When assessing damages in a tort claim, the labels attached to injuries are far less important than the actual consequences of the injuries. Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, demonstrating this in the context of a chronic pain case.
In this week’s case (Cantin v. Petersen) the Plaintiff was involved in an intersection collision in 2004. Fault was admitted by the offending motorist. The crash caused injuries resulting in chronic pain which persisted to the time of trial and was expected to continue indefinitely. The medical labels attached to the injuries varied from ‘fibromyalgia‘ to ‘chronic pain syndrome‘. The Plaintiff argued that “it is unnecessary to label the injuries” in the pursuit of lawful compensation.
Madam Justice Bruce accepted that, whatever the label, the Plaintiff’s symptoms were related to the collision and awarded the Plaintiff $150,000 in non-pecuniary damages. In doing so the Court made the following findings:
 While there is generally a consensus among the medical experts regarding the initial diagnosis of Ms. Cantin’s injuries stemming from the accident, there is a considerable division of opinion as to the causes of her current complaints and symptoms. None of the physicians who examined Ms. Cantin and provided expert medical opinions doubted the veracity of her complaints of pain. The dispute among the experts lies in the cause of her current symptoms. While Ms. Petersen argues Ms. Cantin’s physicians have become advocates for her claim rather than independent experts, it is significant that none of the experts had any doubt that Ms. Cantin was suffering real and substantial pain symptoms. In addition, I cannot agree that Ms. Cantin’s physicians were advocates for her claim. They were passionate about their work in the field of chronic pain, and disagreed with the opinions of the defence experts concerning the cause of Ms. Cantin’s continuing symptoms. In my view, this does not render their opinions less reliable or less credible…
 There is no question that Ms. Cantin continues to suffer pain in her upper back, shoulders and neck. None of the medical experts believed she was fabricating her complaints or was malingering. There is no evidence of an intervening event that would break the chain of causation between the aggravation of Ms. Cantin’s chronic pain and the collision. The possibility that Ms. Cantin would have experienced the same symptoms in any event is a factor taken into account in determining damages; it is not relevant to causation. Thus I find that Ms. Petersen is liable for the continuing injury to Ms. Cantin’s upper back, shoulders and neck. A comparison of her condition before and after the accident will determine the quantum of damages and the extent of Ms. Petersen’s responsibility for Ms. Cantin’s present condition.
 Similarly, I find Ms. Petersen liable for Ms. Cantin’s continuing headache pain as these are causally connected to her chronic pain syndrome in her upper and lower body. The extent of Ms. Petersen’s responsibility will be determined by a comparison of Ms. Cantin’s past experience with headaches and her current experience…
 The soft tissue injuries occasioned by the accident have led to the development of serious, chronic pain in Ms. Cantin’s upper and lower spine, hips, and legs. Despite many types of therapy, she has continued to experience serious pain and a drastic reduction in her functional mobility for almost eight years since the accident. Ms. Cantin has lost the ability to work in a competitive labour market; she has no social life outside her home and her relationship with family members has deteriorated substantially as a result of her constant pain and mental distress. She is unable to achieve restful sleep; has suffered a cognitive decline in memory; and has become a social recluse. Her prognosis for any level of recovery is extremely guarded.
 While I believe the quantum of damages suggested by Ms. Cantin, adjusted for inflation, is more reflective of her loss than the range posited by Ms. Petersen, a lower amount is appropriate given the risks inherent in her pre-existing condition. Therefore, I award $150,000 in general damages for pain and suffering.