ICBC Law

BC Injury Law and ICBC Claims Blog

Erik MagrakenThis Blog is authored by British Columbia ICBC injury claims lawyer Erik Magraken. Erik is a partner with the British Columbia personal injury law-firm MacIsaac & Company. He restricts his practice exclusively to plaintiff-only personal injury claims with a particular emphasis on ICBC injury claims involving orthopaedic injuries and complex soft tissue injuries. Please visit often for the latest developments in matters concerning BC personal injury claims and ICBC claims

Erik Magraken does not work for and is not affiliated in any way with the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC). Please note that this blog is for information only and is not claim-specific legal advice.  Erik can only provide legal advice to clients. Please click here to arrange a free consultation.

Posts Tagged ‘chronic pain’

Chronic Pain and Depression With Guarded Prognosis Leads to $180,000 Non-Pecuniary Assessment

October 18th, 2017

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, assessing damages for chronic injuries caused by a collision.

In the recent case (Ali v. Padam) the Plaintiff was a passenger in a vehicle struck by a commercial van.  Fault was admitted by the offending motorist.  The crash resulted in chronic physical and psychological injuries with a poor prognosis for substantial recovery.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $180,000 Mr. Justice Blok provided the following reasons:

[230]     From the evidence at trial I conclude that in the immediate aftermath of the accident Ms. Ali had pain in her right chest, right wrist, right shoulder and her back.  The other areas resolved reasonably soon but the back pain gradually increased to the point, three months post-accident, of periods of very severe pain.  This pain worsened and she began to have symptoms in her left leg.  She could not walk or stand for any extended length of time.  She soldiered on at work but avoided lifting or bending, and by the end of the work day she was exhausted.

[231]     Ms. Ali’s left leg symptoms became worse.  She was now dragging her leg as she walked.  Her back pain became worse as well.  She had disc decompression surgery, focused on her leg symptoms, in June 2014.  Her left leg symptoms improved although her back pain remained.

[232]     Ms. Ali fell into depression, and was ultimately diagnosed with major depressive disorder.  She has anxiety and nightmares and in that respect has been diagnosed with PTSD.  Her chronic pain and depression combine and aggravate one another.  She does little in the way of activities with her son aside from walking him to and from school.  She is at least somewhat dependent on others for such things as bathing, dressing and going to the toilet.

[233]     As noted earlier, Ms. Ali’s reports of her physical difficulties are, to some extent, at odds with her actual level of functioning, particularly as shown in surveillance video.  I do not suspect she is being untruthful, but instead I conclude that she sees herself as more disabled than she actually is.

[234]     Formerly a cheerful and active person, Ms. Ali has isolated herself from her loved ones.  She is irritable and ill-tempered.  Her relationship with her husband is poor.  She feels a sense of worthlessness and has had thoughts of suicide.  She does, however, have some good days when she is happy.

[235]     In brief, as a result of the accident Ms. Ali has chronic pain, PTSD and major depressive disorder that combine in a debilitating fashion and have severely affected all aspects of her life.  Although there is a consensus amongst the medical professionals that Ms. Ali should have and participate in a comprehensive, multidisciplinary rehabilitation program, those professionals essentially agree that her prognosis for recovery is “guarded” and her prognosis for a substantial recovery is poor.

[237]     I conclude that the plaintiff’s cases, in particular Sebaa and Pololos, were broadly similar to the present.  In both cases non-pecuniary damages of $180,000 were awarded.  Accordingly, I conclude that $180,000 is a proper assessment of non-pecuniary damages in this case.


More On Video Surveillance and Chronic Pain

August 31st, 2011

A regular reader of this blog shared some views with me recently and I thought these were worth repeating.  These relate to chronic pain complaints and the value, if any, of video surveillance.   Specifically the reader shared the following thoughtful observation:

This Fall we will again be watching hockey on tv [ video evidence ] Can you tell me which player[s] are playing hurt ? And trust me …. they are …. some very much. We often know this at the end of the year …. as teams ” hide ” or deny that certain players are hurt … in that the opposing players do not focus on and target their injuries. Video tapes ? I don’t trust them

What do you say?  Is there value to video surveillance?   Does it effectively weed out fraudulent claims or is it an unnecessary invasion of privacy?

As always I welcome others views, feel free to leave a comment.  You can click here to read a 2008 article sharing some of my views of video surveillance.


Credibility, Chronic Pain and the "Inherent Frailty" of Subjective Injury Claims

July 7th, 2011

Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, discussing credibility and chronic pain claims based on subjective symptoms.

