Tag: lvi claims

More on ICBC Soft Tissue Injury Claims and Plaintiff Credibility


As I’ve previously posted, when Plaintiff’s sue for damages from soft tissue injuries sustained in so-called “Low Velocity Impacts” their credibility often plays a crucial role at trial.  The simple reason for this is that without objectively verified injuries a Court must make a favourable finding to accept the Plaintiff’s evidence that they experienced pain following the collision.  Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, discussing the relationship between soft tissue injuries and plaintiff credibility.
In today’s case (Chandra v. Chen) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2007 BC motor vehicle collision.   The claim was defended with the argument that “the Plaintiff did not suffer an injury in the accident which was so slight that the other driver involved  in the accident could not even recall an impact to the front of his vehicle“.
This defence was rejected with the Court finding that the Plaintiff did indeed sustain “some minor injuries…which have merged into a continuum with stresses that have arisen at work“.  Mr. Justice McEwan went on to award the Plaintiff $20,000 for her non-pecuniary damages.  Prior to doing so the Court made the following useful comments about the significance of Plaintiff credibility in soft tissue injury cases and the relationship of the collision to her injuries:

[21]         It is often difficult to assess injuries where the mechanism of injury is not obvious – as is often the case in low damage accidents – and there is little other than the plaintiff’s own evidence to support a claim of ongoing pain. Because “credibility” is crucial, much is often made of inconsistencies in medical records that ostensibly record the impressions of physicians of the plaintiff’s remarks under circumstances that are themselves difficult to assess. The court is often left with making what it can of the impression given by the plaintiff in the witness box.

[22]         The plaintiff did not appear to be exaggerating. She gave her evidence in a straightforward manner. I accept that she suffered some pain associated with the accident and I accept that she is sincere in her effort to recall the pain she has suffered since that time. To the extent that she has been unspecific, and at times somewhat inconsistent, I do not think she has been motivated to mislead. I think her attempt to recall all of the pain she attributes to the accident somewhat at odds with her actual experience, which appears to have been of some aches and pains that would come and go over time. I also think that the stresses of a physical occupation have at times been assigned to the accident when they have actually arisen independently.

BC Court Rejects ICBC's "LVI" Defence

One principle that has become clear in BC injury lawsuits is that ICBC’s LVI Policy of denying tort compensation in minimal vehicle damage accidents has no legal merit.  Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Nanaimo Registry, demonstrating this.
In today’s case (Mendoza-Flores v. Haigh) the Plaintiff was involved in 2 separate motor vehicle collisions.  She was injured in both.   ICBC accepted that the second accident caused some injuries but argued that the first crash “was incapable of causing the injuries complained of (by) the Plaintiff“.  Mr. Justice Harvey rejected this argument with the following useful comments:
[54] Regarding as the relationship between the damage to the two vehicles and the resultant claim for injuries suffered by one of the occupants, it is trite law that the fact that the damage to the plaintiff’s vehicle was minor does not lead to a conclusion that the resultant injuries are also minor: Gordon v. Palmer (1993), 78 B.C.L.R. (2d) 236 (S.C.).
The Court went on to award the Plaintiff damages for her injuries and loss including $40,000 for her non-pecuniary damages.   In reaching this figure Mr. Justice Harvey made the following findings:

[61]        In the result, I find that the plaintiff has experienced a moderate soft tissue injury which continues to cause both discomfort and poses problems in her employment to the present time.

[62]        The plaintiff never fully recovered from the effects of the first accident although it would seem, from the evidence, she was heading toward a complete resolution of her symptoms. Her symptoms just before the second accident were appreciably better than they are presently…

[67]        While unresolved to some extent, I do not view the evidence as proving the plaintiff’s injuries as permanent. Both from an investigative and treatment standpoint it appears there were, and are, further steps available to the plaintiff.

[68]        Reviewing her injuries and comparing them to the authorities I have been referred to, I conclude that $40,000 represents a proper global assessment of the plaintiff’s general damages arising from the two accidents.

