Our Court Confirms No Double Standard for Cyclists

Posted on by Mussio Goodman

Court Confirm That Bikes Can Be At Fault For Accidents, Like Cars

Looking around the city during our recent spate of sunny weather, it is nice to see the numerous bike lanes in Vancouver being put to some use. The City of Vancouver installed these bike lanes to protect cyclists against accidents, so they should take advantage of them and ride in the designated areas whenever possible.

Of course, there are times when a cyclist must share the road with motor vehicles as well. In these cases, many believe that cyclists should not be held to the same standard of care as motor vehicle drivers, because it is the latter group who are more vulnerable.

However, the law holds a different view.

The case of Miles v Kumar 2013 BCSC 1688 provides a good example of how cyclists are held to the same standard of care on the road. The Plaintiff was cycling on Grandview Highway when he made a lane change in front of a vehicle driven by the Defendant. The lane change was careless, despite the fact that the Plaintiff was on a bicycle and the Defendant was in a car. Mr. Justice Bernard made the following conclusions:

[62] In summary, with due regard for all the foregoing, I make the following determinations: (a) that as Ms Kumar travelled in the left lane to the point of the collision, she enjoyed the right of way; (b) that the evidence does not reasonably support a finding that Ms Kumar was, at the time, driving without due care and attention, or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the highway, or at a speed that was excessive to the conditions; (c) that when Mr. Miles entered the left lane in front of Ms Kumar his bicycle was servient to Ms Kumar’s car; and, (d) that when Mr. Miles entered the left lane he did so in breach of his statutory duties pursuant to ss. 151(a) and 151(c) of the MV Act.

[63] In addition to the foregoing, I am also satisfied that there is no evidence upon which I could reasonably conclude: (a) that Ms Kumar ought to have known that Mr. Miles would disregard her right of way; or, (b) that there was sufficient opportunity for a reasonably careful and skilled driver in the position of Ms Kumar to avoid colliding with Mr. Miles (see Walker v. Brownlee, supra).

The bottom line is that a careless lane change is a careless lane change, whether you are operating a bicycle or a motor vehicle. This is true for any other rule of the road. Needless to say, the cyclist will suffer the brunt of any collision with a car, regardless of fault. However, the law does not discriminate; even if a bicyclist is seriously injured in an accident that was their fault, they will have no legal recourse.

For this reason, cyclists need to be remain particularly vigilant of their surroundings on public roads.

Specific safety tips and regulations for cyclists can be found here.

The Importance of Keeping Business Records For a Wage Loss ICBC Claim

Posted on by Mussio Goodman

Keeping Records is Vital for your ICBC Claim Process

Many of our clients are self-employed labourers performing contract work. In these cases, when their injuries are affecting their ability to earn a living, we always stress the importance of creating a paper trail in order to prove their resulting wage loss.

For example, if a claimant has to turn down a job opportunity, he should confirm in writing with the would-be employer what the opportunity was, and how much it would pay.

In cases where an injured subcontractor is forced to hire extra workers to perform the labour he would have otherwise done himself, it is important to maintain invoices or receipts so those expenses may be considered as part of the ICBC claim.

In the absence of these records, and especially where there is a poor practice of record keeping prior to the accident, the Court is hesitant to fully compensate a claimant for the losses claimed.

An example of this can be found in the reasons of Musgrove v. Elliot, 2013 BCSC 1707. In that case, the injured Plaintiff was self-employed as a builder of residential decks and fences. Since his injuries impacted his ability to work, he was forced to rely on labourers to do the work in his stead. While the Court accepted his claim in principle, it awarded only a fraction of the damages sought due to a lack of corroborating records:

[56] In late 2007 Mr. Musgrove moved to the Victoria area and began to establish himself in his own business as a fence and deck builder. He had perhaps 10 months to build that business before the first of his two accidents, and in that time he kept lamentably few records of his earnings or expenses.

[57] There is thus little reliable evidence of what Mr. Musgrove actually earned before the first accident, and evidence of actual earnings is usually the most reliable basis on which to assess damages for income losses claimed as a result of an accident.

