A common pattern following the trauma of a motor vehicle collision is the onset of symptoms in an otherwise asymptomatic degenerative spine. Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Courtenay Registry, dealing with such a fact pattern.
In today’s case (McCarthy v. Davies) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2010 collision caused by the Defendant’s negligence. She sustained chronic pain in her neck and back which ultimately were diagnosed as originating from degenerative disc disease. The collision caused the onset of symptoms. The Court rejected the Defendant’s argument that the symptoms would have come on in any event and in assessing non-pecuniary damages at $100,000 Madam Justice Gerow provided the following reasons:  In my view, the evidence establishes the probable cause of Ms. McCarthy’s ongoing neck, upper back and lower back pain is that the injuries she sustained in the accident exacerbated her pre-existing asymptomatic degenerative disc disease. While there was a risk that the degenerative disc disease in her neck and back would become symptomatic at some point in the future, the evidence is that she did not have neck or back pain prior to the accident. As stated by Dr. Leete, there are approximately 10 to 15% of patients who suffer from long term intrusive symptoms as a result of the trauma to their spines from a motor vehicle accident.  Having reviewed the evidence I have concluded this is one of those cases, and the defendant is liable for Ms. McCarthy’s ongoing symptoms even though they may be more severe than expected due to her pre-existing condition. As stated by the experts, many individuals have degeneration in their spines without any symptoms. Accordingly I conclude Ms. McCarthy’s ongoing symptoms fall within the thin skull rule enunciated in Athey.  I find that but for the accident Ms. McCarthy would not be suffering from the chronic pain in her neck, shoulder and back with the associated mental distress…  Having considered the extent of the injuries, the fact that the symptoms have been ongoing four years with little improvement, the guarded prognosis for full recovery, as well as the authorities, I am of the view that the appropriate award for non-pecuniary damages is $100,000.
As previously discussed, a common occurrence following a collision is the onset of symptoms in a pre-existing, but otherwise asymptomatic, conditions. Reasons for judgement were published this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, highlighting and assessing damages for such a scenario.
In this week’s case (Zawislak v. Karbovanec) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2009 rear-end collision. Fault was admitted by the opposing motorist. The Plaintiff had pre-existing, asymptomatic, degenerative disc disease in his spine. The collision rendered this condition symptomatic resulting in on-going chronic symptoms. In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $60,000 Madam Justice Gerow provided the following reasons:
Dr. Cameron, a neurologist, examined Ms. Zawislak on August 24, 2011. He found signs of muscle spasm in her shoulder muscles and neck muscles, left side predominant. In Dr. Cameron’s opinion, Ms. Zawislak suffered a soft tissue injury and musculoskeletal injuries to her neck, shoulders and upper back in the motor vehicle accident. Ms. Zawislak has developed headaches associated with the neck pain as a result of the musculoskeletal injuries to her neck and shoulders that she sustained in the accident. In Dr. Cameron’s opinion, Ms. Zawislak remains partially disabled because of the ongoing upper back pain, headaches and neck pain which had resulted from the soft tissue injuries and musculoskeletal injuries in the form of a whiplash she sustained in the motor vehicle accidents.
According to Dr. Cameron, 80% of the individuals over the age of 40 have degenerative disc disease and most of those individuals go around without pain until a trauma, such as a motor vehicle accident, renders their disc disease symptomatic. Trauma makes the asymptomatic condition symptomatic. Ms. Zawislak’s neck was partially degenerated and, in his opinion, her ongoing pain in her neck, with the attendant headaches, and her back are likely caused by the motor vehicle accident…
In my view, the evidence establishes that the probable cause of Ms. Zawislak’s headaches, neck pain, upper back and shoulder pain is the motor vehicle accident exacerbating the pre?existing asymptomatic degenerative disc disease. While there was some risk of her degenerative disc disease becoming symptomatic, the medical evidence was that it was likely it would not become symptomatic absent a trauma. In my opinion, this case falls within the “thin skull” rule as opposed to the “crumbling skull” rule enunciated in Athey, and the defendants are liable for Ms. Zawislak’s injuries even though they may be more severe than expected due to her pre?existing condition…
Having considered the extent of the injuries, the fact that the symptoms are ongoing three years after the accident with very little improvement, that the prognosis for full recovery is guarded, as well as the authorities I was provided, I am of the view that the appropriate award for non?pecuniary damages is $60,000.
