As regular readers of this blog know, I try to avoid ‘round up‘ posts and do my best to provide individual case summaries for BC Supreme Court injury judgements. Sometimes, however, the volume of decisions coupled with time constraints makes this difficult. After wrapping up holidays in the lovely City of Kelowna this is one of those times so here is a soft tissue injury round up of recent BC injury caselaw.
In the first case (Olynyk v. Turner) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2008 rear-end collision. Fault was admitted. He was 43 at the time and suffered a variety of soft tissue injuries to his neck and back. His symptoms lingered to the time of trial although the Court found that the Plaintiff unreasonably refused to follow his physicians advise with respect to treatment. In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $40,000 (then reduced by 30% to reflect the Plaintiff’s ‘failure to mitigate’) Mr. Justice Barrow provided the following reasons:
I find that Mr. Olynyk suffered a soft tissue injury to his neck and low back. I would describe the former as mild and the later as moderate. There is no necessary correlation between the amount of medication consumed, the frequency of visits to the doctor, or the nature of the attempts to mitigate the effects of one’s injuries and the severity of those injuries and their consequences. There may be many explanations for such a lack of congruity: a person may be particularly stoic or may have an aversion to taking medication for example. On the one hand, in the absence of such an explanation, when there is a significant disconnect between these two things, that can be a reason for treating self reports of pain and limitation with caution…
Given that it is now three years post accident, I am satisfied that Mr. Olynyk’s pain is likely permanent, although as Mr. Olynyk told Dr. Laidlow in the fall of 2011, his symptoms improved in the years since the accident, inasmuch as his level of pain declined as did the frequency of more significant episodes. Leaving aside the issue of his pre-existing back problems, and in view of the authorities referred to above, I consider that an award of non-pecuniary damages of $40,000 is appropriate. In reaching this conclusion, I have taken account of the dislocation that the plaintiff’s loss of employment has caused him. That loss is greater than the mere loss of income that it occasioned and for which separate compensation is in order. The plaintiff had to move to a different community to take a job that he was physically able to do. That is a matter of some consequence.
The next issue is the effect of the plaintiff’s pre-existing back problems. According to Dr. Laidlow because of the plaintiff’s spondylolisthesis, and given the heavy nature of his work, he likely would have experienced back problems similar to those he now experiences in 10 years even if he had not been involved in an accident.
As noted above, such future risks or contingencies are taken into account through a combination of their likely effect and the relative likelihood of them coming to pass (Athey at para. 27). I find that there was a 60 percent likelihood that Mr. Olynyk would experience the same symptoms he now experiences in 10 years in any event. It is not appropriate to reduce the award for general damages by 60 percent to account for that likelihood because the pre-existing condition would not have given rise to symptoms and limitations for 10 years. Mr. Olynyk is now 47 years old. I think it reasonable to reduce the award for general damages to account for his pre-existing condition by 30 percent.
The plaintiff is entitled to $28,000 in general damages ($40,000 less 30 percent). That amount must be further reduced to account for Mr. Olynyk’s failure to mitigate. The net award of non-pecuniary damages is therefore $22,400.
In the second case released this week (Scoffield v. Jentsch) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2009 collision on Vancouver Island. Although the Defendant admitted fault there was “a serious dispute between the plaintiff and the defendant as to the severity of the force of impact“.
Mr. Justice Halfyard noted several ‘concerns about the Plaintiff’s credibility‘ and went on to find that the impact was quite minor finding as follows:
I find that, after initially coming to a full stop, the defendant’s vehicle was moving very slowly when it made contact with the rear bumper of the plaintiff’s car. The plaintiff’s car was not pushed forward. The damage caused by the collision was minor. The force of the impact was low. The defendant backed his car up after the collision, and the bits of plastic picked up by the plaintiff some distance behind her car, fell away from his car as he was backing up. I do not accept the plaintiff’s estimate that the closest pieces of plastic on the roadway were eight feet behind the bumper of her car.
Despite this finding and the noted credibility concerns, the Court found that the Plaintiff did suffer soft tissue injuries to her neck and upper back and awarded non-pecuniary damages of $30,000. In doing so Mr. Justice Halfyard provided the following reasons:
The defendant admits that the plaintiff sustained injury to the soft tissues of her neck, upper back and shoulders as a result of the collision of April 9, 2009. I made that finding of fact. But the plaintiff alleges that the degree of severity of the injury was moderate, whereas the defence argues that it was only mild, or mild to moderate in degree…
I find that, from April 16, 2009 until August 9, 2009, the pain from the injury prevented the plaintiff from working. After that, she was able to commence a gradual return to working full-time, which took a further two months until October 10, 2009. For the first four months after the accident, the pain from the injury prevented the plaintiff from engaging in her former recreational and athletic activities. She gradually resumed her former activities after that time. I find that, by the spring of 2010, the plaintiff had substantially returned to the level of recreational and athletic activities that she had done before the accident. After that time, any impairment of the plaintiff’s physical capacity to work or to do other activities was not caused by the injury she sustained in the accident on April 9, 2009…
The plaintiff must be fairly compensated for the amount of pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life that she has incurred by reason of the injury caused by the defendant’s negligence. In light of the findings of fact that I have outlined above, I have decided that the plaintiff should be awarded $30,000.00 as damages for non-pecuniary loss.
