Tag: chronic pain

$60,000 Non-Pecuniary Damage Assessment for STI's Imposed on Pre-Existing Injuries

Reasons for judgement were released this week dealing with damages for soft tissue injuries imposed on pre-existing symptomatic injuries.
In this recent case, (Hosking v. Mahoney), the Plaintiff was injured in a 2004 motor vehicle collision.  She had pre-existing injuries from previous collisions and as a result had some on-going symptoms.  Mr. Justice Warren found that the new injuries would likely continue well into the future and assessed non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) at $80,000 then reduced this award by 25% to account for the Plaintiff’s pre-existing injuries.  In reaching this result the Court provided the following reasons:

[178] I find that the plaintiff suffered a mild to moderate soft tissue injury to her cervical and upper thoracic areas as a result of the February 2004 accident.  This was superimposed on her already symptomatic condition caused by the earlier accidents and although she had started to make the expected recovery, the process was interrupted by her falls.  Normally, these would not have affected the plaintiff but she was more vulnerable as a result of the three accidents.  There is no orthopaedic or neurological cause.  It is probable that these complaints will continue well into the future but can be managed and alleviated by an appropriate exercise programme (as recommended by her medical advisors as early as Dr. Parhar in March 2003) and by such passive therapies as may, from time to time, help alleviate her symptoms.

[179] Using the authorities relied upon by counsel as a template, for each case depends on its own unique features, I assess the plaintiff’s general damages at $80,000 which I reduce by 25% as attributable to or an apportionment for her pre-existing symptomatic injuries and her intervening falls.

Over Two Million Dollars Awarded in Chronic Pain Claim

Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, assessing damages for loss related to chronic pain.
In last week’s case (Zen v. Readhead) the 45 year old plaintiff was injured in a 2005 motor vehicle collision.  Fault for the crash was admitted by the Defendant.    The Defendant’s lawyer argued that the plaintiff sustained only minor injuries submitting that the plaintiff “is an opportunist who has intentionally exaggerated his pain behavior and reporting in the hope of being rewarded significant compensation.”
The Court did not take kindly to this attack and rejected the Defendant’s submission with the following criticism “There are times when a trial judge listening to submissions about the credibility of a party is left to wonder if judge and counsel have heard the same evidence. This is such a case.”
The Court went on to award the Plaintiff damages of just over 2 Million Dollars for his accident related injuries and losses.  The majority of this was related to past and future income loss.  The Plaintiff was a high functioning Vancouver businessman and his losses were assessed reflecting his pre-accident income earning capacity.
Madam Justice Fenlon assessed the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages at $110,000.  His injuries included low back and pelvic pain, headaches, a mood disorder, impaired sleep, dizziness, cognitive dysfunction, elbow pain and plantar fascitits.   In arriving at this figure the Court provided the following reasons:

[54]         Awards of damages in other cases provide a guideline only. I must apply the factors listed in Stapley to Mr. Zen’s particular case. Mr. Zen is now 45-years-old. He used to be an outgoing, charismatic athlete who weekly ran 40 kms, did the Grouse Grind, and took an active role in the lives of his daughters, all while working long days in the family business including most Saturdays. Today he is a different man. He is sleep-deprived and in chronic pain, which makes him irritable and prone to frustration and anger. He can no longer push himself athletically, which was a central part of his life and the way he managed stress. He has a diminished role in the lives of his daughters, and in particular his youngest daughter, Olivia. Mr. Zen’s relationship with his wife has been significantly affected and he has, in his words, “missed out on the best years of [his] life”.

[55]         Taking all of this into account and excluding from this analysis the pain and inconvenience caused by his left knee before the March 2010 surgery, I find that Mr. Zen is entitled to non-pecuniary damages of $110,000.

$100,000 Non-Pecuniary Damages Awarded for Chronic Pain From Soft Tissue Injury


Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry addressing damages as a result of chronic soft tissue injury.
In today’s case (MacKenzie v. Rogalasky) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2003 motor vehicle collision.  The Defendant turned into the path of the Plaintiff’s vehicle resulting in a t-bone type collision.  Fault for the crash was admitted by the Defendant with the trial focusing on the value of the Plaintiff’s claim.
The Plaintiff sustained various injuries in the crash.  These included “moderate” soft tissue injuries to his neck, shoulders and back.  The Plaintiff, unfortunately, went on to suffer from long term chronic pain as a result of these injuries.  He had to leave his employment as the Head Chef at a popular Lower Mainland restaurant and eventually opt for less physically demanding employment.
The limitations from his chronic soft tissue injuries were expected to be permanent.  The Plaintiff’s total damages were assessed at just under $400,000 including an award of non-pecuniary damages of $100,000.  In arriving at this figure Madam Justice Ker made the following findings:

[255]     I accept the evidence adduced by the plaintiff that Mr. MacKenzie sustained soft tissue injuries to his neck, shoulder and back as a result of the accident.  The symptoms of chronic pain have continued to bother Mr. MacKenzie, and nearly seven years post-accident, he still experiences pain in his neck, shoulder and back, although primarily in the lower back area.  While the injuries can be described as moderate soft tissue injuries, I accept the diagnosis and opinion of Dr. Hunt that Mr. MacKenzie has developed chronic myofascial pain syndrome and experiences chronic pain to this day.  Thus, the injuries and pain symptoms continue to affect most every facet of Mr. MacKenzie’s work and non-work life.  The pain is most significant when Mr. MacKenzie works and overloads his physical tolerance capacity.  He has had to leave his chosen profession as a chef due to the increasing pain and difficulty he was experiencing and the failure to see any significant improvement in his condition.

