BCSC Discusses Non-Pecuniary Damages for Ruptured Breast Impant

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court discussing the value of non-pecuniary damages for a traumatically ruptured breast implant.
In today’s case (Gregory v. Penner) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2006 rear end car crash in Port Coquitlam, BC.  She suffered a variety of soft tissue injuries in this crash which largely resolved and had non-pecuniary damages valued at $30,000 for these.
The Plaintiff also suffered a more unique injury, a ruptured breast implant as a result of the forces of the crash.  The Plaintiff’s plastic surgeon, Dr. Ross Horton, gave evidence that the Plaintiff “had a blow to the left chest secondary to the motor vehicle accident which has resulted in force significant enough to rupture the saline implant and to cause some fat necrosis to the left breast.  Although the fat necrosis has improved, she has been left with a ruptured implant.  This will leave her with permanent disability with breast asymmetry.  At some point in time she should have the ruptured implant removed and replaced with a new intact implant.”
Madam Justice E.A. Arnold-Bailey had positive things to say about Dr. Horton as a witness and accepted “all of his testimony without hesitation“.
The Court went on to assess the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages for the ruptured implant at $65,000.  In reaching this valuation the Court engaged in the following analysis:
[148] In the present case I accept the testimony of the plaintiff that prior to the accident she had symmetrical breasts after breast augmentation surgery.  I accept that she noticed that she had a substantially smaller left breast about three weeks after the accident, and that since the accident she had experiencing pain and burning sensations in the area of her left breast.  I further accept her evidence that at the same time she found the lump in her left breast.  Several weeks later, Dr. Horton diagnosed the lump to be a lump of necrotic fat due to trauma in the area of the ruptured left breast implant.  When I combine their evidence and consider that the plaintiff as the driver of a motor vehicle was wearing the usual shoulder/lap seatbelt across the area of her left upper body including her left breast, I find without hesitation that the plaintiff has established that the accident was at least a partial cause of rupture of the left breast implant and the associated complications.  Thus, the defendant is liable for the injuries sustained by the plaintiff to the area of her left breast, including the rupture of the implant…
[153] In relation to her ruptured left breast implant, I find that the plaintiff has experienced considerable pain, discomfort, disfigurement, and mental stress and anxiety that continue to the present time…
[161] In the present case the left implant will be replaced.  It is not known if the right implant will also have to be replaced to achieve breasts of a similar size.  The plaintiff has endured considerable pain and suffering, the painful and difficult injections of the lump of necrotic fat by Dr. Horton.  She has also had to endure the ongoing discomfort and emotional and psychological upset and distress caused by the ruptured implant remaining in her chest and the very significant disparity in the size of her breasts for a period of three years and three months.  In all the circumstances I find that a fit and proper award in non-pecuniary damages for this injury is $65,000.

$70,000 Non-Pecuniary Damages for Chronic Soft Tissue Injuries

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court Awarding damages as a result of a BC Car Crash.
In today’s case, (KT v. AS) The Plaintiff was involved in a motor vehicle collision while seated as a passenger in 2005.  It was a significant intersection collision.  The Plaintiff was 17 years old at the time.  The Plaintiff claimed that she suffered both physical and psychological injuries as a result.
Madam Justice Ballance largely rejected the Plaintiff’s claim for accident related psychological injuries but did accept the claim for physical injuries.  In awarding the Plaintiff $70,000 in non-pecuniary damages the Court summarized the Plaintiff’s accident related physical injuries as follows:

[210]     According to the plaintiff, since the accident she has felt an ache along with tightness and sore muscles in her low back.  She says that every few weeks the pain is so intense that she keels over.  She testified that in the first six months or so following the accident, her neck and muscles were stiff and knotted, particularly when her head was bent.  Her headaches would follow at least once per week, building up slowly from the back of her neck.  At times they lasted an entire day.  Unlike the headaches that she experienced prior to the accident, eating did not alleviate the pain in her head.  Also within the initial six months time frame, the plaintiff said she would feel a sharp pinching sensation in her upper back/trapezius area a few times each month that seemed to come out of nowhere.  She testified that at her last appointment with Dr. Smith roughly 22 months post-accident,  her neck was still stiff and she was still experiencing intermittent sharp pinching pain in her shoulder blade/trapezius area.  Her low back continued to produce a dull ache most of the time that fluctuated considerably in intensity depending on her activity.

[211]     The plaintiff says that she has not had a pain-free day since the accident.  In terms of her current symptoms, the plaintiff claims that her low back pain, of variable intensity, persists and is her dominant problem.  Physical activities such as soccer, jogging and extensive walking, climbing up or descending stairs can cause a flare-up of pain.  However, the postures that are most aggravating are those which appear to be innocuous, such as sitting and static standing for prolonged periods.

[212]     The plaintiff also continues to experience episodic pain in her neck and upper trapezius area.  She claims that the jabs of pain in her shoulder blade area have become infrequent, flaring up roughly once per month.  Although she still suffers headaches, especially when she sits down for long periods to study, they have substantially diminished in their frequency.  Her hips and “upper butt” area have not caused her difficulty for a very long time.

[213]     The defence concedes that the plaintiff sustained mild to moderate soft tissue injuries to her neck and back.  As to her low back injury, the defendants assert that, at most, the accident caused a temporary aggravation of an “ongoing injury process” due to her pre-existing injuries and core weakness.  It should be evident from my discussion of the expert medical evidence and, specifically, my disapproval of Dr. Hepburn’s opinion, that I find the evidence does not support the defendants’ position that the plaintiff’s current low back pain is basically the same as the dysfunction in her upper “butt” sacroiliac joint or hip regions experienced before the accident.

[214]     The evidence amply establishes that the accident caused musculoskeletal injuries to the plaintiff’s neck, upper trapezius (left shoulder area) and her lumbar spine.  Relying on Dr. Hershler, Dr. Jung and Ms. Cross, I also find that it is more probable than not that the accident injured the facet joints of the plaintiff’s lumbar spine.  I find, as well, that it caused her headaches secondary to her neck pain, injured her left sacroiliac joint and aggravated her pre-accident difficulty with the right side of that joint.  On balance, I am not persuaded that she suffered a costovertebral injury as opined by Dr. Jung.

Another interesting aspect of this decision was the Court’s discussion of the Defence Medical Evidence.  The Defence hired Dr. Hepburn, a retired orthopaedic surgeon, to conduct a so-called ‘independent medical exam‘ of the Plaintiff.  Madam Justice Ballance largely rejected this expert’s evidence and in doing so made the following critical comments:

191]     Since his retirement in 2007, Dr. Hepburn’s medical practice has been solely devoted to conducting independent medical examinations.  Virtually every referral examination he receives comes from defence counsel and ICBC.

