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Friday, December 2, 2016

 
 
 

 
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Fearless Advocacy – The Dabor Trial

The lawyers, paralegals and staff at Smitiuch Injury Law continue to fearlessly advocate for their clients at both trials and arbitrations. It is the philosophy of the firm to take cases to trial where the other side fails to make a fair and reasonable settlement offer. We have conducted numerous trials and arbitrations in recent years and do not shy away from challenging liability or damages cases. The case of Dabor et al. v. Southbram Holdings Limited et al. (CV-11-417735) is one such example.

 

On June 3, 2016, a Toronto jury returned a verdict in favour of our clients after three weeks of trial. This action arose from the Plaintiff’s fall from a metal stud located above a drop-down ceiling to the floor ten feet below. The Plaintiff suffered a comminuted calcaneous (broken heal) and continues to suffer with significant pain.

 

This was a unique case in that the Plaintiff was an independent contractor performing regular work at a warehouse owned and occupied by the Defendant corporations. Neither of the parties had workers’ compensation coverage. It was alleged by the Defendants that the Plaintiff was the author of his own misfortune and as an experienced contractor he should have performed the work more carefully. In addition, they argued that the Plaintiff did not raise any safety concerns with the work he was being asked to perform and that he had in fact completed the same task safely one week before his fall.

 

Even before this case made it to trial, the Defendants had brought a summary judgment motion to try and put a stop to the lawsuit. Peter Cho of Smitiuch Injury Law successfully fought off this motion and the case continued on.

 

During the trial, we called numerous witnesses, including an orthopaedic surgeon, family physician, specialist pain doctor and a forensic accountant. In the end, the jury found the Defendants 38% responsible for failing to give clear instructions to the Plaintiff, failing to have a safe pathway above the ceiling and failing to provide the necessary equipment for the job. The jury assessed damages at $515,000.00 plus interest and the Plaintiffs beat the Defendants’ formal offer to settle.

 

This verdict was significant because it serves as a warning to owners and occupiers of properties that they must ensure they have the right person to do the job and that their premises must be safe for the work intended to be performed.

 

Michael Smitiuch and Peter Cho were trial counsel for the Plaintiffs.

Concussions – Not a “get up and shake it off” injury

The seriousness of concussions cannot be overstated.

Health care providers are becoming more aware of the effects of concussions (also known as Acquired Brain Injury – ABI).  What was once a, “get up and shake it off” occurrence, has now become a proper assessment with protocols for monitoring the status of the individual as they return to work or sports.

ABI is a physical injury to the brain (concussions). It can be caused by a blow to the head, severe rotation of the neck or whiplash, or even from a lack of oxygen. Over 160,000 Canadians suffer brain injuries every year and, with better reporting, that number gets more accurate and thus keeps rising.

concussions

Concussions can occur many different ways and can have many different symptoms. No two concussions are identical.

About 50% of ABI’s come from falls and motor vehicle accidents.  While many injuries are mild and fully recover (80 – 90% in 7 – 10 days), many can last for much longer.  Some of the symptoms are temporary – headaches, vomiting, concentration issues, memory issues and balance problems. However, some issues can be longer standing – personality changes, sensitivity to light and noise, sleep problems, depression and other psychological issues.

 

Prognosis for ABI’s depends on many factors.  Red flags include post traumatic amnesia, history of previous ABI, skull fracture, nausea and dizziness after injury.

 

Treatment for concussions are rest, rest, and more rest.  Also, those recovering have to limit their exposure to stimulation and thinking that taxes the brain (computer screens and video games).  Return to work or sports is the responsibility of the treating doctor.  Premature return increases risks of second impact syndrome (can be fatal).

 

The seriousness of this condition cannot be overstated.  New imaging techniques are developed to show the extent of the injury and direct treatment.  Hopefully those tests will help those suffering to have the greatest chance of recovery and advocacy.

 

This article was originally published in the Fall 2016 issue of Disclosure. Click here to read the complete newsletter.

Seven Greatest Fictional Lawyers

Seven Greatest Fictional Lawyers

1.Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) – To Kill a Mockingbird

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2. Lt. Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) – A Few Good Men

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3. Vincent “Vinny” Gambini (Joe Pesci) – My Cousin Vinny

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4. Perry Mason (Raymond Burr) – Perry Mason

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5. Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) – Legally Blonde

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6. Harvey Specter (Gabriel Macht) – Suits

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7. Arthur Kirkland (Al Pacino) – And Justice for All

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This is one of the articles from Smitiuch Injury Law’s Fall 2016 Newsletter. Click here to read the complete newsletter.

