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 ‘disc herniation’

$100,000 Non-Pecuniary Assessment For Disc Herniation With Poor Prognosis

November 9th, 2018

Reasons for judgement were published today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, assessing damages for chronic and likely permanent back pain arising from a vehicle collision.

In today’s case (Domijan v. Jeon) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2012 collision the Defendant accepted fault for.  The crash caused an L4-5 intervertebral disc injury with central disc herniation.  The prognosis for recovery was poor and the Plaintiff was expected to have some degree of back pain for the rest of his life.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $100,000 Madam Justice MacDonald provided the following reasons:

[109]     I am not convinced that the plaintiff’s issue is simply pain relating to lumbar facet joint syndrome as put forward by Dr. Rickards. In fairness to Dr. Rickards, he stated this diagnosis in guarded terms using the word “possibly” numerous times. I prefer the testimony of Dr. Nikolakis and Dr. Appleby, that the plaintiff has a disc protrusion, specifically an L4-5 intervertebral disc injury with central disc herniation. This is based on the onset of pain being temporally related to the accident and the objective findings in the scans. As Dr. Nikolakis reported:

I was able to view the images from this diagnostic study [the March 3, 2014 MRI scan]… This investigation reveals desiccation of the L4-5 intervertebral disc along with a central disc herniation posteriorly and bulging of the intervertebral disc and anteriorly as well. There is a loss of disc height, which is significantly different relative to the healthy disc above and below this level….

[110]     I accept Dr. Nikolakis’ and Dr. Appleby’s evidence regarding diagnosis and am satisfied on the balance of probabilities that Mr. Domijan’s pain is due to an L4-5 disc protrusion in his lower back, which was caused by the motor vehicle accident. It is more likely than not that the plaintiff will have ongoing, albeit partially resolved, back pain for the remainder of his life…

[128]     Here there was no evidence that the plaintiff suffered from psychiatric issues, such as depression, from the accident. He has demonstrated success post-accident despite the demanding physical labour of his work. He works through the pain, although he often suffers. He is certainly not completely disabled. It is clear that the plaintiff is not a complainer, he keeps his pain largely to himself, and overall presents as a stoic young man.

[129]     It would be improper to penalize Mr. Domijan for his stoicism, a factor that should not, generally speaking, be held against a plaintiff: Stapley at para. 46; Clark v. Kouba, 2014 BCCA 50; and Giang v. Clayton, 2005 BCCA 54 at para. 54.

[130]     I note that the plaintiff was a relatively young man at the time of the accident and now faces his adult life with chronic pain, although his pain has diminished since he changed his career to that of a railway conductor.

[131]     I do not give much weight to the defendant’s submissions that participation in sport typically decreases with age as career and family obligations increase, or that the plaintiff never intended to pursue soccer professionally, in my assessment of non-pecuniary damages. The evidence suggests that Mr. Domijan was an avid soccer player and would have continued to play regularly but for the accident.

[132]     In all the circumstances, I consider an appropriate award of non-pecuniary damages to be $100,000. This amount recognizes the plaintiff’s ongoing pain, loss of enjoyment of life, especially his inability to participate in sports, and the longevity of his claim.


$100,000 Non-Pecuniary Assessment For Multi Level Disc Herniations

July 16th, 2013

Adding to this site’s archives addressing non-pecuniary damages for spine injury cases, reasons for judgement were released recently by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, dealing with such an injury.

In the recent case (Tabet v. Hatzis) the Plaintiff was struck by the Defendant’s vehicle while walking in a marked crosswalk.  He suffered a variety of injuries the most serious being multi level disc herniations in his low back which went on to cause chronic symptoms.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $100,000 Madam Justice Dickson provided the following reasons:

[47]         The defence does not challenge most of the expert evidence presented by Mr. Tabet regarding his accident-related injuries.  In summary, he has been diagnosed by Dr. Sahjpaul, a neurosurgeon, as suffering from low back pain; myofascial and discogenic neck pain; myofascial left leg symptoms, radicular and discogenic; and concussion, resolved.  Dr. Sahjpaul also diagnosed left arm symptoms, but the etiology of those symptoms is uncertain.  In addition, Mr. Tabet has been diagnosed by Dr. Chernick, a psychiatrist, as suffering from depression.  Other than the left arm symptoms, I accept that these conditions are causally connected with the accident.

