Tag: Mr. Justice Barrow

Mechanical Back Pain and Diminished Capacity For Stay at Home Parents Discussed

Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vernon Registry, discussing non-pecuniary damages for mechanical back pain and further discussing awards for ‘diminished earning capacity‘ for stay at home parents who intend to return to the workforce.
In this week’s case (Bergman v. Standen) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2006 motor vehicle collision.  Fault for the crash was admitted by the other motorist.  The Plaintiff was 27 years old at the time of the crash and did not have “an established record of employment because of the conscious choice she and her husband made to have and raise their children to school age with the benefit of a stay-at-home-mother”.
The Plaintiff sustained injuries in the crash which included soft tissue damage and mechanical back pain.  Some of these symptoms were expected to be permanent although there was room for improvement with further therapy.  Mr. Justice Barrow assessed the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) at $75,000.  In arriving at this figure the Court provided the following reasons:
[63] To summarize, Ms. Bergman was a 27-year-old mother of two young children, who suffered a Grade II whiplash injury to her neck and upper back, which resolved after several months and left her with no recurrent symptoms. She also suffered contusions, bruises to her face and chest, and a sore wrist, which resolved without ongoing difficulties shortly after the accident. Finally, and most significantly, she suffered a mechanical injury to her lower back that, I am satisfied, caused her significant pain and discomfort in the four and a half years since the accident. I am not persuaded that the discomfort is as significant as Ms. Bergman describes it, but it is nevertheless significant. I am satisfied that her lower back will remain symptomatic indefinitely. If, however, she follows the advice of Dr. Travlos and others, and commits to a program of physical conditioning and determines to work through the limitations that her low back may present, rather than dwelling on them, the degree to which that injury will affect her life in the future will moderate. In light of this, I am satisfied that an appropriate award for non-pecuniary damages is $77,500. This amount includes $2,500 for past loss of housekeeping capacity for reasons I will explain below.
This case is also worth reviewing for the Court’s discussion of diminished earning capacity (future wage loss) awards for Plaintiffs who are out of the workforce at the time of their injuries.   As previously discussed there is nothing preventing such plaintiffs from being awarded damages for future wage loss given the right circumstances.  In assessing the Plaintiff’s loss at $65,000 Mr. Justice Barrow provided the following useful reasons:
[80] Ms. Bergman does not have an established record of employment because of the conscious choice she and her husband made to have and raise their children to school age with the benefit of a stay-at-home mother. I accept that Ms. Bergman planned to and will return to work when her youngest child reached school age. I accept that the sort of work she is destined to do will likely involve an emphasis on physical as opposed to mental exertion. There is a mill in Lavington that Ms. Bergman thought about applying to. She impresses me as the sort of person who would find work of that nature rewarding and challenging. It is with a view to those real and substantial possibilities that the question of her indefinite, albeit moderating disability, needs to be assessed….
[84] I recognize that Dr. Coghlan, in his September 21, 2009 report, concluded that he would “not restrict her activity level in terms of jobs on the basis of today’s findings”. I am not sure that the opinions of the physiatrists are in conflict. Whether they are or not, I am satisfied that Ms. Bergman has established an impairment of her capital asset, being her ability to earn an income in the future. Valuing that loss is necessarily an imprecise exercise. Lacking any better measure, I consider that an award equivalent to between one and two years of Ms. Bergman’s likely future annual income to be reasonable. I fix her loss of future earning capacity at $65,000.

Motorist Found 40% At Fault for Striking Jay-Walking Teenager

(Update: The below decision was upheld by the BC Court of Appeal in reasons for judgement dated August 3, 2011)

As I’ve previously written, motorists travelling with the right of way can still be found at fault for a collision in British Columbia.  If you have the right of way but know or ought to know that someone is not yielding you can be found at fault if you fail to take reasonable steps to avoid a collision in these circumstances.  This principle was well demonstrated in reasons for judgement released today by the BC Supreme Court, Kelowna Registry.
In today’s case (Walter v. Plummer) the 16 year old pedestrian Plaintiff was struck by the Defendant’s motorcycle.  The Plaintiff was jaywalking at the time of the collision.  The Plaintiff crossed in front of a stopped tractor trailer and stepped into the Defendant’s lane of travel.  This made it difficult to see the Plaintiff.  The Defendant was not speeding.  Despite this the Defendant was found partially at fault for the crash for failing to take reasonable care in all of the circumstances leading up to the crash.
The Court concluded that the Defendant was careless because she ought to have anticipated jaywalkers at the time and could have taken greater care in operating her motorcycle.  Mr. Justice Barrow provided the following useful summary in explaining why both parties were at fault for this crash:

[25] I am satisfied that Mr. Walter was crossing the street at a casual walking pace, neither particularly fast nor particularly slow. Ms. Plummer was travelling approximately one to two feet to the left of the mid-point of the southbound right turn lane. She saw Mr. Walter for the first time when he emerged from in front of the tractor-trailer truck and walked into her path of travel.

[26]         Based on Dr. Toor’s and Ms. Plummer’s evidence, I am satisfied that the point of impact between Mr. Walter and Ms. Plummer’s motorcycle was two or three feet into the right turn lane and that Mr. Walter was visible to Ms. Plummer for perhaps two more feet as he passed from in front of the tractor-trailer truck to the boundary of the right turn lane…

[41]         There are several significant features of the circumstances facing Ms. Plummer that serve to elevate the degree of care required.