[192]     By his own admission, a mere 10%-15% of Dr. Hepburn’s practice prior to his retirement involved soft tissue injuries, and even then he was not involved in their ongoing management and treatment.  Dr. Hepburn testified that, while in practice, he did not treat patients with back injuries who had not suffered a fracture, slipped disc, disc prolapse or other type of injury requiring surgical intervention.  Generally, he would not even see such patients and would typically refer them to a specialist better trained to treat ongoing non-orthopaedic soft tissue injuries, such as a physiotherapist and physiatrist.

[193]     Dr. Hepburn could not recollect treating any costovertebral joint injuries, and testified that he only treated orthopaedic facet joint injuries (dislocations and fractures) for which surgery can produce some benefit.

[194]     As Dr. Hepburn testified, it became apparent that, although he was qualified as an expert in the diagnosis and prognosis of soft tissue injuries, his expertise lies almost exclusively in the field of orthopaedics.  This, however, is not an orthopaedic case.  It is a claim involving chronic soft tissue injuries which cannot be repaired through surgical intervention.

[195]     The plaintiff told Dr. Hepburn that her major problem related to her low back.  She also complained of pain in her left shoulder, a stiff neck, and headaches.  Dr. Hepburn agreed that the plaintiff likely suffered some soft tissue injury to her neck and knee from the accident.  However, he found it unclear as to whether her lower back pain was connected to the accident.  In this regard, he seemed to place some reliance on his understanding that there had been no complaint of back pain noted in the plaintiff’s medical records in the months following the accident.  That is a misconception.  The physiotherapy records are replete with the plaintiff’s complaints of low back pain in the months immediately after the accident.  The treating physiotherapist’s discharge note, which formed part of Dr. Smith’s file, leaves no doubt that the plaintiff’s lumbar spine was the chief area of treatment throughout the many sessions.  I can only conclude that Dr. Hepburn’s review of those records was superficial.

[196]     As an aside I would also note that the plaintiff’s controversial ICBC statement tendered into evidence by the defence itself refers to complaints of low back pain within the first two weeks following the accident.

[197]     In addressing the plaintiff’s pre-accident physical difficulties, Dr. Hepburn seemed to suggest that it would be legitimate to interpret her physiotherapist’s notations of sacroiliac joint pain as being medically equivalent to a notation of unspecified low back pain.  The implicit suggestion was that the plaintiff’s post-accident low back pain is the same as her sacroiliac joint complaints before the accident and, accordingly, was not caused by the accident.  He went so far to say that, in all likelihood, the plaintiff actually had low back pain and not sacroiliac joint dysfunction when she saw her physiotherapist before the accident.  I have previously made clear that I reject the free-floating notion that a physiotherapist would confuse those distinct anatomical areas.  His evidence on this point distinguished Dr. Hepburn from the other medical experts who gave evidence on the point.  It caused me considerable concern.

[198]     I also found it strange that in his report, Dr. Hepburn described the plaintiff’s headache complaints as falling beyond his area of expertise.  The preponderance of all of the other medical opinion evidence, which I find credible, is that the plaintiff’s post-accident headaches probably stem from her injured neck.  In his report, Dr. Hepburn did not allow for the prospect that the plaintiff’s headaches could be cervicogenic in origin, and represented referred pain from her injured neck.  He was only prepared to admit that potential in cross-examination.  Instead, in his report he had implied that the plaintiff’s headaches had a psychological source by suggesting that they could be addressed by medication for anxiety.  In my view, Dr. Hepburn’s assessment of the plaintiff’s ongoing headaches was not evenly balanced.  That too was of concern.

[199]     Dr. Hepburn did not find a restricted range of movement in the plaintiff’s spine.  He explained that the dual inclinometer applied by Dr. Jung is not used by him or any orthopaedic surgeon to his knowledge.  That does not mean that measurement with that device is not the gold standard.  I was most impressed with Dr. Jung’s explanation of the frailties of the so-called “eyeballing” assessment of range of motion and the superior measurement capability of the device he used.

[200]     Dr. Hepburn was adamant that the manner in which Dr. Jung and Dr. Hershler purported to diagnose a potential facet joint injury was not adequate.  He testified that a definitive diagnosis cannot be made without proper imaging studies such as a bone scan, CT scan or MRI.  He stood by his opinion that there was no facet joint injury that he could detect on his examination of the plaintiff.  Dr. Hepburn’s comments regarding the diagnosis of facet joint injury illustrates the difference between the medical approach to diagnosis for the purposes of determining causation, and the legal approach to the question of causation.  As noted by the Supreme Court of Canada in Snell v. Farrell, [1990] 2 S.C.R. 311, [Snell ] at para. 34:  “Medical experts ordinarily determine causation in terms of certainties whereas a lesser standard is demanded by the law.”

[201]     With respect to Dr. Jung’s diagnosis of costovertebral injury, Dr. Hepburn opined that such an injury is quite rare and would normally be associated with severe trauma such as in an individual with broken ribs.  He suggested that it would take a “divine talent” to diagnose this type of injury based on physical/clinical presentation alone.

[202]     Relying on Dr. Hepburn’s opinion, the defence argues that the plaintiff’s subjective pain complaints which have continued for more than four years after the accident are inconsistent with the fact that her spine has suffered no structural damage or other ominous pathology.  The underlying logic appears to be that pain and chronic injury do not occur in the absence of orthopaedic or other structural injury.  That notion offends common sense and is blind to the credible explanations given by Drs. Jung and Hershler and Ms. Cross as to the nature of soft tissue injury.

[203]     In the end, I consider it unsafe to give any weight to the opinions expressed by Dr. Hepburn.

More on Low Velocity Impacts and a Legal History Lesson

Yet another “Low Velocity Impact” Injury Claim went to trial and yet again the Court found that a compensable injury existed despite the minimal vehicle damage.
In today’s case (Bourdin v. Ridenour) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2005 Car Crash in Kamloops, BC.  This was a crash that apparently fell into ICBC’s LVI Program as the minimal amount of vehicle damage was stressed at trial by the defence lawyer (the Plaintiff’s vehicle damage cost only $316 to repair). Despite this Madam Justice Hyslop found that the Plaintiff was injured in the crash.  In valuing the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages at $22,500 the Court summarized the Plaintiff’s injuries as follows:

[87] Ms. Bourdin had constant pain for approximately five months after the accident.  However, she acknowledged some improvement during that period.  She was plagued with headaches, the severity of which she had never experienced before.  Dr. Vlahos’ clinical records note that Ms. Bourdin, on February 8, 2008, complained of having a “…new onset of headaches.  Head feels like it is in a vise”.  This description is a similar description of the headaches Ms. Bourdin suffered as a result of the motor vehicle accident.

