Tag: crumbling skull principle

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.

$35,000 Non-Pecuniary Damages for Aggravation of Pre-Existing Back Injury

Reasons for judgment were released Friday awarding a Plaintiff just over $69,000 in total damages for injuries and losses sustained as a result of a 2006 BC Car Crash.
In Friday’s case (Dermody v. Gassier) the Plaintiff was injured when his vehicle was rear-ended in South Surrey.  Fault was admitted leaving the court to deal with the sole issue of damages (value of the claim).
Mr. Justice Williams found that while the Plaintiff “embellished his description of the way things were before the accident” the Plaintiff nonetheless was injured and had a pre-existing condition worsened as a consequence of this collision.
In assessing the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) at $35,000  Mr. Justice Williams summarized the Plaintiff’s injuries as follows:

[92] The plaintiff sustained soft tissue injuries in the motor vehicle accident.  Some of them were relatively transitory in nature; others were more serious and he says they have continued to impact him in a significant way.

[93] The bruising and such injury abated within a short period of time, that is, within two or three weeks.  The headaches continued, albeit on a diminished basis, for a period of time in the order of 12 months.  The neck pain was initially a serious problem but I conclude resolved substantially within 12 to 16 months.  The driving apprehension, again, resolved within a fairly short period of time and did not meaningfully impact in any long-term way upon the plaintiff.

[94] There is the matter of the sensation loss in the plaintiff’s feet.  None of the medical experts have been able to understand what causes that, and Dr. Sovio was quite sceptical of it.  Nevertheless, there appears to be no reason to find that it is not an actual condition; its onset was concurrent with the accident.  I, therefore, find that it is a consequence, albeit a relatively minor one, of the incident and that it is a continuing condition.

[95] The most serious and sustained injury was that to the plaintiff’s back.  I accept that it caused him significant pain and discomfort.  Based on the medical evidence, I accept as well that there will be some residual back pain going forward….

[103] To clarify, I find that, at the time of the motor vehicle accident, the plaintiff’s back condition was not asymptomatic.  He was having back pain with certain attendant limitations.  Whether that was from the incidents at the courier job, whether it was because of degenerative conditions, or whether it was some combination, I am not able to say.

[104] However, I am satisfied that his back was symptomatic at the time of the accident, and, in accordance with the crumbling skull principle, he is only entitled to recover damages that reflect the difference between his post-accident condition and his pre-accident condition….

I conclude that there were weaknesses in this plaintiff’s pre-accident condition that were not symptomatic at the time of the accident injury, but which would have the effect of making the plaintiff likely to experience greater consequences from the insult of the accident.  Injuries that result where such a situation is present are compensable…

[115] On the particular facts of the matter at hand, it is my conclusion that a fit and appropriate award of non-pecuniary damages in this case is $35,000.

In addition to the discussion addressing the award for non-pecuniary damages, this case contains a useful discussion of the “thin skull” and “crumbling skull” legal principles which is worth reviewing for anyone interested in how BC courts deal with pre-existing conditions and their interplay with traumatic injuries in BC tort claims.

More ICBC Injury Claims Updates – The Kelowna Road Edition

I’m just finishing up another business trip to Kelowna BC and have been greeted by a heavy load of ICBC Injury Claims judgments released by the BC Supreme Court.  Given this volume (and being pressed for time working on the road) this Injury Claims update will be shorter on detail than usual.
4 cases worth noting were released today by the BC Supreme Court.  The first deals with the issue of fault and the others deal with damages (value of the the claims).
In the first case released today (Hynna v. Peck) the Plaintiff was injured in a car accident.  She was attempting to cross 10th Avenue, in Vancouver, BC when she was struck by a westbound vehicle near her driver’s side door.
The Plaintiff had a stop sign and was the ‘servient driver’.  The court found that the Plaintiff was careless when she left the stop sign as she tried to cross the intersection when it was not safe to do so.    Specifically the court found that the Plaintiff entered the intersection when the dominant on-coming driver posed an immediate hazard and the Plaintiff “either did not see him or saw him but failed to reasonably appreciate the threat of his approach”
The court also found that the Defendant was speeding.  The court concluded that he was at fault for this and in doing so made the following finding and analysis:

