Tag: Indivisible Injuries

$80,000 Non-Pecuniary Damage Assessment For Aggravation of Pre-Existing Back Pain; Indivisible Injuries Discussed

Reasons for judgement were released last week assessing damages for a permanent aggravation of pre-existing back and neck injuries as a result of a collision.
In last week’s case (Delgiglio v. British Columbia (Public Safety and Solicitor General)) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2009 collision.  His vehicle was struck by an RCMP cruiser that ran a red light.  The Defendant motorist claimed the crash happened due to faulty brakes but the Court rejected this suggestion and found the officer fully at fault.
The Plaintiff suffered from various pre-existing injuries including chronic back pain.  Despite this he was able to work.  Following the 2009 collision his injuries were aggravated and disabled the Plaintiff from his occupation as a truck driver.  The Plaintiff’s disability was expected to continue.   In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $80,000 Madam Justice Gropper made the following findings:

[91] The evidence supports, and I have found, that Mr. Del Giglio suffered a re-aggravation of his neck and lower back pain in the January 2009 accident. He has reached a plateau in his recovery. He has not returned to his baseline level of activity which he enjoyed before the accident. He has not returned to his pre-accident level of pain. Though initially optimistic, Mr. Del Giglio’s physicians are all of the view that his prognosis is “guarded at best.”

[92] Mr. Del Giglio has suffered pain and loss of enjoyment of his life. The injuries have had a serve impact. I accept that Mr. Del Giglio’s pain has been distressful and have affected his emotional state. Despite Dr. Monk’s not having diagnosed depression, Dr. Purtzki did find such symptoms, which are anticipatable, given the reduction in the activities, including the ability to work, which Mr. Del Giglio has experienced.

[93] On the other hand, Mr. Del Giglio has been able to maintain his musical career, a vocation that he clearly thrives upon. That is a factor which I will take into account.

[94] A further factor is that Mr. Del Giglio is aging and some deterioration in his cervical spine is, in Dr. McKenzie’s words, “not uncommon.”  I accept that he would have had some increased pain at some point, but the accident accelerated the onset…

[97] Having reviewed the cases provided, I conclude a fair and reasonable award for non-pecuniary damages is $80,000.

In addition to the above this case is worth reviewing for the Court’s discussion of indivisible injuries at paragraphs 73-86 of the reasons for judgement and the arguments of defence regarding the effects of a release for a previous collision contributing to an indivisible injury.

Unfairness of Indivisible Injury Assessment Remedied Through Apportionment, Contribution and Indemnity

The law in BC has developed to permit a Plaintiff who sustained ‘indivisible injuries‘ caused by multiple defendants to seek full compensation from any of the at fault parties.  Useful reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, demonstrating this reality and finding that any unfairness arising from such a result can be remedied through apportionment, contribution and indemnity as between the Defendants.
In last week’s case (Scoates v. Dermott) the Plaintiff suffered injuries in 4 separate collisions.  The first was the most serious causing multiple orthopaedic injuries.  The subsequent collisions were more minor in nature causing an aggravation of injuries.   After canvassing the law of indivisible injury compensation at length Mr. Justice Smith provided the following reasons and interestingly went on to note that an indivisible injury can be divisible with respect to specific heads of damage:

[161] Counsel also argues that it would be unfair to the Defendant Carse to hold him jointly and severally liable for all of the injuries the Plaintiff has suffered.  In Bradley, the Court of Appeal recognized that such an unfairness may result from a finding of indivisible injury, but can be remedied through the rights defendants have against each other (at para. 36):

It may be that this represents an extension of pecuniary liability for consecutive or concurrent tortfeasors who contribute to an indivisible injury.  We do not think it can be said that the Supreme Court of Canada was unmindful of that consequence.  Moreover, apportionment legislation can potentially remedy injustice to defendants by letting them claim contribution and indemnity as against one another.

[162] I therefore conclude that the second accident contributed to an indivisible injury and the defendant Carse is jointly and severally liable to the plaintiff.  I will deal with the question of apportionment later in these reasons.

