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Tag: no objective signs of injury

ICBC Claims, Soft Tissue Injuries and Credibility

Soft tissue injuries without objective signs are some of the most frequently litigated claims.  One of the reasons why is because credibility plays a vital role in these claims and ICBC often challenges the credibility of Plaintiff’s alleging such injuries.
Reasons for judgement were released on Friday by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, dealing with just such a claim.  In Friday’s case (Tayler v. Loney) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2005 BC Car Crash.  Her injuries included soft tissue injury to her neck and back.  These injuries unfortunately continued to linger for many years.  By the time of trial the Plaintiff’s pain was ongoing.  ICBC’s response to this was that the Plaintiff was no longer injured and was simply ‘lying to the court’.
Mr. Justice Grauer rejected ICBC’s position and accepted that she indeed did suffer injuries in the car crash which continued to bother her to the time of trial.  Damages of $42,500 were awarded for the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary loss (pain and suffering).  Since ICBC put the Plaintiff’s credibility squarely in issue the court had to address this head on.  In doing so the court engaged in a thoughtful discussion about credibility in ICBC injury claims where there is no objective sign of injury.  Mr. Justice Grauer summarized and applied this area of law as follows:

[65] While I have found that the plaintiff is in fact experiencing what she says she is experiencing, I also accept the weight of the medical opinion that there is no objective evidence of ongoing soft tissue injury.  In these circumstances, it is helpful to turn for guidance to the authorities to which counsel referred me, always remembering that each case turns on its own unique facts.

[66] In Butler v. Blaylock (7 October 1980), Vancouver Reg. No. B781505 (S.C.), McEachern C.J.S.C. (as he then was) remarked as follows:

I am not stating any new principle when I say that the Court should be exceedingly careful when there is little or no objective evidence of continuing injury and when complaints of pain persist for long periods extending beyond the normal or usual recovery.

An injured person is entitled to be fully and properly compensated for any injury or disability caused by the wrongdoer.  But no one can expect his fellow citizen or citizens to compensate him in the absence of convincing evidence – which could be just his own evidence if the surrounding circumstances are consistent – that his complaints of pain are true reflections of a continuing injury.

[67] Counsel for the defendant relied in particular on the judgment of Taylor J.A. for the Court of Appeal in Maslen v. Rubenstein (8 September 1993), Victoria Reg. No. V01071 (C.A.), where the court was concerned with:

… those post-traumatic phenomena – sometimes identified with and sometimes distinguished from conditions known as “idiopathic pain disorder”, “chronic (or chronic benign) pain syndrome”, “functional overlay” and “somatoform pain disorder” – which involve continued suffering in accident victims after their physical injuries have healed.

[68] At paras. 8-12, Taylor J.A. went on to describe the basic principles applicable to these “difficult cases”:

To meet the onus which lies on the plaintiff in the case of this sort, and thereby avoid the ‘ultimate risk of non-persuasion’, the plaintiff must, in my view, establish that his or her psychological problems have their cause in the defendant’s unlawful act, rather than in any desire on the plaintiff’s part for things such as care, sympathy, relaxation or compensation, and also that the plaintiff could not be expected to overcome them by his or her own inherent resources, or ‘will-power’.

If psychological problems exist, or continue, because the plaintiff for some reason wishes  to have them, or does not wish them to end, their existence or continuation must, in my view, be said to have a subjective, or internal, cause.  To show that the cause lies in an unlawful act of the defendant, rather than the plaintiff’s own choice, the plaintiff must negative that alternative.  The resolution of this issue will not involve considerations of mitigation, or lack of mitigation.  To hold otherwise, that is to say to place on the defendant the onus of proving that a plaintiff who suffers from a psychological problem had it within his or her own ability to overcome it, would be to require that the defendant, rather than the plaintiff, bear the onus of proof on the primary issue of causation, and would impose on defendants a heavy and unjustifiable burden.  If the court could not say whether the plaintiff really desired to be free of the psychological problem, the plaintiff would not, in my view, have established his or her case on the critical issue of causation.