You can click here to read my archived posts discussing other BC Court cases dealing with so-called Low Velocity Impacts.

More on Court Costs and "Sufficient Reason" For Suing in the BC Supreme Court

Further to my previous posts on this topic, if a Plaintiff successfully sues in the BC Supreme Court but receives damages below $25,000 they may be deprived of their court ‘costs’ unless they had ‘sufficient reason’ for choosing the Supreme Court over small claims court.
Two judgements were released this week by the BC Supreme Court discussing this area of law.  In this weeks cases (Spencer v. Popham and Spencer v. Horton) the Plaintiff was involved in 2 separate  BC car crashes.  She started separate lawsuits in the BC Supreme Court but settled her cases before they went to trial.  Both claims settled form amounts below $25,000 (the current financial limit of BC’s small claims court).  The Plaintiff and ICBC could not agree on the issue of costs.
ICBC argued that since both cases were in the small claims courts jurisdiction the Plaintiff did not have sufficient reason for suing in the Supreme Court.  Mr. Justice Punnett disagreed and awarded the Plaintiff costs in both claims.  In doing so he provided the following useful and through summary of this area of the law:

[8] Rule 57(10) of the Rules of Court states:

A plaintiff who recovers a sum within the jurisdiction of the Provincial Court under the Small Claims Act is not entitled to costs, other than disbursements, unless the court finds that there was sufficient reason for bringing the proceeding in the Supreme Court and so orders.

[9] This rule encourages persons to bring actions in Small Claims Court when a claim falls within that court’s monetary jurisdiction. It is an example of “proportionality”; the judicial process should match the amount in dispute. However, the court must also respect a party’s “legitimate choice” of forum: Reimann v. Aziz, 2007 BCCA 448, 286 D.L.R. (4th) 330 at para. 35.

[10] The burden is on claimants to evaluate their claims prior to commencement and to justify their decision if they recover less than the Small Claims Court limit, currently $25,000:Reimann at para. 38. If plaintiffs fail to sufficiently investigate and assess their claims prior to commencement, they risk not recovering costs. In a personal injury action this may require plaintiffs to obtain medical records and medical reports, to gather evidence to support claims for loss of earnings and earning capacity, and to assess the evidence in support of the claims being advanced before commencing the action.

[11] However, as noted by Justice Savage in Gradek v. DaimlerChrysler Financial Services Canada Inc, 2010 BCSC 356 at para. 19, R. 57(10) contemplates the possibility that factors other than quantum must be considered:

[19]      The proviso in Rule 57(10) is “unless the court finds that there was sufficient reason for bringing the proceeding in Supreme Court and so orders”. The Rule does not define “sufficient reason”. There is nothing in the Rule that limits the extension of the term “sufficient reason” to matters relating to the quantum of the claim.

[12] Factors that can give rise to “sufficient reason” were set out in Kuehne v. Probstl, 2004 BCSC 865 at para. 22, and accepted in Icecorp International Cargo Express Corp. v. Nicolaus, 2007 BCCA 97, 38 C.P.C. (6th) 26 at para. 27. They include:

i. the legal or factual complexity of the case;

ii. the need for discovery of documents and examinations for discovery;

iii. the need for a judgment enforceable outside of British Columbia;

iv. a bona fide preference for a jury trial; and

v. access to the summary trial procedure available in Supreme Court.

Other factors can be the need for the plaintiff to have legal counsel (Faedo v. Dowell, 2007 BCSC 1985 at para. 36; Ostovic v. Foggin, 2009 BCSC 58 at para. 42; Gradek at para. 43), and the defendant’s denial of liability, causation, and injury or loss and allegations of contributory negligence, pre-existing conditions, previous causes and a failure to mitigate (Ostovic at paras. 39-40; Gradek at para. 35).

