Tag: expert opinion

Diminished Earning Capacity – Expert Fact vs Opinion

Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, dealing with the admission of evidence relating to diminished earning capacity in which the Court highlights the ability of lost opportunities being proven through factual, as opposed to opinion, evidence.
In this week’s case (Fabretti v. Singh) Plaintiff was employed as a Regional Vice President at an independent financial services organization.  The Plaintiff was injured in a collision and advanced a claim for diminished earning capacity.
In the course of the claim the Plaintiff obtained a report from his employer’s National Sales Director who provided evidence with respect to the Plaintiff’s employment opportunities.  The Defendant objected to the admissibility of this report for a number of reasons.  Mr. Justice Savage ultimately held that the report was not admissible as it was not written by a ‘properly qualified expert‘.
The Court noted, however, that much of the evidence could likely be admitted simply as a matter of fact (as opposed to opinion).  In doing so the Court provided the following reasons:

[19] In this case, the subject matter of Mr. Andruschak’s Report is the plaintiff’s future earning capacity. However, Mr. Andruschak’s experience is properly viewed as concerning the earning possibilities for RVPs at Primerica generally; his experience is not in preparing objective reports on how such earning possibilities might manifest themselves in specific individual into the future.

[20] Thus, while having firsthand knowledge and experience in RVPs’ earning potential at Primerica, based on their actual earnings, which is information that may be useful to the Court, Mr. Andruschak does not offer particular expertise in the subject matter of the Report, purporting to prepare an objective estimate of future income and thus income loss for a specific person. As such, on the basis that Mr. Andruschak does not qualify as an expert, the Report cannot be admitted on that basis.

[21] Given my findings regarding Mr. Andruschak’s qualifications as an expert, it is unnecessary for me to canvass the defendant’s arguments regarding the Report’s formal compliance with the Rules. As I have said, however, much of the information in the report is potentially relevant and germane. I will leave it to counsel to review and discuss that matter amongst themselves. If required I will make further rulings on the proposed evidence. It may be that Mr. Andruschak’s evidence would be better presented simply viva voce with the assistance of a few graphs or charts.

Expert Evidence – Doctors, Biomechanical Engineers and Force Necessary to Cause Injury


When a personal injury claim is advanced the Plaintiff has the burden to prove what injuries they suffered and that these were caused (or materially contributed to) by the trauma in question.  In proving a case it is common for a Plaintiff to obtain expert opinion evidence from medical doctors to address issues such as diagnosis of injury, prognosis, treatment needs, disability and causation.
One tactic used by personal injury lawyers is to try and limit the scope of the opposing sides expert witness’ opinions.  If a witness wanders outside of their area of expertise then those portions of their opinion become inadmissible.
When addressing the issue of causation a developing area of BC Injury Law is whether a physician can give opinion evidence with respect to the forces necessary to cause a specific injury.  Some argue that this is outside of a medical doctors training and is better left to biomechanical engineers.  Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, dealing with such an argument.
In today’s case (Pham-Fraser v. Smith) the Plaintiff sustained numerous injuries in a 2006 BC car crash.  The Plaintiff’s vehicle was struck at an intersection when the Defendant entered against a red light.  The issue of fault was admitted focusing the trial on the issue of damages.
In support of her case the Plaintiff called numerous physicians to give expert opinion evidence.  One of these witnesses was Dr. Brian Hunt, a neurological surgeon.  He provided the opinion that the “accident created sufficient deceleration forces to produce damage to (the plaintiff’s) L5 vertebra through abnormal axial-loading but that a biomechanical engineer (would need to) confirm this probability“.
The Defence lawyer argued that Dr. Hunt was simply not qualified to give this opinion and that this opinion was inadmissible.  Mr. Justice Greyell rejected this submission and provided the following useful analysis:

[50] Mr. Killas argued certain aspects of the expert evidence called by the plaintiff were inadmissible and that other expert opinion evidence should be given little or no weight.  In particular the defendants argued I should give little or no weight to Dr. Hunt’s opinion the accident created sufficient forces to produce damage to the L5 vertebral body through abnormal axial loading.  Mr. Killas pointed out Dr. Hunt then qualified this opinion with this remark:  “However a biomechanical engineer will need to confirm this probability”.  Mr. Killas noted Dr. Hunt had not done an investigation into the circumstances of the accident (vehicle speed, etc.) to make his opinion.

