September 10, 2011, Kitchener, Ontario
Posted by: Robert Deutschmann, Personal Injury Lawyer
Arbitrator: Fred Sampliner
Decision Date: July 28, 2011
Mr. S was injured in a motor vehicle accident on May 2, 2006. He applied for and received statutory accident benefits from Economical Mutual Insurance Company ("Economical"), payable under the Schedule. Economical has been continuously paying Mr. S attendant care benefits under section 16 of the Schedule, but at a lower rate than he claims. The parties do not dispute the entitlement period, only the quantum of the attendant care benefit. They did not resolve this dispute through mediation, and Mr. S applied for arbitration at the Financial Services Commission of Ontario under the Insurance Act.
This decision concerns sensitive personal health issues and Mr. S's initial is substituted for his full name to avoid embarrassment.
The issues in this hearing are:
1. Does Mr. S suffer a catastrophic impairment as a result of the accident under section 40 of the Schedule?
2. What is the amount of Mr. S's monthly attendant care benefit under section 16 of the Schedule?
3. Is Mr. S entitled to a special award under section 282(10) of the Insurance Act?
1. Mr. S suffers a catastrophic impairment as a result of the accident under section 40 of the Schedule.
2. Mr. S's attendant care benefit is $2,987.47 under section 16 of the Schedule.
3. Mr. S is entitled to a $6,000 special award under section 282(10) of the Insurance Act.
EVIDENCE AND ANALYSIS:
Mr. S was 51 years old at the time of the accident. He was single, lived with his elderly mother and had held a dishwasher job for ten years. Mr. S came to Canada from the Azores Islands and communicates chiefly in his native Portuguese language. He has a Grade 3 education.
Mr. S was knocked down by a car while crossing a downtown Kingston road one morning on his way to work. He never returned to his job and moved into his brother-in-law's home shortly after the accident when his family became concerned that he needed assistance.
Mr. S's main physical complaints after the accident are chronic neck, back pain, shoulder pain, chronic headaches and periodic bilateral knee pain. He also experiences mild tremors, weakness, and confusion.
The multiple medical diagnoses support Mr. S's diminished physical and psychological capacity. Imaging results show that Mr. S suffers a low spine disc bulge, surrounding osteophytes, mild or moderate spinal stenosis at various levels, and some brain atrophy associated with the frontal or parietal lobes
Mr. S is diagnosed with depression. He sleeps poorly and his cognition, memory, concentration and balance are poor. Mr. S has trouble dressing, eating and performing his daily hygiene. He does not prepare meals or perform household duties. He uses a rolling walker chair or cane, and is bowel/bladder incontinent, wearing adult diapers almost 24 hours a day. Mr. S has rejected a recommendation to undergo an in hospital psychiatric assessment and treatment program.
Mr. S attends physiotherapy twice a week, a pain clinic once a month and receives psychological counselling once a month. Nerve block injections are used for his spinal problems, and he takes a variety of relatively strong prescription medications, including narcotics.
At the commencement of the hearing, Economical conceded that Mr. S's psychological/emotional reaction to the accident has significantly affected his ability to conduct his own personal care. Economical agrees that Mr. S suffers a marked mental or behavioural disorder as a result of the accident that qualifies him as catastrophically impaired under section 40 of the Schedule.
Based on this understanding, the Arbitrator found that Mr. S suffers a class 4 marked impairment due to a mental or behavioural disorder as a result of the accident under subsection 2(1.2)(g) of the Schedule. With the parties' consent, the Arbitrator made an Order that Mr. S qualifies for a catastrophic impairment designation under section 40 of the Schedule, enabling him to claim enhanced accident benefits.
Mr. S's qualification increases the maximum he can claim for attendant care benefits under section 16 of the Schedule from a cap of $3,000 for non-catastrophic insured persons to $6,000 per month for those catastrophically impaired. Since Mr. S first applied for attendant care benefits in April 2010, Economical has been paying $2,106.76 per month ($2,054.30 short months) from September 2009. Mr. S did not claim benefits before September 2009.
The services have been performed by Mr. S's brother-in-law, Mr. Joseph Silva, Ms. Jodie Armstrong and Mr. Silva's three sons. None are professionally qualified support workers, and they are paid as laypersons.
In arbitration or court, the insured must establish on a balance of probabilities the amount of care sought is reasonable and necessary based on the evidence. The divergent opinions of the parties' occupational therapists (OT) are the basis of the attendant care analysis.
