Tag: madam justice baker

Plaintiff Denied Costs for Having No Sufficient Reason to Sue in the Supreme Court

One of the more difficult fact patterns to predict the outcome of is when will a Plaintiff be granted costs when they sue in the BC Supreme Court but are awarded damages below $25,000 (the monetary jurisdiction of the Provincial Court in BC).  You can click here to read archived decisions addressing this.  Adding to these, reasons for judgement were released this week considering such a scenario.
In this week’s case (Akbari v. ICBC) the Plaintiff was injured in a collision caused by an unidentified motorist.  He successfully sued ICBC and was awarded damages of just over $13,000.  Following this the Plaintiff sought costs of $17,000.  Madam Justice Baker denied this finding the Plaintiff had no sufficient reason to sue in Supreme Court. In reaching this conclusion the Court provided the following reasons:
[16]         I am not persuaded that there was sufficient reason to bring this action in Supreme Court.  As the plaintiff submits, the issue of liability was the primary issue at trial.  The Provincial Court is an entirely appropriate forum for determining that issue, the outcome of which largely depended on an assessment of the credibility of the witnesses.
[17]         Ms. Berry of ICBC had no personal knowledge of the circumstances of the accident.  I can surmise that questions put to her on discovery may have related to contact by ICBC representatives with one of the plaintiff’s witnesses, Mr. Nahun Chinchilla, whose testimony I rejected at trial as incredible and unreliable.  Mr. Chinchilla voluntarily contacted both the plaintiff and plaintiff’s counsel and so far as I am aware, volunteered to be interviewed by plaintiff’s counsel prior to trial, so it was not necessary to utilize the Supreme Court Rules to compel his cooperation.
[18]         I am not persuaded that any documents and witness statements provided by the defendant to the plaintiff during the course of pre-trial preparation would not have been supplied by the defendant whether the action had been brought in Supreme Court or in Provincial Court.
[19]         I am not persuaded that there was any reasonable prospect that the plaintiff’s total damages would exceed $25,000.  The special damages and past loss of income were known.  The only head of damages involving uncertainty was non-pecuniary damages. The only medical evidence presented at trial was a report from Mr. Akbari’s family doctor, dated June 2, 2011.  In my view, it should have been obvious to the plaintiff and his counsel, after considering that report, that an award in the range of $25,000 was highly unlikely.
[20]         The report and the opinions expressed in it were sufficiently non-controversial that Dr. Rai was not required to attend for cross-examination.  In Dr. Rai’s opinion, Mr. Akbari suffered soft tissue injuries – described by Dr. Rai as “tendonious strain” affecting Mr. Akbari’s left calf, knee and thigh – from which he had recovered in 8 to 10 weeks.  Mr. Akbari was off work for two weeks, but it was during the Christmas holidays and he had planned to take some vacation during that period in any event.  The injuries caused little disruption to Mr. Akbari, only temporarily interfering with his participation in pick-up soccer games, and his weight-lifting routine at the gym.
[21]         In the plaintiff’s written submissions regarding costs, it was suggested that the concluding paragraph of my trial Reasons, in which I stated that I was not aware of any reason why the plaintiff should not have his costs on Scale B, was a determination of the issue.  That is not correct.  Unless a defendant invokes Rule 14-1, a plaintiff is normally entitled to costs.  Once the Rule is invoked, then the court must consider whether there was sufficient reason to bring the proceeding in the Supreme Court.
The plaintiff shall have disbursements only. 

