Tag: demarzo v. michaud

New Formal Settlement Offer Rule Gets First Judicial Interpretation


The first judgement that I’m aware of dealing with the new formal settlement offer rule (Rule 9) was released today by the BC Supreme Court.
In today’s case (Demarzo v. Michaud) the Plaintiff was injured in a BC motor vehicle collision.  He went to trial and was awarded $356,000 in total damages.  (you can click here to read my post summarizing the trial judgement).  Prior to trial the Plaintiff made a formal settlement offer to resolve the claim for $150,000.
Having comfortably beat his pre-trial settlement offer the Plaintiff asked the Court to exercise its discretion and award double costs under Rule 9-1 (Rule 9 reads almost identically to the old Rule 37B.  You can access my archived posts dealing with Rule 37B by clicking here).
Prior to trial the Plaintiff obtained various independent medical reports.  The Plaintiff served these on the Defendant in compliance with the rules of Court but not as quickly as possible.  In an interesting application of the new rule Mr. Justice Brown held that double costs should not be ordered if a party failed to make “timely disclosure of documents“.  Specifically the Court held as follows in refusing to award the Plaintiff double costs:

[18]         The main purpose of Rule 9-1 is to encourage parties to settle, early if possible. But the purposes of the Rule, and modern practice, assumes timely disclosure of documents and reports that would significantly affect a party’s ability to make a rational assessment of the litigation risks they face. While it is true the Rules of Court provide parties means to discover facts and the parties can conduct their own investigations to assess litigation risks, in my view it is also incumbent on a party expecting an order for double costs to show timely disclosure of documents and reports that would have significantly affected the other party’s assessment of whether the offer ought reasonably to be accepted.

[19]         Further, while evidence at trial produced a judgment that was more than double what the plaintiff offered to settle for, I note that the plaintiff’s credibility, tested on cross-examination, and the specialist reports served in October 2009 were important factors in the damages awarded.

[20]         Considering these factors, I find an award of double costs is not in keeping with the purposes of the Rule and I decline an award.

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.

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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.

Can ICBC Talk to my Doctors About my Injuries?

When you are injured by another motorist in British Columbia and advance an injury claim does ICBC have access to your treating physicians to receive information about the nature and extent of your injuries?
If you are seeking no-fault benefits from ICBC under Part 7 of the Insurance (Vehicle) Regulation the answer is yes.  Section 98 of the Regulation reads as follows:

98 (1)  An insured shall, on request of the corporation, promptly furnish a certificate or report of an attending medical practitioner, dentist, physiotherapist or chiropractor as to the nature and extent of the insured’s injury, and the treatment, current condition and prognosis of the injury.

(1.1)  The certificate or report required by subsection (1) must be provided to the corporation

(a) in any form specified by the corporation including, without limitation, narrative form, and

(b) in any format specified by the corporation including, without limitation, verbal, written and electronic formats.

(2)  The corporation is not liable to an insured who, to the prejudice of the corporation, fails to comply with this section.

What if you are injured by a person insured with ICBC and make a tort claim  in the BC Supreme Court against them for your pain and suffering and other losses?    In the course of defending the Claim can the lawyer hired by ICBC have access to your treating physicians to discuss the nature and extent of your accident related injuries?  

Reasons for judgement were released today (Scott v. Erickson) by the BC Supreme Court, Victoria Registry, dealing with this issue.

In today’s case the Plaintiff was injured in a 2004 motor vehicle collision.  In the course of her recovery she was treated by a neuropsychologist.  The injury lawyer defending the claim brought an application to speak with the Plaintiff’s treating neuropsychologist.  In dismissing this application, Master McCallum of the BC Supreme Court summarized the law relating to defendants access to treating physicians in injury litigation as follows:

[8]                The Defendant applies for two orders.  The second application for permission to speak to a doctor may be disposed of summarily.  I refer to the decision of Wilkinson J. in Swirski v. Hachey, [1995] B.C.J. No. 2686 where the court held that there was no necessity for an application for permission to speak to plaintiff’s treating doctors concerning information relevant to the claims made in the action.  The court suggested that notice should be given of an intention to seek informal discussions with plaintiff’s treatment providers and confirmed that treatment providers were not compelled to participate in such meetings.

