plaintiff but did not call Dr. Bishop at trial.  The defence made a point of filing Dr. Bishop’s reports and defence called her evidence as part of its case.  In the defence written submissions, the defence maintains that “her evidence makes it clear that she is of the opinion that the plaintiff is intentionally faking symptoms”….

[219]     It is important to note the first lines of the evaluation of effort where Dr. Bishop said, and I repeat:

. . . Although effort testing of itself cannot determine motivation as submaximal effort may be multifactorial in origin (e.g. fear of pain, anxiety with regard to performance, perception of dysfunction, need to demonstrate distress, etc) . . .

That finding cannot be relied upon, in my opinion, by the defence when the particulars of those conclusions were not put to the plaintiff when he was on the stand….

BC Court of Appeal Clarifies Law of Compensation for Injuries With Multiple Causes


Very important reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Court of Appeal making it easier for a Plaintiff involved in multiple not at fault traumas to be properly compensated for their injuries.
In today’s case (Bradley v. Groves) the Plaintiff was injured in 2 BC motor vehicle collisions.  The first happened in 2006.  She was not at fault.  She suffered from various soft tissue injuries which were recovering (but not recovered) when she was involved in a second collision in 2008.  She was faultless for this crash which aggravated the soft tissue injuries from the first crash.
The Plaintiff sued the motorist in the first crash.  The trial judge found that the injuries were “indivisible” and that the two crashes “were both necessary causes of the indivisible injuries“.  The trial judge valued the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages of $30,000 for the entirety of her injury.  The Plaintiff was awarded damages for the whole amount with the trial judge stating that since the Plaintiff was not at fault for either event and since her injuries were indivisible this was the correct approach.  (you can click here to read the trial judgement)
The Defendant appealed arguing that the judge should have apportioned damages between the two crashes and only awarded the Plaintiff damages for the crash that she was suing for.  The Court of Appeal disagreed and upheld the trial judgment.  In doing so the Court clarified this important area of law which will now make it easier for not at fault Plaintiff’s injured through multiple events to be properly compensated for their loss.  The BC High Court provided the following useful reasons:

[32]        There can be no question that Athey requires joint and several liability for indivisible injuries.  Once a trial judge has concluded as a fact that an injury is indivisible, then the tortfeasors are jointly liable to the plaintiff.  They can still seek apportionment (contribution and indemnity) from each other, but absent contributory negligence, the plaintiff can claim the entire amount from any of them.

[33]        The approach to apportionment in Long v. Thiessen is therefore no longer applicable to indivisible injuries.  The reason is that Long v. Thiessen pre-supposes divisibility: Longrequires courts to take a single injury and divide it up into constituent causes or points in time, and assess damages twice; once on the day before the second tort, and once at trial.  Each defendant is responsible only for their share of the injury and the plaintiff can recover only the appropriate portion from each tortfeasor.

[34]        That approach is logically incompatible with the concept of an indivisible injury.  If an injury cannot be divided into distinct parts, then joint liability to the plaintiff cannot be apportioned either.  It is clear that tortfeasors causing or contributing to a single, indivisible injury are jointly liable to the plaintiff.  This in no way restricts the tortfeasors’ right to apportionment as between themselves under the Negligence Act, but it is a matter of indifference to the plaintiff, who may claim the entire amount from any defendant.

[35]        This is not a case of this Court overturning itself, because aspects of Long v. Thiessen were necessarily overruled by the Supreme Court of Canada’s decisions in Athey,E.D.G., and Blackwater.  Other courts have also come to this same conclusion: see Misko v. Doe, 2007 ONCA 660, 286 D.L.R. (4th) 304 at para. 17.

[36]        It may be that this represents an extension of pecuniary liability for consecutive or concurrent tortfeasors who contribute to an indivisible injury.  We do not think it can be said that the Supreme Court of Canada was unmindful of that consequence.  Moreover, apportionment legislation can potentially remedy injustice to defendants by letting them claim contribution and indemnity as against one another.