Further to my recent post on this topic, reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, addressing the recovery of private MRI costs in a personal injury lawsuit.
In last week’s case (Piper v. Hassan) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2006 rear-end collision. The Defendant admitted fault for the crash. The Plaintiff suffered soft tissue injuries and an aggravation of pre-existing back pain and depression. The Plaintiff sought substantial damages at trial although much of the claim was not accepted with the Court finding that much of the Plaintiff’s symptoms would have occurred absent the collision due to pre-existing degenerative changes in the plaintiff’s back.
In the course of the lawsuit the Plaintiff obtained a private MRI. At trial the Plaintiff sought to recover the cost associated with this. The Defendant opposed this arguing it was not a reasonable expense. Mr. Justice Pearlman disagreed and allowed recovery of this item. In doing so the Court provided the following reasons: Mr. Piper also paid $1,975 for the full spine MRI performed May 18, 2007. The defendant submits this was an unnecessary expense. I disagree. Dr. McGrath had recommended an MRI study. At a time when the plaintiff was experiencing increased back pain and sought medical advice to determine its cause and possible treatment, it was not unreasonable for him to pay for a private MRI, rather than wait in line for publicly funded radiology. The full spine MRI assisted both Dr. Yu and Dr. McGraw in their diagnoses of the extent of the plaintiff’s injuries attributable to the motor vehicle accident, showed the progression of degenerative changes to the plaintiff’s spine, and aided Dr. McGraw in forming his opinion that the plaintiff had not suffered a disc herniation. I find that the plaintiff is entitled to recover $1,975 for the MRI study.
Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, finding that a claim for damages for a break-up of a relationship following a collision is too remote for liability.
In last week’s case (Shinkaruk v. Crouch) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2006 collision. He was found 20% at fault for the crash with the Defendant shouldering 80% of the blame. The Plaintiff had “a significant history of low back pain” and this pre-existing injury was aggravated by the collision. He was awarded damages for this aggravation.
During the period of aggravation the Plaintiff experienced difficulties with his partner and eventually she asked the Plaintiff to leave. The Court found that this event was too remote to attract damages and in doing so Madam Justice Saunders provided the following reasons:
It was apparent from Ms. Wahlwroth’s description of their interaction with each other, during the period in which Mr. Shinkaruk was convalescing from the accident, that their disagreements were largely a function of the two of them having very different visions of their roles and responsibilities within their relationship. It may be that these differences did not become manifest when the two of them had different working schedules. But with Mr. Shinkaruk at home in the evenings, she testified that she found it difficult to have him there without him making any contributions to the housework, making meals, cleaning up dishes, and doing other tasks which she felt he was physically capable of. She contrasted his lack of contribution with efforts made by husbands of friends of hers, when the couples had dinner together. Their differences were compounded by their poor communication skills, and they became trapped in a cycle of angry arguments, sniping and a lack of mutual respect. This climaxed during the December 2006 family vacation, when they spent little time in each other’s company, and had heated arguments when they did. She did not want her 13 year-old son exposed to that kind of behaviour, and that was a key consideration in her asking Mr. Shinkaruk to leave. These communication problems are issues which, she testified, they have both done a lot of work on recently and now that they are seeing each other again, there is a greater deal of emotional maturity being exhibited by both of them.
It appears from the evidence that the most that could be said is that the motor vehicle accident contributed to the breakup in that it created a living situation, with Mr. Shinkaruk at home convalescing, in which fundamental and deep-seated issues between this couple became manifest. To the extent that Mr. Shinkaruk may have suffered emotionally or psychologically due to their breakup in December 2006, the defendant’s negligence is too remote to create liability.
