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Tag: post traumatic stress discorder

Can Injuries in an ICBC Claim be Worth Less for Failing to Lose Weight?

The short answer is yes.  In BC, if a Defendant who negligently injures you can prove that the extent of your injuries would have been less if you took reasonable steps to ‘mitigate’ your loss then the value of your damages can be reduced accordingly.  This principle of law is called ‘failure to mitigate’.
Failure to mitigate can include failing to follow a reasonable treatment or rehabilitation program such as a weight loss program.  Reasons for judgment were released today by the BC Supreme Court demonstrating the ‘failure to mitigate’ principle in action.
In today’s case (Rindero v. Nicholson) the Plaintiff was injured when seated as a rear-seat passenger in a pick up truck which struck a vehicle that ran a red light.  Fault was admitted leaving the court to deal with the issue of quantum of damages (value of the Plaintiff’s injuries and loss). In assessing the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) at $36,000 Mr. Justice Meiklem found that the Plaintiff suffered from Patellofemoral pain (knee pain), a slight exacerbation of pre-existing post traumatic stress disorder and recovered soft tissue injuries to the neck and shoulders with accompanying headaches.
The Court found that the Plaintiff’s knee injury was the most serious of the injuries and summarized its effect on the Plaintiff’s life as follows:
The plaintiff’s knee injury is probably chronic and not likely to fully resolve. It is troublesome and painful when he stands for long periods, sits for long periods, or overextends any vigorous physical activity….The most significant limiting effect on his activities that he mentioned in relation to his knee pain was restriction on his style of big game hunting, and fishing. He hunts only from roads as opposed to hiking off into the bush as he sometimes did, and he avoids fishing areas that involve difficult access.
In arriving at the $36,000 figure the court reduced the damages by 20% for the plaintiff’s failure to mitigate, specifically the failure to lose weight which would have reduced the extent of the knee pain.  Mr. Justice Meiklem summarized and applied the law of failure to mitigate as follows:

[30] The defendants argue that the plaintiff’s failure to significantly reduce his weight has contributed to the severity and persistence of his knee pain and amounts to a failure to mitigate, which should reduce his award. There can be no doubt that the plaintiff would suffer less with knee pain that is increased with physical activity if he lost weight. The medical evidence confirms this elementary physical principle. At an estimated 265 pounds at trial he was about 25 pounds heavier than he was when examined by Dr. McKenzie in July 2008. I note that in July 2008 his left knee pain, which is his primary injury, was less prominent than his right knee pain. I appreciate that sore knees would probably make it more difficult to engage in the vigorous exercise that is usually part of a weight loss program, but the plaintiff has demonstrated that he can lose a considerable amount of weight when he changes diet and lifestyle, and that his left knee pain was lessened when he weighed less.

[31] I note that the plaintiff told Dr. McKenzie that he experienced knee pain when riding his mountain bike more than an hour as soon after the accident as June 2005, which, apart from showing that his knee injury was not very disabling,  shows that exercise is not out of the question for him. I find that the defendant has established a failure on the part of the plaintiff to mitigate his damages.

[32] The extent to which damages should be reduced is obviously not amenable to any precise calculation on these facts, but I note that in the Collyer case cited by the plaintiff, an award of $80,000 was reduced by $10,000 for a comparable failure. In the Crichton case cited by the defendants a 30% discount was applied for failure to participate in group psychotherapy sessions recommended by a psychiatrist and a family doctor, which would address an anxiety disorder and thereby assist in dealing with chronic pain. I find that a discount of 20% to the award I would otherwise make to account for failure to mitigate is appropriate.

On another note, this case contains a useful discussion of plaintiff credibility and some of the factors courts look at when gauging this.  Additionally, this case contains a very useful discussion of the law of ‘diminished earning capacity’ (future wage loss) at paragraphs 35-39.

