Tag: Mr. Justice Sewell

$45,000 Non-Pecuniary Damages for Soft Tissue Injuries to Back, Neck and Shoulders

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Victoria Registry, awarding a Plaintiff just over $88,000 in total damages as a result of a 2006 BC car crash.
In today’s case (Dutchak v. Fowler) the Plaintiff was involved in a rear-end collision.  Fault was admitted by the Defence lawyer leaving the Court to deal with the sole issue of quantum of damages (value of the injury claim).  The Plaintiff suffered various soft tissue injuries which continue to bother her by the time of trial and these had a likelihood of continuing indefinitely into the future.  In assessing the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages at $45,000 Mr. Justice Sewell made the following observations about the severity of the accident related injuries:

22] While I accept that Ms. Dutchak has genuine symptoms, I do have some concerns that she has unrealistic expectations about the consequences of the physical activities in which she engages.  Ms. Dutchak runs 30 to 40 kms a week.  She also regularly exercises vigorously, plays squash three times a week and cycles for long distances on a regular basis.  These activities undoubtedly cause physiological stresses on her anatomy.

[23] It is apparent that engaging in these physical activities is an important part of Ms. Dutchak’s relationship with her husband.  Both Ms. Dutchak and her husband continue to place a high level of importance on physical activity and a good deal of their personal interactions with one another revolves around physical fitness and exercise activities.  In addition Ms. Dutchak’s self esteem is quite dependent on being fit and active.

[24] I have concluded that Ms. Dutchak is now able to engage in almost all of the activities she did before the accident, but at a price.  That price is a much higher level of pain and discomfort than before the accident.

[25] The preponderance of evidence before me satisfies me that it is unlikely that Ms. Dutchak’s symptoms will completely disappear.  However, I am also of the view that there is a reasonable possibility that she will experience some continued improvement as she adjusts to her altered circumstances…

[28] In the result, I conclude that Ms. Dutchak has suffered soft-tissue injuries to her upper back, shoulders and neck which have resulted in stiffness, pain and headaches, all of which are significantly aggravated by strenuous physical activity.  She continues to experience those symptoms.  My conclusion is that there is some prospect of continued improvement but that in assessing damages in this case, I should proceed on the basis that Ms. Dutchak will continue to suffer these symptoms indefinitely.  On the other hand, I also conclude that Ms. Dutchak is now able to perform virtually all of the tasks and activities that she did prior to the accident and, in particular, is able to engage in vigorous physical activity.  In carrying out these activities she has no mechanical limitations.  The only restriction on these activities is the pain which they cause.

[29] I have also concluded that Ms. Dutchak is highly motivated to continue with these activities and, in fact, is continuing to perform and engage in them notwithstanding the level of pain and the headaches that she experiences as a result…

In my view, this case is one in which an award of non-pecuniary damages should be at the lower end of the range for cases involving chronic pain.  I say this because Ms. Dutchak is able to engage in all of the activities she formerly did with the assistance of analgesic medicines and in the full knowledge that engaging in activities will often trigger pain for her.  In all the circumstances I award Ms. Dutchak $45,000 for non-pecuniary damages.

$80,000 Non-Pecuniary Damages for Knee Injury and Chronic Pain

(Please note the below case was partially overturned on Appeal with a slight reduction in the Court’s assessed damages for cost of future care.  The BC Court of Appeal judgement can be found here)