(UPDATE August 8, 2012 – The below judgement was modified in reasons for judgement released today by the BC Court of Appeal. In short, the Court held the 40% damage reduction was not justified by the evidence and substituted a 20% damage reduction. The BCCA’s reasons can be found here).
Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, assessing damages for serious injuries following a BC motor vehicle collision.
In this week’s case (Bouchard v. Brown Bros. Motor Lease Canada Ltd.) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2005 rear-end collision. He was faced in an awkward position when his vehicle was struck and he sustained injuries. Fault for the crash was admitted focussing the trial on assessing damages.
Although there was competing medical evidence, the Court ultimately found the collision was a cause of a L4-5 disc herniation which required bilateral discectomies and foraminotimies at the L4-L5 and L5-S1 levels of the spine.
The Plaintiff’s symptoms of pain continued and he ultimately was diagnosed with a chronic pain syndrome. The Court accepted that the Plaintiff would likely not work in his profession again. In assessing non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) at $160,000 Mr. Justice Pearlman provided the following comments:  I find that the motor vehicle accident was a significant factor contributing to the herniation of the plaintiff’s disc at L4-L5, and the development of the plaintiff’s symptoms of severe and disabling lower back pain, and that there is a substantial connection between Mr. Bouchard’s low back injuries and the motor vehicle accident….  The assessment of non-pecuniary damages depends upon the particular circumstances of the plaintiff in each case. The factors that the court must consider include the plaintiff’s age, the nature of his injury, the severity and duration of pain, disability, emotional suffering, impairment of marital and social relationships, impairment of physical and mental abilities, and loss of lifestyle:Stapley v. Hejslet, 2006 BCCA 34 at para. 46, leave to appeal ref’d 2006 CarswellBC 2598 (S.C.C.). Here, I find that the appropriate award for Mr. Bouchard in all of the circumstances is $160,000.
This case is also worth reviewing for the Court’s discussion of causation and indivisible injuries set out at paragraphs 97-117 of the reasons for judgement. The Court found that while the collision was a cause of the injury, that there was “a very significant risk” that the Plaintiff’s back problems would have developed even absent the collision and the damages were reduced by 40% to take this risk into account.
Lastly, this case is worth reviewing for the Court’s discussion of the adverse inference principle. Following the Plaintiff’s surgery the Plaintiff obtained and exchanged copies of the relevant medical records. The Plaintiff called various expert witnesses to support the case but the treating surgeon was not called. The Defence asked the Court to draw an adverse inference. Mr. Justice Pearlman refused to do so and provided the following helpful reasons: Here, there has been full disclosure of Dr. Heran’s consultation reports and his operative procedure report. Those records were available to the defendant when Dr. Hepburn prepared his second report of October 27, 2009. It was open to the defendants to interview and call Dr. Heran if they chose to do so. Furthermore, in my view, Dr. Hunt, whose practice is devoted to the treatment of patients with chronic pain, and who was directly involved in the ongoing testing, management, and treatment of the plaintiff’s symptoms from October 2008 through May 2010, was in a better position than Dr. Heran to provide an opinion on the extent of the plaintiff’s disability and his requirements for future care. Finally, I also take into account the explanation of counsel for the plaintiff that obtaining an expert report from Dr. Heran would have put Mr. Bouchard to additional expense, and would have involved yet another review of all of the reports and clinical records of those doctors who did testify at trial. For all of these reasons, I decline to draw an adverse inference against the plaintiff.
Today reasons for judgment were released by the BC Supreme Court in 2 separate cases dealing with chronic soft tissue injuries. I summarize these below in my continued effort to grow this public database addressing awards for pain and suffering in ICBC and other BC Injury Claims.
In the first case (Warren-Skuggedal v. Eddy) the Plaintiff was involved in a very serious collision in Prince George, BC. The defendant was “driving well in excess of the speed limit…(he) lost control and the truck swerved into the lane in which (the Plaintiff) was driving…the force of the impact tore (the defendants) vehicle in half“.