[37]        We are also unable to accept the appellant’s submission that “aggravation” and “indivisibility” are qualitatively different, and require different legal approaches.  If a trial judge finds on the facts of a particular case that subsequent tortious action has merged with prior tortious action to create an injury that is not attributable to one particular tortfeasor, then a finding of indivisibility is inevitable.  That one tort made worse what another tort created does not automatically implicate a thin or crumbling skull approach (as in Blackwater), if the injuries cannot be distinguished from one another on the facts.  Those doctrines deal with finding the plaintiff’s original position, not with apportioning liability.  The first accident remains a cause of the entire indivisible injury suffered by the plaintiff under the “but for” approach to causation endorsed by the Supreme Court of Canada in Resurfice Corp. v. Hanke, 2007 SCC 7, [2007] 1 S.C.R. 333.  As noted by McLachlin C.J.C. in that case, showing that there are multiple causes for an injury will not excuse any particular tortfeasor found to have caused an injury on a “but-for” test, as “there is more than one potential cause in virtually all litigated cases of negligence” (at para. 19).  It may be that in some cases, earlier injury and later injury to the same region of the body are divisible.  While it will lie for the trial judge to decide in the circumstances of each case, it is difficult to see how the worsening of a single injury could be divided up.

Non-Pecuniary Damages Discussed for Neck Soft Tissue Injury, Significant Low Back STI

2 cases were released today by the BC Supreme Court dealing with non-pecuniary damages in auto-accident cases which I summarize below to add to this ever-growing free online  pain and suffering caselaw database.  The first case dealt with a soft tissue neck injury; the second with a ‘significant’ low back soft tissue injury.
In the first case (Berry v. LaBelle), the Plaintiff was injured in a 2006 rear-end crash.  Fault was admitted leaving the Court to deal with the value of the claim.
The Plaintiff was a 42 year old drywaller at the time of the accident.  He sued for various damages including past loss of income and diminished earning capacity.  At trial he asked for some $600,000 in total damages for his injuries and losses.  He alleged that he suffered from left handed weakness as a result of the collision which negatively affected his ability to work.  After 4 days of trial, however, his claim proved largely unsuccessful being awarded $0 for his loss of income / diminished earning capacity claims.  The Court did find that the Plaintiff suffered a compensable injury and awarded the Plaintiff damages for non-pecuniary loss (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life).
Specifically Madam Justice Baker found that “the only injury resulting from the motor vehicle accident…is a strain to the soft tissues on the left side of the neck“.  In assessing the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages at $30,000 the Court noted the following:

[51] Nevertheless, I am satisfied that the strain to the soft tissues on the left side of Mr. Berry’s neck did cause him discomfort for several months after the accident, although it appears that injury did not actually impair range of motion in the neck.  Mr. Berry had full range of motion in his neck the day after the accident; Dr. Fehlau described the range of motion as “good” when Mr. Berry was seen at her clinic on August 17, 2006.  Massage therapy alleviated the discomfort but only temporarily; physiotherapy had more lasting benefits.  The pain did not incapacitate Mr. Berry at work, although he modified some of his tasks to accommodate the injury.

[52] By no later than October 2006 – seven months after the accident, Mr. Berry had returned to his favourite recreational activity – dirt-biking.  According to Mr. Berry’s description, and those of his friend Mr. Van Lingen, cross-country dirt-biking is a very strenuous and even hazardous recreational activity.  Mr. Berry told Dr. Fehlau on October 24, 2006 that his neck became sore after one-half hour of dirt-biking.   I accept that Mr. Berry initially moderated the intensity of his dirt-bike excursions.  However, Mr. Van Lingen testified that before the bike accident in September 2008, Mr. Berry was back to riding as he had before the March 2006 motor vehicle accident.

[53] Mr. Berry and his wife both testified that the neck discomfort had a negative effect on their sexual relationship.  They testified that before the accident, they had sexual intercourse two or three times every day, but that the frequency diminished after the accident because Mr. Berry experienced neck pain during intercourse, particularly when certain positions were attempted.  Mr. Berry and his wife both testified that Mr. Berry was less patient and more irritable when his neck was sore.