[9]                The Plaintiff in the case at bar knows of the Defendant’s intention to speak to Dr. Martzke and Dr. Martzke will know that he is free to participate or not as he pleases.  No order is necessary.  As the court said in Demarzo v. Michaud, 2007 BCSC 1736, if the Defendant’s counsel wishes to compel the treatment providers to participate in discussions, an application under Rule 28 is the appropriate vehicle.

In other words, there is no property in a treating physician and a court order is not required for a defendant to approach a Plaintiff’s treating physicians.  However, the treating physicians are under no duty to participate in discussions initiated by the defendant in a lawsuit.  As a result of the professional obligations of treating physicians in British Columbia, many decline to participate in such discussions.

Lawyers involved in the defence of BC injury claims should also keep their professional duties as set out in Chapter 8, section 14 of the Professional Conduct Handbook in mind which states as follows with respect to cotacting opposing expert witensses:

 

Contacting an opponent’s expert

14. A lawyer acting for one party must not question an opposing party’s expert on matters properly protected by the doctrine of legal professional privilege, unless the privilege has been waived.

[amended 12/99]

15. Before contacting an opposing party’s expert, the lawyer must notify the opposing party’s counsel of the lawyer’s intention to do so.

[amended 12/99]

16. When a lawyer contacts an opposing party’s expert in accordance with Rules 14 and 15, the lawyer must, at the outset:

(a) state clearly for whom the lawyer is acting, and that the lawyer is not acting for the party who has retained the expert, and

(b) raise with the expert whether the lawyer is accepting responsibility for payment of any fee charged by the expert arising out of the lawyer’s contact with the expert.

[amended 09/06]

17. In Rules 14 to 16, “lawyer” includes a lawyer’s agent.

In situations where treating physicians refuse to particiapte in an interview set up by the defence lawyer in an injury claim today’s case appears to indicate that Rule 28 of the BC Supreme Court Rules is the proper tool to use to compel the witness to share any relevant facts he/she may have knowledge of.  Rule 28 states as follows:

Order for

(1)  Where a person, not a party to an action, may have material evidence relating to a matter in question in the action, the court may order that the person be examined on oath on the matters in question in the action and may, either before or after the examination, order that the examining party pay reasonable solicitor’s costs of the person relating to the application and the examination.

Expert

(2)  An expert retained or specially employed by another party in anticipation of litigation or preparation for trial may not be examined under this rule unless the party seeking the examination is unable to obtain facts and opinions on the same subject by other means.

Affidavit in support of application

(3)  An application for an order under subrule (1) shall be supported by affidavit setting out

(a) the matter in question in the action to which the applicant believes that the evidence of the proposed witness may be material,

(b) where the proposed witness is an expert retained or specially employed by another party in anticipation of litigation or preparation for trial, that the applicant is unable to obtain facts and opinions on the same subject by other means, and

(c) that the proposed witness has refused or neglected upon request by the applicant to give a responsive statement, either orally or in writing, relating to the witness’ knowledge of the matters in question, or that the witness has given conflicting statements.

Notice of application

(4)  The applicant shall serve notice on the proposed witness at least 7 days before the hearing of the application.

Subpoena

(5)  Where a party is entitled to examine a person under this rule, by serving on that person a subpoena in Form 21, the party may require the person to bring to the examination

(a) any document in the person’s possession or control relating to the matters in question in the action, without the necessity of identifying the document, and

(b) any physical object in the person’s possession or control which the party contemplates tendering at the trial as an exhibit, but the subpoena must identify the object.

[am. B.C. Reg. 95/96, s. 12.]

Notice of examination

(6)  The examining party shall give notice of examination of a person under this rule by delivering copies of the subpoena to all parties of record not less than 7 days before the day appointed for the examination.

Mode of examination

(7)  The proposed witness shall be cross-examined by the party who obtained the order, then may be cross-examined by any other party, and then may be further cross-examined by the party who obtained the order.

Application of examination for discovery rules

(8)  Rule 27 (15), (20) and (22) to (26) apply to an examination under this rule.

Contact

If you would like further information or require assistance, please get in touch.

ERIK
MAGRAKEN

Personal Injury Lawyer

When not writing the BC Injury Law Blog, Erik is the managing partner at MacIsaac & Company, based in Victoria, B.C. He is also involved with combative sports regulatory issues and authors the Combat Sports Law Blog.

“Work hard, be kind and enjoy the ride!”
Erik’s Philosophy

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