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Tag: Madam Justice Humphries

$65,000 Non-Pecuniary Damage Assessment For Chronic Pain; Adverse Inference Discussed

Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, awarding damages for chronic pain following a motor vehicle collision.
In this week’s case (Azuma-Dao v. MKA Leasing Ltd.) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2008 rear-end collision.  Fault was admitted by the rear motorist.  Following the crash the Plaintiff suffered from chronic pain from soft tissue injuries possibly with “spinal facet joint or disk pathology”.  Her injuries compromised her ability to work in her chosen profession and, despite room for improvement, were expected to continue to cause problems for the foreseeable future.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $65,000 Madam Justice Humphries provided the following reasons:

[80] The plaintiff’s life has changed substantially as a result of the accident, and she suffers chronic pain.  From a fit, very active person, she has become withdrawn, moody, and deconditioned.  Her friends and her husband find her to be a different person, no longer active and happy go lucky.  She endures pain every day, but she works very hard at her exercises.  Her work with disabled adults was very important to her and required a fit strong body, which she no longer has.  Despite her withdrawal, she maintains a social life, but the activities she and her friends do are now more sedentary.

[81] I set her non-pecuniary damages at $65,000

Another point of interest was the Court’s discussion of the Adverse Inference principle.  In the course of the lawsuit the Plaintiff obtained and produced clinical records from her GP.  She did not call the doctor in support of her case.  The Defendant argued that an adverse inference should be drawn but the Court refused to do so finding that it was open to the Defendant to call this physician if they wished.  Madam Justice Humphries provided the following reasons:

[45] I will mention the issue of adverse inference at this point.  Since all of Dr. Frank’s clinical notes were provided to the defence and Ms. Azuma-Dao admitted the relevant portions on cross-examination, I am not prepared to draw an adverse inference against the plaintiff for failing to call Dr. Frank, who was of course available to either side and was in fact on the defendants’ witness list.  However, since the defence gained what they required on cross-examination of the plaintiff, they cannot be faulted either for not calling Dr. Frank.

Formal Settlement Offers and Costs: A Matter of Discretion

As recently discussed, costs consequences following trial where a formal settlement offer is not beat is a matter of judicial discretion.  While the principles behind the exercise of that discretion are reasonably well formulated the costs results can be a little trickier to predict.  Two sets of reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court demonstrating this discretion in action.
In the first case (Khunkhun v. Titus) the Plaintiff advanced a personal injury claim in excess of one million dollars.  She claimed she suffered from “a significant and disabling vestibular injury” as a result of a collision.  The jury largely rejected the Plaintiff’s sought damages and awarded $45,000.
ICBC made a more generous settlement offer prior to trial which the Plaintiff did not accept (about 30% higher than the jury award).   As a result, Mr. Justice Willcock stripped the Plaintiff of her costs from the time of the offer onward.  The Court did not go so far as to order that the Plaintiff pay the Defendant costs finding that it would be unjust.  Mr. Justice Willcock repeated the following reasoning from Madam Justice Humphries in Lumanlan v. Sadler:
Given the significant injury to the plaintiff, which was caused by the defendant’s foolish and reckless behaviour, and the effect on the award of a further reduction for costs, even if not doubled, and taking into account all of the above considerations, in my view it would not be fair or just to require the plaintiff to pay ICBC’s costs after the date of the offer.
In the second case released this week (Mazur v. Lucas) the Plaintiff was awarded $538,400 following a jury trial to compensate her for injuries sustained in a collision.  ICBC appealed and succeeded in having a new trial ordered.
Prior to the second trial ICBC made a formal settlement offer of $300,000.  The Plaintiff rejected this and proceeded to trial again.   This time the jury came in lower awarding $84,000 in damages.
ICBC brought an application seeking costs for both trial.  The result of this would have been financially significant.    Madam Justice Humphries declined to allow this and instead awarded the Plaintiff costs for both trials despite not besting ICBC’s offer.  In exercising its discretion the Court provided the following reasons:
[62] This court has stated many times that parties should be encouraged to settle, and if unreasonable in not doing so, may be punished in costs.  As well, the fact that an award of costs against a party may wipe out their award of damages is not determinative.  However, given all the circumstances that existed at the time the offer was made which did not change throughout the trial, I am not persuaded that the plaintiff ought to be denied her costs on the basis that she ought reasonably to have accepted the offer that was made twelve days before the trial began.  Having in mind the amount of the first award, the narrow issue upon which a new trial was ordered, the amount of the second offer, and the expected similarity of the evidence at the second trial, the plaintiff was reasonable in deciding not to accept the offer and to have the action adjudicated by a second jury.
In addition to this final result, this case is worth reviewing for the Court’s discussion of advance payment orders.  Prior to the second trial ICBC paid the Plaintiff $250,000 in exchange for a stay of execution so the Plaintiff would not collect the damages from the Defendants personally.  Madam Justice Humphries found that an advance payment after judgement should not be factored into a costs assessment.  The Corut provided the following reasons:

