Tag: Indivisible Injuries

Sexual Assault and Vicarious Liability Claims are not "Too Complex" For a Jury

Useful reasons for judgement were recently released by the BC Supreme Court, Victoria Registry, addressing a jury strike application in a personal injury lawsuit for damages from sexual abuse.
In the recent case (JG v. Kolesar) the Plaintiff was sexually abused by her teacher.  He was criminally convicted for his acts.  The Plaintiff sued him and his employer for damages alleging negligence and vicarious liability on the part of the School District.  The matter was set for trial by jury.  The School District opposed this and brought an application to strike the Jury Notice under Rule 12-6(5) arguing that  “the law on the questions of causation (the concept of indivisible injury), vicarious liability, and assessment of damages is all too complex for a jury to understand
Master Bouck disagreed and dismissed the School District’s jury strike application.  In doing so the Court provided the following helpful reasons:
[31]  On the question of causation, damages and the concept of indivisible injury, some authorities cited by (the School Board’s lawyer) have since been refined by the court of appeal’s decision in Bradley v. Groves, 2010 BCCA 361.  Notably, the appellate court has refined the method by which a finder of fact can determine causation and apportion damages where there are multiple tortfeasors contributing to the plaintiff’s injury and loss.
[32]  In my view, the step-by-step analysis set out in Bradley v. Groves can be nicely imported into a set of instruction and questions for the jury.
[33]  Accordingly, I am not at all pessimistic about the jury’s ability to decide the questions which the defence says are too complex in this litigation.  A trial judge will be perfectly capable of instructing a jury on the relevant legal concepts of causation, apportionment of damages, and vicarious liability…
[35]   Once properly instructed, the assessment of the plaintiff’s damages is most certainly not a question beyond the capability of a modern jury.  In my observation and experience, juries are often called upon to assess damages where there are multiple tort-feasors and pre-existing conditions.
Today’s case is unpublished however, as always, I’m happy to share a copy of the reasons for judgement with anyone who contacts me and requests a copy.

$160,000 Non-Pecuniary Damage Assessment for L4-5 Disc Herniation


(UPDATE August 8, 2012 The below judgement was modified in reasons for judgement released today by the BC Court of Appeal.  In short, the Court held the 40% damage reduction was not justified by the evidence and substituted a 20% damage reduction.  The BCCA’s reasons can be found here).
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Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, assessing damages for serious injuries following a BC motor vehicle collision.
In this week’s case (Bouchard v. Brown Bros. Motor Lease Canada Ltd.) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2005 rear-end collision.  He was faced in an awkward position when his vehicle was struck and he sustained injuries.  Fault for the crash was admitted focussing the trial on assessing damages.
Although there was competing medical evidence, the Court ultimately found the collision was a cause of a L4-5 disc herniation which required bilateral discectomies and foraminotimies at the L4-L5 and L5-S1 levels of the spine.
The Plaintiff’s symptoms of pain continued and he ultimately was diagnosed with a chronic pain syndrome.  The Court accepted that the Plaintiff would likely not work in his profession again.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) at $160,000 Mr. Justice Pearlman provided the following comments:
[117]     I find that the motor vehicle accident was a significant factor contributing to the herniation of the plaintiff’s disc at L4-L5, and the development of the plaintiff’s symptoms of severe and disabling lower back pain, and that there is a substantial connection between Mr. Bouchard’s low back injuries and the motor vehicle accident….
[155]     The assessment of non-pecuniary damages depends upon the particular circumstances of the plaintiff in each case. The factors that the court must consider include the plaintiff’s age, the nature of his injury, the severity and duration of pain, disability, emotional suffering, impairment of marital and social relationships, impairment of physical and mental abilities, and loss of lifestyle:Stapley v. Hejslet, 2006 BCCA 34 at para. 46, leave to appeal ref’d 2006 CarswellBC 2598 (S.C.C.). Here, I find that the appropriate award for Mr. Bouchard in all of the circumstances is $160,000.
This case is also worth reviewing for the Court’s discussion of causation and indivisible injuries set out at paragraphs 97-117 of the reasons for judgement.  The Court found that while the collision was a cause of the injury, that there was “a very significant risk” that the Plaintiff’s back problems would have developed even absent the collision and the damages were reduced by 40% to take this risk into account.
Lastly, this case is worth reviewing for the Court’s discussion of the adverse inference principle.  Following the Plaintiff’s surgery the Plaintiff obtained and exchanged copies of the relevant medical records.  The Plaintiff called various expert witnesses to support the case but the treating surgeon was not called.  The Defence asked the Court to draw an adverse inference.  Mr. Justice Pearlman refused to do so and provided the following helpful reasons:
[121] Here, there has been full disclosure of Dr. Heran’s consultation reports and his operative procedure report. Those records were available to the defendant when Dr. Hepburn prepared his second report of October 27, 2009. It was open to the defendants to interview and call Dr. Heran if they chose to do so. Furthermore, in my view, Dr. Hunt, whose practice is devoted to the treatment of patients with chronic pain, and who was directly involved in the ongoing testing, management, and treatment of the plaintiff’s symptoms from October 2008 through May 2010, was in a better position than Dr. Heran to provide an opinion on the extent of the plaintiff’s disability and his requirements for future care. Finally, I also take into account the explanation of counsel for the plaintiff that obtaining an expert report from Dr. Heran would have put Mr. Bouchard to additional expense, and would have involved yet another review of all of the reports and clinical records of those doctors who did testify at trial. For all of these reasons, I decline to draw an adverse inference against the plaintiff.

