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$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.