[13] Therefore, a plaintiff’s evaluation of his or her claim, can also involve an assessment of these factors. Even if the plaintiff assesses the claim to be within the jurisdiction of the Small Claims Court, the plaintiff can rely on these other reasons to commence the action in Supreme Court: Johannson v. National Car Rental (Canada) Inc., 2009 BCSC 1284 at para. 5.

[14] In my opinion, a plaintiff’s simple desire to retain counsel is not in and of itself a sufficient reason for commencing the action in Supreme Court. Other factors, such as those noted above, determine whether retaining counsel is justified.

[15] In Faedo, the plaintiff was in a low impact collision and suffered a soft tissue injury to her neck and back. Justice Vickers found that the case was not that complex and plaintiff’s counsel could not have considered ICBC’s original dispute of liability a serious threat to recovery. However, Justice Vickers concluded that it was reasonable for the plaintiff to have brought her claim in Supreme Court for two reasons: (1) when the action was commenced, the plaintiff believed she was suffering from the accident and her pleadings included a claim for loss of earning capacity and disruption of the ability to earn income; and (2) ICBC put her credibility seriously in issue when it took the position that she had not suffered from any injury or any significant injury. Justice Vickers continued at para. 36:

[36]      … I observed this plaintiff to be very nervous in court. She had no previous experience in court and in my opinion when she was confronted with a case where the defendant represented by counsel was suggesting that she hadn’t been injured at all and this was a low impact accident in which it was suggested she wouldn’t be injured, that the plaintiff reasonably required counsel to represent her and reasonably started an action in the Supreme Court where she could hope to recover some of the cost of retaining that counsel which was necessary for her to properly put her case to get the compensation I have found her entitled to. Furthermore, an offer to settle such as the plaintiff made in this case puts very little pressure upon a defendant to settle where there is no exposure to costs.

[16] In Ostovic, another case arising out of a low impact accident, Justice Savage noted that because the defendant denied liability, causation and special damages, the plaintiff had to prove these issues in court. Because of this, the plaintiff needed to avail himself of pre-trial discovery, which provided important evidence of the speed of impact, the consequences of impact and concern over the plaintiff’s condition. In addition, Justice Savage found at para. 42:

[42]      There is the additional factor that, as in Faedo and Kanani [v. Misiurna, 2008 BCSC 1274], the Plaintiff faced an institutional defendant which, in the ordinary course, has counsel. To obtain any recovery the Plaintiff is forced to go to court, where he is facing counsel and counsel is reasonably required, but in Provincial Court there is no way of recovering the costs of counsel.

[17] In Gradek, before the issuance of the writ, the defendants’ insurers had informed the plaintiffs that their position was the accident did not result in any compensable injury. In their pleadings, the defendants denied liability and injury or loss and alleged contributory negligence, the existence of a pre-existing injury and previous causes, and a failure to mitigate. There was a broad range of findings possible respecting liability. The plaintiff, Henryk Gradek, was a Polish immigrant who spoke halting English. Justice Savage found at para. 42 that “he would have had extraordinary difficulty presenting a case on his own” and would have been “out-matched” by either a lawyer or an ICBC adjustor. The plaintiff needed counsel to obtain a just result and, therefore, had sufficient reason to begin the action in Supreme Court.

[18] Plaintiffs do not have an ongoing duty to reassess their claims as the matter proceeds: Reimann at para. 44. Thus, the court must assess whether a plaintiff had “sufficient reason” to bring the action in Supreme Court when the plaintiff started the action: Ostovic at para. 35. This analysis is necessarily done with the benefit of hindsight since it only occurs after trial or settlement, but the court must be careful not to use that hindsight in deciding what was reasonable: Faedo at para. 28.

[19] It also must be remembered R. 57(10) “does not involve an exercise of discretion.” Rather, “the court must make a finding that there was sufficient reason for bringing the action in the Supreme Court” (emphasis added): Reimann at para. 13.