[256]     I have concluded that as a result of the accident, Mr. MacKenzie has suffered pain and loss of enjoyment of life, and he will continue to do so for an indefinite period of time.

[257]     Mr. MacKenzie struck me as a very stoic and determined individual.  Despite the ongoing pain he tried to continue to work as a chef, a position he was passionate about and aspired to continue in for as long as possible, perhaps even establishing his own restaurant.  He also tried to remain physically active but found it difficult to do so given the attendant pain associated with the activities he previously enjoyed, including motorcycling, snowboarding and, until recently, golfing.  His return to playing golf is a recent development, but due to the nature of his injuries and ongoing chronic pain symptoms Mr. MacKenzie has had to alter his style of play and is still not able to play to the same intensity and level he did prior to the accident.  He has suffered, and will continue to suffer, some diminishment in his lifestyle.

[258]     The evidence from the plaintiff’s friends and family, coupled with his own evidence, establishes Mr. MacKenzie enjoyed excellent health and was involved in the physically active and demanding position of Head Chef working in a busy restaurant for up to 16 hour shifts prior to the accident.  Mr. MacKenzie also engaged in demanding outdoor sports activities such as snowboarding, mountain biking and rollerblading and engaged in extended periods of riding his motorcycle.

[259]     Taking into account all of these circumstances, the referenced authorities and the nature of Mr. MacKenzie’s injuries, the relatively enduring nature of the injuries as manifested through ongoing symptoms of chronic pain that has developed into chronic myofascial pain syndrome which prohibits him from returning to the profession he has been passionate about since he was a young boy, the pain he has suffered and may continue to experience in the future, as well as the fact he suffered a diminishment in his lifestyle, I conclude a fair and reasonable award for non-pecuniary damages is $100,000.

Diminished Earning Capacity Awards Without Past Wage Loss

(UPDATE February 9, 2012:  The Damages in the below case for Diminished Earning Capacity and Cost of Future Care were reduced somewhat by the BC Court of Appeal on February 9, 2012)

A common misconception is that a person cannot claim for diminished earning capacity (future wage loss) in an ICBC Claim when there has been no past wage loss.  As I’ve previously discussed, this simply is not true.  Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, demonstrating this.
In last week’s case (Morlan v. Barrett) the Plaintiff was injured in two separate motor vehicle collisions.  Fault was admitted by the Defendants in both actions.  The Court found that both crashes caused a single indivisible injury (chronic widespread pain eventually diagnosed as fibromyalgia).
The Plaintiff’s injuries and limitations caused her to change employment to a job that was less physically demanding.  Fortunately, her new job paid a better salary and the Plaintiff had no past wage loss from the time of her first crash to the time of trial.  Her injuries, however, were expected to cause ongoing limitations and the Plaintiff claimed damages for diminished future earning capacity.  Mr. Justice Stewart agreed the Plaintiff was entitled to these damages and assessed the loss at $425,000.  In reaching this assessment Mr. Justice Stewart gave the following useful reasons:
[7] The plaintiff found work at the Electrical Industry Training Institution (EITI) in 2008 and is employed there as a Program Coodinator.  The job is far less demanding and the commute is only 20 minutes.  The job is also far less rewarding in terms of job satisfaction.  Having to change jobs was a huge blow and this will be reflected in the non-pecuniary damages I award later.  By happenstance the plaintiff’s salary actually went up when she switched jobs.  For that reason there is no claim for loss of earning capacity to the date of trial.  But there is a claim for loss of opportunity to earn income – including benefits – in the future…

[17]        Pure happenstance resulted in her suffering no loss of income to the date of trial, i.e., she got a less demanding job which happened to pay more than her job at the B.C. Fed.  But a reduction in her capacity to earn income has been made out.  Her having to give up her job at the B.C. Fed demonstrates that the circle of secretarial or administrative positions for which she could, if necessary, compete has been narrowed.  (Exhibit 6, a “Functional Capacity Evaluation” and Exhibit 5, the report of an “Occupational Health Physician” simply confirm the obvious.)  To put it in familiar terms:  she is less marketable as an employee; she is less capable overall from earning income from all types of employment; she has lost the ability to take advantage of all job opportunities which might otherwise have come her way; and she is less valuable to herself as a person capable of earning income in a competitive labour market (Rosvold v. Dunlop, 2001 BCCA 1 at paragraph 10).  The live issue is whether there is a real and substantial possibility that the reduction in her capacity to earn income will in fact result in lost income – including benefits – in the future (Sobolik v. Waters, 2010 BCCA 523, paragraphs 39-43).

