Allison Harris – April 2020
Medical treatment is an important part of recovery following an accident, as well as an important piece in documenting your injuries for your personal injury claim. During the COVID-19 crisis, many people may be unsure what to do about their treatment and, if treatment has been suspended, may be wondering what impact this will have on their personal injury claim.
With all Nova Scotians being asked to stay home as much as possible and many businesses limited or closed, it can be especially difficult to maintain a treatment regime during COVID-19. The Nova Scotia government has placed restrictions on health care that limit regulated health professions (such as physiotherapists, occupational therapists) to providing only urgent/emergency or virtual care, and prevent non-regulated health professions (such as naturopaths) and fitness and personal service establishments (such as gyms, spas) from being open altogether (see the full list on the official website at https://novascotia.ca/coronavirus/#alerts/).
Maintaining Treatment During COVID-19
Just like we are learning to adapt our lives to working from home, staying at home as much as possible and practicing social distancing, those who are recovering from an injury also need to learn ways to adapt their treatment and lifestyle to minimize flare-ups and maintain their progress during this crisis.
Many family doctors are arranging telephone or video appointments, however, many have restrictions in place regarding the issues that can be addressed this way. You should contact your doctor’s office to inquire. It is important to maintain regular contact with your family doctor, especially if you are limited or unable to receive other forms of care. Be sure to continue taking any medications you have been prescribed. You may also want to talk to your doctor about other medication or supports s/he recommends in lieu of treatment during this time.
Many treatment providers are maintaining some level of service where they can. The Nova Scotia Physiotherapy Association and The College of Occupational Therapists of Nova Scotia are both advocating continued services through virtual means. Urgent in-person OT services are still available. Again, you should call your provider to inquire. If the clinic you regularly attend has closed, you may want to inquire at other clinics to see if you can find one that can still provide some services.
Some clinics have posted messages on their websites offering tele-health services. For example:
- One-to-One Wellness is offering tele-rehabilitation options through Skype or Zoom (ca).
- CBI Health indicates they are continuing to provide home health, specialized community services and rehabilitation services via videoconference (https://www.cbi.ca/en/covid-19).
- Scotia Physiotherapy advises they are able to provide tele-health physiotherapy through a secure, virtual platform (https://scotiaphysiotherapy.ca/).
Many psychologists will provide tele-health sessions as well. If you are a health care provider yourself, or know someone who is, note that the Canadian Psychological Association has started an initiative to provide widespread psychological services, via tele-health, to health care providers working at the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis. For more information, see https://cpa.ca/corona-virus/psychservices/.
It is especially important to take care of your mental health during this stressful period. If you were diagnosed with a mental health condition as a result of your accident and find the impact of COVID-19 is increasing your symptoms, be sure to discuss that with your doctor and psychologist/psychiatrist.
At least one health benefits insurer, Sun Life, has announced coverage for tele-rehabilitation. Contact your health benefits provider to find out what tele-health services may be covered under your plan. Tele-health treatment that is essential and necessary as a result of a motor vehicle collision is likely covered under your “Section B” No Fault Accident Benefits coverage. If you need to take a break from treatment, you may need to get updated prescriptions when you are able to return.
In addition to tele-health services, there are online resources such as yoga and meditation classes, many for free. For example, check out: https://yogawithadriene.com/free-yoga-videos/.
Remember, if you are not self-isolating due to symptoms or recent travel, you are still allowed to go outside (and even if you are self-isolating, you can go out in your yard!). Walking can help reduce pain and is also great for your mental health. You may consider running, biking, and other outdoor activities that you can do by yourself or at a distance from others, especially with the warmer weather coming.
The Impact of Failing to Mitigate
Everyone who brings a claim for injuries suffered in an accident has an obligation to mitigate their losses. But what does that mean?
Mitigation of damages in personal injury claims typically arises in two ways – returning to work and participating in recommended medical treatment. Those injured are required to make reasonable best efforts to get back on their feet. With respect to medical treatment, this involves you following the reasonable treatment recommendations of your doctors.
What is reasonable is judged as what a normal prudent person in the same situation would do. For example, in an everyday situation, a failure to attend physiotherapy when recommended by a doctor will likely be judged as unreasonable. Insurance companies will argue that an injured person’s failure to attend this treatment and thus mitigate their damages should result in reduced amounts awarded to them. Nova Scotia courts have accepted this argument where it can be shown that the failure to mitigate was unreasonable and could have minimized damages if such steps to mitigate had been taken.
What is reasonable during the COVID-19 pandemic is unknown, because the courts have not had any opportunity to decide this issue. However, a reasonable attempt to obtain the recommended treatment, which could include inquiries with treatment providers and your family physician, is likely enough. In the past, courts have confirmed that a plaintiff who cannot afford treatment cannot be punished for failing to mitigate. Similarly, it is likely that a plaintiff who must suspend treatment due to mass closures and self-isolation requirements was acting reasonably and has not failed to mitigate.
If you have any questions regarding your accident claim and accessing treatment, then please reach out to one of our Personal Injury team for a free consult. Contact us at 902.422.5881 or firstname.lastname@example.org.