In this week’s claim (Sevinksi v. Vance) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2007 collision.  Fault was admitted by the offending motorist focusing the claim on quantum.  The Plaintiff sought fairly significant damages for disability due to a diagnosed chronic pain syndrome.  Her injuries were largely subjective putting her credibility squarely at issue.

The Court expressed several concerns about the Plaintiff’s credibility noting that “the Plaintiff was not forthright in her evidence….There also appear to have been instances where the plaintiff was not forthright with the independent doctors she attended before”  and lastly that “Aspects of (the plaintiff’s evidence) go well beyond a frailty of memory or a natural and excusable tendency to exaggerate or place given evidence in a positive light.  Here the Plaintiff sought to mislead and crate a history that is not forthright“.

Despite all this Mr. Justice Voith did accept that the Plaintiff was injured in the collision and that she had ongoing limitations due to these injuries.  Non-Pecuniary damages of $60,000 were assessed but this award was then reduced to $45,000 to take into account the plaintiff’s failure to mitigate.  In assessing the Plaintiff’s credibility and damages the Court cited the well known passage from Mr. Justice McEachern in Butler v. Blaylok.  (making this an opportune place to repeat my views that the assertion that a higher burden of proof exists in subjective injury claims is questionable.)

Mr. Justice Voith provided the following reasons:

[43] The difficulties with the plaintiff’s evidence are magnified because of the lack of objective evidence to support her injuries. McEachern, C.J.S.C., as he then was, identified the difficulties associated with assessing the extent of an injury without the benefit of objective evidence in each of Butler v. Blaylok Estate [1981] B.C.J. No. 31 (S.C.) at paras. 18-19 and Price v. Kostryba(1982), 70 B.C.L.R. 397 (S.C.) at para. 1-4.

[44] In Maslen v. Rubenstein (1993), 83 B.C.L.R. (2d) 131 (C.A.), Taylor J.A., at para. 15.1, said:

…there must be evidence of a “convincing” nature to overcome the improbability that pain will continue, in the absence of objective symptoms, well beyond the normal recovery period, but the plaintiff’s own evidence, if consistent with the surrounding circumstances, may nevertheless suffice for the purpose.

[45] More recently, in Eccleston v. Dresen, 2009 BCSC 332, at para. 66, Barrow J. accepted that claims supported by only subjective evidence should be viewed with a “skeptical eye”. He further confirmed, however, that such claims can be supported by the “convincing force of collateral evidence”.

[46] Two propositions emerge from these cases. First, there is an inherent level of frailty in the case of a plaintiff whose assertions of injury are not supported by any objective evidence or symptoms. Accordingly, it is appropriate, in such cases, to treat the evidence adduced by or on behalf of the plaintiff with caution. Second, either the evidence of the plaintiff or collateral corroborative evidence may be sufficient to persuade the Court of the plaintiff’s position.

[47] In this case the usual difficulties associated with the wholly subjective complaints of a plaintiff are compounded by the reliability problems which are associated with the evidence of Ms. Sevinski.

[48] Notwithstanding some misgivings, however, I have accepted aspects of Ms. Sevinski’s evidence and am satisfied that these portions of her evidence are supported by additional collateral evidence before me…

[86] Having said this, the medical evidence establishes, and I have accepted, that the plaintiff does struggle with chronic pain syndrome. Her ability to function normally and to engage in the breadth of activities which she would like to, as well as to interact with her children and Mr. Rambold in a pain-free way, is diminished….

[89] Based on these considerations I assess Ms. Sevinski’s non-pecuniary damages at $60,000. This is without taking the question of mitigation into account.


Medical Marijuana Costs Deemed Recoverable in BC Personal Injury Claim

June 21st, 2011

In what I believe is the first award of its kind, damages of $30,000 were recently allowed in a BC personal injury claim for the purchase medical marijuana to help manage the consequences of chronic pain.