[18]        As noted earlier, having considered the whole of the evidence placed before me I rely on the evidence of the plaintiff’s family physician, Dr. Beck, as I peer into my crystal ball and consider the plaintiff’s future.

[19]        The fact that the balance of the medical evidence does not replicate what Dr. Beck said at Exhibit 4 page 6 – that the plaintiff has “plateaued even slightly worsened over the past year” – and indeed the evidence of the rheumatologist, Dr. Shuckett is quite different – is neither here nor there as having considered the whole of it I say as the trier of fact that Dr. Beck was an impressive, thoughtful witness of great experience who offered up her opinion against a background of having dealt with the plaintiff for 25 years and, more particularly, having had close supervision of the plaintiff’s medical condition since January 6, 2007 and the advent of the motor vehicle accidents.  In saying that I have not lost sight of the fact that Dr. Beck has in fact retired.

[20]        Having considered the whole of the evidence together, I say that three real and substantial possibilities have been made out:  that the plaintiff’s condition will improve; that the plaintiff’s condition will remain as it is; and that the plaintiff’s condition will worsen.  In “giv[ing] weight according to their relative likelihood” to these three hypothetical events I find that the possibility of her condition improving barely rises above mere speculation and that the possibility of her remaining the same and the possibility of her condition worsening are both great (Athey v. Leonati, [1996] 3 S.C.R. 458 at paragraph 27).

[21]        I find that there most certainly is a real and substantial possibility that the reduction in the plaintiff’s capacity to earn income will result in lost income – including benefits – in the future.  Beyond the fact that nothing in life is certain and that she may yet find herself on the job market there is the real and substantial possibility that even if she remains in her current job until the end of her working career, her working career will end earlier than it would otherwise have absent the effects on the plaintiff of the defendants’ negligence.  That is so because it is a real and substantial possibility that her fibromyalgia will remain as it is but common experience dictates that as one moves into one’s latter years the ability to work in spite of a condition that drains one’s energy diminishes.  Independently of that, it is a real and substantial possibility that the plaintiff’s fibromyalgia – and with it loss of energy – will worsen.  I make that finding having considered the whole of the evidence including that of the plaintiff as to her recent experience and of all of the doctors and concluded as the trier of fact that I rely most on the evidence of Dr. Beck.

[22]        I take into account factors beyond those that relate to the state of the health of the plaintiff and her ability to work.  The plaintiff has established a real and substantial possibility – not mere speculation – that had she not had to forfeit her job at the B.C. Fed she would have, within a few years of the date of the motor vehicle accidents, taken advantage of an opportunity to perhapsmove up in the hierarchy of the B.C. Fed to the point of becoming a Director and with that received an increase in salary and benefits.  That is the net effect of the evidence of the plaintiff and of Lynda Bueckert.  Moreover, as of January 6, 2007 the plaintiff had to assume that she would retire from the B.C. Fed when she turned 65.  After January 6, 2007 the law changed.  I find that the plaintiff’s love for her job at the B.C. Fed combines with my picture of what she was before January 6, 2007 and results in my accepting her evidence to the effect that it is a real and substantial possibility that absent the defendants’ negligence she would have continued to work at the B.C. Fed even after she had turned 65.  I have considered the positive and negative vagaries of life, i.e., the contingencies.  Having considered the whole of it I award the plaintiff $425,000.

Wage Loss Claims for Stay-At-Home Parents Intending on Returning to the Workforce


Although stay-at-home parents are becoming less and less common many parents still take several years away from the workforce to raise their children in their infant and pre-school years.  Often times these parents intend to return to work after their children attend school on a full time basis.
When a parent in these circumstances becomes disabled from working due to the fault of another can they make a claim for loss of income in their tort action?  The answer is yes provided there is evidence establishing  a likelihood of returning to employment absent the accident related disability.   Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, dealing with this area of law.
In last week’s case (Carr v. Simpson) the Plaintiff was seriously injured in a 2005 motor vehicle collision.  The Defendant admitted fault and further admitted that the crash injured the plaintiff but took issue with the value of her claims for various damages including for income loss.
The Plaintiff, a 39 year old mother of three at the time of the collision, was out of the workforce for several years prior to the crash.  She spent these years working as a home-maker and raising her children.  She undertook some modest employment as a house cleaner shortly prior to the crash.  Following the crash she became disabled and did not return to any work from the time of the crash to the time of trial.
The Court accepted the Plaintiff sustained serious, permanent and partly disabling injuries due to the crash.  The Plaintiff sought damages of $84,000 for lost income from the time of the crash to the time of trial.  She argued that she had planned on returning to the work force once her children became school-aged (which was around the time of the crash) but was precluded in doing so as a result of her injuries.  The Defendant disagreed arguing that the Plaintiff suffered only a modest loss of income because of her “inconsistent work history (and) lack of incentive to work because of income from other sources.
Mr. Justice Bernard sided with the Plaintiff and awarded her most of what she sought for past income loss.  In doing so the Court provide the following useful reasons addressing the reality that parents that leave the workforce to raise young children can still succeed in an income loss claim:

