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Tag: pain and suffering awards

BC Injury Law Podcast: Non-Pecuniary Damages

This is the first in what I intend to be a series of podcasts discussing topics of interest involving ICBC and other BC personal injury claims.
Today’s topic is valuing a person’s non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) as a result of injuries caused by the fault of another.  To listen simply click on the following link:  bc-injury-law-podcast-non-pecuniary-damages
The case discussed in this Podcast is Stapley v. Hejslet, 2006 BCCA 34 and can be found by clicking here.

How Can the Same Injury Have Different Values in an ICBC Claim?

As I’ve previously written, the exact same injuries can be valued differently by a Court when ICBC Claims go to trial.  When a judge or jury awards money for non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) the award isn’t made by following a chart or a mathematical calculation, instead the award is made by ‘assessing‘ damages.
An assessment is just as flexible as it sounds.  There is no right award for pain and suffering.  While past cases (what lawyers call precedents) are instructive, they only serve to provide a ‘range‘ of acceptable awards.  So long as a trial award falls within the acceptable range of damages it will not be interefered with if challenged on appeal.
In practice this means that two people with similar injuries can be awarded different amounts for their claims and both outcomes can be correct in law.  Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Nanaimo Registry, discussing the ranges of damages in BC personal injury lawsuits.
In today’s case (Anderson v. Cejka) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2006 rear-end crash in Parksville, BC.  Fault for the crash was admitted.  The Court was asked to value the Plaintiff’s claim for pain and suffering.
Mr. Justice Halfyard found that the Plaintiff suffered from a Grade 2 Whiplash Disorder which took a long time to recover.  The Plaintiff sought an award between $40,000 – $50,000, ICBC submitted that an award of $15,000 – $25,000 was more appropriate.  The Court went on to award the Plaintiff $20,000 for his non-pecuniary damages and in doing so the Mr. Justice Halfyard made the following comments about ranges of damages:

[84]         In my opinion, previously-decided cases, even where there are some similarities with the case at bar, can only assist in establishing a general range of damages which may apply to a particular case. This is because no two plaintiffs will ever be the same in age, previous state of strength and health, occupation and other activities. Moreover, the injuries (or combination of injuries) sustained by one plaintiff will never be the same as those incurred by another, in kind or severity. Additionally, the reaction of any two persons to the pain of a similar injury or to particular treatments will rarely if ever be the same. Other differentiating features may be the apparent length of the recovery period and, if the plaintiff has not recovered, the kind and extent of residual effects remaining from the injury at the time of trial, and whether any of the effects will be permanent.

[85]         I have reviewed the cases cited by counsel, in light of the facts which I have found. Due to significant differences, I see no useful purpose in discussing them. There is no legal formula which can be used to measure the amount of pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life that a plaintiff has experienced as a result of an injury caused by the defendant. In my opinion, the range of damages for non-pecuniary loss in this case is the range suggested by Mr. Dreyer, namely, $15,000 to $25,000.

[86]         The pain suffered by the plaintiff was never serious. He himself consistently described its severity as being one or two on a scale of ten. Within a few months after the accident, the symptoms became intermittent. Eventually, they became few and far between. The plaintiff was never disabled by the pain, to any significant extent. I must be careful not to penalize the plaintiff for being stoical in the face of pain. But I do not find that this is the case here. I award $20,000 for this head of damages.

When trying to determine how much your personal injury claim is worth the best thing you can do is read as many cases as you can dealing with similar injuries so you can determine a realistic range for your injuries.

Pain and Suffering Awards with Pre-Existing and Progressive Conditions

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court dealing with a fair range of damages for pain and suffering when an accident victim has a pre-existing condition which likely would have been progressive and painful without the accident.
In today’s case (Kaur v. Bhoey) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2005 BC Car Crash.  She was a passenger and her vehicle lost control and she struck a utility pole.  She was apparently concussed in this collision and was in and out of consciousness at the scene of the crash.
The Plaintiff had a pre-existing condition (osteoporosis with spinal compression fractures) which may have been progressive and led to chronic back pain even without the crash.
Mr. Justice Truscott found that the crash caused ‘soft tissue injuries‘ which caused a ‘kyphotic condition‘ otherwise known as a humpback.   The Court held that, despite the injury, there was “a significant risk that (the plaintiffs) osteoarthritis would have led to more back fractures and more pack pain and kyphosis”  He went on to award $50,000 in damages for the plaintiff’s pain and suffering.  In arriving at this figure Mr. Justice Truscott summarized the law and the key findings of fact as follows:

[5] The plaintiff had pre-existing medical conditions that may affect the value of her claim from this accident and that require consideration of the legal principles confirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada in Athey v. Leonati, [1996] 3 S.C.R. 458.

[6] Athey confirms that an injury is caused by the defendant’s negligence as long as that negligence materially contributes to the injury even though there may be other causes that contribute to the injury as well.