In reasons for judgement released earlier this month (Joinson v. Heran) the Plaintiff sued the Defendant surgeon for medical malpractice.  The Plaintiff’s claim was in part successful and damages of just over $310,000 were awarded including a $30,000 cost of future care assessment for medical marijuana.  Mr. Justice Brown provided the following reasons setting out his legal analysis in allowing this claimed damage:

[420] As a judge of the law, I cannot make orders that directly or indirectly endorse unsanctioned accessing of medical marijuana. At the same time, my role is now to assess medical needs and necessities. It is the responsibility of Dr. Surgenor and Dr. Bright, as Mr. Joinson’s treating physicians, to address professionally these medical questions and to ensure Mr. Joinson’s medical use of marihuana complies with the rules and regulations. Ultimately, however compensation claims for medical use of marihuana, either as a special damage claim or as a future cost of care claim, must be assessed based on recommended guidelines and on costs charged by legally authorized dispensaries. All said, the foundational principle for an award of a cost of future care is that the expense must be both medically justifiable and reasonable on an objective basis. It is not enough to show merely that it is beneficial; the medical evidence must show it is reasonably necessary:Andrews v. Grand and Toy Alberta Ltd., [1978] S.C.J. No. 6, at para. 120; Aberdeen v. Langley (Township), Zanatta, Cassels, 2007 BCSC 993, at para. 198; Strachan v. Reynolds et al., 2004 BCSC 915, at para. 632.

[421] There is no bright line distinguishing mere benefit and reasonable necessity in this case. But with basic reasoning and application of the above stated legal principles it can be drawn, if roughly. Pain control and its contribution to Mr. Joinson’s ability to function to his maximum potential are core considerations here. Without use of medical marihuana or a synthetic substitute, Mr. Joinson would have to increase his use of morphine, which is detrimental, particularly to his functioning: he does not function as well, physically or mentally, without use of medical marihuana. His treating physicians endorsed this treatment option, supporting him in his use of medical marihuana. Other physicians may disagree, but his family physician and psychiatrist see him on a regular basis and, in this particular instance, are in the best place to consider what is medically necessary.

[422] The issue remains controversial and is one which more research and clinical experience must ultimately decide, or at least reveal clearer parameters for the safe and effective use of medical marihuana or its synthetic derivatives. Meanwhile, I find the medical evidence supports a finding that compensation for some medical use of marijuana is reasonably necessary in this case. However, I cannot find for compensation based on the quantity used by Mr. Joinson in his claim for exemption or on amounts he has been paying to purchase products from the TAGGS dispensary. The award will based on a maximum of 5 grams per day, and priced as if purchased from a Health Canada legally authorized source, or, alternatively, at the cost of the medically equivalent amount of a synthetic substitute such as Cesamet.

[423] Ultimately of course, any award must make allowance for the fact Dr. Heran’s errant surgery is not responsible for providing Mr. Joinson with a lifetime supply of medical marijuana, certainly not for the portion Mr. Joinson would have used for recreational purposes, irrespective of any of his surgeries. Moreover, I need to account for the medically beneficial effects of his participation in a chronic pain program, notably anticipated benefits that should help reduce his need to use pain medications….

[431] Therefore, I award $30,000 for costs of medical marihuana.


$60,000 Non-Pecuniary Damage Assessment for STI's Imposed on Pre-Existing Injuries

May 20th, 2011

Reasons for judgement were released this week dealing with damages for soft tissue injuries imposed on pre-existing symptomatic injuries.

In this recent case, (Hosking v. Mahoney), the Plaintiff was injured in a 2004 motor vehicle collision.  She had pre-existing injuries from previous collisions and as a result had some on-going symptoms.  Mr. Justice Warren found that the new injuries would likely continue well into the future and assessed non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) at $80,000 then reduced this award by 25% to account for the Plaintiff’s pre-existing injuries.  In reaching this result the Court provided the following reasons:

[178] I find that the plaintiff suffered a mild to moderate soft tissue injury to her cervical and upper thoracic areas as a result of the February 2004 accident.  This was superimposed on her already symptomatic condition caused by the earlier accidents and although she had started to make the expected recovery, the process was interrupted by her falls.  Normally, these would not have affected the plaintiff but she was more vulnerable as a result of the three accidents.  There is no orthopaedic or neurological cause.  It is probable that these complaints will continue well into the future but can be managed and alleviated by an appropriate exercise programme (as recommended by her medical advisors as early as Dr. Parhar in March 2003) and by such passive therapies as may, from time to time, help alleviate her symptoms.

[179] Using the authorities relied upon by counsel as a template, for each case depends on its own unique features, I assess the plaintiff’s general damages at $80,000 which I reduce by 25% as attributable to or an apportionment for her pre-existing symptomatic injuries and her intervening falls.


Over Two Million Dollars Awarded in Chronic Pain Claim

February 19th, 2011

Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, assessing damages for loss related to chronic pain.

In last week’s case (Zen v. Readhead) the 45 year old plaintiff was injured in a 2005 motor vehicle collision.  Fault for the crash was admitted by the Defendant.    The Defendant’s lawyer argued that the plaintiff sustained only minor injuries submitting that the plaintiff “is an opportunist who has intentionally exaggerated his pain behavior and reporting in the hope of being rewarded significant compensation.”

