“Seeing is believing?” ICBC, Soft Tissue Injuries and the Subjective/Objective Battle

Believe half of what you see and none of what you hear.

My dad used to tell me that all the time. It seems to be a motto that has been adopted by insurance adjusters, as they don’t seem to believe  people when they tell them about their injuries but are unable to show them.  Many of the injuries that we deal with on a day to day basis are what are known as “Soft Tissue Injuries” or “STI’s”. Soft tissue is that part of our body which is not bone.  The problem with STI’s is that they often do not show up on medical imaging such as x-rays, MRI’s or CT scans. The only way we know that the person is injured is by them telling us that they are.  These types of  STI’s  fall in to the category of “Subjective Injuries” – an injury that cannot be verified by independent means.

Insurance adjusters love subjective injuries because  to prove such an injury we must rely solely on the credibility of the injured person. An objective injury, on the other hand, is independently verifiable and the  positive x-ray or other type of scan confirms the existence of the injury and  verifies the victim’s complaints.

Of course it is nonsense to say that there can be no injury without objective evidence.  The medical field deals with this all the time.  So do you. Most of us have from time to time experienced a  short duration headache. The only way that our family and friends know that we have a headache is by us telling them. If we insisted on getting a CT scan of our head it would come back negative. Although you can’t prove your subjective headache, it is still very real.

As children and now as parents we have often run into  the “Subjective Dilemma”.  We experience it when our children come to us, usually on a Monday morning after a double sleep over weekend, and say “I’m not feeling well and I can’t go to school today.” We search for objective signs, we feel their forehead or take their temperature.  We remain skeptical. If we changed the context slightly- move the season to summer holidays and the morning from a school morning to a day when our child was supposed to go to the PNE, then are skepticism may vanish.

STI victims of motor vehicle collisions are constantly presented with the Subjective Dilemma. “You’re faking it in order to get the insurance money” is a refrain that they often hear.  Yet through advances in medical science  some subjective injuries have been turned into objective ones. 

In 1895 Professor Roentgen, a German physicist, and avid photographer, discovered that a previously invented device could emit rays that would not only vividly show the bone structure of his wife’s hand but also faintly show the soft tissue around the bones. He didn’t know what type of rays were being emitted so he called them… you guessed it…X-rays. The name stuck and the rest as they say, is history.

Within a month of his discovery the medical community was using the mysterious rays to diagnose injuries.  Virtually, overnight, many subjective injuries became objective injuries. This happened to one of my sons when he was about five years old. We attended a firm picnic. The volleyball court had been marked with string. While running my son tripped on the string and fell down (hmmm… maybe there is a law suit here?). He said his arm hurt, but he may just have been overtired, or perhaps it was all the food, cake and pop that was making him miserable, or maybe he was thinking about school the next day. To be on the safe side we stopped in emergency on the way home. The emergency doctor told us that the x-ray was negative and sent us on our way. Our son continued to complain about his “subjective” injury but this was a school night after all.  The next morning we got a call from the hospital…”The radiologist reviewed the x-ray and your son has a hair line fracture…better come in so we can cast it.”  Cue parental guilt.

Many whiplash or other STI victims end up feeling much like I’m sure our son did. ICBC adjusters and defence lawyers love to tell us that “your client doesn’t have any objective injuries.”  When I hear that it always  brings to mind one of my favorite quotes from a judge who when faced with the argument from the insurance defence  lawyer that there was no evidence of the persons subjective injuries, replied “…I don’t know where you went to law school, but where I went they taught us that what comes out of the plaintiff’s mouth when they’re in the witness box is evidence!”

Doctors rely on the subjective complaints of patients all the time and so do our courts. Remember subjective injuries are just as “real” as objective injuries.  Just ask professor Roentgen.  So don’t be fooled by an aggressive adjuster who tries to tell you that ICBC will only compensate you for objective injuries.

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