Tag: failure to mitigate

The Inability to Afford Therapy and the Duty to Mitigate Damages


As I’ve recently written, a Plaintiff has a duty to ‘mitigate‘ their losses after being injured otherwise the damages they are entitled to can be reduced.
The most common example of the ‘failure to mitigate’ defence comes up in personal injury claims where defence lawyers argue that a Plaintiff would have recovered more quickly and more completely had they followed through with all of the suggestions of their medical practitioners.  If evidence supporting such an argument is accepted then the Plaintiff’s award can be reduced.
What if a Plaintiff can’t afford to purchase all the therapies/medications recommended by their physicians?  Can their damage award be reduced in these circumstances?  Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, dealing with this issue.
In this week’s case (Trites v. Penner) the Plaintiff, an apprentice plumber, was injured in a forceful rear end collision in 2005.  Fault for the crash was admitted by the rear motorist.  The trial focused on the value of the Plaintiff’s claim.
The Plaintiff suffered various soft tissue injuries.  He followed a course of therapy in the months that followed and enjoyed some improvement in his symptoms.  During his recovery ICBC (the Plaintiff’s insurer for ‘no fault’ benefits) discontinued “funding for (the Plaintiff’s) efforts at rehabilitation.”
At trial the Defence lawyer argued that the Plaintiff should have followed through with these therapies in any event and that his damages should be reduced for failure to mitigate.   Madam Justice Ker disagreed and took the Plaintiff’s inability to pay for his therapies into consideration.  The Court provided the following reasons:

[209] Financial circumstances are certainly one factor to consider in the overall reasonableness assessment of whether a plaintiff has failed to mitigate their losses.  What is reasonable will depend on all the surrounding circumstances.  One significant factor in this case however, is that as Mr. Trites was on his upward climb to recovery, ICBC determined that it would discontinue funding his efforts at rehabilitation.  As a consequence, Mr. Trites was left to fund his continued rehabilitation on his own.  Instrumental to continuing his recovery and functioning was not only attendance at the gym but other treatment modalities including massage therapy and chiropractic treatments and taking prescription medication.  All of these items had significant benefits to Mr. Trites but they also carried with them significant costs.  In the first half of 2007, Mr. Trites was unable to fund all these aspects of treatment and chose the prescription medication as it was essential to his pain management on a daily basis.

[210] I find that in these circumstances, Mr. Trites’ decision not to continue with a gym pass on a monthly basis for the first six months of 2007 was not unreasonable.  This is not a case where the plaintiff has refused to take recommended treatment.  Rather Mr. Trites was engaged in all aspects of the recommended treatments and ICBC was, until December 2006, paying for them.  Thereafter ICBC unilaterally discontinued paying for these treatments, notwithstanding the fact that Mr. Trites was not yet fully recovered.  I cannot find that Mr. Trites acted unreasonably in determining how best to try and pay for all the treatment modalities that had been working for him in assisting his rehabilitation but were no longer going to be paid for by ICBC and were beyond his limited means at the time.  As Smith J. noted in O’Rourke v. Claire, [1997] B.C.J. No. 630 (S.C.) at para. 42 “it does not lie in the mouth of the tortfeasor to say that a plaintiff in such circumstances has failed to mitigate by failing to arrange and pay for his own rehabilitative treatment.”

[211] Accordingly, I find that the defence has not discharged its burden of establishing that Mr. Trites failed to mitigate his losses in this case.

You may be wondering if ICBC is allowed to, on the one hand deny a Plaintiff rehabilitation benefits, and on the other have the Defendant’s lawyer argue at trial that the Plaintiff should have pursued these benefits and therefor reduce the Plaintiff’s award.  The answer is yes and you can click here to read a previous article discussing this area of law, and here for the latest from the BC Court of Appeal on this topic.
Today’s case is also worth reviewing for the Court’s discussion of non-pecuniary damages and diminished earning capacity.
The Court accepted that the Plaintiff suffered moderate soft tissue injuries to his neck and back and these had a ‘guarded’ prognosis for full recovery.   $75,000 was awarded for his non-pecuniary damages and the Court’s reasons addressing this can be found at paragraphs 188-198.
The Plaintiff was also awarded $250,000 for diminished earning capacity.  He was an apprentice plumber and, despite his injuries, was able to continue to work in this trade in the years that followed the collision.  However he struggled in his profession and there was evidence he may have to retrain.  The court’s lengthy discussion addressing his diminished earning capacity can be found at paragraphs 213-239.

