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A Great Rule 37-B Precedent – Reality of Insurance in ICBC Claims Discussed

Reasons for Judgement delivered by Madam Justice Dorgan on July 30, 2009 were recently transcribed and have come to my attention applying Rule 37B in a favourable way to a Plaintiff who failed to beat an ICBC formal offer of settlement.
In this case (Robbeson v. Gibson) the Plaintiff was injured in a BC Motor Vehicle Collision.  The Defendant (insured by ICBC) made a formal offer of $82,100 under Rule 37B.  At trial the Jury awarded the Plaintiff $52,700 for damages.  In other words, ICBC beat their formal settlement offer.
The defendant (through ICBC) brought a motion seeking to deprive the Plaintiff of her costs from the date of the formal offer forward and further seeking to have the Plaintiff pay the Defendant’s costs and disbursements from the date of the formal offer forward.  Such an order is not unusual when ICBC beats a formal offer at trial.  If this motion was granted the punishing effect would in essence leave the Plaintiff with $0 as the costs consequences would eat up almost the entire $52,700 awarded by the Jury.
Madam Justice Dorgan refused to grant the Defendant’s application and instead ordered that the Plaintiff ‘be deprived of all tariff items to which she would otherwise be entitled‘ from a few weeks following the delivery of the formal offer through trial and further awarding the Plaintiff to ‘all disbursements incurred from the comencement of the action to the conclusion of trial‘.
In reaching this conclusion Madam Justice Dorgan made some important comments when applying Rule 37B which I highlight below:
On the topic of the purpose of Rule 37B the Court stated  “the cost consequence (of Rule 37B) is meant to encourage litigants to reach settlements; reasonable settlements, and to impose penalties on those litigants who decline to accept offers which are reasonable in all of the circumstances...”
In considering “the relationship between the offer and the final judgement” the Court held that the gap between $80,000 and $52,000 was not ‘dramatically divergent’.  Specifically Madam Justice Dorgan noted that “the swing is not wild…the relationship between the offer and the award is, in my view, a neutral factor on the question of costs‘.  In coming to this conclusion it was noted that “the overall award clearly reflects the jury’s conclusion that the plaintiff was injured as a result of the defendant’s negligence and that she suffered losses, both non-pecuniary and pecuniary“.
When considering the relative financial circumstances of the parties the Court seems to have considered the fact that the Defendant was insured by ICBC.  Judgements to date are still inconsistent in determining whether a policy of insurance is a relevant consideration under Rule 37B.  Madam Justice Dorgan did not ignore the reality that this case was defended by ICBC through a policy of insurance as opposed to directly financed by the Defendant.  Addressing this issue the court noted as follows “the defendant’s financial position is unknown.  While he testified, he did not actively involve himself in this litigation.  ICBC defended the case.  I have no need to, nor should I, go into a comparison of the financial circumstances of a corporate citizen versus a private citizen, but each of the two citizens is entitled to competent counsel, entitled to pursue their claim on the basis of advice received by each of those counsel, and that is what happened here.  On the issue of financial circumstances, I am advised that the jury award, as I have earlier said, will be effectively cancelled if the defendant obtains a costs order from the date of the offer to the conclusion of trial…It is reasonable for me to conclude that (the plaintiff) has significant disbursements from prosecuting her claim.  Certainly, the trial disbursements would be significant.  In all those circumstances, this factor, I am satisfied, favours the Plaintiff

More on ICBC Injury Claims and Future Wage Loss

If you are injured through the fault of another motorist in BC and advance a tort claim with ICBC can you receive damages for future wage loss even if you have sustained no past wage loss by the time of settlement or trial?  The short answer is yes and today 2 cases were released by the BC Supreme Court illustrating this principle.  
In the first case (Kasic v. Leyh) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2004 rear-end collision.  He suffered relatively serious and chronic injuries which were summarized as follows by Madam Justice Morrison of the BC Supreme Court:

[138]      Mr. Kasic’s headaches and neck pain which he suffered immediately after the accident resolved within a fairly short time.  However his lower back pain has not.  Ever since the accident, he has had serious and chronic pain.  That continues to this day.  He has been motivated and compliant with regard to all treatments suggested, with the exception of the Pulsed Signal Magnetic Therapy.

[139]      The medical evidence is not in complete agreement as to the exact diagnosis that is causing the pain in the lower back; Dr. McGraw believes that it is the sacroiliac joint, Dr. Hershler is of the opinion that it is a bulging disc irritating a nerve, or a combination of that and the sacroiliac joint.  But there is agreement that Mr. Kasic’s symptoms are aggravated by his activities.  And there is certainly agreement from all the evidence tendered that Mr. Kasic is in continuous and serious pain.