[48]         According to Dr. Sahjpaul, a September, 2007 post-accident CT scan demonstrated a left L4-5 disc herniation and a broad based L5-S1 disc bulge.  Subsequent investigations demonstrated the L5-S1 disc bulge has also become herniated.  Unfortunately, Mr. Tabet’s prognosis for complete recovery from associated symptoms is not favourable.  While it is possible that his left leg symptoms will improve somewhat it is unlikely that his back pain and neck pain will improve substantially, even with surgery…

[76]         There is merit in both submissions made by counsel.  Mr. Tabet’s physical and emotional suffering is significant and his overall enjoyment of life has been seriously compromised.  Nevertheless, he has pushed himself hard and his work regimen reflects both a choice on his part and stoicism.  Taking into account all of the facts summarised above, I conclude that an award of $100,000 in non-pecuniary damages is appropriate in all of the circumstances of the case.


$95,000 Non-Pecuniary Assessment For Chronic L4/5 Disc Herniation With Liklihood of Surgery

March 27th, 2013

Adding to this site’s archived cases addressing non-pecuniary damages for spine injury cases, reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, assessing damages for a low back disc injury.

In this week’s case (Muhammedi v. Ogloff) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2009 rear-end collision.  Liability was admitted.  The Plaintiff suffered various soft tissue injuries and also an L4/5 lateral disc herniation.

This injury remained symptomatic at the time of trial and there was a greater than 50% chance that the injury would eventually require surgical intervention.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $95,000 the Court provided the following reasons:

[88]         Dr. Kokan was of the opinion that, from the accident, she had right side L4/5 far lateral disc herniation and persistent cervical myofascial pain.  He concluded:  “The motor vehicle [accident] as described, in my opinion, is most responsible for the onset of symptoms.”  While this aspect of his report was not clarified, it was clear from his testimony that the cause of her injuries was the car accident.

[89]         He felt her prognosis to be uncertain, and stated as follows:

Generally, I expect at least the current level of symptoms.  Far lateral disc herniations are typically more problematic with respect to symptoms.  Usually they can produce significant nerve root compromise given that they are located lateral to the foramen and pedicles, thereby there is less room for the exiting nerve root, thereby physical compression and symptoms are common.

I would expect usually that Mrs. Muhammedi would have at least the current level of symptoms in her back and that she would experience aggravations brought on in proportion to future activities.  Heavier activities would go on to produce potentially more troubling symptoms.

In the event that she should have ongoing and disabling neurological symptoms, she would probably have to consider surgical treatment.  The orthopaedic literature varies with respect to the need for surgery.  The possibility that she could require surgical treatment in the future is probably greater than 50%.  I say this because of her relatively young age and the associated presence of this type of disc protrusion…

[117]     The physicians all agree, and there is no issue in this regard, that the plaintiff sustained a far lateral disc protrusion.  All similarly agreed that the cause of the disc protrusion was the accident….

[157]     I find that it is clear from the expert reports tendered and the plaintiff’s evidence that she continues to sustain ongoing problems from this accident.  I find that this brings this case beyond the nature of the type of injuries in the cases cited by the defendants. It is more severe, more akin to the plaintiffs’ injuries in the cases cited by the plaintiff.

[158]     In all the circumstances, I award Ms. Muhammedi $95,000 for her non-pecuniary damages.  This recognizes the ongoing difficulties that she has and the possibility, which was deemed by the physicians, indeed by Dr. Kokan to be greater than 50%, that the plaintiff will require surgery at some time in the future.


$100,000 Non-Pecuniary Assessment For Disc Injury Requiring Discectomy

November 30th, 2012

Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, assessing damages for a chronic back injury caused as a result of a motor vehicle collision.

