Tag: Mr. Justice Smith

Clinical Record Disclosure Thwarts Adverse Inference Request

Reasons for judgement were released recently by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, placing great weight on clinical record disclosure in denying a request for an adverse inference.
In the recent case (Beggs v. Stone) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2009 collision caused by the Defendant.  The Plaintiff suffered a variety of soft tissue injuries with accompanying psychological difficulties which rendered her disabled.  In the course of the trial the Plaintiff did not call a variety of treating physicians including one who treated her before and shortly after the collision and treating psychologists.  In declining to draw an adverse inference Mr. Justice Smith placed ‘particular emphasis‘ on the fact that fulsome disclosure of these treating physicians records was made.  In finding no inference should be made the Court provided the following reasons:

[22]         Counsel for the defence seeks an adverse inference from the plaintiff’s failure to call the family physician who treated her before and in the year following the accident and more particularly the psychologists who treated her both here and in Winnipeg after the accident. The factors for drawing an adverse inference are set out in Buksh v. Miles, 2008 BCCA 318, at para. 35. These include the evidence before the court, the explanations for not calling the witness, the nature of the evidence that could be provided, the extent of disclosure of the witness’s clinical notes and the circumstances of the trial.

[23]         In declining to draw an adverse inference, I place particular emphasis on the fact that the clinical records of all of these professionals were disclosed to defence counsel and were reviewed by all the experts who gave their opinions in part based upon those records. The plaintiff’s pre-accident condition and post-accident progress are well documented, and there is nothing to suggest that there is anything in those records that contradicts anything that the doctors who have testified have stated.

ICBC Wrong In Denying Part 7 Benefits Absent Timely Evidence Justifying Their Position

Update – an appeal of this decision was dismissed however the BC Court of Appeal noted that the trial judge erred in his interpretation of s. 101 of the Regulation in concluding that if ICBC is to rely on s. 96(f) to reject a claim for benefits, it must do so on the basis of evidence obtained before the expiry of the 60-day deadline.
 
 
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Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, holding that ICBC cannot deny Part 7 benefits based on speculation that a pre-existing condition is causing the injury in question absent evidence justifying this position obtained within 60 days.
In today’s case (Kozhikhov v. ICBC) the Plaintiff submitted over $10,000 in medical treatment expenses which ICBC refused to pay.  ICBC relied on s. 96(f) of the Regulations which excludes treatments for conditions caused by “sickness and disease” unrelated to the collision.  ICBC did not have evidence justifying this position, at least not in the 60 days following the submitted claim.  In holding that ICBC is obliged to pay the Part 7 benefits in these circumstances Mr. Justice Smith provided the following reasons:
[19]         The benefits claimed in this case are subject to s. 101(b). The 60 day period for payment allows ICBC the opportunity to review and investigate the claim. Obviously, it does not give sufficient time for the extensive investigation the corporation may undertake when defending its other insured–the allegedly at fault motorist–in the tort claim, but that is consistent with summary nature of the claim and the relaxed standard of proof required of the plaintiff.
[20]         ICBC relies on s. 96(f) of the Regulation, which reads:
The corporation is not liable to pay benefits under this Part in respect of the injury or death of a person
(f) whose injury or death is caused, directly or indirectly, by sickness or disease, unless the sickness or disease was contracted as a direct result of an accident for which benefits are provided under this Part.
[am. B.C. Regs. 379/85, ss. 36, 37; 449/88, s. 17.]
[21]         Section 96(f) must be read in conjunction with s. 101. If the plaintiff’s injury is caused by the sickness or disease referred to in s. 101, benefits are not payable. But in the absence of evidence that s. 96(f) applies, ICBC must pay benefits within 60 days after it receives proof of the claim.
[22]         In other words, if ICBC is to reject a claim for specific benefits under s. 96(f), it must do so on the basis of evidence obtained before the expiry of the 60 day deadline. In cannot use evidence obtained long after the fact to justify a failure to comply with s. 101.
 

