BC Supreme Court Awards $75,000 Pain and Suffering for Soft Tissue Injuries – Disc Herniation Claim Dismissed

In reasons for judgment released today, the BC Supreme Court valued a Plaintiff’s pain and suffering at $75,000 for soft tissue injuries.
The Plaintiff was a nurse’s aid. She was injured in a BC car accident which occurred in 2004 in New Westminster. The crash occurred at an intersection and both liability (fault) and quantum (value of injuries) were in dispute at trial. This is often the case when ICBC injury claims resulting from an intersection crash go to trial.
The Plaintiff was making a right hand turn. When starting her turn she felt it was safe to do so. At about the same time the Defendant was proceeding through the intersection and had recently changed into the right hand lane. Both motorists failed to recognize the hazard they posed to each other until it was too late.
The court found that both drivers were at fault. The Plaintiff was liable for ‘not keeping a proper lookout’ and that she should have seen the Defendant travelling in the curb lane prior to the collision.
The defendant was also found at fault for changing lanes at an unsafe time. The key finding is made at paragraph 70 where the court held that:
I find that at the time that the defendant changed lanes on Braid from the eastbound inside lane to the curb lane, 80 feet west of the intersection of Garrett and Braid, the plaintiff had already left the stop sign on Garrett and was in the process of making a right hand turn into the eastbound curb lane on Braid. I find that in making his lane change at this point on Braid the defendant was in such close proximity to the plaintiff’s car that his lane change could not be made safely. The weight of the evidence leaves no doubt that the defendant’s van was far too close to the plaintiff’s car for the defendant’s change of lanes to be made safely.
When 2 or more people are responsible for a BC car accident the Negligence Act requires a court to apportion fault between the parties. In this case the court held that both the Plaintiff and Defendant were 50% at fault for the accident. In doing so the court stated that “I do not think it can be found that blame for the accident rests more with one party than the other. In my opinion, they are equally guilty of breaching the rules of the road.”
The Plaintiff was a nurse’s aid. She claimed that as a result of the accident she became disabled from not only that job but also from ‘any other employment at a competitive level’
The Plaintiff’s doctor diagnosed the following injuries:

1) New large left central parracentral disc herniation posterior to the L5 vertebral body secondary to new onset degenerative L5/S1 disc change. This would be rated severe.

2) Left L5/S1 nerve root compression, also rated severe.

3) Milder degenerative changes at L3/L4, L4/L5 levels with early neural foraminal stenosis at L4/L5 and L5/S1, which are rated moderate to severe.

4) New onset degenerative CT spine changes rated moderate.

5) Musculoskeletal changes within the left side of her body, left arm, left chest, left hip and left leg, resolved within a week or two after the motor vehicle injury, rated mild.

6) Iatrogenic hypertension secondary to COX-2 inhibitor use for the treatment of the patient’s back injuries.

The bulk of the reasons for judgement focused on causation, that is, whether the above injuries were related to the accident or to other causes. As with most ICBC injury claims, the court heard from several ‘expert witnesses’ who commented on the plaintiff’s injuries and their cause.
In the end the court found that the Plaintiff failed to prove that the accident caused her disc herniation. The key findings can be found at paragraph 317 where the court held that:

[317] In the result, I find that the evidence does not establish a temporal link between the accident and the onset of the plaintiff’s low back symptoms ultimately leading to the diagnosis of disc herniation and disc herniation surgery. In my opinion, the plaintiff has failed to prove on a balance of probabilities that the accident caused or contributed to the plaintiff’s disc herniation. She has failed to prove that her disc herniation would not have occurred but for the negligence of the defendants.

[318] In arriving at this conclusion I accept the opinion of Dr. Maloon, in preference to that of the plaintiff’s medical experts, that the soft tissue injuries the plaintiff sustained in the accident would not have been “significant enough to alter the natural history of her neck or low back condition” and that the “disc herniation would be the result of the natural history of the lumbar degenerative disc disease and not the result of injuries that she may have sustained in [the accident].”

Since the court did not find the disc herniation related to the accident damages were assessed for soft tissue injuries. The court made the following finding prior to valuing the injuries at $75,000 for pain and suffering:

[327] I find that the plaintiff sustained mild to moderate soft tissue injuries to her neck and back as a result of the accident which have had an affect on her personal, employment, social and recreational pursuits and activities. However, I also find that the plaintiff has failed to establish that the injuries sustained by her in the accident have caused her disability from employment.

[328] In the result, I find that the plaintiff’s award for general damages should be based on the fact that her condition had improved and recovered to the stage that by March 4, 2005 he felt well enough to return to work on a gradual basis. Moreover, I find that the fact her physical and emotional condition deteriorated after her fall on March 5, 2005 cannot be attributed to the injuries she sustained in the accident.

The Plaintiff’s award was then cut by 50% to reflect the fact that she was 50% responsible for the accident. This is the direct result of ‘contributory negligent’ in ICBC injury cases. If a Plaintiff is any percent at fault then the value of what can be recovered in tort is reduced by that percentage.
Do you have questions about this case or about an ICBC injury claim involving soft tissue injuries or a disk herniation? If so please click here to arrange your free consultation with Victoria ICBC Claims Lawyer Erik Magraken (Services provided for ICBC injury claims throughout BC!)

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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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