Tag: fault

Can Jaywalkers Injured by a Vehicle Seek Pain and Suffering in an ICBC Claim?

If you are jaywalking and are injured in a BC Car Accident, can you make a claim for pain and suffering?  The answer is it depends on the circumstances.
Reasons for judgment were released today by the BC Supreme Court illustrating the principle that simply because someone is in breach of the law at the time of a car crash they can still succeed in advancing a negligence claim (a claim for pain and suffering and other damages against another party).
In today’s case (Lemesurier v. McConnachie) the Plaintiff was injured when she was struck by a vehicle as she was crossing Victoria Street in Trail, BC.  At the time she was jaywalking.  For this she was found at fault for the collision.   However, the court also found that the motorist that struck the Plaintiff at fault concluding that the motorist was not driving with appropriate caution at the time of the collision.  The court made the following analyisis in finding the jaywalker 60% at fault for the crash and the motorist 40% at fault:

[21]            Where, however, there are circumstances known to a motor vehicle operator, that render questionable the presumption that the rules of the road will be respected by pedestrians, the exercise of due care is not met by behaving in accordance with the presumption.  One cannot be deemed to presume facts at odds with known circumstances.  “Due care” on the night of this accident included the known, and (by the plaintiff), specifically observed circumstance that there were pedestrians about and, that given the nature of the event, they might not be taking all due care for their own safety.  This required an extra degree of caution in the circumstances.  The plaintiff acknowledged this herself in turning into the centre lane to avoid pedestrians.

[22]            The question then becomes whether the plaintiff has proved that the plaintiff’s want of due care, applying s. 181, contributed to the collision.  Liston v. Streiger, CA 18770, CA19363 Vancouver Registry (June 25, 1996) is a case in which the Court of Appeal apportioned negligence 60-40 against a pedestrian who was struck in Penticton during the “Peach Festival” in a somewhat comparable atmosphere, in that the exercise of due care included adjusting ones’ driving habits to accommodate the possibility of careless behaviour by pedestrians.  There the facts, as found by the trial judge and accepted by the Court of Appeal, included the plaintiff “running barefoot across a busy street at night, in a poorly lit area in a state of intoxication… she glanced into the curb lane and proceeded to run into it … .”

[23]            The defendant’s position is that apart from any discussion of legal presumptions and duties, the effect of the evidence is that the plaintiff simply ran into the defendant’s car in circumstances where the defendant had no opportunity to avoid striking her.  The widths of the lanes established in evidence suggest that the distance from the curb to the point of impact is not great and could be traversed in a matter of seconds by a person who was running.  The defence submits that the plaintiff’s evidence that she simply did not see the defendant until she was upon her may be attributed to the probability that the plaintiff was running.

[24]            The useful evidence is, again, that of the defence witness Ms. Howes.  Apart from establishing that the collision occurred while the traffic signals were against the plaintiff, and that the plaintiff was not in the crosswalk, Ms. Howes’ evidence is that she saw a large group of people crossing the road from her vantage in the intersection.  Some were running.  Her evidence is that the plaintiff was among the last of that group attempting to cross.  Ms. Howes saw shadows crossing the road and had enough time to form the impression that someone was going to be hit because approaching cars were not slowing down.

[25]            I accept that Ms. Howes probably saw the plaintiff running.  It may well be, as the defence assets that she ran right in front of the car leaving the defendant very little time to react to her specific presence.  This does not, however, explain how the defendant could approach the intersection without slowing or without the utmost caution given that a large group of people had proceeded to cross moments before contrary to the traffic signal.  The effect of Ms. Howes’ evidence, which I accept, is that the presence of people on the road was manifest, and that the defendant should have been alert to that fact.  She should not, in view of the circumstances, have been “surprised” by pedestrians behaving as the plaintiff did.

[26]            I am of the view that the plaintiff should bear the larger portion of the responsibility for what happened to her.  With respect to the division of liability, I find it difficult to distinguish the relative degrees of responsibility here from those established in Liston (supra).  Accordingly, I divide responsibility for what occurred 60% to the plaintiff and 40% to the defendant.

This case goes to show that simply because one party is breaking the law at the time of a BC car crash another party can still be (partially or wholly) responsible.  Each case turns on its own circumstances and a breach of a law of one party will not excuse careless driving by another when it comes to the law of negligence (the law that governs ICBC claims for pain and suffering).