Leave to Appeal In Bradley Denied; Welcome Certainty for Indivisible Injury Compensation


In an ICBC Claim decided last year the BC Court of Appeal simplified the approach for compensation for indivisible injuries caused by multiple events.  ICBC sought to overturn this decision and recently the Supreme Court of Canada refused leave (meaning they decided not to hear the case putting an end to the appeal).  For the sake of convenience here are the Court of Appeals key reasons explaining how indivisible injuries should be treated in British Columbia:

[32]        There can be no question that Athey requires joint and several liability for indivisible injuries.  Once a trial judge has concluded as a fact that an injury is indivisible, then the tortfeasors are jointly liable to the plaintiff.  They can still seek apportionment (contribution and indemnity) from each other, but absent contributory negligence, the plaintiff can claim the entire amount from any of them.

[33]        The approach to apportionment in Long v. Thiessen is therefore no longer applicable to indivisible injuries.  The reason is that Long v. Thiessen pre-supposes divisibility: Longrequires courts to take a single injury and divide it up into constituent causes or points in time, and assess damages twice; once on the day before the second tort, and once at trial.  Each defendant is responsible only for their share of the injury and the plaintiff can recover only the appropriate portion from each tortfeasor.

[34]        That approach is logically incompatible with the concept of an indivisible injury.  If an injury cannot be divided into distinct parts, then joint liability to the plaintiff cannot be apportioned either.  It is clear that tortfeasors causing or contributing to a single, indivisible injury are jointly liable to the plaintiff.  This in no way restricts the tortfeasors’ right to apportionment as between themselves under the Negligence Act, but it is a matter of indifference to the plaintiff, who may claim the entire amount from any defendant.

[35]        This is not a case of this Court overturning itself, because aspects of Long v. Thiessen were necessarily overruled by the Supreme Court of Canada’s decisions in Athey,E.D.G., and Blackwater.  Other courts have also come to this same conclusion: see Misko v. Doe, 2007 ONCA 660, 286 D.L.R. (4th) 304 at para. 17.

[36]        It may be that this represents an extension of pecuniary liability for consecutive or concurrent tortfeasors who contribute to an indivisible injury.  We do not think it can be said that the Supreme Court of Canada was unmindful of that consequence.  Moreover, apportionment legislation can potentially remedy injustice to defendants by letting them claim contribution and indemnity as against one another.