BCCA Addresses Burden of Proof of "Failure to Mitigate" Defence in Injury Claims


If you’re injured through the fault of another and successfully sue you are entitled to be compensated for your losses and damages.  However, if you ignore medical advice or otherwise fail to take reasonable steps to minimize your losses your damages may be reduced.  This principle in personal injury law is called “failure to mitigate“.
The Defendant has the burden to prove that a Plaintiff failed to mitigate their damages.  If the evidence does not establish that absent the alleged ‘failure‘ the injuries would have appreciably improved then no reduction in damages will be made.  Today the BC Court of Appeal released reasons for judgement upholding a trial verdict addressing this.
In today’s case (Mattu v. Fust) the Plaintiff suffered reasonably serious injuries in a 2004 BC motor vehicle collision.  These included symptomatic disc herniations in his back.  At trial the Plaintiff succeeded and was awarded just over $170,000 for his damages.  (You can click here to read my summary of the trial verdict).
The Defendant appealed arguing the Judge should have reduced this award because the Plaintiff did not take reasonable steps to rehabilitate his injuries.  The BC Court of Appeal disagreed and concluded that the trial judge appropriately applied the law.    In reaching this verdict the BC High Court provided the following useful comments about mitigation in personal injury lawsuits:
[7] I am not prepared to assume the judge ignored the evidence, nor can I say that the evidence was so important that it required specific mention. The judge concluded the respondent was well motivated in seeking recovery from his accident injuries and that conclusion is reasonably based on the record. The judge was not, in my opinion, looking for absolute proof of a failure to mitigate. The fact of the matter is that on the civil standard the appellant failed to establish that the respondent’s less than full compliance with medical recommendations would have made any difference to his continuing disability. The respondent never took the case on mitigation beyond generalities, such as: it is always preferable to follow your doctor’s advice. The judge drew an inference from the evidence that the respondent did not fail to mitigate. On the palpable and overriding error standard, I can see no basis for interfering with her finding in this regard.
When faced with an argument from ICBC or another defendant that you ‘failed to mitigate‘ your injuries keep in mind that they need to prove this allegation with evidence.  If you’re looking for more information about the law of mitigation in injury claims you can click here to access my archived posts.

Damages Reduced by 30% for Preferring Naturopathic Remedies Over Surgery in Shoulder Injury Claim


Reasons for judgement were released today discussing two ares of interest in the context of an ICBC injury claim; the non-pecuniary value of a shoulder injury and “failure to mitigate” for following naturopathic remedies instead of recommended surgery.
In today’s case (Hauer v. Clendenning) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2006 BC vehicle collision.  The Plaintiff was a passenger in a vehicle involved in an intersection crash.  The crash was “significant, causing extensive damage to both vehicles“.   Fault was admitted by the Defendant focusing the trial on the value of the case.

  • Discussion of Non-Pecuniary Damages for Plaintiff’s Shoulder Injury

The Plaintiff suffered various soft tissue injuries which improved by the time of trial.  The Plaintiff’s most serious injury was a right shoulder injury which remained symptomatic by the time of trial.
The Court heard evidence from a number of expert physicians including orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Richardson who gave evidence that the Plaintiff has a rotator cuff injury to her right shoulder resulting in tendonitis and impingement.  Her prognosis for full recover was “guarded“.
Mr. Justice Slade assessed the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) at $50,000.  In arriving at this figure the Court made the following findings and provided the following analysis:
[72] It is not a matter of contention among the medical experts that the plaintiff sustained soft tissue injuries in the August 6, 2006 accident.  These injuries were to the neck, shoulder, and back. ..
[75] The medical experts are all of the view that the plaintiff will benefit from injections in the shoulder area, that being the most problematic of the plaintiff’s injuries.  Dr. Aitken and Dr. Richardson say that she may benefit from arthroscopic surgery on the shoulder…

[78] I accept the evidence of the lay witnesses that the plaintiff was active and fully able to perform the physical demands of her employment before the accident, and after the accident, is no longer as active or able to perform to the pre-accident level.  The evidence of the plaintiff, the lay witnesses, and Dr. Richardson, establish a causal connection between the accident and the plaintiff’s ongoing shoulder pain, and establish, as fact, the contribution of injuries sustained in the accident to the present condition of her shoulder.

[79] The plaintiff’s shoulder pain has persisted, largely undiminished, from the time of the accident. ..