[54] Mr. Berry testified that he has given up river kayaking and golfing because of his injuries but I am not persuaded this is true.  Mr. Berry has not made a serious attempt to engage in either of these activities since the accident.  He testified he had gone kayaking once on a lake, and had not attempted river kayaking.  He had not attempted to play golf.  Given that Mr. Berry has been able to continue to do very heavy physical labour at work, and resumed cross-country dirt-biking within seven months after the accident, I do not accept that he is incapacitated from playing a few games of golf annually, or kayaking on a river.  I think it more likely that Mr. Berry has changed his recreational focus to activities he can enjoy with his wife and young son, and to a new interest – on-line computer games – which Ms. Schroeder testified that Mr. Berry plays for hours at a time.

[55] I am satisfied that Mr. Berry has recovered from the injuries caused by the accident.  I consider that an award of $30,000 to be adequate compensation for the temporary impact Mr. Berry’s neck injury has had on his enjoyment of life and, in particular, the discomfort he has experienced when lifting heavy materials at work; while engaging in strenuous recreational activities; and during intimate relations with his spouse.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

The second case released today (Demarzo v. Michaud) considered the onset of pain in a pre-existing but asymptomtic condition, namely a degenerative spine.

The Plaintiff was involved in a March, 2005 rear end collision.  Fault was admitted.  The Court heard evidence that the Plaintiff suffered from relatively severe back pain following this collision.  The parties differed on whether the Defendant was legally responsible for this.  The Defendant argued that he was not stating that the accident related injuries were minor and that a ‘pre-existing degenerative spine‘ and a subsequent event (an incident where the Plaintiff was lifting weights and aggravated her back pain) were responsible for the symptoms. The Defendant argued that the Plaintiff would have experienced her back pain as a matter of course even without the rear-end crash.  (note: this type of a ‘causation’ argument is often advanced at trial in personal injury lawsuits involving plaintiff’s with degenerative changes in their spine).

Mr. Justice Brown largely agreed with the Plaintiff and awarded just over $350,000 in total damages including $85,000 for her non-pecuniary damages.  Specifically he found that the Plaintiff suffered from a “significant soft tissue injury to her lower back” which resulted in chronic symptoms.   In navigating through the Defenses raised and awarding damages Mr. Justice Brown noted the following:

[51] I find that the plaintiff sustained a significant soft tissue injury to her lower back but it is not possible to unravel the plaintiff’s clinical history in such a way that allows a conclusive evidentiary finding on the specific medical legal question of when the plaintiff sustained her annular tear.

[52] The plaintiff’s lower back symptoms have become chronic and I accept Dr. Leete, Dr. Filbey’s medical opinions that she will continue to experience intermittent lower back complaints, especially related to certain activities. This is far from what she was able to do before the accident.

[53] As for the defendant’s contention that the plaintiff’s landscaping activities produced her degenerated spine and that this is the ultimate cause of her symptoms, I prefer the opinions of Dr. Leete and Dr. Filbey that there is no sound medical basis for the proposition that because someone over the years has been active in sports and worked as a landscaper, they are necessarily predisposed to development of degenerative changes in the spine or that such changes are associated with back pain. I understood from the evidence of Dr. Leete and Dr. Filbey that one patient may present with images of a markedly degenerated spine and have no history of symptoms, while another patient may present with marked symptoms, and have images of a perfectly normal spine. I also find that there is no sound medical basis for concluding that the plaintiff would have suffered the symptoms and limitations that she has experienced or that her degenerative spine would have inevitably become symptomatic, absent inducement of symptoms by the trauma of the motor vehicle accident.

