Tag: surveillance

Neck, Low Back and Knee Soft Tissue Injuries Discussed

Reasons for Judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry awarding a Plaintiff damages for injuries sustained in two BC motor vehicle collisions.
In today’s case (MacIntyre v. Pitt Meadows Secondary School) the Plaintiff was involved in a total of three seperate accidents and sued.  All three trials were heard together.  His claim for the first accident (a claim against his school for being injured while in shop class) was dismissed.  This left the court to deal with the Plaintiff’s motor vehicle accident claims.
The first motor vehicle collision happened in 2003.  The Plaintiff was 15 at the time.  He was struck by a vehicle at low speed on his right leg while he was walking in a crosswalk.  The issue of fault was admitted.  The Plaintiff suffered a knee injury and eventually had arthroscopic surgery.  Mr. Justice Butler awarded the Plaintiff $35,000 for his non-pecuniary damages as a result of this injury.  In arriving at this figure the Court highlighted the following facts:
86] There is no question that Evan’s right knee suffered a significant blow in the Second Accident.  He suffered discomfort and a restriction in his activities.  In the first three weeks after the Second Accident, Evan missed six full days of school.  He found it difficult to crouch or kneel and felt that the knee was unstable.  He was not able to carry out his part-time job as a football referee.  He used crutches for a month or two and then used a cane.  He found it difficult to use the crutches because this caused additional pain in his right wrist.  His parents rented a wheelchair for him to use at home.  He was unable to take part in part-time work over the Christmas holidays…

[100] There is no controversy between the expert orthopaedic surgeons regarding the nature of the injury and the current condition of Evan’s right knee.  The structural injury was mild.  If there was damage to the ACL, it was not significant and healed quickly.  As of the date of the arthroscopic investigation, the knee compartment exhibited no abnormalities as a result of the injury.  All of the doctors accept that there was a severe strain to the right knee.  The impact of the injury was likely worse than it would have been for most people because of the pre-existing laxity in Evan’s knee joint.

[101] The experts also agree that Evan should have been symptom free sometime after June 2006.  However, as Dr. McCormack notes, there is a small subset of individuals who continue to experience residual symptoms.  The question that remains is whether Evan falls within that small subset.  If I can accept Evan’s subjective complaints of continuing pain and limitation of movement, I can conclude that he falls within that small subset in that his condition has reached a plateau.  This question raises the issue of Evan’s credibility….

I have concluded that I cannot accept his evidence regarding the continuing symptoms that he says he has experienced and is currently experiencing as a result of the three accidents.  There are simply too many inconsistencies in his case to accept his assertions at face value…

[105] In summary, I find that Evan suffered a severe strain to his right knee as a result of the Second Accident.  There is no lasting damage to his knee compartment or the knee structure. There is no possibility of future problems with the knee as a result of the Second Accident.  I also find that Evan’s knee symptoms persisted longer than they would have normally because of the laxity in his knee joints.  I accept Dr. McCormack’s evidence that normally after a couple of months of therapy following arthroscopy patients are able to return to their pre-injury status.  In the circumstances of this case, I conclude that Evan’s knee functioned well within three or four months after the arthroscopy, although some activities continued to cause him pain or discomfort.  Specifically, I find that the symptoms persisted for four or five years…

[111] Taking into account the incapacity Evan suffered after the initial injury and after the surgery, the aggravated injury to his right wrist, and the persistence of the symptoms for four to five years, I fix non-pecuniary damages at $35,000.

The second accident was a rear-end car crash.  Fault was admitted.   The Court had some problems with the Plaintiff’s credibility but ultimately did find that the crash caused a compensable injury.  In assessing the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages at $22,500 for this crash Mister Justice Butler found as follows:

[132] On the basis of all of the evidence, I conclude that the Third Accident resulted in a soft tissue injury to the cervical and lumbar regions of Evan’s spine.  In general, I accept Dr. Hill’s opinion evidence regarding the nature and extent of the injury Evan suffered.  While I do not accept Evan’s complaints of ongoing pain, I find that his symptoms persisted somewhat longer than predicted by Dr. Hill.  Given the level of physical activity Evan was able to maintain in the years following the accident, I conclude that the impairment to his work and leisure activities was not significant.  By the date of the trial, approximately two years after the Third Accident, the injuries were substantially healed…

[135] Given my findings, the cases referred to by the plaintiff are of little assistance.  In light of my finding that Evan’s symptoms persisted for two years, the only case referred to by the defendants that has some similarity to the present case is Levasseur.  Of course, in addition to the soft tissue injuries, Evan also suffered from disruption to his vision, which resulted in the strabismus operation.  In all of the circumstances of this case, I assess non-pecuniary damages at $22,500.