[37]        We are also unable to accept the appellant’s submission that “aggravation” and “indivisibility” are qualitatively different, and require different legal approaches.  If a trial judge finds on the facts of a particular case that subsequent tortious action has merged with prior tortious action to create an injury that is not attributable to one particular tortfeasor, then a finding of indivisibility is inevitable.  That one tort made worse what another tort created does not automatically implicate a thin or crumbling skull approach (as in Blackwater), if the injuries cannot be distinguished from one another on the facts.  Those doctrines deal with finding the plaintiff’s original position, not with apportioning liability.  The first accident remains a cause of the entire indivisible injury suffered by the plaintiff under the “but for” approach to causation endorsed by the Supreme Court of Canada in Resurfice Corp. v. Hanke, 2007 SCC 7, [2007] 1 S.C.R. 333.  As noted by McLachlin C.J.C. in that case, showing that there are multiple causes for an injury will not excuse any particular tortfeasor found to have caused an injury on a “but-for” test, as “there is more than one potential cause in virtually all litigated cases of negligence” (at para. 19).  It may be that in some cases, earlier injury and later injury to the same region of the body are divisible.  While it will lie for the trial judge to decide in the circumstances of each case, it is difficult to see how the worsening of a single injury could be divided up.

Indivisible Injuries in Action


As I recently discussed, the law in British Columbia requires a Defendant to compensate a Plaintiff for any indivisible injury caused by their wrongdoing.  If a subsequent event contributes to or aggravates the injury a defendant cannot reduce the amount of compensation the Plaintiff is entitled to.  Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, demonstrating this principle of law.
In this week’s case (Fillmore v. McKay) the Plaintiff was involved in 2005 motor vehicle collision.  The Plaintiff was riding his bicycle when he was struck by the Defendant’s vehicle.  The Defendant initially denied being at fault but during trial admitted that the collision was indeed a result of her negligence.  The Plaintiff suffered various soft tissue injuries and a traumatic brain injury.
At trial the Defendant argued that some of the Plaintiff’s injuries were made worse during a subsequent fall and that this should reduce the compensation the Plaintiff should receive.  Mr. Justice Truscott rejected this argument and provided the following useful comments demonstrating the law relating to indivisible injuries in BC:

[145]     The plaintiff took a fall at work on July 9, 2005 when he says in his note that he aggravated his neck and shoulder. The defendant submits that this was a new incident not caused by him that should serve to reduce the plaintiff’s personal injuries for which he has liability from the motor vehicle accident. The defendant even submits that it may have been this incident of July 9, 2005 that caused the plaintiff’s back injury because his first complaint to Dr. Buie was not until after that.

[146]     I have already concluded that the plaintiff’s back injury occurred in the motor vehicle accident and not subsequently by this bike accident. The plaintiff does not say in his note that he aggravated his back on July 9, 2005, but only his neck and shoulder.

[147]     As to the possible aggravation of his neck and shoulder injuries, Athey v. Leonati, [1996] 3 S.C.R. 458, makes it clear that the defendant remains liable where his negligence caused or contributed to the injuries and that liability is not reduced by any non-tortious contributing causes.

[148]     Accordingly, even if the plaintiff’s neck and shoulder injuries were aggravated by this non-tortious incident, the defendant is still fully responsible for the full extent of those injuries because his negligence caused them in the first place and thereby contributed to the extent of the injuries.

