Tag: Wittich v. Bob

The Debate Goes On – Rule 37B and the Relevance of Insurance


Further to my numerous posts discussing the development of Rule 37B, reasons for judgement were released today demonstrating that this Rule’s application is still being shaped by the BC Supreme Court.
The one factor that has yet to receive judicial agreement is whether the defendant being insured is a factor the Court can consider when exercising its discretion to award costs under the rule.  There are cases going both ways and today’s case shows that the debate goes on.
In today’s case (Wittich v. Bob) the Plaintiff was injured in a car crash.  Her husband was the at fault driver.  She sued for damages.  Before the trial the Defendant (through his insurer ICBC) made a formal offer to settle the case for $40,100.  Later the Defendant withdrew this offer and made a second formal under Rule 37B to settle the case for $65,000.  The Plaintiff rejected this offer, made her own formal offer of $196,000 and proceeded to trial.
At trial the Plaintiff sought damages of $847,000.  The claim was largely unsuccessful with the Court awarding just over $31,000 in damages.  (You can click here to read my summary of the trial judgement).
The Defence then brought a motion to be awarded costs and disbursements.  This application was partially successful with the Defendant being awarded their costs and disbursements from 6 weeks before trial through trial.  Before coming to this decision, however, Madam Justice Bruce was asked to consider whether the fact that the Defendant was insured with ICBC was a factor the court can consider when weighing the financial positions of the parties.  The Court ruled that this indeed is a relevant factor holding as follows:

[23]        Turning to the financial circumstances of the parties, it is clear that, as a married couple, the plaintiff and the defendant have the same economic position.  The authorities are divided as to whether the circumstances of the insurer should be considered as a relevant factor in an order for costs. In the particular circumstances of this case, I find it is appropriate to consider the insurer’s resources in comparison to the plaintiff’s. The defendant Mr. Wittich supported his wife’s claim and testified that her pain and suffering after the accident was considerable and prolonged; however, counsel for the defendant took an entirely different position in argument. Thus it must be inferred that counsel was taking instructions from the insurer and not the litigant.

[24]        The plaintiff is not a wealthy person. She has not worked for a considerable period of time. The defendant has an income of less than $70,000 per year. I thus find that their economic circumstances are far less substantial when compared to that of the insurer. It is also apparent that an award of costs may deprive the plaintiff of the judgment awarded at trial. These are factors in her favour.

Rule 37B has been on the books now for almost two years.  The Court is clearly conflicted about whether the availability of insurance is a relevant factor under the rule.  When the New BC Supreme Court Rules come into force on July 1, 2010 Rule 37B will be replaced with Rule 9.  Rule 9 uses language that is almost identical to Rule 37B so the lack of clarity will likely continue.  In light of the on-going conflicting authorities it will be useful if the BC Court of Appeal addresses this issue.

Personal Injury Claims and Radiologists Opinion Evidence


(Please note the topic discussed in this post should be reviewed keeping a subsequent October 2010 BC  Court of Appeal in mind)
X-rays, CT Scans, Bone Scan and MRI’s are routinely used in the diagnosis of traumatic injury and accordingly the findings of these diagnostic tests are frequently used at trial by personal injury lawyers.
Strictly speaking, however, the findings of radiologists interpreting the raw data generated by these tests are opinions and opinion evidence needs to comply with the Rules of Court to be admissible.  If an MRI shows a traumatic injury it is not good enough to show up at trial with only the radiologists consultation report in hand.  If you want the Court to rely on the radiologists findings of injury the reports need to be served in compliance with Rule  40A (Rule 40A is being overhauled in July 2010 and you can click here to read my previous article discussing this) Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court showing this legal principle in action.
In today’s case (Wittich v. Bob) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2004 BC Car Crash near Merritt, BC.  She sued for her injuries seeking up to some $800,000 in damages.  She claimed various accident related injuries including a herniated disc at C5-6.  In support of this claim two CT Scan Reports were entered into evidence, the first taken before the crash and the second after the crash.  The later scan was “interpreted by the radiologist as showing….a c56 level …herniated disc“.
The radiologist’s consultation report did not comply with Rule 40A.  Accordingly the report was only admitted for the fact that the diagnosis was made but not for the truth of the opinion.  Ultimately the court did not make a finding that the herniated disc was caused by the car crash.    Madam Justice Bruce summarized and applied the law to the facts of this case as follows:

[143] Of particular concern is the plaintiff’s failure to call any medical opinion evidence to support a finding that she suffered a herniated disc at C5-6 during the accident. As part of Dr. Grist’s clinical records, Mrs. Wittich entered two CT scan reports; one taken prior to the collision and one taken shortly thereafter. While the later scan was interpreted by the radiologist as showing a change from disc degeneration at the C5-6 level to a herniated disc that was impinging on the nerves of the spinal canal, this evidence cannot be regarded as expert medical opinion. These reports do not comply with Rule 40 and contain no indication of the radiologist’s qualifications and expertise to make these findings. Thus they are only admissible for the fact that this diagnosis was made and not for the truth of their contents.

[144] Moreover, even if I were to accept these reports as expert opinion evidence, there is the cogent evidence of Dr. Maloon, an orthopaedic surgeon, which supports a contrary finding as to the existence of a disc herniation. Dr. Maloon provided a detailed explanation for his conclusion that Mrs. Wittich did not suffer from a herniated disc, which included factors related to his physical examination of Mrs. Wittich and the symptoms she presented with at the time of his examination and interview. Dr. Maloon was qualified as an expert in the field of orthopaedic surgery and qualified to give opinion evidence as to the existence, cause and prognosis of spinal cord injuries. His evidence was thoroughly tested in cross examination and held up to scrutiny. In my view, it would be in the most unusual circumstances that the court would prefer the radiologist’s report to the evidence to that of Dr. Maloon and I find there are no such circumstances in this case. There is no evidence of the radiologist’s qualifications or expertise and no explanation of the reasons underlying his diagnosis.

[145] As a consequence, I find there is really no medical evidence before the court that Mrs. Wittich suffered any injuries to her neck apart from soft tissue complaints. In this regard, it was Dr. Maloon’s evidence that she likely experienced such injuries in the accident, but he was unable to specify which tissues (muscles, ligaments, or facet joints) were damaged based on Mrs. Wittich’s subjective reporting of vague pain symptoms.

The Plaintiff’s claim was largely dismissed and damages of just over $30,000 were awarded.  This case serves as a reminder that if the findings of a radiologist make up an important part of your personal injury case the evidence has to be served in compliance with the rules governing expert opinion evidence.

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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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