$75,000 Non-Pecuniary Assessment for Triggering of Pain in Pre-Existing Degeneration

As previously discussed, a common pattern following a motor vehicle collision is the onset of pain in a pre-existing but otherwise asymptomatic degenerative condition.  Reasons for judgement were released recently by the BC Supreme Court, Kelowna Registry, addressing such an injury.
In the recent case (Culos v. Chretien) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2006 pedestrian collision.  The Defendant motorist was found fully at fault.  The collision caused an aggravation of pre-existing low back pain and further caused chronic neck pain problems.  The latter problems were found to be due to pre-existing degeneration which became symptomatic as a result of the impact.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $75,000 Mr. Justice Rogers provided the following reasons:

[51] I find that the plaintiff accurately described his injuries and the symptoms he experienced after the accident. The fact that his left hip was sore when he went to see his physician several days after the accident and that his left thigh just above the knee was not bruised tell me that the defendant’s car hit him on his left hip, not his left thigh. I find that the impact gave the plaintiff a severe body-wide jolt. The impact caused the pre-existing but asymptomatic degenerative disease in his neck to become symptomatic. Absent the accident, the plaintiff may have lived out his entire life without any neck symptoms. The accident caused his neck to be painful, and the pain has persisted to this day. I accept Dr. Vallentyne’s opinion that the plaintiff’s neck symptoms are permanent.

[52] I find that the plaintiff’s memory of his pre-accident back function is faulty. The symptoms of pain that he felt in his lower back in the approximately one year before the accident must have been significant. I find that is so because the plaintiff is clearly not one to go running for medical treatment for minor or transitory complaints – the fact that he held off for five days after the accident before seeking medical help supports that proposition. For that reason, I accept Dr. Vallentyne’s opinion that even if the accident had not happened the plaintiff’s periodically symptomatic low back pain and his pre-existing degenerative disease in that region would have, as Dr. Vallentyne said, required him to “minimize heavy lifting/carrying as well as repetitive bending/twisting”. That said, I find that the accident accelerated and worsened the plaintiff’s low back symptoms; “accelerated” in the sense of causing the pain to be constant rather than periodic, and “worsened” in the sense that the low back pain prevented the plaintiff from participating in his usual activities to a much greater degree than before.

[53] I cannot accept Dr. Grypma’s opinion that the plaintiff’s present symptoms are not related to or caused by the accident. I find that the flaw in Dr. Grypma’s opinion is his dismissal without discussion of the indisputable temporal connection between the onset of the plaintiff’s neck and back symptoms immediately after the accident and his continuing symptoms throughout of pain in exactly those same regions. The link is, of course, the fact that those symptoms have persisted from then until now. The physicians agree that the accident did not accelerate the degeneration of the plaintiff’s neck and back – it follows that the plaintiff’s pains are not a result of increased degeneration. If the symptoms occurred after the accident, it is reasonable to conclude that they were caused by the accident, and the doctors agree on that as well. What Dr. Grypma does not explain is how it is that the plaintiff’s symptoms transitioned from pains caused by the accident to pains caused by his degenerative disease, and how it is that even without the accident, the plaintiff would nevertheless now be suffering from those symptoms. I find that there is a causal link between the accident, the onset of the plaintiff’s neck pain and the worsening of his low back symptoms, and the persistence of those symptoms through to the present day.

[54] Currently the plaintiff’s neck and back symptoms are present on a daily basis. They flare up when the plaintiff does anything strenuous. The symptoms aggravate, frustrate and tire the plaintiff out. They have reduced his enjoyment of recreational activities. The symptoms are a permanent feature of the plaintiff’s life. After discounting the plaintiff’s claim to account for the fact that absent the accident his lower back would have troubled the plaintiff periodically, I find that the proper award for non-pecuniary damages in this case is $75,000.

bc injury law, Culos v. Chertien, Mr. Justice Rogers, pre-existing degenerative changes

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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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