Case Planning Conferences Cannot be Used "to force a party to identify specific medical experts"

Reasons for judgment were released today addressing the boundaries of the BC Supreme Court’s power to make orders respecting the identity of expert witnesses at a Case Planning Conference.
In today’s case (Dhunga v. Ukardi) the Defendant set down a Case Planning Conference some 15 months before trial and “sought an order that the plaintiff immediately disclose the areas of expertise of any experts whose evidence will be tendered at trial and an order limiting the expert evidence at trial to those areas of expertise.“.  Mr. Justice Smith rejected this request finding the Court has no jurisdiction to make such an order.  In reaching this conclusion the Court provided the following reasons:
[5] The orders that may be made at a CPC are set out in Rule 5-3(1). The relevant ones for the purpose of these reasons are Rule 5-3(1)(k) and (v):
(1) At a case planning conference, the case planning conference judge or master may make one or more of the following orders in respect of the action, whether or not on the application of a party:

(k) respecting experts, including, without limitation, orders
(i) that the expert evidence on any one or more issues be given by one jointly-instructed expert,
(ii) respecting the number of experts a party may call,
(iii) that the parties’ experts must confer before the service of their respective reports,
(iv) setting a date by which an expert’s report must be served on the other parties of record, and
(v) respecting the issues on which an expert may be called;

(v) any orders the judge or master considers will further the object of these Supreme Court Civil Rules.
..
[16] As pointed out in Amezcua, Rule 5-3(1)(k) sets out a number of specific orders that may be made in regard to experts, but those do not include an order disclosing an expert’s identity or the area of his or her expertise before the report is served, much less an order barring any additional experts or areas of expertise. If Rule 11-1(2) was intended to refer to such an order, I would have expected to see a corresponding provision in Rule 5-3(1)(k).
[17] I recognize that the list of specific orders in Rule 5-3(1)(k) is stated not to limit the orders that may be made and that Rule 5-3(1)(v) allows for any other orders the judge or master considers will further the object of the rules. However, as was said in Galvon, such general provisions are not sufficient to override basic and clearly established common law rights…
[22] Rule 11-1(2) cannot be used at a CPC to force a party to identify specific medical experts or areas of medical expertise or to limit the party’s case at trial to those experts.
To my knowledge this case is not yet publicly reported but a copy of the reasons can be found here: Dhugha v Ukardi
 

Pending Appeal No Reason For Trial Judge Not To Finalize Costs

Short and to the point reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, awarding a plaintiff double costs after proceeding to trial and besting a pre-trial settlement offer.
In the recent case (Codling v. Sosnowsky) the Plaintiff was injured in a motor vehicle collision.  Prior to trial she made a formal settlement offer for $55,000.   ICBC rejected this and proceeded to trial where she was awarded just over $70,000.  The Court awarded the Plaintiff double costs for besting the offer.  ICBC argued that it was premature to settle costs as the case was under appeal.  Mr. Justice Smith quickly disposed of this argument providing the following reasons:
[3]             The defendant also says it is premature to deal with costs because he has filed an appeal and even partial success could reduce the award to an amount below the offer to settle. I do not accept that argument. The duty of this court is to finalize its own judgment. If the Court of Appeal finds that judgment to be in error, the costs consequences will change accordingly.
In confirming that this was an appropriate case for double costs Mr. Justice Smith reasoned as follows:
[7]             On the basis of the evidence that the parties could reasonably have anticipated being called at trial, I find that the plaintiff’s offer represented a reasonable effort to assess her possible recovery. It was one the defendant should have recognized as being within the range of possible awards and ought reasonably to have been accepted, particularly when weighed against the cost of going to trial. I recognize that liability was denied and the plaintiff’s offer made no apparent discount for risk on that issue, but this was a rear-end collision and the defendant had little prospect of success on liability or contributory negligence.

No Costs Consequences Triggered With Marginal ICBC Victory Over Formal Settlement Offer

Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, addressing costs consequences following a trial where ICBC marginally beat their pre-trial settlement offer.
In last week’s case (Wattar v. Lu) the Plaintiff  was injured in a collision in which she and the Defendant were found equally at fault.  After the liability split the Plaintiff’s net damages awarded at trial came to $26,000.  Prior to trial ICBC made a formal offer of $27,500.  ICBC applied for costs consequences to flow from the Plaintiff’s choice to proceed to trial.  Mr. Justice Smith exercised his discretion and refused to award such consequences noting that the unrecovered potion of damages due to the operation of the Negligence Act was punishment enough.  The Court provided the following comments:
[13]         This was a three-day trial. In the absence of an offer to settle, the plaintiff would have been entitled to half of her costs, or $5,500, to reflect the division of liability. That would include $2,250, representing half of the costs attributable to three days of trial ($1,500 times three, divided by two). That is the proper amount by which to reduce the plaintiff’s costs as a consequence of her refusal to accept the settlement offer.
[14]         Counsel for the plaintiff argues that the plaintiff should recover all of her disbursements related to damages because she was substantially successful on that issue, but for the reduction resulting from the liability finding. I cannot accept that argument because the offer clearly encompassed a reasonable assessment of the plaintiff’s damages, discounted for the substantial liability risk. Acceptance of the settlement offer would have made it unnecessary for the plaintiff to prove her damages at trial.
[15]         The plaintiff is therefore entitled to costs of $3,250, plus one half of her disbursements to the date of the offer. In view of the modest award and the relatively small gap between the offer and the judgment, I do not consider it appropriate or necessary to further punish the plaintiff with an award of any portion of the defendant’s costs.