[84] I have found that Mr. Peck was speeding along West 10th at between 83.5 and 86 km/h as he approached the Intersection.  He was moving at that rapid pace when he first noticed the Hynna car stopped on Camosun Street.  The evidence demonstrates that but for Mr. Peck’s excessive speed of travel, he would have been able to take reasonable measures to avoid the accident and the accident would not then have occurred.  I also find fault with Mr. Peck for failing to keep a proper look-out.  He could not have maintained a proper look-out as he sped toward Ms. Hynna after taking the momentary second glance her way.  That is why he did not see her pull into the Intersection when he was 62 to 65 metres away.  The skid mark evidence, as interpreted by Mr. Brown, together with the testimony of Mr. Dales, establishes on balance that Mr. Peck was significantly closer to the Intersection when he finally noticed and reacted to Ms. Hynna coming into his path and slammed on his brakes.  To Mr. Peck’s mind, Ms. Hynna had suddenly appeared in front of him.  Yet the evidence shows that was not the case: she did not dart out in front of him at the last minute at a rapid rate of acceleration.  The accident here was not tantamount to a head-on collision as in Cooper.

[85] In Mr. Brown’s opinion, had Mr. Peck been doing the speed limit he could have braked to a stop in about 11.9 to 13.1 metres.  Adjusting for my finding that Mr. Peck was closer to the area of impact when Ms. Hynna entered into the Intersection than the distance estimated by Mr. Brown, I still find that, had he not been speeding and had been maintaining a proper look-out, he could have stopped in plenty of time to permit Ms. Hynna to complete her manoeuvre without mishap.

[86] I conclude that the conduct of each Mr. Peck and Ms. Hynna was negligent and combined to cause the accident.

Madam Justice Ballance apportioned 60% of the blame for this accident on the Defendant and 40% on the Plaintiff.  This case is worth reviewing in full for the court’s discussion of the law in these types of accidents.
_________________________________________________________________________________________
The second case released today by the BC Supreme Court (Lakhani v. Elliott) the issue of fault was admitted and the court had to deal with the quantum of damages.
In this case the Plaintiff was injured in a 2005 BC Car Crash.   In awarding just over $105,000 in total damages Mr. Justice Voith summarized the Plaintiff’s injuries and their effect on her life as follows:
88] In my view it is clear that Mrs. Lakhani did suffer from a series of injuries as a result of the Accident. Except for her lower back and left leg, she had never suffered from any of these difficulties prior to the Accident. There is no disagreement between the experts on the issue of causation in relation to these various injuries. While Mrs. Lakhani had experienced symptoms in her lower back and left leg these symptoms were temporarily aggravated as a result of the Accident….

[91] I find that a number of Mrs. Lakhani’s symptoms were fully resolved within one to six months of the Accident. Others have persisted, albeit it to differing degrees, to this date. While I do not accept that these symptoms have consistently been as severe as Mrs. Lakhani indicated, I do accept that they have caused her some pain and discomfort. A number of persons, including a former housekeeper, Ms. Kar, and Mrs. Lakhani’s co-worker Ms. Cousins, have given evidence about her present condition. These witnesses indicated that they have observed Mrs. Lakhani struggling with various tasks. Her husband also gave evidence about Mrs. Lakhani’s post-Accident condition. While his evidence (as with so much of the plaintiff’s case) seem to focus on Mrs. Lakhani’s limitations without any or adequate recognition about her pre-Accident condition, I do accept that the injuries associated with the Accident have increased Mrs. Lakhani’s difficulties. For example, I accept that she had headaches when she studied. I accept that sitting at a computer caused her additional difficulties. I accept that her exercise regime in the gym has changed somewhat so that she no longer exercises with light weights as she once did. I accept that she is required to ensure her workstations are properly set up to minimize difficulties with her neck and shoulder. I also accept that the difficulties Mrs. Lakhani has had in her neck, shoulder and upper back limits her ability to cope with her low back injury. A number of professional witnesses indicated that persons who have low back injuries can often adapt by undertaking more functions or tasks with their upper back and shoulders. In the case of Mrs. Lakhani, the ability to alleviate the strain or load on her low back in this manner has been obviated.