[42]         The first is the reasonably foreseeable risk of jaywalking pedestrians. The defendant was aware that students frequently jaywalked across Rutland Road. Ms. White said that, in her experience, there were many jaywalking students in that area shortly after the schools are dismissed. Further, the risk was not just of any jaywalking pedestrians but of students. The fact that the foreseeable pedestrians would be students is significant because young people may take less care for their own safety than adults.

[43]         A second and related circumstance is that Ms. Plummer knew that the northbound lane was empty and that the vehicles in the left turn and through southbound lanes were stopped. The prospect of students jaywalking in that situation is higher than it would be if there was traffic moving in both directions.

[44]         Finally, and significantly, Ms. Plummer was passing a tractor-trailer unit stopped in the through lane. That truck entirely obstructed her view of the through lane in front of it. If there were pedestrians attempting to cross, it would have been apparent to her that she would not be able to see them.

[45]         All of these features serve elevate the degree of caution necessary to meet the standard of care. To proceed at 40 kilometres per hour passing a stationary truck in an area known to be frequented by jaywalking students is negligent. It is a situation in which a driver ought to have been proceeding in an “alerted” state, to borrow from the categories used in the perception-response studies.

[46]         As to Mr. Walter, he owed a duty to take reasonable care for his own safety. He breached that duty in a number of ways. He crossed other than at a marked crosswalk, and thus contrary to the statutory obligations he was under. Further, just as it should have been apparent to Ms. Plummer that she could not see crossing pedestrians, it ought to have been apparent to Mr. Walter that he could not see oncoming traffic. Finally, and most significantly, unlike Ms. Plummer who was looking where she was going, Mr. Walter did not look into the oncoming lane at all to determine if he could safely cross. His negligence is greater than that of Ms. Plummer. I apportion liability 60 percent to Mr. Walter and 40 percent to Ms. Plummer.

More on ICBC Injury Claims and the "Implied Undertaking of Confidentiality"

As I’ve previously written, when a lawsuit for damages is brought in the BC Supreme Court, the parties are required to make disclosure of certain relevant documents even if such disclosure is harmful to their interests.
In order to strike a balance between fulsome disclosure and privacy rights, the Courts have developed a law known as the “implied undertaking of confidentiality” which prohibits a party who receives this forced disclosure from making use of the documents/information outside of the lawsuit without consent of the other parties or a court order.  Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Kelowna Registry, dealing with this area of the law.
In today’s case (ICBC v. Titanich) the Defendant was involved in a motor vehicle accident and apparently injured another party named Swan.  Swan sued the Defendant.  ICBC apparently held that the Defendant was in breach of his policy of insurance and defended the lawsuit as a ‘statutory third party‘.  ICBC obtained a Court Order for disclosure of the RCMP records relating to the accident and then settled the Plaintiff’s personal injury lawsuit for some $346,000.  ICBC then sued the Defendant to recover the $346,000 on the basis that they alleged he was in breach of his insurance.
ICBC apparently relied on some of the information obtained in the RCMP files to base their decision to pursue the Defendant for repayment of the $346,000.  The Defendant brought a motion to dismiss the lawsuit arguing that ICBC “breached its implied undertaking of confidentiality in relation to the documents it obtained from the RCMP“:.
The Court ultimately dismissed the motion holding that while ICBC did indeed breach their implied undertaking, no remedy was necessary since ICBC would be granted judicial permission to use the RCMP records in the current lawsuit had they brought a motion seeking such an order.  In reaching this conclusion Mr. Justice Barrow summarized and applied the law of the “implied undertaking” as follows:

[13]        In Juman v. Doucette, [2008] 1 S.C.R. 157, 2008 SCC 8, Binnie J. addressed the scope of the implied undertaking and its underlying rationale. At para. 4, he wrote:

[4]        Thus the rule is that both documentary and oral information obtained on discovery, including information thought by one of the parties to disclose some sort of criminal conduct, is subject to the implied undertaking. It is not to be used by the other parties except for the purpose of that litigation, unless and until the scope of the undertaking is varied by a court order or other judicial order or a situation of immediate and serious danger emerges.

[Emphasis in the original]

[14]        The rationale for the rule is, in part, to promote complete and candid oral and documentary discovery which, in turn, advances the orderly and effective administration of justice. It does that by providing the litigant making discovery with some confidence that the material produced will be used only for the purpose of securing justice in that proceeding.

[15]        Given this rationale, it is worthy of note that the discovery in issue in the matter at hand did not emanate from a party to the litigation. It does not consist of either oral or documentary discovery produced by Mr. Spinks. It is, rather, information gathered by the police in a process entirely independent of this litigation. I note this not because it necessarily follows that documents produced by third parties are not subject to the implied undertaking but rather because it is a factor that may be taken into account in determining whether a remedy ought to be granted…

[17]        The next issue is whether the plaintiff has used the discovery. The “use” that the plaintiff has made of the information is limited to listing those documents in a list of documents. That constitutes “use” within the meaning of the rule (Chonn v. DCFS Canada Corp. dba Mercedez-Benz Credit Canada, 2009 BCSC 1474 at paras. 47?52).

