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Tag: Madam Justice Smith

Court Refuses to Re-open Issue Where ICBC Fails to Pursue "Seatbelt Defence" During Liability Trial

Reasons for judgement were released yesterday by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, addressing whether ICBC could re-open a trial to raise the seat-belt defence where they failed to advance such a claim during a liability only trial.
In yesterday’s case (Matheson v. Fichten) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2009 collision.  The matter proceeded to trial first on the issue of fault.  Prior to trial the Plaintiff admitted that “at the time of the accident she was not wearing the lap and shoulder seatbelt“.  ICBC did not lead this evidence at trial.  Ultimately fault for the crash was split between the motorists involved on a 90/10 basis.   Prior to entering judgement ICBC sought to re-open the liability trial to permit them to lead evidence of contributory negligence with respect to the seatbelt issue.  Madam Justice Smith refused to do so providing the following reasons:
[4]             Although the Reasons for Judgment state (at para. 5) that there is no allegation of contributory negligence against the plaintiff, in fact, the defendant Harmandeep Singh Bahniwal did allege in his pleadings that the plaintiff was contributorily negligent in that she failed to use her seat belt or failed to have her head rest properly adjusted.
[5]             Further, the defendants produced evidence on the application that at the plaintiff’s examination for discovery on November 3, 2011, she admitted that at the time of the accident she was not wearing the lap and shoulder seatbelt.
[6]             Despite the pleadings and that admission, the allegation of contributory negligence was not pursued at the trial.  During the three-day trial, neither counsel led any evidence bearing on possible contributory negligence on the part of the plaintiff, nor did counsel for either side refer to contributory negligence in his submissions.  The plaintiff did not testify and her testimony at the examination for discovery was not tendered.  There was no medical evidence with respect to her injuries or with respect to the consequences of her having failed to utilize the seatbelt…
[9]             In my view, the defendants had their opportunity at the trial to raise the defence of contributory negligence and to lead evidence in that regard.  They have not satisfied me that there would be a miscarriage of justice if the trial is not re-opened.  While the plaintiff has admitted that she was not wearing her seatbelt, there is no material before me to suggest that medical or other evidence regarding her injuries is available that would possibly change the result of the trial.  Finally, it is likely that the trial would have been conducted differently if the contributory negligence had been pursued, and it would be unfair to the plaintiff to require the trial on liability to be re-opened at this stage.

Driver Found 10% At Fault for Timing a Green Light

As previously discussed, having the right of way does not automatically result in a driver being found faultless for a collision.  Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, demonstrating this.
In this week’s case (Matheson v. Fichten) the Plaintiff was a passenger in a Northbound vehicle in a designated left hand turn lane.  The advance green arrow ran its course resulting in a green light for North and south bound traffic.  The driver proceeded with his turn despite no longer having the advance green arrow.
At the same time the Defendant was driving Southbound in the curb lane.  He was several car lengths back from the intersection when his light turned green.  Other Southbound vehicles began to accelerate but then stopped realizing the Plaintiff vehicle was turning.  The Defendant did not stop and entered the intersection when the collision occurred.
Despite having the right of way the Southbound Defendant was found 10% at fault for the collision.  In coming to this assessment Madam Justice Smith provided the following reasons for judgement:
[57] I find that the Bahniwal vehicle was travelling at the speed limit of 50 kilometres per hour, or perhaps a bit less, as it proceeded up the southbound curb lane.  I accept Mr. Kaler’s evidence that Mr. Bahniwal had slowed when the light ahead was red, but then resumed speed after the light turned green, two to three car lengths from the intersection.  I find that the presence of vehicles in the two lanes to his left obscured Mr. Bahniwal’s view of what was occurring in the intersection except for the portion immediately in front of him.  The vehicles in the two lanes to Mr. Bahniwal’s left began to move forward, but they stopped almost immediately.  Mr. Bahniwal overtook those vehicles and passed them on the right, entering the intersection on a green light but without noting that the vehicles to his left had stopped, or taking any particular precaution before entering the intersection…

[61] I have found as fact that Mr. Bahniwal proceeded through the intersection on a green light.  Accordingly, he had the right of way.  His was the dominant vehicle; Mr. Fichten’s vehicle was in the servient position.