[163] The third and fourth accidents each caused a temporary aggravation in the plaintiff’s generalized pain. It is not possible to identify a precise date when the aggravation from each of the third and fourth accidents ended and the plaintiff’s pain returned precisely to a previous baseline.  The subjective nature of pain and the physical and psychological factors that contribute to it are simply too complex for such an assessment.  In my view, that is precisely the scenario the Court of Appeal was addressing when it said in Bradley (at para. 34):

If an injury cannot be divided into distinct parts, then joint liability to the plaintiff cannot be apportioned either. It is clear that tortfeasors causing or contributing to a single, indivisible injury are jointly liable to the plaintiff.

[164] Bradley discusses the concept of indivisibility in a physical sense – injuries to the same part of the body that cannot be divided into distinct parts.  But there appears to be no reason in principle that a physically indivisible injury may not be divisible for the purpose of specific heads of damage.  The basic rule remains that defendants cannot be held liable for losses they played no part in causing.

[165] The third and fourth accidents temporarily increased the plaintiff’s pain and suffering and must be seen as contributing to an indivisible injury for purposes of assessing non-pecuniary damages.  But those accidents played no part in the plaintiff’s loss of income, inability to return to his former occupation or his loss of earning capacity.

[166] By the time of the third accident, the plaintiff had not worked for approximately 18 months and it was clear that he would never be able to return to work as a paramedic.  A vocational consultant, Mr. Carlin, said in November 2009, that the plaintiff was not competitively employable for full time work and that his return to the work force in any capacity was “problematic”.  Although Mr. Carlin’s report was not written until November 2009, it was based on an interview and tests conducted June 18, 2009 – 10 days before the third accident.

[167] Similarly, Dr. Stewart said in September 2009 that it was unlikely the plaintiff would return to the workforce to any significant degree.  That was also based on an examination that predated the third accident.  The report was written after the third accident, but makes no reference to it.

[168] Accordingly, I find that the plaintiff’s income loss and loss of earning capacity are divisible in regard to the second and third accident.  Similarly, there is no evidence that the last two accidents have played any causative role in the plaintiff’s need for future therapies and other items that will be considered under the cost of future care.

[169] I therefore find that the defendants Nicole Braddick, Beverley Braddick and Melanie Jones contributed only to the plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages and their joint and several liability to him is limited to those damages.  Similarly, the plaintiff’s past income loss must be divided between the periods before and after the second accident.  The defendant Carse is jointly and severally liable only for the losses incurred in the latter period

$60,000 Non-Pecuniary Damage Assessment for Shoulder Impingement Syndrome

Adding to this site’s archived posts of BC non-pecuniary damage awards for shoulder injuries, reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, assessing damages for soft tissue injuries and an impingement syndrome.
In last week’s case (Sandhar v. Rolston) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2004 rear-end collision.  Fault was admitted by the offending driver.  The trial focused on the value of the Plaintiff’s claim.  The Plaintiff suffered a soft tissue injury to her neck and an impingement syndrome to her right shoulder.  The symptoms largely recovered by 2007 following a cortisone injection although she had some lingering symptoms.
Complicating matters, the Plaintiff injured her right shoulder shovelling snow in 2008.   She injured her rotator cuff.  Mr. Justice Affleck found this was a ‘divisible injury‘ and assessed damages accordingly.  In awarding $60,000 for non-pecuniary damages the Court provided the following reasons:

[53] In Hussack v. Chilliwack School District No. 33, 2011 BCCA 258, the court observed that decisions of the court on the question of an intervening cause, “say that if an injured party acts unreasonably and causes him or herself further injury, the tortfeasor is not responsible for any injuries suffered as a result of the second injury.” It was not reasonable for the plaintiff to have shovelled snow in the fashion that she did in 2008. Even if the injuries from that activity were indivisible, I would not award damages for them.

[54] That does not mean compensation for the injuries from the car accident is cut off from the date the plaintiff shovelled snow. If the car accident injuries continued to have their effects after December 2008, the defendant remains liable to compensate the plaintiff for those effects. See Dudek v. Li, 2000 BCCA 321.