[18]        Assuming that the undertaking extends to documents produced by third parties to earlier litigation but relating to the conduct or affairs of a party to that litigation, I am satisfied that the plaintiff breached the implied undertaking.

[19]        In Juman, Binnie J. wrote this about the range of available remedies for breach of the implied undertaking:

[29]      Breach of the undertaking may be remedied by a variety of means including a stay or dismissal of the proceeding, or striking a defence, or, in the absence of a less drastic remedy, contempt proceedings for breach of the undertaking owed to the court…

Further, it may be that the breach can be remedied by precluding the party in breach from using the evidence in question. That was the remedy applied in Edgeworth Construction Ltd. v. Thurber Consultants Ltd., 2000 BCCA 453, 78 B.C.L.R. (3d) 200.

[20]        Another possible remedy, and the one sought in Chonn is removal of counsel of record for the party in breach…Voith J. concluded that the defendant was in breach of the implied undertaking but declined to grant a remedy. In doing so, he made four points. First, he noted that the documents were relevant. Second, he observed that had the defendant applied to obtain the court’s leave to make use of the documents, leave would have been granted. Third, he noted that although counsel ought to have made an application, his error was not, in all the circumstances, serious. Finally, and largely as a result of the above, there was no prejudice to the plaintiff. As a result, he ordered that the plaintiff produce the documents and that the defendants were at liberty to use them.

[21]        The same four observations apply in the case at bar. The documents are relevant. The outcome of an application to be relieved of the implied undertaking, had it been made, is predictable. Binnie J. commented on the manner in which a court’s discretion might be exercised when faced with such an application. At para. 35, he wrote:

[35]      The case law provides some guidance to the exercise of the court’s discretion. For example, where discovery material in one action is sought to be used in another action with the same or similar parties and the same or similar issues, the prejudice to the examinee is virtually non-existent and leave will generally be granted…

The example posited is this case. Next counsel’s conduct in this case is, if anything, less serious than that in Chonn. As in Chonn, plaintiff’s counsel in the present case raised the issue of the implied undertaking in his first conversation with Mr. Titanich’s lawyer. In doing so, he noted that he was of the view that he required the consent of the plaintiff in the previous action before disclosing the documents. He did not suggest that he needed Mr. Titanich’s consent presumably because Mr. Titanich was not a party of record in the earlier action. Mr. Titanich’s counsel did not suggest otherwise. She simply asked that the documents be forwarded to her. The understanding that Mr. Spinks had from the conversation with Ms. Roy was that they would each list the documents and that all he needed to do was obtain the consent of the plaintiff in the previous action. He obtained that consent and listed the documents.

[22]        Although for the reasons indicated, I think Mr. Spinks was required to obtain the consent of Mr. Titanich, in concluding otherwise, he was not acting in a cavalier manner but was rather proceeding carefully and on the basis of an analysis that appeared to have been shared Mr. Titanich’s own lawyer.

[23]        In all of these circumstances, there is, in my judgment, no need for any remedy.

While ICBC was not penalized for breaching the implied undertaking this case serves as a reminder that lawyers must respect the limits the law imposes on the use of documents which come within their possession through the compelled disclosure of the BC Rules of Court.  Failing to heed these restrictions can result in severe consequences as outlined in today’s case including removal from the case, exclusion of evidence or even dismissal of a lawsuit or a defence

Legal Principles For Left Turning Motorists at T-Intersections Discussed by BC Supreme Court

Last week reasons for judgment were released in a case discussing applicable legal principles when motorists are involved in left hand turn collisions.
In last week’s case (Burgess v. Fisher) the litigants were involved in a 2 vehicle collision in Vernon, BC.  The Crash occurred when the Defendant vehicle left a stop sign and attempted to make a left hand turn at a through roadway.  To complete the turn the Defendant had to first clear two westbound lanes.  The curb westbound lane approaching the Defendant vehicle was full of cars and limited the defendants view of vehicles in the inner westbound lane.  The Plaintiff vehicle was travelling in this inner westbound lane.  As the Defendant vehicle entered the inner westbound lane the collision occurred.  There was evidence that the Plaintiff vehicle in the westbound lane was speeding, although not significantly, at the time of the collision.
Both motorists said the other was to blame.  Mr. Justice Barrow, before addressing the issue of fault, succinctly discussed the governing legal principles for these types of cases.  He summarized the law as follows:

[17] Section 175(1) of the Motor Vehicle Act provides that the driver stopped at a stop sign must, before entering an intersection, yield to through or crossing traffic that has either entered the intersection on the through road or “is approaching so closely on it that it constitutes an immediate hazard”. Similar language is found in s. 174 which governs left turns at intersections. It provides that left turning vehicles must yield the right of way to approaching traffic that is “in the intersection or so close as to constitute an immediate hazard”.

[18] In Rae v. Thorpe, [1963] 43 W.W.R. 405 (B.C.C.A.), Tysoe J.A. considered the meaning of “immediate hazard” in the context of s. 164 (the predecessor of the current s. 174). Although he did not attempt to exhaustively define the phrase, he wrote at para. 18 that:

…if an approaching car is so close to the intersection when a driver attempts to make a left turn that a collision threatens unless there be some violent or sudden avoiding action on the part of the driver of the approaching car, the approaching car is an “immediate hazard” within the meaning of sec. 164.

