Tag: Mr. Justice Gaul

Court Declines To Reduce Care Award Where "Health Benefits Program for Aboriginal Persons" May Cover Expenses

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, addressing whether a cost of future care award for a First Nation’s plaintiff can be reduced where the federal government’s health benefits program for Aboriginal persons may cover the needed treatments.
In today’s case (Watkins v. Harder) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2012 rear-end collision that the Defendants accepted blame for.  The Plaintiff was injured and was awarded damages for chronic soft tissue injuries at trial.  These included damages for future care costs.  The Defendants argued that these should be reduced by the amount of any payments that could be claimed under the health benefits program for Aboriginal persons.  Mr. Justice Gaul refused to make the deduction and in doing so provided the following reasons:

[75]         Mr. Benning estimates that the present day value of the costs of Ms. Watkins’ Tylenol 3 and Extra Strength Advil amount to approximately $12,500. The defendants do not challenge these costs but argue that, like the physiotherapy costs, the costs for these medications will likely be paid by the federal government under its health benefits program for Aboriginal persons. Consequently, to avoid Ms. Watkins’ unjustified double recovery, the defendants contend these costs should be deducted from any cost of future care award.

[76]         Ms. Watkins argues that to deduct her anticipated physiotherapy costs and her medication costs from a cost of future care award would be to force her into a position where she is reliant solely on the state to pay for these expenses when they are more properly attributable to the defendants’ admittedly negligent conduct. In this regard she relies on Harrington v. Sangha, 2011 BCSC 1035, which addressed the deductibility of benefits provided under the PharmaCare program. In that case, Mr. Justice Willcock found there was no risk of double recovery as the evidence showed that the program was intended to be an insurer of last resort and would not provide benefits where a tort award provided compensation for those costs. To deduct the costs from an award would be to presume the plaintiff would make a fraudulent claim for PharmaCare benefits. It was noted, however, that PharmaCare had made submissions on this issue and so was aware of any potential tort award, making double recovery unlikely (see: paras. 160-162).

[77]         In Mitchell v. We Care Health Services Inc. et al., 2004 BCSC 902, the plaintiff, a member of the Kwumut Lelum First Nation, was rendered a quadriplegic in a motor vehicle accident. On account of her injuries and as a part of her ongoing treatment, Ms. Mitchell used a variety of prescription and non-prescription medications. At trial the defendants argued the costs associated with those medications should not form part of any award for the costs of future care because they would be paid for under the federal government’s health benefits program for First Nations persons. Mr. Justice Kelleher declined to make any deduction on the basis that the plaintiff would not be eligible for the benefits program because of the tort claim compensation. A factor that distinguishes this case from Ms. Watkins’ is that Justice Kelleher had evidence before him from the acting manager of the health benefits program on that specific point (para. 124).

[78]         Other decisions not referred to by counsel indicate these benefits are generally not deducted from tort awards. In Whetung v. West Fraser Real Estate Holdings Ltd., 2007 BCSC 990, Mr. Justice Grist refused to make a deduction for health benefits received as a result of the plaintiff’s Aboriginal status. He noted at para. 71 that the “defendant’s obligation should not be put aside on the basis of possible double coverage where the social source is only prepared to be called on should any prior obligation fail”. Again, unlike the present case, there was evidence before Justice Grist that the coverage under this program only extended where no other source of funding was available.

[79]         In Cottrelle v Gerrard, [2001] O.J. No. 5472 (S.C.J.) the court took the opportunity to summarize the evidence on the nature of the health benefits program for Aboriginal persons. Madam Justice Leitch concluded at para. 103 that the publicly-funded benefits program was a matter of policy and, as such, even though there was no evidence to suggest the program would be terminated or the benefits would be reduced, there was no guarantee the benefits would continue. On this basis, the court did not deduct such benefits from the damage award. The decision was later overturned on the issue of liability and the issue of deductibility was not considered (Cottrelle v. Gerrard, [2003] O.J. No. 4194 (C.A.)).