In the recent case (Peso v. Holloway) the 26 year old Plaintiff was involved in a 2007 collision where the Defendant backed into his vehicle.  The Plaintiff suffered from pre-existing “mild, non-disabling” low back pain.  Following the collision the plaintiff experienced significant low back pain ultimately requiring surgical intervention by way of a discectomy.  The Plaintiff remained symptomatic and the Plaintiff faced ‘significant risk of additional surgery‘.  The Court found the aggravation of the pre-existing condition was caused by the collision.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $100,000 Mr. Justice Wong provided the following reasons:

[70]         Regardless of Mr. Peso’s pre-existing condition, he was able to enjoy his life before the collision. He was able to perform ordinary household tasks, cook, and socialize with his friends and family. He had a long history of competing in competitive and recreational sports and was very active on the weekend trip to Osoyoos immediately before the collision. In addition to working at a physical job, he participated in renovation and building projects for his brother, putting in an estimated average of 12 hours a week.

[71]         According to Dr. Street, in the absence of the collision Mr. Peso would have likely continued to experience mild, non-disabling symptoms in his low back. As a result of the collision, Mr. Peso required surgery and faces a significant risk of additional surgery at some point in the future. He is limited in his capacity to perform some aspects of his work. His left leg is weaker than the right and his capacity to lift is diminished. Mr. Peso, a gifted athlete before the collision, is unlikely to return to anything close to his pre-collision level of activity.

[72]         Non-pecuniary damages ought to be assessed in the context of a young man who has sustained a permanent, life changing injury. It was clear from Mr. Peso’s testimony that he has not let his injuries stop him. He has persevered with school and actively hid his symptoms from his employer. He has tried all of his former activities but he has only been able to tolerate some successfully. It is clear that despite Mr. Peso’s determination he has real fears about his future. He worries about recurrence of pain and he worries he will be expected to perform tasks that he cannot do.

[73]         Mr. Peso suffered chronic pain disability and loss of recreational amenities for over a year until his December 2008 surgery. His scope of future recreational enjoyment will continue to be curtailed.

[74]         I fix pain and suffering with loss of amenities, past and future, at $100,000.


$45,000 Non-Pecuniary Assessment for C-7 Disc Herniation With Radiculopathy

July 5th, 2012

Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, assessing damages for injuries sustained in a collision.

In this week’s case (Coutakis v. Lean) the Plaintiff was involved in a rear-end collision in 2008.   The crash was of ‘considerable force‘.  While there was competing evidence as to the exact speed of impact the Court made the following common sense observation “The precise speed does not matter.  What does matter is that there is no evidence that the force of the collision, given the defendant’s estimated speed, would have been insufficient to cause the injuries complained of“.

The collision caused low back soft tissue injuries in addition to a C-7 disc herniation with nerve root impingement causing pain and weakness in the Plaintiff’s arm.

The Plaintiff was a retired maintenance engineer but made spare money in his retirement painting houses.  The injuries disabled him from this work.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $45,000 Mr. Justice Saunders provided the following reasons:

[47]In summary, Mr. Coutakis was an active and relatively healthy person prior to the motor vehicle accident, with no significant low back pain other than the occasional flare-ups which we are all subject to, and with every reason to expect a healthy and active retirement.  His plan to keep working at painting was reasonable, and there is a significant probability to be attached to his thought of continuing to work, health permitting, approximately to age 75.  His current complaints disable him from pursuing his employment as a painter.  I find that his current complaints were materially contributed to by the accident.  There is no basis, on the evidence, for concluding that any pre-existing degenerative changes in his cervical or lumbar spines – the cervical herniation, and the lumbar disc bulging – would have become symptomatic but for the accident, and certainly not to the present level of dysfunction and disability.

[48]There is some reason to hope for some modest resolution of Mr. Coutakis’ complaints with continuing conservative treatment.  However, the only expert witness to express any significant degree of optimism is his family physician, Dr. Cox.  Dr. Cox is not a specialist and I am not inclined to give his optimism a great deal of weight.  He did not have the benefit of Dr. Rothwell’s report, when he examined Mr. Coutakis in September 2010.