The point at which the determination of whether the through travelling motor vehicle is an immediate hazard is the moment before the serviant vehicle begins to encroach on the through vehicle’s lane of travel (Rae at para. 25).

[19] Ballance J. adopted both of the foregoing propositions in Hynna in the context of s. 175 of the Motor Vehicle Act. In addition, she distilled two further principles applicable to the analysis required by s. 175 from Keen v. Stene, [1964] 44 D.L.R. (2d) 350 (B.C.C.A.). In that case, Davey J.A. wrote at para. 46 that:

…A driver waiting at a stop sign ought not to enter a through street unless it is clear that oncoming traffic does not constitute an immediate hazard. Excessive refinement of what traffic is an immediate hazard will defeat the purpose of the right?of?way regulations contained in s. 165 [ now s. 175], and make them an inadequate and confusing method of regulating traffic at intersections on through streets.

Sheppard J.A., in a separate concurring judgment, made the point that the hazard to which the section is directed extends to the threat of collision as opposed to simply a collision itself.

[20] One final general principle applicable to the analysis comes from the frequently quoted observation of Cartwright J. in Walker v. Brownlee, [1952] 2 D.L.R. 450 (S.C.C.). There, at p. 461, he wrote:

…when A, the driver in the servient position, proceeds through an intersection in complete disregard of his statutory duty to yield the right?of?way and a collision results, if he seeks to cast any portion of the blame upon B, the driver having the right?of?way, A must establish that after B became aware, or by the exercise of reasonable care should have become aware, of A’s disregard of the law B had in fact a sufficient opportunity to avoid the accident of which a reasonably careful and skilful driver would have availed himself; and I do not think that in such circumstances any doubts should be resolved in favour of A, whose unlawful conduct was fons et origo mali.

[21] Whether a through travelling vehicle constitutes an immediate hazard to a crossing or left turning vehicle is a function of at least two things: how far away the through travelling vehicle is from the intersection and how fast it is travelling. Both of these are matters that the servient driver must estimate before entering the intersection. In making those estimates, the servient driver is entitled to assume, in the absence of evidence suggesting otherwise, that crossing or approaching vehicles will observe and obey the rules of the road.

The Court went on to hold that the left turning vehicle was entirely at fault for the crash despite the evidence that the Plaintiff vehicle was speeding.  In coming to this decision Mr. Justice Barrow held as follows:

[32] The law obliged Mr. Karol to either remain at the stop sign or at least not to proceed into the westbound lane of through traffic on 43rd Avenue unless he could determine that approaching in that lane did not pose an immediate hazard. In order to make that determination, he had to be able to see far enough down the westbound lane to determine whether approaching traffic travelling at or near the speed limit would pose an immediate hazard. The hazard, it is to be recalled, is not just a collision but the immanent prospect of one…

[38] Returning to the matter at hand, as noted, Mr. Karol had a limited view of on?coming dominant traffic. Both he and Ms. Faucher testified that the Fisher vehicle was 10 or 15 feet away when they first saw it. I accept that their attention was focused on the through westbound lane of traffic. Neither formed an opinion as to its speed based on observations made prior to the impact. Further, Mr. Karol did nothing to avoid the accident, not because he was not paying attention or failed to appreciate the collision before it happened but because he had no time. His obligation was to assume that through traffic would be proceeding at least at the speed limit. Even if he could see more than 10 or 15 feet into that lane when he proceeded to encroach on it, I am satisfied that he could not see much further than that. He could not see far enough to assess whether he would pose an immediate hazard to traffic travelling at or near the speed limit. He was, therefore, negligent.

[39] The next issue is whether Ms. Fisher was also negligent. Mr. Karol has the onus of establishing that on a balance of probabilities. The question turns not on whether, had she been driving the speed limit, the accident would not have happened because she would not have been there, but rather on whether a reasonable driver, that is, one driving the speed limit, would have had a sufficient opportunity to observe the encroaching vehicle and taken the necessary evasive action.

[40] I am not satisfied that Mr. Karol has established negligence on the part of Ms. Fisher. I accept that she was speeding but not markedly or excessively so. More to the point, I am satisfied that she was so close to the intersection when Mr. Karol encroached on her lane of travel that, even had she been travelling at or near the speed limit, the opportunity she would have had to take evasive action was not such that, with exercise of reasonable skill, the collision would have been avoided.