[7] However, on the issue of the proper assessment of a plaintiff’s damages, Athey says, commencing at para. 35 on p. 473:

The defendant need not put the plaintiff in a position better than his or her original position. The defendant is liable for the injuries caused, even if they are extreme, but need not compensate the plaintiff for any debilitating effects of the pre-existing condition which the plaintiff would have experienced anyway. The defendant is liable for the additional damage but not the pre-existing damage… Likewise, if there is a measurable risk that the pre-existing condition would have detrimentally affected the plaintiff in the future, regardless of the defendant’s negligence, then this can be taken into account in reducing the overall award… This is consistent with the general rule that the plaintiff must be returned to the position he would have been in, with all of its attendant risks and shortcomings, and not a better position…

[137] I accept that the kyphotic condition the plaintiff suffers from was caused by her low back soft tissue injuries sustained in the motor vehicle accident, and not by her pre-existing spinal compression fractures. I accept Dr. Hershler’s opinion in this regard.

[138] I accept Dr. Hershler’s opinion that the two compression fractures the plaintiff had before the accident in her low back were insufficient to cause this kyphotic condition.

[139] Dr. Hershler was able to push the plaintiff’s back to make her stand erect and that is some evidence that the kyphotic condition is being caused by pain and not by the compression fractures in her spine.

[140] This is not to conclude, however, that the plaintiff did not already suffer from some back pain before the accident caused by the compression fractures in her low back, in turn caused by her osteoporosis. Dr. Panesar’s records, and his evidence, as well as Dr. Yorke’s reports, set out previous incidents of back pain.

[141] I do accept, however, that prior to this motor vehicle accident these incidents were being generally controlled by medication.

[142] Still, such a finding does not answer the issue raised in Athey as to whether the plaintiff would have suffered her present state of back pain and accompanying kyphotic condition in any event of the motor vehicle accident, or at least there was a measurable risk of that occurring absent the motor vehicle accident that must be taken into account in reducing the overall award.

[143] With the plaintiff having a history of osteoporosis, with spinal compression fractures and incidents of back pain which Dr. Panesar referred to in 2001 as chronic, and with her advancing age, I am satisfied that the award for general damages must be discounted for the significant risk that her progressive osteoporosis would have led to more back fractures and more back pain and kyphosis, in any event…

[149] Taking into account here that the plaintiff is much older with a shorter life expectancy, and has pre-existing medical issues directly related to her present problem of low back pain, including progressive arthritis, I conclude there is a measurable risk that her pre-existing medical issues would have detrimentally affected her physically in the future regardless of the defendants’ negligence in this motor vehicle accident, and I assess her general damages for pain and suffering from this motor vehicle accident at $50,000.

$40,000 Non-Pecuniary Damages Awarded for "Plateaued" Chronic Mid Back Injury

Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court awarding damages for injuries and loss in an “unusually straightforward” personal injury case.
In this week’s case (Sharpe v. Tidey) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2006 BC Car Crash.  Fault was admitted by the Defendants lawyer leaving only the issue of quantum of damages to be decided at trial.
Mr. Justice Voith summarized the Plaintiff’s injuries as follows:
I find that since the accident Mr. Sharpe has had a constant and relatively significant level of pain in his mid-back area.  This pain increases after strenuous activity; yet nevertheless, as mentioned above, I accept that such activity assists in maintaining Mr. Sharpe’s baseline level of pain at a generally lower level…. I find that Mr. Sharpe’s present levels of back pain will likely remain static for at least the next 3-5 years.  It appears likely that over the longer term his symptoms will either actually abate or will be perceived by him to fade to some degree.  There is a real prospect that even over the long-term Mr. Sharpe will not fully recover from his injuries.
In assessing the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) at $40,000 the court summarized and applied the law as follows:

[44]         In my view, there are a number of cases provided to me by the plaintiff which are of particular value.  These were Kahle v. Ritter, 2002 BCSC 199 22 M.V.R. (4th) 275, Hicks v. GMAC Leaseco. Ltd., 2001 BCSC 1091, and Isert v. Santos, 1999 BCCA 42, 65 B.C.L.R. (3d) 104.  While each of these decisions involves a plaintiff whose claim had attributes that were different from the instant case, they share certain central features.  In each case the plaintiff was generally able to work following their motor vehicle accident, without interruption or with limited interruption.  They involved persons who were particularly active, whose level of activity and enjoyment of such activities defined them, and who had been able to maintain some or all of the activities, albeit in modified or limited form.  Thus, they involved individuals who were not disabled, but who suffered from some impairment of functionality.  Their recovery had largely plateaued.  In my view, however, the impairment suffered by the plaintiffs in these cases was somewhat more severe than that suffered by Mr. Sharpe.

[45]         Mr. Sharpe is a young man in the prime of his life.  Work, sport, travel and his relationship with Ms. Drinkwater are the cornerstones of his life.  Sport and travel, in particular, are central to his social relationships, his sense of well-being, and his activities with Ms. Drinkwater.

[46]         Mr. Sharpe lives with a constant level of pain that is exacerbated when he engages in the very things that give him pleasure.  His recovery appears to have plateaued.  The prognosis for further recovery for at least a number of years is poor.  Furthermore, increased demands arising from his career and the family he hopes to have are a concern for his future.  Conversely, I recognize that if Mr. Sharpe is to undertake graduate studies and have a family in the future, he will have less time to engage in these various sports or activities.  Furthermore, as he gets older it is inevitable that to some extent he would, in any event, be less involved in the more extreme activities in which he has historically participated.

[47]         In my view, in all of the circumstances, the appropriate award for Mr. Sharpe’s non-pecuniary loss is $40,000.