Tag: mechanical spine pain

Mechanical Back Pain and Diminished Capacity For Stay at Home Parents Discussed


Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vernon Registry, discussing non-pecuniary damages for mechanical back pain and further discussing awards for ‘diminished earning capacity‘ for stay at home parents who intend to return to the workforce.
In this week’s case (Bergman v. Standen) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2006 motor vehicle collision.  Fault for the crash was admitted by the other motorist.  The Plaintiff was 27 years old at the time of the crash and did not have “an established record of employment because of the conscious choice she and her husband made to have and raise their children to school age with the benefit of a stay-at-home-mother”.
The Plaintiff sustained injuries in the crash which included soft tissue damage and mechanical back pain.  Some of these symptoms were expected to be permanent although there was room for improvement with further therapy.  Mr. Justice Barrow assessed the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) at $75,000.  In arriving at this figure the Court provided the following reasons:
[63] To summarize, Ms. Bergman was a 27-year-old mother of two young children, who suffered a Grade II whiplash injury to her neck and upper back, which resolved after several months and left her with no recurrent symptoms. She also suffered contusions, bruises to her face and chest, and a sore wrist, which resolved without ongoing difficulties shortly after the accident. Finally, and most significantly, she suffered a mechanical injury to her lower back that, I am satisfied, caused her significant pain and discomfort in the four and a half years since the accident. I am not persuaded that the discomfort is as significant as Ms. Bergman describes it, but it is nevertheless significant. I am satisfied that her lower back will remain symptomatic indefinitely. If, however, she follows the advice of Dr. Travlos and others, and commits to a program of physical conditioning and determines to work through the limitations that her low back may present, rather than dwelling on them, the degree to which that injury will affect her life in the future will moderate. In light of this, I am satisfied that an appropriate award for non-pecuniary damages is $77,500. This amount includes $2,500 for past loss of housekeeping capacity for reasons I will explain below.
This case is also worth reviewing for the Court’s discussion of diminished earning capacity (future wage loss) awards for Plaintiffs who are out of the workforce at the time of their injuries.   As previously discussed there is nothing preventing such plaintiffs from being awarded damages for future wage loss given the right circumstances.  In assessing the Plaintiff’s loss at $65,000 Mr. Justice Barrow provided the following useful reasons:
[80] Ms. Bergman does not have an established record of employment because of the conscious choice she and her husband made to have and raise their children to school age with the benefit of a stay-at-home mother. I accept that Ms. Bergman planned to and will return to work when her youngest child reached school age. I accept that the sort of work she is destined to do will likely involve an emphasis on physical as opposed to mental exertion. There is a mill in Lavington that Ms. Bergman thought about applying to. She impresses me as the sort of person who would find work of that nature rewarding and challenging. It is with a view to those real and substantial possibilities that the question of her indefinite, albeit moderating disability, needs to be assessed….
[84] I recognize that Dr. Coghlan, in his September 21, 2009 report, concluded that he would “not restrict her activity level in terms of jobs on the basis of today’s findings”. I am not sure that the opinions of the physiatrists are in conflict. Whether they are or not, I am satisfied that Ms. Bergman has established an impairment of her capital asset, being her ability to earn an income in the future. Valuing that loss is necessarily an imprecise exercise. Lacking any better measure, I consider that an award equivalent to between one and two years of Ms. Bergman’s likely future annual income to be reasonable. I fix her loss of future earning capacity at $65,000.

$35,000 Non-Pecuniary Damages for Chronic Low Back Pain With Poor Prognosis

Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, awarding a Plaintiff just over $64,000 in total damages as a result of BC car crash.
In this week’s case (Elgood v. Ellison) the Plaintiff was injured in 2006 when he was struck by a vehicle in Langley, BC.  The Plaintiff was walking in a marked cross-walk with the right of way when the Defendant driver made a left hand turn and struck the Plaintiff.  Fault was admitted and the trial focused solely on the value of the Plaintiff’s claim.
The Plaintiff suffered minor injuries to his legs and neck which quickly and fully recovered.  His most serious symptom was low back pain which persisted from the time of the accident through trial.   The evidence accepted by the Court was that the Plaintiff had mechanical pain around the lumbar spine and that these symptoms may be an ongoing problem for the Plaintiff.
(highlighted portion of illustration depicts the lumbar spine)
In awarding the 65 year old Plaintiff $35,000 for his non-pecuniary damages Mr. Justice Bracken made the following notable findings:

[39]        Dr. Hirsch concluded that the plaintiff has made a full recovery with respect to his legs and that he had a relatively minor neck injury that has now essentially resolved.

[40]        The more difficult problem is the lower lumbar spine area and Dr. Hirsch said that this condition was likely caused by the accident.  He described it as likely mechanical in nature and that it is exacerbated by stress or loading on the back.  He believes that the plaintiff should continue his home-based exercise program and perhaps attend for structured appointments with a kinesiologist or physiotherapist.  He also thought that some exercise such as tai chi, yoga, pilates or water-based exercises would be helpful.

[41]        He concluded that the plaintiff’s restrictions were attributable to chronic low back pain that was caused by the accident and that the prognosis for complete recovery was guarded given the plaintiff’s age and the duration of the symptoms.

[42]        He did believe that the plaintiff should be capable of performing his domestic chores but that he may have to pace himself and that he will have ongoing problems with more strenuous activities such as lifting, snow shovelling or completing significant household repairs.  He did not foresee any need for future care or for any surgery.

[43]        In summary, it appears that the plaintiff’s leg and shoulder injuries resolved very quickly and his neck pain diminished gradually over time, to the point where it is now only occasional pain and of a non-debilitating nature.  He had some early headaches which have now become occasional.