[51] Mr. Killas also argued Dr. Hunt’s diagnosis that the plaintiff sustained a brain dysfunction secondary to brain injury was simply based on the reading of Dr. Longridge’s medical report and on an unproven assumption the plaintiff had a lack of awareness of the circumstances of the motor vehicle accident.  Mr. Killas also argued Dr. Hunt’s opinion the plaintiff probably suffered abnormal axial loading on her spinal column during the accident was qualified by Dr. Hunt when he said in his report that “a biomechanical engineer will need to confirm this probability”.

[52] I accept Dr. Hunt’s opinion on both these issues.  There was evidence concerning the plaintiff’s limited recollection of what happened following the accident and I accept Dr. Hunt, given his qualifications and special experience, was well able to offer the opinions he did.

[53] I have ascribed as much weight to Dr. Hunt’s opinion concerning the cause of the plaintiff’s lower back injury as I have on the opinions of the other specialists who testified, including Dr. Schweigel.  Dr. Hunt’s expertise (and that of the others) has been gained through many years treating patients who have been involved in motor vehicle accidents.  He is well qualified to offer the opinion he did.  The fact Dr. Hunt was prepared to defer to the opinion of a biomechanical engineer does not, in my view detract from his expertise in offering his opinion to the court on the cause of the plaintiff’s lumbar spine injury.  I similarly find that the evidence of Dr. Hartzell concerning the forces applied to the plaintiff’s lower spine during the accident is helpful to the court and hence admissible, given his experience and qualifications.  Both Dr. Hunt and Dr. Hartzell, through their long and distinguished medical practices have had experience with persons with spinal injuries.

$18,000 Awarded for 2.5 Year Whiplash Injury With Headaches

In brief reasons for judgement released today by the BC Supreme Court, Madam Justice Morrison awarded a 33 year old Plaintiff $18,000 for pain and suffering (non-pecunairy damages) for injuries as a result of a 2005 motor vehicle accident.
The Plaintiff’s vehicle was rear-ended in Delta, BC in August, 2005. There was relatively little vehicle damage.
The Defendant’s lawyer admitted fault for the accident. The Defence ran what can be called ICBC’s Low Velocity Impact Defence, that is the defence lawyer led evidence that this was a ‘low impact’ collision with little damage to the vehicles. The Defence lawyer suggested that an appropriate pain and suffering award was $3,000.
The court made a positive finding with respect to the Plaintiff’s credibility. The court qualified the Plaintiff’s massage therapist as being capable of giving expert evidence with respect to massage therapy.
The court accepted that the Plaintiff suffered from pain and discomfort until 2007 when the soft-tissue injuries healed. In short, the Plaintiff suffered from soft tissue injuries affecting her neck and shoulders. The acute phase of injury lasted several months and gradually improved by the time of trial. The court accepted that the Plaintiff was fully recovered by the time of trial.
The Plaintiff had no lost wages as a result of the accident. $18,000 was awarded for pain and suffering for these injuries.
This case is worth a quick read as it is a great example of an LVI claim going to trial, having all the evidence heard in two days, and receiving timely reasons for judgement. Counsel for the Plaintiff did a great job getting this matter tried and having the client compensated for an amount outside of ICBC’s soft tissue injury settlement guidelines and outside of ICBC’s LVI policy.
Paragraph 37 of Madam Justice Morrison’s reasons for judgement was the highlight for me where she dismissed the LVI defence by stating as follows:
The motor vehicle accident was a minor one, with minor damage to her vehicle, but as Gordon v. Palmer (1993), 78 B.C.L.R. (2d) 236 (S.C.) reminds us, a minor motor vehicle accident does not necessarily mean minor injuries. In Boag v. Berna, 2003 BCSC 779, Mr. Justice Williamson reflected at paragraph 12, “That a piece of steel is not dented does not mean that the human occupant is not injured.”
Cases such as these are certainly key ammunition should you wish to take an LVI case to trial.  If you have questions about this case or potential settlement of a similar ICBC claim feel free to click here to contact the author of this article.

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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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