Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, assessing damages for chronic and plateaued soft tissue injuries.
In today’s case (Mothe v. Silva) the Plaintiff was rear-ended by a tractor-trailer operated by the Defendant. Fault was admitted. The Plaintiff suffered soft tissue injuries to his neck and shoulder and his symptoms persisted to the time of trial and were expected to continue. The Plaintiff suffered other symptoms which cased some hardship in his life but the court found these were unrelated to the collision. In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $40,000 Madam Justice Ross provided the following reasons:
 I agree with the submission of the defendants that the functional limitations described in Mr. Shew’s analysis are either in whole or in large part the consequence of the chronic left wrist problems stemming from the Workplace Injury or the consequence of the C7 radiculopathy. I have found that the motor vehicle accident did not cause or contribute to this condition. However, Mr. Mothe does suffer neck and shoulder pain and headaches as a consequence of the motor vehicle accident. With respect to these injuries, his recovery has plateaued and the condition is chronic. These injuries have not, with the modest exception discussed below, prevented Mr. Mothe from working but he does so in pain. These injuries have contributed to fatigue and a discouraged, pessimistic outlook. They have reduced his enjoyment of recreational activities and his family life.
 In all of the circumstances, I award $40,000 for non-pecuniary loss.
Adding to this site’s archived case summaries of collisions invovling jaywalking pedestrians, two separate cases involving such a collision recently were dismissed at trial by the BC Supreme Court.
In the first case (Talbot v. Kijanowska) the Plaintiff, who emerged from an alleyway, was attempting to cross a street without the right of way. The Defendant motorist did not see him in time to take evasive action. The Plaintiff’s claim was ultimately dismissed with Mr. Justice Greyell providing the following reasons:  It is acknowledged by Mr. Talbot that he was not crossing the street at a crosswalk, marked or unmarked, at the time he struck or was struck by Ms. Kijanowska’s vehicle. Even if he had been crossing a crosswalk, there is a common law duty on a person in Mr. Talbot’s position to take care of his own safety upon leaving the curb: Kovacova v. Ray,  B.C.J. No. 3309, 48 M.V.R. (3d) 56 (S.C.) at para. 17…. 38] The headlights Mr. Talbot saw upon emerging from the alleyway and upon looking to his right must have come from Ms. Kijanowska’s approaching vehicle. There were no other vehicles on the roadway at the time. Mr. Talbot was unable to explain how or why he did not see Ms. Kijanowska’s vehicle as it approached him after having first observed it about one block away. Mr. Talbot was not able to refute the defence’s theory that he had walked or run into the side of Ms. Kijanowska’s vehicle.  The only conclusion that I can draw from these unfortunate circumstances is that Mr. Talbot was simply not paying attention or having regard to his own safety when he left the alleyway and walked onto Trutch. He may very well have been distracted by listening to music on his headphones, which were observed lying on the ground next to him. Accordingly, on the facts as I find them I cannot attribute negligence to the defendant. I conclude the accident of March 27, 2010 was caused solely by the negligence of Mr. Talbot in failing to take care of his own safety by keeping a proper lookout as he left the alleyway and walked onto Trutch and into Ms. Kijanowska’s vehicle.  The plaintiff’s action is dismissed. In the ordinary course the defendant would be entitled to costs. If there are matters of which I am unaware counsel may speak to the issue.
In the second case, (Pinsent v. Brown) the Plaintiff pedestrian was injured when attempting to cross a street in Vancouver in dark and rainy conditions. She was not crossing at an intersection or in a crosswalk and “emerged onto the roadway from between parked cars”. In finding the Plaintiff solely at fault for the resulting collision Madam Justice Ross provided the following reasons:  The applicable statutory provisions are ss. 179, 180 and 181 of the Motor Vehicle Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 318,…  The mere fact that the driver did not see the pedestrian before striking him, is not in itself, sufficient to establish that the driver kept an inadequate lookout: Plett v. ICBC (1987), 12 B.C.L.R. (2d) 336 (C.A.). The driver is required to operate his vehicle so that he will be able to avoid striking a pedestrian who is crossing his path in a reasonable manner: Funk v. Carter, 2004 BCSC 866….  Ms. Brown testified that she was familiar with the area and not distracted. She did not see Ms. Pinsent until Ms. Pinsent stepped out from behind the parked car and stepped into her path. I find that Ms. Brown was exercising reasonable care and attention. I find further that Ms. Pinsent was not visible to Ms. Brown until it was too late to avoid the accident.  In all of the circumstances I have concluded that the plaintiff has not established that Ms. Brown was travelling at an excessive rate of speed or that she failed to exercise the care and attention of a reasonably prudent driver.  The accident occurred while Ms. Pinsent was jaywalking. Accordingly, Ms. Brown had the right of way. Ms. Pinsent has failed to establish that after Ms. Brown became aware, or by the exercise of reasonable care should have become aware, of Ms. Pinsent’s own disregard of the law, Ms. Brown had a sufficient opportunity to avoid the accident of which a reasonably careful and skilful driver would have availed himself.  I find that Ms. Brown was not negligent in the manner she operated her vehicle. Ms. Pinsent was the sole cause of this unfortunate accident. In the result the action is dismissed.
Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, assessing damages for a serious ankle injury leading to permanent partial disability.
In this week’s case (Hubbs v. Escueta) the Plaintiff was injured in a motorcycle accident when he was struck by the Defendant. Although liability was contested the Court found the Defendant’s evidence was “not credible” and he was found fully at fault for the collision.
The Plaintiff suffered a complex bimalleolar ankle fracture which was treated surgically. (Image via Wikimedia)
The hardware was eventually removed but the Plaintiff’s symptoms continued. He was expected to have permanent restrictions with his ankle and was exposed to risk of early degenerative changes leading to further deterioration The Plaintiff worked as an electrician and his ability to do so was significantly compromised by this injury. In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $130,000 Madam Justice Ross provided the following reasons:  This case highlights the importance of the individual circumstances. The injury suffered by Mr. Hubbs is serious. While the consequences for someone of more sedentary occupation and lifestyle might not have been so significant, for Mr. Hubbs the injury has proven to be life changing. He is a relatively young man who now faces a lifetime of limitation and disability. Mr. Hubbs’ livelihood requires strength, agility and balance, all of which have been impaired by the injury. The injury has impaired his ability to earn his living. He has worked through the pain, but at a terrible cost to his family life. He is no longer able to enjoy the active lifestyle he loved. His mood is depressed and he has little energy for anything except the struggle to put in a day at work. His relations with his wife and children have been damaged. It appears that he has reached a plateau in his recovery and faces a future of increased deterioration and vulnerability to injury.  In my view, the cases cited by plaintiff’s counsel are more representative of the circumstances in the present case. I award $130,000 for non-pecuniary loss.
Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, assessing damages for a concussive injury sustained in a motor vehicle collision.
In last week’s case (Abdalle v. British Columbia (Public Safety and Solicitor General)) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2007 intersection collision. The force of impact propelled the Plaintiff into his vehicle’s windshield resulting in a concussive injury, significant scarring and various soft tissue injuries.
The injuries largely improved in the following years but the Plaintiff was left with some residual symptoms in addition to his forehead scar. Madam Justice Ross assessed non-pecuniary damages at $50,000 (although this figure was then reduced to $27,500 for the Plaintiff’s failure to wear a seatbelt and further for his failure to mitigate his damages). In arriving at this figure the Court provided the following reasons:
In this case I have concluded as noted above that Mr. Abdalle suffered a serious laceration, concussion and soft tissue injury to his neck and back in the accident. He was left with a significant scar on his forehead. He suffered from nausea, dizziness, headache pain and stiffness in his neck and back as a result of his injuries. He was significantly disabled and largely bedridden from the time of the accident until September 2007, when he was able to return to work. He was not able to attend to functions of daily living such as cooking and household chores at this time and was unable to engage in the many activities that he had enjoyed before the accident. His sleep and mood were affected.
With the passage of time his symptoms improved. As he conceded in his examination for discovery, the dizziness was essentially resolved after a year. By October 2009 he was experiencing headaches perhaps twice a month and flare ups of neck pain every couple of months. I accept that he continues to experience periodic flare ups of neck and back pain and headache.
He was able to return to work in September 2007 and has been able to function at the workplace since that time. While he has not returned to his pre-accident level of activity, I find that the injuries he suffered in the accident do not and will not prevent him from taking part in any vocational or recreational activities. Upon a review of the cases cited by counsel and having regard to my findings concerning Mr. Abdalle’s injuries and their impact on his activities and the quality of his life, I assess non-pecuniary damages prior to reduction for mitigation and contributory fault at $50,000.