[92] It is also clear that Mrs. Lakhani has consistently sought different types of treatment to assist with her post-Accident condition. For a few months immediately after the Accident she obtained physiotherapy and massage treatments. In about April 2006 she began to see Dr. Khan regularly; she presently sees him every third week or so. Since December 2008 she has been getting cranial massage treatments. All of this is consistent with Mrs. Lakhani continuing to suffer with some of the after effects of the Accident.

[93] Mrs. Lakhani formerly enjoyed needlepoint and would periodically paint small ornaments, particularly at Christmas. She says she no longer enjoys these activities because they cause her some neck pain. I accept this evidence.

[94] As mentioned above, Mrs. Lakhani is a very avid gardener. She says the Accident has inhibited her ability to engage in this activity. I will return to this later when I deal with issues related to the cost of future care, but I find that Mrs. Lakhani’s present ability to garden is largely unchanged from that which she enjoyed prior to the Accident.

[95] I have said that Mrs. Lakhani described the sadness she felt in not being able to play with her daughter as she had hoped. I have no doubt that such limitations are very disheartening, but as I have indicated, I find that many of these limitations are a function of her pre-Accident condition. Apart from examples I have already given, Mrs. Lakhani described her inability to help her daughter learn to ride a bicycle. Such an activity, which requires running, bending and strength to balance the bicycle, would have all been extremely difficult for Mrs. Lakhani before the Accident. There are, however, some activities, such as carrying her child when she was an infant, which were likely rendered more difficult and painful as a result of the Accident.

[96] Mrs. Lakhani was a very avid reader prior to the Accident. She said she would often read for over an hour before she went to sleep. At present, she rarely reads more than 15 to 20 minutes. I accept that some of this is likely referable to the Accident. Much of it, however, seems to reflect another significant difficulty with the plaintiff’s case. I have described how carefully Mrs. Lakhani was required to balance her various commitments with her leisure time in order to protect her lower back. This leisure time was necessary to enable her to recuperate from various daily demands. Yet the fact is that Mrs. Lakhani has continued to add obligations and activities to her day-to-day life subsequent to the Accident.

Damages were awarded as follows:

Non-Pecuaniary Damages:   $45,000

Income Loss:  $8,771.97

Future Loss of Opportunity:  $30,000

Special Damages:  $12,045.96

Cost of Future Care:  $5,500

Loss of Houskeeeping Capacity:  $3,721

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

The next case dealing with damages (Lidher v. Toews) involved a 2004 BC collision.

The Plaintiff testified that she suffered injuries affecting “her neck, shoulders, arms, back and head.“.   Madam Justice Smith found that the Plaintiff indeed was injured in this collision and awarded total damages just above $76,000 then reduced these by 10% for the Plaintiff’s ‘failure to mitigate‘.  Specifically the court found that the Plaintiff “did not do what she could reasonably have been expected to do  to keep herself from becoming deconditioned, and that some reduction of her award for failure to mitigate would be appropriate

In assessing the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) at $30,000 the court made the following key findings:

[78] I have concluded that the plaintiff has reacted more significantly to her injuries than someone else might have, and, in addition, that she has exaggerated her symptoms.  I note that the stresses and difficulties in her life may have made her more susceptible to pain, and may explain her reaction to her injuries.  I also take into account that she is not a sophisticated or highly educated woman, and that her communications with health care providers have often been through interpreters, except where the health care provider is Punjabi-speaking (Dr. Khunkhun and Dr. Johal are able to speak Punjabi).  There may well have been miscommunication as a result.