$25,000 Non-Pecuniary Assessment for Largely Recovered Soft Tissue Injury

A pattern that is sometimes seen with soft tissue injuries is that of significant recovery with a lingering occasional flare up of symptoms.  Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, assessing damages for such an injury.
In this week’s case (Lumley v. Balilo) the plaintiff was involved in a 2009 rear end collision.  The defendant admitted fault.  The Plaintiff suffered soft tissue injuries which largely recovered in 9 months but occasionally flared with activity.  In assessing $25,000 for her non-pecuniary damages Madam Justice Baker provided the following reasons:
[45]         I conclude that Ms. Lumley’s injuries did not incapacitate her from work; or from any of the social and recreational activities she enjoyed before the accident, although discomfort in her neck and back caused her to limit her physical activities for a few months following the accident.  After a few weeks she stopped using prescription medication and relied on occasional use of an over-the-counter analgesic to manage her discomfort.  She had resumed her normal activities by April 2010 – nine months after the accident, although she continued to have stiffness and some discomfort in her neck and muscle tension headaches from time to time.  She was able to combine a full-time job with attendance at a part-time college course to become a physical fitness trainer; and began working as a trainer while completing the course, in addition to working full-time at her regular job.  Although Ms. Lumley testified that she had not improved at all after terminating physiotherapy treatments in February 2010, I conclude that she has made a significant recovery and that her current symptoms are mild and controlled with only occasional use of a non-prescription pain medication…
[57]         Ms. Lumley is a person who enjoyed a high level of fitness before the accident, and derived an important source of enjoyment and satisfaction from her participation in sports and recreational activities.  Ms. Lumley continues to be very fit and active but as a result of the accident, sometimes experiences stiffness or discomfort in her neck; and headaches that her doctor believes are causally related to muscle tension in her neck.  While these residual symptoms are not disabling; they do occasionally interfere with Ms. Lumley’s enjoyment of life and in particular, her enjoyment of the sports and athletic endeavours that are so important to her.
[58]         I am not persuaded, however, that the symptoms are likely to persist in any significant way and that the symptoms Ms. Lumley continues to experience are mild and can be managed with the use of non-prescription analgesics.
[59]         I have considered the authorities cited.  I award Ms. Lumley $25,000 in damages for pain, suffering and loss of enjoyment of life. 

$100,000 Non-Pecuniary Assessment For Pelvic Fracture Leading to Permanent Partial Disability

Adding to this site’s archived cases addressing hip fracture non pecuniary awards, reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, assessing damages for such an injury.
In this week’s case (Dunn v. Lyon) the Plaintiff was injured in a motorcycle collision in 2008.  The Defendant was fully at fault for the incident.  The Plaintiff suffered from various orthopaedic injuries primarily involving her low back and hip.  These went on to pose long term difficulties disabling her from her usual occupation as a server. In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $100,0000 Madam Justice Baker provided the following reasons:
[27]         No medical witness testified at trial and the language used to describe Ms. Dunn’s injuries in the clinical records and in the three expert reports is technical, but counsel agreed that the primary injury can be most briefly described as multiple pelvic fractures.  The fractures and other injuries are summarized on page 4 of Ms. Bos’s report as follows:
– left superior and inferior pubic rami
– right pubic tubercle
– left sacral ala
– left L5 transverse process
– widening of the left SI joint
– displaced bony fragment in the left S3 sacra foramina
– right anterior acetabular rim fracture
– haematomata involving piriformis and iliopsoas muscles
[28]         I infer that none of the fractures, although serious, involved significant displacement, as Dr. O’Brian decided surgery was not required.  Ms. Dunn was admitted to an orthopedic ward for bed rest although permitted to sit up in a chair provided that she did not put weight on the left side of her pelvis.  Her pain was treated with a variety of drugs, including Morphine with Gravol, Oxycodone and Tylenol…
[59]         Not unexpectedly, Ms. Bos’s opinion is that Ms. Dunn does not have the capacity to work either as a waitress or a janitor due to limited standing tolerance, decreased walking speed and limited stooping/bending tolerance.  Her primary limitation, according to Ms. Bos, is “standing/weight bearing tolerance”.   Ms. Bos’s opinion is that Ms. Dunn would benefit from vocational testing and assistance with job search…
[94]         Having considered the authorities referred to and comparing the situations of the plaintiffs in those cases to that of Ms. Dunn, I award $100,000 for non-pecuniary damages.