[80]         In H.L. v. Canada (Attorney General), 2001 SKQB 233, at para. 71 the health benefits provided to Aboriginal persons were deducted from a tort award. The fact that the defendant government of Canada was both the tortfeasor as well as the benefits provider is an important distinguishing feature of that case. On appeal the court overuled the trial judge’s decision, concluding that the intensive therapy required by the plaintiff would not be covered under the benefits program and should therefore be compensated through the tort award (H.L. v. Canada (Attorney General), 2002 SKCA 131 at paras. 259-63).

[81]         Neither party has provided any evidence with regards to the nature of the benefits Ms. Watkins is entitled to as a result of her status as an Aboriginal person. I have no evidence before me regarding her continued entitlement or the certainty of the benefits provided under the program, or on the eligibility for benefits when an alternative source of funding, such as a tort award, is available.

[82]         In these circumstances I cannot conclude that the cost of the treatments and medications in question should be deducted from the award Ms. Watkins is entitled to for her future care costs. As was noted in Harrington, without any evidence to suggest it, I cannot presume that the plaintiff would make a fraudulent claim for publicly-funded health benefits. On this basis, I do not find that an award that provides for full compensation of these costs results in double-recovery for Ms. Watkins.

Limitation Period Dismisses Two ICBC Injury Claims

Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Victoria Registry, dismissing two ICBC injury claims for being brought beyond the applicable limitation period.
In the recent case (DeWolfe v. Jones) the Plaintiff spouses were both injured in a 2005 collision.  They dealt with ICBC directly but never reached settlement.  During a conversation the acting adjuster, in response to the Plaintiffs advising they were not prepared to settle at the time told them that “I am leaving on maternity leave at month end and he knows that he can call to settle if things improve at any point.”
The Plaintiffs failed to start a lawsuit in time and argued that this statement from ICBC should prevent them from raising the limitation defense.  Mr. Justice Gaul disagreed and dismissed the lawsuits.  In reaching this decision the Court provided the following reasons:
[48]         In my opinion, Ms. Johal did not state or infer that liability had been accepted by the defendants to the extent that the only remaining issue was the quantum of damages. The parties had not entered into negotiations, only discussions in which Ms. Johal came to the conclusion that the plaintiffs did not want to consider settlement at that point.
[49]         Finally, even if the plaintiffs were able to establish that liability had been admitted and a promise made, I am of the view that they are unable to demonstrate they relied on such an assurance to waive the limitation period. In her examination for discovery, Mrs. DeWolfe admits that the main reasons why she did not commence her legal action earlier was that she simply did not realize there was a time frame in which she had to do so, and that “life just got busy”.
[50]         Although case authorities such as Esau v. Co-Operators Life Insurance Company Limited, 2006 BCCA 249, have commented on the advisability of insurers informing their clients of limitation periods, for better or worse the law remains unchanged. In my view, ICBC had no obligation or duty to raise the limitation period issue with the plaintiffs. Consequently, the plaintiffs’ assertion that they were unaware of that period is insufficient to ground a claim of promissory estoppel.
[51]         In my opinion, although the parties had discussed the possibility of settling the plaintiffs’ claims, there were no serious negotiations towards that end. At no point did ICBC concede to the plaintiffs that the defendants were responsible for the Accident and in my view there is no persuasive evidentiary foundation to infer that only the quantum of damages remained as an issue to be settled between them.
[52]         Finally, I am not convinced that the plaintiffs relied to their detriment on any assurances made by Ms. Johal or any other representative of ICBC.
[53]         In light of these findings, I conclude the defendants are not estopped from relying on the valid and complete defence that is available to them under the Limitation Act.
[54]         The defendants’ applications are granted and the plaintiffs’ actions are dismissed.

