Tag: facet joint

$60,000 Non-Pecuniary Damages for Whiplash and likely Zygapohyseal Joint Injury

Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, awarding a Plaintiff damages as a result of a BC car crash resulting in whiplash claim with a likely zygapophyseal joint injury.
Zygapophyseal joints (also known as facet joints) are the interconnecting joints joining vertebral bodies to one another and it is not uncommon for injury to occur to these joints in motor vehicle collisions.

In this week’s case (Lamont v. Stead) the Plaintiff was involved in a rear end collision caused by the Defendant in Burnaby, BC.  Fault was admitted leaving the Court to deal with the extent and value of the injury claim.   The Defendant accepted he injured the Plaintiff however argued that these injuries substantially resolved within 9 months.  The Plaintiff disagreed giving evidence that her neck injury symptoms were ongoing through trial.
In support of her case the Plaintiff advanced evidence from Dr. Rhonda Shuckett, a well respected BC rheumatologist.  Dr. Shuckett testified that the Plaintiff likely had permanent injuries explaining as follows:

I suspect her left neck injury since the MVA is mainly attributable to soft tissue and perhaps zygapophyseal joint injury…It is already approaching two years since the subject MVA and she remains symptomatic. I think there is a good chance that she is going to continue with her current level of pain. She is not disabled but is impaired to some degree…

Mr. Justice Bernard accepted this evidence and awarded the Plaintiff damages accordingly.  In assessing the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary loss (damages for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) at $60,000 the Court made the following findings:

[30] The evidence establishes that the plaintiff’s prospects for any significant improvement in her neck pain are poor. As a consequence, she faces a considerably altered future; particularly as it relates to her life outside the workplace. Her chronic pain deprives her of much of the enjoyment she found in being physically active, in attending to her family, and in participating in family activities…

[35] In summary, I am satisfied that the plaintiff’s pain is chronic, partially disabling, and likely permanent. Similarly, I am satisfied that the evidence establishes that the plaintiff’s neck pain was caused by the defendant’s negligence, in the sense that it directly caused or materially contributed to it. There is a substantial connection between the plaintiff’s chronic neck pain and the collision, and the plaintiff has shown, on a balance of probabilities, that but for the negligence of the defendant, she would not have chronic neck pain: see Resurfice Corp. v. Hanke, 2007 SCC 7, [2007] 1 S.C.R. 333…

[40]        The loss of enjoyment of life due to chronic neck pain is undoubtedly greater for Ms. Lamont than it would be for a person who has led a more sedentary lifestyle. Ms. Lamont has been actively engaged in strenuous sport throughout her adult life, and this has been a significant feature of life with her husband and children. It is, understandably, a source of great frustration and sadness to her that she has been deprived of the capacity to engage in most of the activities she loved, and to experience them with her family.

[41]        Given the relatively profound nature of the loss to this plaintiff (including compromised household management and parenting), the chronic pain which she must endure, the age of the plaintiff, and the very poor prospects for significant improvement, and, having regard to the similarities between the cases cited by the parties and the case at bar, I assess the non-pecuniary losses of the plaintiff at $60,000.

Plaintiff Awarded $96,970 For a Disc Herniation

In a case that can be characterized as “the straw the broke the camel’s back”, a Plaintiff was awarded over $90,000 soft-tissue injuries and a L5-S1 disc herniation which were caused (at least in part) as a result of a 2003 car accident.
The Plaintiff was a 47 year old with a long history of back injuries. She had pre-exsting low back pain, neck pain and a bilateral facet-joint arthropathy.
She was involved in a fairly serious car accident in 2003. Her vehicle sustained damage which took close to $5,000 to repair.
At trial both a neurosurgeon and an physiatrist testified on behalf of the Plaintiff. The neurosurgeon’s opinion was that “(the Plaintiff’s) disk herniation was caused by small tears to the annular fibres surrounding the disc which eventually ruptured due to the ongoing stresses from day to day living” and that “(since the car accident) was the last major trauma before (the Plaintiff) experienced the disc herniation, it was a significant contributor to the problem.” The Plaintiff’s physiatrist largely shared this opinion.
ICBC lawyers defending claims often retain orthopaedic surgeons who disagree with treating physicians. This common insurance defence step was followed in this case as the defence lawyers retained an orthopaedic surgeon who testified there was “no objective evidence of ongoing injury to explain the Plaintiff’s ongoing pain“.
The Defence also showed video surveillance of the Plaintiff doing various activities including getting in and out of her car on many occasions with minimal difficulty. I have previously blogged about surveillance evidence and ICBC claims and don’t intend to re-visit this subject at length but will point out that this is a common tactic ICBC lawyers take when defending injury claims and Justice Fenton, at paragraph 10 and 11 of the judgement canvasses the position that many ICBC lawyers take at trial when they have surveillance evidence which shows a Plaintiff potentially overstating injuries.
After hearing all the medical evidence the court accepted the opinions of the Plaintiff’s physiatrist and neurologist and stated that “(the Plaintiff’s) earlier accidents, along with degenerative changes to her spine, made her more vulnerable to lower back injury. Accordingly, while I cannot find the defendant’s negligence was the only cause of the Plaintiff’s problems after February 13, 2003, on a balance of probabilities, I find that the defendant’s negligence materially contributed to the occurrence of those injuries
The court assessed the Plaintiff’s damages as follows:
1. Pain and Suffering: $65,000
2. Special Damages (out of pocket expenses): $3,118
3. Past Wage Loss: $88,000
4. Cost of Future Care: $5,000
Justice Fenlon then reduced the total award by 40% to account for the risk that the Plaintiff’s pre-existing condition in her spine and her psychological fragility would have detrimentally affected her in the future, regardless of the car accident.
Justice Fenlon did a great job in canvassing the applicable law in determining whether the car accident caused the Plaintiff injury. This case is worth reading to get insight into the factors courts consider when addressing pre-existing injuries that were aggravated by a car accident, and further to see the “thin-skull” legal principle in action which is well canvassed at paragraphs 42-44 of the judgement.

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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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