[55] There has been no mechanical derangement of the plaintiff’s neck and shoulder caused by the car accident. I accept Dr. Leith’s view that the plaintiff’s injuries were soft tissue injuries of the “whiplash” variety. The evidence is that the whiplash was properly characterized as grade one. That is the least damaging form of a whiplash injury. That does not mean the injuries were insignificant. On the contrary, they caused pain and measure of disability from May 2004 until the cortisone injection in April 2007. I accept that slight pain returned later that year and through 2008. Despite the plaintiff’s ability to carry on with work, the plaintiff found it to be uncomfortable to do so. I accept that even if she had not suffered a new injury to her shoulder in December 2008, the pre-existing problems would have lingered even beyond 2008 for perhaps about two years.

[56] I have been provided by the parties with numerous authorities on the assessment of non-pecuniary damages in similar cases. As is usual, none of the plaintiffs in those cases had injuries the same as the plaintiff before me. I take into account the long course of difficulties experienced by the plaintiff which would not have been suffered but for the car accident and that the car accident injuries would have lingered for about six years while gradually diminishing. The three years before the plaintiff had the cortisone injection were difficult, but she did her best to carry on with her employment and with her housekeeping with considerable discomfort. She lost much of her enjoyment of life in those years. She returned to her pre-accident condition after April 2007 and had marked relief of pain for 18 months, but not complete resolution. The plaintiff’s high expectations of herself in her employment, housekeeping and recreational activities, increased the effect of the car accident injuries, but the defendant must accept the plaintiff as she is.

[57] I assess non-pecuniary damages at $60,000…

Indivisible Injury Assessment Where a Plaintiff is Partly At Fault

In 2010 the BC Court of Appeal made it clear that a Plaintiff’s compensation is not to be reduced if an injury suffered in part by the negligent conduct of a Defendant is ‘indivisble‘ from other causes.  But what about circumstances where a Plaintiff’s own conduct partly contributed to the indivisible injury?  How should damages be addressed then?  Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, addressing such a scenario.
In last week’s case (Demidas v. Poinen) the Plaintiff was involved in 5 collisions.  He was not at fault for 4 of these and sued for damages.  The plaintiff was at fault for the fifth collision.  All five collisions caused a “cumulative” injury with each impact “exacerbating the symptoms that remained from the previous one to a collective whole“.
In addressing the “imperfect exercise” in assessing damages in these circumstances Madam Justice Humphries provided the following reasons:

[50] Counsel for the plaintiff approached the fifth “at-fault” accident as a question of contributory negligence which would reduce the non-pecuniary award to some extent.  When questioned about this by the court, he could provide no cases to support such an approach.  Counsel for the defendant said this was not a matter of contributory negligence but did not have an alternative approach.

[51] The effect of the at-fault accident on the overall damage award is not a matter of contributory negligence, although the effect on the overall result may be similar.  It is a matter of ensuring that the defendants are responsible only for the loss and damage they caused to the plaintiff.

[52] None of the cases cited to me by the plaintiff deal with sequential accidents, and none have at-fault accidents in the midst of accidents for which the plaintiff can claim damages.  InMacGillivary, supra, the provincial court judge applied Long v. Thiessen, (1968) 65 W.W.R. 577 and assessed damages separately for each of three accidents.  Where the effects of the injuries are not divisible, as here, that approach is not appropriate as between tortfeasors (Bradley v. Groves 2010 BCCA 1507).  On the other hand, the defendants are not responsible for the injuries Mr. Demidas caused to himself, so the effects of that accident have to be accounted for.

[53] Mr. Demidas says all his symptoms from the June 2009 accident resolved quickly and he was back to where he was before the accident.  In support of his position that the at-fault accident had little long-term effect on him, Mr. Demidas points to Dr. Sharp’s statement that it seems the third accident “set [him] on the road to chronicity”.  However Dr. Sharp says that statement is speculative.

[54] I do not accept Mr. Demidas’ evidence that the June 2009 accident did not exacerbate his symptoms to any significant degree.  This accident was no less serious than the others and in fact resulted in more vehicle damage.  As well, it seems to have caused Mr. Demidas considerable trouble with his knee.  It is very unlikely the exacerbation of soft tissue symptoms would all subside quickly after this accident, whereas the symptoms from the other four accidents would continue to the present time.  Dr. Sharp said the succession of all five accidents “served as the instrumental cause for his chronic neck pain, upper back pain and chronic cervicogenic headaches.”