Passenger Found Liable for Grabbing Steering Wheel of Vehicle

(Please note the case discussed in this article went before the BC Court of Appeal in March, 2010, you can click here to read my post discussing the Court of Appeals Reasons)
Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court determining the issue of fault for a single vehicle collision which occurred in Vernon, BC in 2004.  The vehicle left the roadway, hit a ditch and over-turned.  3 of the 4 occupants sued for personal injuries.
The front seat passenger grabbed the steering wheel while the vehicle was in operation.  The vehicle then lost control.  The court made the following interesting findings of fact:

I find that (the front seat passenger) was the only intoxicated person in the Jeep that night.  Hers was the only memory subject to the confounding effect of excessive alcohol consumption.  I do not, therefore, accept her recollection over the recollections of (the driver) and (the other passenger), both of whom were sober.

[41] Finally, I find that of all the people in the Jeep, it was (the front seat passengers) judgment that was impaired by alcohol.  The disinhibiting effect of alcohol on judgment is well known – it requires no expert evidence to explain or establish.  I am satisfied that if she were sober, (the front seat passenger) would never have behaved as she did.  The only conclusion I can come to on the evidence adduced at trial is that (the front seat passengers) intoxication led her to believe that a hazard existed where there was none, or to think that it would be humorous to give the Jeep a shake by grabbing the steering wheel.  I therefore find that (the front seat passenger’s) judgment was impaired by alcohol and that, as a consequence of that impairment, she negligently grabbed the steering wheel and caused the Jeep to veer off the road.

[42] I find that (the driver) did nothing wrong and was not negligent in her operation of the vehicle that night.  Specifically, she was not impaired; she was not speeding; notwithstanding her novice driver’s licence, she had the proper degree of skill and experience to operate the Jeep; she was attentive and alert; she did not allow the Jeep to wander from its proper course on the highway; and she could not have anticipated that (the front seat passenger) would do something so foolish as to grab the steering wheel and jerk it to the right….

[43] In summary, (the front seat passenger) was negligent and her negligence caused the Jeep to swerve off the road and into the ditch.  (the driver) was not negligent and did not contribute to the cause of the accident.  (the driver) was sober and was competent to drive the Jeep.  No person in the Jeep that night was contributorily negligent for having taken a ride with her.

In addition to the unique facts of this case, it is worth reviewing because the court made some interesting findings with respect to ‘use and operation’ of a vehicle and the vicaroius liability of registered owners of vehicles.
In this case the vehicle was owned by the front seat passenger’s father.  He permitted his daughter to operate the vehicle but did not permit her friends to operate the vehicle.   Section 86 of the Motor Vehicle Act imposes liability on the owner’s of vehicles for the actions of the drivers of their vehicle in certain circumstances, particularly, the section holds that:

86 (1)        In the case of a motor vehicle that is in the possession of its owner, in an action to recover for loss or damage to persons or property arising out of the use or operation of the motor vehicle on a highway, a person driving or operating the motor vehicle who

(a)        is living with, and as a member of the family of, the owner, or

(b)        acquired possession of the motor vehicle with the consent, express or implied, of the owner,

is deemed to be the agent or servant of, and employed as such by, that owner and to be driving or operating the motor vehicle in the course of his or her employment with that owner.

In this case the owner of the vehicle argued that he should not be held responsible for the accident because he did not consent to his daughter’s friend to operate the vehicle.  In fact the court found that:
[24] The evidence is also clear that as a general proposition, (the owner) instructed his children that no one but them should drive the cars that he left in their possession.  His purpose for imposing that rule was to keep the children and his cars safe.  That was because he knew and trusted his children’s judgment, but he did not necessarily know or trust the judgment of their friends.  The question here is whether, notwithstanding his general rule, (the owner)gave his consent to (his daugher’s friend) operation of the Jeep on the night of the accident.
The court found that the father (owner) did consent in these circumstances finding that:

[32] Barreiro makes it clear that the policy that drove the result in Morrison extends to situations where the owner gives the keys to its agent and the agent passes the keys on to a third party. Barreiro stands for the proposition that so long as the transfer of car keys from owner to second party is done by an exercise of free will, and the second party gives the keys to a third party by free will, the owner will be deemed to have consented to the third party’s possession of the car.  That will be the result even though the owner and the second party had an understanding that the third party was not to ever get possession of those keys.

[33] In my view, except for the fact that (the owner) obtained no financial benefit from (the driver’s) possession of the Jeep, the present case is not distinguishable from Barreiro.  (the owner) freely gave the Jeep’s keys to (his daughter).  She freely gave the keys to (the driver).  (the owner) must, therefore, be taken to have expressly consented to (the driver’s) possession of the Jeep on the night in issue.

