Tag: Madam Justice Griffin

More on ICBC Injury Claims and Video Surveillance; "Golden Years" Doctrine Discussed


As I’ve previously written, video surveillance in and of itself does not harm a persons ICBC claim, being caught in a lie does.  Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, demonstrating this fact.
In today’s case (Fata v. Heinonen) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2006 BC collision.  Fault was admitted.  The Plaintiff suffered several injuries including “an obvious impingement syndrome at the shoulder“.  The Defendant disputed the severity of the Plaintiff’s injuries at trial.  Instead of relying on independent medical evidence, the Defendant sought to harm the Plaintiff’s case by relying on video surveillance which was taken the year following the collision.
The surveillance showed the Plaintiff doing various activities such as grocery shopping and unloading and loading objects into his vehicle.  This video surveillance did not harm the Plaintiff’s claim.  Why?  Because it did not show anything that contradicted the Plaintiff’s evidence at trial.  In explaining why the surveillance did not harm the Plaintiff’s claim Madam Justice Griffin held as follows:

[45] The videotape surveillance was not inconsistent with Mr. Fata’s evidence or that of his physicians.  Mr. Fata’s evidence was that his physicians and physiotherapist had recommended that he continue to use his left arm and shoulder, and that he attempts to do so.  No one has suggested that he has no use of his left arm and shoulder.   Neither Mr. Fata nor the physicians, who gave expert opinions on his behalf, suggested any marked limitation in Mr. Fata’s range of motion.  His primary complaint is that he has pain when he uses his left arm and shoulder.  The videotape did not disprove this evidence, nor did it seriously cast doubt on it.  A videotape cannot capture all pain but may illustrate signs of severe pain, for example, if the person being watched grimaces on doing certain activities.  Mr. Fata was not displaying obvious signs of pain.  The videotape perhaps illustrates that whatever pain Mr. Fata might have with ordinary day-to-day activities is manageable.

[46] I have concluded from reviewing the videotape evidence carefully and considering Mr. Fata’s explanations of it, as well as from my review of the medical evidence and Mr. Fata’s evidence of his ongoing symptoms, that Mr. Fata does continue to suffer ongoing symptoms in his left arm and shoulder that were caused by the motor vehicle accident of November 13, 2006.  Given the passage of time, it is likely these symptoms will continue indefinitely.  These symptoms are not severe, as Mr. Fata still has use of his left arm and can do most activities.  However, the symptoms are such that Mr. Fata does suffer pain with the use of his left arm and particularly with excessive use or lifting his arm over his shoulder.  The pain restricts him from some of these types of activities he might otherwise do.

The Court went on to award the Plaintiff $45,000 in non-pecuniary damages for his soft tissue injuries and shoulder impingement.

This case is also worth also worth reviewing for the Court’s explanation of the “Golden Years” doctrine.

  • The “Golden Years Doctrine” Explained

In personal injury claims BC Courts recognize that no two cases are exactly alike and the assessment of non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) depends on the unique facts of any given case.

One principle that is sometimes used in assessing non-pecuniary damages is the “Golden Years” doctrine.  This principle recognizes the fact that the retirement years are particularly special and an injury affecting a person in their golden years may warrant a greater award for non-pecuniary damages.  Madam Justice Griffin succinctly summarized this principle as follows:

[88] The retirement years are special years for they are at a time in a person’s life when he realizes his own mortality.  When someone who has always been physically active loses his physical function in these years, the enjoyment of retirement can be severely diminished, with less opportunity to replace these activities with other interests in life.  Further, what may be a small loss of function to a younger person who is active in many other ways may be a larger loss to an older person whose activities are already constrained by age.  The impact an injury can have on someone who is elderly was recognized in Giles v. Canada (Attorney General), [1994] B.C.J. No. 3212 (S.C.), rev’d on other grounds (1996), 21 B.C.L.R. (3d) 190 (C.A.).

[89] In short, it is Mr. Fata’s loss of enjoyment of life in recreation, home chores, and work that should be compensated for in an award for non-pecuniary damages…

[91] On the facts of this case, where Mr. Fata has suffered a loss of some enjoyment of life in every aspect of his life, I conclude that an appropriate award for non-pecuniary damages is $45,000.

