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Tag: Sangha v. Chen

Damages Must Flow From Aggravations of Pre-Existing Injuries

Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Court of Appeal confirming that judges must award damages when pre-existing conditions are aggravated in part due to a tortious cause.
In this week’s case (Sangha v. Chen) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2005 intersection crash.  Both the Plaintiff and Defendant were at fault for the incident.   The trial judge assessed damages on the basis that the Plaintiff sustained a two year soft tissue injury.  At the time of trial the Plaintiff had on-going chronic pain which was rooted in chronic depression which pre-dated the accident.  However, the Court found that the collision physical injuries “aggravated his previous depressed state” but did not assess damages for the on-going worsened depression finding that the Plaintiff “would have suffered his current symptoms in any event“.
In finding that this was in error and that damages needed to be assessed to reflect the collision caused aggravation of pre-existing depression the BC Court of Appeal provided the following reasons:
[26]        With respect, it does not appear to me to have been open to the judge to find, as she did in para. 110 that Mr. Sangha “would have suffered his current symptoms, in any event”, having found earlier in that same paragraph that “his physical injuries aggravated his previous depressed state”. Further, her conclusion that Mr. Sangha would have suffered his current symptoms appears to be inconsistent with her view expressed in para. 111 that “at most the injuries suffered in the accident aggravated the plaintiff’s mood symptoms”. Given that the “mood symptoms” are exactly those symptoms encompassed within the pre-existing condition of depressive illness, para. 111 appears to allow for attribution of at least a portion of Mr. Sangha’s current symptoms to the physical injuries sustained in the accident.
[27]        I recognize that one must not parse a trial judge’s reasons for judgment with too much exactitude, and so I have turned to the evidence relied upon by the trial judge, the medical report of Dr. Riar, in her determination that all of Mr. Sangha’s current malady derives from his pre-existing condition. Nowhere in that report does Dr. Riar entirely dissociate the current condition of Mr. Sangha from the accident, so as to support the judge’s conclusion that Mr. Sangha would have suffered his current symptoms, in any event. While Dr. Riar clearly considered that the preponderance of Mr. Sangha’s current symptoms derive from the pre-existing mental illness, Dr. Riar also said “I feel that the accident in question aggravated his mood symptoms, which in turn fed into his pains, and they have continued like that all along” and “The only thing the accident did was complicate his situation somewhat more”. Questioned about this, Dr. Riar affirmed this view of the reflection to at least a small degree, of the physical injuries in Mr. Sangha’s current malady:…
[29]        The correct approach to pre-existing conditions is discussed in Athey v. Leonati, [1996] 3 S.C.R. 458, under the rubric of “crumbling skull:
            The so-called “crumbling skull” rule simply recognizes that the pre-existing condition was inherent in the plaintiff’s “original position”. The defendant need not put the plaintiff in a position better than his or her original position. The defendant is liable for the injuries caused, even if they are extreme, but need not compensate the plaintiff for any debilitating effects of the pre-existing condition which the plaintiff would have experienced anyway. The defendant is liable for the additional damage but not the pre-existing damage: Cooper-Stephenson, supra, at pp. 779-780 and John Munkman, Damages for Personal Injuries and Death (9th ed. 1993), at pp. 39-40. Likewise, if there is a measurable risk that the pre-existing condition would have detrimentally affected the plaintiff in the future, regardless of the defendant’s negligence, then this can be taken into account in reducing the overall award: Graham v. Rourke, 74 D.L.R. (4th) 1; Malec v. J. C. Hutton Proprietary Ltd., 169 C.L.R. 638; Cooper-Stephenson, supra, at pp. 851-852. This is consistent with the general rule that the plaintiff must be returned to the position he would have been in, with all of its attendant risks and shortcomings, and not a better position.
[30]        I also refer to Blackwater v. Plint, 2005 SCC 58, [2005] 3 S.C.R., 2005 SCC 58.:
[78]      It is important to distinguish between causation as the source of the loss and the rules of damage assessment in tort. The rules of causation consider generally whether “but for” the defendant’s acts, the plaintiff’s damages would have been incurred on a balance of probabilities. Even though there may be several tortious and non-tortious causes of injury, so long as the defendant’s act is a cause of the plaintiff’s damage, the defendant is fully liable for that damage. The rules of damages then consider what the original position of the plaintiff would have been. The governing principle is that the defendant need not put the plaintiff in a better position than his original position and should not compensate the plaintiff for any damages he would have suffered anyway: Athey. …
[31]        I respectfully conclude that the judge erred in failing to reflect, in her damages award, her conclusion of fact that “the physical injuries aggravated his previous depressed state” and “the accident did cause at least some of” the psychological symptoms. To what extent the damages should have been adjusted to account for these conclusions I cannot say. That question is one particularly within the purview of a trial judge. Accordingly, in my view, the award of damages must be set aside and the issue of quantum of damages must be remitted to the Supreme Court of British Columbia for fresh assessment.