[55] The effect of the accidents is cumulative, each one exacerbating the symptoms that remained from the previous one to a collective whole.  Therefore it is not appropriate to simply take one figure and multiply it by four as the defendant suggests.

[56] While this is not a situation where damage is divisible and capable of individual apportionment, nevertheless the loss and damage caused by the accident for which Mr. Demidas is at fault must be considered and removed from the overall award so that the defendants are not held responsible for that amount.

[57] This is an imperfect exercise, dealing with intangibles and hypotheticals.  Although each accident was fairly minor, the recurrence of accidents contributed to Mr. Demidas’ ongoing symptoms.  However, those symptoms are not as severe as those in the cases cited to me by the plaintiff.  Considering the authorities presented to me, the injuries sustained in the four accidents, and adjusting the amount for the effects of the at-fault accident, I set non-pecuniary damages at $45,000.

$65,000 Non-Pecuniary Damage Assessment for Chronic Pain Disorder

Reasons for judgement were released yesterday by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, assessing damages for a chronic pain disorder caused by a motor vehicle collision.
In yesterday’s case (Loveys v. Fleetham) the Plaintiff was involved in a significastn 2006 collision.   The Plaintiff was struck by an out of control large truck driven by the Defendant.  The force of impact pushed the Plaintiff’s vehicle off the road.  The Plaintiff alleged she suffered physical and psychiatric injuries as a consequence of the crash.
Mr. Justice Armstrong found that the Plaintiff did suffer from physical injuries which went on to cause a chronic pain disorder.  The court did not find the Plaintiff’s psychiatric difficulties were related to the collision finding these had their origin in other life events.  The reasons for judgement are useful for the Courts lengthy discussion of causation and indivisible injuries.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $65,000 Mr. Justice Armstrong provided the following reasons:

[191] I am satisfied that Ms. Loveys suffered soft tissue injuries to her neck, back and shoulder and that those areas of complaint have evolved into a chronic pain disorder. I accept the plaintiff’s chronic pain was caused by the accidents. I also accept that she experienced an exacerbation of her pre-existing symptoms of depression and bulimia after the accident; the plaintiff has not proven that “but for the accident” she would have suffered the recurrent bulimia, acute stress disorder and/or depression.

[192] Ms. Loveys experienced significant psychological symptoms after the accident but they have not been proven to have resulted from the car accident. On the evidence it is equally possible she would have developed a major depression even if the motor-vehicle accident had not occurred. The history of disputes with CRA, the bankruptcy, the serious tax arrears, the death of her friend, her parents’ illness, and the strata owners litigation all indicate she faced serious stressors that would have occurred independent of the accident. She had already had an attack of bulimia in March 2006 and was under stress at the time of the accident.

[193] In my view Ms. Loveys’ psychiatric symptoms represented a divisible injury which is separate from the initial pain and chronic pain complaints that have persisted…

[214] I have concluded that Ms. Loveys has endured significant suffering and inconvenience resulting from the injuries from the accident. I observe that she will likely have symptoms of chronic pain for the balance of her life although there is some possibility she may yet achieve some improvement. Although I do not attribute her recurrent bulimia or her depression to the accident I accept that the duration of her physical symptoms and the interference with her very active lifestyle are important factors in this assessment. The presence of chronic pain has, for this very active woman, impacted her work life, her competitive and recreational dance, and the level of enjoyment she achieved from her other recreational choices. The plaintiff had an extraordinary history of physical accomplishments in her vocational and recreational life before the accident and her return to full participation in these activities is guarded.

[215] Her injuries will not prevent her from returning to most of those activities; she will not be able to perform in those areas with the same intensity and for the same duration she enjoyed prior to her injuries.

[216] Even on an intermittent basis, chronic pain deprives a victim of the enjoyment of a full and active life. Chronic pain coupled with the limitations on Ms. Loveys’ recreational activity and work will play an important part limiting her future enjoyment. I must consider that her low back pain and toe pain will also detract from her enjoyment of life as will her psychiatric health issues. In view of all of these factors I conclude that she is entitled to $65,000 for her non-pecuniary losses.

