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$150,000 Non-Pecuniary Damage Assessment in Polytrauma Injury Case

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, assessing damages for multiple injuries sustained in a vehicle collision.
In today’s case (Chappell v. Loyie) the Plaintiff was injured when his motorcycle was struck by the Defendants vehicle in an intersection collision.  He suffered numerous injuries, some of which resolved others which caused ongoing disability.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $150,000 Madam Justice Fisher provided the following reasons:

[176]     I find that Mr. Chappell sustained the following injuries as a result of the accident:

a)       injuries to his feet and ankles which caused severe pain initially and substantially resolved within about four months;

b)       soft tissue injuries to the back and neck with chronic, ongoing pain that affects his level of activity and his ability to cope with his other injuries;

c)       carpal tunnel syndrome in the left hand, which caused significant pain over time but resolved within a month following carpal tunnel release surgery in November 2012, with an 80% risk that he would have developed carpal tunnel in his left hand in any event;

d)       headaches that are cervicogenic in origin and have become chronic partly as a result of his long term use of pain medication;

e)       injury to the previously reconstructed ACL in the left knee, which caused it to eventually dissolve and require replacement and which continues to cause intermittent pain, but with a 20% risk of damage to the reconstructed ACL regardless of the accident;

f)        injury to the rotator cuff in the right shoulder that eventually required surgical repair, which has substantially resolved but continues to cause intermittent pain, but with a 20% risk of re-injury in any event and an 80% risk of problems in the right shoulder due to degenerative problems, some of which are now present;

g)       a mild TBI that did not cause significant symptoms and resolved within about two months following the accident; and

h)       severe depression and anxiety that developed over a year after the accident, is ongoing, and may improve with concentrated treatment.

[200]     Mr. Chappell’s multiple injuries are serious and cumulative, the prognosis for a pain-free existence is poor, and their effect on Mr. Chappell’s life has been profound. His colleagues and friends who testified described him before the accident as a positive, active “larger than life” individual who was “happier building a fence for you than watching a movie”. He was known for his strength. Tab Buckner, one of his oldest friends who worked with him in construction, said he was very physical, proficient and could think outside the box. Steve Raby, one of his fellow firefighters, described Mr. Chappell as “one of the biggest, strongest people” he knew, a happy person who liked to socialize, and “not a complaining kind of guy”. Todd Roberts, another firefighter and hunting friend, said that Mr. Chappell organized all the gear for their hunting trips and all he had to do was “jump in the truck”. Mr. Chappell’s wife, Cheryl Ann, testified about the deep happiness and intimacy they had found together, the joys and challenges of blending their families and their common interests in home renovation projects. She said that her husband loved his work as a firefighter, could do “pretty much anything” when it came to renovations, and was very particular about his lawn and garden.

[201]     The picture painted by these witnesses of Mr. Chappell after the accident stands in stark contrast to these descriptions. They all said that Mr. Chappell is no longer active, doing either construction work, hunting or social activities, and the most he does is to take an advisory role in projects. Many thought he was coping with what they perceived as pain and fatigue. Todd Roberts described his activity level as “next to none” and his personality as drastically changed, “he just seems his mind is elsewhere”. Tab Buckner noticed that Mr. Chappell had difficulty getting in and out of chairs, could barely move at times, seemed angry with the world, and was not coping well with his wife and stepsons. Anthony Tanner, his oldest stepson, observed that the relationship between his mother and Mr. Chappell had become more strained. Mrs. Chappell described the course of Mr. Chappell’s injuries and recovery since the accident, his obvious pain, his growing frustration and then sadness at his lack of progress, and the personal difficulties that developed between them as he became more irritable, impatient and argumentative. There is no longer any intimacy in their relationship, which is obviously a very difficult issue for both of them.

[202]     I found all of these witnesses to be honest and straightforward, but Mrs. Chappell was quite exceptional. Throughout her testimony she was responsive and respectful, and while of course she was supportive of her husband, she did not overstate the positive or understate the negative. Her evidence was entirely consistent with Mr. Chappell’s evidence about the nature and quality of their lives together and what has happened to their relationship since the accident.

[203]     All of this evidence is consistent with how I have already described Mr. Chappell: after five years of dealing with his physical injuries, he is a broken man, emotionally isolated, suffering in constant pain, ashamed of his physical limitations and his inability to cope, and desperate for solutions.

[204]     Moreover, by June 2012, Mr. Chappell was forced to give up his career as Captain of Suppression and abandon his ultimate goal of becoming Battalion Chief of Suppression. This loss of a job he loved caused him great personal distress. As I indicated above, while there was a measureable risk that he would have had to do this at some point in any event, this change occurred much sooner than it would have absent the accident. I will come back to this when I address future loss of capacity.

[205]     In these circumstances, I award of $150,000 for non-pecuniary damages, after taking into account the extent of the risks outlined above that some of Mr. Chappell’s conditions would have occurred regardless of the accident.

bc injury law, Chappell v. Loyie, Madam Justice Fisher