Video Surveillance Helps Deflate Personal Injury Claim
In the world of personal injury lawsuits, video surveillance usually amounts to hours of filming benign activity entirely consistent with a Plaintiff’s known injuries. Occasionally, however, video helps capture images inconsistent with a Plaintiff’s presentation. Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, with such an outcome.
In today’s case (Ma v. Haniak) the Plaintiff was involved in three collisions and sued for damages. Fault was admitted by the Defendant motorists. The Plaintiff was self-represented and sought approximately $1.4 million in damages. The Court largely rejected the Plaintiff’s claims and awarded a small fraction of her sought damages. In reaching the conclusion that the Plaintiff’s claim was exaggerated Mr. Justice Armstrong noted as follows when reviewing video surveillance evidence:
 The defendants tendered video surveillance of Ms. Ma from 2007, 2009 and 2011.
 On September 21, 2007, Ms. Ma was observed working with her brother in their newspaper delivery business. Mr. Maung is seen loading the car with the newspapers. She appears to move without any restrictions in her range of movement and appears to be flexible and capable of moving bundles of newspapers. Although she shows no overt signs of pain, it is not possible to ascertain her actual condition from the video.
 Ms. Ma was able to crouch down, reach in and manually rearrange paper in her car and move several paper bundles.
 Mr. Maung appears physically capable of moving bundles of newspapers to the vehicle from nearby pallets.
 Between October 29, 2009 and November 2, 2009, Ms. Ma was observed and filmed by a private investigator. She was seen driving, entering and exiting her Mazda MPV without any apparent difficulty. Her movements seemed unrestricted and flexible; she carried a cane but did not use the cane to stabilize her walking or support herself.
 In August 2011, more than one-and-a-half years after MVA #3, Ms. Ma was observed and filmed by a private investigator; the recording lasts between 30 and 40 minutes of film.
 At Ms. Ma’s examination for discovery, she testified that she suffered pain when carrying things. She said she avoided carrying items and used the basket on her walker when necessary.
 Nevertheless, on August 9, 2011 Ms. Ma was attending an appointment with Dr. Magrega and used her walker when entering and leaving the office. Later that day she is seen walking and carrying items at a McDonald’s restaurant without any apparent limitation or need for assistance. On that day Ms. Ma is seen exiting her vehicle and walking towards a restaurant with a normal gait, moving at a normal speed and without the benefit of a walker or wheelchair. She collects food from a counter and carries a tray with a drink on top and a separate bag to a table inside the restaurant; she then walks outside to her car carrying a drink and a bag for a person in the vehicle. Ms. Ma’s comportment in this video is significantly different than her comportment at trial. At trial, she used a walker to move in the room and to the witness box. She did not demonstrate the marked flexibility and physical movement that appears on the video.
 What is observed on the video demonstrates significantly less restricted movement than she described in her testimony.
 She testified that when using the sliding doors to enter her van, she suffered severe pain and relied on family members and a cane to open and close the doors when possible. On the date of the video, she is seen freely opening and closing the doors, leaning in and delivering food to others who had not come into the restaurant. The video of the plaintiff was dramatically different from her self-described limitations.
 She testified that if she bumped into a person while being out and about, she would experience excruciating pain; she is seen to be bumped while in the restaurant lineup and shows no evidence of excruciating pain.
 On the video, she was clearly functioning without evidence of pain or limitation in her movement. She walked briskly and without the use of a cane or walker. Her facial expression showed no evidence of pain or discomfort.
 I except that surreptitious video presentations of injured plaintiffs can be misleading; in the circumstances of this case I am satisfied that Ms. Ma’s physical movements on August 9, 2011 were entirely incongruous with her testimony concerning her physical ability and dexterity at the time and since.
 Her only explanation for the apparent differences between her testimony and the video presentation was that she was “tricked” at the discovery. She also said that the limitations in her ability to move or walk distances without a walker do not become apparent until she has been active for approximately ten minutes.
 I agree with the defence that the plaintiff’s claim concerning the level of pain she has experienced after the accidents is wholly inconsistent with her appearance at trial and on the surveillance videos. Although the August 2011 video was taken almost five years before trial, the plaintiff’s examination for discovery evidence, which was given within two weeks of the video, is telling. It contradicted the plaintiff’s appearance in the video surveillance films. Her testimony and use of a walker at trial was consistent with her evidence at the examination for discovery but equally inconsistent with observations of her in the various surveillance videos. From these inconsistencies, I make an adverse finding about Ms. Ma’s credibility.
bc injury law, credibility, Ma v. Haniak, Mr. Justice Armstrong, video surveillance