Fault was not at issue, rather, the court dealt solely with the issue of damages. The Plaintiff unfortunately had some serious pre-existing health issues and Mr. Justice Sewell had to decide “the true extent of Ms. Warren-Skuggedal’s injuries and disabilities and the extent to which they are attributable to the injuries she suffered in the accident. ”
In valuing the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages at $60,000, Mr. Justice Sewell summarized her injuries, their relationship to the collision and their effect on her life as follows: I conclude that Ms. Warren-Skuggedal suffered soft tissue injuries in the accident which aggravated her pre-existing depression and anxiety. I find that she genuinely experiences the symptoms she has described although I do think that she does exaggerate and dramatize them to a certain extent….
 I conclude that some of the symptoms Ms. Warren-Skuggedal reports are attributable to the accident but that the more serious ones are attributable to her pre-existing condition. Specifically I find that the anxiety, depression and cognitive problems she experiences are not caused by the accident. As I understand the law in this area the onus is on Ms. Warren-Skuggedal to prove, on a balance of probabilities, that her symptoms would not be present but for the negligence of the defendant, which led to the injuries and trauma suffered in the accident. I do not think that she has met that onus with respect to the difficulties described in this paragraph. I think it is more likely that she would have continued to suffer from depression, anxiety and cognitive difficulties even if she had not been injured in the accident. The difficulties were part of her original position.
 I must also conclude that Ms. Warren-Skuggedal’s inability to find employment since the accident and any impairment of her capacity to earn income in the future are not attributable to the accident. While I base this conclusion on the whole of the evidence I note that it is consistent with the opinions expressed by Dr. Reddy and Dr. Hirsch, both of whom concluded that the motor vehicle accident did not negatively affect her employment prospects.
 On the other hand, I do conclude that Ms. Warren-Skuggedal does suffer chronic pain as a result of the defendant’s negligence. I also find that it is likely that she will continue to suffer from that pain for the foreseeable future. I also conclude that that pain has resulted in some permanent restriction of Ms. Warren-Skuggedal’s ability to enjoy recreational activities and carry out such household tasks as heavier cleaning and gardening.
This case contains a useful analysis of the Courts role in wading through injuries both related to and unrelated to an accident. The full judgement is worth reviewing for anyone interested in this area of the law.
The second case released today (Gordon v. Timins) involved a 2005 BC Car Crash. The Plaintiff’s vehicle was rear-ended by a u-haul truck. This collision was significant enough to propel the Plaintiff’s vehicle into the vehicle in front of her.
The Plaintiff’s main injury was chronic neck pain. Mr. Justice Cullen awarded the Plaintiff $45,000 for non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life). He summarized this lasting injury as follows “In the result Ms. Gordon is left with an injury to her neck that, I find, never fully abates and is aggravated by aspects of her work. I also find that the plaintiff’s neck pain when aggravated is associated with headaches, some dizziness and impaired sleep patterns with consequential fatigue. ”
In reaching this conclusion the court largely accepted the evidence of Dr. Dhawan, a specialist in physiatry, whose evidence was summarized as follows:
 Dr. Dhawan was a specialist in physiatry or physical medicine. He testified that the neck has a complicated anatomy with soft and hard tissue structures. It has ligaments in front and the muscles on top of that. If the muscles or ligaments are torn, it can lead to instability of the structure. Dr. Dhawan’s diagnosis of the plaintiff when he saw her on July 18, 2008 was that she had torn muscles and ligaments. He said that ligaments take longer to heal than muscles because they have less blood supply. Scar tissue can form and it is not as strong as the original ligament and can stretch or tear more easily and can remain inflamed after forming. He testified that in the case of a rear-end accident, the usual source of pain is the upper facet joints. In his report, he reported no boney discogenic or neurological injury, characterizing it as a soft tissue injury. He noted that the plaintiff “was referred to Kevin Tam … who was able to help her tremendously.” He noted that she has difficulty in extending her head upwards to prune trees. He recommended injection therapy – local steroid and anaesthetic injections, 2 – 3 times over a 2 – 3 month period. He testified that those injections with a stretching and posture control program could resolve the syndrome of soft tissue injury.
 He opined there would be no permanent sequelae like development of arthritis or any need for surgery and no disability from her work as a landscaper/arborist.