Catastrophic Impairment Denial Not Subject to Limitation Period

Because a catastrophic impairment designation is not a “benefit”, as defined under the Statutory Accident Benefits Schedule (SABS), there is no time limitation for disputing an insurer’s denial.

On January 6 2009, Zofia Machaj submitted an Application for Determination of Catastrophic Impairment (OCF-19) to RBC Insurance.  After conducting insurer’s examinations, RBC responded on May 25, 2009, stating that, “the assessors have formed the consensus opinion that you have not sustained a catastrophic impairment and therefore you do not qualify for the increased benefits.”

In order to dispute RBC’s denial, an Application for Mediation was submitted by Ms. Machaj on July 18, 2011, which was almost two months beyond the two year limitation period that the Insurance Act stipulates is required.  Section 281.1 of the Insurance Act establishes a limitation period, provides that a mediation proceeding, “…shall be commenced within two years after the insurer’s refusal to pay the benefit claimed” (emphasis added).

In 2015, Whitten J. issued a decision on a Summary Judgment Motion in the matter of Machaj v RBC General Insurance Company [2015 ONSC 4310], wherein he found in favour of RBC Insurance and ruled that the two-year limitation applied, because the denial, “…flushed out the consequences of the denial of the status of catastrophic impairment; namely, the enhanced benefits were not available.”

Ms. Machaj appealed.  The Ontario Court of Appeal disagreed with Judge Whitten’s decision, noting that, “In our opinion, by adding the words, “and you therefore you do not qualify for the increased benefits”, the respondent insurer was doing nothing more than telling the appellant that she lacked status to claim increased benefits. The additional words did not convert what was, in substance, a denial of a catastrophic determination into a denial of the specific benefits that would trigger the commencement of the two year limitation period.”

RBC Insurance sought leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, but it was dismissed with costs.

As such, under the current legislation, an insured person is not bound to dispute an auto insurance company’s denial of catastrophic impairment determination within two years, unlike a denial of an actual “benefit” under the SABS.

If you have been injured in an automobile accident and your insurance company has denied anything, it is always best to consult with a lawyer to ensure that your interests and entitlements are protected.

Providing Attendant Care in the Course of Employment, Occupation or Profession: Economic Loss Not Required

If an individual who is involved in a motor vehicle accident is incapable of self-care as a result of their injuries they are eligible to claim Attendant Care Benefits through their own insurance company.  The insurer is only obligated to pay the benefit if the insured person has received the goods or services, has paid or promised to pay the expense, and if the person who provided the goods and services either (A) “did so in the course of the employment, occupation or profession in which he or she would ordinarily have been engaged, but for the accident”, or (B) sustained an economic loss as a result of providing the goods or services to the insured person.  In the case of “B”, the amount payable has been limited to the amount of the economic loss sustained as a result of providing the attendant care.

The first option is normally interpreted as obligating an insurer to pay for a professional service to come into the injured person’s home to provide attendant care, such as a personal support worker.  The second option is normally interpreted as requiring an insurer to pay for any economic loss sustained by a “non-professional” (family member or friend) who provides attendant care to an injured individual.  But what if the family member or friend is a professional personal support worker?

In the Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO) decision, Michael Walsh and Echelon General Insurance Company [FSCO A15-007448], Arbitrator Benjamin Drory confirmed that, if a family member or friend who is a personal support worker provides attendant care to an injured individual, they do not need to sustain an economic loss as a result of providing the attendant care and the amount of attendant care payable is not limited to the amount of any economic loss.

Arbitrator Drory made the following comments in this decision:

I find that a service provider falling into the (A) clause—i.e., one that did so in the course of the employment, occupation or profession in which he or she would ordinarily have been engaged—does not need to establish economic loss for the purpose of these provisions. This appears to have been a deliberate effort of legislative drafting, and I accept that if the legislature had intended for the provision to read differently, it could have done so.

I also accept that the legislative intent behind these provisions, as advised to me by both parties, was an intention to prevent abuse of the attendant care benefit by family members who are not trained professionally to do it.

The sole question before me is whether the services provided by Mrs. Walsh to the Applicant were done in the course of the employment, occupation or profession in which she would ordinarily have been engaged. I find that the answer is yes, based on both the case law and the legislative intention presented to me.

