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 ‘neck injury’

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.


$45,000 Non-Pecuniary Damages Awarded for Chronic Mild-Moderate Soft Tissue Injury

June 15th, 2010

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vernon Registry, awarding a Plaintiff $85,000 in total damages for chronic soft tissue injuries.

In today’s case (Fennell v. Hiebert) the Plaintiff was involved in a motor vehicle collision when she was 10 years old.  She was a passenger in a van that was rearended by a pickup truck.  The collision was “sharp, sudden and unexpected” and was forceful enough to send the van off the road and into a ditch.

Fault was admitted.  The focus was the value of the Plaintiff’s claim.   The Plaintiff suffered soft tissue injuries to her neck and shoulder and these continued to bother her by the time of trial (12 years after the collision).

In assessing the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) at $45,000 Mr. Justice Rogers made the following findings:

[20]         On the whole, the evidence at trial was sufficient to establish that it was more likely than not that the motor vehicle accident caused the plaintiff to suffer a mild to moderate soft?tissue injury to her neck and right shoulder. That injury continued to be symptomatic in the two or three years after the accident. The symptoms were not particularly acute, as evidenced by the fact that experiencing them has faded from the plaintiff’s memory, but they were severe enough to prompt her to make complaints and to seek treatment from her chiropractor and family physician. Those symptoms began to be aggravated on a more regular basis when the plaintiff became old enough to participate in heavier chores around the family farm. They were also regularly aggravated by her work in the country feed store.

[21]         Dr. Vallentyne opined that the plaintiff is one of the 7 percent or so of soft tissue injury sufferers whose symptoms simply do not disappear with time. Given the persistence of the plaintiff’s symptoms since the accident, I am persuaded that Dr. Vallentyne’s opinion accurately describes the plaintiff’s situation. She does, in fact, have a soft tissue injury which does and will continue to cause pain in her neck and right shoulder. That pain comes on with heavy physical activity or when the plaintiff sits hunched over a desk for more than an hour or two…

[25]         In the plaintiff’s case, the injuries are permanent. They may become somewhat more tolerable if the plaintiff adheres to a structured exercise regimen, but they will nevertheless plague the plaintiff for the rest of her days. The injuries will bother her when she does particularly heavy work with her arms and shoulders, or when she sits for a prolonged period. The plaintiff will, however, be able to enjoy the vast majority of what life has to offer her.

[26]         In my view the proper award for non?pecuniary damages in this case is $45,000.


ICBC's Low Velocity Impact Program – Not a "Legal Principle"

March 24th, 2010

Reasons for judgement were published today on the BC Supreme Court website considering the Low Velocity Impact (LVI) defence in a car crash case.

In today’s case (Mavi v. Booth) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2006 rear-end collision in Langley, BC.  The rear motorist denied being at fault for the crash until the first day of trial when liability was admitted.   Despite admitting fault, the lawsuit was fought using the LVI defence with the Defendant’s lawyer arguing that the Plaintiff did not suffer any injuries “since it was a low-velocity impact.”

In support of his injuries the Plaintiff called evidence from Dr. Hirsch, a physiatrist, who provided the following testimony:

[11]    According to Dr. Hirsch, the expert physiatrist called on behalf of Mr. Mavi, the question of whether someone in Mr. Mavi’s position suffered an injury from a low-velocity impact depends on the change in velocity.  Dr. Hirsch’s evidence was:

A:         I see people who have car accidents like this and they’re not the driver and they walk away from that or they have relatively little symptoms.  I see people who have relatively little car damage.  You have to look not so much at the car but the change in velocity of the car.  So you could have very little damage because there was no absorption of power to the car but the car was accelerated forward.  And I don’t know that.  What I’m saying is that there’s not a direct correlation between car damage and injury to the living organ in the car.  It depends on the change in velocity.

Q:        The change in velocity is the more important factor to look at?

A:         For the occupant, yes.  The change in velocity…

Mr. Justice Walker fond that the Plaintiff indeed was injured in the crash despite there being little vehicle damage.   The Court awarded the Plaintiff $27,500 in non-pecuniary damages for his soft tissue injuries which were expected to make a full recovery.  In rejecting the LVI defence Mr. Justice Walker provided the following useful statement:

13]    In addition to it being unchallenged by rebuttal evidence, I found Dr. Hirsch’s evidence to be consistent, candid, logical and persuasive.  I found the evidence of Mr. Mavi’s general practitioner, Dr. Beytell, to be of the same persuasive effect.  Both Drs. Hirsch and Beytell opined that Mr. Mavi suffered injuries from the subject motor vehicle accident.