Reasons for Judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry (Penner v. Silk), awarding a Plaintiff just over $555,000 in total damages as a result of injuries and loss from a 2005 BC Car Crash.
The collision occurred while the Plaintiff was rear-ended on a highway in Langley, BC.   The issue of fault was admitted at trial by ICBC leaving the court to deal with the assessment of damages.
The Plaintiff sustained a variety of soft tissue injuries that largely recovered in 6 months.  His knee, however, sustained long term injury.  Dr. Hirsch, a well respect specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitation, gave evidence that the Plaintiff suffered from “chronic knee pain caused by post-traumatic patellar tendonopathy as well as the development of patellofemoral joint syndrome.”    Dr. Hirsch testified that the Plaintiff would likely be left with ongoing problems as a result of this accident related injury.
In assessing the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages (compensation for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) at $80,00 Mr. Justice Sewell made the following findings:
[36] Based on the whole of the evidence, I have reached the conclusion that Mr. Penner is suffering from chronic pain in his left knee and that that chronic pain is significantly impairing his ability to function, both at work and at home.  Pain is, of course, inherently subjective.  Based on the evidence before me, I conclude that there is a psychological component to Mr. Penner’s pain perception and that his quality of life and perception of pain would benefit from a course of vigorous, physical exercise and psychiatric intervention.  Dr. Riar and Dr. Smith agree that Mr. Penner is suffering from either adjustment disorder with depression or Major Depression.  Both are of the view that he would benefit from psychiatric intervention.  That intervention would probably consist of counselling with a psychologist or psychiatrist and the prescription of appropriate anti-depressant medication…
[39] As indicated above, my observation of Mr. Penner is that he is a driven, somewhat obsessive individual.  It is my view that much of Mr. Penner’s self-esteem is wrapped in his job performance.  Before the accident he was able to draw on very high levels of energy to permit himself to devote considerable energy both to work and his social and home life.  It is apparent to me that the symptoms he is experiencing, whether from depression or his organic injury, have contributed directly and indirectly to a significant diminution in Mr. Penner’s energy levels.  The preponderance of evidence before me satisfies me that Mr. Penner will continue to experience pain and mobility difficulties regardless of whether he avails himself of psychiatric intervention and/or a regime of physical exercise.  However, I am also of the view that a combination of such treatment, exercise and lifestyle changes would result in a significant improvement in the quality of Mr. Penner’s life and a diminution of his pain perception.  My view is that a necessary component of Mr. Penner’s adjustment to his altered circumstances would be for him to reduce the amount of time and energy he is devoting to his employment.

[55] Mr. Penner has satisfied me that the pain which he is experiencing is “real” in the sense that it is genuine and that he has honestly reported it in his evidence and to his treating physicians.  I am also satisfied, and it appears to be common ground, that the psychological component of Mr. Penner’s pain was caused by the defendant’s negligent act.  I am satisfied that Mr. Penner’s life has been significantly changed for the worse as a result of the defendant’s unlawful conduct.  Given his present condition and, in particular, the persistent pain he experiences, the dramatic degradation of the quality of his social and family life, his loss of libido and loss of ability to engage in activities that he formerly found pleasurable, or at least significant restriction in his ability to engage in those activities, I assess non-pecuniary damages in this case at $100,000 before taking into account the reasonable prospect that Mr. Penner’s condition could be significantly improved if he acts on the recommendations made by the medical experts in this case.

[56] The medical evidence in this case is that a regimen of exercise coupled with psychiatric treatment would be beneficial for Mr. Penner.  According to Dr. Smith such treatment would result in a very significant reduction in Mr. Penner’s perception of pain.  Dr. Riar and Dr. Gouws are of the view that Mr. Penner would benefit from psychiatric intervention to address his depressive symptoms.  Dr. Hirsch is of the view that Mr. Penner would benefit from a regimen of physical exercise.  I am, however, mindful of the fact that all of the doctors agree that Mr. Penner will continue to experience symptoms and that none of the medical evidence in this case quantifies with any specificity the probability that the recommended treatments will be effective.  It is also my view that psychiatric intervention and treatment of depression are somewhat problematic in terms of lasting benefits given the underlying causes of Mr. Penner’s depression.  Finally, I must take into account the substantial possibility that Mr. Penner’s psychiatric problems may recur or be worsened if he loses his current employment. In his report, Dr. Smith says this:

With effective treatment Mr. Penner’s problems will improve. Without treatment he may become more dysfunctional, and if Mr. Penner for some reason loses his job his mood would likely crash as a good deal of his self- esteem is built around his work performance.

[57] Taking these contingencies into account, I assess Mr. Penner’s compensable non-pecuniary damages in this case at $80,000.

More on Chronic Soft Tissue Injuries

Today reasons for judgment were released by the BC Supreme Court in 2 separate cases dealing with chronic soft tissue injuries.  I summarize these below in my continued effort to grow this public database addressing awards for pain and suffering in ICBC and other BC Injury Claims.
In the first case (Warren-Skuggedal v. Eddy) the Plaintiff was involved in a very serious collision in Prince George, BC.  The defendant was “driving well in excess of the speed limit…(he) lost control and the truck swerved into the lane in which (the Plaintiff) was driving…the force of the impact tore (the defendants) vehicle in half“.
Fault was not at issue, rather, the court dealt solely with the issue of damages.  The Plaintiff unfortunately had some serious pre-existing health issues and Mr. Justice Sewell had to decide “the true extent of Ms. Warren-Skuggedal’s injuries and disabilities and the extent to which they are attributable to the injuries she suffered in the accident. ”
In valuing the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages at $60,000, Mr. Justice Sewell summarized her injuries, their relationship to the collision and their effect on her life as follows:
[19] I conclude that Ms. Warren-Skuggedal suffered soft tissue injuries in the accident which aggravated her pre-existing depression and anxiety.  I find that she genuinely experiences the symptoms she has described although I do think that she does exaggerate and dramatize them to a certain extent….

