Tag: ICBC injury claim

Over $250,000 Awarded for Serious Injuries in ICBC Claim

Reasons for judgement were released today (Tchao v. Bourdon) in an ICBC Injury Tort Claim awarding $276,504.46 in total damages as a result of injuries suffered in a 2004 collision in the Lower Mainland. 
I am still in trial still and only have time for bare bones reporting.  In this case it appears the Plaintiff suffered significant injuries including a mild traumatic brain injury, significant soft tissue injuries, PTSD, depression and a lumbar facet syndrome.  The court’s key analysis of injuries is set out below:

[73]                  I am satisfied that, as a result of the accident at issue in this action, the plaintiff suffered a knee injury that recovered within approximately a month, a significant soft tissue injury to the neck and upper back that recovered within approximately seven months but which has left the plaintiff more vulnerable to degenerative changes in the neck, a concussion with post-concussion syndrome that still causes headaches once or twice a week, but is likely to resolve, a mild post-traumatic stress disorder that is resolving but remains problematic, and a depressed mood.

[74]                  Counsel for the defendant suggested that the plaintiff did not suffer a concussion because there was no clear evidence of loss of memory.  There is, however, evidence of a loss of awareness, a blow to the head, and ongoing symptoms consistent with post-concussion syndrome.  Dr. Duncan, the treating GP, Dr. Bozek, the treating neurologist, and Dr. Hunt were all of the view that Mr. Tchao indeed suffered a concussion and post-concussion syndrome, and I find that conclusion to be consistent with all of the evidence.

[75]                  That brings us to the most serious of Mr. Tchao’s ongoing difficulties, his lower back.

[76]                  Counsel for the defendant conceded that Mr. Tchao suffered a soft tissue injury to his lower back in the accident, but submitted that Mr. Tchao had recovered from that injury by some point in 2005, and that his ongoing symptoms relate to his pre-existing degenerative condition.  He based this argument on the absence from Dr. Duncan’s clinical record of any notes of complaints from the plaintiff about his lower back, as opposed to his upper back and neck, in the relevant period.  I observe, however, that throughout that period, the plaintiff was attending at CBI undergoing rehabilitation therapy for his lower back, and I do not find it surprising that during the course of that treatment, he did not raise lower back issues with his GP.

[77]                  Defendant’s counsel also urged me to treat Dr. Hunt’s opinion with great caution because of his apparent advocacy.  I find that the passages defence counsel brought to my attention in this regard are more consistent with a certain degree of impatience and curmudgeonliness on the part of a very senior and experienced surgeon, than with improper advocacy.  There are nevertheless aspects of Dr. Hunt’s opinion that I am not prepared to accept.  In particular, I do not accept his suggestion that Mr. Tchao possibly suffered a hiatus hernia in the accident, nor do I accept his opinion that Mr. Tchao may require surgery in the future as a result of the motor vehicle accident – although to be fair, Dr. Hunt raised these as possibilities, not probabilities.

[78]                  I do accept, however, Dr. Hunt’s opinion that Mr. Tchao’s pre-existing degenerative condition made him more vulnerable to injury in the motor vehicle accident (no expert disagrees with this), and that as a result of the effect of the accident on Mr. Tchao’s pre-existing condition, Mr. Tchao suffers from bilateral lumbar facet syndrome.  This is supported by Dr. Purtzki’s findings of “predominately mechanical back pain due to a facet joint dysfunction”, and by Dr. Adrian’s impression of mechanical low back pain with radicular features.  None of the pre-accident investigations demonstrated any facet joint issues.

[79]                  I observe further that regardless of how one characterizes the effect of the accident on Mr. Tchao’s pre-existing condition, there is no question that the accident aggravated it as noted by the defence expert, Dr. Arthur.  There is also no doubt that, as reported by both Dr. Arthur and by Dr. Hunt, the plaintiff’s prognosis remains guarded.

[80]                  That the accident has had a significant and lasting impact on Mr. Tchao is also consistent with his own evidence.  This brings me to the issue of his credibility.  In general, I found the plaintiff to be a believable witness.  I observed nothing that would suggest malingering or exaggeration on his part, and there is nothing in any of the medical records or reports, including those submitted by the defence, that would suggest that I may be mistaken in my impression.