[62] The question in the end is whether either Mr. Fichten or Mr. Bahniwal  or both, was in breach of the duty of care he owed to the plaintiff.  I take into account the Motor Vehicle Act provisions as informing the requisite standard of care (Ryan v. Victoria, [1999] 1 S.C.R. 201 at para. 29).

[63] It is clear that Mr. Fichten was negligent in making his left turn when it was unsafe to do so after the light had changed, and in particular by crossing the curb lane of southbound traffic without checking that it was free of oncoming vehicles.

[64] Turning to Mr. Bahniwal, what is the duty of a driver who enters an intersection in the circumstances that faced him?  He was in the curb lane, his view of the intersection was blocked by other vehicles, and those vehicles, having entered the intersection, had subsequently stopped…

[78] In my opinion, when the light facing Mr. Bahniwal turned green and the vehicles on his left proceeded forward and then stopped, Mr. Bahniwal had the opportunity to recognize, and should have recognized, that something had caused them to stop.  His approach into the intersection should then have been tempered with caution, even though he had the light in his favour and had built up some momentum.  He did not take that approach but, instead, proceeded at the speed limit into the intersection.  His vehicle was in the dominant position, but he was not entitled to overlook a clear indication of a possible hazard in the fact that the vehicles to his left had stopped very soon after having begun to move.  The traffic was not backed up in the southbound lanes, as it was inRobinson v. Wong, and the timing of the vehicles stopping was inexplicable from his vantage point.  A careful driver would have reacted to the possibility that a left-turning vehicle, a pedestrian, or some other hazard was still in the intersection.

[79] I find that Mr. Bahniwal was in breach of his duty of care, and allocate liability 10% to him and 90% to Mr. Fichten.

Historic Sexual Abuse Claim Results In $59,000 Damage Assessment

Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, assessing damages for historic sexual abuse.
In this week’s case (R.D. v. G.S) the Defendant stepfather was found liable for abusing his stepdaughter when she was aged 8-12.  The Plaintiff suffered psychological harm as a consequence of this.  Her non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) were assessed at $35,000.  In arriving at this figure Madam Justice Smith made the following findings with respect to the harm caused by the abuse:

[145] I have considered all of the evidence regarding the plaintiff’s psychological injury, including her testimony and the opinion evidence of Dr. Hotz and of Dr. O’Shaughnessy.

[146] I accept the plaintiff’s evidence regarding the symptoms she has experienced.  She was cross-examined at some length, and was consistent and convincing in describing her enormous sense of betrayal and destruction of trust, as well as her persistent experience of intrusive dreams, intrusive thoughts, anxiety, depression, low self esteem and low self confidence.

[147] As to the experts, with respect to the existence of a psychiatric disorder I prefer the evidence of Dr. O’Shaughnessy over that of Dr. Hotz.  I reach that conclusion because Dr. O’Shaughnessy clearly separated out the facts upon which he was relying from his opinions, is highly experienced in this area, has a higher degree of expertise and seemed to retain more objectivity in his approach.  I accept, accordingly, that the plaintiff does not currently suffer from a psychiatric disorder and it is unlikely that she has suffered from one in the past.

[148] I find, however, that she does suffer from psychological dysfunction that has interfered with her ability to pursue education or a more rewarding career, and that has interfered with her ability to build good relationships and to enjoy life.  The extent to which the psychological dysfunction finds its origins in what the defendant did is the question.  I find that he is responsible for it in some measure, although it also has other causes…

[214] The defendant’s position is that there is no evidence of harm to the plaintiff caused by the defendant’s actions, and there should be no award of general damages.

[215] I will consider the factors referred to in Y.(S.) v. C.(F.G.), in assessing the appropriate award for non-pecuniary damages.

[216] I begin with the nature of the assault.  In comparison with the sexual assaults found to have occurred in many other cases, the sexual touching in this case was not violent, intrusive, frequent, coercive or egregious.

[217] The breach of trust, however, was egregious, both with respect to the sexual touching that began when the plaintiff was quite young, and with respect to the defendant’s addition of photographs of the plaintiff to his collection of child pornography.