ICBC Injury Claims and Unfair Settlements – Getting The Adjusters Evidence


Buyer’s Remorse – that’s the feeling of regret people sometimes get after making a big purchase or an important decision.  When people settle their ICBC Injury Claim they sometimes get buyer’s remorse.  They can regret the settlement and wish they could undo it.
In most circumstances an ICBC Injury Settlement can’t be set aside after a full and final release has been signed.  Sometimes though, in circumstances such as fraud or unconsionability, these settlements can be undone.
Reasons for judgement were released today dealing with an interesting issue in the context of a case alleging an unfair ICBC settlement.   In today’s case (Coates v. Triance) the legal issue was whether a Plaintiff could examine the ICBC adjuster under oath before the trial began to discuss the circumstances of a supposed settlement.
The Plaintiff was involved in a motor vehicle accident in 1999.  In May of 2000 the plaintiff apparently signed a full and final release.  The Plaintiff was 19 at the time.  The Plaintiff later sued the alleged at fault motorist.  That motorist was insured with ICBC.  In the Statement of Defence the defendant stated that the claim was already settled.  The Plaintiff responded that the release should be set aside because the “settlement was manifestly unfair and unconsionable”.
As the lawsuit progressed the Plaintiff’s lawyer wished to examine the ICBC adjuster involved in the settlement discussions under oath.  The ICBC adjuster refused and a Court motion was brought to compel the examination.  The motion was granted and the Court ordered that the ICBC adjuster undergo a pre-trial examination to canvass the details of the supposed settlement.  The highlights of Madam Justice Griffin’s reasons were as follows:

[5] Thus, a key factual issue in this case on the pleadings is whether a settlement and release procured by ICBC from the plaintiff, when she was 19 and unrepresented, should be set aside.  As mentioned, the witness, Ms. Lo, is the adjuster who procured the settlement, and the plaintiff’s position is that she acted inappropriately.

[6] Ms. Lo was a participant in a key factual event in question in this case.  What she knows and does not know about the circumstances of her dealings with the plaintiff and the settlement and release relates to a material issue at trial: the enforceability of that settlement and release.

[7] Sometimes it is preferable to deal with a non-party witness by written questions and answers.  But the fact that a witness is willing to proceed this way is not a complete answer to an application for a Rule 28 examination.  In this regard, I refer to the case of Cheema v. Kalkat, 2009 BCSC 736.

[8] Here there is evidence of the questions posed in writing and the written answers.  There were 200 questions.  I find the answers provided by Ms. Lo to be not responsive in a way which will help the plaintiff learn sufficient information to be able to assess the merits of the issue of whether or not there was an enforceable settlement and release.  The responses provided by Ms. Lo leave many questions unanswered on the material factual issues to which she was a witness.  Many responses are superficial and unhelpful.

[9] I conclude that if the plaintiff does not have the opportunity to examine this witness, the plaintiff cannot assess her case before trial and therefore cannot form an informed view and possibly settle the case, and the plaintiff could be taken by surprise at trial…

[14] There is no question that an examination of Ms. Lo will assist in a determination of the proceeding on the merits.  She is a key witness to events that form a central issue in the case.

[15] There is also no question that an examination of her will be just.  She is not prejudiced in any way.  Her involvement in the material events arose in the course of her employment with ICBC, which continues to be her  place of employment. Her evidence on these matters will not be personally embarrassing or tread on an area of her own personal privacy.  On the other hand, the plaintiff could be prejudiced if she is not allowed to investigate and explore Ms. Lo’s evidence in advance of trial.

[16] Here, I consider that a Rule 28 examination will be the most speedy and inexpensive way of proceeding to determine this case on its merits.  The written questions and answers exchanged already clearly reveal to me that the questions for Ms. Lo involve a scope of examination that is appropriate but that is most efficiently conducted by oral examination rather than by written questions and answers.  I am satisfied that more time will be taken up by lawyers drafting further written questions and drafting written responses than would be taken up by a Rule 28 examination…

[21] In this case, the most efficient way of proceeding so as to allow the merits of the issues in the case to be ultimately determined, would be by way of a free-flowing examination of the witness as counsel for the plaintiff sees fit, rather than requiring the plaintiff to follow the court’s checklist of acceptable and unacceptable questions.

