Tag: credibility

More on Rule 37B – The Conduct of the Parties as a Factor

Further to my numerous posts revieiwng BC Supreme Court cases interpreting and applying Rule 37B following an injury claims trial, reasons for judgement were released today dealing with a unique issue; in exercising discretion under the Rule can the Court consider the conduct of the successful litigant?
In today’s case (Lakhani v. Elliott) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2005 car crash.  Before trial the Plaintiff made a formal offer to settle her case under Rule 37B for $95,000 plus costs and disbursements.
While the Plaintiff did not obtain all the compensation she sought at trial she fared well enough to beat her formal offer.  Specifically, after an 11 day trial Mr. Justice Voith awarded the Plaintiff just over $105,000 in total damages (You can click here to read my post summarizing the trial findings).
Despite the Plaintiff’s relative success at trial all did not go smoothly.  Mr. Justice Voith made some damaging findings with respect to her credibility.  Some of the highlights of these findings were as follows:

[33]      The defendants asserted that Mrs. Lakhani’s credibility was suspect. I agree in significant measure. I believe there are a number of distinct factors that have caused me to question, in some cases reject, and in other cases to significantly discount her evidence. In the main, I find that Mrs. Lakhani has overstated her symptoms resulting from the Accident; downplayed the significance of her 2001 workplace injury; and has been untruthful regarding the Accident’s effect on her graduation from nursing school. I will discuss these concerns in turn…

[40]      I believe that Mrs. Lakhani has tended to considerably overstate the severity of the symptoms that she suffers from as a result of the Accident….

[46]      For the plaintiff to assert that she has routinely and consistently suffered from pain, from the date of the Accident to the trial, which approaches the worst pain possible is not tenable. For her to describe her pain in terms which would be comparable to that of patients who are heavily medicated to assist with their pain management or who are inextremis goes beyond mere subjectivity or imprecision. It is instead either so inaccurate a description as to be of no value or it is a description intended to overstate. In either case it is not a description that can be relied upon….

[51]      The second significant concern with the plaintiff’s evidence was a tendency to downplay the significance of her 2001 workplace injury or to suggest some improvement in her symptoms in relation to that injury prior to the Accident…

[54]      Indeed Mrs. Lakhani sought broadly to suggest that in late 2004 she reclaimed or reassumed control of her life. She said this was so with respect to spending time with her sister, with respect to gardening and even with respect to her household activities. This too is all inconsistent with the objective record of what she told others she could do, with the medical assessment that her condition had plateaued or with her admission that things had become “as good as they were going to get”…

[59]      Quite simply the overall picture which the plaintiff sought to paint with her evidence was one where the very significant “life altering changes” brought on by her low back injury occupied little or no space. This absence of balance in her evidence had the affect of considerably detracting from its weight.

[60]      A third concern with Mrs. Lakhani’s evidence arises from having testified that the Accident caused her to graduate two terms later than she otherwise would have. Specifically, Mrs. Lakhani said that the pain and difficulty associated with the Accident caused her to skip the May to August 2005, as well as the January to April 2007 academic terms. This is not credible on an objective basis…

[66]      Plaintiff’s counsel sought to persuade me that an eight month delay in Mrs. Lakhani’s graduation was a very modest component of the plaintiff’s claim and not one that would cause the plaintiff to be less than forthright. In my view, however, the focus of the plaintiff’s evidence was not designed to obtain the modest financial benefit that receiving her degree earlier would have generated, but rather to impress upon the court the ongoing severity of her injuries. Quite apart from her motivation, the documents I’ve referred to as well as the admissions she made in cross examination, simply do not accord with the evidence she first gave.

With this background at hand the Plaintiff brought an application for double costs under Rule 37B.  The Defendants opposed and argued that given the Plaintiff’s “failure to be forthright at trial” the Court should not exercise its discretion to award the Plaintiff double costs.  Mr. Justice Voith agreed and provided the following analysis:

0] While the dominant objective of Rule 37B, found under the heading “Offers of Settlement”, is likely to promote early or reasonable settlement, additional factors, and in particular the conduct or honesty of one of the parties, can be relevant in considering whether to make an order of double costs under 37B(5)(b). This is apparent from numerous sources…
[13] Second, both the permissive nature of Rule 37B(5), which establishes that the new rule does not purport to create any automatic double cost consequences, and the non-exhaustive list of factors in Rule 37B(6) acknowledge the flexibility inherent in Rule 37B and the prospect that the Rule is amenable to furthering legitimate policy objectives apart from settlement…

[15] It is important to emphasize that in this case there is no issue of depriving the plaintiff of the ordinary costs to which she is entitled or of any award of special costs being made against her. Instead, the only issue is whether she should be entitled to double costs in light of various findings that I made in my Reasons for Judgment.