LVI Defence, Liability Denial and Language Barriers Create Sufficient Reason to Sue in Supreme Court

While the BC Supreme Court Rules generally deprive a Plaintiff of costs who bring an action to trial that could have been brought in small claims court the BC Court of Appeal clarified that having ‘sufficient reason’ to sue in the BC Supreme Court is not limited to quantum of damages alone.  Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, considering some such other factors.
In this week’s case (Bae v. Vasquez) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2010 rear-end collision.  The Plaintiff suffered relatively minor soft tissue injuries.  She sued in the BC Supreme Court and was awarded damages of just over $12,000.  ICBC argued she should not be awarded costs as the action could have been brought in small claims court.  Madam Justice Baker disagreed finding that ICBC’s initial denial of liability, LVI Defence and the Plaintiff’s language barriers were all reasons justifying bringing the action in the Supreme Court.  In awarding costs the Court provided the following reasons:
[69]         I am satisfied that this case had neither legal nor factual complexities that made the Supreme Court a necessary venue.  I have already referred to the fact that a jury trial was not an option in any case; and there will be no need to enforce the judgment outside of the province.
[70]         In some cases, the fact that the plaintiff had difficulty with the English language; and therefore would have difficulty pursuing the claim without the assistance of counsel, has been held to be sufficient reason to proceed in Supreme Court, where the possibility of recovering costs makes it easier for a plaintiff to find counsel willing to act.
[71]         Plaintiff’s counsel submits also that in this case, the defendant denied liability for the accident in the Response to Civil Claim.  Plaintiff’s counsel has advised the Court that prior to the action being commenced, the defendant’s insurer had indicated:
…that due to the “minimal nature of the impact forces involved in the collision”…the Plaintiff had not sustained any “compensable injury”.
[72]         The defendant did not admit liability until January 30, 2012 and even at that date, continued to maintain that the plaintiff had suffered no injury, loss, damage or expense as a result of the accident.
[73]         Plaintiff’s counsel submits that because the defendant was maintaining that the plaintiff’s negligence was the sole cause of the accident, an examination for discovery of the defendant was necessary and that procedure would not have been available to the plaintiff in Provincial Court.  Counsel pointed out that at the plaintiff’s examination for discovery in July 2011, she was asked questions pertaining to liability, including whether she had consumed alcohol or drugs prior to the accident; whether she was familiar with the location where the accident happened; whether her vehicle had been properly maintained and was in proper working order and whether she had a valid driver’s licence at the time.
[74]         It was not until August 18, 2011 – after both the plaintiff and defendant had been examined for discovery – that defendant’s counsel wrote to plaintiff’s counsel suggesting that the action should be heard in Provincial Court and seeking the plaintiff’s consent to transfer the action to that court.  Plaintiff’s counsel replied on September 21, 2011 indicating that if the trial could be heard in Provincial Court in the same time frame as the trial date set in Supreme Court – March 2012 – then the plaintiff would consider the request for a transfer.  Defendant’s counsel was asked to make inquiries to determine when the trial could be heard if transferred to Provincial Court.  No reply was received.
[75]         Ms. Bae testified at trial with the assistance of an interpreter.  She had been examined for discovery without an interpreter and at trial indicated she had misunderstood some of the questions asked of her.  Ms. Bae is not an assertive individual and I am satisfied she would have had considerable difficulty pursuing this action without the assistance of counsel.  Of course, parties may be and often are represented by counsel in Provincial Court, but the unavailability of costs makes it more difficult to find representation.  There was a denial of liability in circumstances where normally liability would be admitted and it was reasonable for the plaintiff to wish to examine the defendant for discovery on the issue of liability – a procedure unavailable in Provincial Court.
[76]         Taking all of these factors into account, I am of the view that there was sufficient reason for the plaintiff to bring her action in Supreme Court.  I award the plaintiff costs, the costs to be governed by Rule 15-1(15).