The Court did not take kindly to this attack and rejected the Defendant’s submission with the following criticism “There are times when a trial judge listening to submissions about the credibility of a party is left to wonder if judge and counsel have heard the same evidence. This is such a case.”

The Court went on to award the Plaintiff damages of just over 2 Million Dollars for his accident related injuries and losses.  The majority of this was related to past and future income loss.  The Plaintiff was a high functioning Vancouver businessman and his losses were assessed reflecting his pre-accident income earning capacity.

Madam Justice Fenlon assessed the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages at $110,000.  His injuries included low back and pelvic pain, headaches, a mood disorder, impaired sleep, dizziness, cognitive dysfunction, elbow pain and plantar fascitits.   In arriving at this figure the Court provided the following reasons:

[54]         Awards of damages in other cases provide a guideline only. I must apply the factors listed in Stapley to Mr. Zen’s particular case. Mr. Zen is now 45-years-old. He used to be an outgoing, charismatic athlete who weekly ran 40 kms, did the Grouse Grind, and took an active role in the lives of his daughters, all while working long days in the family business including most Saturdays. Today he is a different man. He is sleep-deprived and in chronic pain, which makes him irritable and prone to frustration and anger. He can no longer push himself athletically, which was a central part of his life and the way he managed stress. He has a diminished role in the lives of his daughters, and in particular his youngest daughter, Olivia. Mr. Zen’s relationship with his wife has been significantly affected and he has, in his words, “missed out on the best years of [his] life”.

[55]         Taking all of this into account and excluding from this analysis the pain and inconvenience caused by his left knee before the March 2010 surgery, I find that Mr. Zen is entitled to non-pecuniary damages of $110,000.


$100,000 Non-Pecuniary Damages Awarded for Chronic Pain From Soft Tissue Injury

January 21st, 2011

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry addressing damages as a result of chronic soft tissue injury.

In today’s case (MacKenzie v. Rogalasky) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2003 motor vehicle collision.  The Defendant turned into the path of the Plaintiff’s vehicle resulting in a t-bone type collision.  Fault for the crash was admitted by the Defendant with the trial focusing on the value of the Plaintiff’s claim.

The Plaintiff sustained various injuries in the crash.  These included “moderate” soft tissue injuries to his neck, shoulders and back.  The Plaintiff, unfortunately, went on to suffer from long term chronic pain as a result of these injuries.  He had to leave his employment as the Head Chef at a popular Lower Mainland restaurant and eventually opt for less physically demanding employment.

The limitations from his chronic soft tissue injuries were expected to be permanent.  The Plaintiff’s total damages were assessed at just under $400,000 including an award of non-pecuniary damages of $100,000.  In arriving at this figure Madam Justice Ker made the following findings:

[255]     I accept the evidence adduced by the plaintiff that Mr. MacKenzie sustained soft tissue injuries to his neck, shoulder and back as a result of the accident.  The symptoms of chronic pain have continued to bother Mr. MacKenzie, and nearly seven years post-accident, he still experiences pain in his neck, shoulder and back, although primarily in the lower back area.  While the injuries can be described as moderate soft tissue injuries, I accept the diagnosis and opinion of Dr. Hunt that Mr. MacKenzie has developed chronic myofascial pain syndrome and experiences chronic pain to this day.  Thus, the injuries and pain symptoms continue to affect most every facet of Mr. MacKenzie’s work and non-work life.  The pain is most significant when Mr. MacKenzie works and overloads his physical tolerance capacity.  He has had to leave his chosen profession as a chef due to the increasing pain and difficulty he was experiencing and the failure to see any significant improvement in his condition.

[256]     I have concluded that as a result of the accident, Mr. MacKenzie has suffered pain and loss of enjoyment of life, and he will continue to do so for an indefinite period of time.

[257]     Mr. MacKenzie struck me as a very stoic and determined individual.  Despite the ongoing pain he tried to continue to work as a chef, a position he was passionate about and aspired to continue in for as long as possible, perhaps even establishing his own restaurant.  He also tried to remain physically active but found it difficult to do so given the attendant pain associated with the activities he previously enjoyed, including motorcycling, snowboarding and, until recently, golfing.  His return to playing golf is a recent development, but due to the nature of his injuries and ongoing chronic pain symptoms Mr. MacKenzie has had to alter his style of play and is still not able to play to the same intensity and level he did prior to the accident.  He has suffered, and will continue to suffer, some diminishment in his lifestyle.