No Costs Consequences Triggered By Late Defence Formal Offer in Infant Claim

Update June 18, 2013 – Leave to Appeal the below decision was refused by the BC Court of Appeal
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Adding to the list of ‘other factors Courts can consider when deciding whether a formal settlement offer should trigger costs consequences following trial, reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, considering the fact that an infant settlement would require Public Trustee approval.
In last week’s case (Nemoto v. Phagura) the Plaintiff was involved in a collision when she was 13.   One week before trial ICBC made a formal settlement offer which was $300 greater than the damages she was ultimately awarded at trial.  ICBC applied to strip the Plaintiff of her post trial costs and to be awarded theirs.  Mr. Justice Smith refused to do so noting that the offer was only 1% greater than the trial award, that there was no competing defence medical evidence to better define risk and lastly that the Public Trustee’s approval would be required which would result in an abandonment.  Addressing the last factor the Court provided the following reasons:
[10]         A further complication arose in this case from the fact the plaintiff was 17 years old at the time of trial. That means a settlement based on the formal offer would have required the consent of the Public Guardian and Trustee (“PGT”) pursuant to s. 40 (7) of the Infants Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c.223. The absence of defence medical evidence may have made it more difficult for plaintiff’s counsel to persuade the PGT of the appropriateness of the settlement.
[11]          In any case, the PGT’s views could not likely have been obtained in the week between the date of the offer and the date of trial, requiring an adjournment of the trial. The plaintiff had to consider the delay that would have been involved in proceeding to trial at a later date in the event, however unlikely, the PGT was not prepared to consent.
[12]         In these circumstances, I cannot say that the offer ought reasonably to have been accepted and I decline to give effect to it in the matter of costs.

Defendant Ordered to Pay 25% Greater Trial Costs for "Reprihensible" Failure to Attend Examination for Discovery

Parties to a BC Supreme Court lawsuit can be forced to attend an examination for discovery set up by opposing litigants.  Failure to attend can have a variety of consequences.  Demonstrating one such consequence in action, reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, punishing a non-attending part with increased costs.
In the recent case (Stanikzai v. Bola) the Defendant was found 75% at fault for a motor vehicle collision and was ordered to pay damages of just over $189,000.  Prior to trial the Defendant failed to appear at an examination for discovery.  Mr. Justice Smith found this behaviour was “reprehensible” and ordered that the defendant pay post trial costs at a level greater than they otherwise would have been.  In reaching this decision the Court provided the following reasons:
[6]             Parties to civil litigation are required by R. 7-2(1) of the Supreme Court Civil Rules, to make themselves available for examinations for discovery. It is not something a litigant can choose to do or not do on the basis of her own convenience. If Ms. Bola was unable to attend the examination on the day it was set, her obligation was to notify her counsel and discuss alternate dates. Instead, she simply failed to show up.
[7]             I also find it difficult to believe that she had no knowledge of the false information her husband was apparently providing to defence counsel when a second discovery was requested. Ms. Bola showed a complete and unacceptable disregard for her duties under the law. I stress this was not the fault of defence counsel, who attempted to get her cooperation…
[10]         I find that the defendant’s refusal to appear at discovery meets the definition of “reprehensible conduct” and I would not hesitate to award special costs if I thought that conduct had affected the outcome of the trial. But, in the specific circumstances of this case, I find that there is another, more proportionate rebuke available.
[11]         Under normal circumstances the plaintiff, having been found 25 per cent responsible for the accident, would recover only 75 per cent of his costs. This arises from s. 3(1) of the Negligence Act, RSBC 1996, c 333:
3 (1) Unless the court otherwise directs, the liability for costs of the parties to every action is in the same proportion as their respective liability to make good the damage or loss.
[12]         Although payment of costs in proportion to the degree of liability is the default rule, the court has discretion to depart from it. That departure must be for reasons connected with the case, with the principle consideration being whether application of the usual rule will result in an injustice: Moses v Kim, 2009 BCCA 82 at para 70.
[13]         In these circumstances, I find that the interest of justice can best be served by depriving the defendants of the reduction in costs that they would otherwise benefit from and I award the plaintiff the full costs of this action.
 