 Dr. Dhawan concluded, however, that given the chronicity of her symptoms “some symptoms of neck and shoulder girdle pain may remain on a longer term basis and she will have to learn to live with pain and a quick resolution of symptoms is not likely.”…
 Dr. Dhawan noted that although the degenerative changes are unrelated to the motor vehicle accident, “…individuals who have such changes in the neck do not respond well through treatment and have more prolonged symptoms after soft tissue injuries and symptoms of neck pain may persist for several years and may become chronic.”
 Dr. Dhawan noted in Appendix 3 to his July 18, 2008 report that the plaintiff’s neck extension was only 25% of normal without pain. He concluded that that was an objective symptom and consistent with his diagnosis.
Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court (Haines v. Shewaga) awarding a Plaintiff $34,000 in non-pecuniary damages (pain and suffering) as a result of injuries sustained in a 2005 car crash in Nanaimo, BC.
One of the issues in this case which frequently comes up in ICBC Injury Claims is that of pre-existing conditions.
The Plaintiff was 22 at the time of the crash. He never had mid back pain in the years prior to the collision. His back was injured in the collision and he continued to have symptoms in his backat the time of trial (some 3 years later). After receiving medical treatment it was discovered that the Plaintiff had pre-existing (although asymptomatic) condition known as degenerative disc disease.
The court found that the Plaintiff suffered various soft-tissue injuries in the crash, namely that: I accept that the plaintiff sustained a mild to moderate whiplash type injury to the soft tissues of his neck, upper back (on the right side) and mid back, as well as a minor injury to his sternum area (likely from the seatbelt). I find that the plaintiff had substantially recovered from all of these injuries by the time of trial, except for the injury to his mid back. I accept that he still experiences pain in that area, after heavy and prolonged physical exertion. Some aspects of the work that he does as a deck installer will continue to cause him some pain, from time to time. But based on the whole of the evidence (and particularly on the plaintiff’s work record), I am not satisfied there is a substantial possibility that this pain will disable him from working.
With respect to the Plaintiff’s pre-existing and but now symptomatic degenerative disc disease Mr. Justice Halfyard found as follows: In my view, there is no significant conflict between Dr. Filbey and Dr. Warren on the subject under discussion. Nor would I discount Dr. Warren’s evidence on the ground that he now works almost exclusively for ICBC. I accept the opinions of both of these medical experts. As a consequence, I find that the plaintiff’s complaint of mid-back pain following the accident is strongly corroborated by the medical findings and opinions. There is no evidence whatever to suggest that the plaintiff had experienced pain in his mid-back before the accident, and he firmly denies this. I infer from the evidence given by the doctors that pain in the thoracic spine area from whiplash-type injury is far less common than pain in the cervical and lumbar spine. In the result, I am satisfied on the balance of probabilities that the motor vehicle accident caused the plaintiff’s latent pre-existing degenerative condition to become painful.
So how then, does a court value injuries when a pre-existing condition contributes to the duration of traumatic injury?
Here, Mr. Justice Halfyard reduced the Plaintiff’s award for pain and suffering by 15% to account for the chance that the Plaintiff’s degenerative disc disease would have become symptomatic at some point in time in the future even if the accident did not occur, thus the damages of $40,000 were reduced to $34,000.
On a different note, this claim is worth reviewing to see how BC Courts can deal with the issue of credibility in ICBC Injury Claims. The credibility of the Plaintiff often plays a crucial role in ICBC Soft Tissue Injury Cases. Here the ICBC Defence Lawyer challenged the credibility of the Plaintiff. The court indeed concluded that the Plaintiff was ‘not a credible witness’ and paragraphs 37-60 are worth reviewing for anyone interested in a discussion about factors courts consider when weighing the credibility of a Plaintiff in an ICBC Injury Claim.
Interesting reasons for judgement were released today concerning traumatic injuries and pre-existing degenerative disc disease.
