$120,000 Non-Pecuniary Assessment for Soft Tissue Injuries with Disabling "Pain Disorder"

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, assessing damages for a chronic pain disorder caused by two vehicle collisions.
In today’s case (Litt v. Guo) the Plaintiff was involved in two collisions, the first in 2003, the second in 2010.  The Plaintiff was not at fault for either.  The Court found both collisions caused various soft tissue injuries which went on to form a chronic pain disorder which was largely disabling for the Plaintiff.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $120,000 Mr. Justice Schultes provided the following reasons:

[371]     In summary, I will make the following findings on causation and the current state of Ms. Litt’s injuries:

·                 Ms. Litt suffered moderate soft tissue injuries to her neck, shoulders and back in the 2003 and 2010 accidents, which would not have been significantly disabling in themselves.

·                 Her physical injuries from the 2003 accident had receded to a manageable level by the time of the 2010 accident, but those injuries were aggravated by the 2010 accident.

·                 Ms. Litt developed a pain disorder as a result of the 2010 accident.

·                 Ms. Litt’s pre-existing anorexia nervosa and depression made her more vulnerable to developing depression and other psychological difficulties after the 2003 accident and to developing a pain disorder after the 2010 accident.

·                 Despite the other stressors in her life, Ms. Litt would not have suffered any disabling reappearance of her pre-existing conditions if the accidents had not occurred.

·                 There is a possibility of a continued improvement to her functioning and her capacity for employment, based on her self-described improvements to her outlook after beginning to follow a regime of healthy diet, exercise and counselling…

[378]     Keeping in mind the need to tailor the award to the particular circumstances of the case, but to consider outcomes in similar cases to ensure the overall fairness of the amount, I conclude that damages of $120,000 are appropriate under this heading.

Also of note are the Court’s critical comments of two defence expert witnesses in the case.

The first, a defence expert in ‘spine pain’ testified that soft tissue injuries would certainly have healed within 12-16 weeks of each accident and that this was “scientific fact”.  In rejecting this assertion the Court commented as follows –

[349]     Turning to the evidence dealing with the extent of Ms. Litt’s physical injuries, I find first of all that I am unable to accept Dr. Bishop’s categorical assertion that the outside limit of the duration of her actual physical injuries is 16 weeks. A comprehensive study that he accepted as authoritative shows that there is a greater variation in that recovery period, before even considering the influence of any psychological problems on the experience of pain. In addition, though through no fault of his own, he has no records and therefore no real evidentiary basis to critique the medical findings that were made by others in relation to Ms. Litt’s 2010 accident. While, as I will discuss, there is a good argument that Ms. Litt’s psychological condition has overtaken any physical causes of her pain, I am not convinced that any contribution by her physical injuries ended as quickly as he contends.

Next, the Court heard from a defence hired psychiatrist who minimized the connection between the Plaintiff’s chronic pain condition and the collisions.  In rejecting this evidence Mr. Justice Shultz provided the following critical comments-

[355]     I will start by saying that I find I cannot attach any weight to Dr. Levin’s opinion. He conflates the routine nature of the accidents with the requirement for a diagnosis of pain disorder under the DSM-V that the patient experiences the injuries as “significant, catastrophic or life threatening”. Their objective severity aside, Ms. Litt certainly perceives her injuries as being significant. His assertion that there can be no PTSD here because the accidents were not traumatic also ignores that fact that Dr. Lu does not rely on PTSD to support his diagnosis of pain disorder. PTSD is most prominent in Dr. Lee’s records, and I would not give as much weight to his diagnoses in psychiatric matters in any event.

[356]     More importantly, Dr. Levin made assumptions that are not borne out by the evidence, such as that Ms. Litt’s function was “seemingly unimpaired” in the years following the accidents, which he seems to have based largely on her continuing ability to take family vacations that involved air travel.

[357]     Worst of all in my view, he overlooked or ignored numerous entries in Dr. Lee’s clinical records that had the potential to undermine his opinions. My overall impression was that the primary purpose of his report was to counteract Dr. Lu’s opinion, rather than to address the evidence objectively, and that it was not prepared carefully.

Advocacy in the Guise of Opinion, bc injury law, Litt v. Guo, Mr. Justice Schultz

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ERIK
MAGRAKEN

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When not writing the BC Injury Law Blog, Erik is the managing partner at MacIsaac & Company, based in Victoria, B.C. He is also involved with combative sports regulatory issues and authors the Combat Sports Law Blog.

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