$80,000 Non-Pecuniary Damages for Chronic Pain and PTSD
Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court awarding damages for injuries and loss as a result of a 2007 BC Car Crash to a previously disabled Plaintiff.
In today’s case (Viner-Smith v. Kiing) the Plaintiff was previously disabled with depression and other medical issues. In 2007 he was involved in a rear-end car crash. The Crash caused various physical injuries and exacerbated his pre-existing depression.
In assessing the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) at $80,000 Mr. Justice Holmes summarized the accident related injuries as follows:
 The plaintiff now suffers from the complex interaction of a combination of chronic pain, major depressive disorder, and PTSD. The chronic pain syndrome and PTSD are a result of the motor vehicle accident. A depressive disorder was present before the accident but in my view was increased or exacerbated from the effect of the accident. The combination of conditions can have the effect that a worsening of the symptoms of any one may cause another to worsen.
 The combination of these disorders is notoriously difficult to treat pharmacologically. Dr. Passey’s prognosis for the plaintiff “…remains poor for a full recovery and I am pessimistic about any future significant improvements” and “even with further treatment it is most likely that he will have a restricted lifestyle, diminished ability to enjoy life and a restricted capacity for any type of competitive employability for the foreseeable future.”
 The plaintiff therefore sustained soft tissue injury in the accident and he suffered significantly in the immediate post accident period with diminishing pain over three or four months. He also suffered an increase or exacerbation of the psychological symptoms of anxiety, depression and agoraphobia which he had experienced pre-accident but to a lesser degree.
 The plaintiff’s pre-accident depression involved passive thoughts of suicide but post accident they escalated to active ideation, with the plaintiff researching methods to commit suicide although not following through because of the effect he believed it would have on his family. The symptoms of agoraphobia in not leaving his home, answering the phone, getting the mail, and becoming isolated and reclusive, appear to have increased from sporadic and partial pre-accident to the plaintiff tending toward being totally reclusive and isolated after the accident. The plaintiff even stopped filling out the monthly forms required to receive the funding for his son’s autism program and the government cut off payment.
 There is a good deal of evidence in the Odyssey documentation, the records of Dr. Applegarth, and the testimony of his wife and friends, that the plaintiffs depression and anxiety conditions existed prior to the accident. The accident injuries ended the ability of the plaintiff to continue with the Odyssey program, however it may well not have succeeded in any event and the plaintiff was very unhappy with Odyssey before the accident and on the verge of withdrawing.
 The surgery for the CSDC has not occurred although available since 2004. There was no firm commitment made to undergo the surgery and until it was successfully completed the plaintiff would not be returning to work.
 The plaintiff had not worked for 6 years at the time of the accident, including an unsuccessful attempt in 2003 doing only non-driving dispatch work. Statistically persons who have not worked for two years are unlikely to return to employment.
 The health of the plaintiff prior to the motor vehicle accident was certainly impaired and he had significant disability. The plaintiff was particularly vulnerable to both psychological and physical injury and both were caused by the defendant. The plaintiff at the time of the accident was engaged in a tangible program directed toward an ultimate return to employment, however the result was problematical and uncertain. There is no doubt however the effect of injuries the plaintiff sustained in the accident did interfere with his ability to rehabilitate himself and did constitute a set back to him.
 I agree with the assessment of Dr. Pullyblank that the prospects for the plaintiff’s return to work as a bus driver were low before the accident but lower still after. The major effect of PTSD is that the plaintiff is eliminated from employment driving a bus or related occupations as that might trigger his fear of driving, accidents, injury and death.
 The plaintiff, because of the increased level of his depression and anxiety post accident, and his chronic pain and PTSD, has suffered a further impact on his already impaired quality of life. The loss of hope of returning to employment as a bus driver, which he loved, and the lessening of his chances generally for remunerative employment, will impact his enjoyment of life…
 I assess the plaintiff’s non-pecuniary general damages for pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life and loss of amenities at $80,000.
In addition to assessment for pain and suffering for chronic pain and PTSD imposed on pre-existing depression this case is also worth reviewing for the court’s award of damages for wage loss for a previously disabled plaintiff. In today’s case it was accepted that the accident caused no past wage loss and that given the Plaintiff’s pre-accident absence from the workforce it was ‘statistically unlikely’ that he would return to the work force even if the accident did not happen. Despite this, Mr. Justice Holmes awarded the Plaintiff $50,000 for diminished earning capacity. The court’s key discussion in coming to this figure is reproduced below:
 The plaintiff does not seek past income loss and that is because there has been none. He remains on disability insurance from his original employment. Regardless of the motor vehicle accident it was problematic whether the plaintiff would have completed his rehabilitation program with Odyssey, pursued conditioning, lost weight, underwent successful surgery for his ear problem and hernia, and been successful in dealing with his depression, agoraphobia, gout and other health problems.
 I am of the view that on the whole of the evidence there was only a minimal chance, absent the motor vehicle accident, that the plaintiff would have successfully achieved rehabilitation through the Odyssey program, successfully resolved his ear problem with surgery, and overcome his other medical and psychological conditions that would perhaps then have allowed him to attempt a return to his job as a bus driver after a six year absence.
 On the evidence, I accept the injuries resulting from the motor vehicle accident give rise to only a minimal change from the plaintiff’s pre-accident earning capacity. That change is that as a result of the effects of PTSD he will no longer be capable of employment as a bus driver or in any related work which will trigger his PTSD symptoms.
 The reality however is that both prior to, and after, the motor vehicle accident the plaintiff presented to any prospective employer as a person:
· who had not worked for six years
· that was physically deconditioned
· who could not sustain physical activity for prolonged periods
· who suffered SCDS which triggered dizziness, balance problems, and headaches at random and on physical activity
· suffered episodic bouts of depression and suicidal ideation
· suffered diverse anxiety and agoraphobia feelings
· and personally doubted his own ability to return to work.
 The plaintiff pre-accident did not pursue any job opportunity although with training or further education had many options open to him, most of which still remain after the motor vehicle accident.
 The PTSD has however further reduced the plaintiff’s pre accident ability to earn income and I assess the further diminution in the plaintiffs earning capacity attributable to the effect of the injury from the motor vehicle accident at $50,000.
depression, diminished earning capacity, Mr. Justice Holmes, non-pecunairy damages, pain and suffering, post traumatic stress disorder, pre-existing injuries, psychological injuries, PTSD, Viner-Smith v. Kiing, wage loss, wage loss when previously disabled