[132]     I reject the notion that Ms. Carr’s unemployment history during her child-rearing years made her return to the workforce less realistic or less likely. Ms. Carr did not harbour fanciful ideas about her capabilities, her income-earning potential, or her opportunities for employment. When her youngest child reached school age, Ms. Carr was relatively young, energetic, able-bodied, willing to work hard, prepared to accept modest wages in exchange for her labours, and was fortunate to have a brother who could offer her steady, secure, and reasonably well-remunerated employment.

[133]     The evidence establishes that Ms. Carr, shortly before the collision, was motivated to earn some income (e.g., from housecleaning) until her youngest child was enrolled in school; thereafter, she planned to seek more fulsome employment. I do not accept the defence submission that Ms. Carr lacked the incentive and/or need to earn an income; to the contrary, since she has been unable to work because of her injuries she has, with some reluctance, turned to her mother for ongoing loans of relatively large sums of money, just to get by.

[134]     Ms. Carr became a single parent as of June 1, 2005. I find it highly likely that this new status would have impelled her to take the employment her brother offered, and to do so immediately. Her newly poor economic circumstances would have necessitated that Ms. Carr make child-care arrangements to bridge the time until her youngest child was in school in September 2005, and would have motivated her to work as many hours as she could manage as a single parent. Similarly, I am satisfied that she would have made any necessary arrangements for the care of her father.

[135]     I also find it is highly likely that Ms. Carr, as an employee of her brother, would have worked the hours and received the rates of pay assumed by Mr. Bush in his calculations. I find it is most unlikely that the seasonal aspect of the work would have reduced Ms. Carr’s overall income. Any shortage of work in the slow season would be offset by the demands of the busy season, and I am satisfied that Ms. Carr would have adjusted her life, accordingly.

[136]     While I am unable to agree with the plaintiff’s submission that in the determination of past wage loss there should be no reduction for negative contingencies, I am satisfied, for the relatively predictable period in question, the reduction must be minor.

[137]     Having regard for all the foregoing, I assess the plaintiff’s past wage loss at $75,000.

This case is also worth reviewing for the Court’s discussion of non-pecuniary damages.  The Plaintiff sustained numerious injuries including soft tissue injuries to her neck and upper back, Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, headaches and dizziness, a right hand and wrist injury which required surgery, a meniscus tear that required surgery, low back pain and depression related to chrobic pain.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $100,000 Mr. Justice Bernard provided the following reasons:

125]     Ms. Carr has, at age 44, many years ahead of her. As a result of the defendant’s negligence, Ms. Carr has been permanently partially disabled and left with constant and chronic pain. Since the collision, Ms. Carr has undergone two surgeries and endured considerable pain and discomfort. Ms. Carr has developed TOS and surgery is not recommended. She suffers from clinical depression related to the negative effect her injuries has had upon her, her family, and her way of life. Ms. Carr’s mental acuity and concentration has slipped. Ms. Carr’s marriage ended six months after she sustained her injuries. Her husband was unsympathetic and frustrated by her lack of desire for sex due to her discomfort. Ms. Carr has been rendered unemployable for most jobs in a competitive market. She is now unable to enjoy most leisure activities and active social pursuits with her children. She has a special fondness for horses and gardening, but meaningful participation in activities related to these interests is no longer feasible. Ms. Carr has lost much of the satisfaction from gainful employment, and the purpose and dimension it gives to life. In short, the negligence of the defendant has had a profoundly negative and lasting impact upon Ms. Carr.

[126]     I agree with the plaintiff’s position that the Djukic case is most similar of the proffered cases on its facts. I also agree with the defendant’s submission that Ms. Djukic’s pain was more severe than that of Ms. Carr; otherwise, I am persuaded that Djukic a useful reference point for the upper end of a general damages award in this case; and that Cimino is instructive in determining the lower end.

[127]     Having regard to all the foregoing, I assess Ms. Carr’s general damages at $100,000.