Medical Advisor Opinion a Prerequisite For Post Trial Discretionary Benefit Deduction

I have previously discussed Part 7 benefits deductions following BC motor vehicle collision injury trials.  In short, a Plaintiff’s damages are to be reduced by the Part 7 benefits (past and future) that they are entitled to.
Two sets of reasons for judgement were recently released by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, addressing this deduction finding that before a Court can deduct damages for ‘discretionary’ Part 7 benefits there must be evidence of the corporation’s medical advisor.
In the first case (Paskall v. Scheithauer) the Plaintiff was awarded just over $65,000 by a jury for her injuries.  ICBC sought to deduct mandatory and discretionary Part 7 benefits from this amount.  In discussing the burden required for these deductions and in denying the application Mr. Justice Smith provided the following reasons:
3]         The replacement hearing aids and related expenses are a discretionary benefit under s. 88(2). The defendant has provided an affidavit from an ICBC claims examiner who says that the corporation paid for a hearing aid on one occasion, in January 2007, and who says: “I expect ICBC will continue to re-imburse reasonable incurred hearing aid expenses”.
[14]         The examiner’s stated expectation falls far short of the evidence required. Before discretionary benefits can be paid, s. 88(2) requires an opinion from “the corporation’s medical advisor”. No evidence from any such person has been put forward. The expert who provided a care opinion for the defendant at trial is an occupational therapist. There is no evidence that ICBC accepts her in the capacity of its “medical advisor” for purposes of s. 88.
[15]         Although the opinion of a medical advisor is a precondition to the payment of discretionary benefits, the corporation is still not bound to pay them. The examiner’s expectation is no more than an opinion about what his employer will do in the future. There is no evidence that he has the authority to make that decision and no explanation of the basis on which he feels able to express an opinion on what the corporation will do for the remainder of the plaintiff’s life…
[18]         At this stage of the proceeding, I believe it is appropriate to acknowledge the fact that in cases such as this the corporation has conduct of the defence on behalf of its insured. There is certainly no evidence that the corporation now disavows the position it instructed counsel to take at trial.
[19]         Accordingly, I find that the defendant has failed to meet the onus of proving the plaintiff is entitled to the benefits for which deduction has been sought.
In the second case (Stanikzai v. Bola) the Plaintiff was awarded just over $189,000 following trial.  ICBC sought to deduct some $16,000 in Part  7 items.  In disallowing the majority of these Mr. Justice Smith echoed his earlier comments stating as follows:
[24]         In her affidavit, the adjuster says that such a fitness program is “similar to physiotherapy” and therefore a mandatory benefit under s. 88(1). I cannot accept that assertion. Section 88(1) refers to “physical therapy”, which presumably means therapy by a licensed physiotherapist. It also refers to certain other specific forms of therapy. It does not refer to services by other professionals that may be “similar” to the named therapies.
[25]         Having regard to the requirement for strict compliance with the Act and its Regulations, the training program is not a mandatory benefit under s. 88(1). I accept that it could qualify as a discretionary benefit under s. 88(2), but under that section an opinion from “the corporation’s medical advisor” is a precondition to payment. There is no evidence of any such opinion. The defendants have failed to prove a basis for that deduction.
 