[82] I find that the accident is a significant contributing factor to her shoulder injury, and that the plaintiff has established causation on the “but for” test described in Resurfice Corp. v. Hanke, 2007 SCC 7, [2007] 1 S.C.R. 333…

[85] Considering these authorities and the factors set out by Kirkpatrick J.A. in Stapley v. Hejslet, 2006 BCCA 34 at paras. 45-46, 263 D.L.R. (4th) 19, leave to appeal ref’d [2006] S.C.C.A. No. 100, I award the plaintiff $50,000 in non-pecuniary damages.

  • Failure to Mitigate:

Further to my previous articles on the subject, it is well established that the Court can reduce a Plaintiff’s award in a personal injury claim if a Plaintiff unreasonably fails to follow medical advice where the medical would have likely improved the injuries.

In today’s case the Defendant argued that the Plaintiff failed to mitigate her damages by not having injections and/or surgery on her shoulder injury.  Mr. Justice Slade agreed with this submission and found that the Plaintiff failed to mitigate her damages by not following the advice of the orthopaedic surgeons and instead choosing naturopathic remedies.  The Court reduced the Plaintiff’s damages by 30% as a result.  Specifically Mr. Justice Slade held as follows:

[105] The defendant bears the burden of establishing that the plaintiff has failed to mitigate her loss, in this case that she failed to follow medical direction, and that had she followed that advice, she would have recovered further or faster: Janiak v. Ippolito, [1985] 1 S.C.R. 146.

[106] The plaintiff prefers naturopathic remedies.  She was influenced by advice given by a friend on the effect of injections.  A physician advised her, informally, that she may not benefit from surgery.  On these bases, she declined to act on the recommendations of three well-qualified orthopaedic surgeons to take injections into the shoulder area, and to consider arthroscopic surgery.  Dr. Richardson puts the percentage chance of improvement from arthroscopic surgery at between 70-80%.

[107] There are, of course, risks associated with surgery, though these seem minimal.  If the plaintiff underwent surgery, there may be some losses during the recovery period.

[108] There will be a reduction of 30% of the amounts awarded for general damages, loss of income earning capacity, and cost of care due to the plaintiff’s failure to mitigate.

$60,000 Non-Pecuniary Damages for Chronic Post Traumatic Tendinopathy

(Please note the Trial Court’s decision regarding mitigation of damages in the below post was overturned on Appeal.  You can click here to read the BC Court of Appeal’s judgement)
Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, dealing with an assessment of damages for a shoulder injury, specifically a post traumatic tendinopathy.
In today’s case (Gregory v. ICBC) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2006 collision in White Rock, BC.  Her vehicle was struck while travelling through an intersection by the Defendant who failed to stop at a stop sign.  Fault was admitted by ICBC focusing the trial on the Plaintiff’s injuries.

  • Non-Pecuniary Damages Discussion

The Plaintiff suffered various soft tissue injuries to her neck and back that healed before trial.  The Plaintiff’s worst injury was to her left shoulder.   Dr. Day, an orthapeadic surgeon gave evidence that the Plaintiff suffered an “abnormality in the subscapularis tendon at the site of the superior border.  In addition there was inflammation in the subacromial bursa.”  Dr. Day also testified that the plaintiff had a “post traumatic tendinopathy causing some discomfort“.
The Plaintiff required surgery to “clean up” a “thick, tight subacromial bursa” because this caused irritation.
Following this the Plaintiff continued to have some shoulder pain which was aggravated by certain movements.  The Court accepted that this would likely continue into the future.  In assessing the non-pecuniary loss the Plaintiff suffered as a result of her injuries at $60,000 Madam Justice Kloegman found as follows:

[11] Due to the plethora of shoulder injury cases in the case law, it is important to distinguish the plaintiff’s shoulder injury from some of the shoulder injuries suffered by other plaintiffs in other cases. In the case at bar, the plaintiff does not have:

1.       neurological deficit;

2.       instability in her shoulder;

3.       frozen shoulder;

4.       restricted range of motion;

5.       dislocation or subluxation;

6.       arthritis; and

7.       muscle wasting.

[12] However, I accept that the plaintiff does have ongoing chronic pain in her shoulder which is exacerbated by certain movements. There was no suggestion that the plaintiff was a malingerer or was exaggerating her symptoms. Notwithstanding that pain is a subjective symptom, the medical professionals found some objective corroboration in the tendinopathy and bursitis. Unfortunately, the plaintiff will likely continue to suffer various degrees of pain in her left shoulder in the future. To this extent she is mildly restricted in her activities and potential for employment.