[22] As noted in Yemen Salt Mining Corp. v. Rhodes-Vaughan Steel Ltd. (1977), 3 B.C.L.R. 90 at 100, a Rule 28 examination may extend to all that is relevant generally to all parties in the action.

[23] Therefore, in allowing the plaintiff’s application, I make no ruling on the acceptability of particular questions in the previously provided list of questions or on the validity of any objections to those questions.

Now to Cross-Reference:  Do the New BC Supreme Court Civil Rules change the law relating to pre-trial examination of witnesses?  Not really.  Rule 28 is reproduced almost identically in the New Rules and can be found at Rule 7-5.  The requirements mirror the current wording of the rule so this case ought to retain it’s value as a precedent after the New Rules come into force.

BC Injury Claims and the Rule Against "Case Splitting"


When an ICBC or other injury claim goes to trial the Plaintiff needs to prove their case.   In the most basic terms this means that in a tort claim fault needs to be established along with the nature and extent of the accident related injuries and the losses that these have caused.  The Plaintiff normally does this in what’s called the Plaintiff’s ‘case in chief‘.  If the Plaintiff fails to call evidence on any of these points the case can be dismissed on a ‘no-evidence‘ motion.
Once the Plaintiff finishes calling his/her case the defence has the opportunity to call evidence to contradict the Plaintiff’s case or in support of theirs.  A Plaintiff can then call ‘rebuttal evidence‘ and this is something that often occurs in injury litigation when the Defence calls medical experts with conflicting opinions about the cause of the Plaintiff’s injuries.
There are limits on rebuttal evidence, however, and one such limit is that the evidence called in rebuttal must be truly responsive to the other sides case as opposed to addressing the points that needed to be proven in the ‘case in chief‘.  If a court concludes that rebuttal evidence is not truly responsive a court can keep it from going in.  Reasons for judgement were released today discussing this point of civil procedure.
In today’s case (Bransford v. Yilmazcan) the Plaintiff was injured in a motor vehicle collision.  In her case in chief she called evidence discussing her accident related injuries which apparently included Thoracic Outlet Syndrome and Headaches.  The Defendants then called their expert (Dr. Makin) who addressed the cause and prognosis of the Plaintiff’s injuries.
The Plaintiff then wished to call Drs. Prout and Caillier to give rebuttal evidence.   The Defendants objected arguing that the evidence was not truly responsive and the Plaintiff was attempting to ‘split her case‘.  Madam Justice Griffin agreed that some of the evidence was indeed not true rebuttal evidence and did not allow portions of the proposed evidence in.  Specifically she found that the proposed evidence diagnosing accident related Thoracic Outlet Syndrome and Headaches could have been called in the Plaintiff’s case in chief.  Madam Justice Griffin held as follows:

[6] First, Dr. Makin was asked a number of questions in his direct evidence regarding definitions of thoracic outlet syndrome, including the question “What are two types of thoracic outlet syndrome that involve nerves?”  His evidence was that one, the type that involves nerves, is true neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome, and that is the only type that involves the nerves.  He said a different type, disputed thoracic outlet syndrome, is a type diagnosed by vascular surgeons, and that neurologists do not agree with that classification.

[7] The implication of his evidence, including other questions he was asked in direct about how he conducted his tests, was that neurologists as a group are of the view that provocative testing reveals no clinically helpful information in diagnosing thoracic outlet syndrome and that they are opposed to vascular surgeons reaching this diagnosis.

[8] In my view this is a proper basis for rebuttal evidence on this narrow point; i.e., is a neurologist of the opinion that there can be a diagnosis of thoracic outlet syndrome in the absence of positive signs and a nerve conduction study?  And, is a neurologist of the opinion that provocative testing can be helpful in diagnosing this?

[9] The plaintiff cannot have been in a position to respond to the suggestion that neurologists do not hold that opinion as a group until the defence witness was heard on that point.  Indeed, arguably this point could not have been anticipated as it was not specifically identified in Dr. Makin’s report.

[10] I therefore conclude that it would be appropriate for the plaintiff to call rebuttal evidence of Dr. Prout to respond to this point, since Dr. Prout is a neurologist.

