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 ‘onset of pain in pre-existing arthritis’

$125,000 Non-Pecuniary Assessment for Neck and Back Fractures

March 22nd, 2018

Reasons for judgement were published today by the BC Supreme Court, Vernon Registry, assessing damages for a neck and back fracture caused by a vehicle collision.

In today’s case (Sommerville v. Munro) the Plaintiff was involved in a near head-on collision in 2015.  The Defendant admitted fault.  The crash caused a fracture to the Plaintiff’s neck at the C2 level and in his low back at the L4 vertebrae.  The Plaintiff was left with chronic and limiting back pain following the crash.

ICBC argued he would have been saddled with similar problems even if the crash never happened.  The Court found this position unpersuasive.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $125,000 Mr. Justice Smith provided the following reasons:

[17]        There is no question that the plaintiff suffered major trauma in the accident. The defendants do not dispute his evidence of symptoms and limitations, but say that he is overweight, in his sixties, and was previously engaged in back-breaking labour despite pre-existing back problems. They say there is at least a measurable risk that he would have suffered similar back pain even if the accident had never happened.

[18]        The defendants rely on the opinion of Dr. Julio Padilla, a neurosurgeon, whose report says the accident disabled the plaintiff for at least six months, but the spinal fractures are stable and the ongoing pain is the result of the progressing, pre-existing degenerative condition.

[19]        On cross-examination, Dr. Padilla agreed that, as a matter of logic, the accident likely contributed to the plaintiff’s current pain, but the degree of that contribution is impossible to quantify. He also agreed that it is impossible to predict when degenerative changes shown on an x-ray or CT scan will become symptomatic and it is reasonable to assume trauma will cause symptoms to appear sooner than they otherwise would.

[20]        In closing argument, counsel for the defendants conceded that the accident “triggered” the onset of pain.

[21]        Dr. Helper agrees there are multiple causes for the plaintiff’s current pain, but injuries caused by the accident are “a significant contributing factor” to the plaintiff’s back and leg pain. Although there was a previous history of some low back pain, he says the plaintiff would be unlikely to have his current symptoms but for the accident.

[22]        Dr. Helper relies in part on the fact that the facet block injections provided some relief. That shows the lumbar facet joints are a significant source of the plaintiff’s pain, which is consistent with the spinal fracture he sustained in the accident. He said the degenerative or arthritic changes in the low back would not necessarily have caused pain to the facet joints in the absence of the accident.

[23]        While Dr. Helper said that a degenerative spine can become painful with trauma, he agreed on cross-examination that such trauma could also come from activities like lifting or twisting.

[24]        Based on the medical evidence, it is likely that the plaintiff’s current pain comes partly from areas of the spine injured in the accident and partly from areas that were already compromised. However, I also accept the plaintiff’s evidence that, in the years between his retirement and the accident, any back pain he had was not significant. It clearly did not limit his activities.

[25]        The fact that severe back pain began so soon after the accident supports the inference, which the defendants concede, that the accident caused the pre-existing condition to become symptomatic. While the plaintiff was clearly at risk for increased back pain, there is no evidence that it was likely to develop either as quickly or to the same degree…

[34]        I have considered the cases put forward by both parties and the general considerations referred to in Stapley and find an appropriate award of non-pecuniary damages in this case to be $150,000, less a 10% reduction for the pre-existing condition. The net award for non-pecuniary loss is therefore $135,000.


More on Chronic Soft Tissue Injuries

August 11th, 2009

Today reasons for judgment were released by the BC Supreme Court in 2 separate cases dealing with chronic soft tissue injuries.  I summarize these below in my continued effort to grow this public database addressing awards for pain and suffering in ICBC and other BC Injury Claims.

In the first case (Warren-Skuggedal v. Eddy) the Plaintiff was involved in a very serious collision in Prince George, BC.  The defendant was “driving well in excess of the speed limit…(he) lost control and the truck swerved into the lane in which (the Plaintiff) was driving…the force of the impact tore (the defendants) vehicle in half“.

Fault was not at issue, rather, the court dealt solely with the issue of damages.  The Plaintiff unfortunately had some serious pre-existing health issues and Mr. Justice Sewell had to decide “the true extent of Ms. Warren-Skuggedal’s injuries and disabilities and the extent to which they are attributable to the injuries she suffered in the accident. ”

In valuing the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages at $60,000, Mr. Justice Sewell summarized her injuries, their relationship to the collision and their effect on her life as follows:

[19] I conclude that Ms. Warren-Skuggedal suffered soft tissue injuries in the accident which aggravated her pre-existing depression and anxiety.  I find that she genuinely experiences the symptoms she has described although I do think that she does exaggerate and dramatize them to a certain extent….