[49]I regard the possibility of Mr. Coutakis making any really significant recovery to the level of having a pain-free life, as small.  Even if he were to recover to the level where he might be physically able to resume work, the question at that point would be whether he would be inclined to do so, given his age; with all that he has been through, at that point it would be entirely reasonable for Mr. Coutakis to retire fully and enjoy what is left of his healthy retirement years…

[52]I assess non-pecuniary damages at $45,000.


$40,000 Non-Pecuniary Assessment for L5-S1 Disc Herniation

July 4th, 2012

Reasons for judgement were released last month by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, assessing damages for injuries, including a symptomatic L5/S1 disc herniation sustained in a motor vehicle collision.

In the recent case (Pataria v. Bertrand) the Plaintiff was involved in a collision when he was 12.  Fault was admitted by the offending motorist.  Although the Court heard competing evidence about the cause of a low back disc injury Mr. Justice Truscott ultimately found this was caused by the trauma in the collision.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $40,000 the Court provided the following reasons:

[171] I accept that the plaintiff sustained soft tissue injuries to his neck and back area, with accompanying headaches, in the motor vehicle accident. I also accept that initially he had symptoms of post-traumatic stress, difficulty falling asleep and hypervigilance, although those problems quickly resolved.

[172] I conclude however that physically the plaintiff is not as injured as counsel makes out. He is able to swim regularly and work out with weights in the gym.

[173] After the accident he was able to return to his sports of soccer, basketball and volleyball, albeit not at the same level of performance.

[174] At his examination for discovery on July 22, 2010 he said he was only feeling back symptoms once or twice a week.

[175] It is also a fact that initially he did not accept the recommendations of Dr. Low that he work harder at recovery although he has improved his effort as time has gone on.

[176] I accept the opinions of Dr. Purtzki that the plaintiff has evidence of allodynia and hyperalgesia and seems to experience non-painful stimuli as painful and mildly painful stimuli as more painful, as a generalization to the area of pain. This is commonly seen with ongoing chronic pain complaints. At the same time she says he may experience gradual improvement of pain in the next few years.

[177] I also accept her opinion that it is more likely than not that the motor vehicle accident is the cause of the disc protrusion which is most symptomatic at L5/S1. Her analysis of the medical literature indicates that in a young man such as the plaintiff disc herniation is much less likely to occur without trauma and the plaintiff’s low back complaints here arose following the motor vehicle accident…

[191] I consider an appropriate figure for general damages for this plaintiff, in the absence of any evidence from a spine surgeon and any prognosis for the psychological problems, to be $40,000.


"Scientific Certainty" Not Necessary to Prove Causation in Disc Injury Claim

March 7th, 2012

Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Kelowna Registry, discussing the issue of causation in a disc injury claim.

In this week’s case (Valuck v. Challandes) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2007 head-on collision.  Fault was admitted by the offending motorist.  The Plaintiff was ultimately diagnosed with a disc protrusion at the L5-S1 Joint.

ICBC argued the disc protrusion was not caused by the crash or if it was it would have occurred even in the absence of the collision.  Mr. Justice Rogers disagreed and found that while it was not scientifically possible to say with certainty that the disc injury was caused by the crash, it certainly was an event that materially contributed to the injury.

Mr. Justice Rogers assessed non-pecuniary damages at $100,000 but then reduced this award by 40% to take into account the fact that the injury may have occurred even without the crash.  In discussing causation the Court provided the following reasons:

[59] There is a conflict in the evidence concerning the cause of the herniation of the plaintiff’s lumbar disc at the L5-S1 joint. According to Dr. Laidlow, the plaintiff’s disc was probably not injured in the collision. He bases his opinion primarily on the fact that the plaintiff’s complaints of low back symptoms did not start until several weeks after the accident. According to Dr. Laidlow, if the disc had been damaged in the accident then the plaintiff would have had symptoms in that area right after the event and that she would not have been able to ignore those symptoms. According to Drs. Shuckett and Craig, the impact likely caused some damage to the plaintiff’s lumbar disc and that damage materially contributed to the herniation that the plaintiff subsequently experienced a year and a half later.