[13] In summary, I find that the accident caused injury to the plaintiff, primarily in her left shoulder joint, which injury is mildly impairing and likely of a permanent nature. This injury has caused and will continue to cause the plaintiff pain and suffering, and has caused and will continue to cause some loss in her ability to earn income both in the past and the present. ..

[21] As I have found that the plaintiff is likely permanently impaired, albeit to a minor degree, the cases of Thauli, Grant and John are more helpful. Reviewing these cases and keeping in mind the more severe injuries described in those cases, I am of the view that $60,000 is reasonable compensation for the plaintiff’s pain and suffering in this case.

  • Failure To Mitigate

This case is also worth reviewing for the Court’s discussion of the law of mitigation.  Here Madam Justice Kloegman found that the unreasonably failed to follow her doctors advice to have a cortisone injection in her shoulder.  The court found that there was a chance that this would have improved her symptoms.

The Plaintiff did not follow her doctor’s recommendation apparently because of “what she read on the internet” and discussions she had “with her claims adjuster and chiropractor“.  The court found that these were unreasonable explanations for not following the doctor’s advice and as a result reduced the Plaintiff’s damages by 10%.  The Courts discussion of mitigation can be found at paragraphs 34-35 of the reasons for judgement.

More on ICBC Claims and the "Failure to Mitigate" Defence

When advancing an ICBC tort claim Plaintiffs have a duty to take reasonable steps to limit their loss.  If a plaintiff does not do so the value of their claim can be reduced .  This legal defence is known as “failure to mitigate“.  (You can click here to read my previous posts discussing this topic).
In the personal injury context, it is not unusual for defendants to argue that plaintiffs failed to mitigate their damages.  A common argument is that a Plaintiff failed to follow medical advice.
While failing to follow medical advice can result in reduction of the value of a claim, this fact in and of itself is not enough.  To succeed the Defendant will have to prove not only that the Plaintiff failed to follow medical advice but that had the Plaintiff done so it would have improved the course of their injuries.  Reasons for judgement were released today demonstrating this principle.
In today’s case (Singh v. Shergill) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2006 rear-end collision.  Fault was admitted.  The Plaintiff’s injuries included soft tissue damage to his low back.  The Defendant argued that the Plaintiff “did not follow his doctor’s recommendations” and that the Court should reduce the value of the claim for failure to mitigate.  Madam Justice Baker agreed that the Plaintiff “did not follow his doctor’s recommendations” but did not reduce the value of the Plaintiff’s claim.  Specifically the Court held as follows:

[45] The defendant submits that Mr. Singh would have recovered more quickly, and would experience less discomfort and impairment if he had followed Dr. Ng’s recommendation to undergo physiotherapy for a period longer than he did, and to engage in an active program of physical exercise to strengthen his core muscles, in particular, his abdominal muscles.

[46] I agree with the defendant that Mr. Singh did not follow his doctor’s recommendations.  I am not persuaded, however, that the evidence is sufficient to permit me to conclude that Mr. Singh would have recovered more fully, or more quickly, if he had done as Dr. Ng recommended.  Mr. Singh testified that although the five physiotherapy treatments he did have in 2006 resolved the problems in his neck and shoulders, he experienced no relief in relation to the lower back symptoms.

[47] I expect that Dr. Ng was hopeful that the treatment he was recommending would be of benefit to Mr. Singh, but he has not testified that it is probable that Mr. Singh would be in better condition today if he had continued physiotherapy.  Dr. Ng has pointed out, and the evidence establishes, that the job Mr. Singh does five days a week involves considerable physical labour, and therefore Mr. Singh does get physical exercise.

[48] I conclude the defendant has failed to prove a failure to mitigate.

The lesson to be learned is that the Defendant has the burden of proving failure to mitigate in a personal injury lawsuit.

If this defense is raised it needs to be determined what difference would have been made if the Plaintiff did what the Defendant alleges the Plaintiff should have done.  Usually expert opinion evidence would be necessary to discharge this burden and Plaintiffs faced with this defence would be wise to scrutinize the evidence Defendants have in support of their arguments when gauging whether their settlement should be affected for failure to mitigate.