[23]         I conclude that some of the symptoms Ms. Warren-Skuggedal reports are attributable to the accident but that the more serious ones are attributable to her pre-existing condition.  Specifically I find that the anxiety, depression and cognitive problems she experiences are not caused by the accident.  As I understand the law in this area the onus is on Ms. Warren-Skuggedal to prove, on a balance of probabilities, that her symptoms would not be present but for the negligence of the defendant, which led to the injuries and trauma suffered in the accident.  I do not think that she has met that onus with respect to the difficulties described in this paragraph.  I think it is more likely that she would have continued to suffer from depression, anxiety and cognitive difficulties even if she had not been injured in the accident.  The difficulties were part of her original position.

[24]         I must also conclude that Ms. Warren-Skuggedal’s inability to find employment since the accident and any impairment of her capacity to earn income in the future are not attributable to the accident.  While I base this conclusion on the whole of the evidence I note that it is consistent with the opinions expressed by Dr. Reddy and Dr. Hirsch, both of whom concluded that the motor vehicle accident did not negatively affect her employment prospects.

[25]         On the other hand, I do conclude that Ms. Warren-Skuggedal does suffer chronic pain as a result of the defendant’s negligence.  I also find that it is likely that she will continue to suffer from that pain for the foreseeable future.  I also conclude that that pain has resulted in some permanent restriction of Ms. Warren-Skuggedal’s ability to enjoy recreational activities and carry out such household tasks as heavier cleaning and gardening.

This case contains a useful analysis of the Courts role in wading through injuries both related to and unrelated to an accident.  The full judgement is worth reviewing for anyone interested in this area of the law.

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The second case released today (Gordon v. Timins) involved a 2005 BC Car Crash.  The Plaintiff’s vehicle was rear-ended by a u-haul truck.  This collision was significant enough to propel the Plaintiff’s vehicle into the vehicle in front of her.

The Plaintiff’s main injury was chronic neck pain.  Mr. Justice Cullen awarded the Plaintiff $45,000 for non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life).  He summarized this lasting injury as follows “In the result Ms. Gordon is left with an injury to her neck that, I find, never fully abates and is aggravated by aspects of her work.  I also find that the plaintiff’s neck pain when aggravated is associated with headaches, some dizziness and impaired sleep patterns with consequential fatigue. ”

In reaching this conclusion the court largely accepted the evidence of Dr. Dhawan, a specialist in physiatry, whose evidence was summarized as follows:

[96]         Dr. Dhawan was a specialist in physiatry or physical medicine.  He testified that the neck has a complicated anatomy with soft and hard tissue structures.  It has ligaments in front and the muscles on top of that.  If the muscles or ligaments are torn, it can lead to instability of the structure.  Dr. Dhawan’s diagnosis of the plaintiff when he saw her on July 18, 2008 was that she had torn muscles and ligaments.  He said that ligaments take longer to heal than muscles because they have less blood supply.  Scar tissue can form and it is not as strong as the original ligament and can stretch or tear more easily and can remain inflamed after forming.  He testified that in the case of a rear-end accident, the usual source of pain is the upper facet joints.  In his report, he reported no boney discogenic or neurological injury, characterizing it as a soft tissue injury.  He noted that the plaintiff “was referred to Kevin Tam … who was able to help her tremendously.”  He noted that she has difficulty in extending her head upwards to prune trees.  He recommended injection therapy – local steroid and anaesthetic injections, 2 – 3 times over a 2 – 3 month period.  He testified that those injections with a stretching and posture control program could resolve the syndrome of soft tissue injury.

[97]         He opined there would be no permanent sequelae like development of arthritis or any need for surgery and no disability from her work as a landscaper/arborist.

[98]         Dr. Dhawan concluded, however, that given the chronicity of her symptoms “some symptoms of neck and shoulder girdle pain may remain on a longer term basis and she will have to learn to live with pain and a quick resolution of symptoms is not likely.”…

[100]     Dr. Dhawan noted that although the degenerative changes are unrelated to the motor vehicle accident, “…individuals who have such changes in the neck do not respond well through treatment and have more prolonged symptoms after soft tissue injuries and symptoms of neck pain may persist for several years and may become chronic.”

[101]     Dr. Dhawan noted in Appendix 3 to his July 18, 2008 report that the plaintiff’s neck extension was only 25% of normal without pain.  He concluded that that was an objective symptom and consistent with his diagnosis.