$160,000 Non-Pecuniary Damage Assessment for L4-5 Disc Herniation
(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.