[14]    There is no rule of law or legal principle that a victim of a low-velocity rear-end impact does not suffer an injury compensable in law.  In each case, it is a question of fact.


Neck, Low Back and Knee Soft Tissue Injuries Discussed

March 2nd, 2010

Reasons for Judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry awarding a Plaintiff damages for injuries sustained in two BC motor vehicle collisions.

In today’s case (MacIntyre v. Pitt Meadows Secondary School) the Plaintiff was involved in a total of three seperate accidents and sued.  All three trials were heard together.  His claim for the first accident (a claim against his school for being injured while in shop class) was dismissed.  This left the court to deal with the Plaintiff’s motor vehicle accident claims.

The first motor vehicle collision happened in 2003.  The Plaintiff was 15 at the time.  He was struck by a vehicle at low speed on his right leg while he was walking in a crosswalk.  The issue of fault was admitted.  The Plaintiff suffered a knee injury and eventually had arthroscopic surgery.  Mr. Justice Butler awarded the Plaintiff $35,000 for his non-pecuniary damages as a result of this injury.  In arriving at this figure the Court highlighted the following facts:

86] There is no question that Evan’s right knee suffered a significant blow in the Second Accident.  He suffered discomfort and a restriction in his activities.  In the first three weeks after the Second Accident, Evan missed six full days of school.  He found it difficult to crouch or kneel and felt that the knee was unstable.  He was not able to carry out his part-time job as a football referee.  He used crutches for a month or two and then used a cane.  He found it difficult to use the crutches because this caused additional pain in his right wrist.  His parents rented a wheelchair for him to use at home.  He was unable to take part in part-time work over the Christmas holidays…

[100] There is no controversy between the expert orthopaedic surgeons regarding the nature of the injury and the current condition of Evan’s right knee.  The structural injury was mild.  If there was damage to the ACL, it was not significant and healed quickly.  As of the date of the arthroscopic investigation, the knee compartment exhibited no abnormalities as a result of the injury.  All of the doctors accept that there was a severe strain to the right knee.  The impact of the injury was likely worse than it would have been for most people because of the pre-existing laxity in Evan’s knee joint.

[101] The experts also agree that Evan should have been symptom free sometime after June 2006.  However, as Dr. McCormack notes, there is a small subset of individuals who continue to experience residual symptoms.  The question that remains is whether Evan falls within that small subset.  If I can accept Evan’s subjective complaints of continuing pain and limitation of movement, I can conclude that he falls within that small subset in that his condition has reached a plateau.  This question raises the issue of Evan’s credibility….

I have concluded that I cannot accept his evidence regarding the continuing symptoms that he says he has experienced and is currently experiencing as a result of the three accidents.  There are simply too many inconsistencies in his case to accept his assertions at face value…

[105] In summary, I find that Evan suffered a severe strain to his right knee as a result of the Second Accident.  There is no lasting damage to his knee compartment or the knee structure. There is no possibility of future problems with the knee as a result of the Second Accident.  I also find that Evan’s knee symptoms persisted longer than they would have normally because of the laxity in his knee joints.  I accept Dr. McCormack’s evidence that normally after a couple of months of therapy following arthroscopy patients are able to return to their pre-injury status.  In the circumstances of this case, I conclude that Evan’s knee functioned well within three or four months after the arthroscopy, although some activities continued to cause him pain or discomfort.  Specifically, I find that the symptoms persisted for four or five years…

[111] Taking into account the incapacity Evan suffered after the initial injury and after the surgery, the aggravated injury to his right wrist, and the persistence of the symptoms for four to five years, I fix non-pecuniary damages at $35,000.

The second accident was a rear-end car crash.  Fault was admitted.   The Court had some problems with the Plaintiff’s credibility but ultimately did find that the crash caused a compensable injury.  In assessing the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages at $22,500 for this crash Mister Justice Butler found as follows:

[132] On the basis of all of the evidence, I conclude that the Third Accident resulted in a soft tissue injury to the cervical and lumbar regions of Evan’s spine.  In general, I accept Dr. Hill’s opinion evidence regarding the nature and extent of the injury Evan suffered.  While I do not accept Evan’s complaints of ongoing pain, I find that his symptoms persisted somewhat longer than predicted by Dr. Hill.  Given the level of physical activity Evan was able to maintain in the years following the accident, I conclude that the impairment to his work and leisure activities was not significant.  By the date of the trial, approximately two years after the Third Accident, the injuries were substantially healed…

[135] Given my findings, the cases referred to by the plaintiff are of little assistance.  In light of my finding that Evan’s symptoms persisted for two years, the only case referred to by the defendants that has some similarity to the present case is Levasseur.  Of course, in addition to the soft tissue injuries, Evan also suffered from disruption to his vision, which resulted in the strabismus operation.  In all of the circumstances of this case, I assess non-pecuniary damages at $22,500.