BC Court of Appeal Clarifies Law of Compensation for Injuries With Multiple Causes


Very important reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Court of Appeal making it easier for a Plaintiff involved in multiple not at fault traumas to be properly compensated for their injuries.
In today’s case (Bradley v. Groves) the Plaintiff was injured in 2 BC motor vehicle collisions.  The first happened in 2006.  She was not at fault.  She suffered from various soft tissue injuries which were recovering (but not recovered) when she was involved in a second collision in 2008.  She was faultless for this crash which aggravated the soft tissue injuries from the first crash.
The Plaintiff sued the motorist in the first crash.  The trial judge found that the injuries were “indivisible” and that the two crashes “were both necessary causes of the indivisible injuries“.  The trial judge valued the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages of $30,000 for the entirety of her injury.  The Plaintiff was awarded damages for the whole amount with the trial judge stating that since the Plaintiff was not at fault for either event and since her injuries were indivisible this was the correct approach.  (you can click here to read the trial judgement)
The Defendant appealed arguing that the judge should have apportioned damages between the two crashes and only awarded the Plaintiff damages for the crash that she was suing for.  The Court of Appeal disagreed and upheld the trial judgment.  In doing so the Court clarified this important area of law which will now make it easier for not at fault Plaintiff’s injured through multiple events to be properly compensated for their loss.  The BC High Court provided the following useful reasons:

[32]        There can be no question that Athey requires joint and several liability for indivisible injuries.  Once a trial judge has concluded as a fact that an injury is indivisible, then the tortfeasors are jointly liable to the plaintiff.  They can still seek apportionment (contribution and indemnity) from each other, but absent contributory negligence, the plaintiff can claim the entire amount from any of them.

[33]        The approach to apportionment in Long v. Thiessen is therefore no longer applicable to indivisible injuries.  The reason is that Long v. Thiessen pre-supposes divisibility: Longrequires courts to take a single injury and divide it up into constituent causes or points in time, and assess damages twice; once on the day before the second tort, and once at trial.  Each defendant is responsible only for their share of the injury and the plaintiff can recover only the appropriate portion from each tortfeasor.

[34]        That approach is logically incompatible with the concept of an indivisible injury.  If an injury cannot be divided into distinct parts, then joint liability to the plaintiff cannot be apportioned either.  It is clear that tortfeasors causing or contributing to a single, indivisible injury are jointly liable to the plaintiff.  This in no way restricts the tortfeasors’ right to apportionment as between themselves under the Negligence Act, but it is a matter of indifference to the plaintiff, who may claim the entire amount from any defendant.

[35]        This is not a case of this Court overturning itself, because aspects of Long v. Thiessen were necessarily overruled by the Supreme Court of Canada’s decisions in Athey,E.D.G., and Blackwater.  Other courts have also come to this same conclusion: see Misko v. Doe, 2007 ONCA 660, 286 D.L.R. (4th) 304 at para. 17.

[36]        It may be that this represents an extension of pecuniary liability for consecutive or concurrent tortfeasors who contribute to an indivisible injury.  We do not think it can be said that the Supreme Court of Canada was unmindful of that consequence.  Moreover, apportionment legislation can potentially remedy injustice to defendants by letting them claim contribution and indemnity as against one another.

[37]        We are also unable to accept the appellant’s submission that “aggravation” and “indivisibility” are qualitatively different, and require different legal approaches.  If a trial judge finds on the facts of a particular case that subsequent tortious action has merged with prior tortious action to create an injury that is not attributable to one particular tortfeasor, then a finding of indivisibility is inevitable.  That one tort made worse what another tort created does not automatically implicate a thin or crumbling skull approach (as in Blackwater), if the injuries cannot be distinguished from one another on the facts.  Those doctrines deal with finding the plaintiff’s original position, not with apportioning liability.  The first accident remains a cause of the entire indivisible injury suffered by the plaintiff under the “but for” approach to causation endorsed by the Supreme Court of Canada in Resurfice Corp. v. Hanke, 2007 SCC 7, [2007] 1 S.C.R. 333.  As noted by McLachlin C.J.C. in that case, showing that there are multiple causes for an injury will not excuse any particular tortfeasor found to have caused an injury on a “but-for” test, as “there is more than one potential cause in virtually all litigated cases of negligence” (at para. 19).  It may be that in some cases, earlier injury and later injury to the same region of the body are divisible.  While it will lie for the trial judge to decide in the circumstances of each case, it is difficult to see how the worsening of a single injury could be divided up.

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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