$40,000 Non-Pecuniary Damages for Knee and Soft Tissue Injuries

Adding to this “pain and suffering case-law database” reasons for judgement were released today dealing with damages for a knee injury and soft tissue injuries sustained in a BC Car Crash.
In today’s case (Hill v. Durham), the Plaintiff was involved in a 2005 rear end accident.  The Plaintiff was a passenger at the time and the issue of liability (fault) was admitted at trial.  The trial focused on the extent of the Plaintiff’s accident related injuries and their value.  In total, damages of just over $77,000 were awarded including an award of $40,000 for non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life).
In arriving at this figure Mr. Justice Barrow summarized the Plaintiff’s accident related injuries and prognosis for these as follows:
[22] Dr. McKenzie saw Ms. Hill in early October 2006. In his consultation report of October 12, 2006 he wrote that Ms. Hill’s problem seemed to be localized to a particular tendon in the knee and he thought that it may be the “result of trauma during the motor vehicle accident”. He prescribed exercises and ordered some further diagnostic imaging. An MRI was performed in January 2007 and it revealed two things:  thinning of the patellar cartilage in the knee joint and greater than normal water content in one of the bones, a condition technically described as subchondrial bone marrow edema. Dr. McKenzie testified that edema such as that found in Ms. Hill’s knee is caused by one of two things:  trauma or excessive wear and tear. When it is caused by excessive wear and tear it is accompanied by other findings visible on x-ray. Those other findings were not present in Ms. Hill’s knee, and as a result Dr. McKenzie concluded that the edema she is experiencing is as a result of trauma. He noted that Ms. Hill’s left knee has neither of the conditions. He testified that the degree of trauma necessary to cause this condition would “not be trivial”. He said that the problems are consistent with the kind of trauma that might be sustained by hitting a knee on the dash in motor vehicle accident…

25]         To a degree the resolution of this issue and other issues turns on the reliability and credibility of Ms. Hill. In general I found Ms. Hill to be a careful and credible witness. She testified that she had experienced bumps, bruises and injuries of various kinds over the course of her life. She said that she had always recovered reasonably quickly and completely from these events. She expected to do likewise following this accident. In general she impressed me as someone not prone to dwell on or overstate her physical problems. I accept that she now believes she struck her knee in the collision, although she has reached that conclusion not because she specifically remembers doing so but rather on the basis of the circumstantial evidence. She testified almost in passing that at one of her first yoga classes, within a month of the motor vehicle accident, she told her teacher that she was experiencing difficulties with her right knee. I accept her evidence on that point, and accept that she became aware of the discomfort in her knee reasonably shortly after the accident. Further, I am satisfied that she did not strike her knee after the accident in a manner that would give rise to the condition Dr. McKenzie found. I think it more likely than not that, as Dr. McKenzie noted, Ms. Hill was experiencing a number of more significant pains in the immediate aftermath of the collision and it was only as those pains subsided and her activity level increased that she became aware of the difficulty in her right knee.

[26]         I am satisfied that Ms. Hill’s right knee problems are caused by the motor vehicle accident.

[27]         The prognosis for this injury is guarded. Dr. McKenzie’s opinion is that the condition is often chronic. In February 2007 he prescribed a knee brace for use when exercising in a way that strains the knee. In his opinion, Ms. Hill may require renewals of that brace as well as periodic support from physiotherapists and medications for pain and inflammation. Ms. Hill reported to Dr. Dodek in October 2008 that her knee symptoms were improving.

[28]         Ms. Hill’s other injury is to the soft tissues of her back. She has headaches secondary to that injury. In his October 28, 2008 report, Dr. Dodek expressed the view that her “long term prognosis for recovery…remains good” notwithstanding that almost three years had passed since the accident. Dr. Travlos, in his November 1, 2007 report, wrote that Ms. Hill’s headaches would continue to reduce in frequency and would likely return to their pre?accident level. As to her right mid and low back difficulties, he expressed no opinion on future prognosis. He did, however, encourage Ms. Hill to add cycling to her exercise program and to reduce her reliance on physiotherapy. He also thought that her consumption of over-the-counter analgesics could and should be reduced. Dr. Apel, in her September 12, 2008 report, concluded that the prognosis for complete recovery is guarded however the prognosis for significant symptom reduction is fair to good. In her view, Ms. Hill’s current exercise program is insufficient and with appropriate changes, including increased focus on stretching, she will experience further symptom reduction…

[34]         Turning to the authorities, the injuries sustained by the plaintiffs in Menhinick, Wery, and Houghton (Litigation Guardian of), are generally similar to those suffered by Ms. Hill. The prognosis for each of those plaintiffs, however, was more guarded than I find is the case for Ms. Hill. The injuries sustained by the plaintiffs in the other authorities cited by counsel for Ms. Hill are all significantly more serious. On the other hand, I am satisfied that Ms. Hill’s injuries are more significant than those suffered by the plaintiffs in Krogh and Job.

[35]         In summary, Ms. Hill suffered a moderate soft tissue injury to her back. That injury remains problematic almost four years after the accident. I am satisfied that it will continue to improve. Her knee injury is less painful but is likely to last longer, if not indefinitely. Based on all of the evidence and a consideration of all of the authorities cited by counsel, I find that the appropriate award for non-pecuniary damages is $40,000. Although not asked to, I would allocate that award $25,000 to the back injury and $15,000 to the knee injury. I have not reduced the award to account for Ms. Hill’s pre?existing knee problems because I am satisfied they would not interfere in any significant way with her recreational and other activities.