As previously discussed, if a person fails to take reasonable steps to mitigate their damages following a personal injury the compensation they are entitled to is reduced accordingly.
There are some clear examples where a person will not be penalized for failing to mitigate their damages such as when they are financially unable to follow their doctor’s advice. But what about pre-existing religious views? Can a person be penalized by a damage reduction for failing to follow medical advice where their refusal to do so was based on a religious belief? Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, discussing this interesting topic.
In this week’s case (Abdalle v. British Columbia (Public Safety and Solicitor General)) the Plaintiff suffered a head injury when he was struck at an intersection by an RCMP cruiser. Fault for the crash was admitted.
In the course of recovery the Plaintiff failed to follow various suggestions made by his medical practitioners. The Plaintiff argued his damages should not be reduced as this failure was based on religious beliefs. Madam Justice Ross did not address the issue head on as she was not satisfied that the Plaintiff’s decisions were based on “sincerely held religious or spiritual objection“. Despite this finding the Court made the following observation about this little tested area of law:
In addition, counsel submits that Mr. Abdalle has spiritual and religious objections to drug use. Counsel submits that adherence to a sincerely held religious belief should not be considered a failure to mitigate damages. In counsel’s submission this should be an application of the principle of tort law that the tortfeasor takes the victim as he finds him.
The medical evidence establishes that the recommended treatments would likely have assisted Mr. Abdalle, that there were no contraindications in his case and that the risks were minimal. Accordingly, unless Mr. Abdalle’s spiritual objections provide a reason to refuse treatment, I conclude that Mr. Abdalle’s refusal to follow the recommendations of his physicians was unreasonable…
It appears that the particular question of whether pre-existing religious beliefs would constitute a reasonable basis for a refusal of medical treatment has not been addressed in this jurisdiction. Jamie Cassels and Elizabeth Adjin-Tettey wrote in Remedies: The Law of Damages, at pp. 292 and 393 that “there is little authority on this issue”, and cite two American decisions as guidance. Neither of these cases have been cited in Canadian jurisprudence. Moreover, from Janiak it is clear that the American position on this issue takes subjective attributes into consideration to a greater degree than in Canada (Janiak, p. 160). Cassels and Adjin-Tettey opine at p. 392 that:
According to the Janiak test, where a medical treatment is otherwise obviously required, religious or ethical objections would not provide an excuse from mitigating unless those objections rendered the plaintiff incapable of choice or could be assimilated to ‘pathological’ conditions.
Ken Cooper-Stephenson also explored this topic in Personal Injury Damages in Canada and expressed a different view. He stated at p. 876 that:
[l]f a pre-existing religious belief or cultural practice inhibits or prevents the plaintiff’s capacity to choose a certain form of treatment…then it is almost certain that the plaintiff will not be adjudged unreasonable in the refusal… Defendants take their plaintiffs as they find them with respect to their religion, their culture, and their socio-economic setting.
He does not, however, provide any Canadian authority in support of this proposition.
Professor Cooper-Stephenson also argues that there is a move towards subjectivism, with one approach including religious belief and cultural practice within the notion of “capacity” fromJaniak. He says, at p. 879, that as for religious belief and cultural practice:
…their recognition as fundamental constitutionally-protected interests in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms almost certainly requires that they be respected in post-action choices for the purposes of the duty to mitigate.
There are two questions to be addressed in relation to this issue. The first is whether, to what extent, and under what circumstances a religious or cultural belief will be taken into consideration in addressing the plaintiff’s duty to mitigate. As noted above, it appears that the answer to this question may not be settled in Canadian jurisprudence. The second question is whether in the particular case, the plaintiff’s failure to follow a recommended course of treatment is the result of adherence of a religious or cultural belief or practice.
In my view, this is not the case to make a determination with respect to the first question because I have concluded that the factual foundation is simply not made out for the Court to conclude that the reason for the refusal of treatment was a sincerely held religious or spiritual objection on the part of Mr. Abdalle…
In the result, I am satisfied that Mr. Abdalle’s refusal to take the Nortriptyline prescribed by Dr. Dhawan and his failure to follow the recommendation to take facet block injections was not the product of a religious or spiritual objection. In addition, I find Mr. Abdalle’s failure to continue with swimming, to become more active, to attend a further course of physiotherapy, to take the Nortriptyline as prescribed and the facet block injections as recommended was unreasonable in all the circumstances and in breach of his duty to mitigate.