[34] For the same reason, (the owner) must be taken to have expressly consented to (his daughter’s) possession of the Jeep that night, and that is so notwithstanding the fact that she was intoxicated and that her being intoxicated broke the other of (the owner’s rules.

The moral of this story is be careful who you lend your vehicle to in British Columbia because you can be held responsible for their actions, even if they lend your vehicle to someone who you would not lend your vehicle to!
Lastly, the court found that the father (owner) of the vehicle was responsivle for his daughter’s actions when she grabbed the steering wheel because, while doing so, she was operating the vehicle.  Specifically the court found that:

[51] When (the front seat passenger) grabbed the steering wheel, she exerted an effort to control the Jeep’s trajectory.  As such, she was, for a brief period of time, “driving” the Jeep by moving the steering wheel, and she was, for an equally brief period of time, “operating” the Jeep by inputting some control over its steering function.

[52] For those reasons, I find that just before the Jeep went off the road, both (the driver) and (the front seat passenger) were driving it.  (the front seat passengers) efforts were unwelcome and unhelpful, not to say outright dangerous, while (the driver’s) efforts were blameless.

$24,515 Damages Awarded for Moderate Soft Tissue Injury

Reasons for judgement were released today awarded damages as a result of injuries sustained in a 2005 Kamloops, BC car crash.
The Plaintiff’s vehicle was rear-ended as she slowed to make a right hand turn.
Normally in such rear-end cases liability (fault) is admitted but in this case liabilty was disputed.  The Defendant claimed that the accident was caused by the actions of the plaintiff when she ‘accelerated in front of him, cut him off and themn braked quite dramatically at the corner (of the intersection).’
The court rejected this defence and found that “this is not a case where the evidence supports a conclusion that the plaintiff’s vehicle cut in front of the defendant in such a way as to alleviate his responsibility‘.  The defendant was found 100% to blame.
In terms extent of injury, the court made the relevant findings at paragraphg 50 of the judgement, which I set out below:
[50]            I conclude that (the Plaintiff) sustained a moderate soft tissue whiplash injury in December 2005 which caused pain and discomfort to her neck and back and resulted in her experiencing headaches.  These symptoms were initially acute, causing her to miss approximately three weeks of work and necessitating that she take pain medication and treatment, most notably physiotherapy.  The pain and discomfort at times extended to her hip area.  It gradually subsided with the passage of time.  It was significantly resolved within three to four months of the accident, but she continued to experience some discomfort and limitation of her activities, albeit on a gradually improving basis, over time, up to the point of trial.  At trial, all of the complaint of headache had resolved but there was some lingering discomfort and stiffness in her neck and back.  That discomfort is essentially resolved at this time, and there is every reason to conclude that she has not sustained any permanent damage.  With proper exercise and self-care, there will be a complete resolution
The court awarded $22,000 for these moderate soft tissue injuries, $2,163.21 for lost wages and $351 for special damages.
This is a short crisp judgement dealing with issues that often arise in ICBC claims.  This case is worth reviewing for anyone involved in an ICBC injury claim to see some of the factors court’s consider when valuing soft tissue injuries and addressing the issue of fault in a rear-end crash.
 

ICBC Claims and the Seperation of Fault and Quantum

While there are a host of issues involved in most ICBC injury claims (tort claims), the issues can be broken down into 2 broad categories 1. Who is at Fault (Liability) and 2. How much is the ICBC claim worth (quantum).
In a case where the issue of fault is hotly contested, is it possible to have that matter heard first before spending time (and in all likelihood a lot of money) presenting the medical evidence addressing the extent of injury?  The answer is sometimes.
Reasons for judgement were released today considering exactly such an application.
The Plaintiff was injured in a motor cycle accident in 2006.  He brought a personal injury claim.  He asked the court to determine the issue of fault ahead of the issue of quantum of damages.
Rule 39(29) of the BC Supreme Court Rules allows such an applicaiton, particularly it holds that:
39(29)  The court may order that one or more questions of fact or law arising in an action be tried and determined before the others, and upon the determination a party may move for judgment, and the court, if satisfied that the determination is conclusive of all or some of the issues between the parties, may grant judgment.
Some of the factors a court will consider in such an application include the following:

a.         A judge’s discretion to sever an issue is probably not restricted to extraordinary or exceptional cases. However, it should not be exercised in favour of severance unless there is a real likelihood of a significant saving in time and expense.

b.         Severance may be appropriate if the issue to be tried first could be determinative in that its resolution could put an end to the action for one or more parties.

c          Severance is most appropriate when the trial is by judge alone.

d.         Severance should generally not be ordered when the issue to be tried is interwoven with other issues in the trial. This concern may be addressed by having the same judge hear both parts of the trial and ordering that the evidence in the first part applies to the second part.

e.         A party’s financial circumstances are one factor to consider in the exercise of the discretion.

f.          Any pre-trial severance ruling will be subject to the ultimate discretion of the trial judge.