Pedestrian Struck in Cross Walk Faultless for Collision

Reasons for judgement were released today addressing whether a pedestrian struck in a cross walk bared any responsibility for their collision.
In today’ case (Gulati v. Chan) the Plaintiff entered a crosswalk when the Defendant motorist coasted through a stop sign and struck the Plaintiff.  The Defendant admitted partial fault but argued the Plaintiff should shoulder 10-20% of the blame for failing “to avoid his on-coming vehicle which, he maintains, was a visible and foreseeable risk to her.”  In rejecting this argument and finding the Defendant fully at fault Mr. Justice Gaul provided the following reasons:

[23]         Mrs. Gulati says she looked to her right and left before entering the crosswalk. At that time, she did not see any vehicular traffic coming in her direction. When she was approximately half way across the crosswalk she saw Mr. Chan’s vehicle approaching the nearby intersection that was controlled by stop signs. According to Mrs. Gulati, the vehicle was approximately 4 to 5 car lengths away from her when she first saw it. To Mrs. Gulati’s surprise, the vehicle did not stop at the stop sign; instead it turned left and struck her while she was in the crosswalk.

[24]         Mr. Leverett was standing at the southern end of the crosswalk, directly in front of the stop sign for the intersection. He saw Mrs. Gulati exit the Mall and stand at the northern end of the crosswalk. He saw her look both ways and then proceed into the crosswalk. According to Mr. Leverett, there was no vehicular traffic in the vicinity when Mrs. Gulati began to cross the road. Mr. Leverett saw Mr. Chan’s vehicle approach the stop sign. It appeared to Mr. Leverett that Mr. Chan was not paying attention to what he was doing, because his vehicle coasted through the stop sign. Mr. Chan’s vehicle then accelerated and collided with Mrs. Gulati who was still in the crosswalk.

[25]         Constable Lorne Smith of the Surrey RCMP attended at the scene of the Accident shortly after it occurred. While he was there, he spoke with Mr. Chan. According to Constable Smith, Mr. Chan said he had been leaving the Mall’s parkade, had not seen Mrs. Gulati in the crosswalk and had collided with her when she suddenly appeared in front of his vehicle. The officer issued Mr. Chan a violation ticket alleging that he had been driving without due care and attention and had failed to yield to a pedestrian contrary to the Motor Vehicle Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 318 (the “MVA”). Mr. Chan did not dispute the violation ticket…

9]         I accept the evidence of Mrs. Gulati and Mr. Leverett with respect to how the Accident occurred. In particular I am satisfied that Mr. Chan was not paying attention when he was driving and that he did not bring his vehicle to a stop when he should have. Instead, without any notice or warning to Mrs. Gulati who was legally crossing the road, Mr. Chan proceeded through the stop sign and turned left, leaving Mrs. Gulati with no time to react and avoid the collision. It was not unreasonable for Mrs. Gulati to believe that Mr. Chan’s vehicle would stop at the stop sign and it cannot be said that a reasonable person would have anticipated his decision to breach the rules of the road in the manner that he did.

[30]         In my opinion, Mr. Chan is 100 percent liable for the Accident.

Fast Track Removal Application Dismissed For Being Brought Too Late

When a claim is prosecuted under the fast track (Rule 15) the Court has discretion to remove the case in appropriate circumstances.  Reasons for judgement were recently published by the BC Supreme Court addressing such an application.
In the recent case (Peters v. ICBC) the Plaintiff was struck in a crosswalk by an unidentified motorist.  She sued ICBC for damages under section 24 of the Insurance (Vehicle) Act.  The case was prosecuted under Rule 15 and was set for trial.  The initial trial date was adjourned because there was no judge available.  The trial was reset and following this the Plaintiff applied to remove it from the Fast Track arguing damages in excess of $100,000 would be sought.  Mr. Justice Gaul dismissed the application noting it was brought too late in the litigation process.  In reaching this conclusion the Court provided the following brief reasons:
[28]         The plaintiff’s law suit has been in the fast track stream under Rule 15-1 since shortly after it was launched in the fall of 2011. The plaintiff’s examination for discovery has been completed. The matter was set to go to trial as a fast track trial in the fall of 2012 and would have but for a lack of judicial resources. The matter is now set for trial, again under Rule 15-1, for June of this year. I agree with the defendant’s argument that it is too late at this point to change tack and to remove the case from the provisions of Rule 15-1.
[29]         For all of the above reasons, the plaintiff’s application is denied.
 