[88] I do accept that Ms. Bourdin suffered from headaches and that they occurred as a result of the accident.  She has been nauseous and vomited with such headaches, the last of which was two weeks before this trial.  According to Ms. Bourdin, headaches of this nature occurred after the accident.  However, Ms. Bourdin did not describe headaches of this nature to either Dr. O’Farrell or Dr. Travlos.

[89] Ms. Bourdin’s neck, shoulder and mid-back were injured as a result of the accident.  She continues to suffer pain from these injuries today, but they are occasional.  At trial, Ms. Bourdin stated that her neck and shoulder pain are now triggered when she is reaching for something, and sometimes everyday events caused neck and shoulder pain without explanation.  She acknowledged improvement in the spring of 2006 and that this has been ongoing from 2006 to the date of trial.  Her chiropractors, her massage therapists and her comments to Dr. O’Farrell and Dr. Travlos confirm this.  She told Dr. O’Farrell that at the time he examined her, her pain was intermittent.

In discussing the LVI Defence to Injury Claims Madam Justice Hyslop quoted a 2006 case (Jackman v. All Season Labour Supplies Ltd.) in which Mr. Justice Smith of the BC Supreme Court pointed out that the LVI defence is not a principle of law but rather “a creature of policy created by ICBC“.  Specifically Mr. Justice Smith held

[12]      On the issue of vehicle damage, I note the comments of Madam Justice Ballance in Robbie v. King 2003 BCSC 1553, at paragraph 35:

The proposition that a low velocity accident is more or less likely to have a propensity of injury is a creature of policy created by ICBC. Although lack of impact severity is by no means determinative of the issue as to whether a person could have sustained an injury, it is nonetheless a relevant consideration particularly with respect to soft tissue injury. Ultimately, the extent of Ms. Robbie’s injuries are to be decided on the evidence as a whole.

[13]      Although lack of vehicle damage may be a relevant consideration, it has to be balanced against the evidence of the plaintiff and the medical evidence, including the complete lack of any medical evidence to support the assertion that the injuries are inconsistent with vehicle damage.

Now for the legal history lesson:

While it is well accepted by BC Courts that ICBC’s LVI Policy is not a legal defense to a tort claim, rather, vehicle damage is just “a relevant consideration” ICBC Defence Lawyers often quote a 1982 case from the BC Supreme Court (Price v. Kostryba) in which Mr. Justice McEachern quoted another BC Supreme Court decision (Butlar v. Blaylock) in which the Court held that:

I am not stating any new principle when I say that the Court should be exceedingly careful when there is little or no objective evidence of continuing injury and when complaints of pain persist for long periods extending beyond the normal or usual recovery…

An injured person is entitled to be fully and properly compensated for any injury or disability caused by a wrongdoer. But no one can expect his fellow citizen or citizens to compensate him in the absence of convincing evidence — which could be just his own evidence if the surrounding circumstances are consistent — that his complaints of pain are true reflections of a contuining injury.

However, this often cited quote comes from a case that was overturned on appeal.  In 1983 the BC Court of Appeal overturned the trial decision of Blaylock and held as follows:

12 With the greatest respect, I am of the opinion that there is no evidence upon which one could reasonably conclude that the appellant did not continue to suffer pain as of the date of the trial. After careful consideration of the expert testimony and the evidence of the appellant and his wife, I have reached the conclusion that the only finding open to the learned trial judge was that as of the date of trial the appellant continued to suffer moderate pain and in the words of Dr. Lehmann, his symptoms “will gradually subside with further time. Having been present for approximately two and a half years, it is doubtful that they will disappear completely.” (underlining mine).

13 There are three basic reasons which, in my view, support the conclusion that the plaintiff continued to suffer pain as of the date of trial. Firstly, the plaintiff testified that he continued to suffer pain. His wife corroborated this evidence. The learned trial judge accepted this evidence but held that there was no objective evidence of continuing injury. It is not the law that if a plaintiff cannot show objective evidence of continuing injury that he cannot recover. If the pain suffered by the plaintiff is real and continuing and resulted from the injuries suffered in the accident, the Plaintiff is entitled to recover damages. There is no suggestion in this case that the pain suffered by the plaintiff did not result from the accident. I would add that a plaintiff is entitled to be compensated for pain, even though the pain results in part from the plaintiff’s emotional or psychological makeup and does not result directly from objective symptoms.
14 Secondly, all of the medical reports support the view that the plaintiff continued to suffer pain and that it was not likely that his symptoms would disappear completely.

15 Thirdly, and of great importance, is the report of Dr. Lehmann, which was not before the learned trial judge for his consideration. In that report, Dr. Lehmann stated that there were degenerative changes in the cervical spine which pre-existed the accident. He said “they were probably asymptomatic before the accident but I think are probably contributing to his prolonged discomfort.” (underlining mine). In my view, as this evidence is uncontradicted, these objective findings cannot be disregarded and should be given great weight.

I hope this ‘history lesson’ helps anyone confronted with ICBC’s LVI Program denying a tort claim because of little vehicle damage.

Another LVI Case, Another Award for Damages

I’ve blogged many times about ICBC’s LVI program.  This program is not unique to ICBC.  Many auto insurers have a similar program where they deny compensible injury in tort claims where little vehicle damage occurs in the collision.
The difficulty with the LVI defence, however, is that to successfully run it the defence lawyer is basically inviting the court to find that the Plaintiff is lying about or exaggerating their injuries.  There have been many LVI cases that have gone to trial recently and the overwhelming judicial response to these was to find that compensible injury in fact did occur. Reasons for judgment were released today dealing with 2 LVI cases and such a finding was made again.
In today’s case (Loik v. Hannah) the Plaintiff was involved in 2 collisions in 2006.  Fault was admitted in each case leaving the Court to deal with the issue of quantum of damages (value of the claims).  The cases were defended on the LVI basis where the defence lawyer denied that the Plaintiff was injured in either of the accidents.
Mr. Justice Goepel rejected this argument and found that, notwithstanding the minor nature of these collisions, the Plaintiff was indeed injured.  The court’s useful analysis is set out at paragraphs 34-36 which I set out below:

[34] Ms. Loik claims damages arising from injuries she alleges to have suffered in what were two admittedly low velocity conditions. If the plaintiff was injured in the accidents, the injuries have persisted much longer than one would normally expect. In determining this case, the comments of Chief Justice McEachern, as he then was, in Price v. Kostryba (1982), 70 B.C.L.R. 397 at 398-99 (S.C.), must be kept in mind:

Perhaps no injury has been the subject of so much judicial consideration as the whiplash. Human experience tells us that these injuries normally resolve themselves within six months to a year or so. Yet every physician knows some patients whose complaint continues for years, and some apparently never recover. For this reason, it is necessary for a court to exercise caution and to examine all the evidence carefully so as to arrive at fair and reasonable compensation. …

In Butler v. Blaylock, decided 7th October 1981, Vancouver No. B781505 (unreported), I referred to counsel’s argument that a defendant is often at the mercy of a plaintiff in actions for damages for personal injuries because complaints of pain cannot easily be disproved. I then said:

I am not stating any new principle when I say that the court should be exceedingly careful when there is little or no objective evidence of continuing injury and when complaints of pain persist for long periods extending beyond the normal or usual recovery.