In addition to the Court’s discussion of pain and suffering awards this decision is worth reviewing for the extensive reasons given with respect to credibility.  In a tort claim involving soft tissue injuries Plaintiff credibility plays a key role.  Here the Court made some unfavourable findings with respect to some of the Plaintiff’s evidence.   Some of the evidence that influenced the Court’s findings were “facebook photographs…(showing the Plaintiff) performing many other activities without apparent difficulty.” and video showing the Plaintiff “winning the limbo contest with an impressive limbo move“.  This case is worth a read to see the damaging impact photographic / video evidence can in BC injury litigation.


Non-Pecuniary Damages Discussed for Neck Soft Tissue Injury, Significant Low Back STI

March 1st, 2010

2 cases were released today by the BC Supreme Court dealing with non-pecuniary damages in auto-accident cases which I summarize below to add to this ever-growing free online  pain and suffering caselaw database.  The first case dealt with a soft tissue neck injury; the second with a ‘significant’ low back soft tissue injury.

In the first case (Berry v. LaBelle), the Plaintiff was injured in a 2006 rear-end crash.  Fault was admitted leaving the Court to deal with the value of the claim.

The Plaintiff was a 42 year old drywaller at the time of the accident.  He sued for various damages including past loss of income and diminished earning capacity.  At trial he asked for some $600,000 in total damages for his injuries and losses.  He alleged that he suffered from left handed weakness as a result of the collision which negatively affected his ability to work.  After 4 days of trial, however, his claim proved largely unsuccessful being awarded $0 for his loss of income / diminished earning capacity claims.  The Court did find that the Plaintiff suffered a compensable injury and awarded the Plaintiff damages for non-pecuniary loss (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life).

Specifically Madam Justice Baker found that “the only injury resulting from the motor vehicle accident…is a strain to the soft tissues on the left side of the neck“.  In assessing the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages at $30,000 the Court noted the following:

[51] Nevertheless, I am satisfied that the strain to the soft tissues on the left side of Mr. Berry’s neck did cause him discomfort for several months after the accident, although it appears that injury did not actually impair range of motion in the neck.  Mr. Berry had full range of motion in his neck the day after the accident; Dr. Fehlau described the range of motion as “good” when Mr. Berry was seen at her clinic on August 17, 2006.  Massage therapy alleviated the discomfort but only temporarily; physiotherapy had more lasting benefits.  The pain did not incapacitate Mr. Berry at work, although he modified some of his tasks to accommodate the injury.

[52] By no later than October 2006 – seven months after the accident, Mr. Berry had returned to his favourite recreational activity – dirt-biking.  According to Mr. Berry’s description, and those of his friend Mr. Van Lingen, cross-country dirt-biking is a very strenuous and even hazardous recreational activity.  Mr. Berry told Dr. Fehlau on October 24, 2006 that his neck became sore after one-half hour of dirt-biking.   I accept that Mr. Berry initially moderated the intensity of his dirt-bike excursions.  However, Mr. Van Lingen testified that before the bike accident in September 2008, Mr. Berry was back to riding as he had before the March 2006 motor vehicle accident.

[53] Mr. Berry and his wife both testified that the neck discomfort had a negative effect on their sexual relationship.  They testified that before the accident, they had sexual intercourse two or three times every day, but that the frequency diminished after the accident because Mr. Berry experienced neck pain during intercourse, particularly when certain positions were attempted.  Mr. Berry and his wife both testified that Mr. Berry was less patient and more irritable when his neck was sore.

[54] Mr. Berry testified that he has given up river kayaking and golfing because of his injuries but I am not persuaded this is true.  Mr. Berry has not made a serious attempt to engage in either of these activities since the accident.  He testified he had gone kayaking once on a lake, and had not attempted river kayaking.  He had not attempted to play golf.  Given that Mr. Berry has been able to continue to do very heavy physical labour at work, and resumed cross-country dirt-biking within seven months after the accident, I do not accept that he is incapacitated from playing a few games of golf annually, or kayaking on a river.  I think it more likely that Mr. Berry has changed his recreational focus to activities he can enjoy with his wife and young son, and to a new interest – on-line computer games – which Ms. Schroeder testified that Mr. Berry plays for hours at a time.

