Tag: icbc claim settlement

Plaintiff Awarded Double Costs for Beating Pre Trial Formal Settlement Offer; Relevance of ICBC Insurance Considered


In my continued efforts to track the judicial development of Rule 37B, reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, awarding a Plaintiff double costs for the trial of her ICBC claim.  The contentious issue of the existence of Insurance as a potentially relevant factor was also considered.
In today’s case (Pham-Fraser v. Smith) the Plaintiff was injured in a BC motor vehicle collision.  Before trial the Defendant (insured with ICBC) offered to settle under Rule 37B for $115,000.  The Plaintiff responded with a formal settlement offer of $149,000.  Neither party accepted the respective offers and proceeded to trial where the Court awarded just over $400,000 in total damages (click here to read my previous post discussing the trial judgement).
The Plaintiff, having comfortably beat her formal offer, asked the Court to award double costs under Rule 37B.  In granting the motion Mr. Justice Greyell held as follows:

[24] The second factor referred to in Rule 37B(6) also operates in the plaintiff’s favour.  There is a wide difference between the offer to settle and the final judgment.  The judgment is almost three times the amount offered.  The plaintiff’s offer was made because she wished to avoid court and having to give her evidence.  Some of her evidence was of a private nature relating to matters she did not wish to talk about in the public forum of a court of law (that is, how the accident affected her work and home life, her marital relationship with her husband after the accident, and the fact she suffered from incontinence).

[25] It is not necessary to consider factors set out in Rule 37B(6)(c) and (d).  I do not accept the plaintiff’s submission I ought to consider that the defendants, being represented by ICBC, are in a “sophisticated” position in terms of providing settlement instructions and that this is a factor to be taken into account and operate in the plaintiff’s favour in exercising my discretion under the rule.   The plaintiff’s argument seems to me to simply be another way of putting a “deep pockets” argument forward: an argument the courts have thus far rejected as being a factor to be considered in determining whether to award costs under Rule 37B.

[26] After considering the factors which I do consider relevant under Rule 37B, I conclude the plaintiff is entitled to an award of double costs.

As previously discussed, the BC Supreme Court is inconsistent on whether a Defendant being insured is a relevant factor under Rule 37B and clarity from the Court of Appeal would be welcome.  While more cases than not have held that insurance is not a relevant consideration it is not yet clear that this is correct.  If the law was settled it would assist lawyers in advising their clients of the potential risks and benefits of trial.

In my continued efforts to get us all prepared for the New BC Supreme Court Civil Rules I will again point out that Rule 37B will be replaced with Rule 9 under the New Rules. The new rule uses language that is almost identical to Rule 37B which should help cases such as this one retain their value as precedents.

ICBC Negotiations – Formal Rule 37B Offers and the Effects of a Counter Offer

Under the old Rule 37 when a formal settlement offer was made by ICBC the Plaintiff could continue to negotiate and make counter offers without jeopardizing the ability to accept ICBC’s formal settlement offer at a later date.  This was so due to rule Rule 37(10) and 37(13) which held that a formal offer to settle did not expire by reason that a counter offer was made.
As readers of this blog know Rule 37 has been repealed and replaced with Rule 37B.  What if ICBC makes a formal settlement offer under Rule 37B that does not contain any language addressing under what circumstances the offer expires.  Would a counter offer act as a rejection of the formal offer such that it can’t be accepted at a later date?
The first case that I’m aware of dealing with this issue was released today by the BC Supreme Court (More Marine Ltd v. The Ship “the Western King”).
In today’s case the Defendant made a formal offer under Rule 37B to settle a lawsuit for “$40,000 inclusive of interest and costs“.  The Plaintiff made several counter offers which were not accepted.  The Plaintiff then purported to accept the defence formal settlement offer.  The parties could not agree on the documents that would be signed to conclude the settlement and the Plaintiff brought a motion to enforce the settlement.
In dismissing the Plaintiff’s motion Madam Justice  Satanove held that in the circumstances of this case the Plaintiff’s counter offer acted as a non-acceptance of the Rule 37B formal offer which then extinguished the formal offer of settlement.
Her summary of the law as applied to this case could be found at paragraphs 5-11 of the judgement which I reproduce below.

[5]                The plaintiffs’ argument would have succeeded under the old Rule 37 which provided in subsections (10) and (13) that an offer to settle did not expire by reason that a counteroffer was made, and an offer to settle that had not been withdrawn could be accepted at any time before trial.  Rule 37(8) provided that a party could withdraw an offer to settle before it was accepted by delivering a written notice of withdrawal in the prescribed form.

[6]                However, Rule 37B contains none of these provisions.  It simply provides a mechanism for the Court to consider an offer to settle when exercising its discretion in relation to costs.  It has been described as “significantly different, and represents a radical departure, from its predecessor Rule 37” (Alan P. Seckel & James C. MacInnis, British Columbia Supreme Court Rules Annotated 2009 (Toronto: Thomson Carswell, 2009) at 372-374).

[7]                In my view, Rule 37B does not change the common law with respect to settlement agreements, which in themselves are just another form of contract.  The old Rule 37 expressly changed the common law in this regard, but the old Rule 37 is repealed.  If the Legislature had intended the provisions of old Rule 37(8), (10), and (13) to continue to apply to the new Rule 37B, it would have retained the wording of those subsections.

[8]                Turning then to the common law of contracts, it is trite to say that a counteroffer constitutes non-acceptance of a previous offer.  The previous offer must be revived in order to be accepted after a counteroffer has ensued.  (United Pacific Capital v. Piché, 2004 BCSC 1524; Cowan v. Boyd (1921), 49 O.L.R. 335 (C.A.)).

[9]                Applying these principles to the chronology of facts in this case, when the plaintiffs issued the counteroffer of January 6, 2009, they were communicating non-acceptance of the Rule 37B offer of November 28, 2008 from the defendants, and this latter offer was no longer extant.

[10]            The only question that remains is whether the November 28, 2008, offer was revived.  The plaintiffs’ purported acceptance in their letter of March 3, 2009, could be construed as a form of offer to the defendants in the same terms as the defendants’ November 28, 2008 offer, but the defendants’ letter of March 5, 2009, once again evidences a counteroffer by its terms.  The subsequent correspondence between the parties reflects further negotiations between them, but no consensus ad idem.

[11]            In conclusion then, based on my interpretation of new Rule 37B, there is no binding separation agreement for me to enforce and the plaintiffs fail in their application.

This case is a reminder that the common law of contract is alive and well regarding settlement offers under Rule 37B and that many of the statutory terms that applied to Rule 37 formal offers no longer are in place.  Formal settlement offers made by ICBC should be carefully scrutinized to see if a counter offer can be made or if doing so will extinguish the formal offer.

