Tag: icbc court cases

Rule 37 Dies a Natural Death

As most frequent visitors to this blog know, Rule 37 of the BC Supreme Court Rules (the rule that dealt with formal settlement offers and costs consequences in BC Supreme Court trials including ICBC personal injury claims) was replaced this summer with Rule 37B.  Rule 37B builds in a lot of judicial discretion in the process of awarding ‘costs’ to litigants where a formal offer was made compared to the old Rule 37 which had strict consequences resulting when a formal offer was made and beat at trial.
In what will likely be one of the last BC court cases dealing with the old Rule 37, unanimous reasons for judgment were released today by a 5 member panel of the BC Court of Appeal ruling that the old Rule 37 is not incompatible with the Negligence Act and both can work in harmony.
In this case the Plaintiff sued for injuries sustained as a result of a motor vehicle collision.  Pre-Trial the Defendant made a settlement offer under the old Rule 37 for $150,000.    The Plaintiff rejected this offer and proceeded to trial.  The trial judge found that the Plaintiff was 50% at fault and awarded damages of just over $56,000.
Having found that the Plaintiff was 50% at fault he awarded her 50% of her costs to the date the formal offer was made by the Defendant.  Since the Defendants ‘beat’ their formal offer the Court ordered that the Plaintiff pay all of the Defendants Tariff costs from the date of the formal offer through to trial.   This award of costs was apparently so significant that the Plaintiff ended up owing the Defendant money.
The Plaintiff appealed arguing that Rule 37 was in conflict with the Negligence Act, the relevant portions of which read as follows:

2.         The awarding of damage or loss in every action to which section 1 applies is governed by the following provisions:

(a)        the damage or loss, if any, sustained by each person shall be ascertained and expressed in dollars;

(b)        the degree to which each person was at fault shall be ascertained and expressed as a percentage of the total fault;

(c)        as between each person who has sustained damage or loss and each other person who is liable to make good the damage or loss, the person sustaining the damage or loss shall be entitled to recover from that other person the percentage of the damage or loss sustained as corresponds to the degree of fault of that other person;

(d)        as between 2 persons each of whom has sustained damage or loss and is entitled to recover a percentage of it from the other, the amounts to which they are respectively entitled shall be set off one against the other, and if either person is entitled to a greater amount than the other, he shall have judgment against that other for the excess.

3.         Unless the court otherwise directs, the liability for costs of the parties to every action shall be in the same proportion as their respective liability to make good the damage or loss. The provisions of section 2 governing the awarding of damage or loss apply, with the necessary changes and so far as applicable, to the awarding of costs, with the further provision that where, as between 2 persons, one is entitled to a judgment for an excess of damage or loss and the other to a judgment for an excess of costs there shall be a further set off of the respective amounts and judgment shall be given accordingly.

The relevant of the old Rule 37 read as follows:

R. 37(24) read:

37(24)  If the defendant has made an offer to settle a claim for money, and it has not expired or been withdrawn or been accepted,

(a)        if the plaintiff obtains judgment for the amount of money specified in the offer or a lesser amount, the plaintiff is entitled to costs assessed to the date the offer was delivered, and the defendant is entitled to costs assessed from that date.

(b)        if the plaintiff’s claim is dismissed, the defendant is entitled to costs assessed to the date the offer was delivered and to double costs assessed from that date.

The Plaintiff asked the Court of Appeal to find that Rule 37 was trumped by the Negligence Act and to adjust the costs award accordingly.
The Court of Appeal dismissed this argument finding that Rule 37 and the Negligence Act are not in conflict with each other and can stand together.  The Courts key analysis is set out at Paragraph 29 of the Reasons which I set out below:
[29]            I do not find this analysis altogether persuasive.  I would have thought that the Act, as superior legislation to the Rules, would be looked to first to determine each parties’ liability for costs in a situation to which s. 2 of the Act applies, and that R. 37, as an item of subordinate legislation, would then be applied if possible. Applying the classic definition of “conflict” – whether the two laws can “stand together and … operate without either interfering with the other” (see Tabernacle Permanent Building Society v. Knight [1892] A.C. 298 (H.L.) at 302, and the leading Canadian case, Friends of the Oldman River Society v. Canada (Minister of Transport) [1992] 1 S.C.R. 3, 88 D.L.R. (4th) 1 at para. 42) – however, I agree with the Court’s conclusion in Smith v. Knudsenthat s. 3 of the Negligence Act and R. 37(24) do not conflict.  I reach this conclusion not only on the basis of the opening phrase of s. 3, but also on a close construction of the Act.  As was held in Flatley, the phrase “person sustaining the damage or loss” in s. 2(c) is apt to refer only to the plaintiff in any case in which the defendant sustained no injury or damage.  Section 3 states that each party’s liability for costs shall be in the same proportion as his or her liability to make good the damage or loss.  Having sustained no damage or loss, the defendant has no ‘entitlement’ to recovery under s. 2(c) and thus his or her liability for costs does not “track” under s. 3.  As McFarlane J.A. stated in Lutes, s. 2(c) “does not provide for the awarding of damages as between persons who are at fault.  This sub-section cannot apply to entitle [a defendant] to recover anything because he has sustained no damage or loss.”  (Supra, at 466.)
This will be, in all likelihood, one of the last judgements dealing with the old Rule 37.  I look forward to continue reporting on judgements dealing with the new Rule 37B particularly in the context of ICBC injury claims.