Injury Claim With 30 Expert Reports Deemed "Too Complex" For Jury Trial


Reasons for judgement were recently published by the BC Supreme Court, Victoria Registry  striking a jury notice in a complex personal injury claim.
In the recent case (Campbell v. McDougall) the Plaintiff was involved in two collisions, the first in 2006, the second in 2008.  The trials were set to be heard together with ICBC seeking trial by jury.  The Plaintiff brought an application to strike the jury notices arguing the claims were too complex for a jury.  Mr. Justice Gaul agreed and provided the following reasons:
[14]         The plaintiff has served approximately 20 expert reports authored by 16 different experts. In reply, the defendants have served 10 expert reports prepared by seven experts. Combined, these reports amount to approximately 700 pages. The jury is therefore facing the prospect of examining, considering, digesting, and retaining information from approximately 30 reports authored by 23 experts. The range of expert evidence is as broad as it is long, and it includes: general medicine, physiatry, psychiatry, neuropsychology, psychology, anaesthesiology, neurology, plastic surgery, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, forensic engineering and economic actuarial analysis.
[15]         In addition to these expert reports, there are also over 1,200 pages of clinical records relating to the plaintiff’s condition and treatment. Many of these records will be used in cross-examination of the plaintiff and consequently the jury will need to be instructed on the proper use of such records…
[32]         In my opinion, the number of expert reports involved in this litigation, the varying opinions contained in those reports, the medical terms and principles referenced in the reports, and the plaintiff’s unique educational and professional background combine to make this case a significantly complex one…
[37]         I find that the issues that will be addressed at the joint trial of these matters will require the trier of fact to engage in a prolonged examination of documents, as well as a scientific investigation. I also find that the issues in dispute between the parties are of an intricate or complex nature.
[38]         I have reviewed and considered the authorities Ms. Stevens has submitted where juries have addressed complex issues in personal injury cases, as well as other types of claims, over the course of long trials. Having done so and having regard to the principles articulated in Nichols, it is my considered opinion that the examination and investigation in the present case cannot be made conveniently with a jury. Moreover, given the intricate and complex nature of the issues in dispute, in my view this case is not one that is suitable for trial with a jury.
[39]         The plaintiff’s applications are granted. The jury notices in both cases are struck out. The joint trial of these matters will therefore take place before a Supreme Court justice sitting without a jury.

Plaintiff Stripped of Significant Costs and Disbursements for Pursuing "Inflated, Exaggerated or Unrealistic" Claims