In addition to the Court’s discussion of pain and suffering awards this decision is worth reviewing for the extensive reasons given with respect to credibility.  In a tort claim involving soft tissue injuries Plaintiff credibility plays a key role.  Here the Court made some unfavourable findings with respect to some of the Plaintiff’s evidence.   Some of the evidence that influenced the Court’s findings were “facebook photographs…(showing the Plaintiff) performing many other activities without apparent difficulty.” and video showing the Plaintiff “winning the limbo contest with an impressive limbo move“.  This case is worth a read to see the damaging impact photographic / video evidence can in BC injury litigation.

More on ICBC Claims: Chronic Pain, Surveillance and Credibility

(Update: December 14, 2011 – the  below decision was upheld by the BC Court of Appeal in reasons for judgement released today)
I’ve written on this topic a few times in the past.  Surveillance in and of itself does not harm a Plaintiff’s ICBC Injury Claim.  It’s when surveillance contradicts a Plaintiff’s testimony that the damage is done.  Reasons for judgment were released today by the BC Supreme Court demonstrating this in action.
In today’s case (Fan v. Chana) the Plaintiff was injured as a passenger in a rear-end collision in Vancouver BC. The crash happened in 2000 and the Plaintiff was 9 years old at the time.
At trial the Plaintiff testified that she suffered various injuries in this collision and that these continued to affect her at the time of trial some 9 years later.   Mr. Justice McEwan noted that the Plaintiff “twisted, turned, stretched and pushed herself against the edge of the (witness) box almost constantly” while testifying.
The Court concluded that the Plaintiff’s injuries were not as severe as presented and instead found that this crash caused “soft tissue injuries of an immediate duration of less than two years” and awarded $25,000 for the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages.
In coming to his conclusions about the extent and severity of the Plaintiff’s injuries the Court noted the following about video surveillance evidence that was gathered on behalf of the defendant:

[50] The plaintiff was shown a surveillance video taken March 18 and 19, 2009, apparently showing her going about without any apparent pain.  After spending four hours at a wave pool she went to a very long movie without the sort of getting up and walking around that she suggested she needed.  In redirect she identified a few occasions on the video where she appeared to “crack” her neck…

[74] The plaintiff’s case is somewhat unusual in that there appear to be two quite different dimensions in which she moves.  The first is her ordinary, public life.  This is the world of school and teachers and social friends.  In the aftermath of the accident, the plaintiff’s physical education teachers noted no change.  The plaintiff’s marks were those of a diligent, hard working student.  Her social activities are in all respects normal.  The plaintiff’s friends consider her an outgoing, lively companion.  Significantly, the most obvious sign of pain they were able to remark upon was her habit of “cracking” her neck and back, something that is medically of no import according to those who have treated her, including Dr. Hahn.

[75] The surveillance video and the plaintiff’s observed behaviour do not show anything like the pattern demonstrated in court.  There may be a few occasions when the plaintiff “cracked” her neck, but it is very difficult to say.  The observations made by the surveillance operators specifically do not bear out the plaintiff’s suggestions that she is a drag on her friends, frequently holding them up to take rest breaks and unable to sit through movies.  She was observed to sit through a very long film with no trouble.  I recognize the caution with which surveillance of a brief sample of a person’s life must be approached, but I also note that the observers managed to spend a number of hours watching the plaintiff doing things she specifically cited as current examples of her disability, without noting any of the overt signs her evidence would suggest.

In addition to a useful and lengthy discussion on credibility in chronic pain cases Mr. Justice McEwan had the following statement of interest when it comes to doctor’s opinions regarding the severity of Chronic Pain in Subjective Injury Cases:

[72] The balance of the medical opinion divides along lines that depend on the degree of scepticism the doctors bring to the description of symptoms with which they were presented.  These range from very strong endorsements of the plaintiff’s claims (Dr. Kuttner, as reported by Dr. Hahn) to the blunt, contrary opinions offered by Dr. Weeks.