[60] I found Dr. Laidlow’s evidence to be particularly useful here. Dr. Laidlow said, and I accept, that a spinal disc comprises a containment vessel made up of fifteen to twenty layers of fibrous material and of viscous disc material lying within the containment vessel. The fibrous layers of the wall can, over time, suffer tears. The tears can be spontaneous or, rarely, they can be caused by trauma. The tears may heal over time, or they may not. Tears may occur without causing any symptoms at all. Enough tears may, at some point, be present in the disc wall so that the wall begins to fail. If that happens then the disc might bulge out. The bulging can intrude on pain sensitive tissues and pain may result.

[61] At some further point, enough tears may be present in the fibrous layers to compromise the wall itself and the wall breaks. In that event, the viscous inner disc material will escape from the disc. The escaped material is termed a protrusion and the condition is known as a herniated disc. The protrusion may impinge on surrounding tissues, causing local pain. The protrusion may also impinge on the nerve roots that exit the spine at the site of the hernia. In that case, symptoms usually include pain radiating along the area enervated by that particular nerve.

[62] Dr. Laidlow testified that an accident such as the one in which the plaintiff was involved would likely have caused damage of some kind to her spine. Dr. Laidlow was not willing to say for sure such damage included tears in the wall of the plaintiff’s lumbar disc. In his view, such damage was possible, but that he could not say for sure one way or the other. Given the several weeks’ delay between the trauma of the accident and the onset of the plaintiff’s low back pain, and the year and half that passed between the accident and the herniation, Dr. Laidlow felt that the accident could not be said to be a material contributing factor in the herniation.

[63] Although Drs. Schuckett and Craig did not say so in so many words, the gist of their evidence was that they thought that the accident probably did weaken the disc and thus materially contributed to the herniation that occurred on the Labour Day weekend of 2008.

[64] Dr. Laidlow cannot be faulted for testifying that there is no way to know if the accident in fact caused one or more tears to the wall of the plaintiff’s lumbar disc – no images exist to show the state of her disc in intimate detail immediately before or immediately after the accident, and no physical examination short of a biopsy could have illuminated that issue for him.

[65] I have concluded that the evidence in this case does not admit a scientifically certain answer to the herniation question. Scientific certainty is not necessary, however. As the Supreme Court of Canada said in Athey v. Leonati, [1996] 3 S.C.R. 458 at paragraph 16:

…Causation need not be determined by scientific precision; as Lord Salmon stated in Alphacell Ltd. v. Woodward, [1972] 2 All E.R. 475, at p. 490, and as was quoted by Sopinka J. at p. 328, it is “essentially a practical question of fact which can best be answered by ordinary common sense”. …

[66] After taking into account all of the medical evidence and the all of evidence of the plaintiff and her witnesses, and after applying a soupcon of common sense to the mix, I have concluded that the accident did cause some damage to the containment wall of the plaintiff’s L5-S1 disc and that that damage was a material contributing factor in the herniation that occurred at the end of August 2008. It follows that I find that the defendant is liable for damages caused by that herniation.


Late Defence Medical Report Inadmissible For Going Beyond Responsive Evidence Exception

July 7th, 2011

When the New Rules of Court were introduced last year changes were made to the timelines to exchange expert reports.  An 84 day deadline was set out in Rule 11-6(3) and a shorter 42 day deadline is set out in Rule 11-6(4) for “responding reports“.   The first reasons for judgement that I’m aware of were released today by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, addressing whether to admit a late report under the “responsive evidence” exception.