[79] The weight of the evidence satisfies me that the motor vehicle accident caused Ms. Lidher to experience pain and other symptoms from December 11, 2004 to the present.  Her symptoms may have been exacerbated by family stress, but to the extent that the family stress has caused her to experience the injuries more significantly than she otherwise would, it is an example of the principle that the defendant must take the plaintiff as she is found.  It is possible that family stress would have caused her to miss some work in any event, but I do not find this to be more than a slight possibility.

[80] The evidence as to whether Ms. Lidher will experience a full recovery is unclear.  However, both Dr. Hershler and Dr. Khunkhun expressed some optimism, particularly given the good results obtained by the Karp Rehabilitation program in 2008.

[81] On the balance of probabilities, I find that the plaintiff will likely experience further recovery, to the point that her symptoms will be minimal.  Her symptoms are already at a modest level.

________________________________________________________________________________________________

In the final personal injury case released today by the BC Supreme Court (Sanders v. Janze) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2002 car crash in Richmond, BC.  Fault was admitted and the trial focussed solely on quantum of damages.

The Plaintiff had suffered other injuries in the years before this collision and was still recovering from these at the time of this accident.

Mr. Justice Butler found that the Plaintiff suffered a neck injury and a back injury in this collision.  With respect to the neck he found as follows:

[67] The pre-existing degenerative changes in Ms. Sanders’ cervical spine made her more susceptible to injury.  She was still experiencing some pain and discomfort in her neck from the 2002 injuries, but it had improved and was not disabling.  The Accident aggravated the existing condition of her spine.  The nature and extent of her symptoms changed.  The pain and inability to function that she experienced after the Accident persisted and ultimately led to surgery in 2004.

[68] Dr. Connell’s evidence that there was no structural change in the cervical spine before and after the Accident based on the diagnostic imaging does not negate the opinion of Drs. Matishak and Watt that the Accident was an effective cause of the neck injuries that led to the surgery in 2004.  I accept Dr. Matishak’s opinion as the treating surgeon.  He was adamant that the Accident was a cause of the significant problems that Ms. Sanders experienced in her neck.  He was cross-examined extensively on the issue.  He did not waiver in his view.

With respect to the Plaintiff’s back injury the court found as follows:

[72] I have already found that Ms. Sanders’ low back was not symptomatic before the Accident.  She had experienced back pain from time to time since 1993, but after 1999 the low back was quiescent.  She worked at physically demanding jobs without experiencing low back pain.  In other words, a careful examination of Ms. Sanders’ pre-Accident condition establishes that Dr. Matishak’s assumption that her back condition was quiescent is correct….

[75] There can be no question that the Accident did cause Ms. Sanders’ back to become symptomatic.  She continued to experience pain from the date of the Accident onwards.  However, Mr. Janze also argues that Ms. Sanders’ absence of impairment on the SLR test in the months immediately after the Accident is objective evidence to show that the Accident did not affect her low back spinal structure.  Drs. Watt and Matishak were cross-examined on this issue.  Both maintained that this fact did not cause them to alter their opinions.  They both noted that there were symptoms of radiating leg pain shortly after the Accident.  Approximately six months after the Accident, Ms. Sanders’ SLR test revealed impairment on the right side….

[77] There is no other possible event or cause that could explain the development of the symptomology in this case.  The fact that the surgeries did not take place until 2007 does not mean that the Accident was not a cause of the injuries that ultimately led to those surgeries.  I have found that the symptoms and back pain were caused by the Accident.  Those symptoms persisted and became chronic.  The conservative treatment attempted did not provide relief.  Consequently, Ms. Sanders chose surgery.  The fact that three surgeries were required was a direct result of the condition of her spine after the Accident.  In summary, when the temporal connection is examined closely, it does establish that the Accident was a cause of the low back pain.

The court assessed the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages at $150,000 but then reduced this award by 40% t “to take into account the measureable risk that Ms. Sanders’ pre-existing conditions of her spine would have detrimentally impacted Ms. Sanders in any event of the Accident”

This case is worth reviewing in full for anyone interested in the law in BC relating to “pre-existing conditions” and the “crumbling skull” defence which is often raised in ICBC Injury Claims.

