$40,000 Non-Pecuniary Damages Awarded for Moderate Soft Tissue Injuries

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, New Westinster Registry (Lehtonen v. Johnston), awarding a Plaintiff just over $60,000 in total damages as a result of a 2005 BC Car Crash.
The car crash was a rear-end collision.  The issue of liability (fault) was admitted and the trial focused on quantum of damages (value of the Plaintiff’s injuries).
The accident was found to be a “very minor” one and appears to fit ICBC’s Low Velocity Impact program as the Plaintiff’s vehicle sustained only $780 in damages.  Notwithstanding the minor amount of vehicle damage the Plaintiff alleged she suffered from serious injuries including a right hip misalignment.
Madam Justice Baker found that many of the Plaintiff’s complaints were not caused from the crash, however, despite the minor nature of this crash the Court found that the Plaintiff did suffer various injuries.  In valuing the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) at $40,000 Madam Justice Baker summarized the accident related injuries as follows:

[83] Having considered the evidence as a whole, with particular reference to the medical opinion evidence, I conclude that Ms. Lehtonen sustained a mild injury to the soft tissues of her neck and upper back and a mild to moderate injury to the soft tissues of her lower back as a result of the motor vehicle accident on July 30, 2005.

[84] While the injuries caused discomfort, Ms. Lehtonen did not lose or quickly recovered full range of motion in the affected areas. The neck and upper back symptoms improved significantly within the first six weeks after the accident, although the symptoms recurred from time to time, exacerbated by physical exertion.  The lower back symptoms caused by the accident persisted for about a year but after the first several months have not been proved to be disabling.  Ms. Lehtonen testified that her physical injuries improved steadily over the first six months after the accident and that she did not have an exacerbation of her anxiety or depression related to the accident during that period…

[86] I accept that Ms. Lehtonen continues to have a subjective perception of a variety of symptoms, but I consider it more probable than not that the symptoms she has experienced from the second half of 2006 to present are not caused by the relatively mild soft tissue injuries resulting from the motor vehicle accident and are the result of a complex interplay of social, psychological and emotional factors unrelated to the motor vehicle accident; and fibromyalgia…

[90] I am satisfied that the discomfort from Ms. Lehtonen’s injuries likely did contribute to Ms. Lehtonen’s pre-existing depression and anxiety, although she denied this during the first six months post-accident.  I am also satisfied, however, that Ms. Lehtonen would have had depression even if the accident had not happened, and that any exacerbation of her mental health problems was temporary and minor.  The depression is, in my view, a chronic condition, that waxes and wanes….

[92] I am satisfied that Ms. Lehtonen had recovered from her physical injuries within a year following the accident. I accept that after that time she has continued to experience episodes of lower back discomfort from time to time.  However, her experience of other symptoms after that date is more probably caused by her complex pre-existing and ongoing psychiatric condition; in particular, depression and anxiety, exacerbated by adverse reactions to and, at times, abuse of medications prescribed to treat the depression and anxiety.  I also conclude that Ms. Lehtonen’s later and current subjective symptoms of soft tissue and joint pain are more probably the result of Ms. Lehtonen’s fibromyalgia than any sequelae of the motor vehicle accident injuries…

[94] As Chief Justice McEachern stated in Price v. Kostryba, [1982] B.C.J. No. 1518:

I am not stating any new principle when I say that the court should be exceedingly careful when there is little or no objective evidence of continuing injury and when complaints of pain persist for long periods extending beyond the normal or usual recovery.

[95] I might add that the same caution must be exercised when a plaintiff’s recovery not only deviates significantly from the normal course of recovery, but where a plaintiff develops new, different, unusual and more serious subjective complaints long after the event said to be the cause of those complaints.

[96] In saying this, I have not concluded that Ms. Lehtonen has fabricated these symptoms.  I accept that she subjectively perceives these things to be true.  I do not consider her perception of these symptoms to be reliable, however.  I consider it more probable than not that they are subjective physical manifestations of a complex interplay of emotional, physical and psychological factors unrelated to the motor vehicle accident.  Ms. Lehtonen’s statement to Dr. Riar that even the pain from a mosquito bite persists for months indicates that while these symptoms are real to her, they cannot be accepted on any objective evaluation.

[97] I am not persuaded that any symptoms that Ms. Lehtonen continued to experience subjectively more than 12 months after the accident, except for episodic and non-disabling muscle tightness and discomfort in her lower back, were caused by the motor vehicle accident.

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ERIK
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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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