$90,000 Non-Pecuniary Damages For Aggravation of Psychiatric Illness
Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, awarding a Plaintiff just over $240,000 in total damages as a result of injuries and loss sustained in a BC motor vehicle collision.
In last week’s case the Plaintiff was involved in a 2006 collision. She was not at fault for the crash. She sustained physical injuries which included a disk protrusion in her neck. She also suffered from a pre-existing psychiatric illness (bipolar disorder) which was significantly aggravated as a result of her crash. The Court assessed the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) at $90,000. In doing so Mr. Justice Willcock provided the following reasons:
 I accept the evidence of (the Plaintiff’s) treating physicians that she sustained injury to the musculoligamentous structures of her right neck and shoulder area and that she now suffers from a disk protrusion at the C5-C6 level that may become increasingly symptomatic. Dr. Sahjpaul, the witness most qualified to address the cause and effect of the disc protrusion believes the MRI suggests some cord compression but is not convinced that the plaintiff’s symptoms are entirely, or even significantly a result of that cord compression. I accept his conclusion that the plaintiff has neck pain and right shoulder and arm pain and weakness which is a combination of a soft tissue injury and some irritation of the nerve root at the C5-6 level. I further accept his conclusion that the motor vehicle accident was causative of the plaintiff’s symptoms.
 I find that since the accident she has suffered mechanical neck, shoulder, mid-back, and low back pain, weakness, and tenderness. Despite that pain and weakness, she has demonstrated on examination by her physicians that she has relatively normal range of motion. Only minimal back muscle wasting has been noted.
 (the Plaintiff) perceives that her persistent back pain limits her ability to engage in tasks that require prolonged static or awkward positioning, including twisting, reaching, or stooping. It is noted, however, that (the Plaintiff) has difficulty with self-assessment and is prone to overestimate the extent of her disability.
 I accept the opinion of Dr. Adrian that (the Plaintiff) will probably continue to experience difficulty performing activities that place physical forces on the structures involving her neck and back, but find that (the Plaintiff) is limited as much by psychological as by physical symptoms. While her pain has been chronic there is some indication that with therapy the psychological component of her symptoms is at least temporarily improving.
 I accept the evidence of Dr. Adrian and Dr. Sahjpaul that there is a risk that the C5-6 disc will cause increasing pain over time. (The Plaintiff) may require surgical intervention as a result of the obvious and problematic C5-6 herniation seen on the MRI…
 The accident in this case has had a significant effect on (the Plaintiff’s) life. I am satisfied on the evidence that she suffered from a significant bipolar affective disorder that required monitoring and medication prior to the motor vehicle accident but that that disorder was significantly exacerbated to the point that she became significantly disabled by her illness from 2006 to 2009. While she is under reasonable control at the moment, her significant depressive and manic episodes have made her more prone to relapse. In addition, she has a physical injury that continues to trouble her and a disk protrusion that may become more symptomatic in the future. Taking into account the likelihood that she would to some extent have suffered from increasing symptoms of bipolar disorder, I am of the view that non-pecuniary damages should be set at $90,000.
In addition to the above, the decision is worth reviewing in full for the Court’s comments about the expert psychiatrist retained by the Defendant. The Defendants argued that any worsening of the Plaintiff’s bipolar disorder was not a result of the collision, rather it could be better explained by “chronic family stresses, non-compliance with treatment, and pregnancy“. In support of this argument the Defendant’s relied on Dr. Solomons, a psychiatrist retained by the Defence. Mr. Justice Willcock rejected this argument and in doing so provided the following criticism of Dr. Solomons opinions:
Further, there is no reason, in my view, to regard stressors other than the car accident as more compelling or predominant. Dr. Solomons, in reaching that conclusion, ignored clear evidence of the significance of the accident. He erroneously concluded that (the Plaintiff) had not described the traumatic effect of the accident and its emotional consequences to her physicians, or sought psychiatric help. In cross-examination Dr. Solomons acknowledged deficiencies in his review of the records and misunderstanding of (the Plaintiff’s) history and treatment. While he expressly describes pregnancy as a factor contributing to the increase in symptoms of bipolar illness he does not consider the fact that (the Plaintiff’s) one specific worry during the pregnancy was the possibility of a miscarriage or birth defect due to the motor vehicle accident… I reject most of Dr. Solomons’ opinion
Just last month the BC Supreme court criticized another psychiatrist retained by defence counsel in injury litigation. Since medico-legal experts generally enjoy immunity from lawsuits if they are careless in expressing their opinions, judicial criticism is a welcome development which can help keep privately retained expert witnesses in-line.