[81]                  As previously noted, the CBI discharge report considered that his perceived functional ability was the same as his actual, demonstrated ability, and that there was maximal effort on his behalf.  Ms. Jodi Fischer, who carried out a Functional/Work Capacity Evaluation, administered a number of tests from which she was able to conclude that Mr. Tchao was devoting his best efforts to the evaluation, and was reliably reporting his levels of pain and disability.  There were no non-organic findings.  I found Ms. Fischer to be a compelling witness.

[82]                  In these circumstances, I conclude that, as a result of the effect of this accident on his pre-existing degenerative condition, the plaintiff has suffered a significant injury in the form of a lumbar facet syndrome that causes him ongoing pain and disability, and which has left him with a guarded prognosis.

[83]                  There was very little evidence concerning what lower back problems the plaintiff would likely have suffered in the future as a result of his pre-existing degenerative condition, in the absence of the accident.  Dr. Arthur, the defendant’s expert in orthopaedic surgery, was silent on this point.  I nevertheless find that, as conceded by Dr. Hunt, problems of the sort that plagued Mr. Tchao before the accident would likely have recurred in the future.  There is no evidence, however, that they would have been as disabling as the condition in which Mr. Tchao now finds himself.  As I will explore further below, he was able to carry on with physical labour at his jobs at Safeway, Nexus and The Blox in the past, but is no longer able to do physical labour of any kind.  No expert witness, including Dr. Arthur, has suggested that Mr. Tchao is presently capable of more than light and sedentary duties.

Damages were assessed as follows:

D.        CONCLUSION

[127]              I find the defendant 100% liable for the plaintiff’s damages.  Those damages are assessed as follows:

non-pecuniary damages:                                   $70,000.00

past loss of income:                                          $67,500.00

loss of income earning capacity:                     $120,000.00

future care costs:                                               $17,317.00

special damages:                                                $1,687.46

Total:                                                               $276,504.46

 

ICBC Claims, Expert Evidence and Advocacy

If you are involved in an ICBC injury claim you likely know that ICBC may have the right to send you to a doctor of their choosing.   They can do this in one of 2 ways, either pursuant to the Insurance (Vehicle) Regulation which allows ICBC to set up an Independent Medical Exam for any ‘insured’ seeking no-fault benefits, or under the Supreme Court Rules where the Defendant has the right to ‘balance the playing field’ by obtaining an independent medical exam in many circumstances.
Experts hired in such a situation can play a significant role in an ICBC claim.  Much weight can be attached to what an expert has to say with issues such as causes of injuries, prognosis, reasonable treatments and future disability.  Appreciating this it is important for an expert to present any opinion in a fair and balanced way.  However, expert witnesses sometimes cross the line and advocate for the side that hired them.
Reasons for judgement were released today concluding that the orthopaedic surgeon hired by the Defence in a BC auto-injury case acted as an advocate.
In this case the Plaintiff was injured as a passenger in a 2003 collision.  The crash was significant.  The at fault driver was speeding, went through a stop sign and hit another vehicle head-on.
Just over $200,000 was awarded for the Plaintiff’s injuries and losses.  In reaching this decision Madam Justice Martinson made the following findings in rejecting the evidence of the orthopaedic surgeon hired by the Defendant to assess the Plaintiff’s injuries:

[52] In my view the evidence of Dr. Schweigel should be given limited weight.  He is no doubt a well-qualified orthopaedic surgeon.  However, his opinion with respect to causation is based to a large extent on incorrect and incomplete information.  His factual conclusions are, for the most part, inconsistent with the findings of fact made by the Court.

[53] Dr. Schweigel says in his report that (the Plaintiff) told him he had low back pain right after the accident.  He rejected that statement and focused on the fact that (the Plaintiff) had not complained to his doctor about low back pain until several months later.  For whatever reason, he did not have, then or later, the insurance adjuster’s notes showing that he had complained about low back pain shortly after the accident.