BC Court of Appeal Discusses Non-Pecuniary Damages for Chronic Pain

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Court of Appeal addressing, amongst other things, a fair range of non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) for chronic pain caused by the negligence of others.
In today’s case (Rizzolo v. Brett) the Plaintiff was injured in a motorcycle accident in 2005.  The Defendant was found fully at fault for the crash.    The Plaintiff suffered a fractured tibia and fibula.  These bony injuries went on to good recovery however the Plaintiff was left with chronic pain as a consequence of the collision.  At trial the Plaintiff was awarded $562,000 in total compensation for the injuries including a non-pecuniary damages award of $125,000.  (You can click here to read my post summarizing the trial judgement)
The Defendant appealed arguing that this assessment was inordinately high.  The BC Court of Appeal disagreed and held that in cases of chronic pain which affect functioning there is nothing inappropriate with non-pecuniary damage awards well over $100,000.  Specifically the BC High Court held as follows:

[32]         A review of those cases supports the respondent’s argument that the trial judge’s award of $125,000 was within the acceptable range.  In Moses v. Kim, 2007 BCSC 1388, the plaintiff was struck while crossing the Trans-Canada highway, breaking his legs.  While the breaks healed, the plaintiff was left with pain in his legs, back and hip.  As he had been a very physical person prior to the accident, hunting, fishing, logging and playing sports, much of his life was affected.  In addition to restricting the activities he could enjoy, this led him to become shorter tempered and angrier.  He was awarded $165,000 in non-pecuniary damages.

[33]         The plaintiff in Funk v. Carter, 2004 BCSC 866, was also struck by a vehicle and suffered broken legs, as well as some soft tissue injuries.  While the plaintiff underwent surgery, the injuries did not heal well, and he was left with chronic pain and impaired mobility.  As with the case at bar, and with Moses, the plaintiff had been “very fit” prior to the accident, and had “a great deal of difficulty adjusting psychologically”.  As a result, he was awarded $140,000 in non-pecuniary damages.

[34]         Moore v. Brown, 2009 BCSC 190, was a case similar to that at bar where the plaintiff was on a motorcycle when struck by the defendant.  He suffered substantial injuries, including a shoulder injury, a leg ligament tear, knee problems and a foot injury.  The accident also led to chronic neck pain, headaches and lumbar problems.  Three years later, at trial, the plaintiff was still experiencing difficulties, including an altered gait and difficulty continuing in his work as a geo-scientist.  The trial judge awarded non-pecuniary damages of $115,000.

[35]         In Dufault v. Kathed Holdings Ltd., 2007 BCSC 186, the plaintiff fell while descending the stairs at the defendant’s business.  The fall resulted in knee injuries that the trial judge accepted would likely require knee replacement surgery.  This was exacerbated by chronic pain, hip problems, and some resultant mild depression.  Taking these considerations into account, the trial judge awarded $110,000 in non-pecuniary damages.

[36]         Finally, in Mosher v. Bitonti, 1998 CanLII 5186 (B.C.S.C.), the plaintiff sued two defendants for separate accidents.  The trial judge found that the plaintiff had suffered fractured right leg bones as a result of the first accident, which caused muscular damage.  He accepted that these were “very significant injuries” and that the plaintiff had suffered a painful recovery.  While there was a small chance of future degenerative arthritis, the plaintiff was left with a normal gait, but with some difficulty squatting, kneeling or crouching.  Those injuries resulted in the plaintiff being awarded $80,000 in non-pecuniary damages.

[37]         As can be seen from those cases, trial judges have assessed non-pecuniary damages at well over $100,000 where there is an element of significant ongoing pain and, particularly, where the plaintiff had previously enjoyed an active lifestyle or a physical vocation….

[39]         I agree with the respondent that the trial judge did not assess damages on the basis of a well-resolved fracture.  Rather, the award for non-pecuniary damages was largely based on the trial judge’s conclusions that the respondent suffered and would continue to suffer from chronic debilitating pain that profoundly affected all aspects of his life.  Viewed in this way, the award cannot be said to be inordinately high.  The chronic pain cases cited by the trial judge support her assessment.

[40]         I would not accede to this ground of appeal.

Another point of interest in today’s case were the Court’s comments about gathering new evidence after trial to challenge an award for ‘diminished earning capacity‘.  At trial the Plaintiff was awarded $250,000 for his loss of earning capacity.  The Defendant appealed and asked the Court of Appeal to force the Plaintiff to produce “documents pertaining to his employment since the trial“.  The BC High Court refused to do so and provided the following useful comments:

[43]         An appellate court should decline to exercise its discretion to make an order to admit “new evidence”, unless that evidence would tend to falsify an assumption that the trial judge made about what was, at the time of judgment, the future:  see Jens v. Jens, 2008 BCCA 392 at para. 29, citing North Vancouver (District) v. Fawcett (1998), 60 B.C.L.R. (3d) 201 (C.A.)(sub nomNorth Vancouver (District) v. Lunde).

[44]         It is unnecessary for me to review in detail the nature of the evidence tendered on the application by the appellant and in reply by the respondent.  Suffice it to say that the conclusions the appellant contended should be drawn from her proposed new evidence were clearly and persuasively refuted by the respondent in an affidavit and, in any event, did not rise to the necessary factual standard that would properly form the basis for a successful application for admission of new evidence.