[14] The defendants argue that the plaintiff should be deprived of her costs of the second trial as of December 24, 2009, the date on which the negotiated agreement was signed.  They cite cases dealing with situations in which awards at trial are less than an advance, and in which plaintiffs have been deprived of costs as of the date of the advance (McElroy v. Embelton (1996), 19 B.C.L.R. (3d) 1 (B.C.C.A.); Baxter v. Brown (1997), 28 B.C.L.R. (3d) 351 (B.C.C.A.).

[15] However, those cases are all advances before trial.  The basis on which the Court of Appeal in those cases concluded that the date of the advance was relevant to costs was because the plaintiff “had in hand more at the start of the action than the amount of the jury’s verdict.” (see McElroy).  The plaintiff, upon receipt of an advance, must realistically assess his or her claim knowing that proceeding to trial carries a risk in costs (Carey v. McLean, 1999 BCCA 222).

[16] This advance was one paid to avoid execution on an existing judgment, pending an appeal that would proceed regardless of whether the plaintiff wished to accept the money in final settlement of the action or not.  That option was not open to her.  The agreement signed by the plaintiff required repayment if a new trial were ordered and the results were not favourable to her, but did not give her the option of accepting the money and ending the proceedings.  This advance payment, unlike those in the cases cited by the defendant, is not the equivalent of an offer to settle.

[17] The date of the advance is not appropriately considered in these circumstances.

"Very Faint Small" Waiver Agreement Held Unenforceable

Reasons for judgment were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, finding that a waiver of a Plaintiff’s right to sue was not enforceable where the agreement was set out in a “very faint small red type“.
In this week’s case (Arndt v. The Ruskin Slo Pitch Association) the adult Plaintiff joined a recreational soft ball league.   Prior to playing the Plaintiff filled out and signed a roster.  At the bottom of the roster was a clause stating “I agree to waiver” the terms of which were set out on the back of the roster.
The Plaintiff was injured in the course of one of her games.  She sued for damages.  The Defendant applied to dismiss the claim relying on the waiver arguing that “the Plaintiff cannot escape from the consequences of the waiver merely by stating that she thought she was signing a roster and did not appreciate it was also a waiver“.
Madam Justice Humphries disagreed and found in these circumstances the waiver should not be enforceable.  In dismissing the Defendant’s motion the Court provided the following reasons:
[36] On the affidavit and discovery evidence before me, I accept that the plaintiff thought she was signing a team roster and that she did not know it was a waiver of liability.  However, the defendants are correct in stating that that is not the end of the enquiry. ..

[44] The document, looked at on its face, does not appear to be a waiver.  It appears to be a roster.  The attention of the person asked to sign it as a roster would inevitably be drawn to the lines in the box for the team signatures and information.  While there is red type above the box requiring the person to “READ AND UNDERSTAND BACK OF PAGE BEFORE SIGNING” there was, on the evidence on this application, no direction or information given by the coach who presented the document attached to a clipboard, to be handed around and signed by the team at the first practice.  The words “I agree to waiver” on the signature lines are so faint as to almost undetectable.  Unlike the waivers that have been held to be enforceable in the cases referred to above, the release is not a separate sheet and the waiver and signature are not on the same page.  The back of the form requires the coach to advise the people on the list that they are fully responsible for any damages “incurred by them”.  That was not done, nor was any step taken by the defendants to ensure it had been done.

