The Law of Indivisible Injury Compensation Concisely Summarized


If two or more events cause a single “indivisible injury” a Defendant who in part contributes to the injury can be held accountable for the entire loss.  This legal principle was concisely summarized in reasons for judgement released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry.
In last week’s case (Estable v. New) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2003 motor vehicle collision.  She suffered previous and subsequent trauma.  The Court found that while not the sole cause, the collision was a cause of the Plaintiff’s various soft tissue injuries.  The Plaintiff was compensated for these and in doing so Madam Justice Gropper provided the following short and helpful summary of the law of indivisible injury compensation:

[53] Divisible injuries are those which are capable of being separated out, such as injuries to different body parts or injuries to which the defendant has not contributed: Bradley, at para. 20; see also Athey, at paras. 22-25. Whether damage derived from multiple sources is divisible for the purpose of determining the extent of the liability of one defendant is a question of fact: Hutchings v. Dow, 2007 BCCA 148 at para. 13.

[54] If the injuries are divisible, the devaluation approach from Long v. Thiessen (1968), 65 W.W.R. 577 at 591 (B.C.C.A) is the appropriate method for determining the amount of damages that can be attributed to the defendant. This was discussed in Bradley at para. 33:

[33] The approach to apportionment in Long v. Thiessen is therefore no longer applicable to indivisible injuries. The reason is that Long v. Thiessen pre-supposes divisibility: Long requires courts to take a single injury and divide it up into constituent causes or points in time, and assess damages twice; once on the day before the second tort, and once at trial. Each defendant is responsible only for their share of the injury and the plaintiff can recover only the appropriate portion from each tortfeasor.

[emphasis in original]

[55] Indivisible injuries are those that cannot be separated, such as aggravation or exacerbation of an earlier injury, an injury to the same area of the body, or global symptoms that are impossible to separate: Bradley, at para. 20; see also Athey, at paras. 22-25.

[56] If the injuries are indivisible, the court must apply the “but for” test in respect of the defendant’s act. Even though there may be several tortuous or non-tortuous causes of injury, so long as the defendant’s act is a cause, the defendant is fully liable for that damage: Bradley, at paras. 32-37; see also Resurfice Corp. v. Hanke, 2007 SCC 7 at paras. 19-23.

In assessing the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages at $30,000 the Court made the following findings with respect to her injuries:

[60] I find that Ms. Estable’s remaining complaints were aggravated or exacerbated by the October 2003 injuries. These complaints include: pain in her neck, pain in her left and low back, and pain in her left anterior shoulder. They also include the injury to her sternum, although I find, based on the medical evidence, that this injury was a soft tissue injury and not a fracture.

[61] Applying the principles from Bradley, Ms. Estable has a claim against Mr. New for these complaints because they are indivisible; Mr. New’s negligence aggravated or exacerbated those injuries. While the post accident injury producing events may also have had a similar effect, Ms. Estable can recover her damages entirely from Mr. New. There may be other tortfeasers who are jointly liable, but Mr. New’s right to apportionment among them does not affect Ms. Estable’s right to claim the entire amount from him…

[77] Applying the enumerated factors, Ms. Estable is now 56 years old. She suffered soft tissue injuries of the cervical and lumbar spine and to the left shoulder. She suffered a chest contusion and the possibility of sternal fractures or rib fractures. Her injuries have caused her to change her lifestyle; she is unable to engage in performance art or yoga…

[81] I assess Ms. Estable’s non-pecuniary damages at $30,000.

bc injury law, Divisible Injuries, Estabel v. New, Indivisible Injuries, Madam Justice Gropper

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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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