More Judicial Consideration of Rule 37B

Reasons for judgement were released today by Mr. Justice Butler providing more commentary on the new BC Rule 37B.  (search this site if you wish to read my numerous previous posts on Rule 37B precedents).
In this case the Plaintiff witnessed a severe motor vehicle collision.  He was not involved in the crash nor did he know any of the people involved.   He claimed that he suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and sued for damages for nervous shock.  The claim succeeded and damages in the amount of $11,100 were awarded.
That in and of itself was a first in BC as far as I am aware as previous successful nervous shock cases involved circumstances where the allegedly injured party knew or had family connections to the victims of the collision.
The Defendants delivered a formal offer of settlement which was greater than the judgement amount.  The issue now was, what, if any, costs consequences should there be under the new Rule 37B.
In awarding the Plaintiff costs up to the point that the offer was made an in awarding the defendant costs from then onwards the court made the following comments:
[16]            One of the goals of Rule 37B, like the former Rule 37, is to promote settlements by providing that there will be consequences in the amount of costs payable when a party fails to accept an offer that ought reasonably to have been accepted.  That goal would be frustrated if Rule 37B(5) did not permit the court the option of awarding costs of all or some of the steps taken in a proceeding after the date of delivery of an offer to settle….

[20]            While the case was novel for the reason noted above, it was not particularly complex.  The foreseeability, proximity and public policy questions have been the subject of other decisions of both this court and the Court of Appeal.  Ultimately, my decision rested upon the evidence of the three psychiatrists regarding causation.  This should not have surprised the parties, as all three psychiatrists concluded that Mr. Arnold suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”) as a result of the nervous shock he experienced at the scene of the motor vehicle accident.  The real issue was whether the psychiatric difficulties he encountered approximately a year after the accident were caused by the motor vehicle accident induced PTSD.

[21]            Mr. Arnold received supportive medical legal opinions from two treating psychiatrists.  However, the report of Dr. Smith concluded that Mr. Arnold’s subsequent disability was not related to the PTSD or the motor vehicle accident.  Once Mr. Arnold was in receipt of that report, he had all of the information he required to properly consider the offer to settle.  Within a reasonable period after receipt of the report and the offer to settle, the offer to settle was one that ought reasonably to have been accepted.  This is the most significant consideration for me in deciding how to exercise my discretion in this case.

[22]            A reasonable period of time to consider an offer to settle is seven days:  Bailey v. Jang, 2008 BCSC 1372.  I do not know when Dr. Smith’s medical legal report was delivered to Mr. Arnold.  If it was delivered prior to the delivery of the offer to settle, then the offer to settle is one that ought reasonably to have been accepted seven days after the date it was delivered.  However, if Dr. Smith’s report was not delivered until some later date, I conclude that the offer to settle was one that ought reasonably to have been accepted seven days after delivery of the report.

[23]            Mr. Arnold has asked that I take into account the relative financial circumstances of the parties when exercising my discretion.  I find that I am unable to do so.  First, Mr. Arnold has provided no evidence regarding his financial circumstances other than the assertion that the likely result of a costs award in favour of the defendant will leave him with no recovery from the action.  Rule 37B gives this Court greater discretion than it had under the old Rule 37.  It specifically allows the Court to consider the relative financial circumstances of the parties.  However, there will always be a substantial difference between the relative financial circumstances of the usual personal injury plaintiff and the defendant’s motor vehicle insurer.  That difference, in and of itself, is not enough for the Court to exercise its discretion to deprive the defendant of costs.  If that was the intent of the new rule, it would have been more clearly articulated.

[24]            In the present case, Mr. Arnold has put forward no evidence of special circumstances regarding his finances.  He has put forward no evidence of other factors that should be taken into consideration in the exercise of my discretion.  Accordingly, I will leave it to other courts to consider when it is appropriate to deprive a party of costs when that party has delivered an offer that ought reasonably to have been accepted.

Rule 37B precedents are being handed down at a very fast pace by our BC Courts and I will continue to discuss these judgments as they come to my attention, particularly in ICBC or personal injury claims.