ICBC Injury Claims, Trials and Costs

I’ve written many times about the costs consequences of ICBC Claims and Supreme Court Trials where a formal offer of settlement is made under Rule 37B.  What about when no offer is made, what are the costs consequences then?  In these circumstances Rule 57(9) of the Supreme Court Rules governs which holds that “Subject to subrule (12), costs of and incidental to a proceeding shall follow the event unless the court otherwise orders
What this basically means is to the victor goes the spoils.  If you bring an ICBC Injury Claim to trial in BC Supreme Court and are successful unless the court otherwise orders you will be entitled to your ‘costs’.  But what happens if you are only partially successful in your ICBC Injury Claim?  Can you still get your full costs or can these be split?  
Reasons for judgement were released today (Heppner v. Zia) dealing with this issue.  In today’s case the Plaintiff brought an injury claim following a 2004 motor vehicle collision in New Westminster, BC.  Prior to trial the Plaintiff was seeking to settle her ICBC Injury Claim for $349,900 and ICBC was offering $20,000.
After a 15 day trial the court found that the Plaintiff was 50% responsible for the collision.  In addition to being found partially at fault, the Court rejected the Plaintiff’s claim that she sustained a disc herniation as a result of the collision and that she was permanently disabled from her employment as a result of the collision.  In the end the Plaintiff was awarded damages of just over $45,000 for her soft tissue injuries.
In the normal course the Plaintiff would be entitled to her costs as she was awarded an amount greater than ICBC’s settlement offer and an amount greater than the Small Claims Court monetary jurisdiction.  ICBC, however, argued that they were largely successful in defending the claim in both proving the Plaintiff was partially at fault and in refuting her claim that her disc herniation was related to the collision  ICBC argued that the costs should be apportioned accordingly.  Mr. Justice Cohen of the BC Supreme Court agreed.
In concluding that the Plaintiff should be deprived of her costs for that portion of the trial which involved the claim of an accident related disc herniation Mr. Justice Cohen summarized and applied the law as follows:

[11]            In Sutherland v. The Attorney General of Canada, 2008 BCCA 27 at para. 31, Finch C.J.B.C., for the Court, said, as follows:

The test for the apportionment of costs under Rule 57(15) can be set out as follows:

(1)        the party seeking apportionment must establish that there are separate and discrete issues upon which the ultimately unsuccessful party succeeded at trial;

(2)        there must be a basis on which the trial judge can identify the time attributable to the trial of these separate issues;

(3)        it must be shown that apportionment would effect a just result….

[16]            Upon a review of the authorities submitted by both sides, particularly the recent decision of Romilly J. in Shearsmith v. Houdek, 2008 BCSC 1314, I am satisfied that the issue of the plaintiff’s disc herniation is a discrete issue upon which the plaintiff did not succeed.

[17]            In the case at bar, the Court noted at para. 290 of the Reasons, that the main thrust of the plaintiff’s claim for damages was that she sustained a low back soft tissue injury that eventually lead to disc herniation surgery that has rendered her permanently disabled, and that this outcome was due directly to the accident.

[18]            At paras. 291-292 of the Reasons, the Court said, as follows:

[291]    The defence position is that given the history and the onset of symptoms of low back pain; the plaintiff’s prior history of work related low back injuries and complaints; that the plaintiff’s first onset of low back pain after the accident was caused by the same movement of bending forward as caused the plaintiff’s work related onset of low back pain; and that the plaintiff was working as hard after the accident as she was before the accident, it is impossible to conclude that the accident caused the plaintiff’s chronic low back pain.

[292]    The essence of the defence based on causation is that the plaintiff did not complain about low back pain until about two months after the accident, and then only intermittently thereafter.  The defendants assert that a significant increase in the plaintiff’s low back symptoms and the onset of new symptoms can actually be dated from the plaintiff’s fall down the stairs in her home in early March 2005.  It was this event, claim the defendants, that caused the plaintiff to undergo disc herniation surgery and is the real reason why she did not return to her occupation as a nurse’s aid.

[19]            At para. 317 of the Reasons, the Court concluded as follows:

[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.

[20]            Thus, in the circumstances of the case, I disagree with the plaintiff’s contention that the plaintiff’s disc herniation was not a discrete issue, but merely part of the overall burden on her to prove the extent of the injuries that she suffered as a result of the accident.

[21]            I also disagree with the plaintiff that it is not possible to attribute the time taken up in dealing with the issue of the plaintiff’s disc herniation, as opposed to the time taken up dealing with the plaintiff’s other injuries. 

[22]            I find that the plaintiff should be denied her costs associated with this discrete issue.

The Court then turned to the issue of liability and the fact that ICBC was successful in proving the Plaintiff 50% at fault for the collision.  Mr. Justice Cohen held that in these circumstances the Plaintiff’s trial costs should be reduced by 50% and summarized and applied the law as follows:

 

[25]            Finally, I turn to the matter of s. 3(1) of the Negligence Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 333 (the “Act”).  The defendants submit that the costs awarded in favour of the plaintiff ought to be reduced by 50% to reflect the court’s finding on liability. 

[26]            Section 3(1) of the Act states:

Unless the court otherwise directs, the liability for costs of the parties to every action is in the same proportion as their respective liability to make good the damage or loss.

[27]            The plaintiff says that an application of s. 3(1) would work an injustice in this case.  Her position is that the issue of liability occupied relatively little time at the trial, perhaps no more than a day or two.

[28]            In Moses v. Kim, 2007 BCSC 1820, the plaintiff sought 100% of his taxable costs, notwithstanding that he was held 65% responsible for the accident.  At para. 13, Gray J., as part of her analysis of whether she should use her discretion to depart from the usual rule, set out the following criteria to be applied by the Court:

(a)        the seriousness of the plaintiff’s injuries;

(b)        the difficulties facing the plaintiff in establishing liability;

(c)        the fact that in settlement negotiations the amount offered was substantially below the ultimate amount;

(d)        whether the plaintiff was forced to go to trial to obtain recovery;

(e)        the costs of getting to trial;

(f)        the difficulty and length of the trial;

(g)        whether the costs recovery available to the plaintiff, if costs are apportioned according to liability, will bear any reasonable relationship to the party’s costs in obtaining the results achieved;

(h)        the positions taken by the parties at trial, in particular whether the positions taken were appropriate and reasonable in the circumstances;

(i)         whether the defendants made any settlement offers;

(j)         the ultimate result of the trial; and

(k)        whether the plaintiff achieved substantial success that would be effectively defeated if costs were awarded pursuant to s. 3(1) of the Negligence Act.