[140]      Will it be a permanent disability?  Dr. Hershler holds out hope that there could be a significant improvement if Pulsed Signal Magnetic Therapy were pursued.  But this is not a form of treatment widely recognized by the medical profession, and certainly not by Dr. McGraw.  Dr. McGraw seemed to hold out hope that if there were a correct administration of the injection of the therapeutic block, that this could eliminate some or much of Mr. Kasic’s pain.  Certainly the one injection in October 2008 in that area worsened Mr. Kasic’s condition.

[141]      Whether either or both of these suggested treatments are to be tried will be a matter between Mr. Kasic and his medical advisors.  But at the present time, the evidence remains that Mr. Kasic is suffering continuous and debilitating pain, and it has been chronic pain since the date of the accident.  It has changed him physically, mentally and emotionally.

[142]      The changes to Mr. Kasic’s life as a result of his injuries are many.  He continues to need pain medication.  His previous activities of bowling, tennis, soccer, bocce ball, baseball and picnics are no longer activities in which he can participate.  He can help very little around the house, whether it is vacuuming, loading or unloading the dishwasher, moving furniture, or doing yard work.

[143]      He cannot plan to buy his own home, as he can no longer do the jobs and the outside work that he would normally have done.  His leisure activities with his wife and children have been diminished dramatically, as has his intimate and sexual life with his wife.  He has continuous problems sleeping, and his wife often sleeps in another room.  Mr. Kasic’s mood, disposition and temper have changed significantly.  He cannot do the most simple things such as dressing himself, taking a shower or brushing his teeth without unusual discomfort, positioning and pain.

[144]      An undisputed hard worker, Mr. Kasic stated, “I like to work hard to make more money for my family.”  His work history has indicated that, both before and after the accident.

[145]      Mr. Kasic’s ability to earn in the future has been compromised.  It is an asset he has, in part, lost.  His injuries have rendered him less capable overall from earning income from all types of employment, particularly those that require twisting, bending, standing, sitting for any length of time, or involve any kind of heavy work.  He is less marketable or attractive as an employee to potential employers.

[146]      One presumably has an obligation to advise a future employer if there are concerns such as chronic back problems.  This plaintiff has lost the ability to take advantage of job opportunities which he might otherwise have had.

[147]      Mr. Kasic appears to consider himself less capable and less valuable as a person, because of his condition.  He was 45 when this accident occurred.  He is 50 years of age now.  The real probabilities he faces are fewer jobs available to him, the chance of losing a job or jobs, and possibly having to retire early.  His reduced level of energy and inability to sustain work are factors to be considered.

Despite these serious and permanent injuries the Plaintiff had suffered a minimal wage loss by the time his tort claim against the at fault motorist went to trial.  In fact, the Plaintiff’s earnings increased from the time of the collision to the time of trial.  Depsite this the court held he was entitled to damages for loss of earning capacity and in assessing this loss at $100,000 the court reasoned as follows:

[152]      On the issue of loss of earning capacity, clear guidance can be found in the judgment of Huddart J.A. in Rosvold v. Dunlop.  Mr. Kasic’s capacity to earn income is an asset which has been, in part, taken away from him.  I have found that he has a permanent partial disability, and that limits his work in a number of areas, which in turn impairs his earning capacity.

[153]      The defence seems to suggest that Mr. Kasic has reached his goal upon coming to Canada, that his work as a caretaker together with a rental apartment in subsidized housing suggests that he has reached his earning capacity and goals.  They point to his past earnings, and note that he has steadily increased his earnings, which is true.  But as the courts have reminded us, past earnings are only one factor to consider.

[154]      The standard of proof to be applied in making an appropriate damage award under this category is simple probability, not the balance of probabilities.  And the Athey case reminds us that possibilities and probabilities, chances, opportunities and risks all have to be considered, as long as they do not amount to mere speculation.

[155]      Counsel for the plaintiff suggests that there is the possibility that Mr. Kasic will have to retire early, and I agree that this is a possibility.  Counsel argues that even if he had to retire just three years early, this would be a loss equivalent to $150,000.  This is based on Mr. Kasic’s earnings in 2007 of just over $40,000, and both counsel have factored in an additional $10,000 because of the generous housing allowance and benefits.  This would amount to a real loss of $50,000 a year or $150,000 if Mr. Kasic retired three years early.