An injured person is entitled to be fully and properly compensated for any injury or disability caused by a wrongdoer. But no one can expect his fellow citizen or citizens to compensate him in the absence of convincing evidence – which could be just his own evidence if the surrounding circumstances are consistent – that his complaints of pain are true reflections of a continuing injury.

[35] In this case, as in most soft tissue injury cases, the case largely turns on the plaintiff’s credibility. The evidence of her injuries is based almost entirely on her subjective reporting to her doctors and to the Court. In such circumstances, it is important to consider whether the evidence of the witness accords with the circumstances that are proven on a balance of probabilities:  Faryna v. Chorny (1951), [1952] 2 D.L.R. 354, 4 W.W.R. (N.S.) 171 (B.C.C.A.).

[36] I find the plaintiff to be a credible witness. Her evidence accords with the surrounding circumstances. Prior to the accident, she was living a healthy active life, participating in many activities. She no longer is able to do so. I find that the reason she cannot do so is the ongoing pain she continues to suffer as a result of the motor vehicle accidents.

Mr. Justice Goepel found that the Plaintiff suffered soft tissue injuries in these collisions “which have caused her ongoing problems with her neck, back and shoulders.”  He went on to value the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages at $25,000.

In addition to a useful discussion about LVI Accidents, the court went on to discuss a topic that I wrote about yesterday, namely the connection between the value of a claim and the numnber of medical appointments attended.

The Defendant argued that since the Plaintiff did not seek medical treatment between November 2006 and April 2008 her injuries had fully recovered.  Mr. Justice Goepel rejected this argument finding that “She thought she was getting better and continued to do the exercises that had been prescribed for her. When, over the next 18 months, her condition did not improve, she sought further medical treatment. In the circumstances of this case, I find that the failure to seek medical treatment does not establish that the plaintiff had recovered from her injuries by November 2006.”

The Important Role of Treating Doctors in BC Personal Injury Claims

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court highlighting the valuable role treating physicians have in personal injury claims.
In today’s case (Deiter v. Briggs) the Plaintiff was injured in 2 BC car crashes.  Liability was admitted for both crashes leaving the court to deal with the issue of quantum of damages (value of the Plaintiff’s injuries and losses).
The Plaintiff called 2 physicians in the course of her claim to assist the court with opinion evidence explaining the extent and nature of her injuries.   These physicians were her family doctor (Dr. Cordoni) and a well respected rheumatologist, Dr. Shuckett.   Dr. Shuckett gave the following diagnosis and prognosis for the Plaintiff’s injuries:

[21]         Dr. Shuckett examined Ms. Deiter in December 2008.  Based on the patient’s own description of her history and Dr. Shuckett’s physical examination of her, Dr. Shuckett arrived at the following diagnosis as set out in her report:

1.               Cervicogenic headaches.

2.               Mechanical neck pain, mainly due to musculo-ligamentous injury with bilateral neck pain and some modest decrease of neck mobility.  She may very well have zygapophyseal joint capsular injury of the neck.

3a.     Myofascial pain syndrome of the left neck and shoulder girdle region with palpable muscle spasm.

3b.     Myofascial pain syndrome of right shoulder girdle region with palpable muscle spasm.

There is some myofascial pain syndrome with spasm of the muscle and rounding of the muscle adjacent to the right medial scapula.

3.               Right shoulder impingement and rotator cuff tendonitis suspected (appears to be mild).

[22]         Dr. Shuckett gave the opinion that the symptoms suffered by the plaintiff were related to the first accident and but for the accident, Ms. Deiter would not have these symptoms or diagnoses.  As to the future prognosis, Dr. Shuckett reported that the prospect of further recovery is guarded now that two and a half years have passed since the accident.  Dr. Shuckett gave the opinion that:

It is really not possible to measure degree of disability or impairment from work in an objective sense with chronic soft tissue pain.  I cannot rule out that she may find herself unable to pursue fulltime work in the longer term future due to her injuries, but this is not something I can predict.  However, based on her current status, it appears that she finds it difficult to contemplate increasing her work hours.

And further:

She may not improve from her current status as her pain is chronic by this time.

The Court largely accepted this evidence and awarded damages of just over $144,000 for the Plaintiff’s injuries and losses.

The Lawyer for the Defendants made critical comments about Dr. Shuckett’s expert opinion.  In rejecting the defence lawyers submissions Madame Justice Griffin said the following with respect to the important role treating physicians play in BC Personal Injury Lawsuits:

[28]         The defendants suggested in argument that Dr. Shuckett was an advocate but I do not accept that characterization.  I found her to be very clear and objective in her evidence which she was well qualified to give.  I pause here to note that the defendants appeared to me to show a lack of objectivity when assessing the role of physicians in litigation of this nature.  The defendants stated in written and oral argument:

In contrast to Dr. Shuckett, Dr. Cordoni presented as a [sic] impartial and unbiased physician which is highly unusual for a general practitioner.

[29]         This submission is what is known as a back?handed compliment.  It is a gratuitous attack on Dr. Shuckett to suggest that she was not impartial, a proposition which is entirely unfair on the evidence.  It is a suggestion that appears to praise Dr. Cordoni while it insults general physicians as a group, as if to say they are typically not able to provide independent medical evidence in soft tissue injury cases.  This cynical submission is outrageous and unduly partisan.

[30]         This court hears many cases involving plaintiffs with claims that someone else’s negligent action caused them personal injuries.  These are persons who are entitled to damages under the common law of this country if their claims are proven.  These are persons who may be suffering greatly from their injuries.  This court could not perform its function of determining these important claims without the help of treating medical physicians including general practitioners.