Non-Pecuniary Damages for Chronic Soft Tissue Injuries Discussed

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, considering the value of chronic soft tissue injuries following a motor vehicle collision.
In today’s case (Harris v. Zabaras) the Plaintiff was injured in a pretty forceful rear-end collision involving two pick up trucks.  Fault for the crash was admitted leaving the Court to focus on the extent and value of injuries and loss.
The Plaintiff suffered from soft tissue injuries to his neck and upper back in the collision.  The injuries, while they improved somewhat by the time of trial, were expected to have some lasting consequences.  In assessing the non-pecuniary damages at $50,000 Madam Justice Schultes provided the following analysis:
[66] Adjusted to current dollars, a guide to the range of awards for soft tissue injuries accompanied by emotional problems such as sleep disruption, nervousness or depression is approximately $42,000 – $150,000: Unger v. Singh, 2000 BCCA 94 at para. 32…

[68] When characterizing the effects of the plaintiff’s injuries for the purposes of non-pecuniary damages, I do not think it is helpful to attempt to choose between the labels of “mild” and “mild to moderate” that have been offered by two of the medical witnesses. At the end of the day, what is important is the pain the plaintiff experiences as a result of the injuries and how that impacts his life.

[69] In that regard, while there has been some reduction in the frequency of the plaintiff’s headaches, he remains subject to neck and left arm pain whenever he undertakes strenuous physical activity. As Dr. Travlos put it, “he will generally pay the consequences for doing such activities”.

[70] The extent of his resulting disability is that he must either avoid strenuous physical activity or divide it into more manageable chunks that will not provoke symptoms. This compromises his ability to engage fully in the recreational building or maintenance activities that have previously been a source of pleasure to him and in turn has led to a level of depression in the face of his more limited prospects.

[71] Even if he is able to relieve his symptoms somewhat through the steps that have been recommended to him, the consensus of medical opinion is that they will persist.

[72] However I note that the plaintiff speaks of being unable for the most part to engage in these activities any longer whereas Dr. Travlos has encouraged him to continue to be as active as possible, bearing in mind that his capacity for working continuously will be reduced and that he will experience pain as a result.

[73] This relates to Dr. Devonshire’s observation that the plaintiff may be over-rating his pain, because he has not required any “significant analgesia” ( by which I think she means prescription- level painkillers) to control it.

[74] While I am satisfied that the physical symptoms that the plaintiff, his wife and the Grieves have described are genuine, he nevertheless appears to view them as imposing somewhat greater limitations on his physical activities than may actually be the case.

[75] Perhaps the fairest way to characterize the effect of his symptoms is that they place meaningful restrictions on his ability to pursue strenuous physical activities in the manner and to the extent that he previously did…

[79] Taking into account all of the circumstances and the authorities, I think that an award of $50,000 for non-pecuniary damages is appropriate in this case. In arriving at this amount I am mindful of the fact that the award in Hanna, when adjusted to current dollars, falls within a similar range, even though it involved a brachial plexus injury. The effect on the plaintiff in that case however, was quite similar to the plaintiff’s situation, so I do not think that diagnosis in itself limits its applicability.

The Plaintiff’s damages were reduced by 10% for failing to take some steps which could have improved his accident related symptoms.  The court’s discussion of ‘failure to mitigate’ set out at paragraphs 80-88 of the reasons for judgement are worth reviewing for a quick introduction to this area of personal injury law.

$35,000 Non-Pecuniary Damages for STI's of Over 10 Years Duration

Reasons for judgment were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Cranbrook Registry demonstrating that a lengthy duration of injury does not always merit a significant award of non-pecuniary damages.
In today’s case (Salzmann v. Bohmer) the Plaintiff was injured in a BC Car Crash.  The collision took place over 10 years before trial.  While the time-frame from the accident to trial was unusually long, such delays are not unheard of when Infant Plaintiffs are involved in motor vehicle collisions.  One reason for this is that in British Columbia  limitation periods typically do not start running for infants in tort claims until their 19th birthday.  Another reason is that doctors are more reluctant to give a prognosis with respect to injuries suffered in infants as opposed to adults.  In any event, this case involved injuries of over 10 years duration by the time of trial.
Despite the duration of the Plaintiff’s Injuries, Mr. Justice Melnick found that they were not particularly severe or debilitating. He also found that she failed to take reasonable steps to reduce her symptoms and that with appropriate exercises there was room for considerable improvement.  In assessing the Plaintiff’s non pecuniary damages at $35,000 Mr. Justice Melnick held as follows:

[18] Medical reports are often as interesting for how they are worded as for what opinions they express. In the case of the report of Dr. Apel, she indicated that she has examined Ms. Salzmann at the request of Ms. Salzmann’s counsel. Then, while responding to a specific question put to her by that same counsel (whether Ms. Salzmann’s symptoms will abate eventually) she carefully replied that “…it is unlikely those symptoms spontaneously will abate eventually” (emphasis added).

