PTSD Claim By Accident Witness Dismissed as "Too Remote"


If a witness to a BC motor vehicle collision suffers psychological injuries as a result of what they see they can claim damages.  There are, however, restrictions on when these claims can succeed.  Reasons for judgement were released today addressing this area of law.
In today’s case (Deros v. McCauley) the Plaintiff witnessed a collision caused by an “inebriated” driver in 2001.  At the time the Plaintiff was working on Highway 97 near Bear Lake, BC.  The Plaintiff was installing rumble strips on the side of the highway.  The Plaintiff was operating a sweeper and his friend, (Mr. Lance) was operating a grinder nearby.  The Defendant lost control of a pickup truck and collided with the grinder.  The Plaintiff witnessed the crash and was concerned for his friend.  Fortunately Mr. Lance “was not seriously injured“.
The Plaintiff claimed the incident caused PTSD and sued for damages.  The Insurance company for the Defendant argued that even if the Plaintiff suffered from PTSD this injury was ‘too remote‘ and therefore not compensable.  Madam Justice Gerow agreed and dismissed the lawsuit.  In doing so the Court provided the following useful reasons addressing the restricted circumstances when a witness to a crash can successfully sue for psychological damages:
[17]         In order to show that the damage suffered is not too remote to be viewed as legally caused by Mr. McCauley’s negligence, Mr. Deros must show that it was foreseeable that a person of ordinary fortitude would suffer a mental injury from witnessing the accident. He has failed to do so…

[23]         The cases, to which I was referred, where damages for nervous shock have been awarded to witnesses of accidents who were not physically involved in the accidents, involve accidents or events which are more shocking than the accident in this case. All the cases involved accidents in which someone has died or been seriously injured: James v. Gillespie, [1995] B.C.J. No. 442 (S.C.); Arnold v. Cartwright Estate, 2007 BCSC 1602; Easton v. Ramadanovic Estate (1988), 27 B.C.L.R. (2d) 45; Stegemann v. Pasemko, 2007 BCSC 1062; James v. Gillespie, [1995] B.C.J. No. 442 (S.C.); Kwok v. British Columbia Ferry Corp. (1987), 20 B.C.L.R. (2d) 318 (S.C.).

[24]         As set out in Devji v. District of Burnaby, 1999 BCCA 599 at para. 75, the courts have been careful to limit the circumstances in which injuries for nervous shock are awarded:

The law in this province, as formulated by Rhodes, requires that the plaintiffs, in order to succeed, must experience something more than the surprise and other emotional responses that naturally follow from learning of the death of a friend or relative. Instead, there must be something more that separates actionable responses from the understandable grief, sorrow and loss that ordinarily follow the receipt of such information. In Rhodes, Taylor and Wood JJ.A. described the requisite experience as alarming and startling (and therefore sudden and unexpected), horrifying, shocking and frightening, and Southin J.A. referred to a “fright, terror or horror”.

[25]         In this case, Mr. Deros witnessed a collision that involved no serious injuries. Even if I accept Mr. Deros’ evidence at trial that he initially thought a rod had skewered Mr. Lance, he knew within minutes this did not occur and Mr. Lance had not suffered serious injury….

[29]         There is no evidence that a person of ordinary fortitude would have suffered nervous shock injury or mental illness as a result of witnessing this accident. The experts testified about Mr. Deros’ particular reaction to the accident, but not that a person of ordinary fortitude would have suffered mental injury.

[30]         Mr. Deros does not argue that a person of ordinary fortitude would suffer mental injury from witnessing this accident. Rather, Mr. Deros argues that the evidence from the experts establishes that he was more prone to suffer from PTSD than an ordinary person was from witnessing this accident. As stated earlier, Mr. Deros argues that the evidence supports a finding he suffered mental or psychological injury from witnessing this accident because he was more prone to injury as a result of his pre-existing condition, i.e. he was a thin skull, and was not a person of ordinary fortitude.

[31]         Having failed to establish that a person of ordinary fortitude would suffer a mental injury from witnessing this accident, it follows that Mr. Deros’ claim must fail.

Accident Witness, bc injury law, Deros v. McCauley, forseeability, Madam Justice Gerow, nervous shock, post traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, remoteness

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ERIK
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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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