Motorist with Right of Way Found 40% at Fault For Intersection Crash

UPDATE – June 12, 2013 -the below decisions addressing liability was upheld by the BC Court of Appeal.  The matter was set back to the trial judge, however, because the BCCA concluded the trial judge made a palpable error when assessing damages)
As discussed earlier this week, having the right of way is only one factor which determines fault for a collision.  A motorist with the right of way still needs to maintain a proper lookout otherwise they can share fault for a collision.  This was demonstrated in reasons for judgement released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, in the context of an intersection crash.
In this week’s case (Sangha v. Chen) the Plaintiff was driving northbound on Willow Street in Vancouver, BC.  As he entered an intersection the Defendant, who was faced with a stop sign, came through a side street resulting in a collision.

Although the Plaintiff had the right of way both motorists were found at fault.  In assessing fault at a 60/40 split Madam Justice Boyd provided the following reasons:

[34]In the case at bar, I am satisfied that Chen stopped at the stop sign, that she moved forward to check for northbound traffic and that, finding there was none, she began to move out into the intersection.  Unfortunately from that point forward she simply proceeded forward in her slow course across the intersection, without keeping any continuing lookout for oncoming northbound traffic.  Chen did not, therefore, become the dominant driver.  While she stopped and yielded to traffic, she failed to proceed with caution.  This was also a breach of her common law duty to other users of the highways because she clearly failed to meet the standard of care as set out by Lambert J.A. in Carich v. Cook: “care should be taken throughout the turn and as each new lane is entered to make sure that the situation as it was assessed when the turn started has not changed in the meantime”.

[35]For his part, I am satisfied that the plaintiff was likely travelling over 30-40 kph, although perhaps still within the speed limit.  Contrary to his evidence, I find that at the last moment, he did (perhaps even unconsciously) see the defendant’s vehicle and did slam on the brakes momentarily (accounting for the initial jerking motion Dr. Temple experienced).  While he could not avoid hitting the defendant’s vehicle (which by this time was in his lane of traffic), his vehicle effectively came to a stop on impact, although rotating somewhat to the right in a counter-clockwise direction.

[36]While the plaintiff may have remained the dominant driver, he had a duty to exercise reasonable care even if those around him did not respect his dominant position.  He clearly did not exercise reasonable care as he failed to keep a proper lookout.  The fact the defendant proceeded slowly across the intersection and that the collision occurred on the far side of the intersection convince me he should have seen the plaintiff earlier.  Had he kept a proper lookout he would have seen her vehicle earlier than he did and thus could have applied his brakes to avoid the collision.  But he had not kept a proper lookout and the accident ensued.

[37]In determining the division of liability, the court is to consider the relative responsibilities of the parties for the accident: Salaam, para. 35-38.  This is not a case similar to Amador, Ryonand Salaam where one driver saw the other and made a decision to proceed in a certain manner, while the other driver failed to see them and keep clear.  Here, neither driver saw the other prior to impact when the circumstances are clear that they should have.  Liability must therefore be shared more evenly.  That being said, while both parties failed to keep a proper lookout, and failed to see what was there to be seen, the defendant, as the servient driver, had a higher standard of care and the plaintiff, to a certain extent, was permitted to expect servient drivers to respect his dominant position.  Thus the negligence of Chen contributed more to the accident than that of the plaintiff.

[38]In all the circumstances I find that the defendant is primarily liable for this collision.  In this case, I would divide liability 60% against the defendant and 40% against the plaintiff.