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$95,000 Non-Pecuniary Damages For Disc Protrusions Requiring Discectomy; Dr. Dommisse Criticized

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Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, assessing damages for injuries caused by a motor vehicle collision.
In last week’s case (Ng v. Sarkaria) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2007 collision.  The Defendant admitted fault for the crash.  The 31 year old Plaintiff suffered “a large focal disc protrusion at L4-5 and a less significant protrusion at L5-S1“.  As a result the Plaintiff went on to have a partial discectomy.
In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $95,000 Mr. Justice Butler provided the following reasons:
[43] In summary, Mr. Ng has been left with a limitation in the amount of activities he can do.  He has also suffered some restriction in the nature of the activities he can do because he is focused on staying healthy.  He is determined to continue his work as a TFR.  He is not disabled by pain and there is no suggestion that he suffers from chronic pain.  Rather, he has episodic pain when he overexerts himself…

[46] I have found the decisions referred to by the plaintiff to be helpful to my decision.  Of course, each assessment depends on the unique facts of the case.  Here, Mr. Ng’s injury was significant; however, he has had a very positive result from the surgery.  He continues to be able to do all of the activities of his job.  His income has increased to a level greater than it was before the accident.  He must be careful to avoid excessive stress on his back and must carefully balance his work and home life.  However, when I compare his situation to that of the plaintiffs in the cases he relies upon, he is in a better position because he does not experience ongoing chronic pain and is able to continue to carry out most of the activities he could before the accident.  However, I must also take into account the possibility that he will not be able to continue to perform at his current level as a result of the injuries suffered in the accident.  There is a possibility that his pain and restriction of activities will increase in the future.

[47] When I take all of these factors into account, I conclude that the appropriate award for non-pecuniary damages is $95,000.

Prior to reaching this decision the Court heard from competing medical evidence about the connection between the collision to the disc protrusions.  The physician retained by the defence (Dr. Dommisse) provided evidence minimizing this connection arguing the injury was perhaps more likely connected to a work related incident.  In rejecting this opinion Mr. Justice Butler provided the following criticism:
[30] The defence was critical of Dr. Aitken’s alleged failure to fully inquire into the work activities undertaken by Mr. Ng after he went back to work.  However, I am of the view that it is Dr. Dommisse who can be criticized for failing to back up his opinion by pointing to evidence that would connect the Herniations to a particular injury or incident at work.  All of the doctors were aware in general terms of the nature of Mr. Ng’s work.  They all agreed that it is possible for such work to cause a tortional injury to the spine.  However, there was no evidence that Mr. Ng suffered such an injury or insult at work between June 2008 and November 2008.  Indeed, he deliberately avoided the more onerous work tasks including those jobs requiring the use of the large ladder.  He does not recall using the ladder in that timeframe.  During much of that period he was off work, on light duties or avoiding heavy tasks.  The evidence established that there was only one significant injury or insult to Mr. Ng’s spine:  the injury that was suffered in the accident.

bc injury law, Disc Injury Cases, discectomy, Dr. Dommisse, L4-5 Disc Proturision, Mr. Justice Butler, Ng v. Sarkaria