(Update January 16,2013 – the Court of Appeal granted leave to appeal the below costs award.  Once the final decision is released I will further update this post).
(Update December 10, 2013 – today the BC Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal of the below decision)
I have spent much time highlighting costs consequences plaintiff’s face under BC’s loser pays system and perhaps even more time discussing the further costs consequences that can flow from failing to beat a defence formal settlement offer at trial.
A less judicially considered area of the law relates to costs consequences where a plaintiff is awarded damages at trial far below the recovery sought where no defence formal settlement offer was in place.  The starting point in such cases is that a Plaintiff is generally entitled to costs provided the awarded damages exceed $25,000.  The court retains a discretion, however, to move away from this default position in “relatively rare cases”.  Such a result was demonstrated in reasons for judgement released this week by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry.
In this week’s case (Lee v. Jarvie) the Plaintiff was involved in a rear-end collision in 2004.  Fault for the crash was admitted.  At trial the Plaintiff sought substantial damages in the range of $800,000.  Much of the Plaintiff’s claim was rejected at trial but damages of just over $50,000 were assessed.
The Defendant apparently did not provide a pre-trial formal settlement offer.  As a result the default position of Rule 14-1(9) was triggered with the Plaintiff presumably being entitled to costs.  The Defendant argued that the Defendant was largely the victor at trial, at least insofar as the most substantial alleged damages were concerned, and that the Court should exercise its discretion to apportion costs pursuant to Rule 14-1(15).  Mr. Justice Gaul agreed it was appropriate to do so and stripped the Plaintiff of significant costs and disbursements.  In doing so the Court provided the following reasons:
[12]         The issues of apportioning costs between parties under Rule 57(15) of the former Rules of Court was addressed and considered in  British Columbia v. Worthington (Canada) Inc. et al(1988), 32 C.P.C. (2d) 166, 29 B.C.L.R. (2d) 145 (C.A) and more recently in Sutherland v. Canada (Attorney General), 2008 BCCA 27. From these cases, I have drawn the following guiding principles relating to the apportionment of costs:
1)    Applications to apportion costs should be the exception and not the norm in civil litigation, and they should be limited to “relatively rare cases”.
2)    The power to apportion costs is a discretionary one that “must be exercised judicially, not arbitrarily or capriciously”.
3)    The exercise of discretion must be connected to circumstances of the particular case “which render it manifestly fair and just to apportion costs”.
[13]         In addition to these principles, I am also guided by the test Finch, C.J.B.C. articulated in Sutherland at para. 31:
[31]      The test for the apportionment of costs under Rule 57(15) can be set out as follows:
            (1)        the party seeking apportionment must establish that there are separate and discrete issues upon which the ultimately unsuccessful party succeeded at trial;
            (2)        there must be a basis on which the trial judge can identify the time attributable to the trial of these separate issues;
            (3)        it must be shown that apportionment would effect a just result…
[38]         The apparent divergence of judicial approaches to the question of apportioning costs in personal injury cases appears to hinge on the determination of the degree of success the plaintiff enjoyed at trial and whether the trial was unnecessarily prolonged by the pursuit of inflated or unrealistic claims. Where the court finds the plaintiff was substantially successful at trial and there was no pursuit of exaggerated claims, then apportionment of costs will less likely be granted. However, where the court determines there was divided success, or finds there was a distinguishable portion of the plaintiff’s claim that was unrealistically pursued resulting in a more protracted proceeding, then subject to the guiding principles articulated in Worthington and Sutherland, apportionment of costs is a legitimate consideration…
[82]         In my opinion, the particular circumstances of this case permit the court to consider the plaintiff’s claims for loss of past opportunity to earn income, loss of future earning capacity and cost of future care as separate and discrete issues. Moreover, there is a clear basis upon which to calculate the amount of trial time, including argument, that was devoted to these issues. Finally, apportionment of costs would, given the divided success at trial and the plaintiff’s pursuit of inflated, exaggerated or unrealistic claims, affect a just result between the parties. I therefore find the case at bar falls into that category of “relatively rare cases” where apportionment of costs is appropriate.
[83]         What was to have been, and in my respectful view should have been, a 5?day trial, practically tripled in length, and much of that is attributable to the plaintiff and the nature of the evidence he led at trial. I rejected a significant portion of the plaintiff’s testimony. He was a poor historian of the facts and was at times deliberately evasive in answering questions. As I noted at para. 46 of my Reasons for Judgment, but for the detailed and probing cross-examination of the plaintiff, “…the court would have been left with an inaccurate impression and understanding of Mr. Lee’s situation and condition.” There were also significant deficiencies in the evidence of the plaintiff’s expert witnesses, Mr. Worthington-White, Ms. Quastel, Mr. Benning, Dr. Lee, Dr. Kokan and Dr. Hershler that only came to light during the course of extensive cross-examination.
[84]         The facts in the case at bar, as they relate to costs are, in my view, similar to those found in Bailey, Plackova, Berston, Shearsmith and Heppner, in that an inordinate and unreasonable amount of trial time was consumed by the plaintiff’s pursuit of exaggerated claims that were eventually rejected. The length of the trial was also made more difficult and prolonged as a result of the plaintiff’s credibility issues and his failure to fully and frankly disclose relevant information to his medical experts.