More on ICBC Claims and Breach of Insurance

I’ve previously written about the significant financial consequences that can come with being in breach of your ICBC Insurance and reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Penticton Registry, demonstrating the consequences of ‘breach’ in action.
In today’s case (Booth v. ICBC) the Plaintiff was the registered owner of a Camaro.   When purchasing her insurance with ICBC she declared that she was the principle operator.  In 2004 her son was driving the Camaro and was involved in an accident.  He injured a passenger in another vehicle in this collision.  ICBC payed out over $37,000 in settlement of the passenger’s injury claim.
ICBC came to the conclusion that the Plaintiff misrepresented who the principle operator was when she purchased insurance and concluded that the Plaintiff’s son was in fact the principle operator of the Camaro.  ICBC told the Plaintiff she was in breach of her insurance and demanded repayment of the $37,000.  The Plaintiff sued ICBC for a declaration that she was not in breach of her insurance.
Mr. Justice Barrow sided with ICBC and concluded that the son in fact was the principle operator.  In so concluding he summarized the law relating to principle operator misrepresentations as follows:

[5] The phrase “principal operator” is defined in s. 1 of the Insurance (Motor Vehicle) Regulation, B.C. Reg. 447/83, as follows:

“principal operator” means the person who will operate the vehicle described in an application for a certificate for the majority of the time the vehicle is operated during the term of the certificate;

[6] Section 19 of the Insurance (Motor Vehicle) Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 231, deals with forfeiture of claims. It provides, in part, as follows:

19(1) If

(b) an applicant for an owner’s certificate or driver’s certificate knowingly misrepresents or fails to disclose in the application a fact required to be stated in it…

all claims by or in respect of the applicant or the insured are rendered invalid…

[7] It is common ground that an applicant for an owner’s certificate by which insurance is acquired under the Act is required to identify the principal operator of the insured vehicle. It is also common ground that the defendant bears the burden of proving, on a balance of probabilities, that the insured knowingly misrepresented a fact contemplated by s. 19(1)(b). (See generally Gill v. Insurance Corp. of British Columbia, 2006 BCSC 1397 at para. 20, and Rai v. ICBC, 2005 BCSC 92 at para. 3.)

[8] Because an assertion that an insured knowingly misrepresented a material fact is tantamount to a claim of fraud, until the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in F.H. v. McDougall, 2008 SCC 53, it was thought that in order to establish such a claim, it was necessary that it be proven on something more than a mere balance of probabilities and/or that the evidence said to support it be subjected to a heightened scrutiny (see Bevacqua v. I.C.B.C., 1999 BCCA 553 at para. 44). In F.H., the court concluded at para. 40 that:

…it is time to say, once and for all in Canada, that there is only one civil standard of proof at common law and that is proof on a balance of probabilities. Of course, context is all important and a judge should not be unmindful, where appropriate, of inherent probabilities or improbabilities or the seriousness of the allegations or consequences.

[9] Finally, whether an insured has knowingly misrepresented a material fact is to be determined on the basis of the circumstances at the time the policy of insurance was issued (see s. 19(1)(b) and Rai at para. 14).

He went on to conclude that the son was the likely principle operator.  This case is worth reviewing in full for anyone interested in the types of considerations the courts make when making such a determination and in seeing the evidence that ICBC can lead in proving who the principle operator of a vehicle is.

Misrepresenting the principle operator of a vehicle may save a few bucks but this case gives over 37,000 reasons why doing so is not a good idea.

BC Injury Claims and Your Choice of Counsel

If you are advancing an ICBC or other BC Personal Injury Claim you have the right to hire whatever lawyer you want.  What if you live in a smaller community in BC and don’t have access to a lawyer who can take on your case?  What if you live in a larger centre in BC but want to be represented by a specific lawyer from another community?  Is it convenient or cost effective for a lawyer from another city to advance a personal injury claim on a contingency basis in these circumstances?
The answer is often yes because in British Columbia a lawyer can file a claim in a BC Supreme Court registry which is convenient for them and set down the trial in a registry that is convenient for you.  Practically speaking this provides personal injury victims meaningful and Province-wide access to their top choice of lawyers regardless of where that lawyer primarily resides.
Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court discussing this practice of lawsuits being launched out of one registry for the convenience of the lawyer and set for trial in anther registry for the convenience of the parties/witnesses involved.
In today’s case (Cooper v. Lynch) the Plaintiff was involved in a Vernon, BC Car Crash.  She lived in Salmon Arm.  In advancing her personal injury claim she hired a lawyer who practices in Victoria.
The Lawyer launched a lawsuit in the BC Supreme Court.  As a matter of convenience the lawyer started the lawsuit in the Victoria Registry and set the place of trial at a location convenient for his client (Kelowna,  BC).
The Defence lawyer brought an application to have the case moved to Kelowna for all purposes.  The Defendant relied on Rule 64(13) which holds that:
At any time after a proceeding is commenced, the court may on application order it to be transferred from the registry in which it was commenced to any other registry of the court for any or all purposes.
At the initial hearing the Master who presided agreed with the defence lawyer and transferred the entire file to Kelowna holding that since the place of trial was to be Kelowna, BC the entire matter should proceed out of the Kelowna registry.
The Plaintiff’s lawyer appealed the Master’s decision and succeeded.  In overturning the Master’s decision Mr. Justice Barrow held that there was nothing wrong with a lawyer in a BC Personal Injury Claim filing out of one registry for the convenience of pre-trial applications and to have the trial itself in a different registry for the convenience of the parties and witnesses who will testify.  Specifically Mr. Justice Barrow summarized and applied the law as follows:

[9] It is appropriate first to identify the practical significance of the master’s decision. It is that, by operation of Rule 44(10), interlocutory and pre-trial applications will generally be heard in Kelowna. There are exceptions to this rule. Rule 44(14) permits a registrar, in some situations including to accommodate the convenience of the parties, to allow a chambers application to be heard elsewhere than in the location that Rule 44(10) would otherwise require. In the proceeding at hand, the effect of moving the file to Kelowna for all purposes will be that, absent agreement or an order under Rule 44(14), interlocutory and pre-trial applications will be heard in Kelowna, where neither counsel practice.