Defence Medico-Legal "Vacuum" Defeats Post Trial Costs Application

UPDATE January 28, 2014 – the BC Court of Appeal overturned the below result in reasons for judgement released today
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In an interesting demonstration of the BC Supreme Court’s discretion relating to costs awards following trials where formal settlement offers were made, reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, refusing to award ICBC costs where a Jury’s damages amounted to less than 10% of ICBC’s best formal settlement offer.
In the recent case (Paskall v. Scheithauer) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2005 motor vehicle collision.  Fault and damages were at issue.  Prior to trial ICBC tabled a $700,000 formal settlement offer.  The Plaintiff proceeded to trial and sought damages of over $2 million.  After a liability split of 80/20 in the Plaintiff’s favour the damages awarded by the jury came to just over $65,000.
Having enjoyed substantial financial victory as compared to their pre-trial offer, ICBC sought post offer costs and disbursements arguing their offer ‘ought to have been accepted’.  Mr. Justice Smith disagreed finding, interestingly,  that the the Defendant’s failure obtain medico-legal reports despite having the Plaintiff attend two independent medico-legal assessments created an evidentiary vacuum making it impossible for the Plaintiff to conclude that the formal offer was one that reasonably ought to have been accepted.  In dismissing ICBC’s sought costs the Court provided the following reasons:
[32]         In order to determine whether an offer is reasonable and ought to be accepted, the plaintiff must be able to consider it in relation to the evidence expected at trial and the apparent range of possible outcomes. In a personal injury case, that exercise usually includes consideration of conflicting medical opinions, along with the possibility and likely consequences of the court preferring certain opinions over others. Plaintiff’s counsel who is relying on an opinion from Dr. X can advise his or her client of the reduction in damages that may result from the court rejecting the evidence of Dr. X and accepting the opinion of Dr. Y that is being relied on by the defendant.
[33]         In this case, the evidence relied on by the plaintiff included opinions of a neuroradiologist, a neuropsychologist, a psychiatrist, an otolaryngologist and two physiatrists. The only experts put forward by the defendant on the question of damages were the occupational therapist dealing with cost of future care and the economist. The defendant served no medical expert opinions, although the plaintiff had attended two independent medical examinations at the request of defence counsel.
[34]         The onus of proof at trial is on the plaintiff. The defendant is under no obligation to produce medical evidence and may rely entirely on cross-examination of the plaintiff and the plaintiff’s medical experts to support an argument that the plaintiff has failed to prove damages. That is what defence counsel chose to do in this case, apparently with great success.
[35]         But the onus of proof at trial is not necessarily relevant to the question of whether an offer made before trial “had some relationship to the claim” or “could be easily evaluated”. In choosing to defend this case in the way he did, the defendant also chose not to provide the plaintiff with evidence on which she could judge the reasonableness of the offers to settle. With the plaintiff’s medical reports in hand, and in the absence of contrary medical opinions, I do not see how reasonable counsel could have recommended acceptance of either of the defendant’s offers or justified such a recommendation to the plaintiff.
[36]         A second factor for consideration set out in R. 9-1(6) is the relationship between the offer and the final judgment. However, the court cautioned against putting too much weight on this factor in cases involving jury trials, given the unpredictability of jury awards: Smagh v Bumbrah, 2009 BCSC 623 at paras 13-14.
[37]         In this case, I find the consideration under R. 9-1(6)(a) to be determinative. I am not only unable to say the offers ought reasonably to have been accepted, but I find that they could not reasonably have been accepted in the context of the evidentiary vacuum in which they were presented. I conclude the plaintiff is entitled to her costs as if the offers had not been made.

$25,000 Non-Pecuniary Assessment for STI's With Full Recovery Within Two Years

Adding to this site’s archived caselaw for soft tissue injury compensation, reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, assessing damages for soft tissue injuries which “achieved full physical recovery no later than two years after the accident“.
In last week’s case (Nemoto v. Phagura) the Plaintiff, who recently moved to Canada from Japan, was injured in a 2008 collision.   She was 13 at the time.  Fault was admitted by the offending motorist.  She suffered soft tissue injuries to her neck and lower back.   She also experienced anxiety while riding in a vehicle subsequent to the collision.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $25,000 Mr. Justice Smith provided the following reasons:
[16]         On the evidence before me, I find that the plaintiff suffered significant pain and limitations from the date of the accident until approximately the end of 2008, with intermittent, lingering difficulties for at least another year, but had achieved full physical recovery no later than two years after the accident. The physical difficulties in the immediate post-accident period were likely more difficult for the plaintiff to deal with than might otherwise have been the case because she was, at the same time, adjusting to a new school and life in a new country.
[17]         I also find that the plaintiff experienced severe anxiety while riding in cars for approximately two years and that anxiety still affects her efforts to learn to drive. For purposes of assessing damages, it does not matter that this anxiety may, to some extent, be influenced by the fact that her mother has similar fears and anxiety flowing from the same accident. In any event, there is no reason to believe this will be a long-term problem.
[18]         The plaintiff is in Canada on a student visa, which does not permit her to work, so there is no claim for income loss. I find there is no need for any future care arising from the accident…
[22]         In all the circumstances, I assess the infant plaintiff Rui Nemoto’s non-pecuniary damages at $25,000…

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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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