$60,000 Non-Pecuniary Assessment for "Not Serious" Lingering Soft Tissue Injuries

Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Nanaimo Registry, assessing damages for longstanding, but not disabling, soft tissue injuries.
In this week’s case (Samson v. Aubin) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2007 collision.  The Defendant admitted liability for the T-bone intersection crash.  The Plaintiff suffered soft tissue injuries to his neck, back, knee and ankle which were characterised as long-standing but “not serious” by his physician.   After an initial period of disability the injuries improved but plateaued without full resolution.  They were expected to flare with physical activities such as prolonged standing and heavier lifting.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $60,000 Mr. Justice Gaul provided the following reasons:
[44] According to Mr. Samson he continues to suffer pain and discomfort in his right knee, right ankle and especially his lower back on account of the Accident. As a result, he has been forced to reduce his efforts at work and has had to retain and pay others to complete the renovation work on his home. He has also had to reduce his recreational activities, including those he engages in with his son…

[47] While I found Mr. Samson to be a poor historian of events, I do not find that he has inflated the magnitude of his injuries in an effort to obtain a greater award of non-pecuniary damages. The evidence of Mr. Samson’s father, Gerald, coupled with that of Mr. Gray, Mr. Manson and the medical evidence, satisfies me that the injuries Mr. Samson suffered as a result of the Accident and the consequential pain, discomfort and loss of enjoyment of life from those injuries, are more severe than those found in the cases cited by the defence.

[48] I find Mr. Samson will likely continue to have some pain and discomfort in his lower back, right knee and right ankle for the foreseeable future. However, I also find that Mr. Samson has not actively pursued his rehabilitation to the degree expected of him. Since the fall of 2007, Mr. Samson has not participated in any exercise program designed to address his injuries, notwithstanding the advice and recommendations he received from the various healthcare professionals who had treated him following his accident.

[49] In my view, having considered all of the evidence, a fair and reasonable award of general damages for Mr. Samson’s pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life is $60,000.

$60,000 Non-Pecuniary Damage Assessment for SI Joint Ligament Injury


Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, assessing damages for a chronic Sacroiliac Joint Ligament Injury as a result of two motor vehicle collisions.
In today’s case (Keenan v. Fletcher) the Plaintiff was involved in 4 separate collisions.  She sued for damages and all four claims were heard together.  The Court found that the Plaintiff suffered no injuries in the first two crashes and dismissed those lawsuits.
The Court did, however, find that the Plaintiff suffered injuries in the third and fourth collision, most notably a chronic ligamentous injury to the right sacroiliac joint.  Non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) were assessed at $60,000 although this assessment was then reduced by 20% to take into account various other factors which contributed to the Plaintiff’s difficulties.  In assessing damages Mr. Justice Gaul provided the following reasons:

[98] Under the heading “Diagnosis”, Dr. Hershler opined:

The history and physical findings are consistent with an injury to the right sacroiliac joint. The injury is probably primarily ligamentous, however there is evidence of mechanical malalignment and increased tightness and tenderness in the right paraspinal, as well as increased tightness in the right leg secondary to this injury….

[119] The injuries to Ms. Keenan’s neck and shoulder have resolved themselves to a considerable degree. To a lesser extent, the injury to Ms. Keenan’s lower back has also improved. I find that the improvement in Ms. Keenan’s physical condition is directly attributable to her intense drive and will to get better. I also find that it was though this sheer determination that Ms. Keenan has been able to manage and limit the impact of these injuries on her life.

[120] Given the passage of time since the injuries developed and the fact that Ms. Keenan continues to experience low level pain and discomfort in her back on a reasonably regular basis and the occasional episode of intense pain, I am persuaded the injury to Ms. Keenan’s back is the key and principal injury that has resulted from MVA #3 and MVA #4. As I have noted, Ms. Keenan is a determined person and I have no doubt that her strength of character has been and will continue to be one of the reasons why she manages so well in spite of the discomfort she experiences in her back.

[121] In my opinion, the evidence supports the conclusion that Ms. Keenan will most likely experience the occasional severe flare-up of her back pain which will likely have a negative impact upon her ability to perform her police duties, including voluntary overtime….

