$70,000 Non-Pecuniary Damages for Thumb Joint Injury
Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, assessing non-pecuniary damages of $70,000 for a serious thumb injury.
In this week’s case (Dobre v. Langley) the Plaintiff cyclist was struck by a vehicle. He suffered a right thumb “Bennett Fracture” (a fracture at the base of the thumb where it connects with the wrist). The Plaintiff was 20 years old at the time of injury. He required surgery to fix the fracture. Unfortunately the Plaintiff was left with limitations of the thumb and these were expected to continue and worsen with age with the onset of post-traumatic arthritis. In assessing the non-pecuniary damages at $70,000 Mr. Justice Brown provided the following reasons:
 While there are some discernible slight divergences between the opinions of Dr. Gropper and Dr. Smit, in substance they are not large ones. I accept that within the span of 15 years Mr. Dobre will experience some worsening of his degenerative arthritis that carries with it a risk that by middle age it could become severe and accompanied by a corresponding decline in function. There is also a chance Mr. Dobre could make his way into his middle age years without experiencing a significant decline in function, but the chances are greater that he will do so by then. While confident predictions about his needing future surgery are not possible, given the early onset of degenerative changes and the nature of his fracture, there is at least some risk he will require future surgery with doubtful benefit.
 Mr. Dobre feels dull intermittent pain at the base of his thumb, where the surgical nails were inserted. Moreover, his grip is weaker and his thumb is stiff. Prolonged grabbing and pulling brings the rapid onset of piercing pain. Prolonged writing causes discomfort and his thumb discomfort bothers him when he is writing university exams. In his part time job as a librarian, he finds he cannot hold many books when sorting them throughout the library. Due to his injury, he has to hold the books in an awkward position to avoid stressing the thumb…
 I find Mr. Dobre’s injuries are more akin to those in Tsougrianis, in which the 22 year old plaintiff suffered fractures to both thumbs, one of which required surgery, soft tissue injuries to her neck and back, and tendonitis. The Court found the soft tissue injuries and tendonitis would heal within a year of the trial. With respect to the thumb injuries, the Court found the plaintiff’s right thumb injury had largely resolved itself by trial and there was “not a substantial possibility” the left thumb injury was a permanent functional disability: Tsougrianis, at para. 35. Furthermore, the Court found the plaintiff’s pain, strength and gripping difficulties in the left thumb would eventually disappear with exercise and further surgery, with the exception of “fine precision” handiwork:Tsougrianis, at para. 36. This is not the case for Mr. Dobre. Given the permanence of Mr. Dobre’s right thumb disability and the likely onset of arthritis, his injuries, all factors considered, appear somewhat worse than those of the plaintiff in Tsougrianis.
 I find an award of $70,000 for non-pecuniary damages is appropriate in the circumstances if the $5,000 assessed for loss of home making/maintenance capacity is included in that amount. I therefore award $70,000 for non-pecuniary damages, an amount that includes a specific segment of $5,000 for loss of home making/maintenance capacity.
This case is also worth reviewing for the Court’s discussion of diminished earning capacity. Given the Plaintiff’s young age he had no set pattern of earnings prior to the injury. In these cases it is more difficult to predict the consequences of injury on long term employment. Mr. Justice Brown assessed damages of $60,000 for diminished earning capacity in doing so made some practical comments at paragraphs 65-74 of the reasons for judgement.