$20,000 Non-Pecuniary Assessment For Modest and Lingering Soft Tissue Injuries

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, assessing damages for modest soft tissue injuries sustained in a collision.
In today’s case (Hall-Smith v. Yamelst) the Plaintiff was involved in a so called ‘low velocity’ collision in 2009.  Fault was admitted by the offending motorist.  The Plaintiff alleged she sustained fairly serious injuries from the collision with detrimental consequences.  The Court had issues with the Plaintiff’s credibility but did accept the collision caused some level of lingering injures.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $20,000 Madam Justice Dillon provided the following reasons:

[50]         The plaintiff lacked credibility about the nature of her injuries. The physical complaints were out of proportion to the severity of the accident. While this court appreciates that not all plaintiffs respond the same way to a minor incident and that a minor accident does not in itself define injury, this plaintiff’s response was so unrealistic as to affect credibility. The plaintiff was vague or could not remember when asked about post-accident activities in cross-examination and her answers were contrary to other witnesses. The documentary evidence that the plaintiff completed herself in April and May 2009 belied the suggestion that she was still considerably disabled from injury sustained in the accident or that she was suffering back and knee pain. ICBC and Turning Point documents completed by the plaintiff mentioned only pain in her neck. She misled Mr. Nordin by attributing her relapse back into drugs shortly after the accident as due to taking prescribed medication, by implying that her UBC employment was permanent and that she left due to increased back pain, and by telling him that she left the licensed practical nurse programme due to back pain and financial difficulty.

[51]         The preponderance of medical opinion does not find that knee or groin pain was caused by the accident. The plaintiff’s fiancé was unaware of any knee pain.

[52]         It is accepted that the plaintiff suffered soft tissue injury to her neck and mid back as a result of the accident. Dr. O’Connor also said initially that she suffered exacerbation of a pre-existing degeneration of the spine that caused low back pain that had not existed prior to the accident. However, the doctor changed this view when faced with the suggestion of no complaint of back pain until the plaintiff saw Dr. Harjee in October 2009 and the plaintiff’s failure to report back pain in important documentation in April and May 2009. In these circumstances that were brought to Dr. O’Connor’s attention, he concluded that the farther the low back pain complaint was from the accident, the less likely that it had been caused by the accident. But, the plaintiff had reported back pain in her first visit to the doctor immediately after the accident. In this circumstance, Dr. O’Connor’s initial opinion still prevails and it is accepted that the plaintiff suffered exacerbation of her pre-existing degenerative condition as a result of the accident and began to have pain in her lower back that did not exist prior to the accident. In any event, the injury to the plaintiff’s neck and back had largely resolved by the time that the plaintiff saw Dr. O’Connor in December 2011. At that time, any residual pain was as a result of the exacerbation of the pre-existing degenerative disc condition and heightened pain from chronic anxiety unrelated to the accident. The plaintiff would have suffered back pain at an early age eventually in any event of the accident. In all of the circumstances, it cannot be concluded that all of the plaintiff’s present symptoms are as a result of the accident. The prognosis of Dr. O’Connor is accepted, however, so that at least a small part of her ongoing back and related pain is attributable to the accident and there is no prospect for resolution with time.

[53]         Despite her injuries, the plaintiff was able to enter and succeed in a rehabilitation programme for the first time within two months of the accident. She felt sufficiently secure in her physical wellbeing to engage in dodgeball and other activities. She was able to work at a shoe store where she maintained part time employment for the first time. She completed a nine month medical office assistant programme that was rigorous in time demands. She was able to get work as a medical office assistant but did not keep the work for reasons that were not related to injury from the accident. She eventually found employment suited to her and has successfully worked full time since June 2014. Given the plaintiff’s pre-accident background and her dependence upon social assistance due to chronic anxiety, she has done quite well since the accident despite injury. The plaintiff has managed despite the injuries. From all of this, the nature of the injuries suffered in the accident, and the existence of other non-accident related physical ailments, it is concluded that the injuries suffered in the accident were relatively minor and did not prevent the plaintiff from establishing herself away from a troubled past…

[55]         It is important to remember that non-pecuniary damages are awarded to compensate an individual for the pain, suffering and loss of enjoyment of life and loss of amenities caused by the accident and that the compensation awarded should be fair and reasonable to both parties (Miller v. Lawlor, 2012 BCSC 387 at para. 109 (Miller)). The fact that this was a low velocity collision does not rule out injury (Dao v. Vance, 2008 BCSC 1092 at para. 19; Naidu v. Gill, 2012 BCSC 1461 at paras. 33-34). The inexhaustive list of factors to be taken into account in the assessment of non-pecuniary damages is well established as listed in Miller at para. 105 and Buttar v. Brennan, 2012 BCSC 531 at para. 35. These factors have been considered in coming to the conclusion here.

[56]         The plaintiff had substantially recovered from the effects of the accident by December 2011 when she first saw Dr. O’Connor, except for aggravation of the pre-existing degenerative disc disease. The impact of the accident upon the life of the plaintiff was not significant. She was able to recover to the extent that only her neck pain was worthy of her comment by the spring of 2009. She was able to rehabilitate and educate herself for the first time. She was able to start serious work and eventually get and maintain full time employment that she never had before. She started and has maintained a stable family life. As in Sevinski v. Vance, 2011 BCSC 892 at para. 84, it not possible to determine here the extent of the plaintiff’s participation in sports and other activities prior to the accident based upon her evidence and prior lifestyle. There is no evidence of prior regular participation that was hindered by the accident.

[57]         The plaintiff is awarded $20,000 for her non-pecuniary damages.

bc injury law, Hall-Smith v. Yamelst, Madam Justice Dillon

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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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