In my continued effort to cross reference the current Supreme Court rules with the new Rules of Court that come into force on July 1, 2010 I will note that the Current Rule 57(10) will become Rule 14-1(10) and it reads identical to the current rule so the precedents developed under Rule 57(10) regarding costs should continue to assist litigants under our new rules.

More on Low Velocity Impacts and a Legal History Lesson

Yet another “Low Velocity Impact” Injury Claim went to trial and yet again the Court found that a compensable injury existed despite the minimal vehicle damage.
In today’s case (Bourdin v. Ridenour) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2005 Car Crash in Kamloops, BC.  This was a crash that apparently fell into ICBC’s LVI Program as the minimal amount of vehicle damage was stressed at trial by the defence lawyer (the Plaintiff’s vehicle damage cost only $316 to repair). Despite this Madam Justice Hyslop found that the Plaintiff was injured in the crash.  In valuing the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages at $22,500 the Court summarized the Plaintiff’s injuries as follows:

[87] Ms. Bourdin had constant pain for approximately five months after the accident.  However, she acknowledged some improvement during that period.  She was plagued with headaches, the severity of which she had never experienced before.  Dr. Vlahos’ clinical records note that Ms. Bourdin, on February 8, 2008, complained of having a “…new onset of headaches.  Head feels like it is in a vise”.  This description is a similar description of the headaches Ms. Bourdin suffered as a result of the motor vehicle accident.

[88] I do accept that Ms. Bourdin suffered from headaches and that they occurred as a result of the accident.  She has been nauseous and vomited with such headaches, the last of which was two weeks before this trial.  According to Ms. Bourdin, headaches of this nature occurred after the accident.  However, Ms. Bourdin did not describe headaches of this nature to either Dr. O’Farrell or Dr. Travlos.

[89] Ms. Bourdin’s neck, shoulder and mid-back were injured as a result of the accident.  She continues to suffer pain from these injuries today, but they are occasional.  At trial, Ms. Bourdin stated that her neck and shoulder pain are now triggered when she is reaching for something, and sometimes everyday events caused neck and shoulder pain without explanation.  She acknowledged improvement in the spring of 2006 and that this has been ongoing from 2006 to the date of trial.  Her chiropractors, her massage therapists and her comments to Dr. O’Farrell and Dr. Travlos confirm this.  She told Dr. O’Farrell that at the time he examined her, her pain was intermittent.

In discussing the LVI Defence to Injury Claims Madam Justice Hyslop quoted a 2006 case (Jackman v. All Season Labour Supplies Ltd.) in which Mr. Justice Smith of the BC Supreme Court pointed out that the LVI defence is not a principle of law but rather “a creature of policy created by ICBC“.  Specifically Mr. Justice Smith held

[12]      On the issue of vehicle damage, I note the comments of Madam Justice Ballance in Robbie v. King 2003 BCSC 1553, at paragraph 35:

The proposition that a low velocity accident is more or less likely to have a propensity of injury is a creature of policy created by ICBC. Although lack of impact severity is by no means determinative of the issue as to whether a person could have sustained an injury, it is nonetheless a relevant consideration particularly with respect to soft tissue injury. Ultimately, the extent of Ms. Robbie’s injuries are to be decided on the evidence as a whole.

[13]      Although lack of vehicle damage may be a relevant consideration, it has to be balanced against the evidence of the plaintiff and the medical evidence, including the complete lack of any medical evidence to support the assertion that the injuries are inconsistent with vehicle damage.

Now for the legal history lesson:

While it is well accepted by BC Courts that ICBC’s LVI Policy is not a legal defense to a tort claim, rather, vehicle damage is just “a relevant consideration” ICBC Defence Lawyers often quote a 1982 case from the BC Supreme Court (Price v. Kostryba) in which Mr. Justice McEachern quoted another BC Supreme Court decision (Butlar v. Blaylock) in which the Court held that:

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

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

However, this often cited quote comes from a case that was overturned on appeal.  In 1983 the BC Court of Appeal overturned the trial decision of Blaylock and held as follows:

12 With the greatest respect, I am of the opinion that there is no evidence upon which one could reasonably conclude that the appellant did not continue to suffer pain as of the date of the trial. After careful consideration of the expert testimony and the evidence of the appellant and his wife, I have reached the conclusion that the only finding open to the learned trial judge was that as of the date of trial the appellant continued to suffer moderate pain and in the words of Dr. Lehmann, his symptoms “will gradually subside with further time. Having been present for approximately two and a half years, it is doubtful that they will disappear completely.” (underlining mine).