Hit and Run Identity Obligations Don't Require a Motorist to Go on "A Fool's Errand"

I have written numerous times about ICBC hit and run claims and a Plaintiff’s obligation to make ‘all reasonable efforts’ to identify an unknown motorist prior to being able to successfully sue ICBC for damages.  Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, further addressing this obligation.
In this week’s case (Akbari v. ICBC) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2010 collision in which he struck a light pole.  The Plaintiff alleged an unknown motorist ran a red light forcing him to take evasive action in the agony of collision.  This motorist fled the scene.  Madam Justice Baker accepted this and found that an unidentified driver did indeed cause the collision.
ICBC argued that the Plaintiff’s claim should be dismissed because he failed to make all reasonable efforts to identify the motorist after the fact.  The steps ICBC suggested included staking out the intersection to try and see the vehicle on a subsequent occasion and interviewing residents at a nearby townhouse complex.  Madam Justice Baker found these suggestions to be nothing more than a ‘fool’s errand’ that would be fruitless.  In finding the Plaintiff’s actions reasonable the Court provided the following reasons:
[61]         I am satisfied that Mr. Akbari did make all reasonable efforts to ascertain the identity of the unknown driver in the circumstances that pertained here.  Mr. Akbari’s vehicle could not be driven and he was injured and in pain; he could hardly be expected to attempt to pursue the southbound vehicle on foot.  Mr. Akbari told the attending police officer ? Constable Da Silva ? that another vehicle had been involved and he provided a description of the vehicle as a light-colored – white or silver – small car.  Mr. Perez confirmed the involvement of the other vehicle and the description.  Constable Da Silva obviously considered there to be little or no prospect of locating the suspect vehicle even minutes after it had left the scene; he did make any effort to do so, or to alert other patrol cars to search for the vehicle.
[62]         Mr. Akbari recalls having inquired of Messrs. Shiles at the scene to find out if they had seen the vehicle that crossed his path.  The accident was reported to the defendant as a “hit and run” within two hours after the collision happened.  Both Mr. Akbari and his father provided statements to ICBC.  Upon learning from his counsel of his obligation to attempt to ascertain the identity of the driver who left the scene, Mr. Akbari posted a sign at the intersection asking any witnesses to come forward.  If any part of Mr. Chinchilla’s testimony is to be believed, it is that he saw the sign on the past at the intersection, and it was that sign that prompted him to contact ICBC and, eventually, Mr. Akbari’s counsel.
[63]         Mr. Akbari also contacted Constable Da Silva a few days after the accident and asked whether there was a traffic camera at the intersection where the accident happened.  Constable Da Silva said if there was a camera, it likely took only one photo ? when the light turned green ? but he said he would check and get back to Mr. Akbari.  It was reasonable for Mr. Akbari to assume that there was no camera ? or no useful footage ? when he heard nothing further from Constable Da Silva.
[64]         When Mr. Akbari realized that Ms. Berry did not know about Mr. Chinchilla and his claim to have witnessed the collision, he made sure that Ms. Berry was provided with the phone number he had for Mr. Chinchilla.
[65]         Counsel for the defendant suggested to Mr. Akbari that he should have canvassed the residents of the townhouse complex located near the intersection to search for possible witnesses, but I consider that would have been a fool’s errand.  The photographs of the scene indicate that the townhouse complex is some distance off the roadway and that it is highly unlikely that anyone in the townhouse complex would have been able to see anything happening in the intersection, particularly late at night, when it was dark and raining.  The resident who did call to report the collision only did so because she heard the sound of the crash.
[66]         Counsel also suggested that Mr. Akbari could have staked out the intersection to see if he could spot the vehicle that crossed his path.  Again, this would have been fruitless, I conclude, as neither he nor Mr. Perez was able to recall anything more specific than the fact that the other vehicle was a light-colored small car.
[67]         To summarize, I am satisfied that it is more probable than not that the accident was caused by the negligent actions of an unidentified driver who entered the intersection from 84th Avenue against a red light; and drove across Nordel, cutting off Mr. Akbari’s vehicle when it was so close to the intersection as to pose an immediate hazard.  I am satisfied on the balance of probabilities that Mr. Akbari did not fail to meet the standard of care required of a reasonably prudent motorist when he swerved to avoid colliding with the vehicle crossing his path.
[68]         I am also satisfied that Mr. Akbari made all reasonable efforts to ascertain the identity of the unknown driver; and that the unknown driver’s identity is not ascertainable.