If a BC Supreme Court Judgement is silent with respect to costs following trial the default Loser Pays system kicks in as a result of Rule 14-1(9). Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, discussing this default position.
In last week’s case (Habib v. Jack) the Plaintiff’s personal injury lawsuit was dismissed following trial. The trial Judge’s reasons did not set out any costs order. The Defendant sought their costs but the Plaintiff opposed this arguing that silence on costs in the trial judgement makes the issue ‘res judicata’. Madam Justice Ross disagreed and provided the following short but useful reasons: The plaintiff’s res judicata argument has previously been considered and rejected by this court. In Graham v. Great West Life et al., 2004 BCSC 1544, Sinclair Prowse J. considered the argument that silence in earlier reasons for judgment regarding costs is tantamount to an order that there will not be an order for costs. After reviewing the authorities she found that if reasons are silent, by operation of Rule 57(9), there is a presumption that costs will follow the event unless either party objects to the order being framed in that manner, in which case an application for costs should be made to the court. The present Rule 14-1(9) contains the same presumption.
As previously discussed, BC has a true ‘loser pays‘ system which generally requires the loser of a lawsuit to pay the winners costs. If a Defendant makes a formal settlement offer and defeats the Plaintiff’s lawsuit the Court has the discretion to award double costs. Reasons for judgement were released recently by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, refusing to make such an order in circumstances where the formal offer was little more than a walk-away offer.
In last week’s case (Habib v. Jack) the Plaintiff was injured while riding as a passenger in the Defendant’s bus. The parties agreed on the value of the Plaintiff’s injuries but disagreed on the issue of fault. Prior to trial ICBC made a formal settlement offer of $1,000. The Plaintiff rejected this offer, proceeded to trial, and had her claim dismissed.
ICBC was awarded costs and asked the Court to award double costs pursuant to Rule 9-1(5). Madam Justice Ross refused to do so noting that the offer was ‘nominal’ and that it was not unreasonable for the Plaintiff to have her day in court. The court provided the following helpful reasons:
The defendants submit that having regard to the factors enumerated in the Rule, the court ought to award double costs. Counsel submits that the offer was not nominal; it gave the plaintiff modest recovery and represented a willingness to compromise that the Rule is meant to foster. The offer was made at a time when the discoveries of both parties were complete and the evidence was known. The plaintiff’s position is that this was a nuisance offer and it cannot be said, without applying hindsight, that it ought to have been accepted.
At the time the offer was made, it was clear that the plaintiff had suffered an injury. There was a dispute with respect to liability. Mr. Jack had limited recollection. The only two witnesses were Ms. Habib and Mr. Jack.
In my view the offer was nominal given Ms. Habib’s injury. I agree with the observations of Burnyeat J. in Martin v Lavigne and Neufeld (Costs), 2010 BCSC 1610 at para. 13, that there are situations in which a nominal offer should have been accepted. However, in my view this is not such a case. It cannot be said that it was clear that the action had little chance of succeeding on the merits. Rather, there was a significant risk that the case would be lost on liability. This risk materialized and the action was lost at trial; however, in the circumstances it was not unreasonable for the plaintiff to reject the offer and proceed to trial.
On balance I have concluded that this is not a case to make an order for double costs as sought by the defendants based upon the offer to settle. In the result, the defendants will have their costs.
Earlier this year the BC Supreme Court released reasons for judgement finding that when a Defendant succeeds in a lawsuit and is awarded costs the order is for their benefit not their insurer. In short the Court held that ICBC has no subrogated right to costs awards under section 84(1) of the Insurance (Vehicle) Act. Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, taking an opposite view of this issue.
In this week’s case (Habib v. Jack) the Plaintiff was injured while riding on a bus. She sued the bus driver and bus company but had her claim dismissed at trial. The Defendant was awarded costs with Madam Justice Ross giving ICBC the benefit of this costs award. The Court provided the following brief reasons: In the result, the defendants will have their costs. Under s. 84(1) of the Insurance (Vehicle) Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 231, the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (“ICBC”) is subrogated to its insured and is entitled to recover the costs to which the insured would be entitled. Accordingly, ICBC is entitled to recover the costs awarded to the defendants.
Given the contradictory recent court findings on this issue I suspect the BC Court of Appeal will be asked to weigh in on the topic of insurers subrogated rights to costs following the successful defence of a lawsuit.
