Tag: remoteness

Court Holds Diminished Capacity To Care For Loved Ones Not Forseeable Unless Care "taking place or contemplated" at the time of the tort

It is a well recognized principle that if a spouse needs to provide extraordinary services in caring for an injured loved one harmed by the negligence of others that this time can be compensated as an ‘in trust claim’ in the Plaintiff’s personal injury action.
What if the tables are turned, however, and the Plaintiff cares for a loved one but due to injuries to the Plaintiff he/she becomes unable to provide the care they otherwise would for their spouse?  The BC Court of Appeal released reasons for judgement, in a two one split, finding that such damages for such a loss are not ‘foreseeable’ unless they are taking place or contemplated at the time of the tort.
In this week’s case (Milliken v. Rowe) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2007 collision.   These had long term limiting consequences.  Subsequent to the collision the Plaintiff’s husband became ill.  The evidence proved that but for the injuries the Plaintiff would have cared for her husband.  The Court compensated the Plaintiff $30,000 for this loss.  In overturning this award, the BC Court of Appeal held it was not a foreseeable loss as this care was not “taking place or contemplated” at the time of the crash.  The majority provided the following reasons:
[31]         With respect, I disagree that the loss in this case reasonably could be foreseeable even under that standard. At its core, the award here is based merely on the fact that, at the time of the tort, the respondent and her husband were married with a possibility that at some future date the husband might require care of some kind. This did not make such care reasonably foreseeable at law. It might never occur: the respondent could die before care was required; the need for care might never arise; her surgery could eliminate the problem or diminish it significantly; or, her full-time employment may have eliminated or diminished her ability to provide care regardless of the accident. While plainly foreseeable as a theoretical, factual outcome in hindsight, this possibility was not a “real risk” in “the mind of a reasonable man in the position of the defendan[t]”.
[32]         In my view, the costs associated with caring for the respondent’s husband are too remote to be recoverable. As aptly stated by the Chief Justice in Mustapha, recoverability is based on reasonable foresight, not insurance.
[33]         The appellant also argued that even if damages were recoverable for the respondent’s diminished ability to care for her husband, as not too remote, as they were in Lynn, they would be recoverable under the heading of non-pecuniary damages and not as damages for loss of future care. I need not address this issue and leave it for a case in which it is engaged.
[34]         In my view, costs arising from the diminished ability to care for a disabled spouse of a plaintiff where no such care is required or contemplated at the time of the tort are not foreseeable at law; they are too remote.
[35]         I would allow this appeal and reduce the award of damages for the costs of future care by $30,000.
The decision also includes a well reasoned dissenting decision by Mr. Justice Donald which can be found starting at paragraph 36.
 