[73] I see very little purpose in parsing the medical reports to sort out who has the greater credibility based on their qualifications (i.e. “paediatric” physiatrists v. “adult” physiatrists).  As courts have observed on any number of occasions, the approach taken by medical professionals is not forensic: they assume that the patient is accurately reporting to them and then set about a diagnosis that plausibly fits the pattern of the complaint.  In the absence of objective signs of injury, the court’s reliance on the medical profession must, however, proceed from the facts it finds, and must seek congruence between those facts and the advice offered by the medical witnesses as to the possible medical consequences and the potential duration of the injuries.

When prosecuting a Chronic Pain claim the above quote is important to keep in mind.  Just because a physician accepts that a Plaintiff suffers from Chronic Pain as a consequence of a car accident and makes a diagnosis accordingly does not mean a Court has to accept the diagnosis.  The Court can and will make an independent finding of credibility and decide if the pain a Plaintiff complains of is sincere.

$36,000 Non-Pecuniary Damages Awarded for Rib Injury

Reasons for judgment were released last Thursday (Grier v. Saadzoi) awarding a Plaintiff just over $46,000 in total damages as a result of injuries suffered in a 2004 British Columbia motor vehicle collision.
The crash happened in Surrey, BC.  The collision resulted in significant vehicle damage totalling the Plaintiff’s car.  The Plaintiff suffered various soft tissue injuries and rib pain.
In assessing the Plaintiff’s pain and suffering at $36,000 Mr. Justice Brooke summarized the Plaintiff’s injuries as follows:

[24]            I find that the plaintiff was a credible witness, who neither exaggerated nor diminished the injuries that she sustained or the continuing pain and discomfort she has.  She was a reliable historian.  She struck me as a person who is getting on with her life, despite having to put up with some pain and discomfort.  I am also satisfied that she has followed the advice that she has been given in terms of stretching and exercise and that she avoids, where she can, physical activity which will trigger any discomfort in the area of her rib.

[25]            The plaintiff has made a good recovery from the soft tissue injuries that she sustained in a forceful motor vehicle collision.  I find that the pain associated with the lower left rib was caused by the collision and that whether Dr. Vallentyne is correct, that the pain is a result of subcostal muscular involvement or Drs. Luoma and Coghlan are correct, that the pain is associated with the first floating rib, that the injury and its consequence is likely permanent.  Fortunately, however, the result is a modest impairment of her overall capacity and it can be controlled, to some extent, by avoiding certain physical activity, as well as involving herself in an exercise and stretching program and taking medication to assist her in sleeping and to moderate the pain.

[26]            Non-pecuniary damages are a “once and for all” award to compensate a plaintiff for pain, suffering and loss of enjoyment of life caused by the injury to the date of assessment and for the future.  In assessing damages, the ranges of damages awarded in comparable cases can be a useful guide, but in each case, the court must fashion an award that provides compensation to the plaintiff.  This is not a case like Price v. Kostryba, [1982] 70 B.C.L.R. 397 (S.C.), or Butler v. Blaylock Estate, [1981] B.C.J. No. 31 (S.C.), where complaints of injury continue long after the normal period for recovery, but rather one where the injury is real and continues to cause pain and discomfort and will likely do so for the foreseeable future.  I assess non-pecuniary damages at $36,000.

One aspect of this judgment that interested me was the court’s summary and analysis of the surveillance evidence the defendant’s used during the trial.  Video surveillance is commonly used by ICBC in the course of defending soft tissue injury claims and this judgement shows that surveillance video is not always a damaging thing.  

In today’s case the video showed the Plaintiff doing various physical activities including riding a motorbike.  This did not appear to hurt the Plaintiff’s case any as this video did contradict her evidence about her limitations.  The surveillance evidence was summarized at paragraph 19 as follows:

[19]            As part of the case for the defendant, a series of videos was put in evidence showing the plaintiff riding a motorbike off road and shopping and going about her normal household activities.  Clearly, the videotape was made surreptitiously and without the plaintiff’s awareness.  While the tape does not display any particular discomfort evinced by the plaintiff, her activity is restrained when compared to the activity of her husband who was with her.  She says that before the accident, they operated their motorbikes off road and on rugged and uneven terrain.  What was depicted in the video was the operation of the motorbikes on a relatively level gravel road.  It was noted that the plaintiff’s husband took the motorbikes out of the truck and that the plaintiff played no role in that.  Nevertheless, the videotapes do demonstrate that the plaintiff is able to continue at least some of her former activities, although perhaps not with the same intensity nor without pain.