$300,000 Non-Pecuniary Assessment For Severe Brain and Orthopaedic Injuries

The current judicial cap for non-pecuniary damages in Canada for negligently caused injuries rests at  just over $342,000.  Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, discussing whether such an assessment was appropriate for a severe traumatic brain injury coupled with multiple orthopaedic injuries.
In last week’s case (Clost v. Relkie) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2009 collision described by the trial judge as “a shocking scene of mayhem”.  The Plaintiff suffered a severe traumatic brain injury and multiple bone fractures   These disabled her for life from her own occupation as a pharmacy technician.  The Plaintiff’s limitations were profound enough that a Committee was appointed to manage her affairs.  Despite this she made a satisfactory recovery to the point where she gained a fair level of independence in her daily life.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $300,000 Madam Justice Baker provided the following reasons:
[437]     Ms. Clost is seeking an award for non-pecuniary damages at the upper limit set by the Supreme Court of Canada.  Counsel agreed the upper limit, adjusted for inflation, was $342,500 at time of trial.  The defendants submitted that an award of $175,000 to $225,000 would adequately compensate Ms. Clost for the pain, suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life caused by the accident injuries. 
[438]     The submissions made by counsel largely focused on the issue of whether Ms. Clost’s injuries should be characterized as “catastrophic” ? the term most often used by judges who have awarded the upper limit for non-pecuniary damages.  The plaintiff says “catastrophic” is merely a synonym for “severe” or “devastating”; the defendants submit that given the significant recovery Ms. Clost has made, particularly in relation to her cognitive functioning, the injuries have not had a “catastrophic” impact on her life…
[442]     Ms. Clost does not, as did many of the plaintiffs in the cases referred to by plaintiff’s counsel, require constant supervision for her own protection.  She continues to enjoy a considerable degree of independence and to exercise control over most aspects of her life.   She has returned to living in her own home.  She is able to do most activities of daily living without assistance.  She is entirely capable of bathing, toileting, dressing and feeding herself.  She can walk, she can swim, she can drive, she can use a computer; she can cook, she can bake, she can shop ? for necessities and for enjoyment.  She goes out to the library; for lunch and visits with friends.  She can still do many household and outdoor chores although there are also some she cannot do or can only do in a modified way or with assistance.  She has continued to manage her own finances, taking care of banking and bill-paying on-line, as she did before the accident.  She has not demonstrated a propensity to engage in behaviours that make her a danger to herself or others, as was the case with the plaintiffs in Spehar andCoulter.   
[443]     I am of the view, however, that Ms. Clost has experienced pain, suffering and loss of enjoyment of life and will continue to experience losses for which she is entitled to very significant compensation and to an award above the range suggested by defendants’ counsel.  Having considered the various authorities, I have concluded that the appropriate award for non-pecuniary damages in this case is $300,000.
[444]     I have already reviewed the evidence of Ms. Clost’s numerous serious orthopedic injuries and the details of the injuries to her brain.  She was in a coma for a month and only gradually returned to consciousness.  She has a gap in her memory of events for some period before and after the accident.  She required two major orthopaedic surgeries within the month following the accident to repair numerous fractures.  I have concluded she will require at least one and possibly more surgeries in future to fuse the joint in her left foot and ankle; to remove hardware in the ankle and possibly in her wrists as well; and a possible ankle replacement surgery.   Her orthopedic injuries caused her considerable pain; and she was essentially confined to a hospital bed and unable to bear weight or to walk for several months.  There was a period during which she was unable to use her arms due to injuries to her arms, wrists and hands.   
[445]     In total, Ms. Clost was confined to one type of hospital or another for five months following the accident.  Her rehabilitation was ongoing at time of trial.  She continues to have pain or discomfort in many parts of her body.  She has frequent headaches.  The most significant and frequent sources of pain are her left foot and ankle; she also has swelling there and the injury disables her from walking or standing for extended periods of time.  Although a fusion of the joint may reduce the amount of discomfort she experiences, the medical opinions I accept indicate that she is unlikely to be pain-free.  At time of trial she still needed to take strong medications to control her pain and to help her to sleep.   
 

