$60,000 Non-Pecuniary Damages for Accident Related Fibromyalgia

(Please note the case discussed here was overturned by the BC Court of Appeal in May, 2010)
Reasons for Judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, (Poirier v. Aubrey) awarding a Plaintiff just over $220,000 in total damages as a result of a BC Car Crash.
The Collision occurred in 2006 and was a rear-end crash.  The Plaintiff suffered from some pre-existing injuries but the trial judge found that the Plaintiff did not have a ‘relevant’ pre-existing condition.  Mr. Justice Stewart concluded that the accident caused fibromyalgia and awarded $60,000 non-pecuniary damages.  In arriving at this figure Mr. Justice Stewart noted the following:
there was no relevant significant pre-existing condition and the doctors may differ as to what label should be applied to the plaintiff’s condition – fibromyalgia, fibromyalgia-like syndrome, chronic pain condition – but the fact is that she suffers from chronic widespread pain that is, for her, debilitating and with respect to which the prognosis is guarded.  An “optimal fibromyalgia based treatment protocol”, including biofeedback, is recommended and there is a real and substantial possibility, bordering on likelihood, that her pain and discomfort will be relieved and her functioning improved.  (Exhibit 5 Tab B Page 6).  But no “cure” is in prospect…
I find as a fact that the plaintiff’s persistent, consistent and, ultimately, chronic pain and suffering arose only immediately after the September 5, 2006 motor vehicle accident.  The schism in the expert medical evidence placed before me was not as to whether the September 5, 2006 trauma was a materially contributing cause of the plaintiff’s ongoing chronic pain condition but as to whether it so contributed by exacerbating a pre-existing chronic pain condition or by simply triggering a chronic pain condition.  It is now a fact that there was no significant pre-existing condition.  The only available conclusion in the case at bar is that but for the defendant’s negligence on September 5, 2006 the plaintiff would not be burdened with the chronic pain condition that has been her lot since September 5, 2006.

[23] Soft tissue damage is the source of her problems.  I have kept Maslen v. Rubenstein (1993), 83 B.C.L.R. (2d) 131 (C.A.) in mind.  I find that the plaintiff is one of that small percentage of people, well known to the law, whose pain and suffering continues long after science would say that the injured tissue must have healed.  I have cautioned myself about the need to be slow to rely on what are uncorroborated reports of long-standing pain and discomfort.  But, on the whole of the evidence I have decided that her complaints of pain are true reflections of a continuing injury and are not a product of desire by the plaintiff for things such as care, sympathy, relaxation or compensation and that she has used every ounce of willpower she has to overcome her problems and could not reasonably be expected to have achieved more by her own inherent resources or willpower.  (Maslen v. Rubenstein,supra, paragraphs 8 and 15).

[24] I turn to the future.

[25] To use language employed by Dr. Jaworski, the prognosis is “guarded”.  Taken together, the evidence of Dr. Hyams, Dr. Shuckett and Dr. Jaworski bottoms the conclusion that what is now in place – an ongoing, positive, pro-active approach, to echo Dr. Shuckett – means that there is a real and substantial possibility that significant improvement is in the offing.  To date, the plaintiff has sought help in such things as prescription drugs, chiropractic treatments, physiotherapy, massage, acupuncture and trigger point injections.  Only now is the plaintiff in the course of an organized effort to both alleviate her pain and discomfort to the extent possible and teach her techniques and methods of dealing with and surmounting her pain and discomfort.

[26] I turn to the assessing of non-pecuniary damages.  The plaintiff has been burdened thus far for 39 months.  Her prospects are not bleak, but guarded.  The level of the pain and discomfort she has endured was such that her life apart from work has been turned from one full of activity to one devoted to rest and recovery.  She is not housebound.  She drives a car for up to 20 hours a week and makes herself useful in the lives of her children.  The level of her pain and discomfort resulted in this woman – whom I am convinced is not a slacker and enjoyed her job in the world of insurance adjusting – being off work for six weeks, returning to work at half-time for two months and, ultimately, stopping work after having her employer cooperate in every way possible to reduce the demands of the job so that she could continue working.  That speaks volumes about her condition.  Additionally, the fact she actually enjoyed her work and has had it curtailed as a result of the defendant’s negligence must weigh heavily in the assessment of non-pecuniary damages.  I have considered the cases placed before me by counsel.  To track some of the language used in Knauf v. Chao, 2009 BCCA 605, I classify this as a case in which there is a real and substantial possibility that the plaintiff’s soft tissue injury will prove to be “permanent” but the degree of pain and discomfort cannot be considered to be “the most severe in nature” when compared with that of plaintiffs in other such cases.  Taking into account not just what I have said here but the whole of the evidence and all I have said thus far in these reasons for judgment, I award the plaintiff $60,000 by way of non-pecuniary damages.

This case was interesting for Mr. Justice Stewart’s very specific reasons setting out why he rejected many of the defence positions advanced at trial and also for the Court’s discussion of the law of adverse inference for failing to call a treating physician in an injury claim.

adverse inference, bc injury claims, chronic pain, chronic soft tissue injuries, Fibromyalgia, Mr. Justice Stewart, Poirier v. Aubrey

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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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