[23]         I conclude that some of the symptoms Ms. Warren-Skuggedal reports are attributable to the accident but that the more serious ones are attributable to her pre-existing condition.  Specifically I find that the anxiety, depression and cognitive problems she experiences are not caused by the accident.  As I understand the law in this area the onus is on Ms. Warren-Skuggedal to prove, on a balance of probabilities, that her symptoms would not be present but for the negligence of the defendant, which led to the injuries and trauma suffered in the accident.  I do not think that she has met that onus with respect to the difficulties described in this paragraph.  I think it is more likely that she would have continued to suffer from depression, anxiety and cognitive difficulties even if she had not been injured in the accident.  The difficulties were part of her original position.

[24]         I must also conclude that Ms. Warren-Skuggedal’s inability to find employment since the accident and any impairment of her capacity to earn income in the future are not attributable to the accident.  While I base this conclusion on the whole of the evidence I note that it is consistent with the opinions expressed by Dr. Reddy and Dr. Hirsch, both of whom concluded that the motor vehicle accident did not negatively affect her employment prospects.

[25]         On the other hand, I do conclude that Ms. Warren-Skuggedal does suffer chronic pain as a result of the defendant’s negligence.  I also find that it is likely that she will continue to suffer from that pain for the foreseeable future.  I also conclude that that pain has resulted in some permanent restriction of Ms. Warren-Skuggedal’s ability to enjoy recreational activities and carry out such household tasks as heavier cleaning and gardening.

This case contains a useful analysis of the Courts role in wading through injuries both related to and unrelated to an accident.  The full judgement is worth reviewing for anyone interested in this area of the law.
______________________________________________________________________________________________
The second case released today (Gordon v. Timins) involved a 2005 BC Car Crash.  The Plaintiff’s vehicle was rear-ended by a u-haul truck.  This collision was significant enough to propel the Plaintiff’s vehicle into the vehicle in front of her.
The Plaintiff’s main injury was chronic neck pain.  Mr. Justice Cullen awarded the Plaintiff $45,000 for non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life).  He summarized this lasting injury as follows “In the result Ms. Gordon is left with an injury to her neck that, I find, never fully abates and is aggravated by aspects of her work.  I also find that the plaintiff’s neck pain when aggravated is associated with headaches, some dizziness and impaired sleep patterns with consequential fatigue. ”
In reaching this conclusion the court largely accepted the evidence of Dr. Dhawan, a specialist in physiatry, whose evidence was summarized as follows:

[96]         Dr. Dhawan was a specialist in physiatry or physical medicine.  He testified that the neck has a complicated anatomy with soft and hard tissue structures.  It has ligaments in front and the muscles on top of that.  If the muscles or ligaments are torn, it can lead to instability of the structure.  Dr. Dhawan’s diagnosis of the plaintiff when he saw her on July 18, 2008 was that she had torn muscles and ligaments.  He said that ligaments take longer to heal than muscles because they have less blood supply.  Scar tissue can form and it is not as strong as the original ligament and can stretch or tear more easily and can remain inflamed after forming.  He testified that in the case of a rear-end accident, the usual source of pain is the upper facet joints.  In his report, he reported no boney discogenic or neurological injury, characterizing it as a soft tissue injury.  He noted that the plaintiff “was referred to Kevin Tam … who was able to help her tremendously.”  He noted that she has difficulty in extending her head upwards to prune trees.  He recommended injection therapy – local steroid and anaesthetic injections, 2 – 3 times over a 2 – 3 month period.  He testified that those injections with a stretching and posture control program could resolve the syndrome of soft tissue injury.

[97]         He opined there would be no permanent sequelae like development of arthritis or any need for surgery and no disability from her work as a landscaper/arborist.

[98]         Dr. Dhawan concluded, however, that given the chronicity of her symptoms “some symptoms of neck and shoulder girdle pain may remain on a longer term basis and she will have to learn to live with pain and a quick resolution of symptoms is not likely.”…

[100]     Dr. Dhawan noted that although the degenerative changes are unrelated to the motor vehicle accident, “…individuals who have such changes in the neck do not respond well through treatment and have more prolonged symptoms after soft tissue injuries and symptoms of neck pain may persist for several years and may become chronic.”

[101]     Dr. Dhawan noted in Appendix 3 to his July 18, 2008 report that the plaintiff’s neck extension was only 25% of normal without pain.  He concluded that that was an objective symptom and consistent with his diagnosis.

  • 1
  • 2

Contact

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.

“Work hard, be kind and enjoy the ride!”
Erik’s Philosophy

Disclaimer