ICBC, No-Fault Benefits and 'Sickness and Disease'

Interesting reasons for judgement were released today concerning traumatic injuries and pre-existing degenerative disc disease.
The Plaintiff was a building siding installer.  He had a pre-existing degenerative lumbar spine condition which was largely asymptomatic, that is it caused occasional pain but did not disable him from work.  He was injured in a BC car accident on November 22, 2005.  He became totally disabled from his work after this collision.  He applied to ICBC, and received, Part 7 wage loss benefits.
ICBC obtained a report from Dr. Dommisse in June 2006.  He stated that ‘(the Plaintiff’s) complaints have been caused by this motor vehicle accident in part.  His pre-existing condition is likely contributing to his ongoing symptoms….His continued symptoms, in my opinion, are related to the degenerative changes at L4/5 at this time.’
As a result of this opinion ICBC cut off the Plaintiff’s wage loss benefits on August 31, 2006.  ICBC did so because they took the position that the Plaintiff’s ongoing disability was ‘caused directly or indirectly by sickness or disease.’
Can ICBC do that?  The answer is yes.  Section 96 of the Insurance Vehicle Regulation places some limits on benefits ICBC has to pay their insured including those ‘whose injury was caused, directly or indirectly, by sickness or disease, unless the sickness or disease was contracted as a direct result of an accident for which benefits are provided under this Part’
The Plaintiff sued ICBC asking the court to reinstate the Plaintiff’s no-fault wage loss benefits.   In support of the Plaintiff’s case, Dr. Hirsch, a Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Specialist, gave evidence that 

Based on today’s obtained history and review of the forwarded clinical documents, it is my opinion that the acute onset of low back pain and resultant decline in function is causally related to the November 2005 motor vehicle accident

(the Plaintiff) reported that he has made a 20 to 30% symptomatic recovery regarding his low back injuries.  He reported that for the past four months he has not noticed any further symptomatic gains.  Accordingly, I would view the prognosis for a good recovery as guarded at this juncture.

At present and in the foreseeable future, I do not foresee that (the Plaintiff) will improve sufficiently to get back to his pre-motor vehicle accident line of work. Furthermore, at present I would question whether he is gainfully employable as a locksmith.

Mr. Justice Meiklem of the BC Supreme Court dismissed the Plaintiff’s claim finding as follows:

[29]            In my view, the medical evidence in this case, notwithstanding the differences of opinion on the relative significance of the concurrent causes of (the Plaintiff’s) continuing disability and whether the injuries suffered in the accident had resolved by August 31, 2006, clearly establishes that the degenerative lumbar spine, specifically at the L4/5 facet joints was a contributing cause of his disability after that date.  While I do not find it proven that the effects of the accidental injury were fully resolved by that time, the defendant has established that, but for his degenerative disease, Mr. Wafler would not be totally disabled within the meaning of the covering provisions after August 31, 2006.

[30]            Consequently, I find that the defendant has established that the s. 96(f) exclusion applies and I decline to make the declaration sought by the plaintiff.

If you are in a dispute with ICBC regarding the payment of no-fault wage loss benefits it is important to canvass decisions such as this one addressing the potential consequences of pre-existing conditions on your ICBC insurance claim.  Ensure that your physicians carefully canvass the relationship between any ‘sickness or disease’ and traumatic injury when applying for ICBC no fault benefits.

Disc Herniation, Nerve Damage and ICBC Claims

Reasons for judgement were released today compensating a Plaintiff injured in three separate BC car accidents, the first in August, 2002, the second in December, 2002 and the third in June 2003. At trial the issues were the extent of the plaintiff’s injuries and whether these were caused by the car accidents or other life events.
A frequent tactic of ICBC defence lawyers is to call evidence to cast doubt on the connection between motor vehicle accidents and trauma and find other explanations for injuries. In this case the defence lawyer pointed to a car accident that the plaintiff was at fault for and a work incident where the plaintiff aggravated his back as potential causes for the Plaintiff’s problems.
In ICBC claims a Plaintiff has the burden of proving the extent of his injuries and their connection to the car accident. If defence evidence can effectively point to another explanation an ICBC claim can be dismissed.
In this case the injuries were fairly serious. An MRI revealed a ‘tear in the annulus at L5/Ss and a disc bulge at L4/5 wit impingement of the L5 nerve root‘.
The court found that in cases where there are multiple potential causes of injury ‘it is most helpful to have the opinion of (the Plaintiff’s family doctor) who treated the plaintiff throughout and has a long history and detailed knowledge of the Plaintiff as a patient.’ The court found the GP’s findings of objective injury persuasive including ‘muscle spasm, reduced range of motion, and visible hypertonicity of the musculature following each of the three motor vehicle accidents’.
The court assessed damages for all three accidents globally. The court concluded that “the Plaintiff has, since December 7, 2002, experienced functional limitations due to his low, mid back, and neck pain with referral pain from the low back to his leg. The Plaintiff is unlikely to achieve a substantial improvement in future, but exercises and care will assist in controlling pain and flare-ups‘. As a result of this finding the court awarded $70,000 for non-pecuniary damages (pain and suffering).
Addressing past wage the court found that there was some failure of mitigation on the Plaintiff’s part. The Plaintiff’s claim for past wage loss exceeded 5 years. The court found that he could have returned to work in some capacity during this time. In all $50,000 was awarded for this loss.
The court also awarded $75,000 in damages for ‘loss of future earning capacity’ finding that