[31]         Thus, physicians who do testify despite the inconvenience are performing a very important professional and public duty.  Coming to court to testify and to face cross?examination may be the last thing a busy physician wants to do, faced with the burdens of practice.  Often a general physician is the one physician who knows the patient best and who will have the longest history of treating the plaintiff before and after the incident giving rise to the claim.  This court is extremely appreciative of the role physicians play in giving evidence.  I sincerely hope that counsel for the defendants in this case reflected only his views, and not a general culture amongst legal counsel who represent defendants or defendant’s insurers, when he decided to advance his submission which was so disrespectful of the important role of family doctors in personal injury cases.  It is true that in some cases a medical practitioner may be impartial but it reflects poorly on the defendants to simply advance this as a general proposition.

$45,000 Pain and Suffering Awarded for Neck, Shoulder and Jaw Injuries

Reasons for judgement were released today (Romanchych v. Vallianatos) by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, awarding just over $132,000 in total damages to a Plaintiff injured in a 2006 BC Motor Vehicle Collision.  
The collision was a rear-ender on the Alex Fraser Bridge in Delta, BC.  The crash was forceful enough to write off the 24 year old Plaintiff’s vehicle.
Madam Justice MacKenzie of the BC Supreme Court summarized the Plaintiff’s injuries as follows:  
I find on the totality of the evidence that the accident caused the plaintiff’s neck and shoulder injuries with associated headaches and jaw pain. While her symptoms improved over time, they have not resolved.   She currently suffers chronic neck and shoulder pain. She can manage her pain  level if she avoids aggravating her injuries by limiting her activities. The plaintiff is  also vulnerable to future episodes of jaw pain. I find in favour of the plaintiff’s  submission, except for small adjustments to the quantum of damages claimed. 
In awarding $45,000 for the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages (pain and suffering) the court engaged in the following analysis:
Conclusion on Non-Pecuniary Damages 
[71] On the whole, the expert opinions support a strong inference that the plaintiff’s injuries are chronic and that they will continue to affect her permanently. Given that she must limit her activities to minimize and manage her pain, the  evidence shows that it is probable that her pain and resulting limitations will continue  indefinitely. 
[72] I find on the totality of the evidence that the accident caused the plaintiff’s neck and shoulder injuries with associated headaches and jaw pain. While her symptoms have improved over time, they have not resolved.   
[73] I also find that the jaw symptoms which arose in August 2007 were indeed caused by the accident of July 4, 2006. I also observe that the jaw symptoms experienced in December 2006 may have been related to the accident as well.    
[74] Both counsel rely on the non exhaustive list of factors in Stapley v. Hejslet, 2006 BCCA 34, 263 D.L.R. (4th) 19 at paras. 45-46. The award for general damages, will of course, vary according to the specific circumstances of the individual case, but the factors include:   
(a) age of the plaintiff;  
(b) nature of the injury;   
(c) severity and duration of pain;   
(d) disability;    
(e) emotional suffering; and   
(f) loss or impairment of life;    
(g) impairment of family, marital and social relationships;   
(h) impairment of physical and mental abilities;   
(i) loss of lifestyle; and   
(j) the plaintiff’s stoicism (as a factor that should not, generally speaking,   penalize the plaintiff: Giang v. Clayton, [2005] B.C.J. No. 163, 2005 BCCA 54 (B.C. C.A.)).   
[75] The defendant relies upon the following cases as being reasonably analogous to this case and as supporting an award in the range of $15,000 to $22,500 for general damages: Kain v. Kirkman, 2006 BCSC 1770; Nickerson v. Allen Estate, 2006 BCSC 562; Aulakh v. Poirier, 2006 BCSC 2027, and my own decision in Moore v. Cabral, 2006 BCSC 920. However, those cases are all distinguishable from this case.   
[76] The plaintiff relies upon the following cases as supporting an award of $50,000 for general damages in this case: Henri v. Seo, 2009 BCSC 76; Chin v. McCabe, 2006 BCSC 1589; and Pavlovic v. Shields, 2009 BCSC 345. In my view, these cases are reasonably similar to this case and reflect analogous general damages.    
[77] Therefore, an appropriate award of non-pecuniary damages in this case is $45,000
One of the points of interest in this case was the courts comments on Dr. Goldstein. an oral medicine specialist, who ICBC often retains in jaw injury cases.  His evidence was rejected over the Plaintiff’s treating oral medicine specialist Dr. Gardner.  
Specifically, in finding bias in doctor Goldstein’s evidence, Madam Justice MacKenzie commented as follows:
[66] Dr. Goldstein’s bias in favour of the defendant’s case became evident during cross-examination. His attempt under cross-examination to distance himself from the meaning of the phrase emphasized in the above quote damaged his reliability as a witness. 
[67] I also view Dr. Goldstein’s opinion with scepticism because he was not forthright in his report about the fact that flexion extension injury from motor vehicle accident trauma could cause jaw symptoms. Under cross-examination, counsel for the plaintiff put one of Dr. Goldstein’s own articles to him in which he noted the close correlation between TMD and motor vehicle accident trauma. 

ICBC Pain and Suffering Round-Up

With the Canucks losing game 6 and the series to the Blackhawks I figured its a fitting time to write about Pain and Suffering Claims in BC.
In the first case, Chan v. Kao, the Plaintiff suffered a left shoulder injury as a result of a 2006 motor vehicle collision.   Mr. Justice Verhoeven had credibility concerns with respect to some aspects of the Plaintiff’s testimony.  Despite this he concluded that “I have no difficulty in finding that Mr. Chan did in fact injure his left shoulder in the motor vehicle accident“.
In assessing the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary loss (damages for pain and suffering) at $22,000 the court summarized his injuries and prognosis as follows:
[65]            I accept that Mr. Chan has continued to have shoulder problems and pain since the accident.  The extent to which this has affected his work is impossible to gauge, in view of the unreliability of his evidence.  It seems likely that Mr. Chan has worked at various times and places since the accident, but has chosen not to testify about that work…

72]            In summary, I accept that the plaintiff’s left shoulder was injured in the motor vehicle accident, and that he continues to suffer, to some extent, from shoulder difficulties initially caused by the accident.  The evidence as to the extent to which the ongoing shoulder problem causes the plaintiff ongoing difficulty and disability with respect to his ability to work is subject to considerable doubt, due to the unreliability of the plaintiff’s evidence in this respect, and the lack of corroborating evidence.

[73]            While Dr. Lui’s prognosis of permanent disability is overly pessimistic, both orthopaedic surgeons are of the view that there are ongoing problems in the shoulder which require treatment.  In my view, treatment options have not been adequately explored.