In today’s case, the application was dismissed.  Madam Justice Holmes of the BC Supreme Court held that:
[16]            Even if a case need not be exceptional to support an order for severance, it must disclose some compelling reason for such an order.  Compelling reasons must arise from the circumstances of the particular case.  Although I have considerable sympathy for Mr. Biggs’ personal situation, I find no compelling reason for separate trials of liability and damages.  Difficult though Mr. Biggs’ personal circumstances undoubtedly are, I am not persuaded that, in the context of the litigation as whole, they support a departure from the general practice by which all issues are determined in a single trial.
 

Sacroiliac Joint Injury nets $48,500 Pain and Suffering in BC Car Crash

Reasons for judgement were released today awarding an ‘ideal Plaintiff’ just over $100,000 in total damages as a result of a 2006 BC Car Crash which occurred near Kelowna, BC.
Both fault and quantum (value of the injuries) were at issue at trial. The collision happened when the Plaintiff’s vehicle, which was stationary, was hit by the Defendant’s tractor trailer unit. The evidence that was accepted was that the tractor trailer, while passing the stationary vehicle, jackknifed to its right. The collision was significant causing about $12,000 in vehicle damage.
The Defendant gave a different version of what happened saying that the Plaintiff vehicle ‘suddenly and without warning turning into his vehicle’. This was rejected.
This case is worth reviewing for Mr. Justice Josephson’s findings of credibility. In rejecting the defendant’s evidence he noted that the defence theory ‘is contrary to locig and common sense‘ and that the defendant’s testimony was ‘impatient, dogmatic and almost haughty‘.
As is often the case in ICBC claims the court heard from competing medical expert who disagreed as to the extent of the injuries sustained. Here the court preferred the evidence of the Plaintiff’s expert, a highly regarded rheumatologist who is no stranger to severe soft tissue injuries.
The court accepted the Plaintiff’s doctors evidence of injury which is summarized at paragraph 23 of the judgement reading as follows:
[23] She diagnosed the problem as being with the sacroiliac joint, a joint located between the tail bone and the hip. Ligaments cross over the sacroiliac and can be stretched in a motor vehicle accident, particularly if a foot is pressed on a brake pedal at the time, which can cause the symptoms of pain experienced by the plaintiff. While not certain, Dr. Shuckett was of the opinion that the plaintiff’s hyper-mobility may have exacerbated the injury. This type of injury is difficult to treat when, as in this case, recovery has not occurred. Medicines are not effective as the sacroiliac area does not have a rich blood supply.
In explaining why he preferred Dr. Shuckett’s evidence to the defence doctor’s evidence the court noted that:
[25] I do not place great weight on the evidence of Dr. Schwiegel, a neurosurgeon retained by the defence for an independent medical examination. Dr. Schwiegel does not possess the same degree of expertise as does Dr. Shuckett in this type of injury. He did not diagnose the involvement of the sacroiliac joint in the symptoms, though now agrees that may be the case. Put simply, I prefer the expert opinion evidence of Dr. Shuckett where it conflicts with that of Dr. Schwiegel.
The court found that the effects of these injuries were significant, summarizing them as follows:
[26] In summary, as a result of these soft tissue injuries, the plaintiff has gone from a gifted and active athlete to a person unable to engage in sports and other activities that were a large and important part of her life. It has affected her personal relationships. For example, family and friends now see her retreat to the sofa in pain after a family dinner. Only her strong will and determination has led to some improvement in her symptoms with aggressive physiotherapy. Her future remains “uncertain”. After the expiration of this much time and effort with only modest improvement, it may well be that significant symptoms will continue in the foreseeable future.
$48,500 was awarded for pain and suffering.
Also of interest is the judges awards for past and future wage loss. Here the Plaintiff was a commisioned sales person whose past income loss could not be caluclaed with real precision. Nonetheless compelling evidence was awarded that a loss occurred and an award was made. Simialry, it was found that the injuries may have an impact on future earnings and an award was made for loss of earning capacity.
In making an award for loss of earning capacity the court noted that:

[40] In this case, the plaintiff’s ability to perform at the high level she would have been performing but for the accident will be compromised by her injuries to some degree, though that degree is difficult to measure. Her determination and outstanding personal qualities will diminish that loss. Regular weekly appointments and daily multiple sessions of recommended exercises diminish her ability to perform to the same high level that she would have been able to perform but for the accident.