As I’ve previously postedVideo surveillance does not in and of itself hurt a personal injury claim, overstating the effects of injuries does. It does not matter if you’re painting your house, lifting weights, or doing any number of physical activities that are caught on film. If you can be active and not aggravate your injuries that is a good thing. If, on the other hand, a personal injury claimaint tells others that they are limited and video surveillance shows otherwise, that could be very damaging. This goes to a person’s credibility. If a person is caught in a lie with respect to the effect of their injuries that will have a very negative effect on the value of an ICBC claim.

ICBC Injury Claims, Video Surveillance and Mistrials

Reasons for judgment were released today by the BC Supreme Court ordering a mistrial following a trial by jury.
In today’s case (Oberreiter v. Akmali) the Plaintiff sued for injuries after she was struck by a vehicle while riding her bicycle in North Vancouver in 2004.  Fault was not at issue, rather the trial focused solely on quantum of damages (value of the ICBC Injury Claim).  Following trial the jury awarded the Plaintiff approximately $118,000 in damages.  Prior to having the judgement entered the Plaintiff applied for a mistrial.  
The key facts giving rise to the application for a mistrial are as follows:

              After the trial was completed and the jury had been discharged, the plaintiff’s counsel discovered that the DVD contained approximately ten minutes of video which had not been shown to the jury.  Through an unintentional error in editing, the DVD which was marked as an exhibit contained images which had not been shown to the jury; had not been seen by counsel or myself; and had not been admitted into evidence. 

[7]                The issue is whether the plaintiff is entitled to a mistrial because material not admitted into evidence was inadvertently included in an exhibit available to they jury during its deliberations.

In granting the mistrial, Mr. Justice Kelleher of the BC Supreme Court gave the following reasons:

 

[10]            Where an irregularity such as the inadvertent inclusion of non-admitted material in exhibits left with the jury occurs, it is usually identified during the course of the trial.  When that occurs, the court must consider all possible actions to remedy potential prejudice before ordering a mistrial.  It may be that such an irregularity could be corrected with an instruction to the jury: seeGemmell v. Reddicopp, 2005 BCCA 628, 48 B.C.L.R. (4th) 349.

[11]            Where the irregularity cannot be cured and the trial judge is satisfied that it may have a prejudicial effect impacting the result of the trial, a mistrial is the appropriate remedy: see de Araujo v. Read, 2004 BCCA 267, 29 B.C.L.R. (4th) 84.  In that case, Mr. Justice Thackray observed at para. 68:  “…a new trial may be ordered where trial irregularities may have influenced the verdict or award of the jury… “.

[12]            Here, of course, there was no opportunity to correct the irregularity.  Neither of the parties was aware of the inadvertent inclusion of material not admitted as evidence in the exhibit until the trial had ended and the jury had been discharged. 

[13]            It may be that the irregularity and any resulting prejudice could have been corrected easily if it had been noticed before the jury’s deliberations had come to an end.  Perhaps the jury could have been instructed not to have regard to the footage. 

[14]            It is not known what the jury viewed.  What is certain is that the jury was provided with material relevant to the case that was not evidence and was not led in court.  This raises concerns about trial fairness and potential prejudice to the plaintiff.  An important factual issue in the trial was the extent and severity of the plaintiff’s injuries.  Thus, the video surveillance footage is highly relevant and potentially prejudicial.

[15]            Notwithstanding the general principles of respect for jury secrecy, there is jurisdiction to make some inquiries of a jury: see R. v. Pan, 2001 SCC 42, [2001], 2 S.C.R. 344.  However, I am not persuaded that asking the foreperson to appear in court and to advise the court whether the jury viewed the DVD is appropriate.  Many weeks have passed since the trial.  Recall of a juror for these purposes is impractical and of questionable reliability.

[16]            It is clear that a trial judge has the power to order a mistrial if the judge concludes there is no other option to remedy an irregularity.  After the jury has been discharged, I am satisfied there is nothing further that can be done by the court.

[17]            Both parties are entitled to have the jury decide the case solely on the evidence properly admitted during the trial.  That is fundamental to a fair trial.  It is my duty as a trial judge to ensure that this is safeguarded.  Here, it is accepted by both parties that there was extraneous material made available to the jury that was not evidence admitted during the trial.  This material is relevant to the issues in the trial and is potentially prejudicial.  Since this irregularity cannot be corrected I conclude it would be unjust and unfair to let the verdict stand. 

[18]            A mistrial is appropriate where necessary to ensure that justice is done between the parties: see de Araujo v. Read.  The plaintiff’s application for a mistrial is allowed.

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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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