BC Sexual Abuse Civil Cases and the Law of "Indivisible Injury"

As previously discussed, the law of damages in BC has developed as follows with respect to indivisible injury compensation:
[55] Indivisible injuries are those that cannot be separated, such as aggravation or exacerbation of an earlier injury, an injury to the same area of the body, or global symptoms that are impossible to separate: Bradley, at para. 20; see also Athey, at paras. 22-25.

[56] If the injuries are indivisible, the court must apply the “but for” test in respect of the defendant’s act. Even though there may be several tortuous or non-tortuous causes of injury, so long as the defendant’s act is a cause, the defendant is fully liable for that damage: Bradley, at paras. 32-37; see also Resurfice Corp. v. Hanke, 2007 SCC 7 at paras. 19-23.

This principle becomes particularly important with respect to civil sexual abuse claims.  The sad reality is that many abused people are repeat victims with a number of different wrongdoers taking advantage of them.  If this is the case, and if the overall harm caused by the abuse is “indivisible” then the victim can collect their damages for the whole of the indivisible injury from any one of their perpetrators.  This principle was demonstrated in reasons for judgment released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Victoria Registry.
In this week’s case (Corfield v. Shaw) the Plaintiff was the victim of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of her stepfather.  The abuse was “egregious and prolonged“.  Later she was the victim of sexual abuse at work.  The latter abuse was of a less severe character.  She sued for damages as a result of the workplace abuse.  The Defendant was ultimately found liable.
The Defendant argued that the damages should be modest because the Plaintiff “was still experiencing emotional and psychological difficulties from the Childhood abuse” and that these consequences “would have continued thereafter even without Mr. Shaw’s wrongful actions“.  Mr. Justice Butler rejected this argument and assessed damages on an indivisible basis.  In doing so the Court provided the following reasons:

[101] There is no question that the nature of the emotional and psychological injuries she suffered as a result of the Childhood Abuse is similar to, if not the same as, what she has experienced since the Assaults.  Any attempt to divide those injuries into causes as between the two tortfeasors would be artificial.  There was no evidence proffered which would allow me to conclude that some of the symptoms or emotional difficulties suffered by Ms. Corfield since 2005 were caused solely by the Childhood Abuse.  Accordingly, I conclude that all of Ms. Corfield’s emotional and psychological difficulties since 2005 were caused or contributed to by the Assaults.  In other words, the injuries she has suffered from since 2005 are indivisible from those injuries suffered from the Childhood Abuse.

[102] In reaching that conclusion, I am not suggesting that the Assaults were the only cause of her injuries, just that her “damage and loss has been caused by the fault of two or more persons”, one of whom is Mr. Shaw.  As a result, in accordance with the provisions of s. 4 of the Negligence Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 333, Mr. Shaw is jointly and severally liable for the injuries suffered since the Assaults, and he is responsible for the full cost of loss and damage suffered since the Assaults subject to consideration of the crumbling skull principle.

[103] The difference between a thin skull and a crumbling skull is described in Athey at paras. 34 and 35:

… The “crumbling skull” doctrine is an awkward label for a fairly simple idea.  It is named after the well-known “thin skull” rule, which makes the tortfeasor liable for the plaintiff’s injuries even if the injuries are unexpectedly severe owing to a pre-existing condition. The tortfeasor must take his or her victim as the tortfeasor finds the victim, and is therefore liable even though the plaintiff’s losses are more dramatic than they would be for the average person.

The so-called “crumbling skull” rule simply recognizes that the pre-existing condition was inherent in the plaintiff’s “original position”.

[104] One aspect of Ms. Corfield’s “original position” was described by Dr. Bruce; she was “more vulnerable to experience a more intense emotional affect from stressful events”.  In other words, she was fragile and susceptible to suffering emotional damage.  There is no question that this condition falls within the “crumbling skull” category.  Ms. Corfield continues to have that susceptibility and Mr. Shaw does not have to compensate her for continuing vulnerability.

