Tag: icbc injury cases

$125,000 Non-Pecuniary Damges Awarded for MTBI, Chronic Pain and Depression

After what appears to be a hard fought trial, reasons for judgment were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, awarding just over $536,000 in total damages as a result of injuries and loss as a result of a 2001 BC Car Crash.
In today’s case (Zhang v. Law) the Plaintiff was injured when she was a passenger in a vehicle that was T-boned on the driver’s side by another vehicle.  As a result of this collision she suffered various injuries including a Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (MTBI), Chronic Pain and Depression.
The Court heard a lot of evidence about the potential causes for the Plaintiff’s Depression.  The Defendants argued that the Plaintiff’s ongoing problems and depression was not caused by the accident, but rather by a series of unfortunate events that followed including a miscarriage and serious health problems suffered by her husband.
In navigating this evidence Mr. Justice Sewell did a good job discussing the law of ‘causation’ in BC personal injury claims.  In awarding $125,000 for the Plaintiff’s Non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) the Court concluded as follows about the Plaintiff’s injuries, their cause, and their effect on her life:
In summary I find that Ms. Zhang did experience a decline in her cognitive abilities after the accident.  I have already found that this decline was due in part to the MTBI.  I now turn to a consideration of the extent to which depression contribute to these difficulties and to the etiology of that depression…
I conclude that Ms. Zhang continues to suffer depressive symptoms, pain and fatigue.  I find that there has been cognitive impairment caused by the MTBI and the depressive symptoms.  I also find that the chance of any significant improvement in her condition in the future is remote….
In my view this case is governed by the principles enunciated in the Supreme Court of Canada in Athey v. Leonati [1996] 3 SCR 458.  On the issue of causation I have already found that the injuries suffered in the motor vehicle accident were a necessary cause of the depression.  To paraphrase paragraph 41 of Athey, I have found that it was necessary to have both the injuries from the accident and the non-tortious causes for the depression to occur.  As in Athey, I have concluded that it was the combination of the accident, the effect of Mr. Chen’s illness, the loss of the foetus and the termination of the second pregnancy which caused the major and continuing depression.  The depression and continuing depressive symptoms are, in my opinion, an indivisible injury.  The other sources of Ms. Zhang’s difficulties, soft tissue injury and MTBI, are of course entirely attributable to the accident…

The analysis of damage does not end with causation.  It is still necessary to consider whether there was some realistic chance that the depression would have occurred without the motor vehicle accident.  This does not go to the issue of causation but rather to the question of assessing damages which will restore Ms. Zhang to her original position.  If her original position included a realistic chance that she would have suffered a depression in any event, the principles of compensation  require some reduction in the damages awarded to avoid putting her in a better position than she would have been in had she not received compensation for the accident.  It goes without saying that “better” does not mean better in fact but better notionally because she will have received adequate monetary compensation for the damages caused by the defendants’ negligence.

In this case the analysis is further complicated.  Of the three causes of Ms. Zhang’s ongoing problems, pain, MTBI, and depression, only depression could be said to have been a realistic chance in the absence of the accident.  On the evidence before me I find that, although the accident was a necessary cause of the depression, there was never the less a realistic chance that Ms. Zhang would have suffered a major depression in any event.  That realistic chance must be taken into account in assessing damages…

Given my findings as to the extent of Ms. Zhang’s injuries from the accident a substantial award for non-pecuniary damages is appropriate. As I have already indicated, my task is to make an award of damages which, so far as money is able, will restore Ms. Zhang to her original position.  The evidence before me is that before the accident Ms. Zhang was an outgoing and intelligent person with a positive attitude to life.  She was able to combine long hours of work with numerous activities which gave her pleasure.  She enjoyed walking and socializing with friends.  She and her husband went to movies and went ballroom dancing.  She enjoyed music.  Ms. Zhang and Mr. Chen also had fulfilling marital relations.

All of the above activities have been profoundly affected by the injuries Ms. Zhang suffered in the accident.  Ms. Zhang is no longer outgoing but reclusive.  Most of her energy is devoted to working her shift at Safeway.  At the end of each shift the combination of pain and fatigue preclude her from engaging in social activities.  She can no longer tolerate music.   The couple no longer goes to movies or dancing.  There has been a significant decline in marital relations.  While some of these outcomes are undoubtedly related to Ms. Zhang’s ongoing depressive symptoms, they are largely the result of the other injuries suffered in the accident.  Taking into account the impact of these injuries on Ms. Zhang’s life while at the same time recognizing the realistic chance that Ms. Zhang would have had to cope with depression in any event, I award non-pecuniary damages of $125,000.