[54] In offering his opinion he downplayed the severity of the impact, though he agreed in cross-examination that the more severe a collision, the more likely is injury to the spine.  He did not comment on the fact that (the Plaintiff’s) activities were curtailed after the accident but not before.

[55] He drew inferences from the brief clinical notes of Dr. Alderson that supported the conclusion that the pre-existing low back pain was significant.  When summarizing the May 17th note, he put “less pain” when the note actually says “woke up in far less pain and is much more functional, bending without pain.”

[56] He was prepared to conclude, on very limited evidence, that the post accident incidents that were at issue likely caused the activation of the pre-existing condition.

[57] As I see it, Dr. Schweigel acted as an advocate for the defendants, not an expert whose sole purpose is to assist the Court.  He highlighted all matters that would support the defence position and either downplayed or ignored those that would support the position of (the Plaintiff).

ICBC Claims, Ruptured Discs and Causation

Reasons for judgment were released today involving a disc injury with 2 potential causes.
The Plaintiff was involved in 3 car accidents. This lawsuit involved the second accident. The Plaintiff was ultimatley diagnosed with a ruptured disc in her back. The issue at trial was whether the ruptured disc was caused by the first or second accident (apparently no-one blamed the third accident as a potential cause).
“Causation” is often a key issue at many ICBC claims and frequently ICBC takes the position at trial that while a Plaintiff is injured the injury would have existed even without the car accident as it was caused by previous or subsequent events.
In this case a physiatrist and a GP testified on behalf of the Plaintiff. No defence medical evidence was called, instead, the defence relied on their lawyer’s cross examination of the Plaintiff experts.
The Plaintiff had an MRI which showed a moderate sized diffuse disc bulge or protrusion at L-4/5 with associated disc desiccation or drying.
The court was not satisfied with the Plaintiff’s experts explanations linking the disc protrusion to the second car accident. The court instead found that it is more likely that the disc injury was caused by the first car accident and the second accident aggravated this injury for a period of time.
For the aggravation of this disc injury the court awarded general damages (pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) of $30,000. The Plaintiff’s claim for loss of earning capacity and cost of future care were dismissed on the basis that the disc injury was not caused by the accident and any exacerbation of the injury caused by the accident ended in 2005.
This case shows that nothing should be taken for granted when taking an ICBC claim to trial.  Here both doctors seemed in agreement that the second car accident caused the disc injury and no medical experts disagreed with this finding.  After hearing this evidence first hand in court the trial judge did not agree with the Plaintiff’s experts and dismissed the allegation that the second car accident caused the disc injury.  Even where the medical evidence is not contradicted you cannot guarantee that a court will accept it!  This is the risk of trial and cross-examination.  Trial risks need to be accounted for when considering ICBC claim settlement and valuing fair payment for injuries.

ICBC Did Not Pay Enough For My Car! Don't Look To Court For Help…

While this blog is primarily concerned about ICBC injury claims against at-fault drivers (tort claims) written reasons for judgment were released today that are of interest to anyone caught up in a dispute with ICBC with respect to their own insurance coverage and the value of damage to their car.
Master Young of the BC Supreme Court clarified the fact that courts do not have jurisdiction to deal with an ICBC dispute regarding the value of vehicle loss.
In this case the Plaintiff’s vehicle was damaged in an accident. The vehicle was a write off. The Plaintiff had collision coverage with ICBC and asked for fair value. ICBC paid $18,000. The Plaintiff said the vehicle was worth $40,000 because it had a new engine and 2 extra large gas tanks installed prior to the accident and this had to be considered when determining fair value.
ICBC argued that the BC courts have no jurisdiction to deal with such a dispute. ICBC relied on section 142 of the Insurance (Motor Vehicle) Act and said this section requires such disputes to be dealt with by mandatory arbitration. For the sake of being accurate, I should point out that this section has since been repealed but been replaced with an almost identical section in the Insurance (Vehicle) Act.
The court held that, under s. 142, ‘the courts have no jurisdiction to deal with coverage disputes, given that there is mandatory arbitration set up by s. 142‘ In reaching this conclusion the Master cited a previous decision from a BC Supreme Court Judge where it was held that “the statute imposes a mandatory forum for the resolution of these disputes, and this Court is excluded from the process‘. Master Young also noted that the BC Supreme Court judge ‘goes on to caution that the claimant, if he wishes to pursue arbitration, must move quickly because he is statue barred two years after the date of loss‘.
The court concluded that this Plaintiff should have gone to mandatory arbitration. Given that the arbitration remedy was not exercised in 2 years the Plaintiff was out of luck, not being able to have the matter decided by a court or by arbitration.
This case serves of an example of the consequences people with ICBC claims can face if they do not comply with the limitations governing their claim. If you are in an ICBC dispute and don’t have a lawyer be sure to know your limitation periods! This is sometimes easier said than done as even Master Young acknowledged that in this case the legislation was ‘confusing‘.
The court obviously sympathized with the Plaintiff and said that she wished she could extend the deadline and if she could she made it pretty clear that she felt that ICBC’s materials showed ‘nothing..to indicate that (ICBC) gave any consideration to the fact that the vehicle had a new engine‘.