Plaintiff Stripped of Costs for Failing to "Justify His Choice of Forum"

As previously discussed, the default position when a Plaintiff is awarded less than $25,000 following a Supreme Court trial is that they are not entitled to costs unless they show “sufficient reason” for suing in that forum.  Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, addressing this and stripping a Plaintiff of costs who failed to justify his choice of forum.
In this week’s case (Quartey-Harrison v. Klusiewich) the Plaintiff was injured in a motor vehicle collision and following trial was awarded just over $18,000 in damages plus costs “if no submissions (respecting costs) have been received“.
Following this the Defendant provided written submissions arguing the Plaintiff should be deprived of costs because the claim could have been advanced in Provincial Court.  The Plaintiff did not respond to this submission.  Madam Justice Baker stripped the Plaintiff of his costs finding the onus was on him to justify his choice of forum.  The Court provided the following reasons:

[6] The burden is on the plaintiff to justify his choice of forum.  The court is to consider the circumstances at the time the action was commenced.

[7] In this case, Mr. Quartey-Harrison has made no submissions on costs and has offered no evidence on the issue of “sufficient reason” for bringing the proceeding in the Supreme Court.  In the circumstances, I do not think that I should speculate.

[8] In my view, the evidence at trial made it plain and obvious that no award for past or future loss of income or the capacity to earn income, was warranted, and that the mild whiplash type injury suffered by Mr. Quartey-Harrison was unlikely to result in an award in excess of the $25,000 monetary limit in Small Claims Court.

[9] I have carefully considered the submissions made by the defendants in respect of the defendants’ settlement offer but have concluded that Mr. Quartey-Harrison’s right to recover disbursements should not be nullified by the offer.

[10] In summary, each party shall bear its own costs, but the plaintiff is entitled to recover his disbursements from the defendants.

"Prior Consistent Statements" and ICBC Unidentified Motorist Claims


Generally speaking a person is not allowed to call evidence of ‘prior consistent statements‘ at trial.  The reason is because this offends the rule against hearsay and is an improper attempt to bolster witness credibility.  There is a powerful exception to this general rule, however, and this relates to allegations that a witness is fabricating their court-room evidence.   This exception was demonstrated in reasons for judgement released today by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, in a personal injury lawsuit arising from a hit and run accident.
As I’ve previously written, injury victims have the right to sue ICBC for damages when involved in hit and run accidents in BC.  These are commonly referred to as section 24 claims because injury victims involved in unidentified motorist claims gain the right to sue ICBC directly through section 24 of the Insurance (Vehicle) Act.
ICBC often defends section 24 claims by denying the existence of the unidentified motorist and blaming the Plaintiff for their own injuries.  When this happens the ‘recent fabrication‘ exception is triggered in effect opening the floodgates for corroborating evidence at trial.
In today’s case (Jennings v. Doe) the Plaintiff was injured when a tractor trailer cut him off and forced his vehicle off the road.  The Driver of the tractor-trailer left the scene and the Plaintiff could not identify him.  The Plaintiff sued ICBC directly for his injuries.  ICBC defended the claim denying the existence of the tractor trailer.  The Plaintiff attempted to call evidence of prior consistent statements corroborating his courtroom evidence.  ICBC objected arguing this was not permissible.  Madam Justice Baker disagreed and allowed the evidence in.  In doing so the Court gave the following very useful reasons:

[52]         Counsel for the defendants objected to the admission of the testimony of Mr. Simon and Mr. Jennings, Sr., and various documents indicating that Mr. Jennings did, at the earliest opportunity, and consistently since that time, claim that the accident had been caused by the actions of the driver of a tractor-trailer unit.  Counsel submitted, correctly, that previous “consistent” statements of a witness are normally not admissible for the truth of their contents, or to buttress the credibility of a trial witness’ testimony.  The defendants say they are not asserting a “recent” fabrication, although by implication they are asserting that Mr. Jennings has fabricated a story about how the accident happened.