[41] Her physical limitations, as well, render her less marketable to potential employers in future. Employment requiring even temporary physical stress will not be available to her.

[42] The period of time that the plaintiff will be so affected is also difficult to measure. The best medical evidence is that her future is “uncertain”. That there has been so little improvement over the long period of time since the accident leads to the conclusion that recovery will more likely be long term than short.

[43] The plaintiff seeks a not unreasonable $20,000 for loss of earning capacity. I award the plaintiff $18,000.

Another ICBC Intersection Crash

I’ve said it before an I’ll say it again, the issue of FAULT and ICBC claims tends to be most heavily disputed when dealing with left hand turning vehicles in intersection crashes.
Reasons for judgement were released today determining fault as a result of a 2004 intersection crash that occurred in Vernon, BC.
The Plaintiff was travelling through the intersection. The Defendant, travelling from the opposite direction, was intending to make a left hand turn. A significant collision happened. The issue of fault was decided by Mr. Justice Brooke.
This is an interesting case because it appears that the Plaintiff suffered a serious brain injury (a frontal lobe injury) as a result of this crash. When motorists suffer from brain injuries in car accidents it is not unusual for them to suffer a period of amnesia, either before, during or after the event. Here it appears that the trauma of the crash caused the Plaintiff to have no recall of the crash.
How then, do you prove your case when you can’t remember what happened? This case shows some of the usual trial strategies in such a situation. In this case the defendant’s examination for discovery transcript was utilized, lay witnesses were called, the investigating police officer who took scene measurements was called as to where expert accident reconstruction witnesses.
In the end the court found that the Plaintiff vehicle was speeding at the time of the crash and that the left turning driver failed to see a ‘dominant’ vehcile that was ‘there to be seen’. The court reference s. 174 of the BC Motor Vehicle Act in finding the left hand turner largely at fault. The court also found the speeding ‘through’ driver at fault.
In BC personal injury claims, if both parties are at fault the court has to determine the degree of fault of each party. Here the court assigned 20% of the blame to the speeding through vehicle and 80% against the left hand turning vehicle.
One matter worth noting is the effect of the traffic ticket. Here the defendant was ticketed for ‘failing to yield on a left-hand turn.’. He paid the ticket. Such an act is an ‘admission against interest’ and a court can use this ‘admission’ to help decide who is at fault. However, such an admission is not binding on the court. Here the defendant testified that when he gets a ticket he pays it. The court found him to be a straighforward and credible witness and accpeted that in not disputing the ticket that spoke to his characger rather than admission of fault.

More on Intersection Crashes, ICBC, and Fault

In another example of our courts dealing with the issue of fault and intersection crashes, reasons for judgment were released last week faulting a ‘through driver’ 100% for a crash involving a left hand turner in Langley, BC.
I have previously blogged about this and will blog more on this topic in the future. The issue of fault is probably the most litigated when it comes to intersection crashes involving left hand turning vehicles.
In this case the Plaintiff was attempting to turn left. The Defendant, approaching in the opposite direction, was attempting to go through the intersection. The light was amber or red. This is a common recipe for disaster and indeed they crashed with each other. As is often the case in ICBC claims involving intersection crashes the 2 sides had different versions of evidence, particularly as to whether the light was red or amber at the time.
The court found that the light was red at the time of the crash. While both vehicles where, therefore, in the intersection on a red light, only the ‘through driver’ was found at fault because the Plaintiff was clearing the intersection.
The court quoted a case that is well known to ICBC claims lawyers which is helpful to left hand turning motorists in such a situation. The cases is Kokkinis v. Hall from the BC Court of Appeal where the court held that:

9 This discussion, however, detracts from the more important question of law, which is whether Mrs. Kokkinis was on one hand entitled reasonably to assume that Mr. Hall would stop before entering the intersection or on the other hand, whether she can be faulted for failing to see his van “until it was on top of her”, i.e. constituted an immediate hazard. In this regard, Mr. Johnson cites Feng v. Graham [1988] 5 W.W.R. 137 (B.C.C.A.), (not a left turn case), for the principle that the plaintiff’s entitlement to assume that other traffic will obey the law, is “subject to the proviso” (in counsel’s phrase) that where it is apparent or should be apparent that an oncoming driver is not going to yield the right-of-way, then at that point the other driver must act reasonably and cannot simply proceed into the collision, as it were. At the least, Mr. Johnson says, it was open to the trial judge to find that in the circumstances, Ms. Kokkinis failed to exercise reasonable care for her own safety and the safety of others, and that she must therefore bear some responsibility for the accident.