Economical's position was based on Ms. T's opinion that $1,991.54 is the appropriate monthly rate. Mr. W's OT report recommending $6,682.91 for attendant care forms the basis of Mr. S's position that he is entitled to the maximum cap of $6,000 per month.
Mr. S's argument is that he requires round-the-clock supervisory care and cannot be left alone safely. Economical contends that Mr. S can safely and independently walk, transfer from sitting or lying down to upright or standing, be left alone, and handle some of his personal dressing and hygiene. Economical's expert bases her opinion on surveillance videotapes that she maintains contradict Mr. S's claim he requires 24 hour attendant care.
Mr. W and Ms. T gave evidence to supplement their reports, along with Mr. S's past treating rehabilitation specialist, Ms. H ,Mr. Si, Mr. S and Ms. A testified.
Evidence of Mr. S. and His Attendants:
Mr. S. lives on the top floor of a two-storey home with a basement. Mr. Si stated that he owns the home and lives upstairs with his adult son, James, and Mr. S. Mr. Si's wife and two other sons occupy the remainder of the house.
Mr. Si was a self-employed carpenter, but has taken on few contracts since he began caring for Mr. S when he moved into his home. Ms. A began assisting Mr. S about three years ago, and visits him for about three hours per day. She started dating Mr. Si a year after working for Mr. S The evidence is that Mr. Si's sons fill in with Mr. S's care, but Mr. Si and Ms. A are his regular attendants.
Ms. A testified she arrives late afternoon and plays games with Mr. S or watches TV with him. She helps feed him, transfers him to sit or stand, helps dress/undress him, brush his teeth, cuts his nails, washes him and gets into bed. Ms. A testified that Mr. S is not safe alone because he easily falls and cannot raise himself. However, she concedes Mr. S can be alone when he is asleep, only needing help to turn over or get out of bed two or three times a night. The undisputed evidence is that Mr. S sleeps about four hours.
Mr. Si stated that he raises Mr. S up in the morning by using a wide belt around his waist and assists him daily with toileting, shaving, washing his hands and face, toothbrushing and showering two times a week. Mr. Si cooks all three daily meals, sometimes with Ms. A’s help, but Mr. S cannot eat alone because his tremors lead to spills. Mr. Si drives him to most appointments or to the bank, and also does his laundry.
Mr. Si stated Mr. S has become disoriented and lost when walking outside the home alone. He says Mr. S cannot be left alone because he is unable to get up without assistance if he falls. Mr. Si admits the provision of an electric bed allows Mr. S to raise himself up using the overhead bar and adjust the mattress level to get in and out of bed.
Mr. S's evidence about his daily routines is basically consistent with his care providers. He maintains he is afraid to be alone if there is an emergency, such as falling, and wants providers close by to lift/hold him when he falls or feels unsteady.
Mr. S and his attendants stated he travels down and upstairs to his living quarters only with steady support from his attendants. Mr. Si's current family situation in the home does not permit Mr. S or himself to move downstairs to accommodate his inability to manage the stairs on his own. Mr. S does not go outside alone because he loses his way. He feels sad and depressed about his situation.
Mr. S demonstrates mobility in surveillance videos of June and July 2009, February and October 2010. He opens and closes a car door, transfers from sitting in the car to standing, walks with a cane on the pavement from the street to his physical therapist's office building and also walks from the street to the front door of his home holding a cane. At his front door, Mr S retrieves keys from his pocket, manipulates one into the front door lock of his home and enters the house. He raises his hand to his head at one point too.
Mr. S is not assisted by another person in any of these activities. Mr. S and his two assistants do not deny he appears in the surveillance or that he was able to accomplish the depicted activities. They say that medication helps Mr. S perform these activities for a short term.
The evidence of Mr. S, Mr. Si and Ms. A is certainly helpful to paint a general picture of his everyday life. However, Mr. S and Mr. Si were reluctant on cross-examination to agree that he shows more mobility in the videos than their examination-in-chief suggests. Their reluctance in accepting that the videos demonstrate Mr. S can perform the depicted activities establishes that he and Mr. Si underplay his abilities, and cannot be relied on to accurately portray his full abilities.
Ms. A did not deny the surveillance that Mr. S walks short distances alone with a cane, but she explained he uses a walker for longer distances and in the house. She conceded on seeing the surveillance that Mr. S might be able to toilet on his own if he had a close grab bar and agreed he can be left alone sleeping. Her comments strike the Arbitrator as balanced.