[29]            In the instant case, the Court found that the plaintiff sustained mild to moderate soft tissue injuries as a result of the accident, and held that the general damage award should be based on the fact that her condition had improved and recovered to the stage that by a year post-accident she felt well enough to return to work on a gradual basis.  Hence, the plaintiff’s general damage award was substantially less than the amount she sought.

[30]            As well, the award received by the plaintiff for general damages was substantially less than that offered by her prior to the trial ($349,000), and somewhat closer to the amount offered by the defendants ($20,000).  Moreover, the factors of whether the plaintiff was forced to go to trial to obtain recovery, the costs of getting to trial, and the difficulty and length of the trial are applicable to both sides. 

[31]            Finally, given the ultimate result of the trial, and the fact that, in my view, the plaintiff did not achieve substantial success that would be effectively defeated if costs were awarded pursuant to s. 3(1) of the Act, I find that there are no features of the action to warrant departure from the usual rule. 

[32]            Accordingly, the plaintiff’s costs shall be reduced by 50% to reflect the division of liability.

More on Rule 37B and ICBC Injury Claims

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court providing more interpretation to Rule 37B in the context of ICBC Claims.  (for background on Rule 37B and ICBC Claims see my former blog posts).
In today’s case (Jacobs v. McLaughlin) the Plaintiff sued 3 separate Defendants as a result of 3 separate accidents.  All 3 Defendants made formal settlement offers before trial.   2 of the Defendants bested their formal settlement offers at trial.  At issue was what costs consequences should follow as a result of this.
The court summarized the case law to date interpreting Rule 37B with the following analysis:

[20]            The new rule broadens the discretion of the court, permitting it “to take offers to settle under the rule into account based on the factors set out later in the rule”:  Cowichan Bay Contractors Ltd. v. Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (29 July 2008) Victoria 05/1639, at para. 5 [Cowichan Bay]. 

[21]            Unlike its predecessor, Rule 37B does not mandate outcomes; if the plaintiff fails to beat an offer to settle, it does not mean that the plaintiff will automatically be deprived of costs, as this “interpretation would fetter what is clearly intended to be an unfettered discretion”:  Bailey v. Jang, 2008 BCSC 1372, [2008] B.C.J. No. 1952, at para. 19 [Bailey].

[22]            In addition to providing for the court’s discretion to consider offers to settle, the new rule is permissive in its effect:  British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals v. Baker, 2008 BCSC 947, [2008] B.C.J. No. 1635 [B.C.S.P.C.A.].  Subrule (5) empowers the court to deprive a party, in whole or in part, of costs to which it would otherwise be entitled, or award double costs of all or some steps taken in the proceedings.

[23]            The policy underlying the new Rule 37B remains the same as under the former Rule 37:  to encourage reasonable early settlement of disputes “by providing that there will be consequences in the amount of costs payable when a party fails to accept an offer that ought reasonably to have been accepted”:  Arnold v. Cartwright Estate, 2008 BCSC 1575, 86 B.C.L.R. (4th) 99, at para 16; Abma v. Paul, 2009 BCSC 60, [2009] B.C.J. No. 87, at para. 23.  The rule also exists to “deter certain kinds of conduct”:  Bailey, at para. 18. 

Rule 37B(6)(a):  Reasonableness of the Offers to Settle

[24]            The onus is on the defendants to establish that the offer was one that the plaintiff ought reasonably to have accepted:  B.C.S.P.C.A., at para. 36.

[25]            The plaintiff submits that this Court should not give any weight to the defendants’ offers to settle not solely because they were unreasonable, but because she was incapable of accepting any of the offers in isolation of the others.  The plaintiff relies on Carvalho v. Agnotti, 2008 BCSC 386, [2008] B.C.J. No. 559 [Carvalho], to support her argument.

[26]            In Carvalho, the defendants made separate offers related to two separate car accidents involving the plaintiff.  Mr. Justice N.H. Smith held that the substantial overlap in damage claims precluded acceptance of only one of the offers; instead, the plaintiff had to consider the two offers together.  In this case, each of the three accidents caused separate and discrete injuries to Ms. Jacobs.  Plaintiff’s counsel had overwhelming evidence prior to the onset of Ms. Jacobs’ MS that there were no “overlapping” injuries.  Carvalho is distinguishable on this basis. 

[27]            I am satisfied that the factual evidence before the plaintiff should have led her to conclude that the offers could have been accepted in isolation of each other.  This is not the imposition of hindsight reasoning, as argued by the plaintiff.  Rather, it is the fair assessment of the factual evidence before the plaintiff as it related to her claim. 

[28]            Ms. Jacobs submits that at the date of delivery, following so soon after the third motor vehicle accident and the definitive diagnosis of her MS, she did not have an opportunity to obtain medical and legal opinions respecting the role of the trauma in the exacerbation of her MS.

[29]            Under Rule 37B, a party must be afforded a reasonable period of time to “consider an offer and decide in the circumstances existing at the time of the offer whether it should be accepted or rejected”:  Coquitlam (City) v. Crawford, 2008 BCSC 1507, [2008] B.C.J. No. 2095, at para. 17 [Coquitlam].

[30]            All parties agree that the plaintiff required a reasonable opportunity to investigate this allegation before deciding to reject the offers to settle. 

[31]            The defendants state that there should have been a reasonable time period in which to investigate the MS causation issue after July 17, 2006, when the issue became “alive”.  The defendants submit that by December 31, 2006 the plaintiff should have been able to fully assess the legal principles and scientific research on the MS causation analysis as it related to her claim.  Thus, they submit, it would have been reasonable for Ms. Jacobs to accept their offers to settle by that time.

[32]            I note that the plaintiff amended her statement of claim to include the MS causation issue in October 2006.

[33]            The plaintiff submits that it was reasonable for her to advance the MS causation issue up until a few weeks before trial, as her particular claim was supported by medical science, her physicians, and the law in British Columbia. 

[34]            At a pre-trial settlement conference on September 27, 2007, Mr. Justice Halfyard commented that the defendants’ defenses on the MS causation issue were strong and it would be difficult for the plaintiff to prove this allegation on a balance of probabilities. 

[35]            The plaintiff argues that it was unreasonable to accept the offers to settle after the settlement conference because it would have had serious cost implications for the plaintiff, ultimately leaving her with no compensation and in a deficit position, notwithstanding the admitted negligence of the defendants.  Thus, the plaintiff submits, at no time was it reasonable for her to accept the offers to settle.

[36]            The trial commenced on October 14, 2007. 

