$35,000 Non-Pecuniary Damages for STI's of Over 10 Years Duration

Reasons for judgment were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Cranbrook Registry demonstrating that a lengthy duration of injury does not always merit a significant award of non-pecuniary damages.
In today’s case (Salzmann v. Bohmer) the Plaintiff was injured in a BC Car Crash.  The collision took place over 10 years before trial.  While the time-frame from the accident to trial was unusually long, such delays are not unheard of when Infant Plaintiffs are involved in motor vehicle collisions.  One reason for this is that in British Columbia  limitation periods typically do not start running for infants in tort claims until their 19th birthday.  Another reason is that doctors are more reluctant to give a prognosis with respect to injuries suffered in infants as opposed to adults.  In any event, this case involved injuries of over 10 years duration by the time of trial.
Despite the duration of the Plaintiff’s Injuries, Mr. Justice Melnick found that they were not particularly severe or debilitating. He also found that she failed to take reasonable steps to reduce her symptoms and that with appropriate exercises there was room for considerable improvement.  In assessing the Plaintiff’s non pecuniary damages at $35,000 Mr. Justice Melnick held as follows:

[18] Medical reports are often as interesting for how they are worded as for what opinions they express. In the case of the report of Dr. Apel, she indicated that she has examined Ms. Salzmann at the request of Ms. Salzmann’s counsel. Then, while responding to a specific question put to her by that same counsel (whether Ms. Salzmann’s symptoms will abate eventually) she carefully replied that “…it is unlikely those symptoms spontaneously will abate eventually” (emphasis added).

[19] The use of the word “spontaneously” coupled with her pointed remarks that Ms. Salzmann’s lack of conditioning and need for an exercise therapist or kinesiologist suggests to me that Ms. Salzmann’s symptoms likely will abate provided she becomes committed to an appropriate program of exercise (as opposed to passive treatments such as massage). Ms. Salzmann must take a significant role in her own recovery, something she has not done in the past (perhaps due to her being so young, perhaps due to not having been given adequate instruction or having been provided with the required sense of self-discipline). For this reason she bears some, but far from all, of the responsibility for her continued pain given that she was injured when only ten years of age.

[20] I have no doubt that Ms. Salzmann suffered musculoligamentous strain to her cervical spine as a result of the accident and that, in 2003, she still experienced residual tightness in her trapezius and pectoral muscles. I also accept that in 2008 she demonstrated a chronic regional myofascial pain syndrome as described by Dr. Apel. Whether, by that time, she could have avoided such a sequela to the injury she incurred in the accident is a good question.  Things may have been different if she had followed an appropriate and properly directed regime of exercise after the accident. The reality is that she did not, and the symptoms she displayed apparently were not sufficiently alarming to anyone to insist that she do so, and she was not a complainer. With a few exceptions, Ms. Salzmann’s life carried on much as normal, as best as could be observed in a child who was in the process of development, growing and maturing.

[21] Today, she still suffers from the injury she received in the accident. But the message from her own doctor is loud and clear: she can do something about it.

[22] I have no evidence upon which I can estimate the cost of an exercise therapist or kinesiologist. Dr. Apel gave no indication of the length of time Ms. Salzmann should be supervised. However, the non-pecuniary damages I will award her will recognize that her road to the eventual abatement of her symptoms will probably require her to not just be self-motivated, but have the assistance of a professional for advice for a period of time to set her on the right track. That said, I note that no defendant should be required to pay for anyone’s lack of interest in pursuing his or her own recovery. Ultimately we all bear a responsibility to do what we can to attain and maintain good health. In the legal realm, this constitutes mitigation, and a plaintiff bears a legal duty to mitigate.

[23] With all of the above in mind, I assess Ms. Salzmann’s non-pecuniary damages at $35,000. I agree with Ms. Salzmann’s counsel that the decision of Madam Justice Humphreys in Sinnott v. Boggs, 2006 BCSC 768, is the most relevant authority provided to me with respect to non-pecuniary damages. Those provided by counsel for the defendant deal largely with milder forms of injury with less chronic consequences.

[24] From the amount of $35,000 I deduct 20% for Ms. Salzmann’s failure to mitigate by not pursuing the appropriate conditioning and exercise programs despite the fact that they were laid out for her as early as 2000. Thus, the net award of non-pecuniary damages is $28,000.

chronic regional myofascial pain syndrome, failure to mitigate, infant claims, infant limitation periods in icbc claims, long lasting soft tissue injuries, mitigation, Mr. Justice Melnick, non-pecuniary damages, Salzmann v. Bohmer

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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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