[156]      Taking into account negative as well as positive contingencies, in my view an appropriate damage award for loss of earning capacity would be $100,000, and I award that amount.  In my view, the position taken by the defence with regard to this issue has been unrealistic, and their suggested figure of $10,000 under this category of damages does not meet the test of fairness and reasonableness.

In the second case released today (Weibe v. Peters) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2003 motor vehicle collision.  The Plaintiff was a career tradesman who worked as a vinyl deck installer.  As a  result of the collision Mr. Justice Grist of the BC Supreme Court found that the Plaintiff “will continue to have long term back pain fron the injuries suffered fron the collision which will restrict him from certain forms of physical activity...”

Despite his injuries the Plaintiff lost a minimal amount of time from work by the time of trial.  In awarding $125,000 for the Plaintiff’s diminished earning capacity Mr. Justice Grist engaged in the following useful analysis:

[32]        The wage loss prior to the date of trial in this case is confined to a minimal number of days off because of back pain, with some time loss to attend doctors’ appointments and physiotherapy. The plaintiff has not been able to provide a record of this wage loss and I cannot fix any sum under this head. As to loss of future earning capacity, I accept that Mr. Wiebe took his present form of employment because he was not able to maintain the physical demands of installations of vinyl decks. Further, he was not able to obtain a management position that would have relieved him from the demands of actual installations. He acted appropriately in taking the position he now holds, which pays the same as his past employment without the benefits which that employment offered. Again, there is no evidence of the value of lost benefits. I accept the evidence that the employment through Mr. Hepple has very little security. He is the only employee and dependent on success of both the turkey farm and the concrete mantle manufacturing business. Mr. Hepple is happy with the plaintiff’s work, however, as both the plaintiff and Mr. Hepple acknowledged, the earnings provided are probably more than this form of employment can justify. If Mr. Wiebe cannot continue in this form of work, he will likely have to retrain or find some opportunity as a manager in a deck installation company, a form of work he hasn’t been able to secure despite efforts in the past. In light of the risk inherent in being let go by his present employer, on balance I think it most likely that Mr. Wiebe will have to face this change of employment in the future, and that retraining is the most likely prospect. I keep in mind the factors mentioned in Kwei v. Boisclair, [1991], B.C.J. No. 3344 (C.A.), and Brown v. Golaiy, [1985] B.C.J. No. 31 (S.C.). In setting damages under this head of loss, specifically:

1.         The plaintiff has been rendered less capable overall from earning income from all types of employment;

2.         The plaintiff is less marketable or less attractive as an employee to potential employers;

3.         The plaintiff has lost the ability to take advantage of all job opportunities which might otherwise have been open to him had he not been injured; and

4.         The plaintiff is less valuable to himself as a person capable of earning income in a competitive labour market.

[33]        The plaintiff has been well regarded by his employers and has shown industry and responsibility to his family in retaining employment through the difficulties to the present time. I expect this will serve him well in the future. Nonetheless, retraining and start-up in a substitute form of employment will require a considerable period of time before Mr. Wiebe will be able to reproduce his past level of earnings.

[34]        The cases cited vary widely in fixing the loss of future earning capacity. At the high end, in Fox v. Danis, [2006] B.C.J. No. 1437 (C.A.), damages under this head of loss totalled $750,000. This however, was a case involving an individual likely to lose all forms of full-time employment. In Demedeiros, the head of damage was compensated in the sum of $180,000. This case, however, involved a stone mason who may have lost the opportunity to succeed his father in a fairly remunerative family business. In Kerr, the plaintiff was a 54 year old school teacher who had lost his ability to participate actively in sports, but who continued in his employment. It was judged that he may be forced to retire earlier and may be restricted in gaining employment after retirement. Damages under this head were assessed in that case at $75,000.

[35]        I view the likely loss here as greater in scope than indicated in Kerr but not of the degree of loss in Demedeiros and Fox. I think the appropriate level assessment under this head is the sum of $125,000.