Whew…Now to catch my plane.

$104,500 Non-Pecuniary Damages Awarded for TOS

Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry (Hooper v. Nair) awarding damages for a 2003 motor vehicle collision.
The Plaintiff was struck while walking lawfully in a marked crosswalk in Burnaby, BC.  She suffered various injuries including Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS).
Madam Justice Russell awarded the Plaintiff $104,500 for her non-pecuniary damages.  In valuing the plaintiffs pain and suffering the Court summarized the Plaintiff’s injuries and their effects on her life as follows:

[50] There are a number of factors that affect the plaintiff’s entitlement to non-pecuniary damages.  With respect to the duration of the pain, the plaintiff’s pain has become chronic in nature.  She continues to experience pain particularly in her neck, left shoulder and arm nearly six years since the onset of symptoms. The chronic nature of her pain means that she will have to deal with and manage the pain from her underlying TOS for the foreseeable future.  She has tried many different modalities of treatment with limited success.  There is some improvement but the pain is still present.  Further, the injuries led to the development of sleeping problems which cause the plaintiff to feel tired in the morning.   She can hope for some improvement over time with a regular exercise programme.  But overall, the prognosis for a full recovery is unclear and it appears that she will continue to be affected by the injuries indefinitely and will likely have to live, at a minimum, with background pain.

[51] The plaintiff’s lifestyle has been adversely affected in a number of ways.  She is determined to resume her jogging programme and to re-enter the Sun Run with her husband.  However, her early attempts to run resulted in a flare-up of neck and back pain.  Drs. Travlos and Salvian suggest that jogging may not be an activity she can do.  Dr. Travlos states she will have to pre-medicate for any activity which causes an exacerbation of her back pain.  Certainly golfing, an activity she enjoyed, will not be an activity she can participate in without pain.

[52] Both doctors also point out that the plaintiff is susceptible to further episodes of TOS should she have any increased neck injury or strain.  Dr. Salvian says that such increased neck strain could be caused by something as simple as “sleeping in a poor position or driving for long periods”.

[53] The plaintiff’s professional life was impacted by the Accident.  She has been able to cope fairly well with the duties of her job by minimizing the use of her left arm.  Luckily, she is right hand dominant.  But her evidence was clear that she maintained the earnings she had only by pushing through the pain and carrying on as best she could.  She gave evidence of struggling to carry on, taking her work home because she could not sit any longer in her office, and feeling tired and overwhelmed.  Because of her pain and fatigue, she believes she could not “court” clients as effectively at a time in her career when she was in a start-up mode and needed to do so.

[54] The Accident also caused emotional difficulties for the plaintiff which were no doubt situational and due to the chronic pain and resulting fatigue.  Fortunately, these problems have not continued and she appears to be coping well at this point.

[55] The plaintiff’s relationship with her husband was in some difficulty due to his business problems and their financial crises prior to the Accident but had improved by October 2005.  Mr. Hooper stated that her sleep difficulties meant she would often leave the marital bed and their relationship was negatively affected.  However, the plaintiff’s evidence about the effect of her injuries on her marital relations with her husband was not as clear.  But I accept his evidence that the plaintiff was irritable, fatigued and distant after the Accident and that her frustration with the slow progress of her recovery affected the happiness of the household.

[56] At the time of the Accident in December 2003, the plaintiff’s son was six years old.  She enjoyed skating with him.  She was not able to take part in active sports with him after the Accident and even cuddling him was painful for her for some time following the Accident.

[57] The plaintiff faced the difficulty of juggling many activities in her busy life:  she had a job which required time and concentration and some extra activities she needed to do as part of her marketing, she was the chief breadwinner for the family, and she had a young son at home and a house to care for.  Even before the Accident she was very busy but with the overlay of pain caused by the Accident, the plaintiff could not keep up her usual standard of housekeeping.  She relied on her older son and her husband to help but this was not always successful and caused friction in the family.  Vacuuming caused her intense pain as did reaching up to dust or clean above her shoulder.  This remains the case today.  She cannot vacuum, wash windows, or dust high corners.