[148] I am satisfied that this pain has on occasion had a reasonably pronounced impact upon Ms. Keenan’s ability to enjoy all facets of her life. In the period of time immediately after MVA #4, the pain was practically constant and debilitating. Over time the pain has become more tolerable and manageable. The medical evidence points to the fact that this back pain has decreased with the passage of time; however, there is a real possibility that it will continue to flare-up and cause Ms. Keenan significant difficulties for her at work as well as at home…

[151] I am satisfied that an award of $60,000 appropriately compensates Ms. Keenan for the non-pecuniary damages she has suffered as a result of MVA #3 and MVA #4. Applying the 20% discount for the contingencies I have previously noted, I award Ms. Keenan $48,000 for her non -pecuniary damages.

Cross Examination Beats Up RCMP Officer's Injury Claim


As previously discussed, cross examination is one of the most important tools in a trial lawyer’s arsenal.  This tool can be used both during examination for discovery and trial.  Cross examination can be used to explore and weaken an opponents case.  Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, harshly criticizing an RCMP officer and largely rejecting his injury claim based on evidence elicited during an extensive cross examination.
In today’s case (Lee v. Jarvie) the Plaintiff was involved in a rear-end collision in 2004.  Fault for the crash was admitted.  The trial focused on the value of the Plaintiff’s claim.  The Plaintiff was in the midst of applying for the RCMP at the time of the crash.  He was injured but fortunately was able to complete his application and training and went on to be successfully employed with the police force.
ICBC accepted that the Plaintiff was injured but argued that his injury claim was exaggerated challenging “the authenticity of (the Plaintiff’s) claim“.  Mr. Justice Gaul largely accepted this argument and dismissed a significant portion of the claim.  The below are some of the critical words the Court had of the Plaintiff:
[46] Mr. Lee was vigorously cross-examined by counsel for the defendants. By “vigorous” I do not mean the questioning was improper or disrespectful of the witness. I find the extensive cross-examination of Mr. Lee successfully revealed a number of significant and illuminating facts that, but for their disclosure, the court would have been left with an inaccurate impression and understanding of Mr. Lee’s situation and condition…
[71] In addition to eliciting important facts that have placed Mr. Lee’s claim in a more fulsome context, counsel for the defendants was also able to expose a number of contradictions and inconsistencies in Mr. Lee’s evidence, of which I will address but a few…
[81] While I am hesitant to find Mr. Lee fabricated his evidence on this point, I do find him to be an unreliable and inaccurate historian with respect to the amount and frequency of medication he has been taking…
[86] In great measure I agree with the submission of the defence that Mr. Lee’s evidence shifted during the course of his testimony and at times contradicted what he had said previously at his examination for discovery. On occasion I also found myself simply disbelieving Mr. Lee….(some of his evidence) stretches the boundaries of belief beyond their limits…
[87] In general, I found Mr. Lee to be less than forthright during his evidence and on more than one occasion I found him to be deliberately evasive in answering the question asked of him…
[89] It was only on account of detailed and probing cross-examination that a number of important and salient facts relating to Mr. Lee’s claim were disclosed or clarified. These details placed Mr. Lee’s claim in a markedly different light to the one based solely on what he said in his examination-in-chief. This, in conjunction with the inconsistencies or contradictions that were exposed in Mr. Lee’s evidence, compels me to approach his evidence with caution and scepticism. In general, I am not satisfied with Mr. Lee’s evidence. Unless I have indicated otherwise in these reasons, where there is a conflict between Mr. Lee’s evidence and that of another witness, I have given greater weight to the evidence of the other witness.
Further to my previous posts on credibility, cases such as today’s are worth reviewing in full to get a sense of the types of factors trial judges take into consideration in weighing the evidence of a party.  Today’s case in particular is a good introduction to cross examination in injury claims because the Court reproduces extensive portions of the Plaintiff’s cross examination and explains the damaging effect this had on his credibility.