More on Intersection Crashes, ICBC, and Fault

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

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

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

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

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

Rule 68, ICBC Claims and Chronic Pain

In one the first ICBC claims to head to trial under Rule 68 that I’m aware of reasons for judgment were released today awarding a Plaintiff over $180,000 in compensation including $75,000 for pain and suffering as a result of 2 motor vehicle accidents.
For those of you not aware of Rule 68, it initially started out as a ‘pilot project’ and has now been adopted Province wide. It applies to many lawsuits including personal injury actions and ICBC claims where the amount sought is under $100,000. It is supposed to be mandatory for such claims but many BC personal injury lawyers avoid the rule due to perceived short-comings.
I am keeping an eye on how the courts treat this rule with respect to ICBC claims and will blog on any judgemetns involving this rule and ICBC that come to my attention in the upcoming months.
The facts of the case briefly are as follows: The Plaintiff was in 2 accidents. She was 24 years old on the date of the first accident. It was a rear-end crash which resulted in significant vehicle damage. Her car was rendered a total-loss.
The Second crash happened in 2006. This time she was a passenger and again her vehicle was involved in a rear-end collision. Her injuries from the first accident were aggravated in this crash.
The Court found that the Plaintiff ‘did indeed suffer a severe flexion-extension injury (whiplash), with acute symptoms lasting approximately one week, but continuing moderate symptoms which have persisted to today’s date, a full 4.5 years post accident. Her symptoms include not only pain and restriction of movement, but an overlap of psychological symptoms (pain disorder) including anxiety, irritability, frustration, anger, and difficulty modulating her behaviour in the face of day-to-day challenges. I accept Dr. Lamius’ evidence that there is some interplay of her physical and psychological symptoms. As he noted the pain activity triggers ongoing anxiety symptoms, while at the same time, the pain activity is worsened by the increased arousal pattern secondary to her anxiety. The pain and anxiety work together to create a vicious cycle.”
The court awarded compensation for both accidents as follows:
1. Non Pecuniary Damages (pain and suffering) $75,000
2. Loss of homemaking capacity: $11,744
3. Past loss of income: $$6,658.44
4. Future loss of earning capacity: $40,000
5. Cost of Future Care: $50,000
6. Special Damages: $6,211.08
What was interesting about this case is the fact that the court did not hesitate to consider a total award above $100,000. Rule 68 has a ‘soft cap’ meaning it is to be used for claims worth less than $100,000. In this case the Plaintiff sought total damages well in excess of this.
The reason why rule 68 has a ‘soft cap’ is because Rule 68(4) says that ‘nothing in this rule (rule 68) prevents a court from awarding damages to a plaintiff in an expedited action for an amount in excess of $100,000.
One thing ICBC is interested in, and ICBC claims lawyers should be interested in this as well, are the ‘precedents’ that will come out of the upcoming rule 68 ICBC claims judgements. In this case the defence lawyer argued that ‘since the Plaintiff elected to use Rule 68…the court ought to infer that this claim, including all heads of damage, does not exceed $100,000, thus resulting in a much reduced award for non-pecuniary damages.”
The court rejected this logic stating that “I am unaware of any authority which suggests the Court may draw such an inference.” The court went on to cite rule 68(4) and then stated that “no defence motion was ever brought to remove the action from the rule 68 procedure. I am unable to draw the inference suggested.”
This case seems to be a positive development for anyone advancing an ICBC injury claim under Rule 68 whose total value may exceed $100,000. I hope the courts continue to adopt a flexible approach in awarding damages above the ‘cap’ in ICBC claims where the evidence justifies such a result.