[54] The plaintiff’s position is that when she lifted the dumbbells, she experienced immediate onset of pain in the same area she injured in the accident; that this was an exacerbation of the plaintiff’s unresolved injuries; and that there is no evidence to show that she would have experienced her continuing symptoms but for the injuries she sustained in the accident. On the balance of probabilities, I agree with the plaintiff’s position. I find that but for the accident the plaintiff would not have suffered the pain and disability she experienced after accident, including the exacerbation of her injuries on May 29, 2005 and acute flare-up with neurological symptoms in November 2005…

[57] The plaintiff has never returned to her former work as a landscaper or to any of her former recreational activities, at least not with any degree of intensity. She is still unable to play volleyball, cannot run long distances, although she did try running in the last month but at a far lower level than before. She no longer exercises at the gym. She does not enjoy movies in theatres because she finds sitting for long periods very uncomfortable. She explained that the last time she went out with friends, she felt very uncomfortable, but suffered through it as she was too embarrassed to leave. Given her enjoyment of sports and active lifestyle shared with her husband, as well as the loss of her former capacity to be active, this represents a substantial loss for the plaintiff as a person and a spouse. Although the plaintiff will likely improve somewhat in the future, I accept that she will not ever be able return to her former level of participation in recreational activities or regain her former physical capacities; and will continue to experience varying degrees of chronic back pain that will necessitate alteration of her lifestyle.

[58] The accident depressed the plaintiff’s mood, leading to a marriage separation in early spring 2007. Mr. Saliken testified that the plaintiff became depressed, unhappy about living with him in Nanaimo, impatient and angry. Making matters worse was the apparent mindset of Mr. Saliken’s family, who were impatient with the pace of the plaintiff’s recovery and kept asking why she could not work. The plaintiff’s feelings of frustration, augmented by her feelings of diminishment in the eyes of her husband’s family, who she did not yet know well and who had “never seen how hard she could work”, and her feeling that she had become a drain on the household combined with other aggravating factors, ultimately led to arguments and her two months separation from her husband. Fortunately, their bond and commitment to one another were strong enough to allow the plaintiff and Mr. Saliken to weather these adverse emotional affects of the accident and they reconciled. Nonetheless, the plaintiff’s separation from her husband and her emotional distress are emblematic of the degree of suffering and loss of enjoyment of life the plaintiff has experienced. She is entitled to a substantial award for pain and suffering and loss of the enjoyment of life. Bearing in mind that while she will receive compensation for her loss of earning capacity, she has still lost the enjoyment and satisfaction she experienced in her chosen career. I award the plaintiff $85,000 for non pecuniary damages.

Mild Traumatic Brain Injuries and the Recognition of Symptoms


When people suffer from mild traumatic brain injuries (MTBI), it sometimes takes time for people to recognize the extent of the injury and the impact that the consequences of MTBI have on everyday life.  Changes can be subtle but the impact could be dramatic.  Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, considering such a case.
In today’s case (Burdett v. Eidse) the Plaintiff was involved in 2 serious motor vehicle accidents.  The first in Kelowna, the second in North Vancouver.  Fault was not admitted for the first but after trial the Court found the Defendant 100% liable for the first crash.  Fault was admitted by the Defendant for the second crash.  Madam Justice Loo was asked to determine the extent of the Plaintiff’s accident related injuries.
The Plaintiff suffered from an MTBI in the first crash.  As is sometimes seen with these types of injuries the Plaintiff did not appreciate the significant impact his MTBI had on his level of functioning.   The Plaintiff, who had a “bulldog” attitude took very little time off work and complained very little about the consequences of the car crash.
To those around the Plaintiff, however, the changes were noticeable.  Evidence was called that there were significant changes in the Plaintiff’s functioning after the car crash by those close to him.  Ultimately Madam Justice Loo of the BC Supreme Court accepted that the Plaintiff did suffer an MTBI in the collision and that he was competitively unemployable as a result.  The Court went on to award just over $1.1 Million in total damages including an award of $200,000 for non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life).
In reaching her conclusions Madam Justice Loo highlighted the difficulty the Plaintiff had in realizing the consequences of the car crash.  Some of the key findings were as follows:

[106] When asked when he became aware that he had a problem, Mr. Burdett said that when he first saw his counsel Mr. Burns, he mentioned he had an accident, and “kind of left it” at that. No one in his crew told him he was not doing what he was supposed to be doing on the job. Then “weird things” started “creeping into my life”. Friends started telling him he was forgetting things, he was having a hard time remembering numbers, he could no longer estimate the cost of a plan, and he was forgetting things at work. His crew told him to get joist hangers and he returned with something else. They started writing things down for him so that he would remember. He finally realized “there’s something really wrong here; I need help”. He returned to see Mr. Burns again.