Post Crash Alcoholism Claim Dismissed at Trial


Last year I highlighted a claim which successfully advanced damages for alcoholism which developed following motor vehicle collision related injuries.  Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, considering a similar claim which was rejected at trial.
In this week’s case (Dennis v. Fothergill) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2007 rear-end collision.   She alleged that the injuries resulted in chronic pain which led to post collision alcoholism.  Madam Justice Bruce noted “serious reservations about the credibility of the plaintiff’s evidence overall” and dismissed the claim for post collision alcoholism.  In doing so the Court provided the following reasons:
87]         Turning to the superimposed illnesses of depression and alcoholism, I find there is insufficient, cogent evidence to establish a causal connection between these illnesses and the accident. While there is evidence that people who suffer from chronic pain can develop depression and alcohol dependence in response to the pain experience, there is a lack of evidence to establish a causal connection on the facts of this case. The plaintiff did not raise any concerns about her mood or her alcohol dependence with her physicians until December 2009 during an unrelated consultation with Dr. Zentner when asked about alcohol consumption and in December 2010, when she reported symptoms of depression to Dr. Swope. Thus there is a significant time gap.
[88]         Further, the only evidence of when and how the plaintiff began drinking to mask the pain subsequent to the accident is the plaintiff’s testimony, which is significantly inconsistent. The plaintiff’s disclosure to Dr. Zentner in December 2009 that recently her consumption of alcohol had increased to two or three glasses per day is not consistent with her testimony that since the accident she was consuming the same amount or more each night. The plaintiff’s testimony regarding the motivation for drinking is also inconsistent with her description of her past history with alcohol and her pre-accident injuries. The plaintiff testified that growing up with an alcoholic stepfather taught her to fear alcoholism and steeled her against becoming alcohol dependent as an adult. Prior to the accident she rarely drank and often abstained entirely. This positive attitude toward a healthy lifestyle and aversion to alcohol generally is quite inconsistent with a decision to immediately resort to drinking to lessen pain and improve sleep after the accident. Surely it would have taken some considerable time to break down a resolve to abstain from alcohol consumption that had sustained the plaintiff until she was 42 years old. The plaintiff’s description of how the drinking began is also inconsistent with a failure to develop alcohol dependence when faced with a similar history of chronic pain in her neck, shoulders and back prior to the accident. Lastly, the plaintiff’s evidence that she immediately began drinking alcohol for pain reduction after the accident is inconsistent with the fact that her neck pain was actually improving in early October 2007, just a few days after the accident.
[89]         I am also satisfied that there were many other stressors in the plaintiff’s life, apart from the injuries related to the accident, that are far more likely to be connected with her depression and alcoholism. The plaintiff had difficulties in her workplace; she left the Bee Hive because of disputes with clients that threatened the salon’s business. Had she not left voluntarily, Ms. White would have terminated her arrangement with the plaintiff. The plaintiff had significant financial problems. Her condominium leaked and she needed to raise $65,000 to pay for her share of the repairs. There was also an ongoing dispute with Visa over a $6,000 debt that led to a protracted lawsuit. She was behind on her mortgage, strata fees and income tax. It is significant that during the counselling sessions the plaintiff attended in 2011 and 2012, the subject of the accident never came up and pain was mentioned only once in the context of the plaintiff’s decision to go back to yoga for pain management. It was alcohol, relationships and financial problems that arose before the accident or were unrelated to the accident that formed the basis of her discussions with the counsellor. In addition, the plaintiff had a prior bout of depression in 2004 and 2005 that stemmed from financial worries and the troubling Visa lawsuit. She also had a significant family history of depression that created a risk for developing this illness.
[90]         While I find the evidence of Dr. Lu establishes that the plaintiff currently suffers from depression and alcoholism, I am unable to conclude on a balance of probabilities that these illnesses have a causal connection to the accident or to the injuries caused by the accident. Dr. Lu’s opinions about the causal connection to the accident are highly dependent upon the veracity of the plaintiff’s description of her chronic pain and its origins. As described above, the plaintiff has been dishonest with her physicians and has provided inconsistent evidence at trial. I found she was not a credible witness. Her explanations for these inconsistencies were neither candid nor reasonable. Dr. Lu agreed that alcoholics do not tell the truth about their drinking and try to appear functional when they are not. He testified that an alcoholic’s ability to work is the last to go. Thus the failure to call any corroborating witnesses outside of the workplace to describe the plaintiff’s drinking habits before the accident is a significant omission. I accept that the plaintiff may have lost contact with friends since the accident; however, this fact does not explain why she could not approach one of them to testify on her behalf about her pre-accident health and lifestyle. In all of the circumstances, it would be unsafe to accept the plaintiff’s description of her alcohol consumption as accurate either before or after the accident without some corroborating evidence. None of the collateral witnesses had any real knowledge of the plaintiff’s drinking habits because they did not socialize with her outside of the workplace. They could only say that she did not appear to come to work hung over. Ms. Hicks had no direct contact with her daughter until four years after the accident.
[91]         Accordingly, for these reasons I find that the plaintiff has failed to prove on a balance of probabilities that her current alcoholism and depression is causally related to the accident…

Relationship Breakup Following Collision "Too Remote To Create Liability"


Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, finding that a claim for damages for a break-up of a relationship following a collision is too remote for liability.
In last week’s case (Shinkaruk v. Crouch) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2006 collision.  He was found 20% at fault for the crash with the Defendant shouldering 80% of the blame.  The Plaintiff had “a significant history of low back pain” and this pre-existing injury was aggravated by the collision.  He was awarded damages for this aggravation.
During the period of aggravation the Plaintiff experienced difficulties with his partner and eventually she asked the Plaintiff to leave.  The Court found that this event was too remote to attract damages and in doing so Madam Justice Saunders provided the following reasons:

[59] It was apparent from Ms. Wahlwroth’s description of their interaction with each other, during the period in which Mr. Shinkaruk was convalescing from the accident, that their disagreements were largely a function of the two of them having very different visions of their roles and responsibilities within their relationship. It may be that these differences did not become manifest when the two of them had different working schedules. But with Mr. Shinkaruk at home in the evenings, she testified that she found it difficult to have him there without him making any contributions to the housework, making meals, cleaning up dishes, and doing other tasks which she felt he was physically capable of. She contrasted his lack of contribution with efforts made by husbands of friends of hers, when the couples had dinner together. Their differences were compounded by their poor communication skills, and they became trapped in a cycle of angry arguments, sniping and a lack of mutual respect. This climaxed during the December 2006 family vacation, when they spent little time in each other’s company, and had heated arguments when they did. She did not want her 13 year-old son exposed to that kind of behaviour, and that was a key consideration in her asking Mr. Shinkaruk to leave. These communication problems are issues which, she testified, they have both done a lot of work on recently and now that they are seeing each other again, there is a greater deal of emotional maturity being exhibited by both of them.

[60] It appears from the evidence that the most that could be said is that the motor vehicle accident contributed to the breakup in that it created a living situation, with Mr. Shinkaruk at home convalescing, in which fundamental and deep-seated issues between this couple became manifest. To the extent that Mr. Shinkaruk may have suffered emotionally or psychologically due to their breakup in December 2006, the defendant’s negligence is too remote to create liability.

Lawsuit Against Delta Police Following Bar Fight Dismissed


Lengthy reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, disposing of a personal injury lawsuit launched by a former NHL enforcer against the Delta Police and others following a 2006 assault which occurred at the Cheers Pub in Delta, BC.
In this week’s case (Burnett v. Moir) the Plaintiff suffered a moderately severe traumatic brain injury after being struck on the head with a bar stool.  The injury ended the Plaintiff’s professional hockey career.
There was video surveillance which showed “an assailant striking the plaintiff on the head with a bar stool taken from the premises afer he apparently stumbled and fell to the ground as he and the others were being ejected“.  The assailant was never identified.
The Plaintiff sued the owners and managers of the Cheers Pub, the local police, and the local government for compensation for his personal injuries.  Prior to trial he settled his case with the Pub.  The Plaintiff alleged that the local police and the local government were liable because they “failed to properly identify Cheers as a nuisance to the public, a trap for the unwary, and to take pre-emptive steps to abate the danger it represented to potential patrons”.
The Plaintiff led evidence to support his allegations including evidence that from 1998-2007 “there were a total of 2,410 police service calls to Cheers during that period, 231 of which were for assaults, 9 of which were for uttering threats, 10 of which were obstructing a peace officer, 138 for suspicious person/vehicle occurrences, 200 of which were for creating a disturbance, 217 for “unspecified assistance” and 1,605 of which were for “other”“.
Despite this evidence the lawsuit was dismissed with the Court finding that the Police and Local Government did not owe the Plaintiff a duty of care in these circumstances. Mr. Justice Cullen summarized his analysis as follows :

[411] The presence or absence of a close causal connection between the negligence alleged and the harm caused is a factor in determining proximity.  In Odhavji Estate v. Woodhouse, supra,Iacobucci J. held as follows in the context of a proximity analysis at para. 57:

Although a close causal connection is not a condition precedent of liability, it strengthens the nexus between the parties.

[412] Where, as here, the causal connection, insofar as the failure to warn is concerned, is remote and speculative rather than close, it cannot be said that the nexus between the parties is strong or compelling.

[413] For those reasons, while finding some limited evidence of a connection between the Delta Defendants and prospective Cheers patrons arising from the police corporate knowledge that a person entering Cheers was likely to be exposed to an environment involving some violent or turbulent circumstances, I am not satisfied the evidence reaches the level of establishing a close and direct relationship featuring the indicia of proximity identified by Chief Justice McLachlin in Hill v. Hamilton Wentworth, supra, or manifested in other decisions such as Jane Doe, Mooney, orSchacht.

[414] I thus conclude the relationship at issue does not sustain sufficient proximity to found a duty of care.  The plaintiff was but one of a large indeterminate pool of potential patrons of Cheers, rather than an identifiable potential victim of a specific threat.