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

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

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

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

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

4) New onset degenerative CT spine changes rated moderate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mild Trauamtic Brain Injury (MTBI) Claim Dismissed by BC Supreme Court

In a striking example of how complex brain injury litigation can be, lengthy reasons for judgment were released today dismissing a Plaintiff’s claim that 2 accidents caused/contributed to a Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (MTBI).
The trial lasted over 30 days of court time spanning between November, 2006 – July 2007. The reasons for judgement give insight into just how complex the brain injury trial was. The reasons are well over 300 paragraphs long.
The Plaintiff was involved in 2 accidents. She sued for both and the trials for both claims were heard at the same time. The first accident happened in 2001 in Abbotsford BC when the Plaintiff’s vehicle was struck by a driver who failed to stop at a stop sign. Liability (fault) for this accident was admitted by the defence lawyer. The second accident happened in 2005 when the Plaintiff’s vehicle changed lanes and collided with the defendant vehicle who was pulling out from a parking lot. Liability was denied and the trial judge found the defendant was solely responsible for the accident.
With the determination of fault out of the way the court had to decide what injuries the Plaintiff suffered in both these crashes and their value. The Plaintiff said she suffered from a Mild Traumatic Brain Injury in the first accident and this injury was made worse in the second accident. This allegation was hotly contested by the defence lawyers.
The court heard from numerous witnesses including over 10 doctors. It is very common for ICBC brain injury claims to include opposing medical evidence and numerous ‘lay witnesses’ who give evidence of changes in a Plaintiff’s level of functioning after the accident. ICBC claims lawyers often refer to these witnesses as before and after’ witnesses.
The expert medical evidence included
1. The Plaintiff’s GP who diagnosed a ‘closed head injury
2. A Physiatrist who diagnosed ‘a head injury that has resulted in some brain dysfunction‘ along with ‘soft tissue aches and pains
3. A psychiatrist who treated the Plaintiff since 2002 who diagnosed ‘impairments…as a result of the accidents‘ and a ‘significant concussive injury in both accidents (which have gone on to become) a post-concussion syndrome, now persistent type…a personality change due to MTBI….a pain disorder that relates to (the Plaintiff’s) headaches and other chronic pain complaints…a post-trauma seizure disorder‘ He concluded that the Plaintiff ‘will continue to have significant disruption of her life and her ability to work is permanently compramised’.
4. A neuropsychologist who accepted the diagnosis of ‘closed head injury, possible seizure activity, chronic pain and post-concussive syndrome.’ He performed numerous tests and concluded that the Plaintiff ‘was suffering from psychological turmoil which was sufficiently severe to affect her score on neuropsychological tests’ and lastly that ‘the pattern of neurological test results was consistent with diffuse brain injury attributed as likely being caused by the car accident‘.
5. A urologist
6. A psychologist who saw the Plaintiff regularly since 2003
7. a Neurologist from the University of Colorado School of Medicine who diagnosed a ‘concussion with amnesia in the first accident and that she subsequently developed post-concussion syndrome’.
8. Another physiatrist who assessed the Plaintiff after the second accident and ‘attributed (her) symptoms after the first accident to post-concussive syndrome’. He also diagnosed various soft tissue injuries.
9. A psychologist who assessed the Plaintiff in 2006 who stated that ‘the plaintiff suffered from a brain injury based personality change arising from a frontal-lobe related impairment and emotional disturbance reactive to the trauma of the accidents
10. An orthopaedic surgeon who was hired by the defence lawyer. His opinion differed largely from most of the previous experts and gave evidence that:

Based on my assessment of Ms. Abma on May 9, 2003, she presented as an extremely symptom focused individual whose clinical examination strongly suggested a significant non-organic component to her various musculoskeletal/neurologic complaints. I base this latter opinion, that Ms. Abma has significant nonorganic illness, on the following findings:

1. Multiple areas of complaint.

2. No reported pain free interval.

3. Failure of all treatment modalities to date.

4. Significant pain behaviour and reaction on clinical examination.

5. Multiple areas of non-anatomic pain.

6. Regional numbness affecting her right arm.

7. Abnormal pain diagram.

All of these factors would suggest that there is a significant psychological social component influencing the reporting scenario and duration of Ms. Abma’s multiple musculoskeletal/neurologic complaints. In addition, Ms. Abma’s clinical records indicate that she suffered from anxiety/depression preceding her November 2001 motor vehicle accident, both of which can negatively influence an individual’s pain experience and their self perception of disability.

11. A Psychiatrist hired by the defence lawyer who noted that ‘there is no objective evidence to support the fact that this woman suffered any type of concussion or brain injury.’
12. An otolaryngolgist hired by the defence lawyer who ‘concludes that the plaintiff suffered a mild/modest neck sprain in the first motor vehicle accident classified as whiplash-associated disorder (WAD) Type 1. He considers that this may have re-activated the neck sprain from her 1996 motor vehicle accidents which demonstrated that her complaints continued for more than three years. Dr. Sinanan states “but for that factor, recovery from a Grade 1 WAD Type neck sprain usually is within six to eight weeks, 12 weeks at most
13. Lastly the court heard from a neurologist also hired by the defence lawyer and it was ‘uncontested’ that this doctor is the ‘foremost epilepsy expert in the Province of BC’. he concluded that the Plaintiff did not have a brain injury.
After all of this the court sided largely with the defence medical evidence. The key findings were made starting at paragraph 308 where the court held that:

[308] The most persuasive view of the plaintiff’s post-accident experience is described by Drs. Anton and Smith. Dr. Anton suggests that the plaintiff is suffering psychological injuries. Dr. Smith is also of a similar view: adjustment disorder with anxiety, which does not result from injuries sustained in either of the accidents, but arising from her belief that she is cognitively impaired as a result of the accident.

[309] I am not finding that the plaintiff is acting dishonestly. She believes that she is suffering from a brain injury. She is relying on the information she has been provided by her treating physicians. She has not proven on a balance of probabilities that she suffered a brain injury in the first accident. I find it much more likely that the psychological difficulties, including the cognitive, emotional and behavioural problems which the plaintiff has experienced, arose from her reaction to the brain injury diagnosis made by Dr. Ancill in April 2002. I do not accept the plaintiff’s assertion that all of her symptoms had their “genesis” in the motor vehicle accidents.

[310] Ultimately, I find that the injuries suffered by the plaintiff in the first accident are the physical injuries and to some extent the depression described in the evidence. The plaintiff suffered the following injuries as a result of the first motor vehicle accident on November 14, 2001:

1. aggravation of previous soft tissue injuries to her neck, back, shoulders and hips;

2. a contusion to the area above her left knee; and

3. some depression and anxiety (exclusive of that related to the diagnosis of a brain injury) attributable to the pain of her injuries.

