ICBC Claims and the Onset of Pain in Pre-Existing Conditions

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court (Haines v. Shewaga) awarding a Plaintiff $34,000 in non-pecuniary damages (pain and suffering) as a result of injuries sustained in a 2005 car crash in Nanaimo, BC.
One of the issues in this case which frequently comes up in ICBC Injury Claims is that of pre-existing conditions.
The Plaintiff was 22 at the time of the crash.  He never had mid back pain in the years prior to the collision.   His back was injured in the collision and he continued to have symptoms in his backat the time of trial (some 3 years later).   After receiving medical treatment it was discovered that the Plaintiff had pre-existing (although asymptomatic) condition known as degenerative disc disease.  
The court found that the Plaintiff suffered various soft-tissue injuries in the crash, namely that:
[62]            I accept that the plaintiff sustained a mild to moderate whiplash type injury to the soft tissues of his neck, upper back (on the right side) and mid back, as well as a minor injury to his sternum area (likely from the seatbelt).  I find that the plaintiff had substantially recovered from all of these injuries by the time of trial, except for the injury to his mid back.  I accept that he still experiences pain in that area, after heavy and prolonged physical exertion.  Some aspects of the work that he does as a deck installer will continue to cause him some pain, from time to time.  But based on the whole of the evidence (and particularly on the plaintiff’s work record), I am not satisfied there is a substantial possibility that this pain will disable him from working. 
With respect to the Plaintiff’s pre-existing and but now symptomatic degenerative disc disease Mr. Justice Halfyard found as follows:
[69]            In my view, there is no significant conflict between Dr. Filbey and Dr. Warren on the subject under discussion.  Nor would I discount Dr. Warren’s evidence on the ground that he now works almost exclusively for ICBC.  I accept the opinions of both of these medical experts.  As a consequence, I find that the plaintiff’s complaint of mid-back pain following the accident is strongly corroborated by the medical findings and opinions.  There is no evidence whatever to suggest that the plaintiff had experienced pain in his mid-back before the accident, and he firmly denies this.  I infer from the evidence given by the doctors that pain in the thoracic spine area from whiplash-type injury is far less common than pain in the cervical and lumbar spine.  In the result, I am satisfied on the balance of probabilities that the motor vehicle accident caused the plaintiff’s latent pre-existing degenerative condition to become painful.
So how then, does a court value injuries when a pre-existing condition contributes to the duration of traumatic injury?
Here, Mr. Justice Halfyard reduced the Plaintiff’s award for pain and suffering by 15% to account for the chance that the Plaintiff’s degenerative disc disease would have become symptomatic at some point in time in the future even if the accident did not occur, thus the damages of $40,000 were reduced to $34,000.
On a different note, this claim is worth reviewing to see how BC Courts can deal with the issue of credibility in ICBC Injury Claims.  The credibility of the Plaintiff often plays a crucial role in ICBC Soft Tissue Injury Cases.  Here the ICBC Defence Lawyer challenged the credibility of the Plaintiff.   The court indeed concluded that the Plaintiff was ‘not a credible witness’ and paragraphs 37-60 are worth reviewing for anyone interested in a discussion about factors courts consider when weighing the credibility of a Plaintiff in an ICBC Injury Claim.

back injury, degenerative disc disease, Haines v. Shewaga, icbc injury claims, neck injury, pre-existing conditions, whiplash injuries

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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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