10 I must say this argument has given me pause; but ultimately I resolve it by asking whether in law Mrs. Kokkinis should be faulted for diverting her attention momentarily from oncoming traffic to check cross traffic at the point in time in question, i.e., as she prepared to start her turn – to see if any of those cars had jumped the light or were going to pose a threat to her turn. Was this an unreasonable or careless thing to do? I think not, given both the realities of the situation (which of course occurred over only a few seconds) and past decisions of this Court that have imposed on left-turning drivers the duty to be aware not only of oncoming traffic, but also of cross traffic, pedestrians, and whatever else may be present in the intersection. To say that the plaintiff can be found at fault because she relied on the assumption that Mr. Hall would stop, and because she checked cross-traffic, would in my view subvert the duty on Mr. Hall to bring his vehicle to a safe stop at the amber light as the other traffic did. An amber light is not, as the current witticism suggests, a signal to accelerate or to pass traffic that is slowing to a stop. Indeed, as Mr. Justice Esson noted in Uyeyama, in a busy city like Vancouver and at a busy intersection like 25th and Granville, an amber is likely the only time one can complete a left turn. Drivers approaching intersections must expect that this will be occurring. Putting a burden on a left turning driver to wait until he or she sees that all approaching drivers have stopped would, in my view, bring traffic to a standstill. We should not endorse such a result.

11 Accordingly, notwithstanding the principle (which I do not doubt) that questions of apportionment are generally questions of fact with which we should interfere only in exceptional cases, I would conclude that the issues I have referred to are ones of law and that the learned trial judge erred in law in placing too high a standard on the plaintiff and in failing to consider the assumptions she was entitled to make. I would not apportion any of the fault to her and would apportion 100 percent to Mr. Hall.

The court held that this was a similar case to Kokkinis and found the through driver at fault.
In terms of injuries the Plainitff suffered from general body trauma, bruising and soreness, soft tissue injuries to the neck, chest wrist and knee. The most significant injury was to the back and the court found that “3 years post-accident the Plaintiff continues to have significant pain from his back. Any prolonged activity, such as sitting in a lecture hall or travelling in a sitting position over 45 minutes causes soreness and pain. The Plaintiff is not recommended to pursue recreationbal activities of a physical nature such as football, which he had formerly done.”
The court awarded damages totalling $74,978.13 including $45,000 for non-pecuniary damages (pain and suffering).

BC Supreme Court Awards $75,000 Pain and Suffering for Soft Tissue Injuries – Disc Herniation Claim Dismissed

In reasons for judgment released today, the BC Supreme Court valued a Plaintiff’s pain and suffering at $75,000 for soft tissue injuries.
The Plaintiff was a nurse’s aid. She was injured in a BC car accident which occurred in 2004 in New Westminster. The crash occurred at an intersection and both liability (fault) and quantum (value of injuries) were in dispute at trial. This is often the case when ICBC injury claims resulting from an intersection crash go to trial.
The Plaintiff was making a right hand turn. When starting her turn she felt it was safe to do so. At about the same time the Defendant was proceeding through the intersection and had recently changed into the right hand lane. Both motorists failed to recognize the hazard they posed to each other until it was too late.
The court found that both drivers were at fault. The Plaintiff was liable for ‘not keeping a proper lookout’ and that she should have seen the Defendant travelling in the curb lane prior to the collision.
The defendant was also found at fault for changing lanes at an unsafe time. The key finding is made at paragraph 70 where the court held that:
I find that at the time that the defendant changed lanes on Braid from the eastbound inside lane to the curb lane, 80 feet west of the intersection of Garrett and Braid, the plaintiff had already left the stop sign on Garrett and was in the process of making a right hand turn into the eastbound curb lane on Braid. I find that in making his lane change at this point on Braid the defendant was in such close proximity to the plaintiff’s car that his lane change could not be made safely. The weight of the evidence leaves no doubt that the defendant’s van was far too close to the plaintiff’s car for the defendant’s change of lanes to be made safely.
When 2 or more people are responsible for a BC car accident the Negligence Act requires a court to apportion fault between the parties. In this case the court held that both the Plaintiff and Defendant were 50% at fault for the accident. In doing so the court stated that “I do not think it can be found that blame for the accident rests more with one party than the other. In my opinion, they are equally guilty of breaching the rules of the road.”
The Plaintiff was a nurse’s aid. She claimed that as a result of the accident she became disabled from not only that job but also from ‘any other employment at a competitive level’
The Plaintiff’s doctor diagnosed the following injuries:

1) New large left central parracentral disc herniation posterior to the L5 vertebral body secondary to new onset degenerative L5/S1 disc change. This would be rated severe.