In today’s case (Crane v. Lee) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2005 motor vehicle collision.  The Defendant ran a stop sign and admitted fault for the crash.   The Plaintiff’s expert provided evidence that she suffered from soft tissue injuries and a herniated disc.  The Defendant obtained an expert report which contradicted this finding and served this report less than 84 days before trial.  The Defendant argued that the report was responsive and should be admitted.  Mr. Justice Smith disagreed finding the report went beyond the narrow circumstances permitted in Rule 11-6(4).  In excluding the report the Court provided the following reasons:

[21] At the opening of the trial, counsel for the plaintiff objected to and sought a ruling on the admissibility of a medical report that the defendant intended to rely upon.  The report had not been served within the 84 days required by Rule 11-6 (3) of the Supreme Court Civil Rules, B.C. Reg. 168/2009.  Counsel for the defendant relied upon rule 11-6 (4), which reads:

(4)        Unless the court otherwise orders, if a party intends to tender an expert’s report at trial to respond to an expert witness whose report is served under subrule (3), the party must serve on every party of record, at least 42 days before the scheduled trial date,

(a)        the responding report, and

(b)        notice that the responding report is being served under this rule.

[22] Rule 11-6 (4) is intended to apply only to evidence that is truly responsive or in rebuttal to specific opinion evidence tendered by the opposite party.  It is not intended to provide defendants with a general exemption from the basic time limit for serving expert reports that is set out in Rule 11-6 (3).  Defendants who delay obtaining or serving expert evidence until after the plaintiff’s opinions have been received, then attempt to introduce all of their expert evidence as response, do so at their peril.

[23] In this case, I found that the report was not limited to true responsive evidence.  It stated the author’s opinion on the nature and cause of the plaintiff’s injury?the central issue that both sides had to address from the outset?and was based upon a review of all the medical records, including some not referred to by Dr. Field in his report.  As such, I considered it to be a free-standing medical opinion that ought to have been served pursuant to Rule 11-6 (3).  I ruled the report inadmissible, with the result that there was no expert evidence before me to contradict Dr. Field’s opinion.

The Court accepted the evidence from the Plaintiff’s expert and in assessing non-pecuniary damages of $100,000 Mr. Justice Smith provided the following reasons:

[33] On review of all the evidence, I find that the accident for which the defendant has admitted liability caused soft tissue injuries to the plaintiff’s neck and upper back, which eventually resolved, and a herniated disc in the lower back that continues to cause pain and limitation.  To the extent that the accident may have aggravated a pre-existing condition, I find that in the years immediately preceding the accident that condition was minimally symptomatic and there is no evidence that it would likely have become worse but for the accident.  I accept the uncontradicted evidence of Dr. Field that the plaintiff’s current pain is likely to be permanent…

[45] The injury the plaintiff suffered has had a significant impact on her enjoyment of life.  She has back pain on a daily basis, fluctuating according to her activities.  She has lost what was formerly a very active lifestyle, giving up some activities that she formerly enjoyed, while continuing some others on a reduced level, accepting the trade-off of increased pain.  The only medical evidence before me is that this condition is likely to be permanent. She also suffers severe anxiety while driving, particularly in situations similar to those that gave rise to the accident, although there is no evidence that this condition is necessarily permanent…

[49] Taking into account the effect of the plaintiff’s injuries on her lifestyle, the permanent nature of her pain and the psychological impact, including her driving anxiety, and considering the cases cited, I assess the plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages at $100,000.


Non-Pecuniary Damages for Disc Herniation and PTSD Discussed, Dr. Davis Criticized

January 26th, 2010

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court awarding a Plaintiff close to $340,000 in total damages as a result of injuries and loss from a BC car crash.

In today’s case (Smusz v. Wolf Chevrolet Ltd.) the Plaintiff was involved in a Highway crash near Kamloops BC in 2006.  Fault was admitted by the offending motorist.  The trial dealt with the value of the plaintiff’s claim.  She suffered various injuries including a disc herniation/protrusion in her neck.  In valuing the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages at $100,000 Madam Justice Russell highlighted the following facts:

[87] The plaintiff was 43 years old at the time of this accident.  She suffered injuries which, although not requiring more than a brief visit to the hospital, were nonetheless significant.  The medical evidence was mostly consistent:  her physical injuries include moderate right paracentral disc herniation at C3-4 on the right side and moderate paracentral disc protrusion at C6-7 on the left causing irritation of the left C7 root; and a bulging lumbar disc irritating the lumbar roots, all of which result in chronic left-sided neck, arm and low back pain, dizziness and headaches.  She suffered from PTSD, now substantially resolved, but still suffers from insomnia, occasional nightmares, depression and chronic pain some three years after the accident.