As a result of this finding the court largely dismissed the Plaintiff’s claims for loss of income past and future, future care needs, and her in-trust claims for voluntary services provided by her family.
Ultimately little more than compensation for pain and suffering for soft tissue injuries was awarded.
As an ICBC Injury Claims Lawyer, one of the highlights of this case for me was found at paragraph 204 of this judgement where the court discussed its view of some of the neuropsychological test results.  These tests, which can be used to see if a pattern of cognitive defecits are consistent with brain injury, have some built in ‘fail-safes’ in them.  These measures are built in to help the neuropsychologist gauge whether the patient is applying their best effort.  In other words, these built in to see if the Plaintiff may be faking the injury.
In this case the “Fake Bad Scale‘ disclosed some ‘suspicious results‘.  The various doctors placed varying levels of importance on this fact.  Madam Justice Gropper made her views quite clear at paragraph 304 where she stated that “If the testing is invalid it does not mean there is something wrong with the test,; it suggests that there is something suspicious about how the individual is responding to the testing and whether she is applying her best effort to it.  It is a factor to be considered, not simply ignored.’
This case, while perhaps lengthy and difficult to read through, is worth reviewing for anyone involved in an ICBC claim alleging Mild Traumatic Brain Injury. This is one of the most aggresively litigated injuries and this case shows just how involved these trials can be, not just from the medical side of things but from the involvement of ‘before and after’ witnesses and many intimate details of a Plaintiff’s life.
Do you have questions about this case or an ICBC claim involving Mild Traumatic Brain Injury?  Do you need advice from an ICBC claims lawyer?  If so click here to arrange your free consultation with Victoria ICBC Claims Lawyer Erik Magraken (services provided for ICBC injury claims throughout BC!)

Mistrial Declared for Opening Statement that Went "Over the Line"

In March, 2008, Mr. Justice Cole declared a mistrial after he found that the Plaintiff’s lawyer went “over the line” in his opening statements. The judges oral reasons were released in writing today.
Negligence (fault for the accident) was admitted by the defence lawyers. The Plaintiff lawyer, in the opening address to the jury, stated that ‘the defendant must pay for breaching the rules of the road.’ and referred to the defendant as falling asleep at the wheel of his car, causing the accident‘. The court characterized the general theme of the opening comments “such as to create an atmosphere of sympathy for the Plaintiff.”
The court concluced that the Plaintiff lawyer ‘did go over the line‘ and that ordering a mistrial is the ‘only fair thing to do.’
The result of the mistrial is that the jury is dismissed and the matter has to be reset for trial on a later date. Such a result brings with it delay and expense, commonly referred to as the ‘twin evils’ in the BC civil justice system.
Reading this case made me wonder whether jurors would be inflamed by such opening statements. Personally I struggle in thinking that a reasonable jury would be inflamed to such a degree by this statement that their whole view of the case would be unjustly prejudiced.
Even the judge acknowledged that ‘no one can ever tell’ if this statement caused damage to the juries ability to fairly hear the case.
In BC it is improper for lawyers to talk to jurors after the fact and poll them about their decision.  Specifically, in 1967 the BC Court of Appeal stated that lawyers who poll jurors after verdict would be in contempt of court.  This has been severely critisized by many including fellow blogger and former BC Supreme Court judge John Bouck.
Since the jurors can’t be polled I thought I’d ask my readers. What do you think? If you were sitting on a jury involving an ICBC injury claim, and the plaintiff’s lawyer told you that the Defendant fell asleep at the wheel and ‘must pay for breaching the rules of the road’ would your judgment be compromised? Would your ability to fairly value the plaintiff’s injuries be compromised? Would you feel a need to punish the defendant by awarding the Plaintiff an overly generous amount of compensation?
Please feel free to leave comments or e-mail me privately.
Do you have questions about this case or an ICBC injury claim? If so click here to arrange your free consultation with Victoria ICBC claims lawyer Erik Magraken (services provided for ICBC injury claims throughout BC!)

More on Court Costs, Settlement Offers, and Your ICBC Claim

If you are advancing and ICBC injury claim in BC Supreme Court, whether or not you are represented by an ICBC Claims Lawyer, you need to know something about Formal Settlement Offers. These settlement offers bring potential consequences if they are not accepted and these need to be considered when deciding whether an ICBC settlement offer is fair.
Rule 37 of the BC Supreme Court Rules permits parties to a lawsuit to make a Formal Settlement Offer and if the claim goes to trial and the settlement offer is beaten there can be significant Costs consequences (where the losing side has to pay the winning side tarriff court costs and disbursements which can easily exceed $10,000).
If you think of taking an ICBC claim to trial and winning I imagine you think of proving the other driver is at fault and being awarded money for your injuries. With formal settlement offers, winning is not quite that simple. If ICBC makes a formal settlement offer under Rule 37 and the judge or jury awards you less this can be considered a loss. Rule 37(24) sets out the consequences to a Plaintiff for failing to accept a Defendant offer to settle and ‘losing’ at trial, the subrule reads as follows:

Consequences of failure to accept defendant’s offer for monetary relief

(24) If the defendant has made an offer to settle a claim for money and the offer 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, or

(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.