One other interesting part of this case is the Court’s discussion of the various experts called at trial.  Many expert physicians testified for the Plaintiff and the Defence with substantially differing views of the cause and extent of the Plaintiff’s injuries.  This is often the case in serious ICBC injury claims.

When experts are retained by ICBC in Injury Cases they are permitted to charge for their services. As I have previously posted, ‘independent’ medical examinations can be a lucrative trade for doctors.   When experts are retained to testify at trial, however, their duty is to the court to give fair and impartial evidence, not to advocate for the side that hired them.  Occasionally expert witnesses stray from this duty and give ‘partisan’ evidence.

This duty has been recognized in the common law and now the New BC Supreme Court Rules have been amended to require doctors to certify that they understand this duty, specifically Rule 11-2 of the New Rules states as follows:

Duty of expert witness

(1) In giving an opinion to the court, an expert appointed under this Part by one or more parties or by the court has a duty to assist the court and is not to be an advocate for any party.

Advice and certification

(2) If an expert is appointed under this Part by one or more parties or by the court, the  expert must, in any report he or she prepares under this Part, certify that he or she

(a) is aware of the duty referred to in subrule (1),

(b) has made the report in conformity with that duty, and

(c) will, if called on to give oral or written testimony, give that testimony in  conformity with that duty.

In today’s case one of the defence doctors, Dr. Tessler, was found to be ‘advocating for the defence’ when testifying.  Specifically the Court said as follows about his evidence at trial:

Dr. Tessler was somewhat dismissive of Ms. Zhang’s symptoms after the accident.  He described them as being the “mildest of the mild”.  I found this comment, as well as certain remarks he made during his evidence, as being indicative of an attitude on his part that Ms. Zhang’s complaints should not be taken too seriously.  I was particularly troubled by a comment made by Dr. Tessler in cross examination to the effect that Ms. Zhang’s symptoms may settle after litigation.  Apart from the fact that Dr. Tessler was not qualified as an expert in psychiatry or psychology, the comment was gratuitous.  On the whole I formed the impression was Dr. Tessler was straying into the area of advocating for the defence point of view in his evidence.   I do not think he was doing so deliberately but he did seem to show a lack of balance and perspective in his evidence.

$35,000 Non-Pecuniary Damages for Moderate Soft Tissue Injuries

Reasons for judgment were released today by the BC Supreme Court awarding just over $40,000 in total damages as a result of injuries and loss sustained in a 2006 Richmond, BC Car Crash.
In today’s case (Lo v. Chow) the Plaintiff was injured when his vehicle was struck by the Defendants.  Liability (fault) was admitted by the Defendant leaving the court to decide quantum of damages (the value of the plaintiff’s losses and injuries).
In assessing the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) at $35,000 Mr. Justice Sewell of the BC Supreme Court highlighted the following findings:

[19] As I have already indicated many of Mr. Lo’s symptoms resolved within a relatively short period after the accident.  His on-going complaints relate mainly to his lower back and are aggravated by heavy exertion at work.  Mr. Lo did not give any evidence about curtailment of recreational activity which he has suffered as a result of the accident.

[20] I conclude that Mr. Lo suffered a mild to moderate soft-tissue injury as a result of the accident.  On the evidence before me, and in particular given the duration of his symptoms, I conclude that he will continue to be symptomatic for the foreseeable future.  At the same time, the intensity of his symptoms is not severe and they do not appear to be in any way debilitating.  My impression of Mr. Lo is that he has coped well with his pain.  Nevertheless, he has continued to experience pain for over 3 years and, as I indicated above, that pain is likely to continue indefinitely.  In all the circumstances I award Mr. Lo non-pecuniary damages for pain and suffering of $35,000.00.

In addition to the discussion addressing damages for pain and suffering this case is worth reviewing for some of the ways ICBC defence lawyers use entries contained in clinical records to try and impeach a Plaintiff at trial.  This type of impeachment with ‘prior inconsistent statements‘ is a common method used in personal injury claims.

