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March 1, 2022

Defendants successfully oppose addiction claim despite the absence of direct supportive evidence

Nazanin Aram

In Heffernan v. Charlish, 2021 BCSC 1882, the plaintiff who was injured in two car accidents claimed she developed addiction to heroin and crystal methamphetamine as a result of the accidents and the resulting pain and interruption of her life. The addiction had allegedly developed within 2 months following the first accident. By trial, the plaintiff was clearly suffering from addiction to both substances.

Although there was no direct evidence of the plaintiff using either substance before the first accident, there was sufficient evidence to allow the court to draw the inference that the plaintiff had started using the substances before the first accident. The evidence supporting the plaintiff’s position – that her addiction developed following the accidents – presented a considerable challenge to the defence: there was no evidence of addiction before the accidents; there was no evidence of impairment of the plaintiff’s vocational or personal functions before the accidents; the plaintiff’s family, friends and colleagues had not observed any signs of addiction before the accidents; and the plaintiff’s addiction-driven behaviour (criminal activity, seeking prescription opioids) all manifested after the first accident.

Despite the absence of direct evidence, the defendants demonstrated through the use of indirect and circumstantial evidence that the plaintiff was either already suffering from an addiction when the first accident occurred or would have gone on to develop an addiction, notwithstanding the accidents, given her risk factors including a history of substance use and access to drugs. Chief Justice Hinkson agreed with the defendants that the cause and trajectory of the plaintiff’s addiction were only temporally and not causally related to the accidents. The plaintiff was found to be a crumbling skull in the context of the addiction issue.

While the plaintiff sought an award of $743,040 at trial, the Court awarded the plaintiff $41,035.40 for all heads of damages for the two accidents. Post-judgment deductions from the award under s. 83 of the Insurance (Vehicle) Act, and costs, were resolved by consent.

The defendants were represented by Harris & Brun lawyers, Michael Wilhelmson and Nazanin Aram.

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