Ms. A's even-handed comments caused the Arbitrator to consider her evidence in the context of the expert opinions. While there are no reports from health care providers or security personnel that Mr. S had any emergency episodes or injuries alone, the Arbitrator placed modest weight on her evidence that he may not be able to negotiate the stairs to the second floor of his home unassisted.
Ms. H is a rehabilitation specialist who was assigned by Economical to help Mr. S with his daily activities. She visited him five days a week between March and May 2010 and three times a week in June and July 2010 before her services ended. Mr. S had an exercise program, and Ms. H helped him with walking, managing stair climbs, eating, bed, bath and toileting.
Ms. H saw the surveillance videos at the hearing, and was surprised by Mr. S's abilities. She had not previously seen Mr. S walk fluidly or take steps unassisted, use a key to open a door, or open/close a car door himself. She commented that the exercise program she designed for Mr. S. would have been more ambitious if she had been aware of his abilities depicted on the surveillance. Ms. H did not present an opinion on attendant care.
Mr. W was retained by Economical to assess Mr. S's attendant care requirements at his home. He also treated Mr. S bi-weekly for one half to a full hour per day from November 2009 to July 2010, but he made little functional progress.
On September 24, 2009 Mr. W found Mr. S lying in bed wearing a diaper and undershirt. His verbal replies were limited. Mr. Si told him that he gets Mr. S out of bed about three times a day and traverses the apartment using his walker. Mr. W accepted that Mr. S could not perform virtually all of his daily activities, but almost all of his communications went through Mr. Si.
Mr. W completed the standard attendant care form, which is divided into three care levels. The relevant portions of the first level are dressing/undressing, grooming, feeding, mobility and laundry. The second level includes hygiene, supervisory care and coordination of activities. The pertinent subjects of the third level care deal with Mr. S's incontinence, medication and bathing.
The most contentious elements of Mr. W's September 2009 attendant care report fall under the heading of routine personal care and supervision. He assigned 630 minutes per week (1.5 hours per day) for supervision of Mr. S's general mobility and transfers under level one care, and 7420 minutes supervision per week to assist his independence and safety (17.66 hours per day) as part of the second care level.
In his evidence, Mr. W admitted he would decrease the 630 minutes he assigned for Mr. S's mobility supervision under level one care. He based the change on Mr. Si telling him he would simply be available if required and also on the surveillance. Mr. W agreed he never saw Mr. S walk as far without a break, use a cane to walk distances or fluidly use his upper and lower extremities as in the surveillance video.
Mr. W stated Mr. S does not need an attendant for transfers and assistance to all his health care appointments based on his view of the surveillance and Mr. Si's information that Mr. S did not always need direct assistance or supervision. He did not agree the surveillance of Mr. S opening his locked front door with a key indicates he can manipulate objects without prompting, and he was reluctant to make any specific changes to any categories on his assessment based on the short term video observation, without formally re-assessing Mr. S.
Mr. W did not directly observe some of Mr. S's personal care, using the bathroom and car transfers. He based much of his opinion on formal physical testing and Mr. Si's inaccurate representation of Mr. S's mobility and independence. This undercuts the value of Mr. W's insistence on his opinion that Mr. S. needs a personal attendant present all day and night.
Ms. T's attendant care form was not completed in time to be admitted into evidence, but I accepted her oral evidence concerning Mr. S's needs in order to fairly decide the claim. Ms. T was initially involved by Economical in assessing whether Mr. S sustained a catastrophic impairment, and she saw him on December 3, 2008, subsequently preparing an occupational therapy assessment report after her second visit on October 28, 2009. These visits ranged between two and three hours.
Ms. T recalled that Mr. S pulled himself up from lying prone in bed, but he needed assistance to stand. He used the walker to visit the bathroom and his movements were slow and laborious. Mr. S needed help to move onto the toilet. He could not lift his legs without Mr. Si's help. His hands shook while holding objects and he could not reach.
Ms. T was concerned on her second visit because Mr. S appeared to be relatively inactive most of the time at home, and she opines he risks further physical and psychological deterioration if he remains immobile in diapers for a lengthy period. Specifically, his skin will break down and his mind will further atrophy. Ms. T is of the opinion that Mr. S's twenty-four hour care should provide more physical and mental stimulation than what she saw during her two visits.
