“It Is Not Necessary To Call Expert Evidence On Each Issue”

In recent years expert evidence has become more common in injury litigation and it is not unusual to see litigants sometimes err on the side of overkill.  To this end helpful comments were recently released by the BC Supreme Court, Kelowna Registry, highlighting this practice and reminding litigants expert evidence can be used judiciously.

In the recent case (Truax v. Hyrb) the parties were involved in a collision and fault was at issue.  The Defendant brought an application seeking a dismissal of the lawsuit and argued that the Plaintiff failing to adduce expert engineering evidence should lead to an adverse inference.  In rejecting this suggestion Mr. Justice Dley provided the following comments about the over-use of expert evidence:

[20]         The defence argues that the failure by the plaintiff to introduce engineering evidence of the collision is “telling” and that an inference should be drawn against Mr. Truax. I agree that the absence of engineering evidence is telling – there is no need to call such expert evidence when common sense prevails.

[21]         Litigation has become a costly venture; oftentimes unnecessarily so. Litigants are far too quick to secure expert testimony when it is not required. Perhaps that is out of an abundance of caution and concern that the absence of expert evidence will be a failing of counsel.

[22]         Each case should be considered on its unique circumstances. It is trite to say that it is not necessary to call expert evidence on each issue. Expert testimony should be restricted to those matters where it would actually assist the court because the evidence is so specialized, scientific or complex. Expert evidence should not be viewed as a default or automatic step in litigation strategy.

 

$75,000 Non-Pecuniary Assessment for Aggravation of Chronic, Disabling Pre-Existing Condition

Reasons for judgement were published today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, assessing damages for a collision which aggravated long-standing pre-existing health complications.

In today’s case (Cheema v. Khan) the Plaintiff was disabled since 2003 due to arthritis and depression.  She was involved in a 2012 collision that the Defendants admitted fault for.  The collision aggravated her pre-existing issues.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $75,000 Chief Justice Hinkson provided the following reasons:

[103]     There is no question that Ms. Cheema was unemployable after 2003. She had been on long-term disability from employment as a linen worker since 2004 due to rheumatoid arthritis and major depressive disorder. She was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in the 1990s. The pain was in her neck initially, followed by bilateral hand pain since 2000. Her rheumatoid arthritis affected her hands, wrists, feet, ankles and shoulders. In the month preceding the Collision, the plaintiff had a flare up of her rheumatoid arthritis. Since 2000, the plaintiff had also suffered from longstanding, severe and chronic major depressive disorder, chronic anxiety and panic attacks leading up to the Collision.

[104]     I am unable to accept the plaintiff’s submission that her condition prior to the Collision was stable. She suffered from severe rheumatoid arthritis, Morton’s neuromas and a severe major depressive disorder prior to the Collision, and these conditions compromised her ability to ambulate, cook, clean and perform other household activities. I am satisfied that the plaintiff’s severe rheumatoid arthritis and severe depression waxed and waned prior to the Collision, but overall were worsening, and would have continued to worsen even if she had not been involved in the Collision.

[105]     I find, however, that the Collision caused an aggravation of her pre-Collision neck, back and shoulder pain and headaches, and likely had a negative effect on the symptoms arising from her rheumatoid arthritis.

[106]     I conclude that the plaintiff’s neck, back and shoulder pain and headaches were worsened by the Collision and that without the accident she would not have suffered from those difficulties as much as she has for the four years that have followed the Collision.

[107]     I accept the evidence of Dr. Shuckett that stress has a negative effect on someone suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, and has had such an effect on the plaintiff and accelerated the progress of her disease.

[108]     I am also persuaded that the Collision had a negative effect on the plaintiff’s psychiatric state that has resulted in a downward spiralling effect causing the plaintiff to brood about her physical condition and limit her activities, in turn worsening her depression, in turn compromising her participation in certain activities and so on…

[133]     I assess the plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages at $75,000.

$85,000 Non-Pecuniary Assessment for L1 Fracture and Concussion

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, assessing damages for injuries sustained in two collisions.

In today’s case (Wiebe v. Weibe) the Plaintiff was involved in two crashes, the first in 2012 the second in 2013.  The first collision caused a fracture at the L1 level of the Plaintiff’s spine along with a concussion.  The second aggravated some of her symptoms.  By the time of trial she was left with some residual barriers due to her injuries as well as lingering pain.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $85,000 Mr. Justice Tindale provided the following reasons:

[183]     I accept that the plaintiff suffered an L-1 fracture as well as an injury to her mid back. I also accept Dr. Reddy’s diagnosis that the plaintiff suffered a concussion which is in keeping with the plaintiff’s description of her injuries after the First Accident….

[185]     The plaintiff was virtually couch bound for a number of weeks after the First Accident.

[186]     The plaintiff suffered a considerable weight gain after the First Accident though she has ultimately lost that weight. The plaintiff is currently physically active, able to run on a regular basis as well as attend a gym.