[105] However, the defendants also argue that Ms. Corfield was still experiencing emotional and psychological difficulties from the Childhood Abuse before she was assaulted by Mr. Shaw.  They say the symptoms she suffered from included anxiety, depression, poor sleep, nightmares, alcohol abuse and other symptoms.  The evidence of Ms. Corfield’s mother provides some support for this position.  Ms. Corfield herself said that she “felt herself fairly recovered” from the Childhood Abuse.  I take this to mean that she was doing reasonably well but had not fully recovered.  In cross-examination she admitted that her doctor recommended she attend counselling in 2003 and 2004.  This confirms that in the two years before she started working at Baker Industries she was experiencing emotional difficulties.  She also admitted to continuing intimacy problems arising from the Childhood Abuse…

[116] In these circumstances, an appropriate award for non-pecuniary damages including the aggravating circumstances is $70,000.  This must be reduced to take into account Ms. Corfield’s pre-existing condition.  A deduction of 15% results in an assessment of $59,500.  I will round that up and award the sum of $60,000 for non-pecuniary damages.

The Law of Indivisible Injury Compensation Concisely Summarized

If two or more events cause a single “indivisible injury” a Defendant who in part contributes to the injury can be held accountable for the entire loss.  This legal principle was concisely summarized in reasons for judgement released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry.
In last week’s case (Estable v. New) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2003 motor vehicle collision.  She suffered previous and subsequent trauma.  The Court found that while not the sole cause, the collision was a cause of the Plaintiff’s various soft tissue injuries.  The Plaintiff was compensated for these and in doing so Madam Justice Gropper provided the following short and helpful summary of the law of indivisible injury compensation:

[53] Divisible injuries are those which are capable of being separated out, such as injuries to different body parts or injuries to which the defendant has not contributed: Bradley, at para. 20; see also Athey, at paras. 22-25. Whether damage derived from multiple sources is divisible for the purpose of determining the extent of the liability of one defendant is a question of fact: Hutchings v. Dow, 2007 BCCA 148 at para. 13.

[54] If the injuries are divisible, the devaluation approach from Long v. Thiessen (1968), 65 W.W.R. 577 at 591 (B.C.C.A) is the appropriate method for determining the amount of damages that can be attributed to the defendant. This was discussed in Bradley at para. 33:

[33] The approach to apportionment in Long v. Thiessen is therefore no longer applicable to indivisible injuries. The reason is that Long v. Thiessen pre-supposes divisibility: Long requires courts to take a single injury and divide it up into constituent causes or points in time, and assess damages twice; once on the day before the second tort, and once at trial. Each defendant is responsible only for their share of the injury and the plaintiff can recover only the appropriate portion from each tortfeasor.

[emphasis in original]

[55] Indivisible injuries are those that cannot be separated, such as aggravation or exacerbation of an earlier injury, an injury to the same area of the body, or global symptoms that are impossible to separate: Bradley, at para. 20; see also Athey, at paras. 22-25.

[56] If the injuries are indivisible, the court must apply the “but for” test in respect of the defendant’s act. Even though there may be several tortuous or non-tortuous causes of injury, so long as the defendant’s act is a cause, the defendant is fully liable for that damage: Bradley, at paras. 32-37; see also Resurfice Corp. v. Hanke, 2007 SCC 7 at paras. 19-23.

In assessing the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages at $30,000 the Court made the following findings with respect to her injuries:

[60] I find that Ms. Estable’s remaining complaints were aggravated or exacerbated by the October 2003 injuries. These complaints include: pain in her neck, pain in her left and low back, and pain in her left anterior shoulder. They also include the injury to her sternum, although I find, based on the medical evidence, that this injury was a soft tissue injury and not a fracture.

[61] Applying the principles from Bradley, Ms. Estable has a claim against Mr. New for these complaints because they are indivisible; Mr. New’s negligence aggravated or exacerbated those injuries. While the post accident injury producing events may also have had a similar effect, Ms. Estable can recover her damages entirely from Mr. New. There may be other tortfeasers who are jointly liable, but Mr. New’s right to apportionment among them does not affect Ms. Estable’s right to claim the entire amount from him…

[77] Applying the enumerated factors, Ms. Estable is now 56 years old. She suffered soft tissue injuries of the cervical and lumbar spine and to the left shoulder. She suffered a chest contusion and the possibility of sternal fractures or rib fractures. Her injuries have caused her to change her lifestyle; she is unable to engage in performance art or yoga…

[81] I assess Ms. Estable’s non-pecuniary damages at $30,000.