[19] The use of the word “spontaneously” coupled with her pointed remarks that Ms. Salzmann’s lack of conditioning and need for an exercise therapist or kinesiologist suggests to me that Ms. Salzmann’s symptoms likely will abate provided she becomes committed to an appropriate program of exercise (as opposed to passive treatments such as massage). Ms. Salzmann must take a significant role in her own recovery, something she has not done in the past (perhaps due to her being so young, perhaps due to not having been given adequate instruction or having been provided with the required sense of self-discipline). For this reason she bears some, but far from all, of the responsibility for her continued pain given that she was injured when only ten years of age.

[20] I have no doubt that Ms. Salzmann suffered musculoligamentous strain to her cervical spine as a result of the accident and that, in 2003, she still experienced residual tightness in her trapezius and pectoral muscles. I also accept that in 2008 she demonstrated a chronic regional myofascial pain syndrome as described by Dr. Apel. Whether, by that time, she could have avoided such a sequela to the injury she incurred in the accident is a good question.  Things may have been different if she had followed an appropriate and properly directed regime of exercise after the accident. The reality is that she did not, and the symptoms she displayed apparently were not sufficiently alarming to anyone to insist that she do so, and she was not a complainer. With a few exceptions, Ms. Salzmann’s life carried on much as normal, as best as could be observed in a child who was in the process of development, growing and maturing.

[21] Today, she still suffers from the injury she received in the accident. But the message from her own doctor is loud and clear: she can do something about it.

[22] I have no evidence upon which I can estimate the cost of an exercise therapist or kinesiologist. Dr. Apel gave no indication of the length of time Ms. Salzmann should be supervised. However, the non-pecuniary damages I will award her will recognize that her road to the eventual abatement of her symptoms will probably require her to not just be self-motivated, but have the assistance of a professional for advice for a period of time to set her on the right track. That said, I note that no defendant should be required to pay for anyone’s lack of interest in pursuing his or her own recovery. Ultimately we all bear a responsibility to do what we can to attain and maintain good health. In the legal realm, this constitutes mitigation, and a plaintiff bears a legal duty to mitigate.

[23] With all of the above in mind, I assess Ms. Salzmann’s non-pecuniary damages at $35,000. I agree with Ms. Salzmann’s counsel that the decision of Madam Justice Humphreys in Sinnott v. Boggs, 2006 BCSC 768, is the most relevant authority provided to me with respect to non-pecuniary damages. Those provided by counsel for the defendant deal largely with milder forms of injury with less chronic consequences.

[24] From the amount of $35,000 I deduct 20% for Ms. Salzmann’s failure to mitigate by not pursuing the appropriate conditioning and exercise programs despite the fact that they were laid out for her as early as 2000. Thus, the net award of non-pecuniary damages is $28,000.

Can Injuries in an ICBC Claim be Worth Less for Failing to Lose Weight?

The short answer is yes.  In BC, if a Defendant who negligently injures you can prove that the extent of your injuries would have been less if you took reasonable steps to ‘mitigate’ your loss then the value of your damages can be reduced accordingly.  This principle of law is called ‘failure to mitigate’.
Failure to mitigate can include failing to follow a reasonable treatment or rehabilitation program such as a weight loss program.  Reasons for judgment were released today by the BC Supreme Court demonstrating the ‘failure to mitigate’ principle in action.
In today’s case (Rindero v. Nicholson) the Plaintiff was injured when seated as a rear-seat passenger in a pick up truck which struck a vehicle that ran a red light.  Fault was admitted leaving the court to deal with the issue of quantum of damages (value of the Plaintiff’s injuries and loss). In assessing the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) at $36,000 Mr. Justice Meiklem found that the Plaintiff suffered from Patellofemoral pain (knee pain), a slight exacerbation of pre-existing post traumatic stress disorder and recovered soft tissue injuries to the neck and shoulders with accompanying headaches.
The Court found that the Plaintiff’s knee injury was the most serious of the injuries and summarized its effect on the Plaintiff’s life as follows:
The plaintiff’s knee injury is probably chronic and not likely to fully resolve. It is troublesome and painful when he stands for long periods, sits for long periods, or overextends any vigorous physical activity….The most significant limiting effect on his activities that he mentioned in relation to his knee pain was restriction on his style of big game hunting, and fishing. He hunts only from roads as opposed to hiking off into the bush as he sometimes did, and he avoids fishing areas that involve difficult access.
In arriving at the $36,000 figure the court reduced the damages by 20% for the plaintiff’s failure to mitigate, specifically the failure to lose weight which would have reduced the extent of the knee pain.  Mr. Justice Meiklem summarized and applied the law of failure to mitigate as follows:

