$220,000 Non-Pecuniary Damage Assessment for "Psychotic Disorder"

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, awarding a Plaintiff damages for serious injuries and losses as a result of a 2001 Car Accident in Mission, BC.
What was interesting about this case (Polovnikoff v. Banks) was the very unique injuries the Plaintiff suffered as a result of this collision.  Madam Justice Bruce found that the Plaintiff sustained a Mild Traumatic Brain Injury and a Psychotic Disorder as a result of this crash.  While accident related brain injury cases are not all that uncommon it is quite rare to see a claim with an alleged accident related psychotic disorder to proceed to trial.
Madam Justice Bruce awarded $50,000 in non-pecuniary damages (pain and suffering) for the Plaintiff’s brain injury and related cognitive deficits.  In doing so she noted that the Plaintiff suffered from a ‘persistent cognitive impairment with predominant problems with his attention, concentration, ability to hold information, and being in the present with memory difficulties, short term and longer term memory problems‘.
The court then assessed the Plaintiff’s psychotic disorder separately and in valuing this non-pecuniary loss at $220,000 the court noted the following:

[377] Superimposed upon the plaintiff’s cognitive impairment is a completely disabling psychotic disorder. The plaintiff’s mental state has significantly interfered with his ability to function normally in every aspect of his life. His psychotic features adversely affect his ability to think and reason, impair his judgment, cause him to neglect personal hygiene, enhance the adverse impact of his cognitive impairments, including his ability to concentrate and short and long term memory, and make him apathetic about his life and others around him. The plaintiff is plagued by sleeplessness, anxiety, irritability, aggressive or violent feelings, lack of insight, verbal and physical inhibition, and recklessness. Mr. Stanus concluded that the plaintiff was completely unemployable in a competitive market due to his psychotic disorder.

[378] Clearly the plaintiff has undergone a catastrophic loss of enjoyment of life. While there is some doubt about how successful Festival Foods was as a going concern, it is apparent from both the plaintiff’s testimony and the collateral witnesses called by the plaintiff that he really enjoyed running the company and that he had significant skills and talents that have been lost entirely as a result of this disabling mental illness. The plaintiff requires constant supervision and is unable to carry out the simplest tasks. He no longer pays any attention to his physical care and hygiene and has lost interest in all of his pre-accident physical and recreational activities. Based on these factors I award the plaintiff $220,000 for non-pecuniary damages arising out of the psychotic disorder.

Madam Justice Bruce then went on to reduce this award significantly to $68,200 to account for the many other factors that played a potential role in the development of a psychotic disorder in the absence of this accident.  This made for a lengthy judgement almost 500 paragraphs in length.  Below are the highlights of the courts discussion reducing the award for damages for the Plaintiff’s psychotic disorder:

C.        Reductions from Non-Pecuniary Damage Award for Psychotic Disorder

[379] This award must be reduced by 2% to reflect the small but measurable risk that the plaintiff’s alcohol consumption may have led to the psychotic disorder regardless of the July 2001 accident. This award must be reduced a further 45% to reflect the adverse impact of alcohol consumption on the progression of his psychotic disorder and the involvement of alcohol addiction in the symptoms that are currently a part of the plaintiff’s clinical presentation.

[380] Turning to the other accidents and subsequent events, it is apparent from the medical reports of Dr. Hunt and the clinical notes of Dr. Yokoyama that the December 2000 accident was the beginning of the plaintiff’s emotional distress albeit his major psychiatric symptoms appeared after the 2001 accident. Both Dr. Gopinath and Dr. Hunt attribute the plaintiff’s “superimposed psychological and psychiatric disturbances” to the injuries he suffered in both the December 2000 and the July 2001 accidents. Only Dr. Smith ruled out any causal relationship between any of the other accidents and the plaintiff’s current psychiatric illness: December 31, 2008 report at p. 19. This accident also appears to be the most seriously disabling for the plaintiff next to the July 2001 accident. Thus I would allocate to this accident 10% responsibility for the damages awarded to the plaintiff for the mental illness he suffers from.

[381] The accident witnessed by the plaintiff in January 2002 caused him to have a panic attack and increased his anxiety level for a brief period. The clinical notes of Dr. Yokoyama indicate the anxiety was improving after only a few days. In addition, this is clearly a non-tortious cause that does not reduce the defendants’ liability. The accident that occurred on October 21, 2002 was also fairly minor and nothing in Dr. Yokoyama’s clinical records indicates the plaintiff suffered any lasting emotional trauma as a result of this event. Accordingly, I attribute no responsibility for loss to the defendant in that case.