[258]     The evidence from the plaintiff’s friends and family, coupled with his own evidence, establishes Mr. MacKenzie enjoyed excellent health and was involved in the physically active and demanding position of Head Chef working in a busy restaurant for up to 16 hour shifts prior to the accident.  Mr. MacKenzie also engaged in demanding outdoor sports activities such as snowboarding, mountain biking and rollerblading and engaged in extended periods of riding his motorcycle.

[259]     Taking into account all of these circumstances, the referenced authorities and the nature of Mr. MacKenzie’s injuries, the relatively enduring nature of the injuries as manifested through ongoing symptoms of chronic pain that has developed into chronic myofascial pain syndrome which prohibits him from returning to the profession he has been passionate about since he was a young boy, the pain he has suffered and may continue to experience in the future, as well as the fact he suffered a diminishment in his lifestyle, I conclude a fair and reasonable award for non-pecuniary damages is $100,000.


Diminished Earning Capacity Awards Without Past Wage Loss

December 12th, 2010

(UPDATE February 9, 2012:  The Damages in the below case for Diminished Earning Capacity and Cost of Future Care were reduced somewhat by the BC Court of Appeal on February 9, 2012)

A common misconception is that a person cannot claim for diminished earning capacity (future wage loss) in an ICBC Claim when there has been no past wage loss.  As I’ve previously discussed, this simply is not true.  Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, demonstrating this.

In last week’s case (Morlan v. Barrett) the Plaintiff was injured in two separate motor vehicle collisions.  Fault was admitted by the Defendants in both actions.  The Court found that both crashes caused a single indivisible injury (chronic widespread pain eventually diagnosed as fibromyalgia).

The Plaintiff’s injuries and limitations caused her to change employment to a job that was less physically demanding.  Fortunately, her new job paid a better salary and the Plaintiff had no past wage loss from the time of her first crash to the time of trial.  Her injuries, however, were expected to cause ongoing limitations and the Plaintiff claimed damages for diminished future earning capacity.  Mr. Justice Stewart agreed the Plaintiff was entitled to these damages and assessed the loss at $425,000.  In reaching this assessment Mr. Justice Stewart gave the following useful reasons:

[7] The plaintiff found work at the Electrical Industry Training Institution (EITI) in 2008 and is employed there as a Program Coodinator.  The job is far less demanding and the commute is only 20 minutes.  The job is also far less rewarding in terms of job satisfaction.  Having to change jobs was a huge blow and this will be reflected in the non-pecuniary damages I award later.  By happenstance the plaintiff’s salary actually went up when she switched jobs.  For that reason there is no claim for loss of earning capacity to the date of trial.  But there is a claim for loss of opportunity to earn income – including benefits – in the future…

[17]        Pure happenstance resulted in her suffering no loss of income to the date of trial, i.e., she got a less demanding job which happened to pay more than her job at the B.C. Fed.  But a reduction in her capacity to earn income has been made out.  Her having to give up her job at the B.C. Fed demonstrates that the circle of secretarial or administrative positions for which she could, if necessary, compete has been narrowed.  (Exhibit 6, a “Functional Capacity Evaluation” and Exhibit 5, the report of an “Occupational Health Physician” simply confirm the obvious.)  To put it in familiar terms:  she is less marketable as an employee; she is less capable overall from earning income from all types of employment; she has lost the ability to take advantage of all job opportunities which might otherwise have come her way; and she is less valuable to herself as a person capable of earning income in a competitive labour market (Rosvold v. Dunlop, 2001 BCCA 1 at paragraph 10).  The live issue is whether there is a real and substantial possibility that the reduction in her capacity to earn income will in fact result in lost income – including benefits – in the future (Sobolik v. Waters, 2010 BCCA 523, paragraphs 39-43).

[18]        As noted earlier, having considered the whole of the evidence placed before me I rely on the evidence of the plaintiff’s family physician, Dr. Beck, as I peer into my crystal ball and consider the plaintiff’s future.

[19]        The fact that the balance of the medical evidence does not replicate what Dr. Beck said at Exhibit 4 page 6 – that the plaintiff has “plateaued even slightly worsened over the past year” – and indeed the evidence of the rheumatologist, Dr. Shuckett is quite different – is neither here nor there as having considered the whole of it I say as the trier of fact that Dr. Beck was an impressive, thoughtful witness of great experience who offered up her opinion against a background of having dealt with the plaintiff for 25 years and, more particularly, having had close supervision of the plaintiff’s medical condition since January 6, 2007 and the advent of the motor vehicle accidents.  In saying that I have not lost sight of the fact that Dr. Beck has in fact retired.