[53]         In my view, earlier decisions of this court establish that in circumstances such as these, the previous out-of-court statements are admissible and relevant not for proof of the truth of the out-of-court statements but to rebut any inference that a claimant is lying because he failed to assert his present version of events at the first and any subsequent opportunity when it would be reasonable to expect him to do so, or had made inconsistent claims in the past about the circumstances of the accident.

[54]         In Vanderbyl v. Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, (1993) 79 B.C.L.R. (2d) (S.C.), at paras. 37 and 38, Mr. Justice Trainor, an experienced trial judge, set out a list of elements to be considered in assessing the credibility of a plaintiff in cases such as these.  Among the elements identified by Justice Trainor were the following:

1.  Whether the plaintiff reported the existence of the unidentified vehicle as soon as reasonably possible to the police or other persons in authority and to I.C.B.C.

2.  Whether the description of the unidentified motor vehicle given by the plaintiff was as specific as might reasonably be expected from the particular plaintiff in the circumstances.

3.  Whether the plaintiff’s testimony at trial is consistent with statements given to the police, doctors or medical attendants, family members, associated or other witnesses or to I.C.B.C.

4.  Whether the plaintiff has called witnesses to testify to whom statements were made or who might testify about the plaintiff’s actions after the incident.

8.  Whether the plaintiff’s actions following the accident are consistent with those one might reasonably expect of a person in similar circumstances.

[55]         In this case, Mr. Jennings reported the existence of the unidentified vehicle as soon as reasonably possible to the police and to the Insurer.  Mr. Jennings told drivers who stopped at the scene and the ambulance attendant ? Mr. Simon ? that a tractor-trailer unit had been involved and he attempted to make a report to police at the scene, but was prevented from doing so by the ambulance personnel who were concerned about his physical injuries.  Mr. Jennings Sr. reported the involvement of a second vehicle to the Boston Bar RCMP Detachment on the day of the accident.  Mr. Jennings Sr. reported the circumstances to the dial-a-claim adjuster by telephone and Mr. Jennings made a statement in person and in writing to an adjuster a few days after the accident.  The evidence of Mr. Simon about Mr. Jennings’ anger and his physical condition when assessed at the accident scene is consistent with what one might reasonably expect of a person in similar circumstances.   I believe Mr. Jennings, and I accept his testimony about how the accident happened.

When advancing a hit and run ICBC claim it is good practice to review hospital, ambulance, police and other records to look for ‘prior consistent statements’ in the event ICBC alleges recent fabrication at trial.

The Important Role of Independent Witnesses in Motor Vehicle Collision Lawsuits


When a crash happens its not unusual for the parties involved to have different versions of who is to blame.  When this occurs determining who will be found at fault in a subsequent lawsuit can be a difficult task.  When there are impartial and independent witnesses, however, the task of picking between differing versions can become easier.  This was demonstrated in reasons for judgement released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry.
In today’s case (Hough v. Dyck) the Parties were involved in a 2007 motor vehicle collision.  The Plaintiff’s pick up truck was rear-ended by the Defendant’s car.  The Plaintiff sued alleging the Defendant was at fault for driving carelessly.  The Defendant disagreed arguing that the Plaintiff cut in front of him and “abruptly stopped” leaving him without adequate time and space to safely bring his vehicle to a halt.
An independent witness to the collision came forward and provided the Court with her account as to what occurred.  She verified the Defendant’s evidence that the Plaintiff cut the Defendant off and then slammed on his brakes.  Ultimately the Court preferred the Defendant’s version of events and dismissed the lawsuit.  In doing so Madam Justice Baker provided the following comments:
[18] (The independent witness) Ms. Maynes testified that near the bottom of the hill, as traffic was approaching 92nd Avenue, she saw Mr. Hough’s vehicle pull across the double solid centre lines into the northbound lane, pass Mr. Dyck’s vehicle, swerve back into the southbound lane and then slam on its brakes.  She saw the brake lights of Mr. Dyck’s vehicle come on and saw the collision.  She said it was a minor impact, because of the relatively slow speed of travel due to heavy traffic….