[187]     The plaintiff still suffers from mid back pain though there has been significant improvement in her condition…

[190]     The plaintiff in the case at bar suffered a serious injury to her low back as well as injuries to her mid back. She also suffered a concussion and developed anxiety which had an impact on her daily life for a number of months after the First Accident.

[191]     Considering the inexhaustive list of common factors in Stapley and the fact that the plaintiff continues to suffer pain I conclude that damages of $85,000 are appropriate for this head of damage.

$90,000 Non-Pecuniary Assessment for Chronic Wrist Injury

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Kelowna Registry, assessing damages for a chronic wrist injury.

In today’s case (Ackerman v. Pandher) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2011 collision.  The Defendants admitted fault.  The Plaintiff worked as a tile setter and the chronic injury disabled him from his profession.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $90,000 Mr. Justice Schultes provided the following reasons:

[29]         The medical evidence about Mr. Ackermann’s wrist injury and its effects was not disputed. It indicates that he suffered what is known as a “perilunate dislocation injury[1]” in the accident. This results in “significant soft tissue/ligamentous disruption within the wrist.[2]” Some degree of stiffness is usually seen in patients with this type of injury and his ongoing symptoms are considered to be “reasonable given the nature and extent of his injury.[3]” When he was examined in May of 2015 he had flexion (moving the hand downward from a horizontal position) of only 20%, although his abilities to pinch and grasp were good[4]. His prognosis is for increasing arthritis in the joint as a result of the injury, “with gradually worsening pain and limitation.[5]” A consulting orthopedic surgeon described his condition in 2015 as “chronic and static with a very high likelihood of deteriorating over time.[6]

[30]         If his pain worsens he may require a partial or total wrist fusion, which “typically improve[s] pain however at the cost of significant range of motion.” A total fusion would mean that he could no longer flex or extend the wrist.[7] For now his symptoms can be “slightly improved” by the intermittent use of a brace and by anti-inflammatory medication.[8]

[31]         With respect to work prospects, the orthopedic surgeon offered the opinion that “[b]etween the associated pain and the limited range of motion to his wrist, [he does] not believe that there is any chance of Mr. Ackermann returning to a physical job involving extensive use of his right wrist.” Nor did he believe that there were any “interventions” that would allow Mr. Ackermann to do so[9].

[32]         During his evidence, Mr. Ackermann demonstrated the restrictions in his range of motion of his right wrist and how moving the wrist forward and backward or from side to side causes him pain.

[33]         When he attempted to return to work after the accident he quickly found that the pain in his wrist made it impossible to perform the essential tasks of tile setting.

[34]         This injury has also undermined his ability to engage in the extensive range of physical activities that made up his life outside of work. These have included gardening, shovelling manure for his wife’s chickens, performing home maintenance tasks and minor renovations, playing sports as part of his Sunday social activities and playing with his grandchildren. He also cannot go hunting because of the effect on his wrist of firing a gun.

[35]         Using his wrist to do work of any kind causes a burning pain which is severe enough that it can also wake him up at night. He always feels pain to some extent but if he “takes it easy” it is lessened…

[132]     I think that in this case Mr. Ackermann’s circumstances demonstrate a meaningful requirement for solace, one that is greater than his physical injury might otherwise suggest. It was not contested that he was previously a person for whom the ability to interact physically with the world, and his identity as a “worker” in both his actual employment and his home life, were extremely important. The pain that is brought on by the use of his wrist is serious enough, but in my view a critical aggravating factor has been the comprehensive undermining of his sense of capability in the parts of his life that he otherwise found the most fulfilling. Even though he was rather stoic when giving his evidence, the overall sense he projected of someone who has been cut adrift from the previous fundamentals of his life was still palpable.

[133]     Taking care to distinguish these effects from the harm that has been caused to his earning capacity, which is of course to be dealt with separately, I conclude that an award of $90,000 under this heading is appropriate.

$120,000 Non-Pecuniary Assessment for Chronic Pain with Somatization Issues

Adding to this site’s archived postings of ICBC chronic pain cases, reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, reasons for judgement were published this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, assessing damages for chronic pain in a Plaintiff pre-disposed to somatization.

In the recent case (Alafianpour-Esfahani v. Jolliffe) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2012 rear end collision that the Defendant was responsible for.  The Plaintiff alleged brain injury altogether this claim was not proven at trial.  The court found the plaintiff was pre-disposed to somatization and suffered from a chronic pain disorder following the collision.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $120,000 Madam Justice Sharma provided the following reasons:

[123]     In light of the following factors, I find Ms. Alafianpour-Esfahani is entitled to $120,000 in non-pecuniary damages:

a)    the accident caused soft tissue injuries to her neck, back and shoulder that resulted in headaches and developed (in combination with her predisposition to somatization) into chronic pain;

b)    she has not likely reached maximum medical improvement of her physical symptoms, but any further improvement depends upon the success of addressing the reactivity of her nervous system, which will be challenging;

c)     her physical symptoms have been prolonged because of her psychiatric condition characterization by a vulnerability to somatization and pathological nervous system reactivity;

d)    her prognosis for improving her condition by following a thorough program of desensitization is fair, but that is tempered by the chronicity of her condition because it has been left untreated fro 3 ½ years;

e)    the accident has negatively impacted all aspects of her life, including her relationship with her family, her social interaction, her ability to work, her recreational activities, her ability to maintain her home and yard, her ability to cook for family and friends; her ability to provide emotional support to her children, especially her daughter and her ability to travel.