[88] The chronic pain caused by the injuries received in the accident has resulted in depression, no doubt complicated by her difficult financial situation, but the plaintiff was happy and energetic before the accident notwithstanding the fact that she had very little money.

[89] She was able to work in a job which did not require great skill and which did not pay well but in which she could have continued for the indefinite future.  It gave her some income and gave her the sense of participating in her family’s finances.

[90] The evidence of her friends and family support the substantial change she has undergone as a result of the accident.  From a positive, lively person who enjoyed participating in her community, she has become somewhat reclusive and quiet and it appears she may even lose her romantic relationship because her physical limitations interfere with the activities she used to enjoy with her boyfriend.

[91] While she had suffered brief episodes of depression in the past, I am satisfied they were reactive depressions and were fully resolved at the time of the accident.  I have no doubt that because she has suffered depression in the past, she was vulnerable to depression, but she is the thin-skulled plaintiff here rather than a crumbling skull plaintiff.  However, I find that the depression which followed the accident and her chronic pain means that she is at risk of developing an even more severe depression in the future.

[92] Immediately following the accident, the plaintiff also had chest bruising and abrasions which resolved quickly.  Her knee injury troubled her for about six months but is now resolved.

[93] There is a possibility she will require surgery in the future to address the herniation at C6-7 since the conservative treatment measures employed so far have not provided the plaintiff with any relief.  She has resisted this surgery because, even if it is successful, she will be left with continuing neck pain so resort to surgery would only be a desperate measure if she begins to suffer nerve damage which follows from the herniation or if her chronic pain worsens.

[94] The plaintiff’s anxiety is worsened by the possibility she will need surgery in the future.

[95] The plaintiff is also less able to perform her household work than she was and has received assistance from her children.  When she does do her housework, she does it more slowly and with some pain.  This is a substantial change from the enthusiastic homemaker she was before the accident.

[96] I have considered the plaintiff’s loss of housekeeping capacity and the help she has been given and will continue to receive from her children under this head of damages and would assess the loss at $10,000.

[97] Considering the factors listed above, and upon reviewing the case law provided by both counsel, I find that an appropriate award of non-pecuniary damages is $100,000.00, including the loss of housekeeping capacity.

Another noteworthy aspect of this case was the Court’s discussion of one of the defence experts.  Dr. Davis is a psychiatrist who prepared an expert report for the Defendant.  His opinion differed from the Plaintiff’s experts with respect to her accident related injuries.  He was cross-examined in open court and ultimately his evidence was not accepted.  In reaching this decision Madam Justice Russell made the following critical comments:

[81] Dr. Davis’ report differed substantially from those of all other experts.  It is his opinion that none of the plaintiff’s current emotional difficulties stems from the motor vehicle accident.  He is firmly of the view that her depression is solely attributable to her financial problems, her lack of a supporting husband and her limited skills in English.

[82] To support his position, Dr. Davis pointed to the two reactive depressions which had affected the plaintiff before the accident as establishing an “ongoing depression” and therefore her current symptoms were not causally related to the motor vehicle accident of October 2006.

[83] I note that when he wrote his report, Dr. Davis had not reviewed Dr. Tomaszewski’s notes of appointments with the plaintiff one week following the accident which recorded the occurrence of nightmares and acute anxiety.  Dr. Davis stated that these symptoms were important but appeared to minimize them by indicating they would only be a problem caused by the accident in the first six months or so, at the same time as her soft tissue injuries should have been resolving.

[84] I have reviewed Dr. Davis’ testimony and find it to be argumentative, unyielding and seriously at odds with what I view to be the preponderance of other and more credible medical evidence.  I do not accept his findings.


The Art of Valuing Pain and Suffering in ICBC Injury Claims

September 18th, 2009

Today reasons for judgment were released by the Vancouver Registry of the BC Supreme Court in 2 separate Injury Claims where Pain and Suffering was valued.  In each case the Plaintiffs suffered different injuries which affected their respective lives to different degrees.  Yet both Plaintiffs were awarded exactly $55,000 for their non-pecuniary damages.  How can this be?  The answer is that valuing claims for pain and suffering is an art, not an exact science.