[107] There is no evidence of when Mr. Burdett saw his counsel the first or second time, but this action was commenced and a statement of claim filed on April 4, 2007. The statement of defence was filed July 30, 2007.

[108] Despite what his family, friends, and co-workers saw and observed of Mr. Burdett, it was not until he saw Dr. Cameron that he recognized the extent of his injuries from the motor vehicle accident of June 26, 2005.

[109] At the time Mr. Burdett worked on the Losch and Summerland Motel projects, he thought he was doing fine. In retrospect, he was not. In retrospect he realized that he was cut out of the loop, did not stay on top of matters, and let work get out of control.

[110] Several times during the construction of the Losch projects, the architect voiced to him that the project was not running satisfactorily. Not only has an architect never said that to him, but Mr. Burdett also did not realize that the project was not running smoothly at the time.

[111] Mr. Burdett’s company is still owed $80,000 on the Losch project, but Mr. Burdett is unable to determine what the deficiencies are or what work has been left undone because he left everything to the job superintendent with whom he no longer has a relationship.

[112] The Summerland Motel project became an even bigger disaster because Mr. Burdett failed to properly manage the project. He did not write up a change order or extra work order and did everything with a wave of his hand. He never made sure that the owner had financing in place, with the result that Mr. Burdett financed much of the work with his own personal funds. He did not deal with the trades as he should have, with the result that trades walked off the job or never showed up. The job occurred at a time when carpenters and other trades were hard to get. Mr. Burdett misquoted parts of the work by leaving out necessary work, and did not know at the time that he was having difficulty estimating and working with numbers.

[188] There is no doubt that Mr. Burdett initially did not recognize the extent of his injuries:  Dr. John Pullyblank testified that it is not uncommon when a person suffers neurocognitive injuries. It takes that person some time to realize that his brain does not work the way it used to.

[189] I find that Mr. Burdett is neither a complainer nor a malingerer. At first, he was not aware of the extent of his cognitive difficulties and worked without even telling those with whom he worked closely that he had been in an accident. Common sense tells me that those who worked with him would not and did not tell him that something was wrong with him or his brain. This is supported by the evidence. Instead, those who worked with him avoided dealing with him and basically cut him out of the loop.

[190] Dr. Kates, Mr. Nemeth, Dr. Cameron, and Dr. Kaushanksy all spoke about Mr. Burdett’s bullish or bulldog attitude. Dr. Kaushansky put it best when he said that Mr. Burdett probably did not recognize he was injured in the accident (I pause to note that Mr. Burdett seemed genuinely surprised when the police officer’s report indicated that he had been injured). It is part of his bull dog approach: “This is a nothing accident. I’m out of here and on my way”. It explains why he took no time off work, why he told very few about the accident, and why he complained little, if at all…

[194] While Mr. Burdett clearly did not appreciate the extent of his injuries or that something was wrong with him, clearly those who were close to him—his family, friends, and workers—knew he was a different man long before Dr. Cameron’s diagnosis…

[198] I conclude on a consideration of all of the evidence that Mr. Burdett suffered soft tissue injuries and a concussion or an MTBI from the June 2005 accident. He had a pre-existing brain injury that made him more susceptible to more significant and prolonged symptoms, and he fell within that small percentage of individuals who do not recover. His soft tissue injuries were aggravated by the January 2006 accident. The overwhelming evidence is that Mr. Burdett suffered cognitive impairment immediately after the first accident, his condition will likely not improve, and he will suffer the same problems for the rest of his life. His anxiety and depression are related to the accident and the realization that not only is he no longer the same high functioning successful businessman that he once was, but also that his condition is permanent and he is not likely to recover.

[199] I conclude on all of the evidence that Mr. Burdett is no longer capable of working as a contractor and is competitively unemployable, or put at its best, is minimally employable.

It is difficult to extract sound bites from a case like this and I suggest that anyone interested in Brain Injury litigation in British Columbia review this judgement in full to see some of the types of issues that can arise in MTBI cases.