In addition to referencing several cases dealing with pain and suffering values in BC for shoulder injuries this claim is worth reviewing to see how Mr. Justice Verhoeven dealt with his concerns regarding the credibility of certain aspects of the Plaintiff’s evidence.

The second ICBC Pain and Suffering Claim released today (Mattu v. Fust) involved a 2004 collision.  The Plaintiff was 39 years old at the time.  His vehicle was rear-ended with enough force to push it into the vehicle ahead of him.

The Plaintiff suffered various soft tissue injuries leading to chronic pain and headaches.  The court found that the effects of these would likely be permanent.  Madam Justice Brown summarized the medical evidence of the Plaintiff’s treating family physician as follows:

 

[31]            Dr. Parhar has been Mr. Mattu’s family physician since April 2004. He provided three reports to the court. In his first report of November 1, 2004, he diagnosed Mr. Mattu with paracervical, parathoracic and paralumbar muscle strain, left shoulder strain and muscle tension headaches.  He had received ice, heat, rest, exercises, massage therapy, kinesiology, acupuncture, herbal medicine and medications: anti-inflamatories, analgesics and muscle relaxants.  With respect to prognosis and recommendations, Dr. Parhar was impressed by Mr. Mattu’s motivation to recover and try different treatments, but was concerned that he may be trying too many modalities.  He recommended limiting treatment to massage and physiotherapy and increasing active modalities such as swimming and exercises.  He anticipated further treatment and improvement.

[32]            In his report of May 26, 2006, Dr. Parhar found that Mr. Mattu continued to have decreased range of motion in the cervical spine, tenderness in the paracervical and paralumbar regions.  He found muscle spasm in the paracervical and paralumbar regions.  His diagnosis remained the same.  His prognosis for full recovery had worsened.  Mr. Mattu had tried a variety of treatments with minimal success.  Dr. Parhar’s recommendations were unchanged, but he thought that Mr. Mattu’s condition had plateaued.

[33]            In his final report of September 16, 2008, Dr. Parhar considered the MRIs of Mr. Mattu’s spine taken September 19, 2006, and July 28, 2008, and concluded that Mr. Mattu’s injuries included cervical and thoracic disc herniations.  He said: “… it is unclear if the cervical and thoracic disc herniations were caused by the motor vehicle accident … but certainly, this motor vehicle accident made these spinal lesions symptomatic.”  He commented on Mr. Mattu’s efforts to recover: “… pursued many more modalities of treatment than most patients would have. Despite all of these modalities his pain symptoms persist.”  He concluded that the prognosis for a full recovery was poor, that Mr. Mattu’s condition had plateaued and further improvement in his functioning or symptomatology was unlikely  

In awarding $60,000 for the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary loss injuries and their effect on the Plaintiff’s life the court accepted the family physicians evidence and stated as follows  

[60]            I found the evidence of Dr. Parhar to be very helpful.  Dr. Parhar has seen Mr. Mattu regularly since shortly after the accident.  I accept his opinion that Mr. Mattu suffered paracervical, parathoracic and paralumbar muscle strain, left shoulder strain and muscle tension headaches from the accident; that his condition has plateaued; and that it is unlikely there will be further improvement.  I also accept the opinions of Drs. Parhar, Hershler and Hunt that the accident likely caused the disc herniations in Mr. Mattu’s back to become symptomatic.  Mr. Mattu will continue to need chiropractic treatment from time to time and would benefit from a personal trainer.

[61]            I have considered the cases which counsel have provided to me.  In my view, an appropriate award for non-pecuniary loss is $60,000.

$70,000 Non-Pecuniary Damages Awarded for Back and Knee Injuries

(Please note the past wage loss award in the case discussed below was varied slightly on appeal.  The BC Court of Appeal Judgement can be found here)
Here is the latest in my effort to continue to grow this online database of ICBC and other BC Personal Injury Cases addressing damages for pain and suffering.  Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, (Bradshaw v. Matwick) awarding a Plaintiff $268,389 in total damages as a result of injuries and losses suffered in a 2006 motor vehicle collision.
The crash was a rear end collision which occurred in Port Coquitlam.  Liability (fault) was admitted focusing the trial on quantum of damages (value of the injuries).
The Plaintiff was a 41 year old metal fabricator.  In valuing the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) at $70,000  Mr. Justice Groves summarized the Plaintiff’s injuries as follows:

[32] By the time of trial, the plaintiff’s injuries were close to three years old.  I accept the plaintiff’s evidence that he continues to suffer from some level of disability resulting from the accident—he continues to suffer pain and he continues to have a disability which prohibits heavy lifting, prolonged standing, neck flexion, and sustained and repetitive reaching.  I accept the plaintiff’s evidence that at present, he continues to put all of his physical energies towards his work.  When he is not at work, he is resting and preparing for the next day of work.  The effect of the injuries caused by the accident have created a significantly lower quality of life for the plaintiff.

[33] As for the knee injury, the plaintiff continued to walk with a significant limp in court.  This is consistent with what is reported by:  his spouse, Sandra Bennett; his co-workers Rune Akerbakk and Ron Philbrook; and by his less than sympathetic employer, Rob Charland.  The evidence is suggestive that the medial tear may be repairable by surgery.  Of note, it took considerable time, despite the plaintiff’s desire early on for a MRI, to have the MRI performed.  There is no evidence before me as to when or if surgery to repair this knee is possible or scheduled…

[43] The plaintiff suffered injuries to his back, neck, shoulder and left knee.  He was unable to return to work for over three months after the April 26, 2006 accident, and then only with difficulty and on reduced hours.  Close to three years after the accident, the plaintiff continues to experience considerable pain in his neck and shoulder, back and knee.  The evidence is clear that his job as a metal fabricator involves physically demanding tasks which exacerbate these injuries.  He has not been able to return to his pre-accident performance levels at work.

[44] Two of the expert witnesses, Dr. Spooner and Dr. Vaisler, testified that the plaintiff may have a permanent disability as a result of the accident injuries.  The injuries and the corresponding pain levels have significantly affected the plaintiff’s quality of life and his relationship with his family, as he has little energy or ability to remain active outside of work hours and is frequently irritable and short-tempered as a result of the pain.

[45] The plaintiff’s lifestyle has been dramatically affected by the injuries he suffered in the accident.  The plaintiff, prior to the accident, was an active outdoorsman who regularly went fly fishing with his daughter at remote locations around the Lower Mainland and in southern British Columbia.  Since the accident he has completely curtailed this activity and his relationship with his daughter has suffered.  Prior to the accident, he was an active father with his young son, enjoying activities with his son in the yard, and in the home.  Since the accident his relationship with his son has resorted to playing video games or other activities which involved sitting and lying down, with no physical exertion.