$80,000 Non-Pecuniary Award for Chronic Shoulder Injury; Bradley v. Groves Applied

Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, assessing damages for a shoulder injury caused by a motor vehicle collision and subsequently aggravated by an at-work incident.
In last week’s case (Kaleta v. MacDougall) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2008 collision.  Fault was admitted by the Defendant.  As a consequence the Plaintiff suffered from “chronic neck and left shoulder pain”.  The symptoms were due to soft tissue injury and there was a “moderate probability” for long lasting symptoms.
Prior to trial the Plaintiff aggravated his shoulder in an at-work incident.  He made a WorkSafe Claim as a consequence.  ICBC argued the damages need to be reduced as a result.  Mr. Justice Truscott disagreed relying on the BC Court of Appeal’s decision Bradley v. Groves.  In assessing damages at $80,000 the Court provided the following useful comments:

[33] In Dr. McAnulty’s last assessment on March 3, 2011 the plaintiff again reported with chronic neck and left shoulder pain, worse at night. His prior knee and back pain had resolved.

[34] Dr. McAnulty’s diagnostic impression at the time was of chronic myofascial pain post motor vehicle accident affecting the left neck and shoulder and the plaintiff was advised to continue with activity as tolerated.

[35] In his summary and conclusions in his report of March 6, 2011, Dr. McAnulty says that despite the many interventions the plaintiff still remains symptomatic and now has more likely than not reached the point of maximum medical improvement, especially since two and one-half years have elapsed since the motor vehicle accident. He says the plaintiff may well suffer chronic myofascial pain in the future…

[57] I accept the opinion of Dr. McAnulty that the workplace shoulder injury of June 11, 2009 was an aggravation of the shoulder injury suffered in the motor vehicle accident which remained symptomatic, and was not a new injury unconnected to the previous injury…

[61] As a matter of law the defendant remains responsible for continuing problems with the left shoulder after June 11, 2009 (Bradley v. Groves, 2010 BCCA 361)…

[63] It may be concluded from all this that the prospect of a chronic injury in the nature of a permanent or indefinite injury is only a possibility, but in Dr. McAnulty’s report he also says that the patient has more likely than not reached the point of maximal medical improvement and that statement reflects a standard of probability and not possibility.

[64] It is my conclusion that Dr. McAnulty considers the shoulder pain to be a chronic or long-lasting pain as a moderate probability, and I will assess the plaintiff’s damages on that basis…

[70] I award the plaintiff $80,000 for general damages for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life.

$65,000 Non-Pecuniary Damages For Thoracic Outlet Syndrome With "Mixed" Prognosis

Adding to this site’s public database of BC Thoracic Outlet Syndrome cases, reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, assessing damages for a TOS Injury with a “mixed” prognosis.
In this week’s case (Singh v. Clay) the Plaintiff was involved in a total of 5 collisions.  He alleged 4 of these caused or aggravated a Thoracic Outlet Injury and sued for damages.  Fault was admitted in all actions.
Mr. Justice Greyell concluded that the Plaintiff did in fact suffer from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome and that the injury was caused, on an indivisible basis, from the collisions.  Damages were assessed on a global basis.  In awarding $65,000 for the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) the Court made the following findings:

[81] Based on the medical reports and testimony of Drs. Keyes and Travlos, I am satisfied the plaintiff suffers from thoracic outlet syndrome which causes him difficulty holding his hands above his head, causes his left arm and shoulder to go numb such that he must lower his arm and “shake” the tingling and numbness out, and that this injury affects him both at work and in his home life as described earlier in this decision.

[82] He is also affected because his injury wakes him several times each night, causing him to be tired the following day.

[83] The plaintiff also suffered low back pain and persistent headaches which lasted for several years after the second accident but which have now cleared up…

[88] I find the prognosis for Mr. Singh is a mixed one.  Dr. Keyes’ diagnosis is a difficult one to understand.  On the one hand he has opined that there is likely some permanent injury to the plaintiff’s neurovascular bundle in the left thoracic outlet space.  On the other hand, he has opined there is no permanent injury or damage of the neurovascular bundle in the left thoracic anatomic space.  Dr. Keyes was clear however Mr. Singh would “almost certainly respond” without surgical intervention and expected that his symptoms would improve “and probably resolve over time”.  Dr. Keyes’ prognosis for the plaintiff’s injuries is “very good to excellent” and he says that his recreational and employment activities would “not be significantly affected over the long term”.  The caveat Dr. Keyes offered to this opinion in the penultimate paragraph was that “repeated injuries to the same areas… would be expected to result in similar symptoms and a more prolonged recovery…”  Mr. Singh was involved in motor vehicle accidents on September 18, 2007 (which he did not tell Dr. Keyes about) and November 1, 2008, and the at-fault accident on March 19, 2007.