[58] While Dr. Travlos suggests she use Noritryptiline to pre-medicate if she wants to do housework which would otherwise cause her pain, this is not always a practical solution and I accept that her inability to do housework has an impact on her life.

In addition to this case’s value as a precedent in Thoracic Outlet Syndrome cases the court discusses the thin skull and crumbling skull legal principles at paragraphs 59-66 and contains a very useful discussion of claims for past wage loss for commissioned sales-persons who are injured but not totally disabled as a result of accident related injuries.

ICBC Injury Claims and Pre-Existing Conditions

Imagine being injured as a result of the carelessness of another in a BC Car Crash.  You advance an ICBC tort claim for compensation for your injuries and loss.   You are able to come to an agreement with ICBC with respect to the value of your injuries and losses but then ICBC wants to reduce the the pain and suffering settlement by 25% to account for a pre-existing medical condition that you have.  Is this fair?
The answer depends on the nature and severity of the pre-existing condition.  BC Courts generally categorize pre-existing conditions affected by traumatic injury in 2 ways: the ‘thin skull‘ category and the ‘crumbling skull‘ category.  In a thin skull situation a Plaintiff has a pre-existing condition that makes them susceptible to injury however the condition would not otherwise become symptomatic absent the trauma.  In thin skull situations the pre-existing condition does not reduce the value of the claim.  The thin skull principle is sometimes referred to as the ‘you take your victim as you find them‘ principle meaning it is no defence to an injury claim to say that a healthier victimn with no pre-existing condition would have suffered less injury.
This can be contrasted with the ‘crumbling skull’ situation where the Plaintiff has a pre-existing condition which is active or likely to become active even without the trauma.  In crumbling skull situations the value of the injuries and losses must be reduced to reflect the fact that a Plaintiff would have likely had some problems in any event.
Reasons for judgement (Gohringer v. Hernandez-Lazo) were released today by the BC Supreme Court explaining and applying these principles.
In today’s case the Plaintiff was injured when her car was struck head on by a street sweeper in April, 2005.  As a result of this significant BC Car Crash she suffered various injuries.  The Plaintiff did, however, have pre-existing back and neck injuries.  In valuing the Plaintiff’s pain and suffering at $75,000 Madam Justice Russell explained and applied the law of thin skull v. crumbling skull as follows:

Pre-existing condition and independent intervening event

[90]            It is trite law that the general purpose in assessing damages is to restore the plaintiff to their original, or pre-accident, position.  Through an award of damages a plaintiff is entitled to be restored to his or her original position, but they are not entitled to be placed in a better position:  Athey v. Leonati, [1996] 3 S.C.R. 458 at para. 32, 140 D.L.R. (4th) 235.   Generally speaking, this requires the court to determine the plaintiff’s original position and position subsequent to the negligent act, and award damages to reflect the difference:  Athey at para. 32; Barnes v. Richardson, 2008 BCSC 1349 at para. 84.  In situations where the plaintiff has a pre-existing condition the thin skull or crumbling skull rule must inform the court’s assessment of damages.  

[91]            In a thin skull situation, the plaintiff’s pre-existing condition has not manifested, or in other words is not active or symptomatic, prior to the event in question.  As the tortfeasor takes his or her victim as they find them, the tortfeasor is liable for all injuries even if the injuries are “unexpectedly severe owing to a pre-existing condition”, as a result of their actions:  Athey at para. 34. 

