$200,000 Non-Pecuniary Damage Assessment for "Complicated" Traumatic Brain Injury

Reasons for judgement were released last month by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, assessing global damages at $836,000 for injuries and loss flowing from a motor vehicle collision.
In last month’s case (Gilbert v. Bottle) the Plaintiff was a passenger in the Defendant’s vehicle.  His careless driving caused the vehicle to lose control ejecting the Plaintiff from the vehicle.  She sustained numerous physical injuries the most significant of which was described as a ‘complicated‘ traumatic brain injury.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) at $200,000 Madam Justice Dickson made the following findings:
190] I conclude that Ms. Gilbert suffered a complicated mild traumatic brain injury with significant and permanent sequelae as a result of the accident…
[191] I also conclude that the change in Ms. Gilbert’s substance abuse pattern is substantially connected to her brain injury symptoms.  Dulling physical and emotional pain with crack cocaine shows markedly poor judgment and poor self-control.  Ms. Gilbert’s already inadequate functioning in these areas has been further compromised by her injuries.  In consequence, her substance abuse problem has altered in a significantly negative way…
[195] I further conclude that Ms. Gilbert suffers from chronic pain disorder as a result of the accident.  The pain includes frequent neck, shoulder and back pain, together with cervicogenic headaches which originate from soft tissue injuries to her neck.  I am satisfied that her pain is genuine in the sense that it is not feigned or goal-directed, although it has a significant psychological, as well as physical, component.  In particular, Ms. Gilbert’s pre-existing emotional vulnerability and increased emotional disturbance caused by her brain injury are both substantially connected to the severity and maintenance of her ongoing pain.  The onset of the pain is a result of the accident…

[198] The extent of Ms. Gilbert’s loss due to her accident-related injuries is substantial.  She is, in my view, a thin skull plaintiff.  Before the accident, she lived a borderline existence due to her harsh environment, disorganized lifestyle and poor general health and habits.  As Dr. Travalos points out, however, she was nonetheless able to work with New Directions.  She was also able to participate in and enjoy intimate personal connections.

[199] As a result of the accident, Ms. Gilbert can no longer do either.  In effect, she has lost the two major sources of pleasure, purpose and meaning in an already difficult life.

[200] Ms. Gilbert is and will probably remain competitively unemployable due to the effects of her traumatic brain injury.  Although her post-accident functional change is more substantial than Dr. Travalos assumed, I accept his view that her injuries tipped her over the edge in a vocational sense.  I also accept that Ms. Gilbert’s quality of life may improve with appropriate support and treatment.  I am satisfied, however, that, even with support, she will probably never work for pay again…

[220] I conclude that an award of $200,000 in non-pecuniary damages is appropriate in all of the circumstances.  Ms. Gilbert’s permanent loss of capacity to work and engage emotionally with others is a great loss given their central significance in her difficult life.  In my view, Ms. Gilbert’s consequent need for solace is also great.  Nevertheless, she is entitled to compensation for only the change to her original position.  The award should not extend to her pre-existing difficulties that would have persisted or deteriorated further regardless of her injuries.  In other words, the award must be fair and reasonable to both parties.

bc injury law, Complicated Mild Traumatic Brain Injury, Gilbert v. Bottle, Madam Justice Dickson


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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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