Any question of mitigation, or failure to mitigate, arises only after causation has thus been established.

Where the court finds that psychological injury has been suffered as a result of unlawful conduct of the defendant which the plaintiff has not the ability to overcome by his or her own inherent resources, the court must then, if mitigation issues are raised, decide whether the defendant has established that by following advice which the plaintiff received or ought to have obtained, the plaintiff could have overcome the problem, or could in future overcome it….  Where appropriate remediable measures would resolve the problem, damages can, of course, be awarded only in respect of the period up to the date when, in the estimation of the fact-finder, the problem ought to have been resolved, or ought to be resolved.

Once the principles to be applied are recognized, the rest is a matter for the fact-finder to determine on the basis of the evidence in the case, and it is for this reason that I find little guidance in many of the decisions cited.

[69] Plaintiff’s counsel relied heavily on the judgment of Spencer J. In Netter v. Baas (14 February 1995), Vancouver Reg. No. B930557 (S.C.), where the learned judge commented as follows:

Over the ensuing 33 months, no doctors save one, has been able to find a satisfactory objective cause for [the plaintiff’s] continuing pain related to this accident.  All the doctors who filed reports agree that he suffered soft tissue injury and resulting pain, but none explains why the pain should have been so severe and lasted so long.  This is the classic case of the plaintiff without objective symptoms who claims an almost total disability from his former physical occupations….

Such cases invite skepticism on the part of the defendant who is asked to pay for such an extreme result.  But this is a plaintiff who claims a formerly very physical lifestyle in the outdoors.  Although he worked in a sawmill in town for the year preceding the accident, much of his life to age 37 had been spent outdoors as a driller-blaster, a prospector and part-time farmer.  His hobbies involve the outdoors too, camping, canoeing, hiking and fishing.  Some of the doctors who examined him remarked upon his strength and build.  Would such a person willingly abandon the lifestyle he had previously embraced for the sake of the chance of an exaggerated accident claim?  There are cases where plaintiffs have done that but generally there is evidence from which that can be determined.  No evidence was called to challenge the accuracy of this evidence about his previous lifestyle.

[70] Turning to the present case, there is, as I have noted, no doubt that the plaintiff suffered soft tissue injuries to her neck, shoulders, upper and lower back, causing pain, headaches and disability.  I have also found that although she genuinely continues to experience pain and disability, there is no objective evidence of continuing injury.  There is no muscle-wasting, atrophy or limitation of motion, and she has been observed to be capable of spontaneous movements inconsistent with continuing physical injury.

[71] What, then, is the explanation for the delay in the plaintiff’s recovery?  On the evidence before me, I conclude that the answer lies in a combination of factors, identified by both Dr. Yuzak and Dr. Teal, although in different ways.  Dr. Teal described it as a psychological predisposition to the effects of trauma, noting her five previous motor vehicle accidents, and her profession.  Dr. Yuzak referred to the three complicating factors of her five previous accidents, her status as a health practitioner, and an environment that was not conducive to healing.  I find that all of these have played a part, and explain why the plaintiff has not recovered as one might otherwise have expected.

[72] I do not consider that this psychological and circumstantial predisposition has a subjective, or internal, cause in the sense of being the plaintiff’s own choice, as discussed in the Maslencase.  Rather, it is the effect of the defendant’s unlawful conduct upon the plaintiff’s pre-existing state that has resulted in the circumstances in which the plaintiff now finds herself, subject to the issue of mitigation.  I do not accept that the stresses in the plaintiff’s life since the accident constitute a novus actus interveniens, as submitted by the defendant.  Those stresses are of the sort that many people experience, and but for her injuries, would not in my view have caused the plaintiff any loss.

[73] Accordingly, I find that the plaintiff has established that her ongoing state of experiencing pain and disability was caused by the defendant’s negligence.