He goes on to make the following analogy:

If a lawyer working for salary were to offer legal services pro bono to a cause they cared about outside working hours, would they cease being a lawyer during that time because they weren’t being remunerated for it? The answer would quickly be no—and I suspect many might even be offended at the suggestion. The question of what makes one a lawyer should consider one’s ability to be remunerated for it—but it also needs to take into consideration one’s acquired knowledge and skills relevant and/or necessary to the work, and any licensing authorities involved. One does not lose their skill set or status merely because they will not be remunerated financially in undertaking a particular task. I believe the question of what makes one a PSW is analogous—and is consonant with the decisions of Garson, J. and Arbitrator Fadel. I find it in harmony with the ordinary understanding of what it means to be part of a profession, and the common day-to-day usage of that term.

It also fits with the legislature’s intention to restrict access to attendant care benefits by untrained family members and friends reflected in the 2010 and 2014 amendments. Where a family member is a trained professional working in the relevant field, concerns respecting qualification seem to be directly addressed. It would seem odd, as a matter of public policy, to mandate that insureds with trained professionals in their direct families who care for them be obligated to arrange equivalent support services from outside the family in order for it to be compensable. As Arbitrator Fadel noted, there is no restriction in clause (A) of the Schedule that mandates a professional healthcare aide be arm’s length, nor do I find it appropriate to read one into it.

This decision can be read in its entirety by clicking here.

Negligence by Restaurants – Can You Sue?

Recently in the news, we heard about a situation where a waiter served a man a meal which contained food he was allergic to even though the man had forewarned the waiter about this allergy. Simon-Pierre Canuel was in a coma for several days after being served salmon tartar to which he has a severe allergy.

This situation gives rise to the question as to whether the waiter (or anyone else) was civilly liable for the mishap – meaning, can Mr. Canuel successfully sue the waiter?

Any action or omission that is the subject of a civil claim (where one person sues another) will fall on a scale from accidental to intentional, with negligent (think of it as extreme carelessness) being near the middle. An intentional act would occur if a restaurant worker intended to act in a way that would clearly harm a person. It is more likely that being served food that you are allergic to would fall somewhere between an accident and negligence. To constitute an accident, it would have to be shown that the result of what the worker did couldn’t be easily expected nor easily prevented. Finally, negligence, which is neither intentional nor accidental, is when a person fails to provide the proper care that the law requires them to give.

This situation would likely be a case of negligence. Negligence occurs when someone acts in a way where they could have expected that harm would occur, or they could have easily prevented the harm. To establish that a defendant was negligent, the most common approach is to prove three things. (1) There is a duty of care (2) that was breached, (3) resulting in damage. This test is in its simplest form, and usually requires a much more detailed analysis, but for our purposes – this should be enough.

First, there must be a duty of care that is recognised by law. To show this, lawyers will look at past cases to see if restaurant workers are expected to act in a way that ensures that the customers they serve stay safe. If there is no such case, then the lawyers will have to establish a new duty of care. The lawyers would have to show that restaurant workers should be expected to make sure the customers don’t come to any harm.

Second, it is necessary to show that the restaurant worker acted or failed to act in the way they should have. The kinds of things that could be expected at a restaurant could include, for example, requiring that the waiter ask about allergies or for the restaurant to have a plan to ensure no contact with dangerous food.

Third, someone or something must have suffered harm or damage and this harm or damage must have occurred because of the restaurant worker’s actions. A severe allergic reaction, causing harm to your health would satisfy this part of the test.

If you should ever find yourself the victim of a severe allergic reaction to food after notifying the server or the restaurant of your allergy, it is always best to consult with a personal injury lawyer to see if your circumstances would give rise to legal action.

The Lawyers Weekly – Use of Video Evidence Increasing

Below is an article written by Michael Smitiuch, which was published in The Lawyers Weekly on June 24, 2016.

The Lawyers Weekly Article - Video Evidence

Peter Cho Named Outstanding New Lawyer by OTLA

Peter Cho

Smitiuch Injury Law’s very own Peter Cho has been named as the recipient of the Martin Wunder, Q.C. – Outstanding New Lawyer Award for 2016 by the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association (OTLA).

The Martin Wunder, Q.C. – Outstanding New Lawyer Award is awarded to an OTLA member in recognition of exceptional commitment to and promotion of the advancement of OTLA’s Mission:  To fearlessly champion through the pursuit of the highest standards of advocacy the cause of those who have suffered injury or injustice. 

The award will be presented to Peter on May 25, 2016.

Insurer Has Obligation to Ensure Graduated Return to Work is Possible: FSCO

A recent arbitration decision from the Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO) has concluded that an accident benefits insurer has an obligation to ensure that a graduated return to work is possible before terminating income replacement benefits.

