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Non-Pecuniary Damage Awards Discussed for Chronic Pain with Pre-Existing Depression

Pre-existing medical difficulties can and do play a role in the process of awarding a Plaintiff damages for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life (non-pecuniary damages).  Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, discussing this area of law.

In today’s case (Beaudry v. Kishigweb) the Plaintiff’s vehicle was rear-ended by a 1/2 ton pick-up truck.  Fault was admitted for the crash.   The Plaintiff sustained a variety of soft tissue injuries affecting her neck, upper back and lower back.  These went on to cause chronic pain and headaches and the Plaintiff never fully recovered from the consequences of her injuries.

Prior to the accident the Plaintiff suffered from some medical difficulties and these included a chronic low grade depression.  Her pre-accident health made her more vulnerable to having a poor outcome following the accident.  The Defendant, who basically conceded that the Plaintiff did suffer from chronic pain as a result of the collision, argued that “whether or not the Plaintiff was a vulnerable individual (as a result of pre-existing conditions), she cannot be put back to a better position than she would have been had the accident not occurred“.

The Court went on to find that the accident did cause chronic pain which was not resolved at the time of trial.  The Court further found that the chronic pain would continue into the future, however, it would not prevent the Plaintiff from working full time or from carrying out her household responsibilities.  In awarding the Plaintiff $85,000 for her non-pecuniary damages Mr. Justice Rice made the following comments about damages for non-pecuniary loss for chronic pain with pre-existing difficulties:

[25]         The difficulty of assessing damages for soft-tissue injuries where the plaintiff has a complicated psychological and behavioural background is described in Rod v. Greco, 2003 BCSC 935, at para. 35:

As to physical injuries, because of the mechanics of the motor vehicle accident [the plaintiff’s vehicle was rear-ended] some must have been sustained by the plaintiff.  However, the complex psychological and behavioural history both pre and post accident outlined above made it difficult to identify them with any precision.

[34]         With the virtual admission by the defendants that the plaintiff now suffers from chronic pain, I must first of all decide what the condition of the plaintiff was just before the accident.  Clearly she was not in the best of shape and that must be taken into account.  She was susceptible to pain and worse, depression, some of which could be said was the result of lifestyle mistakes made in the past.  Having recovered from most of those, I agree that it is not fair to reduce what she would otherwise receive simply on the basis of a greater susceptibility because of her past.  On the other hand, to the extent that those past experiences would have revisited her earlier in life than is normal, account must be taken of that too.

[35]         Considering the whole of the evidence, I find that, indeed, the plaintiff suffers chronic pain as a result of the collision.  I award her $85,000 in non-pecuniary damages.

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