[55] I am satisfied that Mr. Berry has recovered from the injuries caused by the accident.  I consider that an award of $30,000 to be adequate compensation for the temporary impact Mr. Berry’s neck injury has had on his enjoyment of life and, in particular, the discomfort he has experienced when lifting heavy materials at work; while engaging in strenuous recreational activities; and during intimate relations with his spouse.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

The second case released today (Demarzo v. Michaud) considered the onset of pain in a pre-existing but asymptomtic condition, namely a degenerative spine.

The Plaintiff was involved in a March, 2005 rear end collision.  Fault was admitted.  The Court heard evidence that the Plaintiff suffered from relatively severe back pain following this collision.  The parties differed on whether the Defendant was legally responsible for this.  The Defendant argued that he was not stating that the accident related injuries were minor and that a ‘pre-existing degenerative spine‘ and a subsequent event (an incident where the Plaintiff was lifting weights and aggravated her back pain) were responsible for the symptoms. The Defendant argued that the Plaintiff would have experienced her back pain as a matter of course even without the rear-end crash.  (note: this type of a ‘causation’ argument is often advanced at trial in personal injury lawsuits involving plaintiff’s with degenerative changes in their spine).

Mr. Justice Brown largely agreed with the Plaintiff and awarded just over $350,000 in total damages including $85,000 for her non-pecuniary damages.  Specifically he found that the Plaintiff suffered from a “significant soft tissue injury to her lower back” which resulted in chronic symptoms.   In navigating through the Defenses raised and awarding damages Mr. Justice Brown noted the following:

[51] I find that the plaintiff sustained a significant soft tissue injury to her lower back but it is not possible to unravel the plaintiff’s clinical history in such a way that allows a conclusive evidentiary finding on the specific medical legal question of when the plaintiff sustained her annular tear.

[52] The plaintiff’s lower back symptoms have become chronic and I accept Dr. Leete, Dr. Filbey’s medical opinions that she will continue to experience intermittent lower back complaints, especially related to certain activities. This is far from what she was able to do before the accident.

[53] As for the defendant’s contention that the plaintiff’s landscaping activities produced her degenerated spine and that this is the ultimate cause of her symptoms, I prefer the opinions of Dr. Leete and Dr. Filbey that there is no sound medical basis for the proposition that because someone over the years has been active in sports and worked as a landscaper, they are necessarily predisposed to development of degenerative changes in the spine or that such changes are associated with back pain. I understood from the evidence of Dr. Leete and Dr. Filbey that one patient may present with images of a markedly degenerated spine and have no history of symptoms, while another patient may present with marked symptoms, and have images of a perfectly normal spine. I also find that there is no sound medical basis for concluding that the plaintiff would have suffered the symptoms and limitations that she has experienced or that her degenerative spine would have inevitably become symptomatic, absent inducement of symptoms by the trauma of the motor vehicle accident.

[54] The plaintiff’s position is that when she lifted the dumbbells, she experienced immediate onset of pain in the same area she injured in the accident; that this was an exacerbation of the plaintiff’s unresolved injuries; and that there is no evidence to show that she would have experienced her continuing symptoms but for the injuries she sustained in the accident. On the balance of probabilities, I agree with the plaintiff’s position. I find that but for the accident the plaintiff would not have suffered the pain and disability she experienced after accident, including the exacerbation of her injuries on May 29, 2005 and acute flare-up with neurological symptoms in November 2005…

[57] The plaintiff has never returned to her former work as a landscaper or to any of her former recreational activities, at least not with any degree of intensity. She is still unable to play volleyball, cannot run long distances, although she did try running in the last month but at a far lower level than before. She no longer exercises at the gym. She does not enjoy movies in theatres because she finds sitting for long periods very uncomfortable. She explained that the last time she went out with friends, she felt very uncomfortable, but suffered through it as she was too embarrassed to leave. Given her enjoyment of sports and active lifestyle shared with her husband, as well as the loss of her former capacity to be active, this represents a substantial loss for the plaintiff as a person and a spouse. Although the plaintiff will likely improve somewhat in the future, I accept that she will not ever be able return to her former level of participation in recreational activities or regain her former physical capacities; and will continue to experience varying degrees of chronic back pain that will necessitate alteration of her lifestyle.

