Tag: rizzolo v. brett

BC Court of Appeal Discusses Non-Pecuniary Damages for Chronic Pain

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Court of Appeal addressing, amongst other things, a fair range of non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) for chronic pain caused by the negligence of others.
In today’s case (Rizzolo v. Brett) the Plaintiff was injured in a motorcycle accident in 2005.  The Defendant was found fully at fault for the crash.    The Plaintiff suffered a fractured tibia and fibula.  These bony injuries went on to good recovery however the Plaintiff was left with chronic pain as a consequence of the collision.  At trial the Plaintiff was awarded $562,000 in total compensation for the injuries including a non-pecuniary damages award of $125,000.  (You can click here to read my post summarizing the trial judgement)
The Defendant appealed arguing that this assessment was inordinately high.  The BC Court of Appeal disagreed and held that in cases of chronic pain which affect functioning there is nothing inappropriate with non-pecuniary damage awards well over $100,000.  Specifically the BC High Court held as follows:

[32]         A review of those cases supports the respondent’s argument that the trial judge’s award of $125,000 was within the acceptable range.  In Moses v. Kim, 2007 BCSC 1388, the plaintiff was struck while crossing the Trans-Canada highway, breaking his legs.  While the breaks healed, the plaintiff was left with pain in his legs, back and hip.  As he had been a very physical person prior to the accident, hunting, fishing, logging and playing sports, much of his life was affected.  In addition to restricting the activities he could enjoy, this led him to become shorter tempered and angrier.  He was awarded $165,000 in non-pecuniary damages.

[33]         The plaintiff in Funk v. Carter, 2004 BCSC 866, was also struck by a vehicle and suffered broken legs, as well as some soft tissue injuries.  While the plaintiff underwent surgery, the injuries did not heal well, and he was left with chronic pain and impaired mobility.  As with the case at bar, and with Moses, the plaintiff had been “very fit” prior to the accident, and had “a great deal of difficulty adjusting psychologically”.  As a result, he was awarded $140,000 in non-pecuniary damages.

[34]         Moore v. Brown, 2009 BCSC 190, was a case similar to that at bar where the plaintiff was on a motorcycle when struck by the defendant.  He suffered substantial injuries, including a shoulder injury, a leg ligament tear, knee problems and a foot injury.  The accident also led to chronic neck pain, headaches and lumbar problems.  Three years later, at trial, the plaintiff was still experiencing difficulties, including an altered gait and difficulty continuing in his work as a geo-scientist.  The trial judge awarded non-pecuniary damages of $115,000.

[35]         In Dufault v. Kathed Holdings Ltd., 2007 BCSC 186, the plaintiff fell while descending the stairs at the defendant’s business.  The fall resulted in knee injuries that the trial judge accepted would likely require knee replacement surgery.  This was exacerbated by chronic pain, hip problems, and some resultant mild depression.  Taking these considerations into account, the trial judge awarded $110,000 in non-pecuniary damages.

[36]         Finally, in Mosher v. Bitonti, 1998 CanLII 5186 (B.C.S.C.), the plaintiff sued two defendants for separate accidents.  The trial judge found that the plaintiff had suffered fractured right leg bones as a result of the first accident, which caused muscular damage.  He accepted that these were “very significant injuries” and that the plaintiff had suffered a painful recovery.  While there was a small chance of future degenerative arthritis, the plaintiff was left with a normal gait, but with some difficulty squatting, kneeling or crouching.  Those injuries resulted in the plaintiff being awarded $80,000 in non-pecuniary damages.

[37]         As can be seen from those cases, trial judges have assessed non-pecuniary damages at well over $100,000 where there is an element of significant ongoing pain and, particularly, where the plaintiff had previously enjoyed an active lifestyle or a physical vocation….

[39]         I agree with the respondent that the trial judge did not assess damages on the basis of a well-resolved fracture.  Rather, the award for non-pecuniary damages was largely based on the trial judge’s conclusions that the respondent suffered and would continue to suffer from chronic debilitating pain that profoundly affected all aspects of his life.  Viewed in this way, the award cannot be said to be inordinately high.  The chronic pain cases cited by the trial judge support her assessment.

[40]         I would not accede to this ground of appeal.