[37]            The plaintiff appears to have initiated the investigation into her injuries and their relationship to her MS around November 16, 2006, which is the date of Ms. Jacobs’ first appointment with Dr. Devonshire.  However, any serious evaluation into this claim occurred much later; all reports relating to the plaintiff’s MS were dated July 2007 (Devonshire report) and August 2007 (Rathbone, Freeman, and Bateman reports), with the requests for these reports dated between two and four months prior to their receipt.  The majority of Ms. Jacobs’ appointments related to these reports took place in the late spring and early summer of 2007. 

[38]            I find it difficult to accept Ms. Jacobs’ argument that it was unreasonable at essentially all times to accept the offers because she expected to succeed on the MS causation issue, given that she ultimately abandoned the argument.  At some point, the medical and legal research done by counsel should have suggested that the factual and scientific evidence linking Ms. Jacobs’ injuries and her MS were not sufficient to bring to trial.  As Mr. Justice Hall noted at para. 16 of Catalyst Paper Corporation v. Companhia de Navegação Norsul, 2009 BCCA 16, [2009] B.C.J. No. 52:

[16]      It seems to me that the trend of recent authorities is to the effect that the costs rules should be utilized to have a winnowing function in the litigation process.  The costs rules require litigants to make careful assessments of the strength or lack thereof of their cases at commencement and throughout the course of litigation.  The rules should discourage the continuance of doubtful cases or defences.  This of course imposes burdens on counsel to carefully consider the strengths and weaknesses of particular fact situations.  Such considerations should, among other things, encourage reasonable settlements.

[39]            I accept the defendants’ submission that at some point before the settlement conference, neither the factual nor the scientific evidence supported the MS causation issue allegation.  Knowing this, plaintiff’s counsel took the gamble anyway.

[40]            Taking into consideration when the statement of claim was amended to include the MS causation issue, and the plaintiff’s receipt of her experts reports, I am satisfied that the plaintiff should have been able to evaluate her claim by August 15, 2007.  At this point, the MS causation issue should have been abandoned, and the McLaughlin and Meehan offers ought reasonably to have been accepted.

[41]            The plaintiff further submits that accepting the two offers which exceeded the judgment in this case would have saved neither time nor money, as the case against Ms. Moyer would have commenced in any event, and this court would have been required to hear all the evidence related to the three accidents. 

[42]            There are two difficulties with this submission.  First, the injuries sustained in the accidents were discrete, thus, a claim against Ms. Moyer would not have required any evidence pertaining to the accidents involving Ms. McLaughlin and Ms. Meehan.  Second, there are multiple purposes for assessing offers to settle in the award or deprivation of costs under Rule 37B, only one of which is indemnification.

Rule 37B(6)(b):  Relationship Between the Terms of 
Settlement Offered and the Final Judgment of the Court

[43]            Subrule 37B(6)(b) could be used to assess, among other things, whether an offer is strategic (MacKinlay v. MacKinlay Estate, 2008 BCSC 1570, 44 E.T.R. (3d) 48) or confers a significant benefit aside from costs:  B.C.S.P.C.A., at para. 34. 

[44]            The plaintiff submits that this Court should look at the difference between the global amount offered by the defendants and the global damages awarded by this Court and hold that the amount is insignificant.  However, the offers were not made globally. 

[45]            I find that the differences between the offers to settle and the awards of both defendants are significant.  The plaintiff recovered approximately 60% of the amount on offer by the defendant McLaughlin and precisely 60% of the amount on offer by the defendant Meehan. 

Rule 37B(6)(d):  Any Other Factor the Court Considers Appropriate

[46]            The defendants argue that the old Rule 37(24) and the plaintiff’s unreasonableness should be considered.

[47]            First, the defendants point out that they had no ability to structure offers with regard to the current rule, as they were made two years before it came into effect.  The issue of the application of Rule 37B in the context of settlement offers made prior to its enactment was considered by Mr. Justice Macaulay in Cowichan Bay, who stated the following at para. 12 of his oral judgment:

[12]      Finally, I take into account that at the time the offer was made in this case, the parties then reasonably expected that the rule in its then form would govern the consequences of the offer.  Accordingly, there is no question that the plaintiffs have had notice of the potential consequences throughout the proceedings.

[48]            I agree with the defendants that there was an expectation at the time the offers were made that success on the part of the defendants would inevitably give rise to an award of costs.  This factor will diminish in significance over time, but so long as there is litigation involving offers to settle under the former rule, the consequences under that regime are factors to consider.

[49]            The defendants also argue that the court should impose a penalty on Ms. Jacobs.  The plaintiff caused a great deal of unnecessary costs and resources, which were expended by both sides in this litigation.  In particular, the defendants prepared for a 30-day trial, and then had to modify this preparation after the plaintiff abandoned the MS causation issue on the first day of trial.  This, alone, added significant costs to the defendants. 

[50]            The purposes of Rule 37B, to promote settlement, prevent unnecessary claims, and deter poor conduct, will lose its efficacy if a reasonable party is denied relief after attempting to resolve the case by settlement.

 

ICBC Injury Claims, Lawyers and Settlement

(Please Note:  The Case discussed in this article was overturned by the BC Court of Appeal on May 7, 2010.  You can click here to read the BCCA’s reasons for judgement)
As an ICBC Injury Claims Lawyer I have developed a particular habit when it comes to settlement of my clients claims.  I typically never bind my clients to a settlement until they sign a full and final release (the settlement contract ICBC uses in concluding injury claims).  This is my usual practice even if I receive firm instructions to settle an ICBC Injury Claim for a certain amount and I get a better settlement offer on the table.
Lawyers act as agents for their clients.  Lawyers can, therefore, bind their clients to a settlement.   Typically a client will give a lawyer authority to settle their claim for X dollars and the lawyer will attempt to get that amount or more.  If a lawyer accepts an ICBC settlement offer on behalf of their client the client is typically bound to the settlement, even if the client later wishes to get out of the settlement by not signing ICBC’s full and final release.
When deciding whether or not to accept an ICBC settlement offer, like many important decisions in life, people sometimes second guess themselves and change their mind.  For this very reason I typically negotiate on a non-binding basis making it clear to ICBC or ICBC’s lawyers that if a settlement is agreed to in principle it is never binding on my client unless and until they sign the full and final release.  This gives clients one last chance to change their mind which is never a bad option to have.
If such a term is not part of the settlement negotiations then a client may be bound even if they get cold feet and decide not to sign ICBC’s settlement contract.  Reasons for judgement were relased today (Lacroix v. Loewen) discussing exactly such a scenario.   In Lacroix the Plaintiff gave her lawyer instructions to accept a settlement offer.  The lawyer then did accept ICBC’s settlement offer.  The client, after speaking with some friends, decided not to proceed with the settlement and did not sign ICBC’s settlement contract.  The client proceeded with her Injury Claim and ICBC brought an application to dismiss the lawsuit on the basis that it was already settled.
In the end Mr. Justice Williamson permitted the claim to continue finding that after the accepted offer ICBC insisted upon a new term which was not part of the agreed settlement thus undoing the agreement to settle. But for this fact, it appears, the Plaintiff would have been bound to the settlement.  Mr. Justice Williamson summarized the law relating to offer and acceptance of ICBC Injury Claims and the required paperwork that flows from such a contract as follows:

