$170,000 Non-Pecuniary Assessment for Chronic Physical and Psychological Injuries

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, assessing damages for chronic physical and psychological injuries following a vehicle collision.
In today’s case (Niessen v. Emcon Services Inc.) the Plaintiff was involved in a serious highway collision in 2013.  The Defendants accepted fault.  The crash resulted in a multitude of injuries to the Plaintiff, many of which had a poor prognosis for further recovery.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $170,000 Mr. Justice Brundrett provided the following reasons:

[212]     I am satisfied on the basis of all of the evidence that the plaintiff’s headaches, tinnitus, cognitive difficulties, sleep disruption, anxiety, and depression were caused by the motor vehicle accident on October 20, 2013. As a result of the accident, the plaintiff also sustained various musculoligamentous injuries to the neck and lower back which, though they persisted for an extended period of time, have now largely resolved. However, the tinnitus, headaches, depression, anxiety, sleep disruption, and cognitive problems are ongoing and chronic.

[213]     The plaintiff’s symptoms diminished his ability to operate at the same high level in the plumbing and heating business, caused him to fail his advanced gas fitter course, and led to drastic changes in his personality and behaviour. I accept that his injuries have generally reduced the plaintiff’s enjoyment of life including his social, recreational, and employment pursuits.

[214]     The multiplicity of the plaintiff’s chronic injuries creates difficulties for treatment going forward. For instance, Dr. Prout indicated that he would be very surprised if treating the headaches removed the tinnitus. There is some possibility for treatment of the plaintiff’s depression symptoms through medication or further cognitive behavioural therapy, but I accept the consensus of medical opinion that the plaintiff’s symptoms are now well-established, and while further treatment is possible it cannot be said that such treatment will probably be effective.

[215]     The descriptions of third parties and the plaintiff’s physicians accord with the plaintiff’s own account of the pre- and post-accident changes in his personality and behaviour.  The nature of the changes in the plaintiff’s personality and behaviour are such that they have adversely impacted his work-related abilities, as well as his earning capacity in future years.

[249]     I accept the plaintiff’s evidence that he suffered headaches, tinnitus, depression, social withdrawal, sleep disruption, cognitive problems including an inability to concentrate and impaired memory, anxiety, and symptoms consistent with PTSD as a result of his motor vehicle accident. Most if not all of these symptoms are chronic. The plaintiff’s neck and back pain persisted for longer than usual, but I accept that those injuries are now resolved. There is no evidence that his headaches, depression, cognition problems, and tinnitus were pre-existing conditions. I find that, apart from the neck and back pain, it is unlikely that the plaintiff will fully recover from any of the above mentioned injuries.

[250]     I find that the plaintiff’s symptoms had a significant impact on his social, recreational, and employment-related functioning, his emotional well-being, and his enjoyment of life. His symptoms also affected his personality, work ethic, and general attitude toward life.

[251]     There has been a fair amount of discussion among the experts and between counsel as to whether the plaintiff qualifies for a diagnosis of mild traumatic brain injury or concussion. There is disagreement about whether he qualifies for such a diagnosis, though he certainly has lingering symptoms of a kind that are sometimes associated with a concussion.

[252]     I agree with plaintiff’s counsel that while certain diagnoses or labels may assist in the analysis, the focus remains on the plaintiff’s symptoms, their endurance, and their overall effect upon the plaintiff’s life. As noted in Bricker at para. 123:

[123] I would add, however, that in assessing Ms. Bricker’s claim for damages, the issue for the court is not so much the label or diagnosis attached to a particular condition, but rather the extent to which the condition has affected a plaintiff in his or her social, recreational and employment pursuits (see Bagnato v. Viscount, 1995 CanLII 418, [1995] B.C.J. No. 2752 at paras. 28-29, … (S.C.)).

[253]     Having regard to the precedents cited before me, the nature and severity of the plaintiff’s symptoms in this case, his age, and the guarded possibilities for improvement, I would assess general damages at $170,000.

bc injury law, Mr. Justice Brundrett, Niessen v. Emcon Services Inc.

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ERIK
MAGRAKEN

Personal Injury Lawyer

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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