Another point of interest in today’s case were the Court’s comments about gathering new evidence after trial to challenge an award for ‘diminished earning capacity‘.  At trial the Plaintiff was awarded $250,000 for his loss of earning capacity.  The Defendant appealed and asked the Court of Appeal to force the Plaintiff to produce “documents pertaining to his employment since the trial“.  The BC High Court refused to do so and provided the following useful comments:

[43]         An appellate court should decline to exercise its discretion to make an order to admit “new evidence”, unless that evidence would tend to falsify an assumption that the trial judge made about what was, at the time of judgment, the future:  see Jens v. Jens, 2008 BCCA 392 at para. 29, citing North Vancouver (District) v. Fawcett (1998), 60 B.C.L.R. (3d) 201 (C.A.)(sub nomNorth Vancouver (District) v. Lunde).

[44]         It is unnecessary for me to review in detail the nature of the evidence tendered on the application by the appellant and in reply by the respondent.  Suffice it to say that the conclusions the appellant contended should be drawn from her proposed new evidence were clearly and persuasively refuted by the respondent in an affidavit and, in any event, did not rise to the necessary factual standard that would properly form the basis for a successful application for admission of new evidence.

BC Injury Claims, Expert Evidence and The Duty to the Court

One of the Rules regarding the conduct of expert witnesses in the BC Supreme Court is that they owe a duty to the court to be ‘independent’ and ‘unbiased’ in their opinions.  If experts fail to discharge this duty their evidence can be given little weight or even held inadmissible.
Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court demonstrating this principle of law.
In today’s case (Rizzolo v. Brett) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2005 motorcycle accident when a left turning driver proceeded in front of the Plaintiff in an intersection in Maple Ridge, BC.  The defendant was found fully liable for this collision (the case contains a good discussion of the duties of left turning motorists and is worth reviewing for anyone interested in this area of the law).
The Plaintiff suffered significant fractures of his tibia and fibula which required surgical intervention.  Damages of over $560,000 were awarded including $125,000 for non-pecuniary damages (pain and suffering) for the injuries which were summarized by Madam Justice Allan as follows:

[41] Mr. Rizzolo`s altered position, arising from the Accident caused by the defendant’s negligence, is characterized by continuing pain, changed mood, loss of ability to work effectively and happily, and a much-reduced capacity to engage in recreational sports.  He must take pain killers and anti-inflammatories although they upset his stomach, requiring him to take additional medication.

[42] At present, Mr. Rizzolo experiences constant pain in his left ankle, which is exacerbated by his work activities.  His left foot swells and he experiences occasional pain in his left knee.  He limps when he is tired or in severe pain.  He takes the following medication: Advil once or twice a week for pain management; Celebrex, an anti-inflammatory, daily; and amitriptylene, an antidepressant, twice a week to help him sleep.  He receives periodic cortisone injections from Dr. Dhawan.

[43] Mr. Rizzolo’s injuries are permanent and they affect his entire life – his job, his recreational and family life, and his sense of well-being.  I do not find that he exaggerated his symptoms and he is highly motivated to be as active as possible.

In advancing his claim the Plaintiff called evidence of an expert witness, an occupational therapist, who had conducted a functional capacity evaluation of the Plaintiff to assist the court in determining a fair award for cost of future care.  The expert employed a ‘unique motion capture system known as the Functional Assessment of Biomechanics System [FAB] to measure biomechanical forces.’  In cross examination evidence came out that this expert was ‘an inventor of FAB‘.  Having this fact revealed in cross examination (as opposed to being revealed up front) appaears to have caused the presiding judge to reject all the evidence of this expert.

In rejecting the evidence of this occupational therapist Madam Justice Allan summarized and applied the law of objectivity of expert witnesses as follows:

[104] In R. v. Mohan, [1994] 2 S.C.R. 9, the Court reiterated that expert witnesses have duties and responsibilities.  In particular, an expert witness is expected to provide an independent, unbiased opinion that is adequately researched and falls within his or her ambit of experience.

[105] I consider Mr. McNeil’s failure to disclose the fact that he is the principal of Biosyn and that he was an inventor of FAB to represent a shocking lack of candour.  As he has testified in the courts on numerous occasions, he is well aware that the duty of an expert is to assist the court with an independent and objective opinion on a particular issue.  To withhold such relevant information misleads the court and, as I have no choice but to reject all of his written and verbal evidence, constitutes a substantial waste of time.   It is impossible to parse out Mr. McNeil’s evidence as a qualified expert from that as an undisclosed salesman for Biosyn.

[106] I do not fault counsel for the plaintiff as I accept Mr. Kazimirski’s statement that he was unaware of Mr. McNeil’s association with Biosyn before Mr. Joudrey’s cross-examination.  While the plaintiff will be entitled to his costs in the result, he may not claim any costs relating to Mr. McNeil’s reports or attendance in court.  Counsel may address the issue of whether the defence is entitled to costs for two days of trial.

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If you would like further information or require assistance, please get in touch.

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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