ICBC Injury Claims and Lack of Continuous Medical Complaints


Individuals who suffer long-term chronic pain following a motor vehicle collision often attend frequently for treatment to their general practitioner.   These visits generate ‘clinical records‘ which generally document the patients complaints.
These clinical records are usually produced in the course of a subsequent personal injury lawsuit.  ICBC defence lawyers scrutinize these records and see if they can poke a hole in the Plaintiff’s case.  A common tactic is to review these records and see if the Plaintiff complains of the same symptoms at each and every visit.  If not, ICBC may argue that the Plaintiff recovered since there is a lack of continuous complaint.  So, does this mean an injured Plaintiff should make sure they discuss their accident related complaints each and every time they see their doctor?  The answer is no and reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, discussing some of the reasons why this is not necessary.
In this week’s case (Van Den Hemel v. Kugathasan) the Plaintiff was injured in two motor vehicle collisions in 2006.  She was not at fault for either and the trial focused on the value of her ICBC claims.   During the course of trial ICBC’s lawyer argued that the Plaintiff was not credible and that her in Court testimony of chronic pain was contradicted by “temporal gaps” in the Plaintiff’s doctors clinical records.  Mr. Justice Stewart was quick to dismiss this attack and provided the following useful comments in response to the Defendant’s argument:

[9]             Another wing of the defendants’ attack on the plaintiff’s testimonial reliability – more particularly sincerity – focused on what the defendants say is the disparity between the plaintiff’s telling me, in effect, that her pain and suffering in the neck, shoulders and back has been present, persistent and continuous since the first motor vehicle accident in April 2006 and what the defendants describe as telling temporal gaps in what the plaintiff complained of when she was seen by her family doctor, Dr. Sun, over the years.

[10]         The plaintiff, in effect, told me that on any given occasion when she saw Dr. Sun and had her few minutes in the examining room that she went straight to only what was her most significant problem or complaint that day. I accept that. It makes sense in light of how our medical system functions today. Also I infer from the whole of Dr. Sun’s testimony that it was her practice to let the patient take the initiative and that she did not invite the patient to lodge a bill of complaints. Last, I note that – as will become clear later in these Reasons for Judgment – throughout the four years in question in the case at bar the plaintiff has been a woman beset with a myriad of problems for which she sought help or advice from caregivers, only some of which were neck, back and shoulder problems.

Mr. Justice Stewart went on to award the Plaintiff $75,000 in non-pecuniary damages for her accident related injuries.  This case is also worth reviewing in full for the Court’s lengthy discussion of Plaintiff “credibility” and “testimonial reliability” which is set out at paragraphs 5-17.

More on ICBC Claims and Lack of Objective Signs of Injury


As I’ve previously written, objective signs aren’t always present to verify an injury.  Often times victims of motor vehicle collisions experience pain and limitations but the source of the injury can’t be documented through objective tests such as X-rays, CT Scans and MRI’s.  If an injury can’t be objectively verified does that prevent a successful lawsuit for compensation?  The answer is no and reasons for judgement were released today demonstrating this fact.
In today’s case (Sandher v. Hogg) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2006 motor vehicle collision.  Her vehicle was rear-ended by the Defendant’s.  The Defendant admitted fault for the crash.  The trial focused on the nature and extent of the Plaintiff’s injuries.
The Plaintiff’s doctors gave evidence that she suffered injuries to her connective tissues (often referred to as soft tissue injuries) and that these have not fully healed.  The Plaintiff went on to experience chronic pain as a result of these injuries with a chance that the pain would continue indefinitely.
The Defendant’s lawyer argued that all of the Plaintiff’s complaints are subjective and can’t be verified.  He argued that the Plaintiff was exaggerating her symptoms to advance her personal injury claim.  Madam Justice Dardi rejected these arguments and awarded the Plaintiff $40,000 for her non-pecuniary damages.  In doing so the Court provided the following useful comments illustrating that objective signs are not necessary in a personal injury lawsuit:

[67]         The absence of objective physical findings is not determinative of whether Ms. Sandher continues to suffer from chronic pain. Since pain may well be a subjective phenomenon not easily measurable by independent objective indicia, the assessment of Ms. Sandher’s soft tissue injuries to a certain extent turns on the assessment of her subjective complaints and reported symptoms:  Szymanski v. Morin, 2010 BCSC 1 at para. 106; and Shapiro v. Dailey, 2010 BCSC 770 at para. 35.

[68] The defence contends that the minor damage to Ms. Sandher’s vehicle is inconsistent with the severity of her reported injuries. While evidence of vehicle damage is relevant to the assessment of injuries, ultimately the extent of her injuries is to be assessed on the evidence as a whole:  Robbie v. King, 2003 BCSC 1553 at para. 35….