[58] Mr. Musgrove’s poor record keeping habits continued after the accidents, leaving little upon which to base a confident assessment of what he has earned since the first accident, or what he has paid out to others to do work he says he could and should have been able to do himself but for his injuries…

[72] I am satisfied that as a result of the injuries he suffered in the accidents, Mr. Musgrove had to hire others to do work that he would have done himself had he not been injured. This represents a loss to Mr. Musgrove for which he should be compensated.

[73] Mr. Musgrove must accept responsibility for the consequences of his poor or non-existent records. One such consequence may be an award lower than it might have been had he kept proper records. In all of the circumstances, I assess Mr. Musgrove’s loss of earning capacity at $20,000 from the time of the accident to trial.

Written by Wes Mussio of Mussio Goodman Law Group

Interest on Disbursements: A Warning to Claimants

Posted on by Mussio Goodman

What You Need to Know About Interest on Disbursement on ICBC Claim Cases

In order to fight for your right to compensation with ICBC, lawyers must spend money on a variety of necessary services such as investigation, doctor’s reports, photocopies and court fees. These expenses are known as disbursements.

When you hire a lawyer for your ICBC car accident, you are typically charged an interest rate on these disbursements. This is to facilitate financing your case, as most law firms require a loan or a line of credit from a lending institution to operate their business.

Normally, ICBC will be forced to pay the interest charge because it is associated with the the advancement of a claimant’s case. However, many lawyers charge very high interest rates (ie. over 10-15% per year. As a result, ICBC will resist paying those charges when the case is concluded).

In the recent case of Phippen v. Hampton, the claimant was injured in a car accident and retained a law firm. Upon signing the fee agreement, she agreed to pay 15% on disbursements since the lawyer was using a financial lender to finance the personal injury claim. When the lawyer tried to get ICBC to pay for the interest charges, ICBC refused. The Supreme Court of British Columbia determined that 15% was unreasonable in the circumstances and substituted a lower rate.

In essence, the court confirmed that ICBC is not forced to pay interest that is too high, but only reasonable interest on disbursements. In practice, a reasonable rate is usually between 6-8%.

The decision is good news for all claimants. It confirms that the interest on disbursements must be paid for by ICBC, and sets a key precedent as to what is a reasonable rate. Lawyers that attempt to charge over 8% will likely be confronted with ICBC’s refusal to pay those charges when the claim is finished.

The end result is that the claimant may be stuck with paying the remainder of any interest that Court has deemed unreasonable. This seemingly small amount can add up, especially for cases of a lengthy duration.

A few percentage points of interest on disbursements can mean a client is left with a lower settlement at the end of the claim. Therefore, it is important to pay attention to interest charges on disbursements when you are thinking of hiring a lawyer.

Mussio Goodman Wins BC Court of Appeal Against ICBC

Posted on by Mussio Goodman

Mussio Goodman Wins BC Court of Appeal Against ICBC for Trying to Deny Injury Compensation

We are pleased to announce that the British Columbia Court of Appeal has ruled that ICBC must compensate for the injuries sustained by our client during a bus ride back from their zip line ride.

As reported by The Vancouver Sun, counsel for our client, Wes Mussio and Eric Goodman, were successful in convincing the Court of Appeal to reverse a decision of the Supreme Court of British Columbia dismissing our client’s case against Ziptrek.

On the day of the accident, our client was returning from a zipline tour in a bus provided by Ziptrek and being driven by a Ziptrek employee. The bus veered off the road, flipped, and fell off a cliff. Our client sustained serious injuries as a result of this accident, including a broken neck. Ziptrek refused to take responsibility for their negligence, citing the release signed by our client.

But since this accident happened in a motor vehicle, and British Columbia’s Insurance (Vehicle) Act imposes a universal compulsory insurance regime relating to motor vehicle accidents, ICBC was also brought into the mix. Despite voluntarily signing Ziptrek’s release, could our client still sue Ziptrek and and receive compensation from ICBC under the Insurance (Vehicle) Act?