[30] The defendants argue that the plaintiff’s failure to significantly reduce his weight has contributed to the severity and persistence of his knee pain and amounts to a failure to mitigate, which should reduce his award. There can be no doubt that the plaintiff would suffer less with knee pain that is increased with physical activity if he lost weight. The medical evidence confirms this elementary physical principle. At an estimated 265 pounds at trial he was about 25 pounds heavier than he was when examined by Dr. McKenzie in July 2008. I note that in July 2008 his left knee pain, which is his primary injury, was less prominent than his right knee pain. I appreciate that sore knees would probably make it more difficult to engage in the vigorous exercise that is usually part of a weight loss program, but the plaintiff has demonstrated that he can lose a considerable amount of weight when he changes diet and lifestyle, and that his left knee pain was lessened when he weighed less.

[31] I note that the plaintiff told Dr. McKenzie that he experienced knee pain when riding his mountain bike more than an hour as soon after the accident as June 2005, which, apart from showing that his knee injury was not very disabling,  shows that exercise is not out of the question for him. I find that the defendant has established a failure on the part of the plaintiff to mitigate his damages.

[32] The extent to which damages should be reduced is obviously not amenable to any precise calculation on these facts, but I note that in the Collyer case cited by the plaintiff, an award of $80,000 was reduced by $10,000 for a comparable failure. In the Crichton case cited by the defendants a 30% discount was applied for failure to participate in group psychotherapy sessions recommended by a psychiatrist and a family doctor, which would address an anxiety disorder and thereby assist in dealing with chronic pain. I find that a discount of 20% to the award I would otherwise make to account for failure to mitigate is appropriate.

On another note, this case contains a useful discussion of plaintiff credibility and some of the factors courts look at when gauging this.  Additionally, this case contains a very useful discussion of the law of ‘diminished earning capacity’ (future wage loss) at paragraphs 35-39.

More on BC Personal Injury Law and the Duty to Mitigate

A plaintiff who fails to take reasonable steps to minimize their losses and injuries after a car accident risks having their claim reduced accordingly for this ‘failure to mitigate’.
I’ve written about this before and reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court demonstrating this principle in action.
In today’s case (Latuszek v. Bel-Air Taxi 1992 Ltd.) the Plaintiff was involved in a serious intersection crash in the lower mainland.  The Defendant died in the collision and the Plaintiff suffered serious injuries.
These injuries included Depression, PTSD and Chronic Pain.  The Court valued the non-pecuniary damages (pain and suffering) for these injuries at $100,000 but then reduced the award by $40,000 due to the plaintiff’s failure to mitigate.
Madam Justice Stromberg-Stein summarized and applied the law as follows:

[84] Prior to setting non-pecuniary damages, I will address the duty to mitigate.

[85] There is a duty at law to take reasonable steps to minimize your loss, particularly where, as here, conservative treatments have been recommended.  Because of the nature of the plaintiff’s work, as a professional driver transporting fuel, he has limited his medication to Tylenol Extra Strength or Tylenol 8 Hour.  Dr. Jaworski recommended exercises in the pool and gym and brisk walking.  Mr. Latuszek says he swam once in a while, but he did not go to the gym or do brisk walking.  Dr. Jaworski suggested that brisk walking may be contraindicated now that he knows that Mr. Latuszek has a torn medial meniscus.  Mr. Latuszek does very little regular exercise of any kind, except once or twice a week.  He did not try yoga, massage therapy, relaxation therapy or the medications as recommended by his psychiatrist.  He has not taken holidays in the past two years to try the anti?depressant medication, yet he understands that such medication as well as exercise, may improve, if not cure, his symptoms.  The plaintiff has not prioritized his recovery.

[86] In light of the authorities presented by the parties, I conclude that general damages, having regard to the injuries suffered by Mr. Latuszek and the continued problems in that regard, including depression, PTSD, and chronic pain, should be set at $100,000.  There will be a reduction of $40,000 for failure to mitigate.  Therefore, I award $60,000 as general damages.