[16] Having regard to the foregoing authorities, and the underlying rationale that drives them, I can see no principled reason why a lack of candour or probity on the part of a party who gives evidence at trial should not constitute an “other factor the court considers appropriate” under Rule 37B(6)(d) in any potential award of double costs. An award of double costs, or a refusal to award such costs, is one of the means available to a court of signalling to litigants the types of conduct or behaviour it considers as either worthy of promotion or, conversely, as worthy of rebuke…

[20]        The same considerations apply to a party whose evidence is found by a court to be dishonest or designed to exaggerate or inflate a claim. Such a party should understand the seriousness with which that conduct will be regarded. It should similarly understand the potential consequences of that conduct, including its relevance to an award of double costs that the party might otherwise be entitled to.

[21]        In making these comments I am mindful that there are a great many cases where a party’s evidence is not accepted by the court for a variety of reasons. In many cases a party’s best recollection may simply not accord with other objective evidence. A party’s candid evidence may not, in light of the expert evidence, be accepted. Indeed it is not remarkable or unusual for a party to place a somewhat positive slant on given events. The mere fact that a party’s evidence is not accepted by the court, without more, does not engage the considerations I have identified. There is nothing in the conduct of such a party that warrants any reproach or criticism. It is, instead, the natural result of all cases where competing memories or competing versions of given events require resolution…

[24] In this case, the specific findings I referred to go beyond the “normal trial process” and do extend to a finding that the plaintiff sought to mislead the court and to significantly exaggerate the claim being advanced. Such conduct is worthy of censure and, in the circumstances of this case, disentitles the plaintiff to the award of double costs that she seeks.

This case serves as an important reminder of the crucial role that Plaintiff credibility plays in injury litigation.
In my continued efforts to get us all prepared for the New BC Supreme Court Civil Rules I will again point out that Rule 37B will be replaced with Rule 9 under the New Rules. The new rule uses language that is almost identical to Rule 37B which should help cases such as this one retain their value as precedents.

More on ICBC Injury Claims and the Subjective Nature of Pain


Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, highlighting an important truth in injury litigation – it is not up to ICBC’s doctors to decide if a Plaintiff’s pain complaints are legitimate, rather it is up to the Judge or Jury.
In today’s case (Sharma v. Didiuk) the Plaintiff was involved in 2004 rear end collision in Delta, British Columbia.  Fault was admitted by the rear motorist.   The vehicles did not suffer much damage but the Plaintiff alleged injury.
The Plaintiff’s doctor provided the following evidence with respect to her accident related injuries:
She sustained soft tissue injuries of her back, neck, and shoulders. This pain is present several times a week. It is aggravated by her work as a hairdresser. It is also aggravated by lifting or carrying. She has used Tylenol, heat, anti[?]inflammatories, physiotherapy, and massage as treatment with some variable symptoms. Her recent pregnancy also aggravated her symptoms. Ms Sharma’s pain has become chronic recurrent in nature. With regular strengthening and stretching exercises she should continue to remain functional with pain. She may require future treatments of massage, physiotherapy, and accupun[c]ture, to manage her pain. She will likely remain prone to aggravations of her pain with prolonged standing, lifting of her arms to shoulder height, and carrying.
The Defendant arranged for an ‘independent medical exam’ with orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Boyle.  Dr. Boyle disagreed with the Plaintiff’s physician with respect to the extent of the Plaintiff’s injuries.  Dr. Boyle provided the following evidence:

[66] In his report Dr. Boyle concluded that the plaintiff had suffered a minor myofascial strain to her cervical spine with injury to ligaments, tendons and muscles, and that medical management for this should be in the form of stretching and strengthening exercises and the use of anti-inflammatories.

[67] He also said she may have suffered a very minor strain to her lumbar spine although she was asymptomatic at the time of his examination.

[68] He concluded there was no disability associated with her function as a hairdresser from 2005 onwards and the myofascial strain that she would have suffered would have been very mild at most with a very transient and limited effect on her.

[69] In his opinion there is no disability associated with the events surrounding the motor vehicle accident and no vocational or avocational limitations to be placed on her, with no need for any passive modalities of treatment.

[70] At trial he agrees that pain is usually considered chronic after two years, and that soft tissue injury may not exhibit any objective signs. Even if the soft tissue injuries heal in three months they can still produce current pain.

[71] However, in his opinion the probability that the plaintiff has these complaints ongoing is very low.

The Court went on to accept that the Plaintiff was injured and rejected Dr. Boyle’s opinion.  In awarding the Plaintiff $30,000 for her non-pecuniary damages Mr. Justice Truscott made the following comments:

[73] I also accept that the plaintiff’s complaints of continuing pain from her soft tissue injuries have exceeded the expected time period for recovery.