In the decision Nader and State Farm [FSCO A13-003230], Javed Tabey Nader was injured in a motor vehicle accident and was unable to return to his pre-accident job.  His accident benefits insurer, State Farm, sent him to insurer’s examinations and the assessors concluded that he could participate in a graduated return to work program.  State Farm then notified Mr. Nader that they were discontinuing his income replacement benefits after the period that the insurer’s assessors concluded that the graduated return to work would be completed.

No one from State Farm ever checked to see if Mr. Nader’s employer was able to accommodate a graduated return to work, which it could not.  Moreover, when State Farm was advised that Mr. Nader did not return to work, State Farm did not find out why this did not happen and simply maintained their denial.

Arbitrator Bujold concluded that Mr. Nader was entitled to income replacement benefits for the first two years of his accident benefits claim and made the following comments with respect to a special award of $5,000.00:

Dr. Armitage’s opinion that Mr. Nader could return to work was premised on the availability of a graduated return to work program, and the provision of active rehabilitation and other supports as may be reasonably required to facilitate the attempt. However, neither Dr. Armitage nor State Farm knew whether graduated work was available, and the OCF-9 provided no guidance or direction to Mr. Nader with respect to what was expected of him in terms of investigating, arranging or participating in a graduated work return. More importantly, when advised that Mr. Nader had not returned to work, State Farm took no steps to ascertain the reasons for his non-return to work, help determine the availability of graduated work, and either help facilitate a graduated return to work (if available) or proceed with a vocational assessment to explore other employment options, including possible upgrading. Instead, State Farm simply maintained its denial. In these ways, State Farm acted unreasonably, and its withholding of income replacement benefits from this point became subject to a special award.

This decision is an important lesson to insurers of their obligation to keep an open mind and to continue consideration of entitlement to accident benefits even after the benefit has been denied.

The decision can be read in its entirety by clicking on the link below.

Nader and State Farm – Special Award

 

Important Changes are Coming to Your Car Insurance Policy

While no one likes to pay car insurance premiums, these are meant to provide you with peace of mind in the event that you are ever injured in a motor vehicle accident. It is very important that you plan for the worst-case scenario so that you will have the funds that you need to cover your medical, rehabilitation, attendant care, and other expenses if you are seriously or catastrophically injured.

As of June 1, 2016, all new or renewed automobile insurance policies written in Ontario will significantly lower the standard amount of accident benefits available to an individual who is injured in a motor vehicle accident.

Accident Benefits are available to anyone in Ontario injured in a motor vehicle accident, regardless of fault.

The most significant changes to the standard policy will be as follows:

Benefit Current Policy New Policy You can choose1
Medical and Rehabilitation for non-catastrophic injuries $50,000 These benefits have been combined and reduced to $65,0000 total Increase the benefit to $130,0002 total
Attendant Care for non-catastrophic injuries $36,000
Medical and Rehabilitation for catastrophic injuries $1,000,000 These benefits have been combined and reduced to $1,000,000 total An addition $1,000,000 for a total of $2,000,0002 for catastrophic injuries
Attendant Care for catastrophic injuries $1,000,000
Medical, Rehabilitation and Attendant Care, all injuries Not applicable Not applicable Increase the combined non-catastrophic benefit to $1,000,000 and the combined catastrophic benefit total to $2,000,0002 3
  1. If you have previously chosen to purchase these optional benefits check your policy – they may have changed to reflect amounts available in new options.
  2. Medical, Rehabilitation and Attendant Care benefits for minor injuries are fixed at a maximum limit of $3,500.
  3. If you purchase both the additional Medical, Rehabilitation and Attendant Care benefit for catastrophic injuries and for all injuries, the total eligible benefit amount for a catastrophic impairment would be $3,000,000. There are additional optional coverages available to increase your income replacement benefit from the basic maximum of $400.00 per week, in case you are unable to work. You can also get coverage for caregiver and housekeeping and home maintenance benefits for non-catastrophic injuries.We strongly advise you to discuss your policy with your insurance broker or agent before your policy is renewed after June 1, 2016, to ensure that your needs are met. While no one wishes the worst, it is good to have the coverage if it is ever needed. Many of our clients will attest to this.

There are additional optional coverages available to increase your income replacement benefit from the basic maximum of $400.00 per week, in case you are unable to work. You can also get coverage for caregiver and housekeeping and home maintenance benefits for non-catastrophic injuries.

We strongly advise you to discuss your policy with your insurance broker or agent before your policy is renewed after June 1, 2016, to ensure that your needs are met. While no one wishes the worst, it is good to have the coverage if it is ever needed.  Many of our clients will attest to this.

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