[14] In Fieguth v. Acklands Ltd. (1989), 37 B.C.L.R. (2d) 62, 59 D.L.R. (4th) 114 (C.A.), McEachern C.J.B.C., speaking for the court, said at 70:

In these matters it is necessary to separate the question of formation of contract from its completion. The first question is whether the parties have reached an agreement on all essential terms. There is not usually any difficulty in connection with the settlement of a claim or action for cash. That is what happened here and as a settlement implies a promise to furnish a release and, if there is an action, a consent dismissal unless there is a contractual agreement to the contrary, there was agreement on all essential terms.

The next stage is the completion of the agreement. If there are no specific terms in this connection either party is entitled to submit whatever releases or other documentation he thinks appropriate. Ordinary business and professional practice cannot be equated to a game of checkers where a player is conclusively presumed to have made his move the moment he removes his hand from the piece. One can tender whatever documents he thinks appropriate without rescinding the settlement agreement. If such documents are accepted and executed and returned then the contract, which has been executory, becomes executed. If the documents are not accepted then there must be further discussion but neither party is released or discharged unless the other party has demonstrated an unwillingness to be bound by the agreement by insisting upon terms or conditions which have not been agreed upon or are not reasonably implied in these circumstances.

[15] In the case at bar, the question becomes whether the defendants, in sending over the cheque for the settlement sum along with the release documents, insisted upon terms or conditions which had not been agreed upon or were not reasonably implied in these circumstances.

[16] There is no doubt upon the affidavit material filed by the plaintiff that when ICBC offered the plaintiff $7,000 via her counsel Mr. Mickelson, she told Mr. Mickelson to accept that offer.  He did.

[17] It was after a conversation with friends that the plaintiff telephoned Mr. Mickelson again and told him that she would not accept the offer.

[18] The plaintiff says that the documents, which she saw only after purporting to withdraw her acceptance, show that Mr. Mickelson did not follow her instructions.  She had instructed him to make an offer at $6,500, plus user fees, plus all of her expenses, an offer that would have amounted to $7,692.  However, she points out that according to the ICBC adjuster’s notes, Mr. Mickelson did not make an offer of $7,692.  Instead, he countered ICBC’s offer of $5,500 with an offer of $7,000.  Thus, the offer that he made was $692 less than the one authorized by the plaintiff.

[19] Nevertheless, when Mr. Mickelson told the plaintiff that ICBC had made an offer of $7,000, it is undisputed that she said she would accept ICBC’s offer.

[20] In these circumstances, I cannot see how the fact that the offer was $692 less than what was originally authorized matters.  The fact is that there was $7,000 on the table.  Her solicitor advised her to take this offer and she did.

The lesson in this case is to make sure that when you give your lawyer settlement instructions understand that he/she can make a binding commitment on your behalf based on these instructions.  Better yet,if you don’t know your lawyers negotiation tactics consider asking him or her to negotiate on a non-binding basis giving you, the client, the final say when the claim settlement paperwork is presented to you.

More on Settlement Offers and Rule 37B

Reasons for judgement were released today refusing to award the successful litigant double costs pursuant to Rule 37B.
The Petitioner City sued the Respondent Kennel operator seeking a declaration that the Kennel was in breach of a Bylaw and seeking conjunctive orders.  Before trial (and before Rule 37 was replaced with Rule 37B) the Respondent offered to settle on the following terms ‘this proceeding on the basis that the Petitioner’s claim be dismissed and costs in accordance with Rule 37
The offer was delivered less than 7 days before the trial commenced.   The claim was dismissed at trial.
The Respondents asked that the City pay them Double Costs.  Madam Justice Loo refused to order double costs noting that the formal offer of settlement conferred no benefit to the Respondents aside from costs.  The key reasons are set out at paragraph 13-15 which hold as follows:

[13]            The Court of Appeal in a number of cases has stated that the purpose of the double costs provisions of Rule 37 is to encourage early and reasonable settlements of disputes and discourage frivolous litigation:  Skidmore v. Blackmore (1995), 122 D.L.R. (4th) 330, 2 B.C.L.R. (3d) 201 (C.A.) at para. 28; Vukelic v. Canada (1997), 37 B.C.L.R. (3d) 217 at paras. 9 to 13, 94 B.C.A.C. 147; Mackenzie v. Brooks, 1999 BCCA 623 at para. 24 (sub nom. Mackenzie v. Brooks et al.), 130 B.C.A.C. 95.

[14]            Although Rule 37 is no longer in force, I find these statements of principle helpful in view of the express language of Rule 37B(4).

[15]            The petitioner’s claim was not frivolous and it was not a claim that was bound to fail.  The offer to settle conferred no benefit on the petitioner aside from costs and conferred virtually no benefit to those who complained about the noise of the barking dogs.

This is the second case that I’m aware of in Rule 37-B’s short history which refuses to award double costs to a litigant who made what can be characterized as a nuisance value offer.  It appears that if a claim is not frivolous and is not bound to fail, double costs might not be granted when the claim does indeed fail at trial if the formal settlement offer conveys ‘no benefit aside from costs’ to the litigant.
If you are proceeding to trial in an ICBC claim or are considering an ICBC settlement offer cases such as this one are worth reviewing.  I will continue to post about Rule 37B cases as they come to my attention.

More on ICBC, Rule 37B and Costs

I have previously blogged about the new Rule 37B (here and here) which deals with formal offers of settlement and the costs consequences of trial.
The first case that I’m aware of dealing with Rule 37B in an ICBC claim was released today.
In this case both fault and quantum were at issue.  The Plaintiff alleged that the Defendant was at fault for the car accident and claimed over $1million in damages.  The case was presented for over one week in front of a Vancouver jury.
The case was dismissed on the issue of liability meaning that the Jury found the Plaintiff was responsible for this collision thus making her entitlement to tort damages $0.
In this case ICBC (on the defendant’s behlaf) made a pre-trial offer to settle for $35,000.  This offer was made in compliance with Rule 37B.
The court refused to look at the fact that the Defendant was insured when considering ‘the relative financial circumstances of the Parties’ and concluded that the Defendant was entitled to Double Costs from the time the offer was made through trial.
I reproduce the court’s key analysis below:

a)         Ought the Defendants’ Offer to Have Been Accepted?

