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Nearly $800,000 In Damages Assessed Following Domestic Violence Leading To Physical And Psychological Injuries

Reasons for judgement were recently published by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, demonstrating that civil litigation can be an important tool to help achieve justice following physical assault where criminal repercussions alone fail to address harm caused.

In the recent case (Schuetz v. Pyper) the Defendant battered the Plaintiff is a domestic incident.  He was charged with criminal assault and plead guilty but was sentenced to an absolute discharge.  The civil repercussions, however, were far heftier.

Both parties sued each other claiming battery.  The Defendant’s claims were dismissed and the Plaintiff’s accepted.  It was found that the domestic battery led to a host of physical and psychological injuries.  These were summarized by the Court as follows:

 I find Mr. Pyper’s battery on September 16, 2018 caused or resulted in the following:

−        Ms. Schuetze suffered bruising to various parts of her body as shown in the photographs which resolved in a matter of weeks, as well as significant pain throughout her body and head that took longer to resolve. The pain in her chest area lasted the longest until in or about February 2019.

−        Mr. Pyper’s hard blows to each side of her head caused a concussion and MTBI;

−        Aside from significant physical pain, Ms. Schuetze’s early physical symptoms included: significant and frequent headaches, dizziness, feeling faint, ringing in her ears, sensitivity to lights, trouble concentrating, looking at screens and reading and an inability to drive safely.

−        Ms. Schuetze also suffered significant psychological injuries, involving multiple symptoms that are accurately diagnosed as PTSD, MDD and SSD as described by Drs. Foley and Mead-Wescott. I am satisfied her previous depression and (driving) anxiety resulting from the motor vehicle accident in 2015 and perhaps past abuse had resolved before the battery. This means that rather than the battery causing an exacerbation of ongoing depression symptoms, Ms. Schuetze was at increased risk of further depression which the battery then caused.

−        She also felt very depressed and anxious and intensely fearful.

−        In response to being afraid for her own safety, Ms. Schuetze wore, and has continued to wear, the safety tracker given to her by the RCMP shortly after the battery.

−        Regarding the trajectory of her fear, I accept that initially Ms. Schuetze felt profoundly traumatized. It may be that through trauma counselling and other forms of psychological intervention, the intense fear she initially experienced abated somewhat. As I have said, I accept, however, that in 2019 while she and Mr. Pyper were spending time together and until she concluded he had not changed and was not sincere about reconciling, she felt much less afraid.

−        I firmly reject the suggestion that her willingness to attempt to reconcile and her engagement with Mr. Pyper is inconsistent with the diagnosis of PTSD and significant ongoing fear. I expect I can take judicial notice of the reality that victims of intimate partner violence often leave and return to the relationship many times. In any event, based on the facts of this case, I infer many factors likely contributed to Ms. Schuetze’s willingness to keep trying, among them the psychological and emotional impact of an abusive and controlling relationship, isolation, her view that an intact family was best for the children and the absence of immediate family support.

−        I accept that since her return to work in May 2019, Ms. Schuetze’s ongoing symptoms have continued to include headaches at the back of her head on the right and left sides, dizziness, the uncomfortable ear ringing she described, difficulty concentrating for long periods of time, light sensitivity, feelings of emotional trauma, significant fear and diarrhea when her fear or feelings of emotional trauma is heightened or triggered.

−        Whether or not the MTBI continues to contribute to Ms. Schuetze’s cognitive and physical symptoms, I accept that psychological, cognitive and physical symptoms are intertwined.

−        Absent documentary evidence of his ongoing communications except his emails dated February 1, 2020, I decline to make specific findings about the nature of Mr. Pyper’s ongoing written communications to Ms. Schuetze since 2020. I accept, however, that given Ms. Schuetze’ psychological injuries, his frequent emails and text messages and the parties’ frequent exchanges of the children since Covid-19 have continued to trigger if not exacerbate Ms. Schuetze’s fear and feelings of emotional trauma.

−        Related to this, apart from one encounter on the local golf course trail between Ms. Schuetze and Mr. Pyper and the children in 2020, I reject his evidence about various circumstances that he relies on to demonstrate she is not afraid of him and is broken hearted over the loss of the relationship, such as her willingness to interact with him at exchanges, providing him with a photograph of herself for his bedside table and expressing romantic feelings for him in late 2020.

−        Because of my serious concerns about Mr. Pyper’s credibility, I also place essentially no weight on M’s apparent statement that Ms. Schuetze walks the five-kilometre route around the local golf course with M and W regularly or all the time.

−        Although Ms. Schuetze is fully capable of walking five kilometres if not further, I accept she would be and has been afraid of running into Mr. Pyper on the trail around the golf course which is close to both of their homes. On the three occasions when she has gone, I accept her evidence that two of them involved taking the children to a specific location for the purpose of collecting moss for Easter nests.

Global damages of $795,029 were assessed, the majority of which were for past and future diminished earning capacity.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages (pain and suffering) at $100,000 Justice Flemming provided the following reasons:

[407]   There is no question, however, about the seriousness of Ms. Schuetze’s most significant injuries, a concussion/MTBI and the PTSD. Addressing the other Stapley factors, I accept her psychological and emotional suffering has been profound. Fear for her own safety alone has been both highly distressing and severely limiting. Since the battery, except in 2019 while she believed Mr. Pyper had changed and was sincere about reconciling and particularly during a trip to Germany in 2019, Ms. Schuetze has also been burdened by hypervigilance, or the feeling she must remain on high alert and anticipate the possibility of an attack whenever she leaves her home.

[408]   The effect of her injuries and ongoing symptoms on Ms. Schuetze’s functioning have also resulted in non-pecuniary losses. To date, she has not been able to work at the job she loved and was excelling at before the battery for more than 12 hours per week. She has also had to endure the pain and discomfort of her ongoing symptoms while working. Previously very active, fear in particular but also dizziness has significantly impaired Ms. Schuetze’s recreational lifestyle.

[409]   I have no difficulty finding that there are “humiliating, oppressive and malicious” aspects to Mr. Pyper’s battery that aggravated Ms. Schuetze’s suffering. During the battery he committed significant acts of violence in the presence of their young children. Most egregious in my view, are the dangerous and harmful blows to both sides of Ms. Schuetze’s head that Mr. Pyper inflicted after essentially immobilising her face down on the floor. Significantly, the battery occurred in the context of a spousal relationship, an important relationship of trust. I accept that in addition to severe pain, and a range of serious physical, cognitive and psychological symptoms, Ms. Schuetze felt ashamed and embarrassed by the battery and her condition. I have no doubt the bruising alone was not only painful, but also humiliating.

[410]   The amount of the award for non-pecuniary damages must also take into account the prospect that Ms. Schuetze’s pain and suffering will diminish in the future. For reasons I will already stated and others I will come to, I have determined that it is probable if not likely that Ms. Schuetze’s symptoms will improve in the future, once the litigation is at an end, with the benefit of specialized psychological treatment and other interventions provided for in the cost of care award, and given the possibility of relocating to Germany with the children.

[411]   Absent the likelihood of future improvement, and based on the Stapley factors, Ms. Schuetze’s aggravated suffering and the cases as discussed I would have granted an award close to $130,000. Also bearing in mind the likelihood of future improvement, I consider $100,000 in non-pecuniary damages fair and reasonable.

Assault, Battery, bc injury law, Domestic Violence, Justice Flemming, Schuetze v. Pyper