More on BC Personal Injury Claims and the Duty to Mitigate

If you advance a BC Personal Injury Claim (a tort claim) the courts impose a duty on Plaintiffs to mitigate their losses.  What this means is a Plaintiff must take reasonable steps to minimize their losses.  If a Plaintiff unreasonably fails to follow medical advice or fails to return to work in a timely fashion despite being physically able to do so the court may reduce damages accordingly.
Reasons for judgment were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, demonstrating this legal principle.
In today’s case (Leung v. Foo) the Plaintiff was injured when travelling as a passenger in a single vehicle collision.   Fault was admitted by the driver of the Plaintiff’s vehicle.   The Plaintiff sustained ‘moderate soft tissue injuries’ and a disc herniation as a result of this collision.   Mr. Justice Cohen valued the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary loss (pain and suffering) at $65,000 and then reduced these damages by 10% due to the Plaintiff’s ‘failure to mitigate ‘.  The Court summarized and applied this area of law as follows:

[112] The defendants submit that any award of damages should be reduced to reflect the plaintiff’s failure to mitigate through her delay in seeking psychological assistance, her refusal to participate in physiotherapy, her being discharged from CBI, and her failure to pursue an active exercise program in the face of medical advice to do so.

[113] Damages are not recoverable for any loss that a claimant ought to have avoided.  A claimant has a duty to mitigate losses, which includes taking all reasonable steps to minimize any loss that results from an injury, and bars a claimant from claiming any part of the damages that can be attributed to his or her neglect to take such steps.

[114] Mitigation limits recovery based on an unreasonable failure of the injured party to take reasonable steps to limit his or her loss.  A plaintiff in a personal injury action has a positive duty to mitigate, though the onus of proof on this issue rests with the defendant.  See: Graham v. Rogers, 2001 BCCA 432, leave to appeal dismissed, [2001] S.C.C.A. No. 467.

[115] In Maslen v. Rubenstein, at para. 11, the Court of Appeal held that where the court finds that injury has been suffered and mitigation issues are raised, the court must decide whether the defendant has established that by following advice which the plaintiff received or ought to have obtained, the plaintiff could have overcome the problem or could in future overcome it.  The advice might, for instance, be to eliminate treatment, make “lifestyle changes” or adopt psychotherapy, physiotherapy or an exercise regimen.  Where appropriate remedial measures would resolve the problem, damages can be awarded only in respect of the period up to the date when, in the estimation of the fact-finder, the problem ought to have been resolved, or ought to be resolved.

[116] Failure to follow a recommended exercise program commonly results in a reduction in damages for the plaintiff’s failure to mitigate.

[117] The defendants submit that the plaintiff has not given a satisfactory explanation as to why she did not exercise.  In addition, the plaintiff would have the Court accept that she did not seek the assistance of a psychologist because she lacked the sophistication necessary to do so in the face of her perception that Dr. Leung refused to give her a referral.

[118] The defendants submit that the plaintiff’s actions do not suggest a woman incapable of securing her own treatment.  On the contrary, the plaintiff took several proactive steps in relation to the treatment of her injuries.  The plaintiff found another GP in Dr. Wong, having lost faith in Dr. Leung; arranged her own massage and chiropractic treatments; discontinued physiotherapy; and decided against the steroid injections suggested by Dr. Adrian.

[119] The defendants also say that it is clear that counselling was discussed with the plaintiff in March 2008 by Dr. Wong.  Yet the plaintiff did not see Dr. Jung until September 2008, approximately six months later.  This is not evidence of a person anxious to obtain psychological treatment.  Rather, such delay and ambivalence is consistent with a person who was told that psychological treatment was recommended in 2006 (via Dr. Leung’s May 2nd medical-legal report) but failed to take any immediate steps in that regard.  The plaintiff herself admitted that she did not pursue psychological treatment or start an exercise regimen because she was too busy with work.  She gave the same reason for missing appointments with CBI.

[120] The defendants submit that plaintiff’s decisions to not pursue treatment may well have delayed or prevented the improvement of her symptoms, a state of affairs for which the defendants should not be held responsible.

[121] I agree with the defence position on mitigation and find that the plaintiff’s failure to mitigate resulted in an extension of her recovery beyond that considered reasonable for her injuries, and that the plaintiff’s general damages award should be reduced by 10%.

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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