Pain and Suffering and Your ICBC Claim

One of the most common questions asked of me through this blog is “how much is my Pain and Suffering worth in my ICBC personal injury tort claim?”.  The answer to this, of course, depends on various factors and who better to discuss these than a BC Supreme Court judge?
On that point, reasons for judgement were released today discussing the law of ‘pain and suffering’ in tort claims.  Pain and Suffering is awarded under the legal head of damage called “Non-Pecuniary Loss”.  Non Pecuniary Loss includes damages for “pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life and loss of amenities”.
In today’s case $70,000 was awarded in non-pecuniary damages as a result injuries sustained in a 2005 BC car crash.  In doing so Madam Justice Russell summarized the law of non-pecuniary damages ar paragraphs 104-105 of the judgment as follows:

Non-pecuniary damages

[104]        The purpose of non-pecuniary damage awards is to compensate the plaintiff for “pain, suffering, loss of enjoyment of life and loss of amenities”: Jackson v. Lai, 2007 BCSC 1023, B.C.J. No. 1535 at para. 134; see also Andrews v. Grand & Toy Alberta Ltd., [1978] 2 S.C.R. 229; Kuskis v. Tin, 2008 BCSC 862, B.C.J. No. 1248.  While each award must be made with reference to the particular circumstances and facts of the case, other cases may serve as a guide to assist the court in arriving at an award that is just and fair to both parties: Kuskis at para. 136. 

[105]        There are a number of factors that courts must take into account when assessing this type of claim.  The majority judgment in Stapley v. Hejslet, 2006 BCCA 34, 263 D.L.R. (4th) 19, outlines a number of factors to consider, at para. 46:

The inexhaustive list of common factors cited in Boyd [Boyd v. Harris, 2004 BCCA 146] that influence an award of non-pecuniary damages includes:

(a)      age of the plaintiff;

(b)      nature of the injury;

(c)      severity and duration of pain;

(d)      disability;

(e)      emotional suffering; and

(f)      loss or impairment of life;

I would add the following factors, although they may arguably be subsumed in the above list:

(g)      impairment of family, marital and social relationships;

(h)      impairment of physical and mental abilities;

(i)       loss of lifestyle; and

(j)       the plaintiff’s stoicism (as a factor that should not, generally speaking, penalize the plaintiff: Giang v. Clayton, [2005] B.C.J. No. 163, 2005 BCCA 54 (B.C. C.A.)).

Cases such as this one are key in helping one understand the principles behind awards for pain and suffering in ICBC tort claims.  Once the general principles of this head of damage are understood, the extent of injuries and prognosis known, and cases with similar injuries are canvassed the easier it will be to value the potential range of damages for pain and suffering in an ICBC personal injury (tort) claim.

ICBC Can Do That!?!? What You Need to Know About Part 7 Benefits

OK, imagine this:
You are injured in a car accident that is not your fault. You incur medical expenses and send ICBC (your own insurer) the bill. Your ICBC adjuster does not to pay.
You sue the driver that injured you (who also happens to be insured by ICBC). The same ICBC adjuster hires the lawyer to defend the driver and tells that lawyer what to do (that’s the way it often works).
At trial you claim the medical expenses as special damages (special damages are expenses related to the other person’s wrong-doing). The Judge agrees these are reasonable special damages and awards you compensation.
(Thanks for bearing with me, here’s where it gets interesting)….The ICBC hired lawyer then says, “Your Honour, the Plaintiff should have been reimbursed this expense by ICBC so you should not award this money to the Plaintiff” The Judge, in his most eloquant voice responds, “you’re right counsel, I have no choice but to make this deduction”.
That’s exactly what can happen! ICBC can refuse to pay for an expense then the lawyer hired by ICBC in the ‘tort trial’ can argue that the court should not award reimbursement of the expense because you should have had ICBC pay for the expense.
When you sue someone for car accident related injuries in BC, the defendant (most often times insured by ICBC) can argue that due to the operation of s. 83 of the Insurance (Vehicle) Act,he should not have to pay any money covering benefits you could have received from ICBC as your own insurer. (Whether or not you received the benefits is an entirely irrelevant consideration… the deduction can be used even if you applied for these benefits and ICBC refused to pay…click here to read Sovani v. Jin, a case where almost $100,000 in damages were deducted from the jury’s verdict).
Section 83 reads as follows:
83 (1) In this section and in section 84, ‘benefits” means benefits

(a) within the definition of section 1.1, or

(b) that are similar to those within the definition of section 1.1, provided under vehicle insurance wherever issued and in effect,

but does not include a payment made pursuant to third party liability insurance coverage.

(2) A person who has a claim for damages and who receives or is entitled to receive benefits respecting the loss on which the claim is based, is deemed to have released the claim to the extent of the benefits.

(3) Nothing in this section precludes the insurer from demanding from the person referred to in subsection (2), as a condition precedent to payment, a release to the extent of the payment.