Court Finds Careless Driving Admission Not Binding in Subsequent Injury Lawsuit

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, finding a motorist faultless for a collision even though that same motorist entered a guilty plea to a charge of driving a vehicle without due care and attention.  While this is not the first noted circumstance of this occurring the Court provided helpful reasons setting out the circumstances where the prior admission will not be an abuse of process to re-litigate.

In today’s case (Chand v. Martin) the Plaintiff was operating a vehicle struck by a train.  He was injured and a passenger in his vehicle was killed.  The Plaintiff was charged with “driving a vehicle without due care and attention” and plead guilty (meaning an admission that he did so beyond a reasonable doubt).

The Plaintiff then sued a host of parties including the train conductor alleging they were at fault for the incident.  The Court found that the train conductor was indeed negligent for the incident noting that he proceeded into the train crossing when the signal lights were not working and this created an unreasonable risk of harm.

The Defendants argued that the Plaintiff was also partly at fault and cannot escape this given the previous admission of careless driving.  Madam Justice Russell disagreed and in allowing the issue to be re-litigated despite the previous guilty plea noted as follows:

[86]        The key decision regarding the effect of a guilty plea in a subsequent proceeding involving the same facts is Toronto (City) v. CUPE Local 79, 2003 SCC 63. In that case, the Supreme Court of Canada was considering whether the grievance of a dismissal following a conviction for sexual assault amounted to an abuse of process. The Court provided the following comments at paras. 51-53:

[51] Rather than focus on the motive or status of the parties, the doctrine of abuse of process concentrates on the integrity of the adjudicative process. Three preliminary observations are useful in that respect. First, there can be no assumption that relitigation will yield a more accurate result than the original proceeding. Second, if the same result is reached in the subsequent proceeding, the relitigation will prove to have been a waste of judicial resources as well as an unnecessary expense for the parties and possibly an additional hardship for some witnesses. Finally, if the result in the subsequent proceeding is different from the conclusion reached in the first on the very same issue, the inconsistency, in and of itself, will undermine the credibility of the entire judicial process, thereby diminishing its authority, its credibility and its aim of finality.

[52] In contrast, proper review by way of appeal increases confidence in the ultimate result and affirms both the authority of the process as well as the finality of the result. It is therefore apparent that from the system’s point of view, relitigation carries serious detrimental effects and should be avoided unless the circumstances dictate that relitigation is in fact necessary to enhance the credibility and the effectiveness of the adjudicative process as a whole. There may be instances where relitigation will enhance, rather than impeach, the integrity of the judicial system, for example: (1) when the first proceeding is tainted by fraud or dishonesty; (2) when fresh, new evidence, previously unavailable, conclusively impeaches the original results; or (3) when fairness dictates that the original result should not be binding in the new context. This was stated unequivocally by this Court in Danyluk, supra, at para. 80.

[53] The discretionary factors that apply to prevent the doctrine of issue estoppel from operating in an unjust or unfair way are equally available to prevent the doctrine of abuse of process from achieving a similar undesirable result. There are many circumstances in which the bar against relitigation, either through the doctrine of res judicata or that of abuse of process, would create unfairness. If, for instance, the stakes in the original proceeding were too minor to generate a full and robust response, while the subsequent stakes were considerable, fairness would dictate that the administration of justice would be better served by permitting the second proceeding to go forward than by insisting that finality should prevail. An inadequate incentive to defend, the discovery of new evidence in appropriate circumstances, or a tainted original process may all overcome the interest in maintaining the finality of the original decision (Danyluk, supra, at para. 51; Franco, supra, at para. 55).

[Emphasis added]

[87]        I find that the case at bar fits within the exception emphasized above in CUPE Local 79 at para. 53. Mr. Chand had no memory of the collision, and so he could not offer a full and robust defence. In addition, the fine was quite minor, with the stakes of this subsequent proceeding being much higher. In those circumstances, it is not surprising that Mr. Chand chose to enter a guilty plea.

[88]        Consequently, I find that in these circumstances, Mr. Chand’s guilty plea does not constitute proof in these proceedings that he was driving without due care or attention on the night in question. In keeping with the independent eyewitness testimony of Mr. Harkness and Mr. Angus, I find that Mr. Chand was not speeding or driving erratically.

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