[58] The accident depressed the plaintiff’s mood, leading to a marriage separation in early spring 2007. Mr. Saliken testified that the plaintiff became depressed, unhappy about living with him in Nanaimo, impatient and angry. Making matters worse was the apparent mindset of Mr. Saliken’s family, who were impatient with the pace of the plaintiff’s recovery and kept asking why she could not work. The plaintiff’s feelings of frustration, augmented by her feelings of diminishment in the eyes of her husband’s family, who she did not yet know well and who had “never seen how hard she could work”, and her feeling that she had become a drain on the household combined with other aggravating factors, ultimately led to arguments and her two months separation from her husband. Fortunately, their bond and commitment to one another were strong enough to allow the plaintiff and Mr. Saliken to weather these adverse emotional affects of the accident and they reconciled. Nonetheless, the plaintiff’s separation from her husband and her emotional distress are emblematic of the degree of suffering and loss of enjoyment of life the plaintiff has experienced. She is entitled to a substantial award for pain and suffering and loss of the enjoyment of life. Bearing in mind that while she will receive compensation for her loss of earning capacity, she has still lost the enjoyment and satisfaction she experienced in her chosen career. I award the plaintiff $85,000 for non pecuniary damages.


$45,000 Non-Pecuniary Damages for Soft Tissue Injuries to Back, Neck and Shoulders

February 1st, 2010

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Victoria Registry, awarding a Plaintiff just over $88,000 in total damages as a result of a 2006 BC car crash.

In today’s case (Dutchak v. Fowler) the Plaintiff was involved in a rear-end collision.  Fault was admitted by the Defence lawyer leaving the Court to deal with the sole issue of quantum of damages (value of the injury claim).  The Plaintiff suffered various soft tissue injuries which continue to bother her by the time of trial and these had a likelihood of continuing indefinitely into the future.  In assessing the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages at $45,000 Mr. Justice Sewell made the following observations about the severity of the accident related injuries:

22] While I accept that Ms. Dutchak has genuine symptoms, I do have some concerns that she has unrealistic expectations about the consequences of the physical activities in which she engages.  Ms. Dutchak runs 30 to 40 kms a week.  She also regularly exercises vigorously, plays squash three times a week and cycles for long distances on a regular basis.  These activities undoubtedly cause physiological stresses on her anatomy.

[23] It is apparent that engaging in these physical activities is an important part of Ms. Dutchak’s relationship with her husband.  Both Ms. Dutchak and her husband continue to place a high level of importance on physical activity and a good deal of their personal interactions with one another revolves around physical fitness and exercise activities.  In addition Ms. Dutchak’s self esteem is quite dependent on being fit and active.

[24] I have concluded that Ms. Dutchak is now able to engage in almost all of the activities she did before the accident, but at a price.  That price is a much higher level of pain and discomfort than before the accident.

[25] The preponderance of evidence before me satisfies me that it is unlikely that Ms. Dutchak’s symptoms will completely disappear.  However, I am also of the view that there is a reasonable possibility that she will experience some continued improvement as she adjusts to her altered circumstances…

[28] In the result, I conclude that Ms. Dutchak has suffered soft-tissue injuries to her upper back, shoulders and neck which have resulted in stiffness, pain and headaches, all of which are significantly aggravated by strenuous physical activity.  She continues to experience those symptoms.  My conclusion is that there is some prospect of continued improvement but that in assessing damages in this case, I should proceed on the basis that Ms. Dutchak will continue to suffer these symptoms indefinitely.  On the other hand, I also conclude that Ms. Dutchak is now able to perform virtually all of the tasks and activities that she did prior to the accident and, in particular, is able to engage in vigorous physical activity.  In carrying out these activities she has no mechanical limitations.  The only restriction on these activities is the pain which they cause.

[29] I have also concluded that Ms. Dutchak is highly motivated to continue with these activities and, in fact, is continuing to perform and engage in them notwithstanding the level of pain and the headaches that she experiences as a result…

In my view, this case is one in which an award of non-pecuniary damages should be at the lower end of the range for cases involving chronic pain.  I say this because Ms. Dutchak is able to engage in all of the activities she formerly did with the assistance of analgesic medicines and in the full knowledge that engaging in activities will often trigger pain for her.  In all the circumstances I award Ms. Dutchak $45,000 for non-pecuniary damages.


Non-Pecuniary Damages for Chronic Soft Tissue Injuries Discussed

January 27th, 2010

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, considering the value of chronic soft tissue injuries following a motor vehicle collision.