[70] I accept the evidence of Ms. Sandher that her back and shoulder pain has not resolved. I reject the defence suggestion that she is exaggerating her symptoms to advance her litigation objectives; the evidence does not support such a finding. The overarching frustration and emotional distress she has experienced as a result of her persisting discomfort and pain was evident in her testimony. I find her complaints of continuing shoulder and back pain generally consistent with the surrounding circumstances and evidence…

[72]         On the totality of the evidence, I conclude that there is a realistic prospect for significant improvement in the foreseeable future, but there is also a realistic prospect that Ms. Sandher may never recover to her pre-accident levels of fitness.

[73]         In summary, having considered Ms. Sandher’s own evidence and all of the medical evidence, I conclude that as a result of the accident Ms. Sandher sustained soft tissue injuries to her shoulder and upper and lower back, and that these injuries have caused her pain and suffering. I accept that Ms. Sandher continues to experience pain from her injuries. I find on balance that there will be some continuing chronic pain suffered by Ms. Sandher in the future for an uncertain period of time….

[84] Having reviewed all of the authorities provided by both counsel, and in considering all of Ms. Sandher’s particular circumstances, I conclude that a fair and reasonable award for non-pecuniary damages is $40,000.

Pain and Suffering Without Objective Signs of Injury


The easiest personal injury cases to prosecute are those involving objective injuries.  If a person suffers a broken arm or leg in a car crash there is no dispute as to what the injury is or what caused it.  There may be some disputes regarding the consequences of the injuries but generally there is a lot of room for agreement in these types of lawsuits.
On the other end of the spectrum are chronic pain cases.  Many people involved in traumatic events go on to suffer long term chronic pain.  The pain can be invasive and sometimes disabling.  It can interrupt domestic, vocational and recreational activities, it can even negatively impact personal relationships.   Often the source of chronic pain cannot be objectively identified and people suffering from chronic injury face not only the pain but also the stigma that they are somehow exaggerating or even faking their injury.  This skepticism can take a further toll and add to the cycle of chronic pain.
These cases bring challenges in prosecution and create a sharp focus on plaintiff credibility.   Despite their challenges chronic pain disorders can be properly compensated at trial as was demonstrated in reasons for judgement released today by the BC Supreme Court.
In today’s case (Kasidoulis v. Russo) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2005 intersection crash.  Fault was admitted by the driver of the opposing vehicle.  The trial focused on the extent of the Plaintiff’s injuries and their value.
The collision caused several injuries to the Plaintiff which eventually turned into a chronic pain disorder.   As is sometimes the case there was a lack of objective proof of the Plaintiff’s injuries.  Dr. Travlos, the Plaintiff’s treating physiatrist gave the following evidence about the Plaintiff’s injuries:

[21] Dr. Travlos was of the opinion that the complaints reported by Ms. Kasidoulis to Dr. Kneifel, which included headaches, chest pains, neck pains; back pains and emotional difficulties were a direct result of the accident.  He was unable to identify any clinical or objective findings with respect to the back pain but was clearly of the view that Ms. Kasidoulis was genuinely experiencing the pain that she reported.  There does not seem to be any serious dispute between the parties that Ms. Kasidoulis’ pain is genuine and I accept that this is the case.

[22] In his second report Dr. Travlos concluded that Ms. Kasidoulis suffers from chronic pain disorder.  That pain was affecting her daily activities, both social and work related.  He was of the view that Ms. Kasidoulis would benefit from a long-term “longitudinal” course of treatment designed to permit her to manage and cope with her pain.  On the other hand, Dr. Travlos was clearly of the view that there should be no expectation that the pain would resolve and that it was no more probable than not that she will continue to have permanent on-going pain.

[23] In both his reports, and in particular in his March 2010 report, Dr. Travlos focused considerable attention on the necessity of Ms. Kasidoulis undergoing treatment and having access to the resources necessary to reduce the stressors in her life.  As I read Dr. Travlos’ opinion, he was of the view that if Ms. Kasidoulis is given the opportunity to access a reasonable long-term treatment plan and the resources to relieve her household responsibilities, she could expect significant improvement in her ability to function and in her ability to cope with her pain.

[24] Dr. Travlos was of the view that it was unrealistic to expect that Ms. Kasidoulis would ever be able to work full-time, but that it was reasonable to anticipate that she could work between three and four days a week if the therapies that he recommended were pursued and were effective.

Mr. Justice Sewell accepted this evidence and awarded the Plaintiff over $900,000 for her injuries and resulting disability including $90,000 for her non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life).

In arriving at this verdict the Court made the following comments about causation and compensation for chronic pain cases with lack of objective proof:

[36] As is not uncommon in cases of this sort, the critical issue in this case is the extent to which the injuries Ms. Kasidoulis suffered in the accident are the cause of the difficulties described in the evidence…

37]         This case therefore requires consideration of the law as laid by the Supreme Court of Canada and our Court of Appeal with respect to causation.  The law with respect to causation has been recently addressed and reviewed in Athey v. Leonati, [1996] 3 S.C.R. 458; Resurfice Corp. v.  Hanke, 2007 SCC 7 and Hutchings v. Dow, 2007 BCCA 148.