[218] I did not see any evidence of remorse on the defendant’s part.  His conduct with his stepdaughter was callous and reprehensible.  I do not overlook that the defendant himself was the victim of blatant disregard for his property and disrespect for his attempts to preserve his household and its contents after the children moved in.  However, he was the parent and the plaintiff was the child.  The fact that the plaintiff behaved badly toward him provides no justification for his behaviour toward her.

[219] The evidence of Dr. Hotz and Dr. O’Shaughnessy shows that the conduct of the defendant had a significant impact on the plaintiff’s psychological state.  I note as well that she would likely have experienced some level of psychological dysfunction in any event, and that the impact is unlikely to be permanent.

[220] I assess general damages, taking into account the aggravating factors I have described, at $35,000.

Can Pleadings Be Amended After Trial?

Once a Notice of Trial has been served or a Case Planning Conference is held a party can only amend their pleadings with permission of all other parties or with leave of the Court.  The Court can allow an amendment of pleadings under Rule 6-1 during (or even after) trial as was demonstrated in reasons for judgement released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry.
In this week’s case (0679372 B.C. Ltd. v. The Winking Judge Pub Ltd.) the Plaintiff’s claim proceeded to trial and was successful.  Following trial, but prior to entry of a formal order, the Plaintiff brought an applicaiton to amend it’s pleadings “to conform with the evidence at trial, and to conform with the Reasons for Judgement delivered“.
Madam Justice Smith granted the applicaiton finding this was an appropriate case to allow pleadings to be amended.  In making this finding the Court provided the following reasons:

[6] In Canadian National Railway Co. v. Imperial Oil Ltd., 2007 BCSC 1193, [2007] B.C.J. No. 1743 [C.N.R.] the following principles regarding amendments were set out at para. 18 with respect to the exercise of the Court’s discretion to permit amendments to pleadings during or at the conclusion of a trial:

(a)    the amended pleadings must not be inconsistent with the pleadings already filed on behalf of the party seeking an amendment;

(b)    the amended pleadings must not be inconsistent with the evidence tendered by that party at trial and on discovery;

(c)    the amended pleadings must be such that they would not have changed the whole course of the trial had they been requested at the outset of the trial;

(d)    the amendment must not be unfair to the opposite party; and

(e)   the amendment must be necessary for the purpose of determining the real issues raised.

[7] In my view, the plaintiff’s application for leave to amend should be granted.  It is consistent with the pleadings already filed.  It is not inconsistent with evidence tendered by the plaintiff at trial (or on discoveries, so far as I am aware).  The amended pleadings would not have changed the course of the trial.  Permitting the amendment will not be unfair to the defendants, who were well aware of the evidence and who were given the opportunity to make submissions regarding the implications of a possible express trust.  Finally, the proposed amendment is necessary to record accurately the issues raised and determined in these proceedings.

More on Injury Claims and Plaintiff Credibility

Further to my previous articles on this topic, little can do more damage to a lawsuit than a Court finding a Plaintiff lacks credibility.   When advancing an injury claim it’s important to know the types of factors Courts review in gauging whether a witness should be believed.  Reasons for judgement were recently published by the BC Supreme Court, Nanaimo Registry, discussing some of these.
In today’s case (S.T. v. S.K.) the Plaintiff was involved in a severe motor vehicle collision in 2007.  The driver of the offending vehicle admitted fault.  The Plaintiff sued for compensation for her personal injuries which included trauma to her left shoulder and right ankle.  The Plaintiff was ultimately awarded compensation for her injuries.  Prior to assessing damages, however, the Court highlighted some concerns with the Plaintiff’s credibility.  Madam Justice Smith provided the following criticism of the Plaintiff’s evidence:

[6]           I will begin with some observations about the credibility of the plaintiff.  I have concluded that, unfortunately, I cannot rely with entire confidence on her testimony.  The reasons for this conclusion are as follows.

[7]           First, some of her claims are exaggerated.  For example, at the examination for discovery, at Question 319, the plaintiff was asked:

Q         All right, so explain to me about the depression.  How is it that you relate that to the accident?

