The effects of a car accident can play out over a period of several years. In many cases, a victim’s injuries will degrade his or her ability to earn a living and perhaps damage his or her business. It is possible to seek damages for such loss of income and earning capacity. But in seeking to prove that the car accident caused business losses, it is critical to provide a B.C. court with proper documentation, not just of your injuries and associated medical treatment, but also of how the accident was directly responsible for those losses.
Consider this recent judgment from the B.C. Supreme Court: A husband and wife alleged a car accident that took place 10 years earlier caused the demise of their business. The judge trying the case rejected this claim, finding there were multiple issues with the evidence presented by the plaintiffs.
The underlying facts regarding the accident were not in dispute. In January 2008, the husband was driving his car. His wife was riding in the front passenger seat, and the couple’s two children were seated in the back.
The defendant’s vehicle hit the plaintiffs’ car, which “knocked [it] to the curb of the intersection,” causing substantial damage to the left front corner of the driver’s side. An ICBC adjuster later declared the vehicle a total loss. The defendant subsequently admitted liability for the accident.
In terms of physical damages, the husband said he sustained injuries to his neck and shoulders and back. The wife testified to a much wider range of injuries, including headache, neck and shoulder pain, jaw clicking, and ringing in her ears (tinnitus).
In support of their claims, the plaintiffs only produced a single witness, their family physician. Although the trial judge, Justice Frits E. Verhoeven of the Supreme Court in New Westminster, said he was “favourably impressed” by the doctor’s testimony, he nevertheless found it of limited value.
For one thing, it is “difficult for a family doctor to be fully objective” about patients with whom he has a longstanding relationship. For another, in cases like these the doctor is “largely dependant on the truth and accuracy of the information he receives from the patient.”
That was a problem, because Justice Verhoeven did not find either of the plaintiffs wholly truthful or accurate in their own testimony. With respect to the husband, the judge found his trial testimony “evasive and argumentative in cross examination.”
When “confronted with apparent inconsistencies or contradictions,” the husband continued to argue, rather than conceding a point “that might be detrimental to his case.” For example, the husband “refused to agree with” his own doctor’s medical reports regarding his physical recovery following the accident.
Justice Verhoeven expressed similar concerns with the wife’s testimony. She also “refused to concede the accuracy of what she reported” to the family physician. Ultimately the judge said her testimony had to be “treated with a great deal of caution.”
As mentioned earlier, the main thrust of the plaintiffs’ claim for damages revolved around their business. The husband worked in garment manufacturing before setting up his own business, which initially imported fabric from China but later transitioned to selling zippers. The wife worked for the husband’s company.
In 2017, just before the trial of their personal injury case before Justice Verhoeven, the husband decided to close his warehouse and production facility. The company itself remained in business, however, disposing of its remaining zipper inventory. At trial, the husband testified he planned to retire “due to the continuing effects of the accident injuries.” The wife said much the same.
The couple sought compensation of between $825,000 and $975,000 for their loss of earnings or earning capacity. According to them, their accident-related injuries are what “ultimately forced the closure of their business.”
The Court found the plaintiffs failed to prove such a connection existed. Indeed, Justice Verhoeven cited the husband’s “own evidence” as contradicting his claim “that the company’s sales or revenue were adversely affected by their injuries.”
For instance, the husband testified the company “was not operating at full capacity” prior to the accident, and that during the six-month period immediately following the crash, the business still met “all of its contractual obligations.” There was no evidence the husband had to turn down or cancel an order due to his injuries, nor did he ever consider hiring extra help to compensate for any restrictions on his ability to work.
More to the point, it appeared to Justice Verhoeven that external economic factors actually prompted the demise of the plaintiffs’ business. The court noted that the business “experienced a drop in sales of about 35%” from 2006 to 2007, the year before the accident.
This was likely the result of a 2005 decision by Canada, the United States, and the European Union to eliminate clothing import quotas, which the judge noted led to an overall decline in the “Canadian domestic textile industry.”
What likely proved the final nail in the coffin of the plaintiffs’ case was their failure to produce their complete business records, even when ordered by the court to do so. To the contrary, Justice Verhoeven said the husband actually “discarded all financial source documents (such as invoices) for the years 2004 to 2009 in April 2017” while litigation was still pending.
The judge found this conduct “startling” and consequently drew “adverse inferences” against the plaintiffs in trying the case.
All that said, the Court did award the plaintiffs other damages. Notably, the husband and wife received non-pecuniary damages for their pain and suffering of $60,000 and $80,000 respectively, which is less then they sought. Once again, the judge pointed to problems with each plaintiff’s credibility.
The key to prevailing in any personal injury case is carefully documenting all of the injuries and other damages you sustained as the result of the defendant’s negligence. This means seeking medical treatment from qualified specialists when necessary.
If your losses involve your business or vocation, you need to provide the court–and the defence–with any requested documentation related to these subjects. You cannot “misplace” or discard documents and expect to prevail at trial. Honesty, accuracy, and a skilled lawyer to ensure that all relevant evidence is presented in an appropriate and persuasive manner are paramount.
This is why the first thing you should always do following an accident is contact a qualified Vancouver personal injury lawyer who can advise you on the appropriate steps to take. Call the Preszler Law Firm to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with one of our lawyers today.