[74] I conclude that Dr. Boyle is saying in his own words that he does not believe the plaintiff when she says she still has continuing pain from injuries in this motor vehicle accident, almost six years later, as he found no basis for that in his examination and in his general understanding of the effects of minor soft tissue injuries.

[75] However, the fact is that I do accept the plaintiff’s evidence when she says she is still suffering pain from soft tissue injuries that she sustained in this motor vehicle accident of April 8, 2004.

[76] I therefore reject the opinion of Dr. Boyle that she does not have any further effects from those injuries, and I will assess the plaintiff’s damages on the basis that she continues to suffer some chronic pain from these injuries caused by the motor vehicle accident….

[92] I conclude the plaintiff’s present pain is intermittent and not continuous and that it depends on what activity she carries out and for how long she carries out those activities.

[93] She was able to continue her schooling full-time after the accident and was able to continue thereafter working close to full-time or at full-time at her hairdressing employments…

[98] Here I accept that the plaintiff’s ability to continue to work full-time has been accomplished with some difficulty because of her injuries as she has to stand and reach for long periods of time which brings about pain and discomfort and exhausts her by the end of the day. Her social activities have also been curtailed.

[99] I accept the prognosis of Dr. Rayavarapu and after reviewing the cases cited by both counsel, I consider a proper award for the plaintiff for non-pecuniary damages attributable to this motor vehicle accident to be $30,000. In assessing non?pecuniary damages in this amount I have already reduced the full value of her injuries by $10,000 to account for the measurable risk of her pre-existing injuries continuing to affect her regardless of this accident.

Only an injured person truly knows the extent of their pain.  If a Defendant arranges for an independent medical exam and that doctor minimizes the extent of the injury cases such as this one serve as an important reminder that the Defence Medical Examiner is not the Judge and Jury.

Non-Pecuniary Damages for Avulsion Fracture of Knee and Credibility Discussed


Reasons for Judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court addressing two noteworthy topics, the non-pecuniary damages for a right knee avulsion fracture with good resolution and the potential consequences of testimony which overstates the effects of an injury in an ICBC court case.
In today’s case (Dodsworth v. Krenus) the Plaintiff was struck by a vehicle while he was walking in a crosswalk in North Vancouver, BC.   Fault was admitted by the motorist.  The Plaintiff sustained various injuries the most serious being “an avulsion fracture of the insertion of the lateral collateral ligamentous complex of his right knee where it inserted in the fibular neck“.
As significant as this sounds the fracture was ‘minimally displaced’ did not require surgical intervention and made a good recovery.  In assessing the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages at $45,000 Mr. Justice Masuhara noted the following:
[34] Mr. Dodsworth suffered a serious injury and endured considerable pain particularly during the first few weeks following the accident.  He suffered multiple bruises and abrasions from the accident, in addition to the avulsion fracture.  He was on pain medication for a month, wore a knee brace for four months, his mother testified to his significant pain during the first few days of the accident, he suffered a rectal tear caused by the constipation from the pain medications, he had to attend physiotherapy 2 to 3 times a week for months, and he was unable to bear weight on his injured leg for about three months.  On the other hand, he had sufficient ability to within a few days of the accident to attend his family doctor’s office, attempt to take classes at UBC, attend traffic court in North Vancouver to dispute traffic violations, to go shopping and make purchases to replace his pants, prescription glasses, and laptop computer that had been damaged in the accident, and start physiotherapy. ..
[36] …The medical evidence indicates that there is a risk, though small of the plaintiff developing early degenerative osteoarthritis in his right knee as a result of the accident.  The plaintiff has regained full range of motion in his right knee with no residual knee instability; as well, he has full range of motion of his lumbar spine.  This evidence also indicates that there is an even chance he will continue to suffer some intermittent, occasional annoying and disabling low back pain for the foreseeable future.  In terms of neurologic injury, the plaintiff did not suffer any permanent neurologic injury as a result of the accident.

[37] I note the evidence of the plaintiff’s family physician since birth who stated in his report that “in time Justin will become completely asymptomatic”. ..

[39] Having reviewed the cases provided by each of the parties and having regard to the specific circumstances of this case with respect to the inconvenience, loss of enjoyment of life and the pain and suffering the plaintiff has experienced, and making allowances for risks, I assess general damages as being $45,000.