As previously discussed, Section 10 of the Worker’s Compensation Act operates to generally strip you of your right to sue if you are injured in the course of your employment by someone else in the course of their employment. One of most litigated issues with respect to this bar arises when people are in collisions commuting to and from work. Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, addressing such a scenario.
In this week’s case (Franzke v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Tribunal) the Plaintiff was injured while driving home from her usual place of employment. She was employed in the insurance industry. Her job required her to have a Driver’s Licence and to occasionally work away from the office.
On the day of the collision the Plaintiff left her office early in the face of an expected snow storm. She took files home with her with an intention of working from home for the balance of the day and depending on road conditions perhaps for some time beyond that.
In the course of her lawsuit the Defendants argued that these circumstances brought the commute within the “course of employment” stripping her of the right to sue. The matter was put before the Workers Compensation Appeal Tribunal (WCAT) who agreed. While WCB’s Policy 18 states in part that “the general position is that accidents occurring in the course of travel from the worker’s home to the normal place of employment” is not an activity in the course of employment here the Plaintiff’s intention to work from home was crucial with WCAT finding that “the intention of the worker was given significant weight and was determinative“.
The Plaintiff asked the BC Supreme Court to review this decision arguing that it was patently unreasonable. Madam Justice Ross disagreed and refused to disrupt WCB’s decision. In doing so the Court reached the following conclusion: I have concluded that the Original Decision was not patently unreasonable and that the hearing was fair with no denial of natural justice. In addition, I have concluded that the decision of the Reconsideration Panel to dismiss the application for reconsideration was correct. In the result, the petition is dismissed.
As I’ve discussed on many occasions, there is little credible medical evidence to suggest that a low impact collision cannot result in injury. The LVI defense fails at trial far more than it succeeds. That said, there is no denying that a claim for damages can be met with more skepticism if the triggering event is a low impact collision as opposed to a severe crash. For this reason ICBC and other insurers like to highlight the minimal forces involved when Low Velocity Impact claims proceed to trial. This was demonstrated in reasons for judgement released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry.
In last week’s claim (Ryan v. Klakowich) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2008 collision. Fault for the crash was admitted. The collision involved minimal forces with the defendant testifying that the impact was “like bumping a shopping cart against a counter“. Despite this, and despite some reliability concerns the trial judge raised with the Plaintiff’s evidence, the Court accepted the Plaintiff sustained real injury. In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $25,000 Madam Justice Ross provided the following reasons:
Ms. Ryan’s complaints arise from a collision of very low impact, producing minimal damage to her vehicle and none to the defendant’s. Her injuries are said to be soft tissue injuries for which there are no objective indicators. In such circumstances Ms. Ryan’s credibility is of particular importance since the physicians are to large extent dependent upon her subjective reports in reaching their opinions.
I find Ms. Ryan to be a poor historian. It is my impression that she minimized the extent and duration of the injuries she suffered in previous accidents, both in her testimony and in her reports to physicians in preparation for this litigation. She also minimized the significance of the other medical conditions with which she was dealing. It is her testimony that the burden of taking care of her mother did not interfere with her work or with her social life because her other siblings would fill in. However, this was inconsistent with what she told Dr. Anderson. He reported that she was in considerable distress concerning the care of her mother on several occasions, reporting that the disproportionate burden fell upon her and that her siblings were not providing sufficient assistance…
The medical evidence is of limited assistance since the opinions are to a great extent dependent upon Ms. Ryan’s subjective reports. In addition, Dr. Anderson had not treated Ms. Ryan before the 2008 Accident and so had no personal knowledge of Ms. Ryan’s condition prior to the 2008 Accident. Ms. Ryan did not provide Dr. Jung with a full history. Finally, the additional investigations that Dr. Jung and Dr. Bishop recommended have not been undertaken. In the result, there is no medical opinion that bears on the causation of the neurological symptoms Ms. Ryan now complains of in her right arm.
I accept that Ms. Ryan suffered mild to moderate soft tissue injuries to her neck and shoulder girdle in the 2008 Accident. As a consequence, she experienced pain and stiffness in her neck, upper back and shoulder and headaches. I accept that these symptoms have lingered. While it is the case that many, perhaps most people, would not have suffered such injuries in such an accident, I accept that the combination of her previous injuries, scoliosis and osteoporosis would render her more fragile and susceptible of injury…
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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