In this case the defence lawyer argued that the Plaintiff’s evidence was inconsistent with statements recorded in certain documents.   Mr. Justice Sewell put little weight in this argument and in rejecting it noted the following:

[13] In his submissions counsel for the defendant submitted that Mr. Lo’s credibility was in issue and that I should be very sceptical about the evidence which he gave as to his condition.  Having observed Mr. Lo in the witness box and taking into consideration the whole of the evidence I find that Mr. Lo was a credible witness and that I should accept his evidence as credible.  He did not seem to overstate his symptoms and gave forthright answers to questions even when the answers did not advance his case.

[14] Defence counsel’s criticisms of Mr. Lo’s credibility are centered on two particular documents.  The first is a document described as a Discharge Report prepared by Mr. Troy Chen, a personal trainer who supervised an exercise program to Mr. Lo between August 29, 2006 and October 12, 2006.  Counsel submitted that Mr. Lo’s evidence that he continues to have difficulty and pain when called upon to do heavy work cannot be reconciled with some of the comments attributed to him in the Discharge Report.  In particular, counsel points to the following passage on page 2 of the Discharge Report dealing with client activities:

“Mr. Lo indicated the following:

Working fulltime as a packager for BEPC Apparel.  No time for any sporting or recreational activities.  On October 12, 2006, Mr. Lo indicated that he was now able to perform all job-related duties without assistance.”

[15] Counsel submits that this statement is inconsistent with Mr. Lo’s evidence that while he was employed at BEPC he required assistance in lifting heavy objects and packages.  He therefore invited me to make adverse findings of credibility against Mr. Lo.

[16] I do not think that Mr. Lo’s credibility is in any serious way damaged by the contents of the Discharge Report.  Firstly, Mr. Chen testified that he has absolutely no recollection of the matters recorded in the Report.  Accordingly, the only evidence that I have from him is in the form of past recollection recorded in the Discharge Report.  Mr. Lo speaks primarily in the Cantonese dialect of the Chinese language.  Mr. Chen speaks English and Mandarin.  He testified that he would have spoken to Mr. Lo through an interpreter but was unable to identify who that interpreter was or the circumstances in which he made notes of Mr. Lo’s comments.  I also note that in the portion of the Discharge Report immediately below client activities Mr. Chen noted that Mr. Lo continued to suffer constant discomfort in his lower back and that exertion tended to elicit pain which may linger for several days.  Mr. Lo also reported to Mr. Chen that lifting heavy objects elicited pain in his right pectoral area.

[17] The other document which counsel submitted brings Mr. Lo’s credibility into question is a WorkSafe B.C. claim filed by Mr. Lo in June 2007 with respect to a work-related injury.  On June 8, 2007 Mr. Lo lifted 30 boxes weighing at least 60 pounds each.  Mr. Lo at that time reported back pain and made a claim for wage loss compensation to WorkSafe B.C.  In the course of investigating Mr. Lo’s claim WorkSafe B.C. required various forms to be completed.  In one of the forms which was completed on behalf of Mr. Lo, in English, he reported that there was no previous condition prior to the injury.  I, again, do not find that the contents of these documents cause me to form an unfavourable impression about Mr. Lo’s credibility.  The documents, as I indicated above, are prepared in the English language and were prepared on Mr. Lo’s behalf by an employee of BEPC.  Mr. Lo testified that the contents of the document were not read to him and he understood that they were an application for benefits.  In all of the circumstances, I do not think that Mr. Lo intended to mislead or make false statements in his application to WorkSafe B.C., nor do I think that the contents of these documents are necessarily inconsistent with Mr. Lo’s symptoms as he reported them to his physicians and testified to at trial.

More on ICBC Claims, Soft Tissue Injuries and Assessment of Damages

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, (Runghen v. Elkhalil) awarding a Plaintiff just over $147,000 in total damages as a result of injuries and damages sustained in a BC car crash.
The collision occurred in 2004 when the Plaintiff’s vehicle was rear-ended.  The issue of fault was admitted leaving only an assessment of damages at issue at trial.
In awarding $40,000 for pain and suffering (non-pecuniary damages) Madam Justice Fenlon made the following findings with respect to the Plaintiff’s injuries:
[16]            Based on the evidence of the experts, which is largely consistent, I find that Ms. Runghen suffered mild soft tissue injuries to her cervical and lumbar spine as a result of the accident; I further find that due to those injuries, she has headaches and chronic pain that has affected her ability to function both at home and at work.  I also find that Ms. Runghen’s pain and related incapacity are likely to markedly improve once an appropriate treatment plan is put in place.
Madam Justice Fenlon engaged in a thoughful discussion at paragraphs 17-34 of the judgement which is worth reviewing for anyone ingterested in seeing some of the factors courts take into consideration when valuing pain and suffering in ICBC soft tissue injury claims.
The balance of the judgement deals largely with claims for past wage loss and diminished earning capacity.   Awards were made under both of these heads of damages.  The court found that the Plaintiff’s ability to work was diminished as a result of chronic pain and that this would likely continue for at least some time after the trial.  In awarding $35,000 for diminished earning capacity the court engaged in the following analysis:

[50]            As noted earlier in these reasons, I accept that the chronic pain experienced by Ms. Runghen to date has been a limiting factor in her ability to take on longer hours at work.  I expect that limitation will continue to some extent over the next year, as she engages in a rehabilitation exercise program.  After that time, it is probable that she will be able to increase the amount of time she works to be more in keeping with what she would have been doing prior to the accident.  In coming to this conclusion, I recognize that Ms. Runghen had not established her career as a massage therapist and that we do not have a solid base line from which to work.

[51]            I am mindful that there is no certainty possible in terms of predicting what will occur in the future; there is a possibility, even with the correct treatment for her injuries, that Ms. Runghen may still experience some limitations.

[52]            Applying the considerations identified in Brown v. Golaiy (1985), 26 B.C.L.R. (3d) 353 (S.C.), I find that Ms. Runghen is likely to be somewhat less capable, overall, of earning income from all types of employment and that, in particular, she is likely to be less capable of earning incoming from her chosen field of massage therapy.  Ms. Runghen may have to consider retraining in another field or another area of specialization within massage therapy if she wishes to work full-time.

[53]            In my view, given the potential for marked improvement in Ms. Runghen’s condition that both Dr. Cameron and Dr. McGraw identified in their reports, and based on Ms. Runghen’s own experience with a similar but truncated rehabilitation program with Karp, it would not be appropriate to apply the precise mathematical calculation of future income loss used by Ms. Runghen.  Rather, this is an appropriate case to award a sum that takes into account the various contingencies and possibilities, without overcompensating Ms. Runghen by assuming the status quo and calculating a set wage shortfall over the next 36 year’s of her working life.  I set that sum at $25,000. 

[54]            I find that Ms. Runghen will need approximately six months to put in place and complete a four-month exercise rehabilitation program.  During that time, she will continue to work at her current level.  I therefore award damages of $10,000 to cover loss of income during this period.  

[55]            In summary, I award Ms. Runghen  a total of $35,000 for loss of future income and loss of earning capacity

 

Loss of Commission Income and ICBC Injury Claims

Reasons for judgement were released today (Tong v. Sidhu)awarding a Plaintiff $30,000 for non-pecuniary damages (pain and suffering) as a result of injuries sustained in a 2007 BC Car Accident.  
Mr. Justice Cohen of the BC Supreme Court made the following findings with respect to the Plaintiff’s injuries:
[40]            In my opinion, the medical evidence and the plaintiff’s testimony supports the conclusion that the plaintiff suffered mild to moderate soft tissue injuries, and that he has made an overall improvement to a level where if he dedicates himself to learning and correctly performing the exercises recommended by Dr. King he will probably experience a full recovery within six to twelve months.
[52]            Upon a consideration of the severity and duration of the plaitniff’s accident related injuries and symptoms, and upon a review of the authorities on the range of the general damages submitted by the parties, I find that an award of $30,000 is a fair and appropriate sum to compensate the plaintiff for his general damage claim.
The Plaintiff, who was a commodities broker, also alleged a past and future loss of income although these claims were dismissed.   The Plaintiff sought approximately $50,000 for past income loss and $44,000 for future income loss.
In dismissing these damages Mr. Justice Cohen found that the Plaintiff ‘has not proven on the requisite standard that he has suffered past or future income loss‘.  Following this conclusion Mr. Justice Cohen engaged in a lengthy analysis of the Plaintiff’s claim for lost income and stated as follows:

[63]            First, the only documentary evidence the plaintiff has brought forward to support his claim are his income tax returns and payroll slips for 2007 and 2008.  Although he signed an authorization for release of employment information to the defendant, the onus remains on the plaintiff to bring to court any records which would help him to identify the details of his earnings history.  He has not produced any employment records to indicate or establish a month over month or year over year trend based on details of income from client or personal trading accounts.