In today’s case (Harris v. Zabaras) the Plaintiff was injured in a pretty forceful rear-end collision involving two pick up trucks.  Fault for the crash was admitted leaving the Court to focus on the extent and value of injuries and loss.

The Plaintiff suffered from soft tissue injuries to his neck and upper back in the collision.  The injuries, while they improved somewhat by the time of trial, were expected to have some lasting consequences.  In assessing the non-pecuniary damages at $50,000 Madam Justice Schultes provided the following analysis:

[66] Adjusted to current dollars, a guide to the range of awards for soft tissue injuries accompanied by emotional problems such as sleep disruption, nervousness or depression is approximately $42,000 – $150,000: Unger v. Singh, 2000 BCCA 94 at para. 32…

[68] When characterizing the effects of the plaintiff’s injuries for the purposes of non-pecuniary damages, I do not think it is helpful to attempt to choose between the labels of “mild” and “mild to moderate” that have been offered by two of the medical witnesses. At the end of the day, what is important is the pain the plaintiff experiences as a result of the injuries and how that impacts his life.

[69] In that regard, while there has been some reduction in the frequency of the plaintiff’s headaches, he remains subject to neck and left arm pain whenever he undertakes strenuous physical activity. As Dr. Travlos put it, “he will generally pay the consequences for doing such activities”.

[70] The extent of his resulting disability is that he must either avoid strenuous physical activity or divide it into more manageable chunks that will not provoke symptoms. This compromises his ability to engage fully in the recreational building or maintenance activities that have previously been a source of pleasure to him and in turn has led to a level of depression in the face of his more limited prospects.

[71] Even if he is able to relieve his symptoms somewhat through the steps that have been recommended to him, the consensus of medical opinion is that they will persist.

[72] However I note that the plaintiff speaks of being unable for the most part to engage in these activities any longer whereas Dr. Travlos has encouraged him to continue to be as active as possible, bearing in mind that his capacity for working continuously will be reduced and that he will experience pain as a result.

[73] This relates to Dr. Devonshire’s observation that the plaintiff may be over-rating his pain, because he has not required any “significant analgesia” ( by which I think she means prescription- level painkillers) to control it.

[74] While I am satisfied that the physical symptoms that the plaintiff, his wife and the Grieves have described are genuine, he nevertheless appears to view them as imposing somewhat greater limitations on his physical activities than may actually be the case.

[75] Perhaps the fairest way to characterize the effect of his symptoms is that they place meaningful restrictions on his ability to pursue strenuous physical activities in the manner and to the extent that he previously did…

[79] Taking into account all of the circumstances and the authorities, I think that an award of $50,000 for non-pecuniary damages is appropriate in this case. In arriving at this amount I am mindful of the fact that the award in Hanna, when adjusted to current dollars, falls within a similar range, even though it involved a brachial plexus injury. The effect on the plaintiff in that case however, was quite similar to the plaintiff’s situation, so I do not think that diagnosis in itself limits its applicability.

The Plaintiff’s damages were reduced by 10% for failing to take some steps which could have improved his accident related symptoms.  The court’s discussion of ‘failure to mitigate’ set out at paragraphs 80-88 of the reasons for judgement are worth reviewing for a quick introduction to this area of personal injury law.


$75,000 Non Pecuniary Damages Awarded for Chronic Soft Tissue Neck Injury

January 6th, 2010

Reasons for judgement were released yesterday by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, awarding a Plaintiff just over $156,000 in total damages as a result of damages and loss from a BC Car Crash.

In yesterday’s case (Szymanski v. Morin) the Plaintiff was involved in a rear end collision in 2004.  Liability (Fault) was admitted by the Defendants leaving the court to deal with the value of the Claim.

The Plaintiff suffered mild/moderate soft tissue injuries but due to the nature of his physical work (a hard-wood floor installer) his injury continued to be aggravated and symptomatic through trial some 5 years later.

