Skip to main content

Non-Pecuniary Damages Discussed for Physical Injuries Complicated by Pre-Existing Psychological Issues

It is a well worn principle that you take your victim as you find them when assessing damages for personal injuries in BC.  It is equally true that a defendant is not responsible for compensating an injured party beyond the injuries that they have caused.  Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Kamloops Registry, dealing with these principles in the face of chronic pre-existing psychological injuries.
In this week’s case (Carson v. Henyecz) the Plaintiff was injured after being struck by a vehicle being driven by her mother.  The Plaintiff sustained injuries that “essentially recovered…within a year of the accident”.  The Plaintiff, however, had a pre-existing “borderline personality disorder” and this caused for a prolonged recovery and with other complicating factors.  The Court grappled with this pre-existing injury, its effect on recovery and further on the fact that the Plaintiff’s symptoms at the point of trial would be largely similar even absent the collision.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $90,000 Mr. Justice Powers provided the following reasons:
[111]     I find that Ms. Carson had essentially recovered from her physical injuries within a year of the accident. I accept that she continued to have some pain for at least another year and still occasionally suffers pain from the injury. However, from a physical point of view she has made an excellent recovery. I am not satisfied that the shoulder complaints relate to the accident or were caused by the accident. In November of 2008, when she began to notice shoulder pain, the doctor’s evidence indicates that she had a full range of motion and was quite strong.
[112]     I do find that her pre-existing psychological or borderline personality disorder was a factor in the impact this accident had on her. These injuries and the circumstances of the accident had a greater impact on Ms. Carson than they would on somebody without her pre-existing psychological problems.
[113]     I also find that the necessity for narcotic medication to deal with the pain immediately after the accident and for at least a short time after also complicated and delayed Ms. Carson’s efforts to free herself from her prior addiction and abuse of pain medication. I find that the psychological impact of this accident also complicated her efforts to free herself from the pain medication and made it more difficult for her to do so.
[114]     However, the accident is not the cause of Ms. Carson’s ongoing problems. I am satisfied her ongoing problems, both psychological and physical, are as a result of her prior psychological problems. Given her complicated psychological history, I find that the accident has become the focus of and not the cause of her complaints. It is difficult to be precise about when the accident was no longer a significant contributing cause to her complaints. However, I am satisfied that within two to three years of the accident, and certainly by the time of the trial, the accident was no longer a significant contributing cause. Similar to the case of Wilson and the cases cited in that decision that I have referred to in paras. 105 and 106 of my reasons, Ms. Carson’s pre-existing condition was so dominant in her life and, based on the evidence I have heard, would have continued to dominate her life whether this accident occurred or not. Essentially she appears to be back to her pre-accident condition and it cannot be said that the accident is the cause of her present condition.
[115]     In considering all of the above, I find that the appropriate damage award for non-pecuniary damages is $90,000.00.

bc injury law, Carson v. Henyecz, crumbling skull principle, Mr. Justice Powers, thin skull principle