13 There are three basic reasons which, in my view, support the conclusion that the plaintiff continued to suffer pain as of the date of trial. Firstly, the plaintiff testified that he continued to suffer pain. His wife corroborated this evidence. The learned trial judge accepted this evidence but held that there was no objective evidence of continuing injury. It is not the law that if a plaintiff cannot show objective evidence of continuing injury that he cannot recover. If the pain suffered by the plaintiff is real and continuing and resulted from the injuries suffered in the accident, the Plaintiff is entitled to recover damages. There is no suggestion in this case that the pain suffered by the plaintiff did not result from the accident. I would add that a plaintiff is entitled to be compensated for pain, even though the pain results in part from the plaintiff’s emotional or psychological makeup and does not result directly from objective symptoms.
14 Secondly, all of the medical reports support the view that the plaintiff continued to suffer pain and that it was not likely that his symptoms would disappear completely.

15 Thirdly, and of great importance, is the report of Dr. Lehmann, which was not before the learned trial judge for his consideration. In that report, Dr. Lehmann stated that there were degenerative changes in the cervical spine which pre-existed the accident. He said “they were probably asymptomatic before the accident but I think are probably contributing to his prolonged discomfort.” (underlining mine). In my view, as this evidence is uncontradicted, these objective findings cannot be disregarded and should be given great weight.

I hope this ‘history lesson’ helps anyone confronted with ICBC’s LVI Program denying a tort claim because of little vehicle damage.

ICBC Claims, Low Velocity Impacts and Engineering Evidence

Like many insurance companies the ICBC has a “Low Velocity Impact Program” (LVI) where tort claims are denied on the basis of little vehicle damages in collision.
When these claims are prosecuted one of the strategies often used by ICBC defence lawyers is to try to have the trial focus on the amount of vehicle damage sustained in the collision.    This can be done in many ways.  Often the Defendant is called to give evidence on the lack of vehicle damage, photos of the vehicles can be put into evidence and evidence of ICBC Vehicle Repair Estimators is sometimes put before the court.  Sometimes ICBC goes further and retains a professional engineer to give evidence about the amount of force involved in the collision.
British Columbia courts are not always receptive to engineering evidence being permitted in motor vehicle tort claims.  Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court ordering that such a report was indeed inadmissible.  Since the judgement is very succinct and easy to follow I reproduce it in its entirety below:

[1]                The plaintiff applies for an order that the expert report prepared by James Bowler, a professional engineer, not be admitted as evidence on the basis that it is neither relevant nor necessary. 

[2]                Mr. Bowler graduated in 1995 and since then has worked for MEA Forensic Engineers & Scientists.  The report makes the assumption that “the provided materials accurately describe the vehicle damages from this accident.”

[3]                Some of the material that was provided and referred to in the report was a final I.C.B.C. CL14 Repair Estimate and an I.C.B.C. CL14E Low Velocity Impact claim form on the plaintiff’s vehicle, and an I.C.B.C. CL14E Low Velocity claim form on the defendant’s vehicle.

[4]                None of this material is before me.

[5]                The purpose of the report was to prove what speed change occurred when the plaintiff’s vehicle was struck by the defendant’s vehicle.  The vehicles were not examined by the engineer.  He relied entirely upon the photographs and the materials supplied by I.C.B.C.

[6]                Mr. Bowler stated that the impact severity was assessed by comparing the damage in the incident with two staged collisions tests previously conducted by MEA.