In valuing the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) Madam Justice Ker highlighted the following facts with respect to the accident related injuries:

[134] Upon a consideration of all of the evidence, I find that Mr. Szymanski’s complaint of continuing neck and trapezius pain was caused by the accident.  The fact that he suffered soft tissue injuries to his neck is not disputed.  The significance in this case is that the complaint continues.  I find that Mr. Szymanski continues to suffer neck and trapezius pain and that is because the accident and injuries occurred to a person with Mr. Szymanski’s particular occupation such that it has made it difficult for the injuries to fully resolve in the ordinary course.  As noted in the evidence of Dr. Tomaszewski, Dr. Hershler and Ms. Quastel, which I accept, Mr. Szymanski’s occupation as a hardwood floor installed has exacerbated the situation and made him more susceptible to suffering injury for a greater period of time than a normal person might have.  Mr. Szymanski has established that he has continuing problems with chronic neck pain and his continuing problems were caused by the defendants’ negligence.  He is entitled to be compensated for his injuries…

[142] I accept Mr. Szymanski’s evidence that he sustained a soft tissue injury to the left side of his neck as a result of the accident and that he still experiences pain in the left side of his neck that radiates into his upper left trapezius muscle area.  The injury can be described as mild to moderate in nature but has developed an element of chronic pain that continues to bother Mr. Szymanski.  The pain is most evident when Mr. Szymanski works.  His job as a hardwood floor installer is physically demanding although he has been able to find contracts that are less demanding than what he undertook prior to the accident.  This chronic neck pain still manifests itself some four years after the accident, albeit significantly reduced from what it was immediately after the accident and the two years following the accident.

[143] Mr. Szymanski is a stoic and determined person.  Despite the neck and upper left trapezius pain he has tried to remain physically active but is less active than he was prior to the accident.  He no longer goes for long hikes, electing shorter slower walks, he no longer canoes, he hunts less than he did prior to the accident, primarily by reducing the number of hours he goes out hunting.  His injuries have impacted on his ability to contribute to various household chores such as vacuuming and washing dishes, and he is not able to conduct the home renovations at the pace he had set before the accident.  He no longer socializes to the extent he used to prior to the accident because of the chronic pain and fatigue he experiences.  His plan of retiring and building and opening a bed and breakfast may well be compromised by the continuing pain he experiences and thus is a further component in the assessment of impairment and loss of his previous lifestyle.

[144] Taking into account all of these circumstances, the referenced authorities and the nature of Mr. Szymanski’s injuries, the fact that the injury of real consequence was to the left side of his neck, and the upper left trapezius muscles that lead to his left shoulder, the relatively enduring nature of this injury, the pain he has suffered and may continue to experience in the future, as well as the fact that he suffered some diminishment in lifestyle, I assess non-pecuniary damages in the amount of $75,000.


Gaps in Medical Treatment in ICBC Injury Claims

December 12th, 2009

If you are involved in an ICBC Injury Claim and have significant gaps in your medical treatment will that reduce the value of compensation you are entitled to?  The answer is not necessarily.  If the gaps in medical treatment are unreasonable and the evidence demonstrates that more frequent medical intervention would have improved the course of recovery then the claim can be reduced for “failure to mitigate“.  However, a gap in medical treatment in and of itself will not reduce a claim for damages and reasons for judgement were released yesterday by the BC Supreme Court demonstrating this.

In yesterday’s case (Sidhu v. Liang) the Plaintiff was injured in 2 BC Car Crashes, the first in 2004 and the second in 2008.  He was not at fault for either crash.  He sued as a result of both accidents and the trials were heard at the same time.  The Court was asked to deal with the value of these ICBC Claims.  In the years from the first collision to the time of trial there were some significant gaps in accident related medical appointments.  One such gap was over 25 months.  The Defence Lawyer argued that the Plaintiff’s injuries were minor and healed quickly as evidenced by the significant gap in treatments.

Madam Justice Russell rejected this argument and held “I am prepared to conclude on the balance of probabilities of the evidence, that the current soft tissue injuries the plaintiff exhibits and the continuing pain that he has suffered are a result of the first accident which have continued to date, and have been aggravated by the second accident and therefore would not have occurred but for the defendants’ negligence.  I believe the plaintiff has continued to experience this pain despite the gap in his treatment, and while work has aggravated it, there is no evidence of an intervening event that could be attributed as the cause.”

The Court went on to award the Plaintiff $36,000 in Non-Pecuniary Damages.   In doing so Madam Justice Russell summarized the accident related injuries and their effect on the Plaintiff as follows:

67] The plaintiff’s position, which I accept, is that the medical evidence establishes that the first accident caused musculoligamentous injuries to his neck, back, hips, and elbows, resulting in chronic, persistent pain which continues to restrict his vocational, social and recreational activities.  Furthermore, the second accident caused a minor aggravation of the musculoligamentous injury to his neck.