[92]            In a crumbling skull situation, as in this case, the plaintiff has a pre-existing condition which is active, or likely to become active.  The pre-existing condition “does not have to be manifest or disabling at the time of the tort to be within the ambit of the crumbling skull rule”:  Barnes at para. 89, citing A. (T.W.N.) v. Clarke, 2003 BCCA 670, 22 B.C.L.R. (4th) 1 at para. 62. In crumbling skull situations, the defendant is only liable for damages caused by the accident and responsible for returning the plaintiff to their original position.  As Major J. stated in Athey: the defendant is liable for the additional damage but not the pre-existing damage: at para. 35.   The defendant is therefore not liable for the effects of the pre-existing condition that the plaintiff would have experienced in any event: A. (T.W.N.) at para. 52.  If there is a “measurable risk” that the pre-existing condition would have impacted the plaintiff in the future then, regardless of the defendant’s negligence, a court can take this into account in awarding damages: at para. 35. 

[93]            In addition, the defendant claims an independent intervening event, subsequent to the Accident, also had significant impact on the plaintiff.  An independent intervening event is an unrelated event, such as disease or a non-tortious accident, that occurs after the plaintiff is injured.  The impact of such events is taken into account in the same manner as pre-existing conditions: Barnes at para. 96.  Thus, the plaintiff is only entitled to damages which flow from the difference between his or her original position and their “injured position”: Athey at para. 32.  If the unrelated event would have impacted the plaintiff’s original position adversely, the “net loss” attributable to the accident at issue will not be as great and damages will be reduced proportionately: Barnes at para. 96.

[94]            I note that our Court of Appeal has stated that a reduction in damages to reflect the impact of independent intervening events or pre-existing conditions applies equally to non-pecuniary and pecuniary damages:  A. (T.W.N.) at paras. 36-37; Barnes at para. 90. 

[95]            In this case the defendant does not contest that the plaintiff suffered injuries as a result of the Accident.  The defendant does however contest the severity of those injuries and the impact that those subsequently had on the plaintiff’s physical and emotional health, as well as her employment situation. 

[96]            The plaintiff had pre-existing back and neck injuries and suffered a knee injury subsequent to the Accident.  At issue is the impact of such injuries on the plaintiff’s ability to continue her position as a skating instructor, or whether the injuries resulting from the Accident were responsible for causing her to change positions.

[97]            The pre-existing conditions and knee injury caused the plaintiff to miss a number of months of work when they occurred.  I accept the evidence contained in Dr. MacIntosh’s report (January 26, 2005) that the plaintiff’s pre-existing neck and back injuries would have materially impacted the plaintiff’s ability to continue working as a skating instructor, given the physical demands of that position.  Likewise, I find the knee injury would have further impacted her ability to continue that job into the future.  Prior to the Accident, the plaintiff had complained, of neck pain resulting from teaching four classes in one day.  Further, the plaintiff left her position at Sportsplex soon after she returned to work following her knee injury as she was not able to perform her duties to the same level as previously.

[98]            I accept however, that the injuries from the Accident also impacted the plaintiff at work.  The evidence indicated that a number of her duties at Sportsplex aggravated the injuries suffered in the Accident.  While the evidence did not demonstrate that those injuries alone caused the plaintiff’s departure from Sportsplex, the evidence did show that the plaintiff’s abilities to perform her job duties were adversely affected as a result.

[99]            I conclude there was a real and significant chance that the plaintiff’s pre-existing injuries and the injury suffered after the Accident would have shortened the plaintiff’s career as a skating instructor, regardless of the injuries from the Accident.  These injuries ultimately affect the plaintiff’s original position and must be taken into account in the assessment of damages.  The risk that these injuries would have reduced the plaintiff’s chosen career will be taken into account based on its relative likelihood in determining the overall assessment of damages:  McKelvie v. Ng, 2001 BCCA 341, 90 B.C.L.R. (3rd) 62 at para. 17.  Accordingly, non-pecuniary damages should be reduced by 10% to reflect such a risk. 

[100]        In assessing all of the relevant evidence, I conclude the injuries continue to adversely affect the plaintiff in a number of ways and award $75,000 for non-pecuniary damages.  I will deduct 10% as a contingency to reflect the plaintiff’s pre-existing condition and the effect of the subsequent knee injury.

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.

“Work hard, be kind and enjoy the ride!”
Erik’s Philosophy

Disclaimer