[10] The test to be applied to an application to transfer a file for all purposes under Rule 64(13) is the same as the test that governs an application to change the place of trial under 39(7) (see Nicholls v. McLean, [1996] B.C.J. No. 1160 (S.C.) and Roberston v. Zimmer, 2001 BCSC 1067, 12 C.P.C. (5th) 131 (B.C. Master)). An early and often cited expression of the test is found in Armstrong v. Revelstoke (City) (1927), 38 B.C.R. 253, [1927] 2 W.W.R. 245 (C.A.). In Armstrong, the chambers judge dismissed an application to move the place of trial. The Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal from that decision. McDonald C.J.A. wrote at p. 256:

…There is a preponderance of convenience in favour of a change of venue, but nothing short of a great or considerable preponderance of convenience and expense would justify the taking from a respondent the right which the law has given him to select his own place of trial.

In McPhatter v. Thorimbert (1966), 56 W.W.R. 497, Kirke Smith L.J.S.C. (as he then was) adopted this statement of the law. He also adopted the rationale for it as set out inMcDonald v. Dawson (1904), 8 O.L.R. 72, namely that the plaintiff, as the dominant litigant, has the right to control the course of the litigation. Controlling the course of the litigation extends to choosing the place of trial and choosing the registry out of which proceedings are taken. The right is not absolute, however, as the Rules of Court make plain but overriding the plaintiff’s decisions as to the course of the litigation by, for example, changing the place of trial or moving the proceeding from one registry to another, is only to be done where the “great preponderance” of convenience supports doing so.

[11] Although the test is the same whether considering moving the place of trial or changing the registry out of which proceedings are taken, the application of the test in these two contexts will not always yield the same result. That is so because circumstances which may prove inconvenient or greatly inconvenient for purposes of trial may be inconsequential for purposes of pre-trial applications. The most obvious example involves witnesses. The degree to which one place or another is convenient for purposes of trial will be affected by where the bulk of the witnesses reside. On the other hand, where the witnesses reside will usually have little bearing on whether it is appropriate to move a proceeding. That is so because generally witnesses are not required and rarely attend pre-trial or interlocutory applications.

[12] In Okayasu v. Poulsen, 2001 BCSC 729, Cullen J. heard an application by the defendants to transfer a file from the Vancouver registry to the Kamloops registry for all purposes, including trial. He ordered that the trial take place in Kamloops but declined to order that the file be transferred to the Kamloops for other purposes. He reached that conclusion, at least in part, because the circumstances that warranted a change in the place of trial were less significant in the assessment of the preponderance of convenience of pre-trial and interlocutory matters.

[13] In Smith v. Shabutura, the master observed that most pre-trial proceedings involve only lawyers. He concluded that the action was entirely connected to Kelowna (save for the fact that plaintiff’s counsel practiced in Victoria) and concluded that the circumstances that favoured holding the trial in Kelowna also militated in favour of the file being transferred to the Kelowna registry for all purposes. In so concluding, it seems to me that he conflated the effect on the trial of the various circumstances to be weighed in the balance with the effect of those same circumstances on pre-trial and interlocutory matters.

[14] It remains to be determined whether the master was clearly wrong in concluding that the great preponderance of convenience favoured moving this proceeding to the Kelowna registry for all purposes. In my view, and with the greatest of respect, I think he was. There is nothing in the record to suggest that the defendant, or the plaintiff for that matter, would be so interested in pre-trial or interlocutory matters as to wish to attend the hearing of them. Moreover, should that prove to be the case with respect to any particular application, it is open to counsel to apply to have that application heard elsewhere than in Victoria. There is no doubt some administrative convenience to having the file located where the trial will take place. Further, transferring the file to Kelowna has the effect of distributing or dividing the burden of travel as between counsel, given that neither resides nor practices in Kelowna. These circumstances whether taken individually or in combination do not support the conclusion that the great preponderance of convenience favours moving the proceeding or file from Victoria.

The practical consequence of this decision is that it makes it easier for British Columbians to hire their choice of lawyer in personal injury claims.  This is a great result advancing consumer rights by making it easier for all British Columbians to hire a lawyer that best suits their needs whether or not that lawyer resides in their community.

As readers of this blog may know, whenever possible I am referencing the current BC Supreme Court Rules with the New Rules which will take effect on July 1, 2010.  I am doing this to get a head start in determining which BC Supreme Court cases ought to retain their value as precedents under the soon to be in force overhauled Rules.