This judgement reveals 2 issues that are worth taking note of.  First that lay witnesses (friends, family co-workers) play a vital role in brain injury litigation as their evidence can be key towards establishing not just the diagnosis of injury but the severity of its impact.  Second this case shows that being stoic in the face of injury does nothing to reduce the value of an injury claim.  Here the Plaintiff’ ‘bulldog‘ attitude did not reduce the value of his claim and in all likelihood assisted the Court in making positive credibility findings.

BC Court of Appeal Discusses Causation in Negligence Claims

The law of ‘causation’ was discussed extensively in reasons for judgment released today by the BC Court of Appeal.
Today’s case (Chambers v. Goertz)  involved the appeal of the trial judge’s findings of liability.  At trial the court found a taxi driver partially responsible for a crash for leaving his high-beams on which made it difficult for another motorist to see various Plaintiffs crossing a street.  The other motorist then struck the Plaintiffs causing injuries. (Click here to read my post on the trial judgment).
The taxi driver appealed this finding arguing that “the trial judge erred in law in finding that his conduct was a ‘contributing cause’ of the plaintiffs injuries“.
This appeal was dismissed and the trial judgment was upheld.  In dismissing the Appeal the BC Court of Appeal discussed the law of Causation in personal injury actions, specifically what the law requires for there to be a compensable relationship between the wrong act and injury to the victim.
The Court summarized this area of law as follows:

[18] The Supreme Court’s other use of “material contribution” is seen in Athey v. Leonati, [1996] 3 S.C.R. 458, 140 D.L.R. (4th) 235, [1997] 1 W.W.R. 97, where Major J., writing for the Court, held in the following passage that causation will be established if it is shown that the defendant’s negligence “materially contributed” to the occurrence of the plaintiff’s injury:

The “but for” test is unworkable in some circumstances, so the courts have recognized that causation is established where the defendant’s negligence “materially contributed” to the occurrence of the injury:  Myers v. Peel County Board of Education, [1981] 2 S.C.R. 21, Bonnington Castings, Ltd. v. Wardlaw, [1956] 1 All E.R. 615 (H.L.);McGhee v. National Coal Board, supra. A contributing factor is material if it falls outside the de minimis range: Bonnington Castings, Ltd. v. Wardlaw, supra; see also R. v. Pinske(1988), 30 B.C.L.R. (2d) 114 (B.C.C.A.), aff’d [1989] 2 S.C.R. 979.

]      In Snell v. Farrell, supra, this Court recently confirmed that the plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s tortious conduct caused or contributed to the plaintiff’s injury. …

[17] It is not now necessary, nor has it ever been, for the plaintiff to establish that the defendant’s negligence was the sole cause of the injury.  There will frequently be a myriad of other background events which were necessary preconditions to the injury occurring.  To borrow an example from Professor Fleming (The Law of Torts (8th ed. 1992) at p. 193), a “fire ignited in a wastepaper basket is … caused not only by the dropping of a lighted match, but also by the presence of combustible material and oxygen, a failure of the cleaner to empty the basket and so forth”.  As long as a defendant is part of the cause of an injury, the defendant is liable, even though his act alone was not enough to create the injury.  There is no basis for a reduction of liability because of the existence of other preconditions: defendants remain liable for all injuries caused or contributed to by their negligence.

This proposition has long been established in the jurisprudence.  Lord Reid stated in McGhee v. National Coal Board, supra, at p. 1010:

It has always been the law that a pursuer succeeds if he can shew that fault of the defender caused or materially contributed to his injury.  There may have been two separate causes but it is enough if one of the causes arose from fault of the defender.  The pursuer does not have to prove that this cause would of itself have been enough to cause him injury.

[Emphasis in original]

[19] As this passage illustrates, every injury has multiple necessary or “but for” factual causes.  The function of tort law is to identify those for which the defendant should be held responsible.  Thus, in Snell v. Farrell, [1990] 2 S.C.R. 311, 72 D.L.R. (4th), 4 C.C.L.T. (2d) 229, Sopinka J., writing for the Court, said, at 326,

Causation is an expression of the relationship that must be found to exist between the tortious act of the wrongdoer and the injury to the victim in order to justify compensation of the latter out of the pocket of the former.