I’ve written many times about the crucial role Plaintiff credibility plays in any BC personal injury lawsuit or ICBC claim.  Pain is inherently subjective and cannot be measured.  If a Plaintiff lacks credibility this will directly impact the value of a claim.  The role of credibility in injury litigation was highlighted once again in today’s case where Mr. Justice Masuhara found that the Plaintiff’s “testimony was overstated in regards to his disabilities“.  This finding in all likelihood affected the Court’s valuation of the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary loss.  In coming to this conclusion the Court made the following key comments:

[38] I find that Mr. Dodsworth’s testimony was overstated in regard to his disabilities.  I say this in light of the following:

(a)      his full participation as a camp leader for two summers at Camp Elphinstone post-accident .  He was one of two leaders in charge of ten campers on a continuous basis for two weeks at a time over the entire summer.  He would lead the children in a wide variety of activities such as hiking, camping, swimming, climbing high ropes, sailing, field games, kayaking, canoeing, etc.  I note that this included lifting and carrying a large war canoe, kayaks, hobie cats, and canoes.  There is no indication that he had any limitations in these activities other than his own statement.

(b)      his ability to ski on double diamond runs as he indicated in his examination for discovery.  In this regard, I did not accept his correction at trial that he was actually in the Seventh Heaven area an intermediate ski area.  Mr. Dodsworth’s vagueness, lack of recall or inconsistencies during the trial reduced the level of reliance to be placed on his more recent recall of events and the level of his injuries generally.

(c)      his ability to successfully complete within a concentrated period of time all of his lifeguarding certifications and subsequent annual re-certifications, all of which involved a fairly high level of physicality and concentration;

(d)      his ability to carry on as a lifeguard and swim instructor, though I note at one point he did not take on any shifts as a swim instructor but did not tell his supervisor.  My view is that this was more related to his claim than his disability;

(e)      his ability to successfully complete his education in an expeditious fashion; and

(f)       his vagueness or lack of recall relating to events surrounding previous employment, his diversion, and inconsistency between the aforementioned activities and his claimed disability.

Given all of his activities I am not persuaded that his pain is or will be as debilitating as submitted.  I do not view the ongoing complaints as significant as those suffered by the plaintiffs in the cases he cited to the court, including the extent of his right knee injury.

As readers of this blog know a common theme in injury litigation is that ‘stoic’ plaintiffs are not punished by reducing the value of their claims due to their tough attitudes.  This can be contrasted with numerous cases where damages are assessed at a lower range where Courts find plaintiffs have overstated their injuries.  A good lesson to learn for lawyers and clients alike is that a tough attitude in the face of injury is not a bad thing.

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.

Chronic Pain With No Objective Signs Discussed in Injury Litigation


One set of facts personal injury lawyers frequently encounter are Plaintiffs who sustain injuries in motor vehicle accidents and continue to have chronic pain well beyond the time that the objective injuries have healed.
Pain is an inherently subjective condition and it is well accepted in peer-reviewed medical literature that pain can be present without ongoing objective physical injury.  So how do courts deal with such claims?  Without getting into the many nuances of trial outcomes a general theme in these types of cases is credibility.  If a court accepts that a Plaintiff’s claims are credible then these claims are generally accepted.  Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, dealing with such a claim.
In today’s case (Sylte v. Rodriguez) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2005 motor vehicle collision in Port Coquitlam, BC.  The Defendant failed to yield the right of way to the Plaintiff when he made a left hand turn in front of her.  The issue of fault was admitted leaving the Court to deal with the value of the Plaintiff’s injury claim.
Mr. Justice Sewell awarded the Plaintiff just over $114,000 in total damages for her injuries and losses.  The award included $45,000 for non-pecuniary damages.  In arriving at this figure Mr. Justice Sewell discussed the subjective but real nature of the Plaintiff’s ongoing lower back pain due to soft tissue injuries.  The highlights of the Court’s discussion were as follows:

[12] Ms. Sylte continues to suffer from left side back pain around her sacroiliac joint area.  In Dr. Shu’s opinion this pain is caused by the initial car accident of September 15, 2005, but is definitely aggravated by the second accident.  Dr. Shu does not expect a complete recovery as the pain has been on-going since 2005.  He thinks that Ms. Sylte will experience on-going back pain for the foreseeable future.

[13] I also heard evidence and was provided with medical reports from Dr. Stone and Dr. Duncan McPherson.  I do not think it is necessary to refer to their evidence in any detail.  In this case, the consensus of medical opinion is that Ms. Sylte is suffering from low back pain in the left sacroiliac area.  The doctors also all agree that there is no objective evidence of underlying injury causing this pain.  They are all of the view that as the pain has persisted since June 2005 it will in all likelihood continue to persist for the foreseeable future.