BC Court of Appeal Discusses Forseeability Limits With Psychiatric Injuries


Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Court of Appeal succinctly highlighting some of the limits of the forseeability defence to personal injury lawsuits.
In today’s case (Hussack v. Chilliwack School District No. 33) the Plaintiff sustained a concussion when struck in the head with a field hockey stick as he approached another player.  He was a student in grade 7 at the time and the game was being supervised by a PE teacher.  Madam Justice Boyd of the BC Supreme Court held that the School District was responsible for this event because the teacher permitted the Plaintiff to play before he “learned any of the basic skills or even how to play the game” and that doing so breached the standard of care that the school should have exercised.
The Plaintiff developed serious psychological issues following his concussion.   At trial the Plaintiff was awarded  just over $1.3 million for his injuries and loss.
The School District appealed for many reasons but were largely unsuccessful.  The BC Court of Appeal made some modest reductions to the wage loss awards but left the trial judgement largely intact.  One of the Defendant’s arguments was that the Plaintiff’s severe psychiatric dysfunction was not a forseeable consequence of the event.  The BC Court of Appeal rejected this argument and in doing so provided the following useful reminder of the limits of the forseeability defence:
[71] It is not necessary for the plaintiff to show that the precise injury or the full extent of the injury was reasonably foreseeable.  What he must show is that the type or kind of injury was reasonably foreseeable:  Hughes v. Lord Advocate, [1963] UKHL 1; Jolley v. Sutton London Borough Council, [2000] UKHL 31; Ontario (Minister of Highways) v. Côté, [1976] 1 S.C.R. 595….
[74] The principle of reasonable foreseeability in relation to psychiatric injury is subject to a qualification:  where the psychiatric injury is consequential to the physical injury for which the defendant is responsible, the defendant is also responsible for the psychiatric injury even if this injury was unforeseeable.  See White v. Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police, [1999] 2 A.C. 455 at 470, Varga v. John Labbatt, [1956] O.R. 1007, 6 D.L.R. (2d) 336 (H.C.);  Yoshikawa v. Yu (1996) 21 B.C.L.R. (3d) 318, 73 B.C.A.C. (C.A.);  Edwards v. Marsden, 2004 BCSC 590; Samuel v. Levi, 2008 BCSC 1447.

PTSD Claim By Accident Witness Dismissed as "Too Remote"


If a witness to a BC motor vehicle collision suffers psychological injuries as a result of what they see they can claim damages.  There are, however, restrictions on when these claims can succeed.  Reasons for judgement were released today addressing this area of law.
In today’s case (Deros v. McCauley) the Plaintiff witnessed a collision caused by an “inebriated” driver in 2001.  At the time the Plaintiff was working on Highway 97 near Bear Lake, BC.  The Plaintiff was installing rumble strips on the side of the highway.  The Plaintiff was operating a sweeper and his friend, (Mr. Lance) was operating a grinder nearby.  The Defendant lost control of a pickup truck and collided with the grinder.  The Plaintiff witnessed the crash and was concerned for his friend.  Fortunately Mr. Lance “was not seriously injured“.
The Plaintiff claimed the incident caused PTSD and sued for damages.  The Insurance company for the Defendant argued that even if the Plaintiff suffered from PTSD this injury was ‘too remote‘ and therefore not compensable.  Madam Justice Gerow agreed and dismissed the lawsuit.  In doing so the Court provided the following useful reasons addressing the restricted circumstances when a witness to a crash can successfully sue for psychological damages:
[17]         In order to show that the damage suffered is not too remote to be viewed as legally caused by Mr. McCauley’s negligence, Mr. Deros must show that it was foreseeable that a person of ordinary fortitude would suffer a mental injury from witnessing the accident. He has failed to do so…

[23]         The cases, to which I was referred, where damages for nervous shock have been awarded to witnesses of accidents who were not physically involved in the accidents, involve accidents or events which are more shocking than the accident in this case. All the cases involved accidents in which someone has died or been seriously injured: James v. Gillespie, [1995] B.C.J. No. 442 (S.C.); Arnold v. Cartwright Estate, 2007 BCSC 1602; Easton v. Ramadanovic Estate (1988), 27 B.C.L.R. (2d) 45; Stegemann v. Pasemko, 2007 BCSC 1062; James v. Gillespie, [1995] B.C.J. No. 442 (S.C.); Kwok v. British Columbia Ferry Corp. (1987), 20 B.C.L.R. (2d) 318 (S.C.).

