More on BC Injury Claims, Pre-Existing Conditions and Causation

(UPDATE:  The below decision was upheld by the BC Court of Appeal in Reasons for Judgement released on January 19, 2012)
Reasons for judgment were released today by the BC Supreme Court (JFC v. Ladolcetta) awarding a Plaintiff just over $500,000 in total damages as a result of a serious BC motor vehicle collision.
The Crash occurred in 2005 and was a near head-on collision for which the Defendant was found 100% at fault.  As a result of this crash the Plaintiff suffered various serious injuries including a compression fracture in the low back, a brain injury with post concussive problems and various cuts, bruises and soft tissue injuries.
The majority of the judgement dealt with the Plaintiff’s pre-existing psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis and the extent to which this was affected by the collision.
Mr. Justice Brown concluded that in addition to the above serious injuries the Plaintiff’s pre-existing conditions were made significantly worse by the car crash.   The Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages were assessed at $150,000 although this award was then reduced to $120,000 to account for the plaintiff’s ‘failure to mitigate’.
In summarizing the Plaintiff’s accident related injuries and their effect on his life Mr. Justice Brown found as follows:
[112] I find no sufficiently persuasive reason to doubt that the plaintiff sustained significant soft tissue neck, thoracic, lumber spine, right shoulder, ankle, right knee and other soft tissue injuries, as set out in paragraph 3 of these reasons, together with a compression fracture in the lumbar spine, and ongoing sequelae. The ultimate residual effect of these injuries absent the influence of the plaintiff’s psoriatic arthritis will have to wait on the full remediating effects of medication, unfortunately unknown to the date of trial. However, given the history and opinions in this case, I find that the evidence supports a finding that, more likely than not, he will continue to experience some residual symptoms that may be alleviated to a degree by further therapy….
In this case, a belief based on clinical experience that physical or psychological trauma can initiate or influence the course of both psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, is one, based on the sufficiently weighty evidence heard in this case, widely held among dermatologists and rheumatologists in their respective fields…
[153] Given the evidence before me from rheumatologists and dermatologists, as well as Dr. O’Shaughnessy and other experts called, there are sound and substantial reasons for concluding that emotional trauma/stress, as well as physical trauma, may exacerbate both psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis…
I find the evidence, including the plaintiff’s, persuades that the plaintiff’s psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis worsened sufficiently soon after the accident…

[158] What is important here is that the evidence sufficiently establishes that the plaintiff was struggling when he returned to work in mid-February 2006 experiencing joint pain and limitation that he thought he needed to hide for the sake of job security. He saw some improvement in the summer, to be expected because of the sun’s benefits and the fact that he had most of June and July off work, presumably a time when he golfed and was in the sun more. As it is, I note that by early October 2006, he saw Dr. Hong, reporting a flare-up. I accept the plaintiff’s evidence that over-all he had experienced a change in the pattern of the disease from a slow gradual worsening over time between treatments to one of intense flares involving both skin and joints. The basic pattern and course of the disease had manifestly altered; I accept the plaintiff’s evidence that pre-accident he never had to abrade the skin for over two hours each day; that the plaques and other aspects of the disease had taken on an aggressive flaring pattern. This is not to overlook the fact that the worsening condition went largely untreated, which likely worsened his situation; but that points to questions of mitigation discussed below.

[159] Further, as also discussed below, I find that the evidence well establishes that accident-induced ongoing emotional trauma and persistent stress are the pre-dominant and most significant exacerbating factors of both the plaintiff’s psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.

[160] I also reject the defence argument that the onset of psoriatic arthritis suffered by the plaintiff was too temporally removed from the accident to be related to it. There is sufficient accepted evidence to show that the plaintiff’s psoriatic arthritis flared within a few weeks of the accident and involved new areas and that to the date of trial he has not returned to his pre-accident level of functioning…

[216] It must be borne in mind that although the plaintiff in this case did suffer from a psoriatic arthritis condition pre-accident, it was very mild; and he was able to work in what were heavy labor intensive positions. Accepted evidence indicates that the plaintiff’s condition, both in relation to his psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, were set upon a new and more aggressive course after the accident. This was not a short term exacerbation—which said, is not to over look the contribution that the plaintiff’s failure to seek or follow treatment advice played in his worsening condition psoriasis. Further, I find that the plaintiff suffered significant sequelae from his brain injury; and further, and very significantly, as earlier explained, that his other physiological and emotional accident-induced stressors amplified his symptoms, which gradually became worse over time. He has obviously suffered a serious depression and remains vulnerable in that regard. Moreover, he suffered significant soft tissue injuries, the ultimate prognosis for which is not certain. As Dr. Shahid explained, most people do make a good fairly uneventful recovery from compression fractures and are able to return to work; but a significant proportion of those people continue to suffer pain and disability and some of those are unable to return to labor intensive work.

[217] Further, the plaintiff has suffered a substantial loss of enjoyment of life, is now unable to participate in golf and other activities he enjoyed before the accident. With successful treatment, he may be able to return. As I view the evidence, his suffering, both physiological and physical, has been quite intense, albeit partly in relation to his failure to follow treatment recommendations.

[218]     Considering all of the evidence and the submissions of counsel, for non-pecuniary damages I award $150,000, and taking into account the plaintiff’s failure to mitigate before the date of trial, reduced to $120,000.

In addition to the above, today’s case contained an interesting discussion of causation when it comes to traumatic injury.  Often in ICBC Injury Claims different experts come to different conclusions as to the reasons for a Plaintiff’s disabilities.  In this case there was a debate whether many of the Plaintiff’s problems were due to a head injury, depression, chronic pain or perhaps other causes.  Mr. Justice Brown gave useful reasons holding that it is not necessary to pigeon-hole a Plaintiff’s injuries into specific categories to find that a compensable loss occurred.  Specifically he stated as follows:

I find the conclusion that most accords with the testimony and medical evidence that I have accepted is this: All of the plaintiff’s injuries and associated symptoms, including those from his mild concussive frontal lobe injury, his subclinical PTSD and its symptoms, the stress and anxiety he experienced related to pain from his soft tissue injuries, his incrementally worsening psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, and his inability to work operated over time to produce a serious depression. These factors in varying degrees punctuated the plaintiff’s experiences from the time of the accident onwards, and produced the levels of psychological stress that produced the ongoing exacerbation of the plaintiff’s condition that plaintiff experts identified as the cause of the worsening of the plaintiff’s psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. Given the extensive evidence heard, I find this consilient view of the evidence and medical opinions removes the need to reduce judicial findings to specific diagnostic categories; at the same time more accurately reflecting the actual subjective experiences of the plaintiff. These causative stressors were caused directly or indirectly by the accident, subject to consideration of mitigation arguments.

The above quote, particularly the bolded part, could prove persuasive in ICBC Injury Claims where experts agree that a Plaintiff suffers a deterioration in health and functioning following a colliison but cannot agree on the exact medical cause for the same.

arthritis, bc injury law, Cassells v. Ladolcetta, JFC v. Ladolcetta, Mr. Justice Brown, pre-existing conditions, psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis

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ERIK
MAGRAKEN

Personal Injury Lawyer

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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