(UPDATE March 19, 2014 - the BC Court of Appeal overturned the liability split below to 75/25 in the Plaintiff’s favour)
In this week’s third case, (Russell v. Parks) the pedestrian Plaintiff was injured in a parking lot collision with a vehicle. The Court found that both parties were to blame for the impact but the Plaintiff shouldered more of the blame being found 66.3% at fault.
The Plaintiff suffered a fracture to the fifth metacarpal of his right foot and a chronic soft tissue injury to his knee. The latter injury merged with pre-existing difficulties to result in on-going symptoms. In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $45,000 (before the reduction to account for liability) Mr. Justice Abrioux provided the following reasons:
I make the following findings of fact based on my consideration of the evidence both lay and expert as a whole:
(a) the plaintiff’s “original position” immediately prior to the Accident included the following:
·being significantly overweight and deconditioned;
·having a hypertension condition which had existed for many years;
·asymptomatic degenerative osteoarthritis to both knees, more significant to the right than the left; and
·symptomatic left foot and ankle difficulties.
(b) prior to the Accident, the plaintiff’s weight and deconditioning, together with the left foot and ankle difficulties caused him to live a rather sedentary lifestyle. Although he was able to work from time to time and participate in certain leisure activities, these were lessening as he grew older.
(c) the Accident did not cause the degenerative osteoarthritis in the right knee to become symptomatic. It did, however, cause a soft-tissue injury which continued to affect the plaintiff to some extent at the time of trial.
(d) the plaintiff’s ongoing difficulties are multifactoral. They include:
·his ongoing weight and conditioning problems. Although Mr. Russell’s pre-Accident weight and lack of conditioning would likely have affected his work and enjoyment of the amenities of life even if the Accident had not occurred, the injuries which he did sustain exacerbated that pre-existing condition;
·the plaintiff’s pre-existing but quiescent cardiac condition would have materialized the way it did even if the Accident had not occurred. This condition would have affected his long term day-to-day functioning including his ability to earn an income;
·notwithstanding this, the injuries sustained in the Accident, particularly the right knee, continue to affect his ongoing reduced functioning. This will continue indefinitely, to some degree, although some weight loss and an exercise rehabilitation program will likely assist him;
·an exercise and weight loss program would have been of benefit to the plaintiff even if the Accident had not occurred.,,
From the mid range amount of approximately $60,000 I must take into account the plaintiff’s original position and the measurable risk the pre-Accident condition would have affected the plaintiff’s life had the Accident not occurred. Accordingly, I award non pecuniary damages in the amount of $45,000.
In the final case (Hill v. Swayne) the 35 year old Plaintiff was involved in a 2009 collision. Fault was admitted by the Defendant. The Plaintiff sustained soft tissue injuries to his neck and back. The Court noted some reliability issues with the Plaintiff’s evidence and found his collision related injuries were largely resolved by the time of trial. In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $20,000 Mr. Justice Armstrong provided the following reasons:
Mr. Hill suffered a neck strain and lumbar strain and received 13 physiotherapy treatments ending February 2, 2010. He was absent from work from December 14, 2009 to January 4, 2010..
I accept that an injury of the type suffered by Mr. Hill was particularly troublesome in light of the heavy work in his role as a journeyman/foreman roofer. A back injury to a person in his circumstances, even if not disabling in itself, would require extra care and watchfulness on the job to ensure that the injury is not exacerbated. In considering the criteria in Stapely, it is significant that Mr. Hill, who was a heavy lifting labourer, injured his back and that the injury has lingering effects. The injuries have minimally impacted his lifestyle, and he has dealt stoically with his employment.
The severity of his pain was modest and the extent to which the duration of his discomfort was related to the accident is uncertain. However, I accept that there is some connection between the collision and his ongoing complaints.
I have considered various cases cited by counsel and additionally referred to the Reichennek case. Although comparisons are of some assistance, I am to focus on the factors set out by the Court of Appeal and the specific circumstances of the plaintiff in this particular case. In the final analysis, I would award the plaintiff non-pecuniary damages of $20,000.