Ms. T specified Mr. S's personal needs. Under level one care, she allowed 315 minutes a week for nail cutting and food preparation, but nothing for Mr. S's personal grooming and assistance eating. Mr. W reported 767 minutes per week.
Ms. T increased Mr. S's dressing/undressing times from Mr. Wendt's 64 minutes/week to 91 minutes because Ms. T thought it appropriate he dress daily versus Mr. W's information that Mr. S dressed four days a week. Ms. T reduced the time to wash extra laundry for Mr. S from Mr. W's 60 minutes twice weekly to 20 minutes once a week.
For Mr. S's level two functions, Ms. T stated that Mr. S required 10 minutes a week for bedding changes and 10 minutes weekly for bathroom clean up, as opposed to Mr. W's 80 minutes for bed/bath/clothing maintenance. Ms. T agreed with Mr. W's 60 minutes per week to coordinate Mr. S's care.
Ms. T agreed and disagreed with Mr. W respecting Mr. S's health and hygiene functions, the third level of his care. She agreed with Mr. W's 84 minutes per week for medication assistance. She reduced Mr. S's urinary diaper change time from five to two minutes each, which translates Mr. W's weekly amount from 420 minutes to 294. Ms. T similarly reduced Mr. W's 17 minute per service for bowel movement diaper change and clean-up to 7 minutes.
Ms. T's reductions of time for Mr. S's diaper changes are based on the surveillance of his increased mobility. She did not adequately explain why Mr. S's ability to get out of a car to stand or take a short walk necessarily equates with the more cumbersome task of assisting this grown man in a diaper change. Ms. T reduced Mr. W's recommended 238 minutes per week to 98 minutes for bowel care diaper changes.
Ms. T draws further inferences from the surveillance of Mr. S's mobility. She opines Mr. S can perform unassisted tub and transportation transfers because the video shows that he gets up from the car himself. His opening/closing the car door, unlocking his home, raising his arm to his head demonstrates, she says, that he has sufficient dexterity to pull on a shirt, brush his hair, shave himself and eat alone.
Ms. T allots 20 minutes for bathing assistance twice weekly, a third of Mr. W's 60 minutes, but does not grant that Mr. S needs any assistance with bathing transfers (versus Mr. W's 40 minutes per week). Ms. T's 63 minutes for weekly toothbrushing compares to Mr. W's 98 minutes, due again to reduction of the time per session. She adds 10 minutes weekly to maintain Mr. S's supplies.
Ms. T levelled her largest criticism of Mr. W on his 17.66 hours daily for basic supervisory care, which the Arbitrator understood to comprise the remainder of the day not provided under other attendant care services. She testified that four hours daily for general supervision of Mr. S while he sleeps corresponds to the undisputed evidence that he rests for this period with several interruptions during the night for positioning or visiting the bathroom.
Ms. T reasoned that Mr. S can be left alone because he goes to health care appointments unassisted and sleeps by himself. She does not grant Mr. S time for mobility or transfer assistance, as opposed to Mr. Wendt's 25 minutes per day.
Mr. W completely agrees Mr. S does not require assistance attending appointments. His concession he would decrease mobility assistance significantly reduces the weight of his recommendation for 630 minutes per week.
Mr. W admits that Mr. S is overall more independent on the surveillance than his assessment and treatment showed. He did not explain why he maintains his view Mr. S requires twenty four hour per day care where Mr. W admits he demonstrates the ability to attend appointments on his own. His failure to address the contradiction undermines his recommendation for 17.66 daily hours to maintain Mr. S's safety and independence 24/7. The Arbitrator did not accept Mr. W's recommended 7420 minutes per week for safety and independence under the second level of care.
Ms. T reviewed Mr. S's health records and saw the surveillance numerous times, but had only two opportunities to meet and assess Mr. S at his home. She did not physically test Mr. S or treat him.
On the one hand, Ms. T's opinion draws far-reaching conclusions from the surveillance concerning Mr. S's hygiene and personal needs. For example, she allots little to Mr. S's personal hygiene based on the premise that if he can raise his hand to his head and retrieve/ manipulate his house keys he can wash, shave himself, shampoo and brush his hair alone. Neither does Ms. T make a fair inference from the surveillance in significantly reducing Mr. W's recommended 238 minutes per week for bowel care to 98 minutes based on his activity level in surveillance. The Arbitrator was not prepared to accept the considerable degree of speculation Ms. T applied in her analysis of Mr. S's hygiene and personal needs.