[21]        I find Mr. Dyck to be a credible witness and I accept his testimony.  I consider Mr. Hough’s testimony to be inaccurate and unreliable.   The testimony of Ms. Maynes supports Mr. Dyck’s testimony that Mr. Hough caused the accident by first passing Mr. Dyck’s vehicle when passing was prohibited, as evidenced by a solid double centre line and then abruptly pulling back into Mr. Dyck’s lane and equally abruptly slamming on his brakes, for no good reason, and when it was foreseeable that a collision would result.  In doing so, he was negligent, and his negligence was the sole cause of the accident.

[22]        I am not persuaded that anything done or omitted to be done by Mr. Dyck caused or contributed to the accident.  He was cut off when Mr. Hough pulled back into his lane of travel and then stopped abruptly.

[23]        It follows that the action must be dismissed.  Mr. Dyck shall have his costs, payable by Mr. Hough, on Scale B.

The lesson motorist should take from this case is that independent witnesses can be vital to the success or failure of a personal injury lawsuit where fault is contested.  Following a collision, if possible, it is a good idea to take down the names and contact information of witnesses to the event prior to leaving the scene of the crash.

More on ICBC Injury Claims and Plaintiff Credibility

As I’ve previously written, Plaintiff credibility plays an important role in most personal injury lawsuits.  This is particularly true in soft tissue injury cases.  Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court highlighting the impact that an adverse finding of credibility can have on a claim.
In today’s case (Sarowa v. Gill) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2006 motor vehicle collision in the lower mainland.  The defendant lost control of his vehicle and entered the Plaintiff’s lane of travel causing an impact which resulted in “significant damage” to the Plaintiff’s vehicle.  Fault was admitted focusing the trial on the value of the Plaintiff’s personal injury claim.
The Plaintiff gave evidence that that she suffered various soft tissue injuries which continued to bother her by the time of trial.  This was supported by the evidence of a physiatrist.  However, the Physiatrists evidence was not accepted by the Court because of  “deficiencies, omissions, and factual errors in (the doctor’s) report“.
Instead the Court preferred the evidence of Dr. Boyle, an orthopaedic surgeon ICBC arranged for the Plaintiff to see.  Dr. Boyle’s evidence included the following damaging observations:
Dr. Boyle’s opinion was that she had suffered a myofascial strain of the cervical and lumbar muscles as a result of the accident, but that the injury was mild.  He observed Ms. Sarowa to display exaggerated “pain behaviour” throughout the interview and examination.  He noted that she moaned, groaned and grimaced.  He said that patients who are in pain generally avoid a lot of movement in order to avoid discomfort, but Ms. Sarowa was restless.  When she was specifically asked to demonstrate range of motion it appeared quite limited, but she demonstrated a much freer range of motion spontaneously during the interview and other parts of his assessment.  He said that she could freely straight-leg raise from a sitting position, but couldn’t bend forward when standing ? an inconsistent presentation from an anatomical point of view.
The Court went onto to award little in the way of damages and in doing so made the following findings about the Plaintiff’s credibility:

[68]         Ms. Sarowa testified that she has not fully recovered from her accident injuries and continues to have neck and back discomfort, and frequent headaches.  As is usually the case, much of the plaintiff’s case rests on the extent to which the plaintiff is found to be a credible witness.  In this case, Ms. Sarowa was a less than satisfactory witness.  She was frequently evasive and non-responsive.  She was unable, or declined, to explain why she had claimed to be separated from her husband on December 31, 2007 when filing her 2007 tax return; but claimed at trial that she and her husband were back together at that time.

[69]         If she was being truthful at trial about the severity and duration of her accident injuries, than I would have to conclude that she omitted relevant information about her health when she applied for the job at Tim Horton’s in April 2007, and was deliberately untruthful when she applied for work at Brinks in September 2008.  I think it more likely that she was exaggerating the severity and duration of her injuries when testifying here at trial; as the evidence of her employers at Tim Horton’s and Brinks indicates she did not, in fact, demonstrate any difficulty with the physical performance of her job duties.

For those interested in this topic, this case is worth reviewing in full to get a sense of some of the factors courts look to when weighing a Plaintiff’s credibility in a soft tissue injury prosecution.

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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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