The Plaintiff was a building siding installer. He had a pre-existing degenerative lumbar spine condition which was largely asymptomatic, that is it caused occasional pain but did not disable him from work. He was injured in a BC car accident on November 22, 2005. He became totally disabled from his work after this collision. He applied to ICBC, and received, Part 7 wage loss benefits.
ICBC obtained a report from Dr. Dommisse in June 2006. He stated that ‘(the Plaintiff’s) complaints have been caused by this motor vehicle accident in part. His pre-existing condition is likely contributing to his ongoing symptoms….His continued symptoms, in my opinion, are related to the degenerative changes at L4/5 at this time.’
As a result of this opinion ICBC cut off the Plaintiff’s wage loss benefits on August 31, 2006. ICBC did so because they took the position that the Plaintiff’s ongoing disability was ‘caused directly or indirectly by sickness or disease.’
Can ICBC do that? The answer is yes. Section 96 of the Insurance Vehicle Regulation places some limits on benefits ICBC has to pay their insured including those ‘whose injury was caused, directly or indirectly, by sickness or disease, unless the sickness or disease was contracted as a direct result of an accident for which benefits are provided under this Part’
The Plaintiff sued ICBC asking the court to reinstate the Plaintiff’s no-fault wage loss benefits. In support of the Plaintiff’s case, Dr. Hirsch, a Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Specialist, gave evidence that
Based on today’s obtained history and review of the forwarded clinical documents, it is my opinion that the acute onset of low back pain and resultant decline in function is causally related to the November 2005 motor vehicle accident
(the Plaintiff) reported that he has made a 20 to 30% symptomatic recovery regarding his low back injuries. He reported that for the past four months he has not noticed any further symptomatic gains. Accordingly, I would view the prognosis for a good recovery as guarded at this juncture.
At present and in the foreseeable future, I do not foresee that (the Plaintiff) will improve sufficiently to get back to his pre-motor vehicle accident line of work. Furthermore, at present I would question whether he is gainfully employable as a locksmith.
Mr. Justice Meiklem of the BC Supreme Court dismissed the Plaintiff’s claim finding as follows:
In my view, the medical evidence in this case, notwithstanding the differences of opinion on the relative significance of the concurrent causes of (the Plaintiff’s) continuing disability and whether the injuries suffered in the accident had resolved by August 31, 2006, clearly establishes that the degenerative lumbar spine, specifically at the L4/5 facet joints was a contributing cause of his disability after that date. While I do not find it proven that the effects of the accidental injury were fully resolved by that time, the defendant has established that, but for his degenerative disease, Mr. Wafler would not be totally disabled within the meaning of the covering provisions after August 31, 2006.
Consequently, I find that the defendant has established that the s. 96(f) exclusion applies and I decline to make the declaration sought by the plaintiff.
If you are in a dispute with ICBC regarding the payment of no-fault wage loss benefits it is important to canvass decisions such as this one addressing the potential consequences of pre-existing conditions on your ICBC insurance claim. Ensure that your physicians carefully canvass the relationship between any ‘sickness or disease’ and traumatic injury when applying for ICBC no fault benefits.
In reasons for judgment released today, the BC Supreme Court valued a Plaintiff’s pain and suffering at $75,000 for soft tissue injuries.
The Plaintiff was a nurse’s aid. She was injured in a BC car accident which occurred in 2004 in New Westminster. The crash occurred at an intersection and both liability (fault) and quantum (value of injuries) were in dispute at trial. This is often the case when ICBC injury claims resulting from an intersection crash go to trial.
The Plaintiff was making a right hand turn. When starting her turn she felt it was safe to do so. At about the same time the Defendant was proceeding through the intersection and had recently changed into the right hand lane. Both motorists failed to recognize the hazard they posed to each other until it was too late.
The court found that both drivers were at fault. The Plaintiff was liable for ‘not keeping a proper lookout’ and that she should have seen the Defendant travelling in the curb lane prior to the collision.