Non-Pecuniary Damages for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome Assessed at $85,000

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, assessing damages for a left sided Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS) which arose after a series of accidents.
In today’s case (Lee v. MacLean) the Plaintiff was involved in two 2003 motor vehicle accidents.  The Defendants were found liable for the collisions focusing the trial on the cause of the Plaintiff’s injuries and their value.
Determining the cause of the Plaintiff’s injuries was no easy task as the Plaintiff was injured in previous motor vehicle collisions and continued to suffer pain from those events.   By the time of his 2003 accidents the Plaintiff still had pain in his neck, right shoulder and lower back as a result of his previous accidents.  The 2003 accidents aggravated these injuries and caused new symptoms.  Specifically the Court found that the 2003 collisions “triggered the onset of the thoracic outlet symptoms on (the Plaintiff’s) left side“.
The Court heard expert evidence from Dr. Peter Fry, a vascular surgeon with expertise in thoracic outlet syndrome.  He provided the following evidence with respect to the cause and severity of the Plaintiff’s left sided TOS:

I think significantly at the present time he shows evidence of more serious compression of the thoracic outlet given that there is clinical evidence that the venous drainage of the arm on the left is impaired compared to the right side.  This is an indication of fairly severe compression in this area, basically involving not only the vein but the artery where you can develop a bruit or turbulence during provocative testing for thoracic outlet syndrome and the reproduction of neurological symptoms that appear to involve both upper and lower plexus.

This being the case, I think it is highly that at some point in time Mr. Lee is going to require definitive surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome on the left.

I would opine that the accident of October 2003 was most likely responsible for provoking or exacerbating symptoms on the left side in a setting where he clearly had previous compression of the thoracic outlet and was therefore somewhat vulnerable to this injury.

Mr. Justice Gaul assessed the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) at $85,000.  The court then reduced this award by 25% to take into account the Plaintiff’s pre-existing injuries.  Mr. Justice Gaul provided the following reasons:

[118]     Applying the principles enunciated in Filsinger, I am satisfied Mr. Lee is both a “crumbling skull” and “thin skull” plaintiff.  The determination of which depends upon the precise injury.

[119]     The neck, right shoulder and lower back pains Mr. Lee complained of following the 2003 Accidents were quite similar to those he complained of after the 1990s Accidents.  I am satisfied that these symptoms would have continued to manifest themselves even if Mr. Lee had not been involved in the 2003 motor vehicle accidents.

[120]     With respect to the left side of Mr. Lee’s body, the issue is more difficult.  I accept the evidence of Dr. Fry that in 1998 Mr. Lee exhibited signs of thoracic outlet syndrome on the left side of his body, even though Mr. Lee was asymptomatic at the time.  I am persuaded by the evidence of Dr. Fry and Dr. Shuckett that the nature of Accident #1 and Accident #2 were such that they triggered the onset of the thoracic outlet syndrome symptoms on Mr. Lee’s left side and are therefore attributable to those accidents.

[121]     I also find that the concentration problems, headaches and associated vision problems that arose after the 2003 Accidents can at least be partially attributed to those accidents…

[123]     Given the pre-existing condition of Mr. Lee and the fact that the symptoms on the right side of his body were likely to have continued, notwithstanding the 2003 Accidents, I find that it is appropriate to make a 25% reduction in the non-pecuniary damages as well as the award for loss of earning capacity…

[135]     I found Mr. Lee to be a credible witness when he described the timing, nature and extent of his injuries.  In doing so, I accept that he had pre-existing pains prior to the 2003 Accidents, some of which were identical to those which developed after the 1990s Accidents.

[136]     Mr. Lee is entitled to be compensated for his injuries.  I do not find those injuries to have been as trivial or transient as suggested by the defendants.  On the whole I favour Mr. Lee’s description of the injuries and find that an appropriate award for non-pecuniary damages to be $85,000.  There will, however, be a 25% contingency discount to this amount on account of Mr. Lee’s pre-existing physical ailments.

[137]     As a result, the award for non-pecuniary damages is $63,750.

You can click here to read my archived posts of other recent BC Injury Cases awarding damages for accident caused Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.

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ERIK
MAGRAKEN

Personal Injury Lawyer

When not writing the BC Injury Law Blog, Erik is the managing partner at MacIsaac & Company, based in Victoria, B.C. He is also involved with combative sports regulatory issues and authors the Combat Sports Law Blog.

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