[64]            Moreover, the plaintiff did not elicit evidence from Mr. Mok on his commission earnings to provide some comparative evidence regarding the level of earnings from commissions experienced by commodities brokers at Union Securities, or for that matter evidence of the earnings of brokers in other firms with a similar level of experience and client base as that of the plaintiff.

[65]            With respect to Mr. Mok, he and the plaintiff were performing the same work and both were earning income from commissions generated by client trades, as well as income from self trades.  Mr. Mok did say that he had two streams of earnings and that while his earnings from trades in his own account would not be shown on his T4, both streams of income were shown on his income tax returns.  He said that earnings from trading on his own account would be declared under the item of “business income” in his income tax returns.

[66]            I find that the plaintiff’s evidence on his precise earnings was at times both contradictory and confusing.

[67]            For example, the plaintiff was asked in chief about the line in his 1999 income tax return for “business income”, which shows an amount of $20,805.89 gross and a net loss of $8,323.15.  Although the plaintiff initially testified that the loss amount was due to amounts that he had to pay out of his pocket for losses sustained by his clients due to his trading errors, he later changed this testimony to say that the business income item related to a tax shelter investment that he had made, and that this was the amount reported to him by the company as a unit holder.  With respect to where he reported his income from self trades he said that he did not report this income in his income tax return as the earnings had gone into his RSP account, although he produced no records to substantiate his evidence on this point.

[68]            Finally, I think that there is evidence that completely undermines the plaintiff’s assertion that he is entitled to damages for loss of income, past or prospective.

[69]            In cross-examination, the plaintiff agreed with defence counsel that it was not common for him to make earnings in excess of $100,000.  He agreed that his earnings jumped substantially in 2004 because of the financing he worked on.  He also agreed with the figures from his income tax returns that since 2001, with the exception of 2004, he has earned in the range of $40-50,000 annually.  He agreed that 2004 was unusual, adding that it was unusual in the sense that his hard work paid off.  He also agreed with counsel that the last year he earned a figure in the same range was in 1996.  He agreed with counsel that his average income for the past 7 years has not been in the $80,000 range, but rather closer to $50,000.

[70]            The plaintiff agreed with counsel that based on his average earnings over the period leading up to the accident that his income in 2007 was similar to what he had earned in earlier years, with the exception of the year 2004.

[71]            The plaintiff testified that for the years 2001-2008 he would rank himself against his peers as being in the middle of the pack, and not on average a top performer.  He agreed that his assessment of his ranking has not changed since the accident, and also agreed that essentially, with the exception of 2004, his income has not significantly changed.

[72]            Counsel reminded the plaintiff of his evidence that his focus and concentration had been affected by the accident and he was asked whether it had affected his number of clients, to which he replied that he gained and lost clients for all kinds of reasons.  When counsel suggested to the plaintiff that he had not lost clients as a result of the accident, he replied that he may have lost or gained clients during the period following the accident.  He was not able to say whether in fact the accident related injuries had resulted in a loss of clients.

[73]            Mr. Steven Engh is manager of sales at Union Securities.  He met the plaintiff when they both worked at C.M. Oliver.  He was asked how he would rank the plaintiff as a commodities broker. He replied that the plaintiff would fall in the middle of the pack, and that as far as he knew this had been the case for the past five years.  He also said that all of the brokers in his firm have been affected by the current securities market conditions and that this would include the plaintiff’s area of trading.  He did agree with plaintiff’s counsel in cross-examination that the securities business is very demanding and that it takes a focused person to succeed.

[74]            In the result, I find that on the whole of the evidence the plaintiff has failed to prove his income loss claim. With the exception of the year 2004, the plaintiff’s history of earnings in the seven years leading up to the accident disclose a trend of income much closer to the $50,000 range than his claim of $80,000.  This is clearly borne out by his income for the year 2006, a year in which he was completely healthy, had his list of prospects, and presumably was focused and determined to increase his income to a level closer to his exceptional result in the year 2004.  Yet, his income for the year 2006, at least from commissions on trades, was not very far off his usual annual earnings in the $50,000 range.

[75]            In my opinion, the evidence falls far short of the claim that the plaintiff is making for income loss, past and prospective, and therefore this head of damage must be rejected.

This case is worth reviewing for anyone on commissioned or self employed basis who suffers a wage loss in an ICBC Injury Claim to see how courts scrutinize such claims and to get some insight into the factors and the type of evidence courts find useful in determining whether there has been a past loss of income.

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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