[14] Dr. McPherson’s initial opinion was that there was no objective evidence of disability.  However in cross examination at trial he did agree that he thought Ms. Sylte still had back pain as of the date of his examination in 2006.  I did not take him to be disagreeing with Dr. Shu’s opinion that Ms. Sylte will probably continue to suffer from ongoing back pain for the foreseeable future.  However, I do not think that Dr. Shu considered that Ms. Sylte suffers from any significant disability as a result of her injuries.

[15] The conclusion I have reached is that any restriction on Ms. Sylte’s activities is caused by pain rather than physical limitation.  The pain is however very real to Ms Sylte and the functional effect of that pain is that Ms. Sylte no longer feels able to do all the things she did before the accident.

[16] Based on the evidence before me I conclude that Ms. Sylte suffered a soft-tissue injury to her lower back in the motor vehicle accident which continues to cause her chronic pain in her lower back area.  I also conclude that she developed depressive symptoms which she would not have developed had the accident not occurred…

[18] Ms. Sylte is 51 years old.  She testified that prior to the first motor vehicle accident she was an active, energetic individual.  She enjoyed playing mixed softball, golf and skiing.  She was employed as a nurse’s aide at the Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster.  She was a single mother whose adult son, Josh, lived with her.

[19] Ms. Sylte said that as a result of the pain which she is now experiencing she is no longer able to play softball and can golf only very occasionally.  She simply finds these activities too painful to pursue.  In addition she no longer skis.  She indicated that Josh is now required to do many of the more physically demanding tasks around the house.  She also indicated that she finds it difficult to drive long distances and that her general quality of life has deteriorated significantly as a result of her pain.  She indicated that this pain is about 4 out of 10, with 10 being the worst pain imaginable.

[20] Josh gave evidence at the trial.  He generally corroborated the drop in Ms. Sylte’s activity level since the motor vehicle accident.  He also indicated that his mother had become much less social after the accident.  Josh, who is now 31, does much of the heavy work around the house.

[21] Ms. Sylte has suffered a significant impact on her social and recreational life as a result of the injuries she suffered in the accident.  The evidence before me is that these symptoms will be permanent.  I note that Ms. Sylte is no longer able to play softball, participate in golf in any meaningful way or pursue skiing.  She is in more or less constant discomfort from the injuries she has suffered.  As I have found, she is genuinely experiencing the pain which, I have no doubt, has some psychological component.

[22] I have concluded that there should be a substantial award for non-pecuniary damages in this case.  I was referred to in a number of cases which seem to establish a range of approximately $35,000 to $125,000 for non-pecuniary damages for plaintiffs who suffer permanent pain symptoms without significant physical disability.  In my view, an appropriate amount for non-pecuniary damages in this case is $45,000.

ICBC Injury Claims, Disclosure Requirements and Credibility


Litigants in the BC Supreme Court have to make pre-trial disclosure in a variety of ways.  Some of this compelled disclosure may reflect poorly on a party’s credibility but if the documents or evidence is otherwise producible it must be disclosed to the other side despite the potentially harmful effects on your case.  What about documents or facts that don’t relate to the lawsuit directly but do address a parties credibility?  Can these documents be forced to be disclosed?
The answer is usually no.  Credibility, as important as it is, is considered a ‘collateral issue‘ in litigation and matters relating solely to credibility are deemed irrelevant in terms of pre-trial disclosure.  Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court discussing this.
In today’s case (Bay v. Pasieka) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2005 intersection car crash in Kelowna, BC.  The Plaintiff sued the alleged at fault motorist.   In the pre-trial discovery process the Defendant stated he had no recollection of the accident.  In exploring why the Defendant had no recollection the Plaintiff’s lawyer asked him whether he might have been taking any medication at the time of the crash which may have affected his memory to which he replied “I don’t know if I took medication that would affect my memory“.
The Plaintiff’s lawyer brought a motion for the production of the Defendant’s MSP history along with clinical records of treating physicians who cared for the Defendant in the relevant time frame to test “the creditility of the defendant” and to provide “some explanation for why he has no recollection of the accident“.
Master Young ultimately dismissed the motion holding that the evidence on the application was not sufficient for production of the sought records.  Before reaching this conclusion Master Young made some useful comments with respect to sought disclosure in ICBC Injury Claims relating solely to issues of credibility.  Specifically she held as follows:
Credibility is a collateral issue, as stated in the decision of Sandhu (Guardian ad litem of) v. Philipow (1996), 24 B.C.L.R. (3d) 78 (S.C.), and that decision says that it is not a matter which can be examinable in discovery. The defendant quotes from the decision in Roberts v. Singh, 2006 BCSC 906, which confirms that principle and quotes several other decisions which I have reviewed..These records are only being demanded to challenge his credibility, which is not a relevant issue.
There is caselaw that suggests that matters relating solely to credibility may be produced when punitive damages are being claimed (see for example Rioux v. Smith; 1983, 43 BCLR 392) but otherwise it is important to note that credibility is a ‘collateral issue‘ and not relevant for the purposes of pre-trial disclosure.