[20]            In her submissions, the plaintiff referred to the position that she said was taken by an unnamed ICBC adjuster respecting the responsibility for the collision.  That view was apparently a preliminary one, the basis for which is unexplained; it was not before the jury in this case, and, in any event, the conclusion would certainly not be binding on the jury or the court.

[21]            The plaintiff also referred in her submissions to the fact that she had offered to settle her claim for $160,000 plus her costs, a sum considerably less than her counsel sought from the jury.

[22]            Based upon her offer compared to the position taken by her counsel at trial, the plaintiff was clearly prepared to take a considerable gamble to achieve a significant award.  While it was open to the jury to make a sizeable award, in the event there was a finding of liability against the defendants, the discount the plaintiff was prepared to accept in order to settle the claim does not support the conclusion that she had confidence in the likelihood of securing a sizeable award at trial.  That, in my view, is one of the factors against which the reasonableness of her refusal to accept the defendants’ offer to settle must be assessed.

[23]            As I have said above, it was clearly open to the jury to dismiss the plaintiff’s claim by finding no liability against the defendants, but equally open to them to find some or even complete liability against the defendants.

[24]            While the defendants argued that the jury’s verdict proves that the plaintiff ought to have accepted their offer to settle, I do not read Rule 37B as inviting that sort of hindsight analysis.  Under Rule 37, an offer to settle was revoked once trial began.  Although Rule 37B contains no such provision, the defendants in this case stated in their offer that it was open for acceptance “at any time before 4:00 pm, Pacific Time, or the last business day prior to the commencement of the first day of trial”.  In my view, the reasonableness of the plaintiff’s decision not to accept the defendants’ offer to settle must be assessed, under that offer, only prior to the last date that the offer could be accepted, and in any case, under Rule 37B, prior to the delivery of the jury’s verdict, but not thereafter.

[25]            Weighing these factors, I am unable to say that it was unreasonable for the plaintiff to have rejected the defendants’ offer to settle.

b)         Relationship between the Offer and the Final Judgment

[26]            Implicit in the defendants’ position on costs is the argument that the complete dismissal of the plaintiff’s claim obviates a consideration of subrule 37B(6)(b).  I do not accept that that is an appropriate reading of that subrule.

[27]            With respect to this subrule, the plaintiff argues that the jury’s verdict was not one that ought to have been “seriously contemplated” by the plaintiff.  The difficulty with this position is that counsel for the plaintiff took no objection to the charge, which instructed the jury that it was open to them to dismiss the plaintiff’s claim if they were not satisfied that the plaintiff had established liability on the part of the defendant Priscilla C. Jang.  The jury’s verdict could not in these circumstances be said to be perverse, as counsel for the plaintiff argued before judgment was entered.

[28]            I do not accept the plaintiff’s submission that the jury’s verdict is difficult to accept on the evidence before it.

c)         Relative Financial Circumstances of the Parties

[29]            The plaintiff asserts by affidavit that her annual income is between $33,000 and $34,000 per year, and that her share of the expenses in the apartment she shares with a friend together with her own monthly expenses amount to approximately $2000 per month.

[30]            The plaintiff lists a debt to her lawyers of some $29,000 as well as other debts of a further $35,000, and swears that “If I am obliged to pay ICBC’s defence costs for this trial, I will be unable to meet my ongoing expenses and debts.”  I have no evidence of the extent to which the plaintiff could arrange financing to address her position, but I do not accept that her present debts or even greater financial obligations could not be accommodated by financing.  While the defendants argue that the plaintiff’s obligations to her counsel are a result of her refusal to accept their offer to settle, I do not see that the cause of the plaintiff’s debts is a relevant consideration.  The fact is that she is indebted to her counsel.

[31]            There are, however, two difficulties with the plaintiff’s position on this factor.  First, she argues that her financial circumstances are difficult.  This alone is insufficient to meet Rule 37B(6)(c).

[32]            Second, she places her financial position against that of ICBC, as opposed to that of the defendants.

[33]            While I accept that it is likely that most drivers in British Columbia are insured by ICBC, the wording of subrule 37B does not invite consideration of a defendant’s insurance coverage.  There may be good policy reasons for this.  Insurance coverage limits with ICBC are not universal, and will vary from insured to insured.  Certain activities may result in a breach of an individual’s insurance coverage, or the defence of an action under a reservation of rights by ICBC.  A plaintiff will not and likely should not be privy to such matters of insurance coverage between a defendant and ICBC.

[34]            The contest in this case was between the plaintiff and the defendants, and the insurance benefits available to the defendants do not, in my view, fall within the rubric of their financial circumstances, any more than any collateral benefit entitlement that a plaintiff may have would affect that person’s financial circumstances for the purpose of determining their loss.

[35]            There is no evidence before me as to the defendants’ financial circumstances.  What little I do know of the circumstances of the defendant Pricilla C. Jang is that, at the time of the accident, she was driving her mother’s motor vehicle, and that she was employed as a parts delivery person for a motor vehicle dealership.  That does not suggest to me that her financial circumstances are appreciably different from those of the plaintiff.

d)         Other Factors

[36]            No submissions were made by the plaintiff suggesting that there are other factors in this case that should influence the appropriate cost option to be employed in this case.

DISPOSITION

[37]            While I am not prepared to find that the plaintiff’s failure to accept the defendants’ offer to settle was unreasonable, I am equally unprepared to accept that the jury’s verdict was unreasonable.  I am also unprepared to conclude that there is any significant disparity in the financial circumstances of the parties so as to invoke subrule 37B(6)(c).

[38]            What then, of the function of the Rules to encourage or to deter the types of conduct referred to by Cumming J.A. in Skidmore?  As mentioned above, the plaintiff was prepared to take a considerable gamble to achieve a significant award.  Had she succeeded, she doubtless would have sought an order for double costs against the defendants following her offer to settle.

[39]            I conclude that the refusal of an award of double costs from August 11, 2008 would completely ignore the important deterrent function of the Rules.  The factors set out in subrule 37B(6) do not, in this case, persuade me that such a result would be appropriate.  I find that the defendants are entitled to an award of double costs beginning a reasonable period of time after which the plaintiff could consider their offer.  That period I find commenced on August 18, 2008, seven days after the defendants’ offer to settle.

[40]            The defendants are entitled to recover their taxable costs and disbursements of this action from its commencement until August 18, 2008 pursuant to Rule 57(9).  Those costs will be taxed at Scale B.

[41]            The defendants are entitled to double costs commencing August 18, 2008 and to their disbursements as incurred after August 18, 2008.  The disbursements will be allowed only in the amount incurred, and not at a double rate.