[24]         As set out in Devji v. District of Burnaby, 1999 BCCA 599 at para. 75, the courts have been careful to limit the circumstances in which injuries for nervous shock are awarded:

The law in this province, as formulated by Rhodes, requires that the plaintiffs, in order to succeed, must experience something more than the surprise and other emotional responses that naturally follow from learning of the death of a friend or relative. Instead, there must be something more that separates actionable responses from the understandable grief, sorrow and loss that ordinarily follow the receipt of such information. In Rhodes, Taylor and Wood JJ.A. described the requisite experience as alarming and startling (and therefore sudden and unexpected), horrifying, shocking and frightening, and Southin J.A. referred to a “fright, terror or horror”.

[25]         In this case, Mr. Deros witnessed a collision that involved no serious injuries. Even if I accept Mr. Deros’ evidence at trial that he initially thought a rod had skewered Mr. Lance, he knew within minutes this did not occur and Mr. Lance had not suffered serious injury….

[29]         There is no evidence that a person of ordinary fortitude would have suffered nervous shock injury or mental illness as a result of witnessing this accident. The experts testified about Mr. Deros’ particular reaction to the accident, but not that a person of ordinary fortitude would have suffered mental injury.

[30]         Mr. Deros does not argue that a person of ordinary fortitude would suffer mental injury from witnessing this accident. Rather, Mr. Deros argues that the evidence from the experts establishes that he was more prone to suffer from PTSD than an ordinary person was from witnessing this accident. As stated earlier, Mr. Deros argues that the evidence supports a finding he suffered mental or psychological injury from witnessing this accident because he was more prone to injury as a result of his pre-existing condition, i.e. he was a thin skull, and was not a person of ordinary fortitude.

[31]         Having failed to establish that a person of ordinary fortitude would suffer a mental injury from witnessing this accident, it follows that Mr. Deros’ claim must fail.

Post Accident Alcoholism Deemed Compensable in BC Tort Claim


Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, addressing an interesting issue: whether alcoholism following accident related chronic pain is compensable in a tort claim.  In short, Mr. Justice Voith held that it could be.
In today’s case (Zawadzki v. Calimoso) the Plaintiff pedestrian was struck by a U-Haul truck driven by the Defendant.   The Defendant was found fully at fault for the collision.  The Plaintiff sustained various physical injuries the most serious of which was an elbow joint fracture which required three surgeries and resulted in a permanent partial disability.
Following the collision the Plaintiff began to drink in excess.  This turned into clinical alcoholism the extent of which caused serious health consequences.  In his lawsuit the Plaintiff claimed compensation not only for his physical traumatic injuries but also for the consequences of his alcoholism.  The Defendant argued that the Plaintiff cannot be compensated for this as it is ‘too remote‘.
Mr. Justice Voith addressed this issue at length and paragraphs 99-123 are worth reviewing in full for the Courts analysis.  Ultimately Mr. Justice Voith held that the Plaintiff’s alcoholism was caused in part by the consequences of the crash and was therefor compensable.  The Court provided the following reasons:

[99]         Shortly after the Accident, the plaintiff began to drink heavily. The results of blood tests performed on the plaintiff in late December 2004 indicated that certain liver enzyme levels were extremely elevated. The medical evidence uniformly establishes that such elevated results are directly referable to alcohol consumption. Dr. Smith confirmed that such elevated enzyme levels would not arise as a result of binge drinking, but rather reflected weeks or months of drinking.

[100]     The plaintiff admits he began to drink excessively after the Accident and that his alcohol consumption reached the point where he was drinking 26 ounces of vodka on a nightly basis. ..

[117]     In this case, Mr. Zawadzki’s original physical injuries were foreseeable. So too, the defendants concede, were his depression and anxiety. It was the combination of pain and mood that Drs. Shane and Smith said gave rise to the plaintiff’s excessive drinking. Dr. Smith also confirmed that Mr. Zawadzki had a “genetic predisposition”, by virtue of the alcoholism of his parents, to alcohol abuse. A genetic vulnerability to alcohol abuse is the very type of pre-existing susceptibility that the “thin skull” rule addresses.

[118]     It is clear that both a susceptibility to physical harm and to psychological harm fall within the ambit of the “thin skull” rule: Hussack at para. 143; Yoshikawa v. Yu (1996), 21 B.C.L.R. (3d) 318 (C.A.) at para. 19. I can see no principled reason why a similar vulnerability to an addiction disorder should be treated or viewed differently…

[123] I find that Mr. Zawadzki’s alcohol abuse was caused by the Accident and that such alcohol abuse was reasonably foreseeable.

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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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