ICBC Injury Claims and Effective Cross Examination

Reasons for judgement were released today showing how an effective cross examination of a Defendant can make all the difference in the prosecution of an ICBC Injury Claim.
In today’s case (Mclaren v. Rice) the Plaintiff was involved in a single vehicle accident in February, 2005.  The Plaintiff was a passenger.  The Defendant lost control of the vehicle and left the roadway.  The Plaintiff was injured in this collision.  There were no witnesses to the crash itself and the Plaintiff’s injuries were so severe ( a closed head injury and a fractured skull) that he had no memory of the accident.  The Defendant denied that he was at fault for losing control of the vehicle.
Just because a driver loses control of a vehicle does not automatically make him at fault for the accident.  The Plaintiff still has to prove his/her case on a ‘balance of probabilities‘.   So how then, can a plaintiff with no memory of what happened, with no witnesses and with a defendant who denies wrongdoing prove his case?  Some of the tools that can be used are pre-trial discovery and cross examination.  Today’s case demonstrates that the lawyer involved effectively used these tools to prove that the Driver was responsible for losing control.

Mr. Justice Brooke found that the Defendant driver was at fault.  In reaching this conclusion the Court highlighted serious damage done to the Defendant’s position through cross-examination.  The Plaintiff’s lawyer was able to pick apart the Defendant’s in court evidence and the effect of this was a winning case for the Plaintiff.  Following the Defendant’s cross examination Mr. Justice Brooke reached the below conclusions about his credibility:

[24] There are significant inconsistencies and contradictions between the evidence given by Jacob Rice at trial and prior unsworn statements given by him and prior evidence given under oath. It is, of course, the evidence given at trial that I must assess, and those prior inconsistent statements go to the credibility of Mr. Jacob Rice. I find that Jacob Rice is an unreliable witness and that the inconsistencies and contradictions diminish such weight as his evidence might have had. I find that the events immediately preceding the accident are not clear in Jacob Rice’s mind because he was either asleep or inattentive as the truck proceeded across the oncoming lanes of traffic. There were no brake marks or any indication that evasive action was taken until the truck “hit the ditch”. I find that what Jacob Rice told ICBC in his statement taken on March 8, 2005, is likely what happened:

It was a pull to the left and then, I just hit the ditch and as we hit the ditch, I tried pulling it to the right and it lost control and, and spinning and from there, it just lost control.

(Emphasis Added)

[25] I find that Jacob Rice failed to apply the brakes in a timely fashion and that he failed to divert the course of the truck so as to avoid the accident which occurred. Whether he fell asleep or was merely momentarily inattentive, his conduct was negligent.

Useful Insight into Cross-Examination in an ICBC Brain Injury Claim

When involved in an ICBC Injury Claim it is natural to want to know what the trial experience can be like. The best way to experience what the Court process is like is to actually attend a live trial and watch the evidence play out before you.  This is easy enough to do, particularly in larger centres around the Province, like in Vancouver or New Westminster, as an injury trial is occurring on almost any given day.
If you can’t do this you can read past court judgements to get a feel for the ways these claims can proceed at trial.  While this is not nearly as enlightening as witnessing a live trial some useful insight can still be gleaned.  If you are looking for a court judgement giving insight into the court process Reasons for judgement were released today reproducing extensive portions of a Plaintiff’s cross examination in an ICBC Brain Injury Claim that are worth reviewing in full.
In today’s case (Trevitt v. Tobin) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2004 Motorcycle Accident in Surrey, BC.    The Defendant pulled into the Plaintiff’s line of travel while making a left hand turn.  The Defendant ultimately conceded the issue of fault.
The trial focused on the injuries the Plaintiff had the the appropriate award for compensation.  The Plaintiff alleged that he suffered a traumatic brain injury and as a result would suffer a serious ongoing disability.  The Plaintiff sought over $1.5 million dollars in total damages.
The Plaintiff’s claim with respect to his injuries and the extent of disability was largely rejected with Mr. Justice McEwan finding that “the physical evidence does not account for a head injury or concussion“.  In the end the Court found that the Plaintiff suffered from “general bruising and shaking up in the accident” and following a setback in his career ambitions he suffered from “ongoing difficulties with headaches, tinnitus and some balance issues“.  The Court found that these issues were ongoing by the time of trial (some 5 years later).  The Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary loss (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) was valued at $60,000.
The Court heard from many very qualified physicians who gave opinion evidence with respect to the Plaintiff’s medical condition.  As is often the case in ICBC Injury Claims the court heard competing expert evidence from physicians called by the Plaintiff and the Defendant.  In determining which experts had the more useful evidence Mr. Justice McEwan pointed out that “what any given doctor ‘believes’ is only helpful to the extent taht the underlying information is plausible by the standards of the court“.
To this end, the The Plaintiff’s credibility and reliability were put squarely at issue in this trial.    The Defence lawyer argued that credibility was central to this case and engaged in an extensive cross examination relating to the Plaintiff’s credibility as a witness.  Portions of this cross examination are set out in paragraphs 15-18 and these give good insight into what cross-examination can be like in Injury Litigation.   Ultimately Mr. Justice McEwan held that the plaintiff gave some “unusual” and “inconsistent” evidence and that “he quite clearly cannot be relied upon for the accuracy of his observations about his condition“.