2) Left L5/S1 nerve root compression, also rated severe.

3) Milder degenerative changes at L3/L4, L4/L5 levels with early neural foraminal stenosis at L4/L5 and L5/S1, which are rated moderate to severe.

4) New onset degenerative CT spine changes rated moderate.

5) Musculoskeletal changes within the left side of her body, left arm, left chest, left hip and left leg, resolved within a week or two after the motor vehicle injury, rated mild.

6) Iatrogenic hypertension secondary to COX-2 inhibitor use for the treatment of the patient’s back injuries.

The bulk of the reasons for judgement focused on causation, that is, whether the above injuries were related to the accident or to other causes. As with most ICBC injury claims, the court heard from several ‘expert witnesses’ who commented on the plaintiff’s injuries and their cause.
In the end the court found that the Plaintiff failed to prove that the accident caused her disc herniation. The key findings can be found at paragraph 317 where the court held that:

[317] In the result, I find that the evidence does not establish a temporal link between the accident and the onset of the plaintiff’s low back symptoms ultimately leading to the diagnosis of disc herniation and disc herniation surgery. In my opinion, the plaintiff has failed to prove on a balance of probabilities that the accident caused or contributed to the plaintiff’s disc herniation. She has failed to prove that her disc herniation would not have occurred but for the negligence of the defendants.

[318] In arriving at this conclusion I accept the opinion of Dr. Maloon, in preference to that of the plaintiff’s medical experts, that the soft tissue injuries the plaintiff sustained in the accident would not have been “significant enough to alter the natural history of her neck or low back condition” and that the “disc herniation would be the result of the natural history of the lumbar degenerative disc disease and not the result of injuries that she may have sustained in [the accident].”

Since the court did not find the disc herniation related to the accident damages were assessed for soft tissue injuries. The court made the following finding prior to valuing the injuries at $75,000 for pain and suffering:

[327] I find that the plaintiff sustained mild to moderate soft tissue injuries to her neck and back as a result of the accident which have had an affect on her personal, employment, social and recreational pursuits and activities. However, I also find that the plaintiff has failed to establish that the injuries sustained by her in the accident have caused her disability from employment.

[328] In the result, I find that the plaintiff’s award for general damages should be based on the fact that her condition had improved and recovered to the stage that by March 4, 2005 he felt well enough to return to work on a gradual basis. Moreover, I find that the fact her physical and emotional condition deteriorated after her fall on March 5, 2005 cannot be attributed to the injuries she sustained in the accident.

The Plaintiff’s award was then cut by 50% to reflect the fact that she was 50% responsible for the accident. This is the direct result of ‘contributory negligent’ in ICBC injury cases. If a Plaintiff is any percent at fault then the value of what can be recovered in tort is reduced by that percentage.
Do you have questions about this case or about an ICBC injury claim involving soft tissue injuries or a disk herniation? If so please click here to arrange your free consultation with Victoria ICBC Claims Lawyer Erik Magraken (Services provided for ICBC injury claims throughout BC!)