When asking a personal injury lawyer how much a claim for pain and suffering is worth it is difficult  if not impossible to value a claim at an exact dollar figure.  The only accurate answer is “whatever the judge or jury gives you“.  Instead of attaching an exact dollar figure to any claim personal injury lawyers learn that claims can best be valued within an approximate range of damages.  One judge can award a plaintiff $50,000 for a disc herniation and another can award a plaintiff with the exact same injuries $80,000 and there is nothing wrong in law with this so long as the award falls within the accepted range of damages for similar injuries.

Today’s cases demonstrate this quite well.  In the first case (Morrison v. Gauthier) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2006 BC Car crash.  Her vehicle was rear-ended in Coquitlam BC.  The Defendant was fully at fault for the crash.

The Plaintiff suffered fairly severe injuries which included an L4-5 disc herniation which from time to time “puts pressure on the L4 nerve root and that the result for the plaintiff is not just pain in the low back – which is always her lot – but intense pain that, amongst other things, travels down the back of her leg“.  In addition to this the Plaintiff suffered soft tissue injuries and a concussion in the collision.

Mr. Justice Stewart found that the effects of the Plaintiff’s back injuries were likely permanent and had a rather profound impact on her.  He stated that “the effect…on the Plaintiff’s life was dramatic…her capacity to (keep her work and home environment in order) has been severely reduced . ”  He went on to find that the Plaintiff was incredibly athletic before the collision and “was a woman who on the basis of the evidence placed before me, I can only describe as a dynamo” and as a result of the car crash “she became…ornery.  She withdrew from her friends.  She became moody and – stunning for her – one who sat idly watching television and gaining unwelcome weight.  To some extent she became – utterly new to her – a chronic complainer.”  Lastly he stated that (the defendant) “managed to reduce a woman operating at an athletic level undreamt of by 99% of the population to a woman who must now, often, be helped out of a chair.  (the Plaintiff’s) compensable loss if overwhelming“.

Mr. Justice Stewart awarded the Plaintiff $55,000 for her non-pecuniary damages.,

In the second case (O’Rourke v. Kenworthy) released today by the BC Supreme Court the Plaintiff was involved in a 2004 BC Car Crash.  The Defendant was 100% at fault.  Madam Justice Wedge found that the Plaintiff was injured in the crash.  Specifically the court found that the Plaintiff suffered from neck and back pain which was “severe for several months, which then alleviated considerably over the next year or so.”  The Plaintiff curtailed many of the physical activities which she enjoyed by after about a year she “resumed most of these activities despite continuing ot experience pain“.   By the time of trial she “continued to have pain in her neck and back, but it is not disabling.  She has been able to work, and she is currently able to work.  She participates in numerous sporting activities and continues to hike, which is her first love.  She has continued to travel extensively.   No medical professional offered the opinion that (the Plaintiff’s) pain is chronic in nature, or that it is caused by anything other than soft tissue injuries.  They all agreed that her symptoms are expected to improve and will likely resolve gradually over time…At most (the Plaintiff) is at risk of suffering exacerbation’s of her pain if she engages in certain rigorous activities.”

Scrutinizing the facts of the above two cases the first Plaintiff appears to have suffered more severe injuries which had a more profound effect on her life.  Yet both were awarded the exact same figure for pain and suffering.  This does not necessarily mean that either award was wrong in law, rather the difference can readily be explained by the fact that pain and suffering awards are assessed within rather large ranges of acceptable damages.  A more severe injury valued on the lower end of its respective range of damages can equal a more minor injury valued on the generous end of its range.

In the end, cases like this speak to the art of assessing pain and suffering in BC Injury Claims.  As with any art ‘feel‘ becomes important and this is gained through time and experience.  The more cases you read, the better you will get at the art of valuing non-pecuniary damages and determining the potential value of any given BC Injury Claim.