BC Court of Appeal Discusses Non-Pecuniary Damages for Chronic Pain

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Court of Appeal addressing, amongst other things, a fair range of non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) for chronic pain caused by the negligence of others.
In today’s case (Rizzolo v. Brett) the Plaintiff was injured in a motorcycle accident in 2005.  The Defendant was found fully at fault for the crash.    The Plaintiff suffered a fractured tibia and fibula.  These bony injuries went on to good recovery however the Plaintiff was left with chronic pain as a consequence of the collision.  At trial the Plaintiff was awarded $562,000 in total compensation for the injuries including a non-pecuniary damages award of $125,000.  (You can click here to read my post summarizing the trial judgement)
The Defendant appealed arguing that this assessment was inordinately high.  The BC Court of Appeal disagreed and held that in cases of chronic pain which affect functioning there is nothing inappropriate with non-pecuniary damage awards well over $100,000.  Specifically the BC High Court held as follows:

[32]         A review of those cases supports the respondent’s argument that the trial judge’s award of $125,000 was within the acceptable range.  In Moses v. Kim, 2007 BCSC 1388, the plaintiff was struck while crossing the Trans-Canada highway, breaking his legs.  While the breaks healed, the plaintiff was left with pain in his legs, back and hip.  As he had been a very physical person prior to the accident, hunting, fishing, logging and playing sports, much of his life was affected.  In addition to restricting the activities he could enjoy, this led him to become shorter tempered and angrier.  He was awarded $165,000 in non-pecuniary damages.

[33]         The plaintiff in Funk v. Carter, 2004 BCSC 866, was also struck by a vehicle and suffered broken legs, as well as some soft tissue injuries.  While the plaintiff underwent surgery, the injuries did not heal well, and he was left with chronic pain and impaired mobility.  As with the case at bar, and with Moses, the plaintiff had been “very fit” prior to the accident, and had “a great deal of difficulty adjusting psychologically”.  As a result, he was awarded $140,000 in non-pecuniary damages.

[34]         Moore v. Brown, 2009 BCSC 190, was a case similar to that at bar where the plaintiff was on a motorcycle when struck by the defendant.  He suffered substantial injuries, including a shoulder injury, a leg ligament tear, knee problems and a foot injury.  The accident also led to chronic neck pain, headaches and lumbar problems.  Three years later, at trial, the plaintiff was still experiencing difficulties, including an altered gait and difficulty continuing in his work as a geo-scientist.  The trial judge awarded non-pecuniary damages of $115,000.

[35]         In Dufault v. Kathed Holdings Ltd., 2007 BCSC 186, the plaintiff fell while descending the stairs at the defendant’s business.  The fall resulted in knee injuries that the trial judge accepted would likely require knee replacement surgery.  This was exacerbated by chronic pain, hip problems, and some resultant mild depression.  Taking these considerations into account, the trial judge awarded $110,000 in non-pecuniary damages.

[36]         Finally, in Mosher v. Bitonti, 1998 CanLII 5186 (B.C.S.C.), the plaintiff sued two defendants for separate accidents.  The trial judge found that the plaintiff had suffered fractured right leg bones as a result of the first accident, which caused muscular damage.  He accepted that these were “very significant injuries” and that the plaintiff had suffered a painful recovery.  While there was a small chance of future degenerative arthritis, the plaintiff was left with a normal gait, but with some difficulty squatting, kneeling or crouching.  Those injuries resulted in the plaintiff being awarded $80,000 in non-pecuniary damages.

[37]         As can be seen from those cases, trial judges have assessed non-pecuniary damages at well over $100,000 where there is an element of significant ongoing pain and, particularly, where the plaintiff had previously enjoyed an active lifestyle or a physical vocation….

[39]         I agree with the respondent that the trial judge did not assess damages on the basis of a well-resolved fracture.  Rather, the award for non-pecuniary damages was largely based on the trial judge’s conclusions that the respondent suffered and would continue to suffer from chronic debilitating pain that profoundly affected all aspects of his life.  Viewed in this way, the award cannot be said to be inordinately high.  The chronic pain cases cited by the trial judge support her assessment.

[40]         I would not accede to this ground of appeal.

Another point of interest in today’s case were the Court’s comments about gathering new evidence after trial to challenge an award for ‘diminished earning capacity‘.  At trial the Plaintiff was awarded $250,000 for his loss of earning capacity.  The Defendant appealed and asked the Court of Appeal to force the Plaintiff to produce “documents pertaining to his employment since the trial“.  The BC High Court refused to do so and provided the following useful comments:

[43]         An appellate court should decline to exercise its discretion to make an order to admit “new evidence”, unless that evidence would tend to falsify an assumption that the trial judge made about what was, at the time of judgment, the future:  see Jens v. Jens, 2008 BCCA 392 at para. 29, citing North Vancouver (District) v. Fawcett (1998), 60 B.C.L.R. (3d) 201 (C.A.)(sub nomNorth Vancouver (District) v. Lunde).

[44]         It is unnecessary for me to review in detail the nature of the evidence tendered on the application by the appellant and in reply by the respondent.  Suffice it to say that the conclusions the appellant contended should be drawn from her proposed new evidence were clearly and persuasively refuted by the respondent in an affidavit and, in any event, did not rise to the necessary factual standard that would properly form the basis for a successful application for admission of new evidence.

bc court of appeal, bc injury law, chronic pain, non-pecuniary damages, pain and suffering, rizzolo v. brett

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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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