BC Court of Appeal Clarifies Law Regarding Loss of Vehicle Control

In an important judgment released today by the BC Court of Appeal, the law relating to what inferences a court can draw regarding liability (fault) when a vehicle leaves its lane of travel was clarified.
As in many areas of law, there were some competing authorities addressing this topic and today’s judgment reconciled these. For anyone advancing a tort claim as a result of a single vehicle accident in BC this case is must reading.
In 2002 the Plaintiff’s were injured when the driver of their vehicle lost control in winter driving conditions. The accident was significant. The truck “traversed a bridge, travelled about ten feet after leaving it, and then rolled over and landed on its wheels below the road, resulting in injury to the Plaintiffs“.
The Plaintiffs sued several parties as a result of this accident, most importantly the driver of the vehicle. The Trial Judge found that the Plaintiffs “had failed to prove negligence on (the drivers) part” and that the driver “had driven with reasonable care and that any presumption of negligence arising from his loss of control was rebutted by his explanation that the truck had fishtailed when it went over a bump between the road surface and a bridge.”
The Court of Appeal upheld the trial judgement. In doing so some important clarifications in the law were made.
The Appellant sought to rely on the judgment of Savinkoff v. Seggewiss, in which the court held that “sliding out of control…gives rise to an inference of negligence…in that (the driver) was either not sufficiently attentive to the road conditions, or he was driving too fast, or both.” In Savnikoff the court quoted with approval a passage from an old case where it was held that “if roads are in such a condition that a motor car cannot safely proceed at all, it is the duty of the driver to stop. If the roads are in such a condition that it is not safe to go at more than a foot pace, his duty is to proceed at a foot pace“.
In today’s judgment the Court of Appeal referred to the authoritative judgment of Fontaine v. British Columbia. In that decision the Supreme Court of Canada held that “(the bald proposition that an inference of negligence should be drawn whenever a vehicle leaves the roadway in a single vehicle accident) ignores the fact that whether an inference of negligence can be drawn is highly dependent upon the circumstces of each case“.
The Court reconciled the Fontaine and Savinkoff decisions as follows:
If and to the extent that the Court in Savinkoff intended to establish or confirm a legal rule that negligence must be inferred as a matter of law whenever a vehicle goes off the road and that the defendant must always meet it in the matter suggested, I believe the decesion has been superseded by Fontaine. Wherever the court finds on all the evidence that negligence has not been proven, or that the defendant has shown he drove with reasonable care, the defendant must succeed, whether or not he is able to ‘explain’ how the accident occurred. This is not to suggest that an inference may not be drawn as a matter of fact in a particular case, where a vehicle leaves the road or a driver loses control; but as the trial judge stated at paragraph 53 of her reasons, such an inference will be ‘highly dependant on the facts’ of the case and the explanation required to rebut it will ‘vary in accordance with the strength of the inference sought to be drawn by the plaintiff.
Bottom Line: If a driver loses control of a vehicle he/she is not automatically at fault nor is there a shifting of the burden of proof. The court simply MAY draw the inference that he/she is at fault and whether it is appropriate to do so is ‘highly dependant on the facts of each case’.

What's All This Then? Interpreting Police Accident Reports

ICBC tells you you are at fault and you disagree. What do you do? You gather as much information as possible in support of your claim.
One of the main sources of information to examine is the BC Motor Vehicle Traffic Accident Police Investigation Report (the “Report”). Assuming the police attended the accident scene a copy of this report should have been provided to all motorists involved.
These reports often contain valuable information such as the names of all involved, the exact location of the accident, the names of witnesses and if any charges were laid. If charges were laid, the section of the Motor Vehicle Act that was allegedly violated is often cited in the report. It is a good idea to look up the exact section cited to see what the police allege against the other motorist.
Other information contained the report is coded and most ICBC lawyers know how to intepret this. I thought I would highlight some of the more important codes to share this useful information with my readers.
On the right hand side of the the Report are typed numbers. Assuming you were involved in a two vehicle collision fields 31-33A relate to the first motorist mentioned in the report and fields 34-36A relate to the second motorist mentioned in the report.
The police then fill in these fields with codes for all the “contributing factors” to the collision. Here is what some of these codes mean:
HUMAN CONDITION
16 = extreme fatigue
19 = fell asleep
22 = illness
23 = Sudden Loss of Consciousness
26 = Pre-existing physical disability
80 = Ability impaired by Alcohol
81 = Alcohol suspected
82 = Ability impaired by drugs
83 = Drugs Suspected
84 = Ability impaired by medication
85 = Driver inatentive
86 = Driver internal / external distraction
87 = Deceased prior to colliison
HUMAN ACTION
11 = Backing unsafley
12 = Cutting in
17 = Failing to Signal
18 = Failing to yield the right of way
20 = Following too closely
21 = Improper Passing
24 = Driving on wrong side of road
25 = Pedestrian error / confusion
29 = Ignoring traffic control device
30 = Improper turning
32 = Ignoring officer / flagman / guard
33 = Avoiding vehicle / pedestrian / cycle
34 = Use of Communication / video equipment
35 = Exceeding speed limit
36 = Excessive speed over 40 KH Hour
37 = Driving too fast for conditions
38 = failure to secure stopped vehicle
39 = Driver error / confusion
In additon to the above, the police can code in various factors for “Environmental Conditions” or “other” conditions that contributed the the accident.
I should note that police officers who fill out these reports rarely witnessed the collision themselves and often their allegations of what happened are inadmissible hearsay evidence. It is important to track down all witnesses who can verify these allegations so that there is a source to provide admissible evidence should your ICBC claim ever go to trial.
These reports are a valuable source of information when advancing ICBC claims and it is important for you or your ICBC lawyer to properly interpret these reports to properly advance an ICBC claim.
If you have any questions about your ICBC claim or some of the codes contained in a BC Motor Vehicle Traffic Accident Police Investigation Report feel free to contact the author for help.

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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