[382] The plaintiff was involved in an accident on September 24, 2003. He was a passenger in a vehicle driven by his father when this accident occurred. The van driven by Mr. Polovnikoff became hooked to the rear of a truck and this caused the van to be swung in a circular motion causing damage to the front bumper and two broken windows. When Dr. Hunt saw the plaintiff on November 27, 2003, he was confused, irrational, and having abnormal mental thoughts. The plaintiff disclosed that he was too frightened to drive or be a passenger in a vehicle because of the possibility of another accident. Dr. Hunt was so concerned about the plaintiff’s mental stability that he considered having him committed to hospital for acute psychiatric care.

[383] While the plaintiff appeared much more disturbed than in previous assessments, Dr. Hunt had already seen psychiatric problems developing in June 2003 before this accident had occurred. In addition, there is no follow up visit with Dr. Yokoyama, which was unusual for plaintiff, to indicate that this state of high anxiety continued for an extended period. Indeed, the next visit to Dr. Yokoyama was on February 24, 2004 after another accident had occurred. Thus, although it is apparent this accident caused some deterioration in the plaintiff’s condition, I am unable to find that it was either substantial or long term in its effect. The accident on February 18, 2004, which Dr. Yokoyama concluded had aggravated the plaintiff’s agitation level, was also short lived in effect. During the next visit to Dr. Yokoyama on March 17, 2004 there is no reference to any aggravation of his ongoing concussion symptoms. Thus I reduce the award for both these events by a nominal 2%.

[384] The accident on May 30, 2004 in the parking lot of the Astoria hotel seemed significant to Ms. Lustado. She considered this to be a turning point in their relationship because of the noticeable deterioration in the plaintiff’s emotional demeanour. Dr. Yokoyama’s clinical notes on June 2, 2004 indicate that the plaintiff developed anxiety and tension after this accident in addition to an aggravation of his soft tissue injuries. On August 30, 2004 there is also a reference in Dr. Yokoyama’s clinical records to “regression – post concussion syndrome” which I interpret as some deterioration in the plaintiff’s mental state. Accordingly, I reduce the award by 5% to reflect the damage caused by this defendant’s negligence.

[385] The accidents that occurred on November 18, 2004, March 22, 2005, and November 29, 2006 do not appear to have aggravated to any measurable degree the psychotic disorder suffered by the plaintiff. By November 2004 his symptoms were well developed and the visits with Dr. Yokoyama after these accidents indicate the major concern in each case was an aggravation of the soft tissue injuries.

[386] Finally, the plaintiff was involved in an assault in or about July 2006 which I find exacerbated his emotional problems and led to deterioration in his mental health. Dr. Gopinath reported that following this assault the plaintiff was clearly more paranoid in general and in regard to the police in particular. Dr. Gopinath believed the plaintiff had been “badly shaken up” by this experience and developed symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder. He was having sleep difficulties, waking up with nightmares, and panic attacks. Dr. Gopinath’s December 16, 2008 report also features this assault as significant in the plaintiff’s clinical presentation and he acknowledged in his testimony that the plaintiff’s psychotic symptoms worsened after this event. It was also partly due to this assault that Mr. Polovnikoff moved his son and Ms. Lustado to Keremeos. They wanted to get away from the police and the other stressors in the plaintiff’s life.

[387] While this event is significant, it must be acknowledged that the plaintiff’s psychotic symptoms were well entrenched at this time and his inability to function normally in all aspects of his life had already been a reality for some time. Dr. Gopinath had observed severe psychotic symptoms as early as October 2005 when the plaintiff first came to him for treatment. Accordingly, I find the award should be reduced by a further 5% as a result of this tortious intervening event.

[388] In summary, the non-pecuniary award arising from the psychiatric illness suffered by the plaintiff in the amount of $220,000 must be reduced by a total of 69%. The reduced award is therefore $68,200. The total award for non-pecuniary damages is $118,200 ($50,000 plus $68,200).

bc personal injury claims, brain injury, pain and suffering, Polovnikoff v. Banks, psychological injury, psychotic disorder

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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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