A          To give an example, if I said before the accident if I had – I was healthy, I was happy, I had good choice of boyfriends really to the point that they were motivated, outgoing, took care of me, respectful.  After the accident I couldn’t do sports, I couldn’t do anything that I did all my life with all my best friends that I grew up with for twelve years.  I couldn’t do to the best of my ability of sports that I used to do, and acting, and stuff like that.  And because of that it brought me down, it brought me extremely down to the point of where I – I was just so lonely and alone that I was pretty much willing to have any kind of boyfriend that would take me, literally, just because I was – I felt like I had nothing left by the time, you know.

[8]           The answer at discovery was an exaggeration, I must conclude, in light of the  plaintiff’s admission at trial, under cross-examination, that after the accident she led a very active social life, had a lead role in the school musical, and participated (though in a reduced way) in sports, including volleyball and soccer.

[9]           Second, where one might expect witnesses to be called to corroborate the plaintiff’s evidence regarding her symptoms, the plaintiff called only one witness in that respect, her mother.  I do not suggest that L.B. is not a credible witness, but she does have a very close relationship with her daughter and an obvious motive to view the evidence in a way that would be favourable to her daughter.  Also, L.B.’s ability to corroborate the plaintiff’s evidence was limited by the fact that the plaintiff has not lived at home for extended periods of time since the accident, and is currently not living at home.  No friends of the plaintiff were called, nor any fellow employees or supervisors, to relate their observations of the plaintiff experiencing the kinds of difficulties she described in her testimony.

[10]        Third, in her application for admission to the licensed practical nurse program at Vancouver Island University, the plaintiff wrote:  “I am also in very good health.  I know that working as a care aide is at times heavy work.”

[11]        Under cross-examination, she was asked whether she was in very good health and answered, “No.”  Asked whether she was misrepresenting her health in the application letter, she was unable to explain this discrepancy, as seen in the following extract from her evidence at trial.  I quote from page 73 of the transcript of the May 21 evidence, beginning at Line 29:

Q         Well, S.T. ??

A          At the time I’m sure I would not have been thinking about healthwise related to my pain in my shoulder or as of that time, pain in my ankle.  I would have probably been referring to my mental health and not thinking about my physical health.  I was ??

Q         Well, when you comment that you know that working as a care aide is at times heavy work, you’re specifically relating that to the physical requirements, certainly not heavy mental work.

A          Well, not heavy meaning literal heavy.  I mean ?? I meant hard work.  That doesn’t ?? that doesn’t include physical work.  Mental work.  For example, as a care aide, it’s very heavy work with dealing with seniors, seniors passing away.  Having that emotional part of it is very heavy too.  So —

Q         S.T., are you suggesting that when you wrote: “I know that working as a care aide is at times heavy work”, you were referring to the heavy emotional requirements of the job?

A          Not all but that is a big factor.  Hard work.  I would have rephrased it but that’s the way I wrote it.

[12]        That answer is, to put it charitably, disingenuous.

[13]        Fourth, the plaintiff was cross-examined at trial about a statement she made to the claims adjuster, David Beatty, on May 29, 2009, when she was in his office to discuss a possible settlement.  She agreed that she “may have said” that she had recovered and was able to do virtually all that she could do before the accident.  At trial, she said at one point that it was “not true”, and at another point that it was “true at the time”.

[14]        On her examination for discovery at questions 228 to 229, however, she said:

Q         So, will [the left shoulder] cause you some difficulty once a month, or –

A          I can’t estimate, it’s just kind of a random kind of act.

Q         Okay, and have you had any other problems as a result of the accident that weren’t specified in the Statement of Claim?  Any other injuries that haven’t been covered?

A          No.

[15]        At trial, she tried to suggest in her testimony that she had given that answer on discovery because at that exact time her shoulder was not troubling her.  Asked at trial whether she understood that the question was not about the exact time, but about that period of time, she said she did not know if she understood that, adding, “My shoulder hurts me when it is used:  If I sleep on it, I’m in pain, or if I reach with it I’m in pain.  I can’t put dates and times on it, it’s whenever I aggravate it.”

[16]        Having noted those reasons for viewing the plaintiff’s evidence with some caution, I will briefly review her testimony and the testimony of other witnesses relating to her injuries.