[38]         These cases establish the proposition that to impose liability on the defendant  I must be satisfied that Ms. Kasidoulis would not have suffered her symptoms but for the accident or, in other words, that the injuries she suffered in the accident were a necessary cause of her post accident symptoms.

[39]         I find that Ms. Kasidoulis suffers from debilitating mid and low-back pain.  This pain and attendant low energy have had a significant impact on her life.  I find that the symptoms being experienced by Ms. Kasidoulis are an indivisible injury which would not have occurred but for the injuries she suffered in the motor vehicle accident.

[40]         I base this conclusion on a comparison of Ms. Kasidoulis’ energy and capabilities before and after the accident.  I accept her evidence that she is suffering debilitating back pain.  I also rely on Dr. Travlos’ conclusion that Ms. Kasidoulis is suffering from chronic pain syndrome.  I can see nothing in the evidence which supports the assertion that Ms. Kasidoulis would be experiencing the pain or the level of disability she currently experiences had she not been injured in the motor vehicle accident.  I therefore conclude that the defendant is fully responsible for the consequences of Ms. Kasidoulis’ present condition.

[41]         I make this finding notwithstanding the lack of objective clinical evidence of serious injury.  I note that neither Ms. Kasidoulis nor Dr. Travlos were cross- examined with respect to the genuineness of Ms. Kasidoulis’ reported symptoms.  In his cross-examination of Dr. Travlos, Mr. Robinson did establish that there was a paucity of objective evidence of injury present.  I note, however, that there is no indication that Ms. Kasidoulis was in any way feigning the symptoms she is experiencing.  Given this fact and the fact that there was ample evidence before me contrasting Ms. Kasidoulis’ personality and abilities before the accident from those she presently possesses and demonstrates, I have no hesitation in concluding that the difficulties that she now faces would not have been experienced but the wrongful conduct of the defendant.

In addition to the above this case is worth reviewing in full for the Court’s discussion of damages for ‘diminished earning capacity‘ at paragraphs 52-65.  The Plaintiff was awarded $550,000 for diminished earning capacity despite being able to continue working in her own occupation because the Court was satisfied that the accident related injuries would prevent the Plaintiff from working on a full time basis as a teacher and instead would be limited to working on a part time on-call basis.

Non-Pecuniary Damage Awards Discussed for Chronic Pain with Pre-Existing Depression


Pre-existing medical difficulties can and do play a role in the process of awarding a Plaintiff damages for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life (non-pecuniary damages).  Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, discussing this area of law.
In today’s case (Beaudry v. Kishigweb) the Plaintiff’s vehicle was rear-ended by a 1/2 ton pick-up truck.  Fault was admitted for the crash.   The Plaintiff sustained a variety of soft tissue injuries affecting her neck, upper back and lower back.  These went on to cause chronic pain and headaches and the Plaintiff never fully recovered from the consequences of her injuries.
Prior to the accident the Plaintiff suffered from some medical difficulties and these included a chronic low grade depression.  Her pre-accident health made her more vulnerable to having a poor outcome following the accident.  The Defendant, who basically conceded that the Plaintiff did suffer from chronic pain as a result of the collision, argued that “whether or not the Plaintiff was a vulnerable individual (as a result of pre-existing conditions), she cannot be put back to a better position than she would have been had the accident not occurred“.
The Court went on to find that the accident did cause chronic pain which was not resolved at the time of trial.  The Court further found that the chronic pain would continue into the future, however, it would not prevent the Plaintiff from working full time or from carrying out her household responsibilities.  In awarding the Plaintiff $85,000 for her non-pecuniary damages Mr. Justice Rice made the following comments about damages for non-pecuniary loss for chronic pain with pre-existing difficulties:

[25]         The difficulty of assessing damages for soft-tissue injuries where the plaintiff has a complicated psychological and behavioural background is described in Rod v. Greco, 2003 BCSC 935, at para. 35:

As to physical injuries, because of the mechanics of the motor vehicle accident [the plaintiff’s vehicle was rear-ended] some must have been sustained by the plaintiff.  However, the complex psychological and behavioural history both pre and post accident outlined above made it difficult to identify them with any precision.

[34]         With the virtual admission by the defendants that the plaintiff now suffers from chronic pain, I must first of all decide what the condition of the plaintiff was just before the accident.  Clearly she was not in the best of shape and that must be taken into account.  She was susceptible to pain and worse, depression, some of which could be said was the result of lifestyle mistakes made in the past.  Having recovered from most of those, I agree that it is not fair to reduce what she would otherwise receive simply on the basis of a greater susceptibility because of her past.  On the other hand, to the extent that those past experiences would have revisited her earlier in life than is normal, account must be taken of that too.

[35]         Considering the whole of the evidence, I find that, indeed, the plaintiff suffers chronic pain as a result of the collision.  I award her $85,000 in non-pecuniary damages.

Contact

If you would like further information or require assistance, please get in touch.

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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