For many Ontario residents, dealing with the aftermath of a motor vehicle accident is a long, stressful process. Aside from needing to recover from potentially catastrophic injuries, there is also the physical and mental strain of addressing the legal consequences of the accident. For instance, if your accident was the result of someone else’s negligence, you have the right to bring a personal injury lawsuit in court.
A lawsuit is not a quick or simple affair. Unlike television legal dramas in which everything seems to wrap up in one hour or less, real civil actions often require months–and more often than not, years–of careful investigation and preparation before the parties ever set foot inside a courtroom. The strain of this process often, and with reason, tests the limits of the accident victim.
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McKnight v. Ontario (Transportation): City Contracted Plow Dumps Snow and Ice on Hamilton Motorist’s Car
Recently, the Ontario Court of Appeal issued a decision affirming a multi-million dollar personal injury award in a case that began more than a decade earlier. The appeal itself largely centered on the question of whether the jury that originally decided the case was improperly “inflamed” by the victim’s complaints about his treatment by the defence’s lawyers during the litigation process.
As noted above, this case took several years to complete. The underlying accident occurred on March 7, 2008. The plaintiff was driving home from work one night. He was traveling in his car in a westbound lane of Highway 403 in the City of Hamilton, Ontario. At that same time, a snow plow contracted by the City was pushing snow and ice on Wilson Street West, which intersects and overlooks Highway 403.
You might guess what happened next. As the plaintiff’s car moved underneath the Wilson Street overpass, snow and ice moved by the plow fell onto his vehicle and smashed through his sunroof. The plaintiff sustained serious physical and psychological injuries as a result and subsequently filed a personal injury lawsuit against the Ontario Minister of Transportation, the City of Hamilton, and the two snow plow contractors hired by the City to move the snow and ice on the day of the accident.
Jury Awards $2.4 Million in Damages; Judge “Caps” Award for Pain and Suffering following accident
Although the accident took place in 2008, the case was not brought to trial until early 2017, more than nine years later. A jury sitting in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice heard evidence for approximately four weeks. The two snow plow defendants previously admitted liability, so the jury was only left to consider and decide the amount of the plaintiff’s damages.
The jury ultimately returned the following verdict. It awarded $600,000 damages to compensate the plaintiff for his non-pecuniary damages, i.e. his pain and suffering related to the accident. The jury awarded a further $75,000 for the plaintiff’s loss of past income, $860,000 for his estimated loss of future income, $840,000 for his future health care expenses, and $66,500 for his “out of pocket” expenses. This brought the jury’s total award to just over $2.4 million.
The plaintiff then asked the trial judge, Justice David L. Edwards, to enter a final judgment based on the jury’s verdict. In response, the defence asked the judge to modify the verdict, specifically reducing the amount of non-pecuniary damages. Under a series of rulings issued by the Supreme Court of Canada, judges are required to limit or impose a “cap” on non-pecuniary damage awards. In this particular case, the cap was approximately $379,000. Since the jury’s damages of $600,000 exceeded this limit, Justice Edwards reduced that part of the award accordingly. The remainder of the jury’s verdict stood.
Court of Appeal: Comments by Plaintiff, Psychiatrist Did Not Require Mistrial
Before the Court of Appeal, the defence argued the jury’s award was “the product of being inflamed by the [plaintiff’s] complaints of mistreatment at the hands of their trial counsel.” The defence argued that it was entitled to a mistrial for this reason, and Justice Edwards erred in not granting such a mistrial. In its decision issued on January 14, 2019, the Court of Appeal rejected the defendants’ arguments and dismissed their appeal.
According to the Court of Appeal, during cross-examination at trial, the plaintiff “exhibited signs of stress and complained that the [defence’s] trial counsel was yelling at him and that he was asking about the suicide of the [plaintiff’s] step-father.” The plaintiff later told the jury that defence counsel “had also yelled at him” and asked about the suicide during examination for discovery.
Justice Edwards ruled that testimony regarding “what had transpired on the discovery was not admissible,” since that would make the defence lawyer a potential witness in the case. Instead, the judge allowed the plaintiff’s psychiatrist to testify about the “stress of the lawsuit” on the plaintiff. During this testimony, the psychiatrist offered a professional opinion that defence counsel’s “impugned conduct had a negative impact on the [plaintiff’s] psychological condition.”
At this point, the defence moved for a mistrial. Justice Edwards denied this motion. But he did instruct the jury to disregard any testimony regarding the “interactions” of the plaintiff and defence counsel. Nevertheless, the judge noted that “litigation was often stressful” and the individual litigants “often have a difficult relationship with opposing counsel.”
The Court of Appeal determined that Justice Edwards “appropriately cautioned” and instructed the jury. More to the point, it was “well within the discretion of the trial judge” to decide the plaintiff’s “criticism of the conduct” of defence counsel “did not rise to the level of causing an injustice that could only be cured by a mistrial.” The appeals court further noted that the defence did not challenge the amount of the verdict itself as unreasonable, which undermined their claim the jury was somehow “inflamed” by the plaintiff’s complaints.
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Contact Preszler Law If You Have Been Injured in an Ontario Motor Vehicle Accident
They say Rome was not built in a day; the same is true of auto accident claims. If you have been seriously injured in an accident and looking to hold the negligent parties responsible, you need to work with an experienced personal injury lawyer who can guide you through the legal process after your motor vehicle accident. Contact Preszler Law Firm today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with one of our lawyers.