$95,000 Non-Pecuniary Damages for Chronic Pain and PTSD – Dr. Sovio Scrutinized

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, awarding a Plaintiff just over $300,000 in total damages as a result of injuries and loss sustained in 2 BC Car Crashes.
In today’s case (Roberts v. Scribner) the Plaintiff was involved in two collisions, the first in 2005, the second in 2006.  She was not at fault for either crash.  The trial focused solely on the issue of the value of the Plaintiff’s ICBC Injury Claims.
The Plaintiff’s injuries affected her neck, mid back, low back, left shoulder collar bone and caused headaches.  She also suffered from depression and PTSD.
In assessing non-pecuniary loss (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) at $95,000 Madam Justice Bruce made the following findings about the Plaintiff’s injuries:

[173] I am satisfied that the soft tissues injuries Ms. Roberts suffered to her back, and to a lesser extent, her neck, have caused her substantial pain and disability since November 2005 when the first accident occurred. After the second accident she further aggravated her physical injuries, which developed into a chronic pain condition. In addition, Ms. Roberts’ psychological illnesses have aggravated her physical pain and suffering and have clearly contributed to the cycle of continuing pain. I note parenthetically that there is no dispute that Ms. Roberts’ PTSD symptoms and depression stem from the trauma of the accidents. Even the defence specialist, Dr. Smith, was of this view. At p. 5 of his report Dr. Smith says:

The most common sequel of motor vehicle accidents, particularly rear-end-type accidents, is the development of soft tissue injuries. If the soft tissue injury pain goes on for a number of months, individuals develop poor sleep and then are at risk for depression. I believe this is exactly what has happened with Ms. Roberts as a result of the two accidents.

[174] All of the specialists who examined Ms. Roberts have guarded prognosis for her complete recovery from the soft tissue injuries given the length of time they have persisted despite her tremendous efforts to rehabilitate herself. While Dr. Shah opined that some improvement could be expected in the future, he was unable to say at what point this might occur and to what extent Ms. Roberts’ condition would improve. Certainly there is some hope that different therapies may assist Ms. Roberts; however, her physical condition has plateaued since mid 2006 and she has not improved substantially since that time…

[177] The injuries caused by the accidents have also adversely affected Ms. Roberts’ ability to enjoy the recreational activities she loved to do before the collisions. She has attempted to return to snowboarding, but has not been able to tolerate more than one or two hours before the pain makes her stop for the day. Ms. Roberts has given up competitive horseback riding and the other sports she enjoyed before the accidents. Hiking and camping are also activities that she now finds too difficult to do because of the back pain she experiences when walking on an incline and sleeping on the ground. The physical and psychological injuries have also affected her social life; she is not able to sit for long periods at friends’ homes or in a movie theatre and thus spends most of her time at home seeking out a comfortable position. Her sleeplessness has affected her relationship with Mr. Harvey. They now have to sleep in separate rooms.

[178] Ms. Roberts has also undergone a complete personality change due to the injuries caused by the accident. The collateral witnesses testified about how fun- loving and comical Ms. Roberts was before the accidents and how depressed, sad and serious she has become since these events occurred. She does not enjoy life anymore and appears to function physically like a far older woman, moving slowly and stiffly and constantly attempting to find a comfortable position.

[179] Mr. Pakulak tested Ms. Roberts’ functional capacity overall, and in respect of several different movements that may be required for work, household chores, and recreational activities. There is no doubt that Ms. Roberts in many respects is functioning at a high level. However, it is also apparent that she has a reduced capacity in several functions, some of which are critical in her line of work. While the fact that she is unable to lift over 30 lbs does not render her disabled from performing the work of a graphic designer, Ms. Roberts’ reduced capacity for sitting and other movements related to working at a computer desk adversely affect her ability to carry out these duties efficiently and over an extended period. It is also important to consider that while Ms. Roberts may appear to be able bodied compared to many people, it is the changes in her life that are relevant to an assessment of damages. Before the accidents, Ms. Roberts was a youthful, extremely fit and active woman who had no difficulty whatsoever managing a full-time job, a busy social life, and an active recreational and exercise program. The functional limitations that now govern Ms. Roberts’ activities clearly represent a substantial change for her. Thus the impact on her ability to enjoy life cannot be underestimated. Moreover, in light of the guarded medical prognosis for her complete recovery, it is likely that these functional restrictions may, to some extent, continue to govern her life for the foreseeable future….

[181] Turning to the issue of quantum, it is well established that each case must be decided on its own facts. The authorities cited by the parties are useful as a guide in regard  to quantum; however, each particular case has unique factors that must be considered when awarding damages for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life. In this regard, I found the authorities cited by Ms. Roberts, and in particular, the circumstances in Gosal, more closely mirror the facts in this case than the authorities cited by the defendants. Given my conclusions regarding the nature of Ms. Roberts’ injuries, the impact these injuries have had on her life, the length of time she has continued to suffer, and the guarded prognosis for her complete recovery, I find an award of $95,000 is appropriate in the circumstances.

An interesting side note to this judgement was the Court’s critical commentary of Dr. Sovio.  ICBC hired this doctor to conduct an ‘independent medical examination‘ of the Plaintiff.  As I’ve previously pointed out there are a handful of doctors who do a lot of these independent examinations for ICBC and it is not unusual for some of the reports generated by some of these physicians to contradict the opinions of treating doctors.  That indeed was the case in today’s judgement and Madam Justice Bruce pointed this out and gave ‘little weight‘ to Dr. Sovio’s opinions.  The Court made the following critical comments:

[131] Bearing in mind the anomaly of Dr. Sovio’s report, his lack of independent recollection of the interview, and the failure to cross examine Ms. Roberts on what is recorded in his report, I find little weight can be placed on his recorded history of her complaints and symptoms. It is also important to note that Dr. Sovio did not record Ms. Roberts’ exact words. Thus there may be errors of interpretation in his assessment of her pain levels, as well as her history of past and current symptoms…

While Dr. Sovio has come to a conclusion that Ms. Roberts is no longer suffering from her soft tissue injuries, I find his opinion is clearly inconsistent with the considered opinions of a variety of different specialists. As such, I find little weight should be placed on his assessment.

chronic pain, depression, Dr. Sovio, icbc injury claims, Madam Justice Bruce, psychological injuries, PTSD, Roberts v. Scribner

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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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