[7]                The tests involved a 1985 Mazda RX7 and a 1984 Chevrolet Celebrity.  The plaintiff was driving a Nissan 2002 Sentra GXE 4-door sedan and the defendant was driving a Honda 2005 Element 4-door wagon. 

[8]                The experiment that was conducted by the MEA concluded that on the white Celebrity used in the experiment, which had a mass similar to that of the plaintiff’s vehicle, there was a speed change of 1.3 km/hour. 

[9]                The conclusion reached was that the plaintiff’s vehicle likely sustained a speed change (slowing of 1.3 km/hour to 2.9 km/hour in the accident). 

[10]            The defendant says that the change in speed is a factor that I can consider when determining the injuries suffered by the plaintiff.  However, without medical evidence as to the effect of the change in speed, this information is not of assistance.

[11]            It is trite to say that the opinion expressed by an expert is only as good as the facts that have been proven.  Here, there is no evidence as to the validity of the two-stage collision test conducted by MEA.  There is no evidence as to the qualifications of the people that performed these tests, whether or not this experiment was published in a peer review article, or whether or not Mr. Bowler had anything to do with those experiments.  It seems from the evidence that he did not, as he reviewed two video tapes of these staged collisions.  Additionally, the defendant has not put into evidence the I.C.B.C. Low Velocity Impact claim forms or the repair estimate.

[12]            I find that the report is not admissible.

$30,000 Pain and Suffering for 2 year 'mild to moderate' Soft Tissue Neck Injury

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court awarding a Plaintiff compensation as a result of a 2002 motor vehicle collision.
The collision happened in Victoria.  It was a rear end crash and the Defendant admitted fault.  This appears to be a crash that fit into ICBC’s Low Velocity Impact (LVI) criteria as the vehicles suffered minimal damage.
The Plaintiff claimed significant injury which was on-going more than 5 years post collision which would impact her future earning capacity.  The defence position was that that crash caused a mild soft tissue injury which resolved by October 2003.
The court found that the crashed caused a 2 year soft tissue injury and made the following findings:
[26] I have some difficult in assessing (the Plaintiff’s) evidence.  She describes the resulting dent in her car as huge, yet it does not look like that in the pictures and the cost to repair was estimated at only $53.  She said she was in incredible pain immediately after the accident, yet Ms. Lobb spoke to her and was under the impression everyone was fine.  No ambulance was called, nor did she seek immediate medical attention which I would expect would happen if the pain was immediately “incredible” and “excruciating”.  On the other hand, I have no doubt that (the Plaintiff) suffered pain caused by the accident which, as documented by the medical reports, gradually got worse over the ensuing weeks.  I also have no doubt that (the Plaintiff) continues to have pain to this day – it seems to me on looking at her that it is written in her face.  As Dr. Vincent testified, people do not go for injection therapy unless they have pain.  Furthermore, there is evidence from her mother, her friend and her employers that she is not the high energy person she once was.  The difficulty is to assess the degree to which the collision is the cause of her pain and the true effect of that upon her life.  There is a tendency to attribute a multitude of difficulties following a car accident to that one cause when often there are many…….

[31] (the Plaintiff) bears the onus of proving that the condition for which she seeks compensation was on the balance of probabilities caused by the December 30th, 2002 collision. I  find on the evidence that she did suffer a mild to moderate soft tissue injury to her neck and back as initially diagnosed in her early months of treatment by Dr. Down which was caused by the collision.  I am not persuaded, however, on the balance of probabilities, that her condition caused by the accident injuries extended beyond the two year period initially foreseen by Dr. Down.  She was clearly on a course of recovery in that two year period.  What happened thereafter has not been proven to have been caused by the December 30th, 2002 collision.

[32] I assess (the Plaintiff’s) general damages for a mild to moderate soft tissue injury to her neck and back extending over a period of two years at $30,000.

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

ERIK
MAGRAKEN

Personal Injury Lawyer

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

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