The rule relied on and interpreted in today’s case (Rule 64(13)) remains largely intact under the new Rules.  The rule can be found at section 23-1(13) of the New Civil Rules and reads almost identically to the current rule.  Specifically the new rule reads as follows:

(13) At any time after a proceeding is started, the court may on application order the proceeding to be transferred from the registry in which it is being conducted to any other registry of the court for any or all purposes.

Given the minor changes between the current rule and the new rule today’s case will likely retain its value as a guiding precedent after July 1, 2010.

More on Costs and "Sufficient Reason" for Suing in Supreme Court

I’ve previously posted on the topic of costs consequences when a Plaintiff succeeds in a BC Supreme Court lawsuit but is awarded damages within the small claims court jurisdiction.
For the Plaintiff to be entitled to costs it must be found that the Plaintiff had “sufficient reason for bringing the proceeding in the Supreme Court”.  Reasons for judgement were released today dealing with this issue.
In today’s case (Johannson v. National Car Rental) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2005 BC Car Crash.  The Defendant admitted fault.  At trial Mr. Justice Barrow found that the Plaintiff suffered soft tissue injuries which he summarized as follows:
I am satisfied that the plaintiff suffered a mild to moderate soft tissue injury to her upper back and neck in the accident. She followed all of the medical advice she was given and was, I am satisfied, motivated to overcome her injuries. Between the date of the accident and the end of the year, she saw her chiropractor approximately 25 times. I am satisfied that the frequency of these visits was due to the pain and discomfort she was experiencing. The injuries caused her considerable discomfort, moreso than similar injuries might cause to other persons because of her pre-existing condition.
Mr. Justice Barrow awarded the Plaintiff just over $15,000 in total damages (well below the Small Claims Court’s current monetary jurisdiction of $25,000).  One of the central issues at trial was weather the Plaintiff suffered a frozen shoulder in the car accident on top of her soft tissue injuries.  Ultimately the Court found that the Plaintiff did suffer from a frozen shoulder but this was not caused by the accident.
The Plaintiff brought a motion to be awarded Supreme Court Costs arguing she had sufficient reason to bring her claim in the Supreme Court.  Specifically it was argued that if the Plaintiff’s expert evidence was accepted with respect to the cause of her frozen shoulder her claim was well within the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction.  The Defence lawyer argued otherwise stating that there was no sufficient reason to sue in the Supreme Court and that “the Plaintiff should have realized at the time she commenced her action that her frozen shoulder was not caused by the motor vehicle accident”.
The Court concluded that there was sufficient reason for this Plaintiff to sue in Supreme Court.  In reaching this conclusion Mr. Justice Barrow summarized and applied some of the principles in these types of cases as follows:
Rule 66(29) is, by its terms, subject to Rule 57(10). Rule 57(10) provides as follows:

A plaintiff who recovers a sum within the jurisdiction of the Provincial Court under the Small Claims Act is not entitled to costs, other than disbursements, unless the court finds that there was sufficient reason for bringing the proceeding in the Supreme Court and so orders.

[4] The onus is on the plaintiff under Rule 57(10) to justify her choice of forum (Bhanji v. Quezada, 2003 BCCA 445). Until the Court of Appeal’s decision in Reimann v. Aziz, 2007 BCCA 448; 286 D.L.R. (4th) 330, there was some uncertainty as to whether the plaintiff’s obligation to justify its choice of forum was a continuing one or rather one to be assessed only at the time the action was commenced. Chaisson J.A. resolved that issue, concluding that a plaintiff must only demonstrate that it had sufficient reason to bring the proceeding in the Supreme Court at the time the action was commenced.

[5] The “sufficient reason” referred to in the rule is often, but not invariably, related to whether the anticipated judgment will exceed the monetary jurisdiction of the Provincial Court. If, at the time the action was commenced, there was sufficient reason to conclude that the judgment would likely exceed the Provincial Court’s monetary jurisdiction, then the decision to proceed in this court will usually be found to be justified. There may be other reasons for proceeding in the Supreme Court. Some of those other reasons were identified in Kuehne v. Probstl, 2004 BCSC 865. Where those other reasons are present then, even if the anticipated monetary award is likely to fall within the jurisdiction of the Provincial Court, there may still be “sufficient reason” to proceed in this court.

[6] In the case at bar, the only basis advanced for proceeding in the Supreme Court is that the reasonably expected award was likely to exceed the monetary jurisdiction of the Provincial Court…

[12] In effect the plaintiff took the position when she launched this action that her frozen shoulder was the consequence of the defendant’s negligence. I am satisfied that she has always honestly believed that. While that conclusion was not free from doubt when the action was launched, it was not an unreasonable position to take at the time. The fact that her own doctor came to share that view is some indication that the position was not unreasonable, even though there is no evidence that she had the benefit of that opinion at the time the action was started.

[13] In summary, I am satisfied that there was sufficient reason for the plaintiff to bring this proceeding in the Supreme Court. The plaintiff is, therefore, entitled to her costs which, given the length of trial and the provisions of Rule 66(29)(b), I set at $6,600 plus disbursements.

In my continued effort to cross reference the current Supreme Court rules with the new Rules of Court that come into force on July 1, 2010 I will note that the Current Rule 57(10) will become Rule 14-1(10) and it reads identical to the current rule so the precedents developed under Rule 57(10) regarding costs should continue to assist litigants under our new rules.

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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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