[20]        Having considered the whole of the evidence together, I say that three real and substantial possibilities have been made out:  that the plaintiff’s condition will improve; that the plaintiff’s condition will remain as it is; and that the plaintiff’s condition will worsen.  In “giv[ing] weight according to their relative likelihood” to these three hypothetical events I find that the possibility of her condition improving barely rises above mere speculation and that the possibility of her remaining the same and the possibility of her condition worsening are both great (Athey v. Leonati, [1996] 3 S.C.R. 458 at paragraph 27).

[21]        I find that there most certainly is a real and substantial possibility that the reduction in the plaintiff’s capacity to earn income will result in lost income – including benefits – in the future.  Beyond the fact that nothing in life is certain and that she may yet find herself on the job market there is the real and substantial possibility that even if she remains in her current job until the end of her working career, her working career will end earlier than it would otherwise have absent the effects on the plaintiff of the defendants’ negligence.  That is so because it is a real and substantial possibility that her fibromyalgia will remain as it is but common experience dictates that as one moves into one’s latter years the ability to work in spite of a condition that drains one’s energy diminishes.  Independently of that, it is a real and substantial possibility that the plaintiff’s fibromyalgia – and with it loss of energy – will worsen.  I make that finding having considered the whole of the evidence including that of the plaintiff as to her recent experience and of all of the doctors and concluded as the trier of fact that I rely most on the evidence of Dr. Beck.

[22]        I take into account factors beyond those that relate to the state of the health of the plaintiff and her ability to work.  The plaintiff has established a real and substantial possibility – not mere speculation – that had she not had to forfeit her job at the B.C. Fed she would have, within a few years of the date of the motor vehicle accidents, taken advantage of an opportunity to perhapsmove up in the hierarchy of the B.C. Fed to the point of becoming a Director and with that received an increase in salary and benefits.  That is the net effect of the evidence of the plaintiff and of Lynda Bueckert.  Moreover, as of January 6, 2007 the plaintiff had to assume that she would retire from the B.C. Fed when she turned 65.  After January 6, 2007 the law changed.  I find that the plaintiff’s love for her job at the B.C. Fed combines with my picture of what she was before January 6, 2007 and results in my accepting her evidence to the effect that it is a real and substantial possibility that absent the defendants’ negligence she would have continued to work at the B.C. Fed even after she had turned 65.  I have considered the positive and negative vagaries of life, i.e., the contingencies.  Having considered the whole of it I award the plaintiff $425,000.


Wage Loss Claims for Stay-At-Home Parents Intending on Returning to the Workforce

October 30th, 2010

Although stay-at-home parents are becoming less and less common many parents still take several years away from the workforce to raise their children in their infant and pre-school years.  Often times these parents intend to return to work after their children attend school on a full time basis.

When a parent in these circumstances becomes disabled from working due to the fault of another can they make a claim for loss of income in their tort action?  The answer is yes provided there is evidence establishing  a likelihood of returning to employment absent the accident related disability.   Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, dealing with this area of law.

In last week’s case (Carr v. Simpson) the Plaintiff was seriously injured in a 2005 motor vehicle collision.  The Defendant admitted fault and further admitted that the crash injured the plaintiff but took issue with the value of her claims for various damages including for income loss.

The Plaintiff, a 39 year old mother of three at the time of the collision, was out of the workforce for several years prior to the crash.  She spent these years working as a home-maker and raising her children.  She undertook some modest employment as a house cleaner shortly prior to the crash.  Following the crash she became disabled and did not return to any work from the time of the crash to the time of trial.

The Court accepted the Plaintiff sustained serious, permanent and partly disabling injuries due to the crash.  The Plaintiff sought damages of $84,000 for lost income from the time of the crash to the time of trial.  She argued that she had planned on returning to the work force once her children became school-aged (which was around the time of the crash) but was precluded in doing so as a result of her injuries.  The Defendant disagreed arguing that the Plaintiff suffered only a modest loss of income because of her “inconsistent work history (and) lack of incentive to work because of income from other sources.

Mr. Justice Bernard sided with the Plaintiff and awarded her most of what she sought for past income loss.  In doing so the Court provide the following useful reasons addressing the reality that parents that leave the workforce to raise young children can still succeed in an income loss claim:

[132]     I reject the notion that Ms. Carr’s unemployment history during her child-rearing years made her return to the workforce less realistic or less likely. Ms. Carr did not harbour fanciful ideas about her capabilities, her income-earning potential, or her opportunities for employment. When her youngest child reached school age, Ms. Carr was relatively young, energetic, able-bodied, willing to work hard, prepared to accept modest wages in exchange for her labours, and was fortunate to have a brother who could offer her steady, secure, and reasonably well-remunerated employment.