[44]        The significant pain that the plaintiff suffers is chronic low back pain that Dr. Hirsch predicts will likely be with him for the foreseeable future.  No doubt the low back pain will prevent him from doing many jobs, particularly those that require long periods of sitting.  Given his age and background, it is most likely that sedentary jobs will most likely be what are available to him.  He has sharply reduced his recreation, although some of the intense recreational and physical activities engaged in by the plaintiff would likely diminish in intensity over time due to the normal aging process regardless of his injury.  He will likely still have the ability to engage in mild recreational activities. The plaintiff says that even mild recreation or physical activity is too painful for him.

[45]        As Dr. Hirsch pointed out at p. 6 of his January 20, 2009 report:

Three years have elapsed since Mr. Elgood suffered his low back injury in the subject motor vehicle accident.  Given the duration of his symptoms, the prognosis regarding complete resolution of his low back pain has to be viewed as guarded at this juncture.  Given the temporal profile to date, I would consider it more likely than not that Mr. Elgood will experience low back pain indefinitely.  Low back symptoms of sufficient intensity will probably limit his ability to perform tasks which biomechanically stress his low back…

[51] While the plaintiff has been able to carry on with work, he and his wife both said that he has only been able to do so by enduring a level of chronic pain.  Based on the opinion of Dr. Hirsch, which I accept, his condition is not likely to be alleviated over time.  Bearing in mind his age and the impact of his injuries on his personal life and work life since the accident, in my view, the range of damages is between that of the plaintiff and defendant and I assess general damages at $35,000.

$50,000 Non-Pecuniary Damages for "Mechanical Spine Pain"

Reasons for judgment were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Victoria Registry, awarding total damages of just over $95,000 as a result of a 2005 BC Car Crash.
In today’s case (Mar v. Young) the Plaintiff was rear-ended while in a vehicle on the Island Highway near Nanoose, BC.   Fault was not formally admitted.  Mr. Justice Bracken found the rear vehicle 100% liable for the collision.
A physiatrist who gave evidence on behalf of the Plaintiff explained that he suffered from mechanical spine pain as a result of the collision and this was different from a soft tissue injury because “mechanical spine pain originates in the tissues that are part of the spine itself and not the muscle or soft tissue that surround the spine.  These tissues lay quite deep under the skin and provide support for the spine itself.”
In assessing the non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) at $50,000 Mr. Justice Bracken summarized the accident related injuries and their effect on the Plaintiff’s life as follows:

[37] On all of the evidence I conclude that the plaintiff suffered injuries to his thoracic and lumbar spine and that while his condition has improved he has not yet fully recovered.  The physical examinations conducted by Dr. Wahl and Dr. McKean indicate that the plaintiff has good range of motion of his neck and hips, but that he still has pain in his mid and lower back.  Both doctors testified that the plaintiff says that his pain and discomfort prevents him from carrying out his normal day-to-day activities of work and recreation, but the doctors disagree on his prognosis.  Dr. McKean considers it quite possible that the plaintiff will continue to experience some pain that will affect him for the foreseeable future.  Dr. Wahl is more optimistic and believes that there will at least be significant improvement and possibly full recovery.

[38] I find that the plaintiff still experiences pain 4 years post accident and it is likely that he will do so for some time to come.  It is clear from the evidence that he can carry out many of his normal activities, but not without some pain.  He has limited many of his activities somewhat and says that he is still prevented from participating in others.  There is no supportive objective medical evidence other than the disc bulge and early degeneration in the lumbar spine that Dr. Wahl considered to be within the normal range for the plaintiff’s age.  The plaintiff has been able to continue working, at times for long periods at a time, but he has experienced pain and discomfort and says that he must get up and move around and stretch at frequent intervals to ease his discomfort.  Former co-workers corroborate his evidence on his work related limits.  He purchased an expensive chair for use when he is working at his computer, but while it helps him, it does not completely eliminate pain and discomfort.

[39] The defendant noted that the plaintiff seemed to move easily and without obvious pain while he was in the courtroom.  I agree that the plaintiff seemed to have a reasonable range of flexibility when rotating from his hips and he could move his arms easily.  That does not seem inconsistent with the observations of both Dr. McKean and Dr. Wahl, but both note that the plaintiff continues to complain of pain in the mid to lower back.  The plaintiff testified that he still experiences some pain in that part of his back and his wife and friends corroborate his evidence.  There is no evidence before me to contradict that evidence.  No doubt the injuries have taken some time to resolve, but I accept that the plaintiff still has some pain and discomfort from the injuries caused by the accident.

[40] While each of the cases referred to above were cited as cases that had similar fact patterns, as it was stated in Tong v. Sidhu, above, no two cases are exactly alike and in the final result each case stands on its own facts.  In this case I find that the plaintiff’s injuries are more serious than the range suggested by the defendant.  The injuries have lasted with diminishing disability for 4 years and will likely continue to affect the plaintiff for a considerable period of time to at least some degree.

[41] The plaintiff has a sedentary job and to some extent that is an advantage as he is not likely to be exposed to the need for any hard physical labour in the course of his work.  However, he will likely spend the majority of his working life sitting at a desk working on a computer.  The impact of even mild pain or discomfort in his back will be a problem that will affect his concentration and ability to focus on his work.  He will have to take frequent short breaks from his work to compensate.  He will be at least somewhat limited in his recreational and home maintenance activities, although I accept Dr. Wahl’s view that the impact of his injuries will likely diminish over time as his condition improves and his disability lessens.

[42] On all of the evidence, it is my view that an award of $50,000 is appropriate for non-pecuniary damages.

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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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