Mr. Mussio and Mr. Goodman said “yes”, arguing that our client only contemplated signing away her rights relating to injuries occurring on or around the zipline itself and that denying our client her rights under the Insurance (Vehicle) Act was contrary to public policy.

ICBC said “no”, even though they admitted that the accident occurred as a result of the Ziptrek bus driver’s negligence. They argued that our client had completely relinquished her rights to sue by signing Ziptrek`s release.

The British Columbia Supreme Court sided with Ziptrek and ICBC, which opened the door to various types of “mischief” flowing from the ability of private parties to contract out of their rights under the statutory insurance scheme. For instance, bus companies and taxi companies might theoretically be permitted to force customers to sign away their rights as a condition of using their services and thereby avoid liability for their negligence.

The concept of a universal compulsory car insurance regime would therefore be fundamentally undermined, since allowing people to opt out of the regime would render it neither universal nor compulsory.

However, the Court of Appeal reversed this decision, agreeing with Mr. Mussio and Mr. Goodman that it was against public policy to allow people to contract out of the universal and compulsory insurance scheme imposed under the Insurance (Vehicle) Act. As noted by Madam Justice Garson, writing for the majority of the Court of Appeal:

In my view, the ICBC regime is intended as a benefit for the public interest just as is human rights legislation. It would be contrary to the public interest and to a harmonious contextual interpretation of the legislation to allow private parties to contract out of this regime. As such, to the extent that the Release purports to release liability for motor vehicle accidents it is contrary to public policy and is unenforceable.

The Court of Appeal held that Ziptrek and ICBC are liable for our client’s injuries in the bus crash. A trial before the Supreme Court of British Columbia will be scheduled to determine how much those injuries are worth.

There is no word yet as to whether Ziptrek and ICBC intend to appeal this decision to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Court Rejects Opinion of “Biased”, “Arrogant” and “Argumentative” ICBC Doctor

Posted on by Mussio Goodman

ICBC Hired Doctor Biased Against Client Says Judge

Expert witnesses, such as doctors, who come to court to testify, do so in order to give evidence and opinion on complicated matters outside of the realm of the general knowledge of judges and juries.

The “Rules of Court” require that these witnesses give such evidence in a fair and balanced way and not advocate for either party, even if the expert was hired by one party to come to court on that party’s behalf.

In the recent case of Mattice v. Kirby, the Court found that a doctor retained by ICBC to give expert evidence crossed the line from expert to advocate.

In short, the doctor completed a cursory examination of the plaintiff and concluded he was not seriously injured and would likely recover with time. When ruling on the doctor’s expert evidence, the Court was quite critical:

[75] Dr. Keith Christian, an orthopaedic surgeon, provided an expert report for the defence and was also cross-examined at trial. Dr. Christian assessed Mr. Mattice on October 19, 2012 and issued a report the same day. Dr. Christian completed his interview and physical examination of Mr. Mattice in a total of twenty minutes, which included 16 minutes for the interview and four minutes for the physical examination. Dr. Christian did not disagree that his assessment of Mr. Mattice was very brief.

[76] During cross-examination, Dr. Christian was very argumentative and often arrogant. He stated that when asked previously by defence counsel whether he took notes of his meeting with Mr. Mattice, he advised that he did not take notes. At trial Dr. Christian admitted to having taken “scribbles”, which he said were illegible and which he destroyed after dictating his report on the day of the assessment. He said he had denied having taken notes as he had instead made “scribbles” and that no one had asked him if he had taken any “scribbles”. Since Dr. Christian admitted on cross-examination to having used his “scribbles” to dictate his report, there is little doubt in my mind that his “scribbles” were what any doctor would consider “notes” and that Dr. Christian was well aware that his “scribbles” constituted what anyone else would consider to be “notes”. His answers in this inquiry were most evasive and clearly showed a lack of willingness to be frank, open and honest with the Court.