Another LVI Case, Another Award for Damages

I’ve blogged many times about ICBC’s LVI program.  This program is not unique to ICBC.  Many auto insurers have a similar program where they deny compensible injury in tort claims where little vehicle damage occurs in the collision.
The difficulty with the LVI defence, however, is that to successfully run it the defence lawyer is basically inviting the court to find that the Plaintiff is lying about or exaggerating their injuries.  There have been many LVI cases that have gone to trial recently and the overwhelming judicial response to these was to find that compensible injury in fact did occur. Reasons for judgment were released today dealing with 2 LVI cases and such a finding was made again.
In today’s case (Loik v. Hannah) the Plaintiff was involved in 2 collisions in 2006.  Fault was admitted in each case leaving the Court to deal with the issue of quantum of damages (value of the claims).  The cases were defended on the LVI basis where the defence lawyer denied that the Plaintiff was injured in either of the accidents.
Mr. Justice Goepel rejected this argument and found that, notwithstanding the minor nature of these collisions, the Plaintiff was indeed injured.  The court’s useful analysis is set out at paragraphs 34-36 which I set out below:

[34] Ms. Loik claims damages arising from injuries she alleges to have suffered in what were two admittedly low velocity conditions. If the plaintiff was injured in the accidents, the injuries have persisted much longer than one would normally expect. In determining this case, the comments of Chief Justice McEachern, as he then was, in Price v. Kostryba (1982), 70 B.C.L.R. 397 at 398-99 (S.C.), must be kept in mind:

Perhaps no injury has been the subject of so much judicial consideration as the whiplash. Human experience tells us that these injuries normally resolve themselves within six months to a year or so. Yet every physician knows some patients whose complaint continues for years, and some apparently never recover. For this reason, it is necessary for a court to exercise caution and to examine all the evidence carefully so as to arrive at fair and reasonable compensation. …

In Butler v. Blaylock, decided 7th October 1981, Vancouver No. B781505 (unreported), I referred to counsel’s argument that a defendant is often at the mercy of a plaintiff in actions for damages for personal injuries because complaints of pain cannot easily be disproved. I then said:

I am not stating any new principle when I say that the court should be exceedingly careful when there is little or no objective evidence of continuing injury and when complaints of pain persist for long periods extending beyond the normal or usual recovery.

An injured person is entitled to be fully and properly compensated for any injury or disability caused by a wrongdoer. But no one can expect his fellow citizen or citizens to compensate him in the absence of convincing evidence – which could be just his own evidence if the surrounding circumstances are consistent – that his complaints of pain are true reflections of a continuing injury.

[35] In this case, as in most soft tissue injury cases, the case largely turns on the plaintiff’s credibility. The evidence of her injuries is based almost entirely on her subjective reporting to her doctors and to the Court. In such circumstances, it is important to consider whether the evidence of the witness accords with the circumstances that are proven on a balance of probabilities:  Faryna v. Chorny (1951), [1952] 2 D.L.R. 354, 4 W.W.R. (N.S.) 171 (B.C.C.A.).

[36] I find the plaintiff to be a credible witness. Her evidence accords with the surrounding circumstances. Prior to the accident, she was living a healthy active life, participating in many activities. She no longer is able to do so. I find that the reason she cannot do so is the ongoing pain she continues to suffer as a result of the motor vehicle accidents.

Mr. Justice Goepel found that the Plaintiff suffered soft tissue injuries in these collisions “which have caused her ongoing problems with her neck, back and shoulders.”  He went on to value the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages at $25,000.

In addition to a useful discussion about LVI Accidents, the court went on to discuss a topic that I wrote about yesterday, namely the connection between the value of a claim and the numnber of medical appointments attended.

