$80,000 Non-Pecuniary Damages for Onset of Pain in Degenerative Spine

A common set of facts Courts grapple with in ICBC Injury Claims is when an accident causes a Whiplash Injury and also causes pre-existing but symptom free neck degeneration to become painful.  Reasons for judgment were released today by the BC Supreme Court dealing with exactly these facts.
In today’s case (Prednichuk v. Spencer) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2004 BC Car Crash.   The Defendant was travelling at about 100 kmph when he lost control and the collision occurred.   He was found 100% responsible for the collision.   In addressing the Plaintiff’s damages the majority of the medical evidence focused on the extent that this accident was responsible for the Plaintiff’s degenerative neck condition.  Dr. Hershler, a specialist in physiatry gave the following opinion evidence which was largely accepted by the court:

[80]         In Dr. Hershler’s opinion, the accident caused the following musculoskeletal injuries, which fall into three diagnostic categories:

(1)   Musculoligamentous injury to the lower region of her cervical spine (moderate severity);

(2)   Musculoligamentous injury at the thoracolumbar junction (moderate severity);

(3)   Mild bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome….

[83]         Dr. Hershler’s overall view is that while the spinal degenerative changes were probably present before the accident occurred, it is more likely than not that the accident accelerated their development and rendered them symptomatic.  Dr. Hershler clarified that, in his view, had the accident not occurred, it is not likely that Ms. Predinchuk would have developed the same degree of cervical degeneration and that, in all probability, her degenerative condition was contributing to her pain.

[84]         In Dr. Hershler’s view, the prognosis for Ms. Predinchuk’s complete recovery is guarded.  He believes it more likely than not that she will continue to have to deal with some level of symptoms indefinitely.  At the same time, however, he stated that he would not rule out completely the prospect of further healing and additional improvement occurring over the next two years.

In assessing the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages at $80,000 Madam Justice Ballance of the BC Supreme Court made the following findings and highlighted the following facts:

[105] Based on the evidence as a whole, I conclude that, in all probability, the accident caused Ms. Predinchuk’s soft tissue injuries to her neck, back and shoulders, her headaches and intermittent arm and hand numbness.  I conclude also that the accident caused the formerly dormant degenerative condition throughout Ms. Predinchuk’s spine to become symptomatic, which has added another component to her overall discomfort and pain and the chronicity of her symptoms….

[113]     Members of Ms. Predinchuk’s family and her friends testified at trial.  Without exception, their evidence was reliable and credible.  Their evidence, in conjunction with testimony of Ms. Predinchuk, Ms. Chu, Mr. Mason and Mr. Markus, establishes that before the accident Ms. Predinchuk was a highly industrious, successful businesswoman with many recreational interests and pursuits.  She was self-confident and strong with an established social network.  She was “house proud” and spent considerable energy maintaining and improving her homes over the years.  She kept a garden and did most small household repairs herself.  Over the years, Ms. Predinchuk had painted her various homes, removed wall-to-wall carpeting, sanded wood floors, laid ceramic tile and laminate flooring, jack-hammered a wall, installed cupboards, drywalled a play room for her grandchildren, and tiled a fireplace surround.  I accept that she had no physical limitations in carrying out those activities and enjoyed performing them.

[114]     Ms. Predinchuk’s life at work and outside of work changed dramatically after the accident.  Her impairments with respect to work with Crown have already been canvassed.  In terms of her non-work activities, I find that she significantly curtailed her participation in the social activities that she had once enjoyed, such as line dancing, playing bingo and cards and dinner parties with friends.  She became increasingly reclusive.  Her energy levels became markedly depleted after the accident, and have never fully revived.

[115]     Ms. Predinchuk’s daughter-in-law, who has known her for 26 years, testified that currently Ms. Predinchuk does not accomplish half or even a quarter of the activities that she previously carried out in a typical day.  She routinely complains of a sore neck, back and arm, and avoids driving.  I accept that Ms. Predinchuk’s worry over driving has prevented her from driving across town to see her grandchildren and son as much as she would like.  She no longer hosts large family dinners on her own, which was a long-standing tradition that she assumed from her mother and which she enjoyed immensely before the accident.

[116]     For a self-made and self-sufficient woman like Ms. Predinchuk, her perceived loss of independence due to a weakened body and difficulty performing her work, doing mundane chores and driving is especially distressing, and continues to bother her deeply today.

[117]     I find that the physical symptoms caused by the accident have brought about unwelcome and disruptive changes to the enjoyment and quality of Ms. Predinchuk’s life and continue to do so.  She is an older plaintiff and has not recovered the way a younger person might have.  While her symptoms have clearly improved, the prognosis for a full recovery is poor.  Ms. Predinchuk is not the woman that she was a moment before the accident occurred and probably never will be again.

[118]     A tragedy occurred in Ms. Predinchuk’s family in 2006.  There was a mild suggestion made by counsel for ICBC that certain aspects of Ms. Predinchuk’s apparent unravelling could be attributed to that.  The evidence does not support that contention, and I reject it.

[119]     Ms. Predinchuk seeks an award for non-pecuniary damages in the range of between $80,000 and $125,000, and has provided case authorities in support.  The defendants have provided case authorities favouring significantly smaller awards.

[120]     Having reviewed the authorities provided by the parties, and considered the totality of the evidence pertaining to Ms. Predinchuk’s specific circumstances, I conclude that a fair and reasonable award for non-pecuniary damages is $80,000.

arthritis, DDD, degenerative disk disease, Madam Justice Ballance, onset of symptoms in pre-existing condition, Prednichuk v. Spencer

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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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