(4) In an action in respect of bodily injury or death caused by a vehicle or the use or operation of a vehicle, the amount of benefits paid, or to which the person referred to in subsection (2) is or would have been entitled, must not be referred to or disclosed to the court or jury until the court has assessed the award of damages.

(5) After assessing the award of damages under subsection (4), the amount of benefits referred to in that subsection must be disclosed to the court, and taken into account, or, if the amount of benefits has not been ascertained, the court must estimate it and take the estimate into account, and the person referred to in subsection (2) is entitled to enter judgment for the balance only.

(6) If, for the purpose of this section or section 84, it is necessary to estimate the value of future payments that the corporation or the insurer is authorized or required to make under the plan or an optional insurance contract, the value must be estimated according to the value on the date of the estimate of a deferred benefit, calculated for the period for which the future payments are authorized or required to be made.

This may seem like boring stuff but it could cost you well over $100,000 in your ICBC claim.
In another example of the s. 83 argument in action, reasons for judgment were released today that are well worth reading for anyone advancing an ICBC claim. After trial the Jury awarded damages including $32,000 for cost of future medical care. The defence lawyer then argued that a portion of the $32,000 should be reduced because of section 83. This argument is often made by ICBC defence lawyers after trial. In this case the deduction was not made but depending on the facts of any given ICBC claim such a deduction very well could be made.
The bottom line is that if you are advancing an ICBC ‘tort’ claim you must apply and follow up for all of the ‘no-fault’ benefits you may be entitled to. Failure to do so can result in a significant reduction of your award of damages.

Snow, Ice, and your ICBC Claim

Like most of my readers I am sick of this drawn out winter and the sight of snow this week-end in Victoria seems like a cruel joke.
Snow in BC has two reliable results 1. Car Accidents, 2. Phone call to BC personal injury lawyers about those car accidents. The second is particularly true for Victoria personal injury and ICBC claims lawyers because of the local populations relative inexperience dealing with winter driving conditions.
In anticipation of the almost certain phone calls I will receive this week as a Victoria ICBC claims lawyer I write this post.
If you are the driver involved in a single vehicle accident in British Columbia, and you lost control due to the weather, all you can likely claim from ICBC are Part 7 Benefits (also referred to as no fault benefits). There is (except in some unusually peculiar situations such as an ICBC insured driver contributing to the road hazards) in all likelihood no claim from ICBC for pain and suffering (non-pecuniary damages) in these circumstances. A person’s right to claim pain and suffering and other “tort” damages only arises if someone else is at fault for your injuries. In these single vehicle accidents you usually only have yourself or the weather to blame, and last time I checked you can’t sue mother nature.
If someone else contributed to the accident (perhaps the road maintenence company for failing to act in a timely fashion or perhaps a mechanic for failing to bring your vehicle up to snuff last time you had it inspected) you will have to make a claim against them. Chances are they are not insured through ICBC for such claims and instead you will have to go against their policy of private insurance.
Now, if you are a passenger in a single vehicle, weather related accident, you may very well have a claim for pain and suffering. This claim would be against your driver (except perhaps in the unusual circumstances mentioned above). If your driver did not operate the vehicle safely in all the circumstances (for example driving too fast for the known or anticipated poor road conditions) and this caused or contributed to the collision then you have a tort claim. Assuming the driver is ICBC insured then you have the right to apply for both no-fault benefits from your own insurance and make a tort claim against the driver that will be covered through his third party liability ICBC insurance.
If you are advancing a tort claim against a driver be weary of the defence of “inetible accident”. ICBC defends claims. One of the best defences to a weather related accident is that it was “inevitable”. What this means is that the driver, operating safely, could not have avoided losing control of his vehicle. If this can be proven than the tort claim can be defeated.
People naturally don’t want to get those known to them in trouble and it is all too common that when reporting such a claim to ICBC passengers too readily agree to how unexpected the accident was and how the driver was operating the vehicle very carefully. If this is true that’s fine. My words of caution are as follows: If the driver was not safe (I’m not talking about driving like a maniac here, I’m talking about driving less than carefully for the winter driving conditions) and you give ICBC the alternate impression with a view towards helping the driver out, the result may be severely damaging your ability to bring a tort claim.
Tell the truth and know what’s at stake when doing so. If ICBC gets the false impression that the accident was inevitable you will have a much harder time advancing or settling your ICBC tort claim.
The bottom line is this: If an accident truly is inevitable and there is no tort claim so be it, but, don’t lead ICBC to this conclusion if it isn’t true. Doing so will hurt your claim for pain and suffering.