[77] Dr. Christian’s interview and physical examination of Mr. Mattice were without question incomplete. On cross-examination, Dr. Christian admitted that he had not asked Mr. Mattice questions regarding, among many other things: the severity of the accidents of 2008 and 2009; any symptoms in his hands such as pain and “pins and needles”; whether symptoms, if there were any, were improving; bruising on Mr. Mattice’s elbow; the nature of his employment; the extent of the pain in his shoulder; and sleep problems. Dr. Christian also did not inquire about aspects of the accident that were relevant to the injuries claimed, such as Mr. Mattice’s body position in the 2009 accident and how he was impacted in the accident. In written submissions, counsel for Mr. Mattice listed 18 areas of legitimate inquiry that Dr. Christian could have pursued to provide a more informed and unbiased opinion; in my view, there were areas in addition to these 18 which Dr. Christian could have explored, but elected not to do so.

[82] In cross-examination Dr. Christian stated that there was no reason at the time for him to be having shoulder pain, that any fatigue being experienced by Mr. Mattice was “absolutely irrelevant”, that there was no reason for Mr. Mattice not to improve, and that there was no reason for Mr. Mattice to have a problem with his shoulder. He stated that, generally, in his opinion, Mr. Mattice should have been over any injuries from the 2009 accident long before the visit to Dr. Christian.

[83] In conclusion on Dr. Christian’s evidence and opinions, I have no hesitation in finding that his research was incomplete, that he was predisposed to a finding that Mr. Mattice’s injuries were either exaggerated or did not exist, and that by limiting his opinions to musculoskeletal injuries, he was not qualified to opine on the injuries which Mr. Mattice claimed to have suffered in the 2009 accident. As a result, I find the opinions and evidence of Dr. Christian to be of little or no probative value and I am left with the medical-legal opinions of the plaintiff’s expert and all other evidence to make a determination regarding Mr. Mattice’s injuries.

This case underscores the importance of remaining vigilant about the doctors ICBC often attempts to assign to our clients. We strive to oppose examinations involving doctors with a history of bias, and should a claim proceed to trial, we ensure that their bias is properly brought to the Court’s attention.

“Diminished Home-Making Capacity” Results in Court Award of $20,000

Posted on by Mussio Goodman

A Home-Maker Receives Compensation in Court for Loss of Capacity

A claimant may also be entitled to a court award for “diminished home-making capacity”, in addition to compensation for lost wages, pain and suffering, and treatment expenses.

This was the case in Savoie v. Williams, in which a Plaintiff suffered injuries to her back and neck in a motor vehicle accident. While her injuries caused her to miss a minimal amount of time from work, she struggled to perform her daily household activities following the incident.

ICBC insisted that there should be no award because there was no evidence that the Plaintiff was completely disabled from performing her household tasks.

The Court rejected ICBC’s argument, and awarded $20,000 under this particular head of damage, which follows:

[51] .…In this case, Ms. Savoie expended considerable energy, and took great pride, in maintaining her home and yard, in cooking, and in keeping vehicles clean…

[52] I agree with [ICBC] that Ms. Savoie can do some, perhaps a great deal, of what she could do before the accident. The fact remains that she is impaired in her ability to do those things she did previously without restriction. I find that as a result of the injuries she suffered in the accident that she is no longer the person described by her son as “super mom”…

[55] The plaintiff here led no evidence by which any of the household services can be valued, on either the replacement cost or opportunity cost approach… The plaintiff has not hired anyone to perform household tasks that she would have performed if not injured.

[56] I note that in Rezaei v. Piedade, the court accepted $15 per hour as a value of lost housekeeping capacity, partly because it had been used as a measure in earlier decisions, but also because it accorded with evidence in that case of what a witness paid for similar services..

[57] I find that Ms. Savoie was initially unable to perform some household tasks. I find that she has recovered some of her ability to do household tasks but with some difficulty and some adjustments to accommodate her changed physical abilities…

What this case shows is that an individual does not need to incur a monetary loss in the workplace in order to show a monetary loss at home.

It also indicates that the evidence from lay witnesses is a key component in proving a diminished home-making capacity claim. In this particular situation, the Plaintiff’s son was able to confirm the reduction in his mother’s ability to maintain the household post accident, which proved vital to the case.