On the other hand, Ms. T's testimony that basic supervisory care should be limited to four hours per day (240 minutes) was compelling. The evidence from Mr. S and Ms. A is consistent and undisputed that Mr. S sleeps about four hours a night relatively undisturbed. Ms. T reasoned that Mr. S’s sleep and unassisted short walks and attendance at appointments demonstrate he is safe alone when not requiring services in the allocated attendant care areas. Her opinion in this area is supported by Mr. W's concession about Mr. S's mobility.
Ms. T's reasoning on this point together with the lack of any institutional episodes concerning Mr. S.'s safety and independence persuaded the Arbitrator of the relative strength in her opinion versus Mr. W on mobility and independence/safety. Although Ms. A's evidence has modest weight, it is not persuasive on any of the contentious elements of attendant care in comparison to Mr. W and Ms. T. The Arbitrator found that Mr. S has not established on balance that he is entitled to 24 hour a day care, but is entitled to 1680 minutes per week (4 hours day) for general supervision while he sleeps. Based on Ms. T's opinion, the surveillance and Mr. W's concession about mobility, I find that Mr. S has not established on balance he requires mobility assistance at this time.
The Arbitrator calculated Mr. S's benefit using the amounts on Mr. W's attendant care assessment form, substituting Ms. T's recommendations in the areas of mobility assistance and supervisory care: 951 minutes/week for level one, 1820 minutes/week under level two, 940 minutes/week for level three. Using these numbers yields $765.38, $1,010.86 and $1,211.25 for the three care levels. The Arbitrator found that Mr. S. is entitled to $2,987.47 per month for attendant care under section 16 of the Schedule.
Subsection 282(10) of the Insurance Act empowers arbitrators to penalize an insurance company and compensate an insured where accident benefits are unreasonably denied or payment is unreasonably delayed. Economical argues that this situation is not appropriate for a special award because of it continued to pay Mr. S a substantial benefit.
Economical's payment must be considered with the view that until Ms. T issued her report to Economical on January 3, 2011, Mr. W's opinion was the sole occupational therapy assessment of Mr. S's personal needs. He recommended 24 hour a day care at the maximum $6,000 per month, and Economical did not explain how it arrived at its attendant care payments of approximately $2,000 per month. Therefore, the Arbitrator reasonably inferred that surveillance played a driving role in Economical's payment of Mr. S's attendant care from September 2009 until the hearing, based on the undisputed evidence it did not pay in accordance with its expert's recommendations.
Mr. S argues it was not reasonable to rely on the surveillance when Economical's expert recommended the maximum amount. Mr. S specifically referenced Cripps and AXA Insurance (Canada) (OIC A-13360, February 7, 1997), where the arbitrator found an insurer had unreasonably relied on surveillance of the claimant's modest work-related activities to terminate his income replacement benefits.
While Economical did not terminate payment of Mr. S's attendant care here, it could have requested Mr. W to re-examine his findings considering the surveillance or alternatively consulted another OT expert earlier than on the doorstep of the hearing. Thus, the Arbitrator found that Economical unreasonably withheld payment of the ordered differential attendant care benefits, approximately $850 per month from October 2009 forward.
Mr. S does not argue Economical's failure to pay this benefit resulted in his financial burden, withdrawal of attendant care services or further psychological problems. There is no evidence that Economical's conduct negatively impacted Mr. S, and the Arbitrator accepted that the continued attendant care payments render the withholding less egregious.
Nevertheless, the Arbitrator was of the view that Economical's failure to abide by its expert's recommendation or ask for professional review during the fifteen months between October 2009 and January 2011 must bear consequence. Otherwise, insurers could simply ignore or discount their health care professionals' opinions without deterrent.
The Arbitrator cannot set out the maximum special award because neither party provided calculations. Mr. S. did not suggest an appropriate percentage or set sum.
The Arbitrator estimated that the approximate $850 per month benefits unreasonably withheld for fifteen months equates to approximately $13,000. That is significantly increased by the addition of overdue interest under section 46 of the Schedule together with the special award interest under section 282(10) of the Insurance Act. The total is divided in half to quantify the maximum award.
In consideration of the relevant criteria under Persofsky and Liberty Mutual Insurance Company Economical's obligations to fairly adjust the claim in relation to its continuing payments, the Arbitrator found it appropriate to grant Mr. S. a $6,000 special award.