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Court of Appeal: Even Minor Accidents Can Cause Injuries

May 9 2019

The Court of Appeal recently overturned a decision from a B.C. trial judgment in which a plaintiff’s claims for injuries, sustained in five motor vehicle accidents, had been dismissed on the presumed basis that her relatively serious symptoms were inconsistent with the low-impact nature of the accidents.

The Court of Appeal ordered a new trial, finding that the trial judge’s decision to dismiss had been based on an unsupported and wrong assumption that it is unlikely for a person to be injured in an accident that is low-impact or where there is minimal damage to their vehicle.

Background

The case arose out of a series of five “low velocity” motor vehicle accidents, in which the plaintiff’s vehicle was not significantly damaged. The plaintiff stated that, as a result of the combination of these accidents, she suffered neck, back and shoulder pain, along with headaches, which eventually became excruciating and debilitating. She claimed damages for pain and suffering, past and future wage loss, and out-of-pocket expenses for a total of approximately $200,000.

The trial judge dismissed the plaintiff’s case entirely, largely on the basis that he found the plaintiff was not a credible witness. He found it “unbelievable that in five accidents, which were extremely minor, a plaintiff could suffer all the same, relatively serious symptoms”. He disregarded large portions of the plaintiff’s evidence, and the evidence of her medical experts, on the basis that her claims of injury simply were not believable, given the minor nature of the accidents.

Mustapha v. Culligan Canada

To support his decision, the trial judge relied on a case from the Supreme Court of Canada called Mustapha v. Culligan Canada, in which the Supreme Court denied a plaintiff’s claim for psychological injuries arising from seeing a dead fly in an unopened bottle of drinking water, which he claimed caused him to become obsessive, paranoid, and depressed. The Supreme Court of Canada determined that the plaintiff had not suffered a “serious and prolonged injury” or, even if he had, that it was not reasonably foreseeable that a person of ordinary fortitude would suffer serious mental injury from this type of event.

Despite the Mustapha case dealing entirely with psychological injuries, the trial judge in this case applied the Supreme Court of Canada’s analysis to support the conclusion that the five accidents were so minor that they could not have caused the serious physical injuries to the plaintiff that she was claiming and that those injuries were not reasonably foreseeable results of low-impact accidents.

Court of Appeal Ruling

The Court of Appeal disagreed with the trial judge’s analysis and stated that, while the severity of impact in an accident may be a relevant factor in assessing evidence of injury, it is not the only factor and it must be grounded in evidence rather than speculation.

In this case, the Court of Appeal found that there was no evidence to suggest that the plaintiff could not have suffered the injuries she claimed in the accidents. The Appeal Court concluded that the trial judge made an overriding error by relying on the simple fact that the accidents had been minor in nature, while ignoring the evidence from the plaintiff and her medical experts that she had indeed suffered debilitating injuries.

The Court of Appeal also found that the trial judge had misapplied the law by relying on the Mustapha case. A person claiming physical injuries, rather than psychological, is not required to prove that those injuries are serious, prolonged and rise above ordinary annoyances, as was the case in Mustapha. Writing for the Court of Appeal, Madam Justice Fisher stated that, if the reasoning in Mustapha was applied to all soft tissue injury cases, “minor physical injuries caused by a defendant’s negligence would never be recoverable, and that is not the law”.

In this case, the plaintiff was only required to show that it was reasonably foreseeable that an ordinary person would suffer soft tissue injuries in one or more of the accidents. While those injuries may have been more serious than expected or less serious than the plaintiff claimed, the Court of Appeal found that it could not be said that those injuries are not reasonably foreseeable, despite the accidents being minor in nature.

In other words, even in minor car accidents, a person can suffer physical injuries that entitle them to compensation, and the severity of an impact alone is not enough to dismiss a person’s case outright.

If you have suffered a personal injury that is not your fault, you may be able to recoup compensation to cover lost wages, medical care, rehabilitative therapy and other expenses. Talk to one of RDM’s personal injury lawyers today to learn more.

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