[68] As a result of the injuries he sustained, the plaintiff has experienced functional limitations due to ongoing symptoms in his neck and left upper back, as well as residual symptoms in the elbows, and mid to low back.  These injuries interfere with his work ability as well as his ability to do chores and participate in his family construction project.  His wife and father have had to take on the physical household chores.  His wife testified that he became less physically active and has decreased his participation in family activities.  The plaintiff’s wife also testified that his pain has caused him to be moody and he also claims to have experienced emotional difficulties in the form of increased stress as a result of the accident.  Because of his modified work ability, the jobs he can take require him to work longer hours for less money and therefore he is facing increasing financial pressures, has less free time and therefore has decreased his social activities, all of which he asserts leads to his stress…

[71] While I have concluded that, according to the medical evidence, the accidents were the cause of the injuries, these injuries are improving, albeit slowly.  Dr. Gandham has estimated that the plaintiff will recover within two years and Dr. Heshler gives a similar guarded prognosis.  Dr. Connell is also optimistic.  Given that the plaintiff is young and healthy with a good prognosis for recovery, I am convinced that he will make a full recovery and thus assess his damages at 80% of the amount put forward by counsel, as I note the amount suggested is the upper range for these types of injuries.


$8,000 Non-Pecuniary Damages for "Not Substantial" Soft Tissue Injuries

December 7th, 2009

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, (Gradek v. DhaimlerChrystler) awarding a Plaintiff just under $10,000 in total damages as a result of a 2006 BC Car Crash.

The collision occurred in an intersection as the Plaintiff was attempting to drive through.  The Defendant made a left hand turn in front of the Plaintiff.  Both Liability (Fault) and Quantum of Damages (Value of the case) where at issue.  The Court found that the left hand turner was 100% responsible for the crash. Paragraphs 21-34 of the case are worth reviewing for a good discussion of the law concerning fault for intersection crashes.

Mr. Justice Savage found that the Plaintiff “exaggerated the impact of his injuries” and that he suffered nothing more than relatively minor soft tissue injuries.  In assessing the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) at $8,000 the Court summarized the Plaintiff’s injuries as follows:

[35] Gradek’s evidence regarding the impact of the injury on him is at times contradictory and confusing.  Gradek evidence contradicts that of his physician, Dr. Milne, who was called as a witness by Gradek, was qualified as an expert, filed an expert report and testified.

[36] Gradek description of the impact, however, accords with the somewhat unusual damage caused to the left front bumper of his vehicle.  With respect to the impact of the accident on him, I accept the evidence of Dr. Milne where Gradek’s evidence conflicts with that of Dr. Milne.  I find that Gradek has exaggerated the impact of his injuries.

[37] Dr. Milne testified that he found objective signs of injury on examination which he conducted on May 15, 2006.  The accident occurred on May 13, 2006.  Gradek was seen in Dr. Milne’s office but by another physician on May 14, 2006.  Gradek was diagnosed with soft tissue injuries, namely, a tender Trapezii muscles and tender Latissimus dorsi muscle.  He was prescribed Flexiril for ten days and Naprosyn for ten days.  Gradek was prescribed physiotherapy.  He was off work.  On May 23rd, he was much better but lower back and neck pain persisted as did the objective signs of injury.  Gradek was advised to continue to physiotherapy and to return to work on May 29, 2006.

[38] Gradek was seen again on May 30, 2006 he said he was 50 percent improved but unable to return to work.  He was advised to return to work on June 5, 2006, which he did.  Gradek was seen again on June 19, 2006 and July 3, 2006.  He had continuing minor complaints that were not severe enough to warrant prescription medication.

[39] Gradek was next seen in December 2006 where he reported minor complaints for two days, but had been fine for the last four to five months.  He was prescribed Naprosyn for five days.  Gradek was not seen again until May 5, 2007 where he had a headache and neck pain for three days.  Gradek reported that he had no pain between August 2006 and May 2007 other than for two days in December 2006 and three days in May 2007.

[40] Gradek was last seen by Dr. Milne June 15, 2009.  There were no specific complaints although he was still experiencing occasional right side pain.  This did not prevent him from engaging in vigorous exercise.  I accept Dr. Milne’s summary as a fair summary of the injuries and consequences with one exception, as noted below.  Dr. Milne summarizes:

In summary, Mr. Gradek Henryk was involved in a motor vehicle accident in May 13, 2006.  He incurred soft tissue injuries to the neck and lower back which resulted in him missing 4 weeks of work in 2006.  His injuries were not substantial and he shows no evidence of long term damage as a result of this motor vehicle accident.

The parties agree that Dr. Milne’s reference to four weeks of missed work in 2006 is in error as earlier in the report he specifies three weeks which is also consistent with employer records.