[45] If the defendants wanted to ensure that they were released from liability it would be a simple matter to have individual release forms prepared and signed by each player.  The defendants had no means of determining if the plaintiff understood the document because they did not present it to her, leaving its nature to be explained by coaches or managers who did not do so.  The form of the document itself and the circumstances under which it was presented for signature are not such that a reasonable observer would understand its nature.  I am unable to conclude that the defendants took reasonable steps to have the nature of the document as a waiver rather than a team roster brought to the plaintiff’s attention.

[46] I conclude, on the information before me, that the waiver is not enforceable against the plaintiff.  It is not necessary to deal with the plaintiff’s additional arguments respecting consideration and the failure to date the document.

Paragraph 27 of this case is worth reviewing for the Court’s short and helpful summary of 8 other BC cases dealing with waivers.

$75,000 Non Pecuniary Assessment for Chronic Low Back and Shoulder Soft Tissue Injuries

Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, assessing damages for a chronic shoulder and low back injury caused by a motor vehicle collision.
In this week’s case (Juraski v. Beek) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2007 collision.  Fault was admitted by the Defendant.  The Plaintiff suffered a chronic shoulder injury which remained symptomatic at the time of trial.  Her prognosis for complete recovery was poor.  She also had mechanical back pain.  In assessing the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages at $75,000 Madam Justice Humphries provided the following reasons:

[42] Dr. Regan, an orthopaedic surgeon, diagnosed myofascial pain in the plaintiff’s left trapezius and cervical spine, anterior left shoulder pain, and chronic left mechanical low back pain.  His report is dated November 26, 2010.

[43] He testified that Ms. Juraski has supraspinus tendonosis, a chronic condition of the shoulder tendon.  He said a tear was possible but upon seeing the MRI of March 31, 2011, agreed it did not support that suggestion.  He agreed with Dr. Nobel (see below) that pain block injections would allow more accurate diagnosis, but in view of the passage of time, he did not foresee the shoulder pain settling…

[77] The accident occurred 4 years ago.  I accept that the plaintiff now lives with chronic pain in her shoulder and lower back and will continue to do so, although exercise and strengthening may alleviate her symptoms to some degree, particularly in her back.  On a consideration of the medical evidence, including that of Dr. Leith, there is a difference of opinion about the mechanisms causing Ms. Juraski’s pain.  However, there is no question but that the chronic pain in her shoulder area and lower back are caused by the accident.

[78] The plaintiff is obviously a determined and energetic person who will do what is required to make ends meet.  However, I am satisfied the quality of her life has been altered by the pain she copes with daily.  She is unable to keep up the high standards of housework and household accomplishments she maintained before the accident.  To some extent, her ability to live her life as she did is affected by her unenviable work schedule – without that she would probably be able to devote more time to housework and her garden, but she would still have to cope with chronic pain as she did it.  Her symptoms are not incapacitating – she works hard and long hours- but her enjoyment of life is considerably curtailed.  She admitted on discovery that her sleep is back to normal.

[79] However, given the time that has passed, the doctors, while recommending strengthening exercises and other treatments, are guarded in their prognosis for improvement in pain and discomfort in the future, especially with her shoulder.  On the whole, while some improvement in symptoms might be forthcoming through exercise and core strengthening, the medical practitioners suggest she will have to learn to live with and manage chronic pain.

[80] The defendant did not argue that the plaintiff has failed to mitigate her damages.  She has followed the treatment recommendations offered to her, although her busy work schedule interferes with her ability to exercise and stretch.

[81] While there are some parallels between the facts here and those outlined in the cases cited to me, those submitted by the plaintiff tend to describe situations where there were other important effects from the accident in addition to chronic pain – for instance, depression, ongoing inability to sleep, post traumatic stress disorder, inability to work, significant reduction in energy, need for significant rehabilitation and counselling.  The cases cited by the defendant tend to deal with less severe or pre-existing symptoms, symptoms that resolved after a period of time or were improving, or symptoms localized to one area – either back or shoulder, but not both.

[82] It is clear that awards for non-pecuniary damages in cases of chronic pain vary fairly widely, and of course the symptoms and effects on each plaintiff’s life are individual.  Taking Ms. Juraski’s situation in the context of all of the cases referred to me, I conclude that an appropriate award for non-pecuniary damages is $75,000.

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