[133]     The evidence establishes that Ms. Carr, shortly before the collision, was motivated to earn some income (e.g., from housecleaning) until her youngest child was enrolled in school; thereafter, she planned to seek more fulsome employment. I do not accept the defence submission that Ms. Carr lacked the incentive and/or need to earn an income; to the contrary, since she has been unable to work because of her injuries she has, with some reluctance, turned to her mother for ongoing loans of relatively large sums of money, just to get by.

[134]     Ms. Carr became a single parent as of June 1, 2005. I find it highly likely that this new status would have impelled her to take the employment her brother offered, and to do so immediately. Her newly poor economic circumstances would have necessitated that Ms. Carr make child-care arrangements to bridge the time until her youngest child was in school in September 2005, and would have motivated her to work as many hours as she could manage as a single parent. Similarly, I am satisfied that she would have made any necessary arrangements for the care of her father.

[135]     I also find it is highly likely that Ms. Carr, as an employee of her brother, would have worked the hours and received the rates of pay assumed by Mr. Bush in his calculations. I find it is most unlikely that the seasonal aspect of the work would have reduced Ms. Carr’s overall income. Any shortage of work in the slow season would be offset by the demands of the busy season, and I am satisfied that Ms. Carr would have adjusted her life, accordingly.

[136]     While I am unable to agree with the plaintiff’s submission that in the determination of past wage loss there should be no reduction for negative contingencies, I am satisfied, for the relatively predictable period in question, the reduction must be minor.

[137]     Having regard for all the foregoing, I assess the plaintiff’s past wage loss at $75,000.

This case is also worth reviewing for the Court’s discussion of non-pecuniary damages.  The Plaintiff sustained numerious injuries including soft tissue injuries to her neck and upper back, Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, headaches and dizziness, a right hand and wrist injury which required surgery, a meniscus tear that required surgery, low back pain and depression related to chrobic pain.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $100,000 Mr. Justice Bernard provided the following reasons:

125]     Ms. Carr has, at age 44, many years ahead of her. As a result of the defendant’s negligence, Ms. Carr has been permanently partially disabled and left with constant and chronic pain. Since the collision, Ms. Carr has undergone two surgeries and endured considerable pain and discomfort. Ms. Carr has developed TOS and surgery is not recommended. She suffers from clinical depression related to the negative effect her injuries has had upon her, her family, and her way of life. Ms. Carr’s mental acuity and concentration has slipped. Ms. Carr’s marriage ended six months after she sustained her injuries. Her husband was unsympathetic and frustrated by her lack of desire for sex due to her discomfort. Ms. Carr has been rendered unemployable for most jobs in a competitive market. She is now unable to enjoy most leisure activities and active social pursuits with her children. She has a special fondness for horses and gardening, but meaningful participation in activities related to these interests is no longer feasible. Ms. Carr has lost much of the satisfaction from gainful employment, and the purpose and dimension it gives to life. In short, the negligence of the defendant has had a profoundly negative and lasting impact upon Ms. Carr.

[126]     I agree with the plaintiff’s position that the Djukic case is most similar of the proffered cases on its facts. I also agree with the defendant’s submission that Ms. Djukic’s pain was more severe than that of Ms. Carr; otherwise, I am persuaded that Djukic a useful reference point for the upper end of a general damages award in this case; and that Cimino is instructive in determining the lower end.

[127]     Having regard to all the foregoing, I assess Ms. Carr’s general damages at $100,000.


BC Court of Appeal Discusses Non-Pecuniary Damages for Chronic Pain

September 14th, 2010

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Court of Appeal addressing, amongst other things, a fair range of non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) for chronic pain caused by the negligence of others.