On the other side of the coin, there can be more than one way of winning. If you make a formal offer to settle your ICBC claim in compliance with Rule 37 and the judge or jury award you more money, Rule 37(23) sets out the consequences to the Defendant. The subrule reads as follows:

Consequences of failure to accept plaintiff’s offer to settle a monetary claim

(23) If the plaintiff has made an offer to settle a claim for money, and it has not expired or been withdrawn or been accepted, and if the plaintiff obtains a judgment for the amount of money specified in the offer or a greater amount, the plaintiff is entitled to costs assessed to the date the offer was delivered and to double costs assessed from that date.

Now, after absorbing all of the above you need to know that RULE 37 and 37A are being repealed as of July 2, 2008 and being replaced with Rule 37(B)!

That does not mean that you just wasted your time learning the above. If a formal offer to settle an ICBC injury claim is made before July 2, 2008 it needs to comply with Rule 37 or Rule 37A to trigger ‘costs consequences’.

To trigger costs consequences in an ICBC claim that goes to trial any offer made after July 2, 2008 has to comply with Rule 37B. To do so the offer must

1. be made in writing

2. be delivered to all parties of record, and

3. contain the following sentence “the [name of party making the offer] reserves the right to bring this offer to the attention of the court for consideration in relation to costs after the court has rendered judgement on all other issues in this proceeding”.

It seems that the purpose of Rule 37B) is to simplify the process of making formal settlement offers. The consequences of taking ICBC claims to court and beating (or not beating) a formal settlement offer seem to be less certain under this new rule. Rule 37B(4) sets out the consequences as follows: “The court may consider an offer to settle when exercising the court’s discretion in relation to costs”.

The options given to the court are set out in subrule 5 which states:

In a proceeding in which an offer to settle has been made, the court may do one or both of the following:

(a) deprive a party, in whole or in part, of costs to which the party would otherwise be entitled in respect of the steps taken in the proceeding after the date of the delivery of the offer to settle;

(b) award double costs of all or some of the steps taken in the proceeding after the date of the delivery of the offer to settle.

Subrule 6 sets out the factors a court may consider in exercising its costs discretion where a formal offer was made stating:

In making an order under subrule (5), the court may consider the following:

(a) whether the offer to settle was one that ought reasonably to have been accepted, either on the date that the offer to settle was delivered or on an later date

(b) the relationship between the terms of the settlement offered and the final judgment of the court;

(c) the relative financial circumstances of the parties;

(d) any other factor the court considers appropriate

I for one welcome Rule 37B. One of the biggest criticisms made by plaintiff ICBC injury claims lawyers was that the old Rule 37 was unfair to plaintiffs as a person injured in a car accident was always in a worse financial position to face the consequences of losing at trial than ICBC. This lopsided reality created a lot of pressure on people advancing ICBC injury claims in BC Supreme Court to consider settlement when faced with a Rule 37 formal settlement offer.

It will be interesting to see if our BC courts, when considering “the relative financial circumstances of the parties” will consider ICBC a party to the lawsuit of an ICBC injury claim. Typically, ICBC is not named as a defendant to a ICBC Injury tort Claim, instead those at fault for the collision are named and often they simply happen to be insured by ICBC. So ICBC is not formally a ‘party’ to most ICBC injury tort claims.

If the court is willing to consider the fact that the Defendant is insured when weighing the ‘relative financial circumstances of the parties‘ then this Rule is a welcome change for anyone advancing an ICBC injury claim. If not, perhaps the court is willing to consider this under “any other factor the court considers appropriate“.

Do you have questions about an ICBC settlement offer or the Rules of Court governing settlement offers in BC Supreme Court? If so click here to arrange a free consultation with ICBC Injury Claims lawyer Erik Magraken.

 

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!”
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