[20] For purposes of determining whether a breach of duty was a “but for” cause of particular harm, there are no degrees of causation – specific conduct was either necessary for the harm to occur or it was not.  However, not every cause necessary for the harm to occur can reasonably be considered a candidate for liability.  For example, in this case, the accident would not have occurred but for the taxi company dispatcher’s sending Mr. Ahmad to respond to Ms. McDonald’s call, but no one would suggest that the dispatcher should be found liable for what happened.  Therefore the law takes cognizance only of those causes that play a significant role in bringing about the outcome.

[21] This concept has been expressed in different ways.  As I have noted, in Athey v. Leonati, the Court said at para. 15 that “causation is established where the defendant’s negligence ‘materially contributed’ to the occurrence of the injury”, and that a “material contribution” is one that “falls outside the de minimis range”.  To similar effect the Court said, inSnell v. Farrell, at 327, that proof of causation requires “a substantial connection between the injury and the defendant’s conduct”.  “Substantial connection” was also used to describe this idea in R. v. Goldhart, [1996] 2 S.C.R. 463 at 480, 136 D.L.R. (4th) 502, 107 C.C.C. (3d) 481, where the Court said,

The happening of an event can be traced to a whole range of causes along a spectrum of diminishing connections to the event.  The common law of torts has grappled with the problem of causation.  In order to inject some degree of restraint on the potential reach of causation, the concepts of proximate cause and remoteness were developed.  These concepts place limits on the extent of liability in order to implement the sound policy of the law that there exist a substantial connection between the tortious conduct and the injury for which compensation is claimed. …

[22] Clearly, the “material contribution” test discussed in Resurfice Corp. v. Hanke has nothing to do with the circumstances of this case.  Here, it was not impossible for the plaintiffs to prove causation.  Rather, whether the breaches of duty of the parties played legally significant causal roles in the outcome was in each case a question of fact to be answered by rational inference drawn in the usual way from the evidence.  Causation is essentially “a practical question of fact which can best be answered by ordinary common sense”:  Snell v. Farrell at 328, citing Alphacell Ltd. v. Woodward, [1972] 2 All E.R. 475 at 490 (per Lord Salmon).

[23] It was this conventional “but for” test of causation that the trial judge applied when she held that Mr. Ahmad’s breach of duty was a “contributing cause” of the accident and that he was therefore liable.  Her use of the phrase “contributing cause” signifies that she found as a fact that Mr. Ahmad’s conduct played an important enough role in the combination of events necessary for this occurrence to fix him with liability for the consequences.  This was the correct approach in the circumstances and I would reject the submission that she erred in adopting it.

ICBC Claims, Ruptured Discs and Causation

Reasons for judgment were released today involving a disc injury with 2 potential causes.
The Plaintiff was involved in 3 car accidents. This lawsuit involved the second accident. The Plaintiff was ultimatley diagnosed with a ruptured disc in her back. The issue at trial was whether the ruptured disc was caused by the first or second accident (apparently no-one blamed the third accident as a potential cause).
“Causation” is often a key issue at many ICBC claims and frequently ICBC takes the position at trial that while a Plaintiff is injured the injury would have existed even without the car accident as it was caused by previous or subsequent events.
In this case a physiatrist and a GP testified on behalf of the Plaintiff. No defence medical evidence was called, instead, the defence relied on their lawyer’s cross examination of the Plaintiff experts.
The Plaintiff had an MRI which showed a moderate sized diffuse disc bulge or protrusion at L-4/5 with associated disc desiccation or drying.
The court was not satisfied with the Plaintiff’s experts explanations linking the disc protrusion to the second car accident. The court instead found that it is more likely that the disc injury was caused by the first car accident and the second accident aggravated this injury for a period of time.
For the aggravation of this disc injury the court awarded general damages (pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) of $30,000. The Plaintiff’s claim for loss of earning capacity and cost of future care were dismissed on the basis that the disc injury was not caused by the accident and any exacerbation of the injury caused by the accident ended in 2005.
This case shows that nothing should be taken for granted when taking an ICBC claim to trial.  Here both doctors seemed in agreement that the second car accident caused the disc injury and no medical experts disagreed with this finding.  After hearing this evidence first hand in court the trial judge did not agree with the Plaintiff’s experts and dismissed the allegation that the second car accident caused the disc injury.  Even where the medical evidence is not contradicted you cannot guarantee that a court will accept it!  This is the risk of trial and cross-examination.  Trial risks need to be accounted for when considering ICBC claim settlement and valuing fair payment for injuries.