[11] However, Dr. Prout goes beyond this in his report and does his own evaluation and diagnosis of Hanna Bransford for thoracic outlet syndrome.  I am of the view that this goes further than proper rebuttal and runs the risk of splitting the plaintiff’s case, and so it is not appropriate.

[12] Second, Dr. Makin performed what were referred to as inching studies as part of his nerve conduction studies and reached a different diagnosis than the plaintiff’s physicians and experts, namely he diagnosed a problem with Ms. Bransford’s ulnar nerve.  I am of the view this is an appropriate matter for rebuttal evidence, namely an analysis of Dr. Makin’s nerve conduction studies and any comment disputing his findings and any contrary inching studies regarding the ulnar nerve.  This evidence would not be splitting the plaintiff’s case because the plaintiff does not assert that her diagnosis has anything to do with her ulnar nerve.

[13] I also note that the oral evidence of Dr. Makin reporting on these studies is not significantly narrowed from the point he makes in his written report and the defendants had agreed earlier that this was the proper subject of the rebuttal reports of Dr. Caillier and Dr. Prout.

[14] Further, the plaintiff could not properly have anticipated this evidence in its entirety until it was called from Dr. Makin.

[15] As for Dr. Makin’s evidence on headaches, I am of the view this is not the proper subject of rebuttal evidence, at least insofar as revealed in Dr. Prout’s report.  Headaches have always been part of Ms. Bransford’s symptoms and we have heard one plaintiff’s witness, Dr. O’Connor, describe them as cervicogenic.  Dr. Makin disagrees and describes them as migraine.  Dr. Prout does not point out any flaw in Dr. Makin’s science from a neurologist’s perspective, but really just gives an opposite opinion, an opinion that could have been given in the plaintiff’s main case.  The plaintiff was in a position to respond to the labelling of Ms. Bransford’s headaches as cervicogenic or migraine prior to the close of its case as it had notice of Dr. Makin’s description of the headache as migraine.

More on BC Injury Claims and Mode of Trial

Further to my previous post about parties flip-flopping on their choice to have a Trial by Jury in a BC Injury Claim reasons for judgement were released today considering the issue of “whether or not a party who has taken the necessary two steps to require a trial by jury…can change that mode of election before the trial commences“.
In today’s case (Iskum v. Badali) the Plaintiff was involved in two motor vehicle collisions.  The Plaintiff sued and both cases were set for trial.  The defence lawyers in each lawsuit filed Jury Notices within the time frames required.    The Defendants paid the Jury fees as required by the Rules of Court.  Late in the litigation new defence lawyers were appointed and 10 days before trial they told the Plaintiff’s lawyer that they intended to have this matter tried before a judge without a jury.  The Plaintiff objected arguing that it was too late for the defendant to change their mind.
Madam Justice Griffin agreed with the Plaintiff and reasoned as follows:

[10] Here, the plaintiff did not exercise any right to trial by jury.  The plaintiff simply did not contest the defendants’ election of trial by jury.

[11] Thus, the issue before me does not have to do so much with a party’s right to a jury trial, rather, it has to do with a party’s right to know the mode of trial no later than 30 days before trial.  The issue properly framed is whether or not a party who has taken the necessary two steps to require trial by jury, as set out in Rule 39(26), can later change that mode of election before the trial commences…

[30] I find that by taking the two steps set out in Rule 39(26), the defendants “required a jury,” and therefore the payment of the subsequent fees is mandatory pursuant to s. 17 of theJury Act.

[31] The defendants suggest that having paid the first set of fees, they can decide to not pay the second set of fees simply by giving notice to the sheriff that they no longer require a trial by jury.  They suggest that s. 19 indicates that the trial judge has discretion to allow this.

[32] I find that s. 19 of the Jury Act does not give a party who has elected trial by jury the right to simply give notice that it will not pay the jury fees required on a daily basis and thereby unilaterally un-elect the mode of trial by jury.  Rather, the payment of those fees is mandatory and only if they are not paid will the sheriff bring this to the attention of the court to make such order as the court considers just.  This preserves the court’s inherent jurisdiction to control its own process, but does not confer a procedural right on a party to simply “un-elect” trial by jury by not paying subsequent fees.