[50] There is no doubt that the plaintiff’s income earning capacity is affected by his chronic pain and physical limitations and disabilities. The plaintiff is by education and experience limited to low income, minimum wage types of employment, although that is reflective of his actual earnings history prior to his injury and disability.

[51] The pool of low income jobs available to the plaintiff is however much diminished as he can no longer work at jobs with a physical component which he can no longer meet. The plaintiff is 49 years old and increasing age will combine to impede access to the work for which he remains qualified.

[52] The plaintiff’s health may be stressed more than the average person requiring that he take more time off work. He may in future be more suited to only part time or work of a sporadic nature.

$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.

ICBC Can Do That!?!? What You Need to Know About Part 7 Benefits

OK, imagine this:
You are injured in a car accident that is not your fault. You incur medical expenses and send ICBC (your own insurer) the bill. Your ICBC adjuster does not to pay.
You sue the driver that injured you (who also happens to be insured by ICBC). The same ICBC adjuster hires the lawyer to defend the driver and tells that lawyer what to do (that’s the way it often works).
At trial you claim the medical expenses as special damages (special damages are expenses related to the other person’s wrong-doing). The Judge agrees these are reasonable special damages and awards you compensation.
(Thanks for bearing with me, here’s where it gets interesting)….The ICBC hired lawyer then says, “Your Honour, the Plaintiff should have been reimbursed this expense by ICBC so you should not award this money to the Plaintiff” The Judge, in his most eloquant voice responds, “you’re right counsel, I have no choice but to make this deduction”.
That’s exactly what can happen! ICBC can refuse to pay for an expense then the lawyer hired by ICBC in the ‘tort trial’ can argue that the court should not award reimbursement of the expense because you should have had ICBC pay for the expense.
When you sue someone for car accident related injuries in BC, the defendant (most often times insured by ICBC) can argue that due to the operation of s. 83 of the Insurance (Vehicle) Act,he should not have to pay any money covering benefits you could have received from ICBC as your own insurer. (Whether or not you received the benefits is an entirely irrelevant consideration… the deduction can be used even if you applied for these benefits and ICBC refused to pay…click here to read Sovani v. Jin, a case where almost $100,000 in damages were deducted from the jury’s verdict).
Section 83 reads as follows:
83 (1) In this section and in section 84, ‘benefits” means benefits

(a) within the definition of section 1.1, or

(b) that are similar to those within the definition of section 1.1, provided under vehicle insurance wherever issued and in effect,

but does not include a payment made pursuant to third party liability insurance coverage.

(2) A person who has a claim for damages and who receives or is entitled to receive benefits respecting the loss on which the claim is based, is deemed to have released the claim to the extent of the benefits.

(3) Nothing in this section precludes the insurer from demanding from the person referred to in subsection (2), as a condition precedent to payment, a release to the extent of the payment.

(4) In an action in respect of bodily injury or death caused by a vehicle or the use or operation of a vehicle, the amount of benefits paid, or to which the person referred to in subsection (2) is or would have been entitled, must not be referred to or disclosed to the court or jury until the court has assessed the award of damages.

(5) After assessing the award of damages under subsection (4), the amount of benefits referred to in that subsection must be disclosed to the court, and taken into account, or, if the amount of benefits has not been ascertained, the court must estimate it and take the estimate into account, and the person referred to in subsection (2) is entitled to enter judgment for the balance only.

(6) If, for the purpose of this section or section 84, it is necessary to estimate the value of future payments that the corporation or the insurer is authorized or required to make under the plan or an optional insurance contract, the value must be estimated according to the value on the date of the estimate of a deferred benefit, calculated for the period for which the future payments are authorized or required to be made.

This may seem like boring stuff but it could cost you well over $100,000 in your ICBC claim.
In another example of the s. 83 argument in action, reasons for judgment were released today that are well worth reading for anyone advancing an ICBC claim. After trial the Jury awarded damages including $32,000 for cost of future medical care. The defence lawyer then argued that a portion of the $32,000 should be reduced because of section 83. This argument is often made by ICBC defence lawyers after trial. In this case the deduction was not made but depending on the facts of any given ICBC claim such a deduction very well could be made.
The bottom line is that if you are advancing an ICBC ‘tort’ claim you must apply and follow up for all of the ‘no-fault’ benefits you may be entitled to. Failure to do so can result in a significant reduction of your award of damages.

Contact

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

ERIK
MAGRAKEN

Personal Injury Lawyer

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

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

Disclaimer