[46] Ms. Bennett describes the plaintiff, prior to the accident, as a “fabulous 100% dad”.  She described that her daughter viewed him as “her god”.  Now the daughter does not want to hang around with her father any longer.

[47] The evidence suggests yard work and snow removal is simply left undone, as the plaintiff can no longer do it.

[48] Ms. Bennett describes her relationship with the plaintiff as “hell”.  She says that when the plaintiff is at home, the family is “walking on eggshells”.  The plaintiff is in near constant pain.  He has to immediately lie down after work.  His interaction with the family is minimal.  He is completed affected by the pain.

[49] His relationship with his wife, Ms. Bennett, who testified, has become tenuous at best.  Prior to the accident they enjoyed an active sex life—they no longer do.  For close to 2½ years, because of his injuries, the plaintiff slept on the living room floor rather than with his wife.  Prior to the accident, the plaintiff vacuumed, did dishes, and cleaned up around the house and was completely responsible for outside yard activities.  The plaintiff and his wife purchased a home on a quarter acre lot.  The home was, to use the vernacular, a “fixer upper”.  The home was repaired by considerable efforts of the plaintiff and the quarter-acre yard was completely landscaped by the efforts of the plaintiff.  Since the accident he has been unable to participate in home repairs or landscaping work.

ICBC Claims and Cross Examination of Experts at Trial

In ICBC Injury Claims that proceed to trial there are often 2 competing medical theories with respect to the cause and extent of injury.  Typically Plaintiff’s rely on the opinions of their treating physicans and sometimes the opinions of Indepmendent Medical Examiners. ICBC, on behalf of the Defendant, usually rely on the opinions of an independent physician who examines the Plaintiff pursuant to Rule 30 of the BC Supreme Court Rules.
When the conflicting expert evidence is presented at trial the lawyers can cross examine the opposing expert(s) opinion.  This process can be a powerful tool in helping the judge or jury decide whose opinion should be preferred and given more weight.  What happens if the expert is not cross-examined?  Does that experts opinion carry more weight with the court? Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court (Yip v. Chin) dealing with this issue.
In today’s case the Plaintiff sued for injuries cuased in a 2006 Car Crash which took place in Vancouver, BC.  The Plaintiff suffered from a pre-existing degenerative condition and suffered soft tissue injuries in the crash.  One of the key issues at trial was whether the Car Crash had any effect on the Plaintiff’s pre-existing degenerative arthritis.
The Plaintiff’s physicain feld that this pre-existing condition was aggravated by the car crash.  The doctor hired by the Defendant, Dr. Schweigel, disagreed.  Dr. Schweigel’s report was intorduced into evidence unchallenged by the Plaintiff.  Ulimately the Court preferred Dr. Schweigel’s opinion on this narrow issue.  Mr. Justice Voith summarized and applied the law as follows with respect to the failure to cross-examine an expert witness at trial:

[30]            The evidence of both Dr. Lui and Dr. Schweigel was consistent in concluding that at the time of the Accident Mr. Yip suffered from some degenerative arthritis of the cervical spine.  The two experts differed, however, on the significance of this pre-existing condition and on whether the Accident caused this condition to be aggravated.

[31]            The plaintiff chose not to cross-examine Dr. Schweigel.  This decision places different parts of Dr. Schweigel’s reports in different categories and requires different treatment by the court.  Some portions of Dr. Schweigel’s reports stand uncontradicted in that no part of the evidence led by the plaintiff takes issue with the opinions expressed by Dr. Schweigel.  Other portions of his reports are inconsistent, for example, with the report of Dr. Lui or with the evidence of Dr. Lui and Dr. Leung.

[32]            For lay witnesses, the case of Browne v. Dunn (1893), 6 R. 67 (H.L.) provides well understood guidance on the consequences that flow from the failure of a party to cross-examine on a given issue or to put given propositions to a witness.  The rule arising from that case is one which is designed to ensure that witnesses and the parties are treated fairly.

[33]            Failure to cross-examine an expert on a contested issue gives rise to additional concerns or difficulty.  The very object of proffering expert evidence is to assist the trier of fact with the necessary scientific basis upon which to assess evidence.  Inherent in the fact that evidence has been tendered by an expert, is the proposition that the trier of fact is generally neither conversant nor familiar with the subject matter of the evidence and lacks the independent means by which to weigh or measure the merits of two competing views.

[34]            In this instance, for example, Dr. Lui expressed the view that Mr. Yip’s ongoing degenerative problems of the spine were likely aggravated by the Accident.  This conclusion is apparently based on differences that exist in an initial x-ray taken in July 2006 which showed degenerative changes at C6-7 only and a subsequent CT scan performed on October 2007 which showed degenerative changes involving C3-4, C4-5, and C5-6 as well.

[35]            Dr. Schweigel’s report, conversely, expresses the view that these changes are attributable to the additional sophistication of the CT scan.  In Dr. Schweigel’s view, a CT scan will routinely pick up abnormalities which are missed by an x-ray.  Dr. Lui, in his cross-examination, firmly disagreed with this conclusion.  The court did not have benefit of any further explanation from Dr. Schweigel.  The trier of fact is thus left with two competing views, one of which, though contradicted, remains unchallenged by cross-examination.

[36]            No inflexible rule can be established as to the significance of a party failing to cross-examine an expert.  Sometimes a party will be aware that the expert will not resile from his position and cross-examination would be futile.  Thus, in Palmer v. Goodall (1991), 53 B.C.L.R. (2d) 44 (C.A.) at 49, the Court said in relation to a notional cross-examination, “It may be a mere show.  The law of evidence does not require counsel to engage in a charade”.

[37]            In this instance, I believe it is appropriate to attach some weight or significance to the fact that Dr. Schweigel’s report was introduced without any part of its contents being tested further.  This is not a case of a party failing to cross-examine on a particular portion of the report.  This is an instance of the plaintiff deciding to leave untested all of the various opinions which are offered in relation to a number of issues, notwithstanding the fact that such opinions are often at odds with the evidence tendered by the plaintiff.

