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$35,000 Non-Pecuniary Damages for "Temporary Aggravation of Pre-Existing Conditions"

Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Regisry, assessing damages for the temporary aggravation of a pre-existing condition following a vehicle collision.
In the recent case (Vintila v. Kirkwood) the Plaintiff “suffered from long-term and disabling chronic pain and depression” although she was enjoying improvement in this condition for 16 months until she was involved in a 2011 rear-end collision caused by the Defendant.  The collision aggravated her pre-existing injuries and set back the progress she enjoyed in the months prior to the collision.
In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $35,000 Mr. Justice Bernard provided the following reasons:
42]         I am in agreement with the foregoing submission. At the time of the accident, Ms. Vintila was significantly physically compromised as a result of severe and long-term chronic pain that had rendered her completely disabled from work and eligible for CPP disability benefits since 2005, and for similar private insurance benefits since 2002. While Ms. Vintila enjoyed some improvement in the management of her chronic pain in the MonaVie period, there is no evidence or suggestion that her underlying chronic and debilitating conditions had resolved. Ms. Vintila became slightly more physically active and inclined to attempt some physical activities previously eschewed; she was, nevertheless, always in the shadow of her chronic and disabling conditions, wary of flare-ups, and unable to cease collecting of disability benefits. ..
[46]         In light of the foregoing, I find that Ms. Vintila is a crumbling skull plaintiff. The evidence that Ms. Vintila’s pre-existing conditions were manifest and disabling at the time of the accident is convincing; moreover, the evidence is clear that her conditions were severe, chronic, long-term, and disabling from work. A relatively short pre-accident period of improvement in her pain symptoms is, in all the circumstances, insufficient to categorize Ms. Vintila as a “thin-skulled” plaintiff…

[53]         In the case at bar, the defendants’ negligence brought Ms. Vintila’s temporary improvement in her chronic pain symptomology to an abrupt and disheartening end. Ms. Vintila suffered from pre-existing chronic, long-term, deteriorating conditions that had almost completely disabled her in the past and were destined to do so in the future; nonetheless, at the time of accident she was experiencing a period of some relief from very debilitating pain. This window of respite was closed by the accident, and the evidence suggests that it is most unlikely to be re-opened. The pain from the aggravation of Ms. Vintila’s pre-existing conditions caused her to return to taking narcotic medications and to cease activities that improved both her physical and mental well-being and her overall enjoyment of life.

[54]          Given Ms. Vintila’s age, physicality, history, and rather grim long-term prognoses, I am satisfied that it was most unlikely that the aforementioned window would have been open for very long. In one sense, this accentuates the degree of loss to Ms. Vintila. The relief she lost was precious because it was most unlikely to endure for many years. In another sense, however, it necessarily limits the award for non-pecuniary losses.

[55]         Having regard for the factors in Stapley v.Hejslet, supra, the defendant’s negligence temporarily aggravated Ms. Vintila’s pre-existing conditions, increased her pain levels, and marked the end of Ms. Vintila’s relief from depression and the enjoyment she found in some social interaction, in performing simple household tasks, in interactions with her sons, and in making gift baskets. Ms. Vintila lost a sense of optimism she had for her future.

[56]         Of the two cases cited by ICBC, I am satisfied that Johal is much more similar to the case at bar. While each case and plaintiff is unique, Johal offers useful guidance in the assessment of a fitting award for Ms. Vintila’s non-pecuniary losses, which I assess at $35,000.

aggravation of pre-existing injuries, bc injury law, Mr. Justice Bernard, Vintila v. Kirkwood