The defendant was also found at fault for changing lanes at an unsafe time. The key finding is made at paragraph 70 where the court held that: I find that at the time that the defendant changed lanes on Braid from the eastbound inside lane to the curb lane, 80 feet west of the intersection of Garrett and Braid, the plaintiff had already left the stop sign on Garrett and was in the process of making a right hand turn into the eastbound curb lane on Braid. I find that in making his lane change at this point on Braid the defendant was in such close proximity to the plaintiff’s car that his lane change could not be made safely. The weight of the evidence leaves no doubt that the defendant’s van was far too close to the plaintiff’s car for the defendant’s change of lanes to be made safely.
When 2 or more people are responsible for a BC car accident the Negligence Act requires a court to apportion fault between the parties. In this case the court held that both the Plaintiff and Defendant were 50% at fault for the accident. In doing so the court stated that “I do not think it can be found that blame for the accident rests more with one party than the other. In my opinion, they are equally guilty of breaching the rules of the road.”
The Plaintiff was a nurse’s aid. She claimed that as a result of the accident she became disabled from not only that job but also from ‘any other employment at a competitive level’
The Plaintiff’s doctor diagnosed the following injuries:
1) New large left central parracentral disc herniation posterior to the L5 vertebral body secondary to new onset degenerative L5/S1 disc change. This would be rated severe.
2) Left L5/S1 nerve root compression, also rated severe.
3) Milder degenerative changes at L3/L4, L4/L5 levels with early neural foraminal stenosis at L4/L5 and L5/S1, which are rated moderate to severe.
4) New onset degenerative CT spine changes rated moderate.
5) Musculoskeletal changes within the left side of her body, left arm, left chest, left hip and left leg, resolved within a week or two after the motor vehicle injury, rated mild.
6) Iatrogenic hypertension secondary to COX-2 inhibitor use for the treatment of the patient’s back injuries.
The bulk of the reasons for judgement focused on causation, that is, whether the above injuries were related to the accident or to other causes. As with most ICBC injury claims, the court heard from several ‘expert witnesses’ who commented on the plaintiff’s injuries and their cause.
In the end the court found that the Plaintiff failed to prove that the accident caused her disc herniation. The key findings can be found at paragraph 317 where the court held that:
In the result, I find that the evidence does not establish a temporal link between the accident and the onset of the plaintiff’s low back symptoms ultimately leading to the diagnosis of disc herniation and disc herniation surgery. In my opinion, the plaintiff has failed to prove on a balance of probabilities that the accident caused or contributed to the plaintiff’s disc herniation. She has failed to prove that her disc herniation would not have occurred but for the negligence of the defendants.
In arriving at this conclusion I accept the opinion of Dr. Maloon, in preference to that of the plaintiff’s medical experts, that the soft tissue injuries the plaintiff sustained in the accident would not have been “significant enough to alter the natural history of her neck or low back condition” and that the “disc herniation would be the result of the natural history of the lumbar degenerative disc disease and not the result of injuries that she may have sustained in [the accident].”
Since the court did not find the disc herniation related to the accident damages were assessed for soft tissue injuries. The court made the following finding prior to valuing the injuries at $75,000 for pain and suffering:
I find that the plaintiff sustained mild to moderate soft tissue injuries to her neck and back as a result of the accident which have had an affect on her personal, employment, social and recreational pursuits and activities. However, I also find that the plaintiff has failed to establish that the injuries sustained by her in the accident have caused her disability from employment.
In the result, I find that the plaintiff’s award for general damages should be based on the fact that her condition had improved and recovered to the stage that by March 4, 2005 he felt well enough to return to work on a gradual basis. Moreover, I find that the fact her physical and emotional condition deteriorated after her fall on March 5, 2005 cannot be attributed to the injuries she sustained in the accident.
The Plaintiff’s award was then cut by 50% to reflect the fact that she was 50% responsible for the accident. This is the direct result of ‘contributory negligent’ in ICBC injury cases. If a Plaintiff is any percent at fault then the value of what can be recovered in tort is reduced by that percentage.
Do you have questions about this case or about an ICBC injury claim involving soft tissue injuries or a disk herniation? If so please click here to arrange your free consultation with Victoria ICBC Claims Lawyer Erik Magraken (Services provided for ICBC injury claims throughout BC!)
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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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