$90,000 Non-Pecuniary Assessment for Labral Tear Requiring Surgery

Reasons for judgement were released yesterday by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, assessing damages for a hip injury sustained in a vehicle collision.
In yesterday’s case (Combs v. Moorman) the Plaintiff was involved in an “extensive” rear end collision in 2007.   The Defendant was found wholly at fault for the crash.  The Plaintiff, a 38 year old massage therapist, suffered a labral tear (a tear of the cartilage cushioning the hip socket).

This injury caused ongoing problems and needed future surgical intervention.  It caused limits in the Plaintiff’s domestic and vocational abilities.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $90,000 Madam Justice Humphries provided the following reasons:

[19] Pain in her left hip is her primary concern presently.  She says it is very painful and affects every treatment she gives.  The pain makes her put her weight on her right leg, and consequently her right leg has begun to hurt as well.  After an MRI, it was determined that she has a labral tear, that is a tear in the material cushioning her hip socket.  A bone scan showed some tenderness on the left trochanter, that is the top of the femur.

[20] Dr. Smit, Ms. Combs’ treating orthopaedic surgeon, recommended freezing injections into the hip and the trochanter respectively as a diagnostic device to determine where the pain was coming from.  That is, if one area were frozen and the pain continued, it would show that the source was the other area.  Dr. Smit said the injections give temporary relief, but symptoms would return in 6 – 8 weeks.  He said in “a distinct minority” of cases the pain does not return.  Ms. Combs declined this procedure…

[27] Ms. Combs was a straightforward witness.  She is obviously used to coping with life in a businesslike manner and does what she has to do.  She works hard, runs a successful clinic, and looks after two children and the home with the help of her mother, her mother-in-law, and her husband.

[28] Ms. Combs suffered fairly extensive injuries in this accident, some of which are permanent.  The hematoma in her knee and the damage to her finger, though not interfering with her activities, will not improve.  She deals with daily neck, back and hip pain and has done so for four years.  While surgery will likely improve her hip pain, it is not likely that her neck and back pain will resolve.  Her prognosis is poor.

[29] She still works long hours, but only with pain, and foregoes activities she used to enjoy in order to work those hours.  Her social life has been impacted because she is too tired to participate.  She cannot sit up on the bed and read to her daughter because of her back pain…

[33] I am of the view that it would have been helpful for Ms. Combs to have the injections for diagnostic purposes and for temporary relief.  Her failure to do so was unreasonable, but although some of her pain may have been relieved temporarily by this procedure and diagnosis of the source of the pain would likely have been facilitated, failure to undergo this procedure does not affect any long term outcome.  Dr. Smit said the cases in which pain does not return after the injections are “a distinct minority”.  In any event, Ms. Combs must still face hip surgery, and according to the medical evidence, delay in having the surgery does not affect its success rate.  Her refusal to undergo months of recovery from surgery while running a busy practice and taking care of young children is simply a matter of weighing how much pain she could cope with and still carry on.  I cannot see her refusal to have the surgery until now as unreasonable.

[34] Obviously each case has distinctive facts, and it is often difficult to reconcile them as awards for pain and suffering are inherently individual.  The cases cited by the plaintiff involve considerably more severe and wide ranging symptoms that Ms. Combs has.  The cases cited by the Third Party involve symptoms that resolved faster than Ms. Combs’ have.  She is not a complainer, but four years post accident, she is still coping daily with its effects and now has to undergo the surgery and recovery time.  The effect of the chance of the early onset of arthritis in the distant future is not great, given the scant evidence that it is likely to occur.

[35] Considering the evidence and the cases cited to me, I set non-pecuniary loss at $90,000.

bc injury law, labral tear, Madam Justice Humphries

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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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