Mr. Renn Holness has been a trusted personal injury lawyer in Vancouver since 1995 and the following is his own list of the top cases for personal injury lawyers.


For all you legal beagles out there, lawyers, law students, even law professors that enjoy reading personal injury law and related topics I’ve done my best to put together my list of the top ten referenced civil cases in British Columbia. Vancouver personal injury lawyers should know that the following cases are so common and known to the court that the Court of Appeal does not require personal injury lawyers to reproduce copies in a book of authorities. Let’s begin this legally tantalizing top ten list:
1. Athey v. Leonati, [1996] 3 S.C.R. 458-  The best source for legal causation analysis and quoted more times than 800 times to date by Supreme Court and Court of Appeal Judges in BC. Having this quote top of mind will assist personal injury lawyers and the court in distinguishing findings of causation from assessment, which are often conflated concepts.

17. It is not now necessary, nor has it ever been, for the plaintiff to establish that the defendant’s negligence was the sole cause of the injury…As long as a defendant is part of the cause of an injury, the defendant is liable, even though his act alone was not enough to create the injury.

2. Blank v. Canada (Minister of Justice), 2006 SCC 39, [2006] 2 S.C.R. 319- a  great source when an injury claimant suffers multiple car accidents or prior litigation. Reciprocal production in civil proceedings was described as “the hallmark of the judicial process”. However, litigation privilege limits document production, including communications between a lawyer and third party. This litigation privilege ends when the litigation, giving rise to it, ends. The proviso in this case however is that the privilege,

“May retain its purpose – and, therefore, its effect – where the litigation that gave rise to the privilege has ended, but related litigation remains pending or may reasonably be apprehended.”

3. Central Trust Co. v. Rafuse, [1986] 2 S.C.R. 147-  Best known for the proposition that where a wrong, such as a car accident injury, supports a claim in contract and in tort, the claimant may sue in either or both, except where the contract indicates that the parties intended to limit or negative the right to sue in tort. This is part of the reason a separate lawsuit needs to be filed against ICBC for accident benefits after a car accident. As sated at paragraph 50:

What is undertaken by the contract will indicate the nature of the relationship that gives rise to the common law duty of care, but the nature and scope of the duty of care that is asserted as the foundation of the tortious liability must not depend on specific obligations or duties created by the express terms of the contract.  It is in that sense that the common law duty of care must be independent of the contract.

4. Cory v. Marsh (1993), 77 B.C.L.R. (2d) 248 (C.A.), leave to appeal refused [1993] 2 S.C.R-Undoubtedly the number one lawyer source for the comparative approach to awarding damages in personal injury cases.  This classification of cases has over time produced what some have called a “grid” or “tariff” system. Our highest Court held that an award of damages will be a wholly erroneous estimate if it is,

“inordinately high, low or disproportionate [to the circumstances of the case]”, that is, if it “falls substantially beyond the upper or lower range for damage awards in the same class of case”.

5. Donoghue v. Stevenson, [1932] A.C. 562 (H.L.)- This case has often been referred to as one of the foundation cases in our modern concept of negligence. Overstatement for a simple case of a lady suing over a snail in her ginger beer? You decide. Here is  one of the more popular quotes,

The rule that you are to love your neighbour becomes in law, you must not injure your neighbour; and the lawyer’s question, Who is my neighbour? receives a restricted reply.  … Who, then, in law is my neighbour?  The answer seems to be – persons who are so closely and directly affected by my act that I ought reasonably to have them in contemplation as being so affected when I am directing my mind to the acts or omissions which are called in question.

6. Hodgkinson v. Simms, [1994] 3 S.C.R. 377 at 405-407- The essential case when it comes to understanding fiduciary relationships, which often exist between a financial adviser and client. Not often used by personal injury lawyers although fundamental when examining ICBC benefits and the obligations of insurers.

From a conceptual standpoint, the fiduciary duty may properly be understood as but one of a species of a more generalized duty by which the law seeks to protect vulnerable people in transactions with others. I wish to emphasize from the outset, then, that the concept of vulnerability is not the hallmark of fiduciary relationship though it is an important indicium of its existence. Vulnerability is common to many relationships in which the law will intervene to protect one of the parties. It is, in fact, the “golden thread” that unites such related causes of action as breach of fiduciary duty, undue influence, unconscionability and negligent misrepresentation.

… [W]hile both negligent misrepresentation and breach of fiduciary duty arise in reliance-based relationships, the presence of loyalty, trust, and confidence distinguishes the fiduciary relationship from a relationship that simply gives rise to tortious liability. Thus, while a fiduciary obligation carries with it a duty of skill and competence, the special elements of trust, loyalty, and confidentiality that obtain in a fiduciary relationship give rise to a corresponding duty of loyalty.

7. Juman v. Doucette, 2008 SCC 8, [2008] 1 S.C.R. 157- Implied undertaking of confidentiality in the discovery process is a critical aspect of our civil justice system. This case will help a personal injury claimant keep the examination for discovery transcript confidential.

para 24 …a proper pre-trial discovery is essential to prevent surprise or “litigation by ambush”, to encourage settlement once the facts are known, and to narrow issues even where settlement proves unachievable…para27…the law imposes on the parties to civil litigation an undertaking to the court not to use the documents or answers for any purpose other than securing justice in the civil proceedings in which the answers were compelled

8. Nance v. British Columbia Electric Railway, [1951] A.C. 601 (P.C.) – The number one go to case for personal injury lawyers when it comes to the standard for appellate review of personal injury money awards. Before an appellate court can vary a damage award it must:

… be satisfied either that the judge, in assessing damages, applied a wrong principle of law …; or short of this, that the amount awarded is either so inordinately low or so inordinately high that it must be a wholly erroneous estimate of the damages.

9. Toneguzzo-Norvell (Guardian ad litem of) v. Burnaby General Hospital, [1994] 1 S.C.R. 114- Appealing a finding of fact in a personal injury case is very difficult and this case as long been the primer standard lawyers rely upon,

 …a Court of Appeal must not interfere with a trial judge’s conclusions on matters of fact unless there is palpable or overriding error. In principle, a Court of Appeal will only intervene if the judge has made a manifest error, has ignored conclusive or relevant evidence, has misunderstood the evidence, or has drawn erroneous conclusions from it.

10. Whiten v. Pilot Insurance Co., 2002 SCC 18, [2002] 1 S.C.R. 595- the leading authority on punitive damages if suing ICBC or any other insurance company.  Punitive damages are,

  “imposed only if there has been high-handed, malicious, arbitrary or highly reprehensible misconduct that departs to a marked degree from ordinary standards of decent behaviour.”

In my  view it required outstanding personal injury lawyers to present all the cases on behalf of the claimants cited above. Learn more about how judges decide personal injury cases by watching our short video about how judges decide personal injury claims.

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