$40,000 Non-Pecuniary Damages for Knee and Soft Tissue Injuries

Adding to this “pain and suffering case-law database” reasons for judgement were released today dealing with damages for a knee injury and soft tissue injuries sustained in a BC Car Crash.
In today’s case (Hill v. Durham), the Plaintiff was involved in a 2005 rear end accident.  The Plaintiff was a passenger at the time and the issue of liability (fault) was admitted at trial.  The trial focused on the extent of the Plaintiff’s accident related injuries and their value.  In total, damages of just over $77,000 were awarded including an award of $40,000 for non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life).
In arriving at this figure Mr. Justice Barrow summarized the Plaintiff’s accident related injuries and prognosis for these as follows:
[22] Dr. McKenzie saw Ms. Hill in early October 2006. In his consultation report of October 12, 2006 he wrote that Ms. Hill’s problem seemed to be localized to a particular tendon in the knee and he thought that it may be the “result of trauma during the motor vehicle accident”. He prescribed exercises and ordered some further diagnostic imaging. An MRI was performed in January 2007 and it revealed two things:  thinning of the patellar cartilage in the knee joint and greater than normal water content in one of the bones, a condition technically described as subchondrial bone marrow edema. Dr. McKenzie testified that edema such as that found in Ms. Hill’s knee is caused by one of two things:  trauma or excessive wear and tear. When it is caused by excessive wear and tear it is accompanied by other findings visible on x-ray. Those other findings were not present in Ms. Hill’s knee, and as a result Dr. McKenzie concluded that the edema she is experiencing is as a result of trauma. He noted that Ms. Hill’s left knee has neither of the conditions. He testified that the degree of trauma necessary to cause this condition would “not be trivial”. He said that the problems are consistent with the kind of trauma that might be sustained by hitting a knee on the dash in motor vehicle accident…

25]         To a degree the resolution of this issue and other issues turns on the reliability and credibility of Ms. Hill. In general I found Ms. Hill to be a careful and credible witness. She testified that she had experienced bumps, bruises and injuries of various kinds over the course of her life. She said that she had always recovered reasonably quickly and completely from these events. She expected to do likewise following this accident. In general she impressed me as someone not prone to dwell on or overstate her physical problems. I accept that she now believes she struck her knee in the collision, although she has reached that conclusion not because she specifically remembers doing so but rather on the basis of the circumstantial evidence. She testified almost in passing that at one of her first yoga classes, within a month of the motor vehicle accident, she told her teacher that she was experiencing difficulties with her right knee. I accept her evidence on that point, and accept that she became aware of the discomfort in her knee reasonably shortly after the accident. Further, I am satisfied that she did not strike her knee after the accident in a manner that would give rise to the condition Dr. McKenzie found. I think it more likely than not that, as Dr. McKenzie noted, Ms. Hill was experiencing a number of more significant pains in the immediate aftermath of the collision and it was only as those pains subsided and her activity level increased that she became aware of the difficulty in her right knee.

[26]         I am satisfied that Ms. Hill’s right knee problems are caused by the motor vehicle accident.

[27]         The prognosis for this injury is guarded. Dr. McKenzie’s opinion is that the condition is often chronic. In February 2007 he prescribed a knee brace for use when exercising in a way that strains the knee. In his opinion, Ms. Hill may require renewals of that brace as well as periodic support from physiotherapists and medications for pain and inflammation. Ms. Hill reported to Dr. Dodek in October 2008 that her knee symptoms were improving.

[28]         Ms. Hill’s other injury is to the soft tissues of her back. She has headaches secondary to that injury. In his October 28, 2008 report, Dr. Dodek expressed the view that her “long term prognosis for recovery…remains good” notwithstanding that almost three years had passed since the accident. Dr. Travlos, in his November 1, 2007 report, wrote that Ms. Hill’s headaches would continue to reduce in frequency and would likely return to their pre?accident level. As to her right mid and low back difficulties, he expressed no opinion on future prognosis. He did, however, encourage Ms. Hill to add cycling to her exercise program and to reduce her reliance on physiotherapy. He also thought that her consumption of over-the-counter analgesics could and should be reduced. Dr. Apel, in her September 12, 2008 report, concluded that the prognosis for complete recovery is guarded however the prognosis for significant symptom reduction is fair to good. In her view, Ms. Hill’s current exercise program is insufficient and with appropriate changes, including increased focus on stretching, she will experience further symptom reduction…

[34]         Turning to the authorities, the injuries sustained by the plaintiffs in Menhinick, Wery, and Houghton (Litigation Guardian of), are generally similar to those suffered by Ms. Hill. The prognosis for each of those plaintiffs, however, was more guarded than I find is the case for Ms. Hill. The injuries sustained by the plaintiffs in the other authorities cited by counsel for Ms. Hill are all significantly more serious. On the other hand, I am satisfied that Ms. Hill’s injuries are more significant than those suffered by the plaintiffs in Krogh and Job.

[35]         In summary, Ms. Hill suffered a moderate soft tissue injury to her back. That injury remains problematic almost four years after the accident. I am satisfied that it will continue to improve. Her knee injury is less painful but is likely to last longer, if not indefinitely. Based on all of the evidence and a consideration of all of the authorities cited by counsel, I find that the appropriate award for non-pecuniary damages is $40,000. Although not asked to, I would allocate that award $25,000 to the back injury and $15,000 to the knee injury. I have not reduced the award to account for Ms. Hill’s pre?existing knee problems because I am satisfied they would not interfere in any significant way with her recreational and other activities.

back injury, edema injury, Hill v. Durham, icbc injury claims, knee injury, Mr. Justice Barrow, patellar cartilage, soft tissue injuries, subchondrial bone marrow edema

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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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