Accident and Subsequent Fall Related, Plaintiff Awarded $72,231.88

Following a 3 day trial in Victoria, reasons for judgement were released today awarding an injured Plaintiff just over $70,000 in compensation as a result of 2 separate but allegedly related incidents.
The facts of this case are somewhat unique. The Plaintiff was injured in a BC car accident in August, 2005. Following an incident of ‘road rage’ the Defendant rear-ended the Plaintiff’s vehicle. Both the Defendant’s car and the Plaintiff’s van sustained significant damage in the impact. The Plaintiff sustained various injuries in this crash.
A few months later, the Plaintiff lost consiousness and fell and broke his leg while on a BC Ferry. The Plaintiff sued claiming the subsequent fall was related to the injuries sustained in the car accident.
Addressing injuries, Mr. Justice Metzger found that the Plaintiff suffered whiplash injuries as a result of the accident with associated severe headaches, neck and shoulder pain, limited right shoulder mobility, sleep disruption, nausea and some brief dizziness. He found that these symptoms “were improving at the time of his fall and loss of consciousness on the ferry, and but for the continuing headaches, were mostly resolved within 6 weeks of the motor vehicle accident“.
With respect to the fall the court found that the Plaintiff suffered a fractured right fibula and tibia. The court accepted that, as a result of this ankle injury, the Plaintiff was unable to enjoy skiing and curling anymore.
The court canvassed some important decisions in deciding whether the fall was in any way related to the car accident. The court reviwed 2 of the leading Supreme Court of Canada decisions often relied on by ICBC claims lawyers in advancing ICBC claims addressing the issue of ‘causation’, namely:
Athey v. Leonati
Resurfice Corp. v. Hanke
The court concluded that “the Plaintiff demonstrated that his MVA related symptoms contributed to his collapse on the ferry….I accept the Plaintiff’s testimony that he was overwhelmed with MVA related headache and neck pain immediately prior to the fainting incident…I find that the Plaintiff’s general fatigue and headach were significant factors in his loss of consciousness. There was a substantial connection between the injuries and the defendant’s conduct“.
The court went on the value the non-pecuniary loss (pain and suffering) for each of the events seperately.
For the Whiplash injuries the court awarded non-pecuniary damages of $12,000 and then reduced these by 15% to account for “(the Plaintiff’s) failure to pursue treatment, which most likely would have mitigated his damages and hastened his recovery”
For the broken leg (ankle injury) the court awarded $20,000 for non-pecuniary damages and then also reduced these by 15% for the Plaintiff’s failure to mitigate. The court concluded that the Plaintiff failed to follow sensible advice from his doctor (to attend physiotherapy after the ankle injury) and this is what resulted in the reduction of damages.
The Plaintiff also was awarded damages for past loss of income and special damages (out of pocket expenses incurred as a result of the injuries).
If you are advancing an ICBC claim involving a subsequent injury (intervening injury) this case is worth a read to view some of the factors courts consider in determining whether accident related injuries contributed to a future event that is compensible in law. This decision also shows the ‘failure to mitigate’ argument in action which resulted in the Plaintiff’s pain and suffering damages being reduced by 15% for failing to follow his doctors advice.
Do you have questions about this case or an ICBC claim involving an intervening injury that you wish to discuss with an ICBC Claims lawyer? If so click here to arrange a free consultation with ICBC Claims Lawyer Erik Magraken.

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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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