In today’s case (Rizzolo v. Brett) the Plaintiff was injured in a motorcycle accident in 2005.  The Defendant was found fully at fault for the crash.    The Plaintiff suffered a fractured tibia and fibula.  These bony injuries went on to good recovery however the Plaintiff was left with chronic pain as a consequence of the collision.  At trial the Plaintiff was awarded $562,000 in total compensation for the injuries including a non-pecuniary damages award of $125,000.  (You can click here to read my post summarizing the trial judgement)

The Defendant appealed arguing that this assessment was inordinately high.  The BC Court of Appeal disagreed and held that in cases of chronic pain which affect functioning there is nothing inappropriate with non-pecuniary damage awards well over $100,000.  Specifically the BC High Court held as follows:

[32]         A review of those cases supports the respondent’s argument that the trial judge’s award of $125,000 was within the acceptable range.  In Moses v. Kim, 2007 BCSC 1388, the plaintiff was struck while crossing the Trans-Canada highway, breaking his legs.  While the breaks healed, the plaintiff was left with pain in his legs, back and hip.  As he had been a very physical person prior to the accident, hunting, fishing, logging and playing sports, much of his life was affected.  In addition to restricting the activities he could enjoy, this led him to become shorter tempered and angrier.  He was awarded $165,000 in non-pecuniary damages.

[33]         The plaintiff in Funk v. Carter, 2004 BCSC 866, was also struck by a vehicle and suffered broken legs, as well as some soft tissue injuries.  While the plaintiff underwent surgery, the injuries did not heal well, and he was left with chronic pain and impaired mobility.  As with the case at bar, and with Moses, the plaintiff had been “very fit” prior to the accident, and had “a great deal of difficulty adjusting psychologically”.  As a result, he was awarded $140,000 in non-pecuniary damages.

[34]         Moore v. Brown, 2009 BCSC 190, was a case similar to that at bar where the plaintiff was on a motorcycle when struck by the defendant.  He suffered substantial injuries, including a shoulder injury, a leg ligament tear, knee problems and a foot injury.  The accident also led to chronic neck pain, headaches and lumbar problems.  Three years later, at trial, the plaintiff was still experiencing difficulties, including an altered gait and difficulty continuing in his work as a geo-scientist.  The trial judge awarded non-pecuniary damages of $115,000.

[35]         In Dufault v. Kathed Holdings Ltd., 2007 BCSC 186, the plaintiff fell while descending the stairs at the defendant’s business.  The fall resulted in knee injuries that the trial judge accepted would likely require knee replacement surgery.  This was exacerbated by chronic pain, hip problems, and some resultant mild depression.  Taking these considerations into account, the trial judge awarded $110,000 in non-pecuniary damages.

[36]         Finally, in Mosher v. Bitonti, 1998 CanLII 5186 (B.C.S.C.), the plaintiff sued two defendants for separate accidents.  The trial judge found that the plaintiff had suffered fractured right leg bones as a result of the first accident, which caused muscular damage.  He accepted that these were “very significant injuries” and that the plaintiff had suffered a painful recovery.  While there was a small chance of future degenerative arthritis, the plaintiff was left with a normal gait, but with some difficulty squatting, kneeling or crouching.  Those injuries resulted in the plaintiff being awarded $80,000 in non-pecuniary damages.

[37]         As can be seen from those cases, trial judges have assessed non-pecuniary damages at well over $100,000 where there is an element of significant ongoing pain and, particularly, where the plaintiff had previously enjoyed an active lifestyle or a physical vocation….

[39]         I agree with the respondent that the trial judge did not assess damages on the basis of a well-resolved fracture.  Rather, the award for non-pecuniary damages was largely based on the trial judge’s conclusions that the respondent suffered and would continue to suffer from chronic debilitating pain that profoundly affected all aspects of his life.  Viewed in this way, the award cannot be said to be inordinately high.  The chronic pain cases cited by the trial judge support her assessment.

[40]         I would not accede to this ground of appeal.

Another point of interest in today’s case were the Court’s comments about gathering new evidence after trial to challenge an award for ‘diminished earning capacity‘.  At trial the Plaintiff was awarded $250,000 for his loss of earning capacity.  The Defendant appealed and asked the Court of Appeal to force the Plaintiff to produce “documents pertaining to his employment since the trial“.  The BC High Court refused to do so and provided the following useful comments:

[43]         An appellate court should decline to exercise its discretion to make an order to admit “new evidence”, unless that evidence would tend to falsify an assumption that the trial judge made about what was, at the time of judgment, the future:  see Jens v. Jens, 2008 BCCA 392 at para. 29, citing North Vancouver (District) v. Fawcett (1998), 60 B.C.L.R. (3d) 201 (C.A.)(sub nomNorth Vancouver (District) v. Lunde).

[44]         It is unnecessary for me to review in detail the nature of the evidence tendered on the application by the appellant and in reply by the respondent.  Suffice it to say that the conclusions the appellant contended should be drawn from her proposed new evidence were clearly and persuasively refuted by the respondent in an affidavit and, in any event, did not rise to the necessary factual standard that would properly form the basis for a successful application for admission of new evidence.