$75,000 Pain and Suffering Awarded for Headaches and Chronic Pain

Reasons for judgement were released today awarding a Plaintiff just under $150,000 damages in total as a result of two ICBC claims.
One thing I’ve been meaning to point out for some time on this blog is that in BC tort claims (which include car accident claims), ICBC is almost never named as a party to the lawsuit. There are a few circumstances when it is appropriate to name ICBC directly but these are few and far between. It is a safe bet that if a case goes to court in BC involving a BC car accident it is more often than not an ICBC claim. I know that this case involves ICBC (despite them not being named as a party) because the defence lawyer is an ICBC in house lawyer from Kamloops. When you are looking at precedents to help you value your ICBC case to determine what a fair settlement, you should know that most any BC car accident case serves as a valuable precedent because even if ICBC is not mentioned or is not the insurer in any given case, each BC case serves as an example of how our courts value injuries in BC.
Getting back to the case – here the Plaintiff was injured in 2 car accidents for which others were at fault. The first in 1998, the second in 2004. In the first accident the Plaintiff was a passenger in a pick-up truck involved in a roll-over accident. In the second the Plaintiff was a passenger in a vehicle that was T-boned. Both crashes were significant and resulted in injuries.
This case is a good example of how complex chronic pain ICBC claims can be when they head to trial. In this case the court heard from over 10 lay witnesses who could comment on their observations of the Plaintiff’s injuries (or lack thereof by the witnesses called by the ICBC defence lawyer). The court also had access to medical evidence from over 6 doctors and other specialists.
The Plaintiff presented a case of chronic pain affecting every single aspect of her life. The defence case was one of injury which significantly improved after 2 years.
The court concluded that, although the Plaintiff ‘exaggerated her claim to some extent‘ she ‘has suffered to some degree from headaches and chronic pain over the past 10 years, and will continue to suffer these in the future, over some limited period of time. Some of her complaints are psychosomatic and she may benefit from counselling‘.
The court awarded damages as follows:
The plaintiff shall recover damages as follows:

general damages: $75,000

past income loss: $680

cost of future care: $4,271.72

diminished future earning capacity: $60,000

special damages: $7,753.60

In doing so the court recited some good quotes from previous BC judgements addressing the assessment of damages. These precedents are worth knowing for anyone advancing and ICBC injury claim. Particularly the court referred to a great BC Court of Appeal case summarizing the principles used in the assessment of damages in personal injuries, the key quote being:

The most basic of those principles is that a plaintiff is entitled to be put into the position he would have been in but for the accident so far as money can do that. An award for loss of earning capacity is based on the recognition that a plaintiff’s capacity to earn income is an asset which has been taken away. Where a plaintiff’s permanent injury limits him in his capacity to perform certain activities and consequently impairs his income earning capacity, he is entitled to compensation. What is being compensated is not lost projected future earnings but the loss or impairment of earning capacity as a capital asset. In some cases, projections from past earnings may be a useful factor to consider in valuing the loss but past earnings are not the only factor to consider.

Because damage awards are made as lump sums, an award for loss of future earning capacity must deal to some extent with the unknowable. The standard of proof to be applied when evaluating hypothetical events that may affect an award is simple probability, not the balance of probabilities. Possibilities and probabilities, chances, opportunities, and risks must all be considered, so long as they are a real and substantial possibility and not mere speculation. These possibilities are to be given weight according to the percentage chance they would have happened or will happen.

The trial judge’s task is to assess the loss on a judgmental basis, taking into consideration all the relevant factors arising from the evidence … [The factors] include:

[1] whether the plaintiff has been rendered less capable overall from earning income from all types of employment;

[2] whether the plaintiff is less marketable or attractive as an employee to potential employers;

[3] whether the plaintiff has lost the ability to take advantage of all job opportunities which might otherwise have been open to him, had he not been injured; and

[4] whether the plaintiff is less valuable to himself as a person capable of earning income in a competitive labour market.

The task of the court is to assess damages, not to calculate them according to some mathematical formula. Once impairment of a plaintiff’s earning capacity as a capital asset has been established, that impairment must be valued. The valuation may involve a comparison of the likely future of the plaintiff if the accident had not happened with the plaintiff’s likely future after the accident has happened. As a starting point, a trial judge may determine the present value of the difference between the amounts earned under those two scenarios. But if this is done, it is not to be the end of the inquiry. The overall fairness and reasonableness of the award must be considered taking into account all the evidence.

The court then did a great job of summarizing the two approaches when addressing future wage loss and ICBC claims, summarizing the law as follows:

There are two methods of assessment under this head of damages, although both have the same outcome. The court can either use the “real possibility” approach, and compare the plaintiff’s likely earnings, had she not been injured, with the income she likely now earns, factoring in the positive and negative contingencies; or the court can value the loss of earning capacity as a capital asset (as Finch J.A., as he then was, suggested in Pallos v. ICBC (1995), 100 B.C.L.R. (2d) 260 (C.A.)).

$40,000 Pain and Suffering for "Very Unique' Ankle Injury

Reasons for judgement were released today awarding a Plaintiff a total of$71,060.06 as a result of personal injuries which were caused by a 2004 BC car crash.
This was a left-turn intersection case involving a semi-truck and a mini-van. The semi truck turned left in front of the mini-van at an intersection causing a collision. The Plaintiff was a passenger in the mini-van. She ‘braced herself (for the collision) by holding the sides of the seat and placing her feet on the dash’.
Fault for the accident was admitted. The issue at trial was the extent of the injuries sustained and their value.
The court concluded that the Plaintiff suffered from soft tissue injuries to her neck back and jaw which ‘had all effectively cleared up within some 6-7 months after the accident‘.
The Plaintiff also suffered injuries to her knee and ankles which ‘progressed to the point where she could return to work in July, 2005‘. The exact nature of these injuries were ‘bilateral ankle bone contusions and patellofemoral discomfort‘. The court found that these injuries were chronic and that ‘she will have continuing pain from time-to-time (in her ankle) of more likely on a diminishing basis‘.
The court awarded $40,000 for non-pecuniary damages (pain and suffering).
This case focused largely on credibility. The court concluded that the plaintiff ‘has exaggerated her ongoing pain’. This case is worth reviewing for anyone advancing an ICBC injury claim as an example of how BC courts deal with the credibility (truthfulness) of a witness.
Here the court found that the Plaintiff was not truthful when describing the extent of her pain and that she misled the court when addressing past wage loss.
Specifically, the court found that:

[56] Following the adjournment of the trial to October, it became clear from the evidence led by the defence from West Jet’s representatives and employment records that the plaintiff’s position on picking up shifts was not true. In fact, the employment records in evidence confirm that the plaintiff began picking up more work than she was scheduled within a month of returning to regular hours of employment in July of 2005. From the evidence of the West Jet supervisor the plaintiff could routinely work 30 hours a week or less simply by working the hours that she was scheduled but it is clear from the employment records she chose to work more than 40 hours per week by picking up shifts from fellow agents following her return to work in July 2005 and commencing in August 2005.