[33] Here, the defendants attempted to unilaterally un-elect trial by jury within 10 days of the trial starting by simply advising the sheriff and the other side that they no longer wished to proceed by trial by jury.  I conclude that the Rules of Court do not allow for such a re-election within 30 days before trial.  I find that the defendants had no authority to do so under theRules of Court.

[34] It is clear that the Rules of Court do not allow for a party to elect trial by jury late in the process.  This election must be made within strict time limits set out in Rule 39(26).

[35] The mode of trial is very relevant to how the parties will prepare for trial and is also relevant to settlement discussions before trial.  The Rules of Court as a whole recognize that it is not efficient to conduct civil trials by ambush.  Civil trials are more efficient and settlement is more likely if parties have advance notice of not just the case they have to meet, but the mode of trial.  The 30-day notice period in Rule 39(26) is there to provide parties with some certainty as to the mode of trial with a goal of efficient resolution of disputes.

[36] As noted by Mr. Justice Taylor of our Court of Appeal in Hoare v. Firestone Canada Inc. (1989), 42 B.C.L.R. (2d) 237 at 241:

The learned judge very properly emphasized the importance of the right to elect for jury trial.  But on a broad consideration of the rules and authorities which has been possible in these appeal proceedings I have concluded that the election is intended to be made once only, at a particular stage, and for good reason.  If the trial may be before judge and jury, rather than judge alone, that is generally an important consideration for both parties in preparation of the case and perhaps, indeed, in the selection of counsel.  It is, I think, for these reasons that the rules require the election to be made, once for all, soon after the action is set down, instead of leaving the parties free to elect thereafter on the basis of later developments.

[37] As a matter of common sense and in light of the clear purpose of the Rules of Court to avoid trial by ambush, the time limits imposed on the mode of selection of trial apply whether the mode of trial is by jury or is by judge alone.  I conclude that were it intended to be otherwise, there would be an express provision in the Rules of Court, pursuant to which a party could unilaterally elect to proceed by judge alone, despite having elected trial by jury by meeting the requirements of Rule 39(26) at least 30 days before trial.  There is no such provision.

[38] Rather, once the election has been made and has crystallized by the taking of the two steps set out in Rule 39(26) at least 30 days prior to trial, the only basis for a party to set aside the election of trial by jury is pursuant to Rule 39(27) on the basis that the case is unsuitable for trial by jury.

[39] On its face, Rule 39(27) would seem to apply only to the party who has received the jury notice.  However Rule 35(4) provides that the court, on its own motion or on the motion of any party, may order that the trial proceed without a jury on any of the grounds set out in Rule 39(27).  In this regard, see Robitaille v. Vancouver Hockey Club Ltd. (1979), 12 B.C.L.R. 335 (S.C.), aff’d 14 B.C.L.R. 377 (C.A.).

[40] This brings me back to the B.C. Court of Appeal decision in Molnar.  I conclude that having elected trial by jury, the defendants must proceed with a jury unless they can discharge the onus of proving that this matter is not suitable for a jury on the grounds set out in Rule 39(27).

[41] Here, the defendants did not apply at this pre-trial conference to set aside the jury notice, and advanced no argument based on the grounds set out in Rule 39(27).  It is clear that the defendants simply asserted that they had a right to re-elect trial by judge alone at any time prior to the start of trial.  I have found that the Rules of Court do not permit this.

This is the first case that I am aware of dealing with these specific facts making this case a useful precedent.  Now the question is will this precedent continue to be useful once the new BC Supreme Court Civil Rules come into force?

The answer appears to be yes.  This case turned on the Court’s interpretation and application of Rule 39(26).  This rule is replaced in the New BC Supreme Court Civil Rules at Rule 12-6(3) which is almost identical to the current rule in its language and requirements (there are some minor changes in the timelines involved but otherwise the rules appear identical).  If a party wants to change their minds after filing a Jury Notice they better do so before paying the Jury Fees otherwise it appears to be too late.

To read my other posts cross referencing the current Rules with the New BC Supreme Court Rules simply click here or on the New BC Supreme Court Rules tag below.

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!”
Erik’s Philosophy

Disclaimer