[89] At the time of trial Dr. Keyes had not seen the plaintiff for some four years.

[90] Dr. Travlos’s prognosis, based on an assessment made in April 2009 was much more guarded.  As noted above he was of the opinion “there is no real expectation that further treatment is going to magically cure his symptoms.”  Dr. Travlos recommended Mr. Singh commence a structured conditioning program outside the home.  There was no evidence to suggest Mr. Singh has followed Dr. Travlos’s recommendation to engage in a conditioning program outside his home or that he take medication to help relieve his sleeping problems.  Had he done so it is possible these problems would have resolved more quickly than they have.

[91] In my view the injuries suffered by Mr. Singh are more significant than those suffered by the plaintiff in Langley but less serious than those suffered by the plaintiffs in Cimino and Durand.  I assess the plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages at $65,000.

The Other Side of Bradley: Indivisible Injuries and Damage Deductions

In 2010 the BC Court of Appeal released welcome reasons for judgement (Bradley v. Groves) which made it easier for individuals to recover damages for “indivisible” injuries.  In short the Court confirmed that if two or more incidents caused an indivisible injury you could sue any of the party’s responsible for causing the harm and recover the whole of the loss.
There is, however, a downside to the benefits of Bradley v. Groves.  If you sustain an indivisible injury and receive compensation for it from one tortfeasor a subsequent tort feasor may be able to reduce their liability by the amount of the previous settlement or judgement.  This argument was considered in reasons for judgement released this week by the BC Supreme Court.
In this week’s case (Thomas v. Thompson) the Plaintiff sued for damages from a 2005 motor vehicle collision.  The trial judge found that some of the Plaintiff’s injuries were indivisible from those sustained in a 2002 collision.   The Plaintiff settled his claim for damages from the 2002 collision for $10,000.  Following trial the Defendant argued that the damage assessment for the 2005 collision should be reduced by $10,000 to take into account the previous settlement.
The Court noted that damages were assessed taking the Plaintiff’s pre-existing issues into account and that it would not be just to re-open the trial to allow for such a result.  Implicit in the Court’s judgement is that if the right evidence is tendered at trial such a deduction could be allowed.  Mr. Justice Brooke provided the following illustrative reasons:

[7] I did not accept the evidence of the plaintiff that he had made a full recovery from the 2002 accident. In assessing non-pecuniary damages for the effects of the accident of June 27, 2005, I took the plaintiff in the position he then occupied; that is, as continuing to make recovery from the earlier injuries. I did not treat him as if he were whole at the time of the second accident. Thus, I reject the submission that the settlement funds paid to the plaintiff following the first accident be deducted from the award for the damages sustained in the second accident. There is no double recovery.

[8] I refer to the decision of the British Columbia Court of Appeal in Bradley v. Groves, 2010 BCCA 361 where the plaintiff had been injured in a second accident which aggravated injuries sustained in the first accident. At paragraph 38 the Court said this:

Without a finding of divisibility, the appellant’s arguments cannot succeed. The trial judge found as a fact that the plaintiff’s injuries from the first accident and the second accident were indivisible. The defendant and the other motorist both caused and contributed to the plaintiff’s soft tissue injuries. He also found those injuries were not separable. There is no basis on which to interfere with these findings of fact. Flowing from them is the conclusion of joint and several liability.

[9] On all of the evidence before me, I found that the plaintiff’s injuries in the first and second accident were indivisible.

[10] While I accept that I have discretion to reopen the trial, I am not satisfied that it is right and just to do so.

For an example of this deduction argument succeeding see the 2008 BC Court of Appeal decision of Ashcroft v. Dhaliwal.


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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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