The Defendant argued that since the Plaintiff did not seek medical treatment between November 2006 and April 2008 her injuries had fully recovered.  Mr. Justice Goepel rejected this argument finding that “She thought she was getting better and continued to do the exercises that had been prescribed for her. When, over the next 18 months, her condition did not improve, she sought further medical treatment. In the circumstances of this case, I find that the failure to seek medical treatment does not establish that the plaintiff had recovered from her injuries by November 2006.”

More on ICBC Claims: Chronic Pain, Surveillance and Credibility

(Update: December 14, 2011 – the  below decision was upheld by the BC Court of Appeal in reasons for judgement released today)
I’ve written on this topic a few times in the past.  Surveillance in and of itself does not harm a Plaintiff’s ICBC Injury Claim.  It’s when surveillance contradicts a Plaintiff’s testimony that the damage is done.  Reasons for judgment were released today by the BC Supreme Court demonstrating this in action.
In today’s case (Fan v. Chana) the Plaintiff was injured as a passenger in a rear-end collision in Vancouver BC. The crash happened in 2000 and the Plaintiff was 9 years old at the time.
At trial the Plaintiff testified that she suffered various injuries in this collision and that these continued to affect her at the time of trial some 9 years later.   Mr. Justice McEwan noted that the Plaintiff “twisted, turned, stretched and pushed herself against the edge of the (witness) box almost constantly” while testifying.
The Court concluded that the Plaintiff’s injuries were not as severe as presented and instead found that this crash caused “soft tissue injuries of an immediate duration of less than two years” and awarded $25,000 for the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages.
In coming to his conclusions about the extent and severity of the Plaintiff’s injuries the Court noted the following about video surveillance evidence that was gathered on behalf of the defendant:

[50] The plaintiff was shown a surveillance video taken March 18 and 19, 2009, apparently showing her going about without any apparent pain.  After spending four hours at a wave pool she went to a very long movie without the sort of getting up and walking around that she suggested she needed.  In redirect she identified a few occasions on the video where she appeared to “crack” her neck…

[74] The plaintiff’s case is somewhat unusual in that there appear to be two quite different dimensions in which she moves.  The first is her ordinary, public life.  This is the world of school and teachers and social friends.  In the aftermath of the accident, the plaintiff’s physical education teachers noted no change.  The plaintiff’s marks were those of a diligent, hard working student.  Her social activities are in all respects normal.  The plaintiff’s friends consider her an outgoing, lively companion.  Significantly, the most obvious sign of pain they were able to remark upon was her habit of “cracking” her neck and back, something that is medically of no import according to those who have treated her, including Dr. Hahn.

[75] The surveillance video and the plaintiff’s observed behaviour do not show anything like the pattern demonstrated in court.  There may be a few occasions when the plaintiff “cracked” her neck, but it is very difficult to say.  The observations made by the surveillance operators specifically do not bear out the plaintiff’s suggestions that she is a drag on her friends, frequently holding them up to take rest breaks and unable to sit through movies.  She was observed to sit through a very long film with no trouble.  I recognize the caution with which surveillance of a brief sample of a person’s life must be approached, but I also note that the observers managed to spend a number of hours watching the plaintiff doing things she specifically cited as current examples of her disability, without noting any of the overt signs her evidence would suggest.

In addition to a useful and lengthy discussion on credibility in chronic pain cases Mr. Justice McEwan had the following statement of interest when it comes to doctor’s opinions regarding the severity of Chronic Pain in Subjective Injury Cases:

[72] The balance of the medical opinion divides along lines that depend on the degree of scepticism the doctors bring to the description of symptoms with which they were presented.  These range from very strong endorsements of the plaintiff’s claims (Dr. Kuttner, as reported by Dr. Hahn) to the blunt, contrary opinions offered by Dr. Weeks.

[73] I see very little purpose in parsing the medical reports to sort out who has the greater credibility based on their qualifications (i.e. “paediatric” physiatrists v. “adult” physiatrists).  As courts have observed on any number of occasions, the approach taken by medical professionals is not forensic: they assume that the patient is accurately reporting to them and then set about a diagnosis that plausibly fits the pattern of the complaint.  In the absence of objective signs of injury, the court’s reliance on the medical profession must, however, proceed from the facts it finds, and must seek congruence between those facts and the advice offered by the medical witnesses as to the possible medical consequences and the potential duration of the injuries.

When prosecuting a Chronic Pain claim the above quote is important to keep in mind.  Just because a physician accepts that a Plaintiff suffers from Chronic Pain as a consequence of a car accident and makes a diagnosis accordingly does not mean a Court has to accept the diagnosis.  The Court can and will make an independent finding of credibility and decide if the pain a Plaintiff complains of is sincere.

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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