$35,000 Non-Pecuniary Damages for Aggravation of Pre-Existing Back Injury

Reasons for judgment were released Friday awarding a Plaintiff just over $69,000 in total damages for injuries and losses sustained as a result of a 2006 BC Car Crash.
In Friday’s case (Dermody v. Gassier) the Plaintiff was injured when his vehicle was rear-ended in South Surrey.  Fault was admitted leaving the court to deal with the sole issue of damages (value of the claim).
Mr. Justice Williams found that while the Plaintiff “embellished his description of the way things were before the accident” the Plaintiff nonetheless was injured and had a pre-existing condition worsened as a consequence of this collision.
In assessing the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) at $35,000  Mr. Justice Williams summarized the Plaintiff’s injuries as follows:

[92] The plaintiff sustained soft tissue injuries in the motor vehicle accident.  Some of them were relatively transitory in nature; others were more serious and he says they have continued to impact him in a significant way.

[93] The bruising and such injury abated within a short period of time, that is, within two or three weeks.  The headaches continued, albeit on a diminished basis, for a period of time in the order of 12 months.  The neck pain was initially a serious problem but I conclude resolved substantially within 12 to 16 months.  The driving apprehension, again, resolved within a fairly short period of time and did not meaningfully impact in any long-term way upon the plaintiff.

[94] There is the matter of the sensation loss in the plaintiff’s feet.  None of the medical experts have been able to understand what causes that, and Dr. Sovio was quite sceptical of it.  Nevertheless, there appears to be no reason to find that it is not an actual condition; its onset was concurrent with the accident.  I, therefore, find that it is a consequence, albeit a relatively minor one, of the incident and that it is a continuing condition.

[95] The most serious and sustained injury was that to the plaintiff’s back.  I accept that it caused him significant pain and discomfort.  Based on the medical evidence, I accept as well that there will be some residual back pain going forward….

[103] To clarify, I find that, at the time of the motor vehicle accident, the plaintiff’s back condition was not asymptomatic.  He was having back pain with certain attendant limitations.  Whether that was from the incidents at the courier job, whether it was because of degenerative conditions, or whether it was some combination, I am not able to say.

[104] However, I am satisfied that his back was symptomatic at the time of the accident, and, in accordance with the crumbling skull principle, he is only entitled to recover damages that reflect the difference between his post-accident condition and his pre-accident condition….

I conclude that there were weaknesses in this plaintiff’s pre-accident condition that were not symptomatic at the time of the accident injury, but which would have the effect of making the plaintiff likely to experience greater consequences from the insult of the accident.  Injuries that result where such a situation is present are compensable…

[115] On the particular facts of the matter at hand, it is my conclusion that a fit and appropriate award of non-pecuniary damages in this case is $35,000.

In addition to the discussion addressing the award for non-pecuniary damages, this case contains a useful discussion of the “thin skull” and “crumbling skull” legal principles which is worth reviewing for anyone interested in how BC courts deal with pre-existing conditions and their interplay with traumatic injuries in BC tort claims.

back injury, bc personal injury lawyer, crumbling skull principle, Dermody v. Gassier, icbc injury claims lawyer, pain and suffering, pre-existing conditions, soft tissue injuries, thin skull principle

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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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