ICBC Injury Claims and Pre-Existing Conditions

Imagine being injured as a result of the carelessness of another in a BC Car Crash.  You advance an ICBC tort claim for compensation for your injuries and loss.   You are able to come to an agreement with ICBC with respect to the value of your injuries and losses but then ICBC wants to reduce the the pain and suffering settlement by 25% to account for a pre-existing medical condition that you have.  Is this fair?
The answer depends on the nature and severity of the pre-existing condition.  BC Courts generally categorize pre-existing conditions affected by traumatic injury in 2 ways: the ‘thin skull‘ category and the ‘crumbling skull‘ category.  In a thin skull situation a Plaintiff has a pre-existing condition that makes them susceptible to injury however the condition would not otherwise become symptomatic absent the trauma.  In thin skull situations the pre-existing condition does not reduce the value of the claim.  The thin skull principle is sometimes referred to as the ‘you take your victim as you find them‘ principle meaning it is no defence to an injury claim to say that a healthier victimn with no pre-existing condition would have suffered less injury.
This can be contrasted with the ‘crumbling skull’ situation where the Plaintiff has a pre-existing condition which is active or likely to become active even without the trauma.  In crumbling skull situations the value of the injuries and losses must be reduced to reflect the fact that a Plaintiff would have likely had some problems in any event.
Reasons for judgement (Gohringer v. Hernandez-Lazo) were released today by the BC Supreme Court explaining and applying these principles.
In today’s case the Plaintiff was injured when her car was struck head on by a street sweeper in April, 2005.  As a result of this significant BC Car Crash she suffered various injuries.  The Plaintiff did, however, have pre-existing back and neck injuries.  In valuing the Plaintiff’s pain and suffering at $75,000 Madam Justice Russell explained and applied the law of thin skull v. crumbling skull as follows:

Pre-existing condition and independent intervening event

[90]            It is trite law that the general purpose in assessing damages is to restore the plaintiff to their original, or pre-accident, position.  Through an award of damages a plaintiff is entitled to be restored to his or her original position, but they are not entitled to be placed in a better position:  Athey v. Leonati, [1996] 3 S.C.R. 458 at para. 32, 140 D.L.R. (4th) 235.   Generally speaking, this requires the court to determine the plaintiff’s original position and position subsequent to the negligent act, and award damages to reflect the difference:  Athey at para. 32; Barnes v. Richardson, 2008 BCSC 1349 at para. 84.  In situations where the plaintiff has a pre-existing condition the thin skull or crumbling skull rule must inform the court’s assessment of damages.  

[91]            In a thin skull situation, the plaintiff’s pre-existing condition has not manifested, or in other words is not active or symptomatic, prior to the event in question.  As the tortfeasor takes his or her victim as they find them, the tortfeasor is liable for all injuries even if the injuries are “unexpectedly severe owing to a pre-existing condition”, as a result of their actions:  Athey at para. 34. 

[92]            In a crumbling skull situation, as in this case, the plaintiff has a pre-existing condition which is active, or likely to become active.  The pre-existing condition “does not have to be manifest or disabling at the time of the tort to be within the ambit of the crumbling skull rule”:  Barnes at para. 89, citing A. (T.W.N.) v. Clarke, 2003 BCCA 670, 22 B.C.L.R. (4th) 1 at para. 62. In crumbling skull situations, the defendant is only liable for damages caused by the accident and responsible for returning the plaintiff to their original position.  As Major J. stated in Athey: the defendant is liable for the additional damage but not the pre-existing damage: at para. 35.   The defendant is therefore not liable for the effects of the pre-existing condition that the plaintiff would have experienced in any event: A. (T.W.N.) at para. 52.  If there is a “measurable risk” that the pre-existing condition would have impacted the plaintiff in the future then, regardless of the defendant’s negligence, a court can take this into account in awarding damages: at para. 35. 

[93]            In addition, the defendant claims an independent intervening event, subsequent to the Accident, also had significant impact on the plaintiff.  An independent intervening event is an unrelated event, such as disease or a non-tortious accident, that occurs after the plaintiff is injured.  The impact of such events is taken into account in the same manner as pre-existing conditions: Barnes at para. 96.  Thus, the plaintiff is only entitled to damages which flow from the difference between his or her original position and their “injured position”: Athey at para. 32.  If the unrelated event would have impacted the plaintiff’s original position adversely, the “net loss” attributable to the accident at issue will not be as great and damages will be reduced proportionately: Barnes at para. 96.

[94]            I note that our Court of Appeal has stated that a reduction in damages to reflect the impact of independent intervening events or pre-existing conditions applies equally to non-pecuniary and pecuniary damages:  A. (T.W.N.) at paras. 36-37; Barnes at para. 90. 

[95]            In this case the defendant does not contest that the plaintiff suffered injuries as a result of the Accident.  The defendant does however contest the severity of those injuries and the impact that those subsequently had on the plaintiff’s physical and emotional health, as well as her employment situation. 

[96]            The plaintiff had pre-existing back and neck injuries and suffered a knee injury subsequent to the Accident.  At issue is the impact of such injuries on the plaintiff’s ability to continue her position as a skating instructor, or whether the injuries resulting from the Accident were responsible for causing her to change positions.

[97]            The pre-existing conditions and knee injury caused the plaintiff to miss a number of months of work when they occurred.  I accept the evidence contained in Dr. MacIntosh’s report (January 26, 2005) that the plaintiff’s pre-existing neck and back injuries would have materially impacted the plaintiff’s ability to continue working as a skating instructor, given the physical demands of that position.  Likewise, I find the knee injury would have further impacted her ability to continue that job into the future.  Prior to the Accident, the plaintiff had complained, of neck pain resulting from teaching four classes in one day.  Further, the plaintiff left her position at Sportsplex soon after she returned to work following her knee injury as she was not able to perform her duties to the same level as previously.

[98]            I accept however, that the injuries from the Accident also impacted the plaintiff at work.  The evidence indicated that a number of her duties at Sportsplex aggravated the injuries suffered in the Accident.  While the evidence did not demonstrate that those injuries alone caused the plaintiff’s departure from Sportsplex, the evidence did show that the plaintiff’s abilities to perform her job duties were adversely affected as a result.

[99]            I conclude there was a real and significant chance that the plaintiff’s pre-existing injuries and the injury suffered after the Accident would have shortened the plaintiff’s career as a skating instructor, regardless of the injuries from the Accident.  These injuries ultimately affect the plaintiff’s original position and must be taken into account in the assessment of damages.  The risk that these injuries would have reduced the plaintiff’s chosen career will be taken into account based on its relative likelihood in determining the overall assessment of damages:  McKelvie v. Ng, 2001 BCCA 341, 90 B.C.L.R. (3rd) 62 at para. 17.  Accordingly, non-pecuniary damages should be reduced by 10% to reflect such a risk. 

[100]        In assessing all of the relevant evidence, I conclude the injuries continue to adversely affect the plaintiff in a number of ways and award $75,000 for non-pecuniary damages.  I will deduct 10% as a contingency to reflect the plaintiff’s pre-existing condition and the effect of the subsequent knee injury.

Contact

If you would like further information or require assistance, please get in touch.

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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