[57] From a review of her employment records relating to her employment before the accident it became crystal clear that since she began working at West Jet Ms. Polson has routinely lobbied her fellow agents for more work as evidenced from commentary in work reviews directed to her in 2005 and 2006.

[58] Primarily relative to these inconsistencies relating to her employment following the accident, I have, regretfully, come to the conclusion that the plaintiff, in her direct evidence, led the court to believe that she was unable to work additional hours that she had worked prior to the accident and wanted fewer hours of employment because of the pain working additional hours caused her when, in fact, she volunteered for and obtained additional hours notwithstanding the additional pain she asserts.

[59] Likewise, with respect to the medical evidence and her contention that the pain levels at the time of trial were in the ranges she described, this level of pain is inconsistent with her attendances at her treating physician’s office. As indicated previously, following her return to work in July 2005 I can count, from the clinical records, only one occasion prior to her attendance for a medical/legal report to be provided by Dr. Gorman some 13 months after returning to work. While there are complaints of depression, as already indicated, there is ample clinical notations to indicate pre-existing problems with depression and fatigue which cannot be causally connected to this motor vehicle accident without more.

[60] Although the plaintiff testified that she routinely suffers from pain in her neck at a 7 out of 10 pain level when at work, and frequently rubs her neck as a result, only one witness testified that she had seen the plaintiff sometimes stretching her neck, perhaps once a week, and only occasionally sitting on an exercise ball provided by her employer. With respect to rolling her ankle at work and the resulting limp thereby occasioned, Ms. Polson described herself rolling her ankle frequently at work and limping frequently at work for approximately 3 or 4 times a day, but no witness testified to having seen Ms. Polson limping or rubbing her ankle. While her co-worker Amanda Fraser-Doyle testified that Ms. Polson had slowed down since the accident, this would be inconsistent with the actual hours worked and voluntarily picked up by Ms. Polson after returning to work.

[61] One other matter of evidence also needs to be dealt with. Tricia Spencer, the administrative assistant for West Jet at the Prince George operations, testified to having observed the plaintiff at the Christmas party in December 2006 where she described the plaintiff as “enjoying herself on the dance floor for a relatively substantial time and was unable to notice any pain behaviour while she was dancing”. While Ms. Spencer agreed that she did not have much casual conversation with the plaintiff at this time, she maintained her observations of the plaintiff’s abilities on the dance floor.

Credibility of a Plaintiff is vital in all ICBC injury claims, particularly those where the injuries cannot be verified through objective measures such as X-rays or MRI findings. In such cases courts are very careful in assessing a Plaintiff’s credibility prior to awarding damages for injuries. Cases such as this one are worth reviewing if you are proceeding to trial in an ICBC injury claim to see what kinds of factors the court can consider when weighing a person’s credibility.

More on Soft Tissue Injuries, ICBC, and Expert Evidence

Reasons for judgement were released today awarding a Plaintiff $12,000 for ‘pain and suffering and loss of amenities‘ (non-pecuniary damages) for ‘a mild soft tissue injury which had essentially cleared within 3 months or so. ‘.
The Plaintiff was rear-ended in 2006 in North Vancouver. The court found that the impact was significant. The Plaintiff complained of headaches, neck pain, low back pain, mid back pain, left elbow and forearm pain and occasional pain shooting to his knees.
In what can be described as a very unusual occurrence, the trial proceeded without any medical opinion evidence addressing the extent of injury. The Plaintiff attempted to have his GP testify but the court would not permit it as proper notice of the ‘expert opinion’ was not provided per Rule 40-A.
The court admitted the doctor’s clinical notes into evidence. The Plaintiff then tried to treat these as notice of what the doctor was going to testify to. The court found this improper and did not permit the doctor to give opinion evidence stating that:

During the trial and following submissions on the issue, I ruled that medical/clinical records cannot be said to meet what was meant by the above-quoted Rule.

[12] In my view, the basis of Rule 40A is to provide adequate notice of evidence which is to be tendered by way of an expert’s opinion to avoid trial by ambush, to avoid unnecessary delays, and to generally permit trials to be run in an orderly fashion. Use of clinical records in the manner suggested by counsel for the plaintiff does not approach, let alone meet, that objective. Rarely is a concise and clear expression of any opinion capable of being gleaned from such records, provided that they can even be deciphered, which is indeed problematic in this case. Further, there is usually nothing in those records that might clearly identify what, if any, of the facts contained therein are being relied upon for any such opinion. Finally, clinical records often contain consultation reports which, while they may be evidence of their existence, most probably cannot be relied upon without proof of the facts or opinions contained in them. I am sure that there are other objections as well.

[13] To have permitted Dr. Marcos to testify as to his opinion on the basis that his clinical records amounted to compliance with Rule 40A would, in my view, have been impermissibly prejudicial to the defendant. In that regard I note that in this case none of the grounds enumerated in Rule 40A(16) had been met. Thus, I am faced with the task of assessing damages due to Mr. Murray based upon his largely uncorroborated testimony alone. I am obliged to be mindful of the observation of Chief Justice McEachern in Price and Kostryba where he said the following:

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

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

The court went onto award $12,000 for pain and suffering and $180 for special damages.
This case is a great reminder of the need to comply with Rule 40-A if you are advancing an ICBC injury claim in Supreme Court and wish to call expert evidence to give the court an opinion about injuries, causation, future treatment, and prognosis. Failure to do so can result in the court not admitting the evidence which can badly damage an ICBC claim. Here the court expressly stated that “although an opinion of a medical expert such as a medical/legal report from (the Plaintiff’s) GP may have provided a foundation for a factual finding of continuing pain and discomfort, I unfortunately do not have the benefit of such an opinion.
Another note-worthy result of this judgement is the apparent ‘cost’ consequences.
From reading paragraphs 25-29 of the judgement it appears that the lawyer for the defendant made a formal offer of settlement prior to trial which was greater than the judgement. In such circumstances a defendant can be awarded ‘costs’ for the trial. In this case the court awarded $4,400 in costs which would have to be subtracted from the judgement amount prior to the Plaintiff getting paid. In addition, the Plaintiff would not be reimbursed disbursements for the trial and would be responsible for the Defendant’s trial disbursements. After taking all this into account the true value of the judgement may in fact be $0. When considering ICBC claim settlement it is very important to consider the likelihood of beating ICBC’s formal offer at trial.

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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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