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Tag: psychological injury claims

Historic Sexual Abuse Claim Results In $59,000 Damage Assessment

Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, assessing damages for historic sexual abuse.
In this week’s case (R.D. v. G.S) the Defendant stepfather was found liable for abusing his stepdaughter when she was aged 8-12.  The Plaintiff suffered psychological harm as a consequence of this.  Her non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) were assessed at $35,000.  In arriving at this figure Madam Justice Smith made the following findings with respect to the harm caused by the abuse:

[145] I have considered all of the evidence regarding the plaintiff’s psychological injury, including her testimony and the opinion evidence of Dr. Hotz and of Dr. O’Shaughnessy.

[146] I accept the plaintiff’s evidence regarding the symptoms she has experienced.  She was cross-examined at some length, and was consistent and convincing in describing her enormous sense of betrayal and destruction of trust, as well as her persistent experience of intrusive dreams, intrusive thoughts, anxiety, depression, low self esteem and low self confidence.

[147] As to the experts, with respect to the existence of a psychiatric disorder I prefer the evidence of Dr. O’Shaughnessy over that of Dr. Hotz.  I reach that conclusion because Dr. O’Shaughnessy clearly separated out the facts upon which he was relying from his opinions, is highly experienced in this area, has a higher degree of expertise and seemed to retain more objectivity in his approach.  I accept, accordingly, that the plaintiff does not currently suffer from a psychiatric disorder and it is unlikely that she has suffered from one in the past.

[148] I find, however, that she does suffer from psychological dysfunction that has interfered with her ability to pursue education or a more rewarding career, and that has interfered with her ability to build good relationships and to enjoy life.  The extent to which the psychological dysfunction finds its origins in what the defendant did is the question.  I find that he is responsible for it in some measure, although it also has other causes…

[214] The defendant’s position is that there is no evidence of harm to the plaintiff caused by the defendant’s actions, and there should be no award of general damages.

[215] I will consider the factors referred to in Y.(S.) v. C.(F.G.), in assessing the appropriate award for non-pecuniary damages.

[216] I begin with the nature of the assault.  In comparison with the sexual assaults found to have occurred in many other cases, the sexual touching in this case was not violent, intrusive, frequent, coercive or egregious.

[217] The breach of trust, however, was egregious, both with respect to the sexual touching that began when the plaintiff was quite young, and with respect to the defendant’s addition of photographs of the plaintiff to his collection of child pornography.

[218] I did not see any evidence of remorse on the defendant’s part.  His conduct with his stepdaughter was callous and reprehensible.  I do not overlook that the defendant himself was the victim of blatant disregard for his property and disrespect for his attempts to preserve his household and its contents after the children moved in.  However, he was the parent and the plaintiff was the child.  The fact that the plaintiff behaved badly toward him provides no justification for his behaviour toward her.

[219] The evidence of Dr. Hotz and Dr. O’Shaughnessy shows that the conduct of the defendant had a significant impact on the plaintiff’s psychological state.  I note as well that she would likely have experienced some level of psychological dysfunction in any event, and that the impact is unlikely to be permanent.

[220] I assess general damages, taking into account the aggravating factors I have described, at $35,000.

More on Serious Psychological Injury Cases in BC

(Note: The below case was varied slightly on Appeal. Click here to access the BC Court of Appeal’s reasons)
Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, awarding just over $1.3 million in total damages as a result of serious and disabling psychological injuries.
While today’s case (Hussack v. School District No. 33) is not an ICBC claim or even a motor vehicle claim it is a case that is worth reviewing as it is only one of a handful of cases addressing serious psychological injuries that proceed to trial in any given year in BC.
In today’s case the Plaintiff sustained a concussion when struck in the head with a field hockey stick as he approached another player.  He was a student in grade 7 at the time and the game was being supervised by a PE teacher.  Madam Justice Boyd of the BC Supreme Court held that the School District was responsible for this event because the teacher permitted the Plaintiff to play before he “learned any of the basic skills or even how to play the game” and that doing so breached the standard of care that the school should have exercised.
The Plaintiff developed serious psychological issues following his concussion.  In awarding $125,000 for the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages (pain and suffering) the court summarized the injuries as follows:

[194]     For much the same reasons as I noted earlier in addressing the causation issue, I am unable to isolate the symptoms directly related to the mild concussion injury from the somatic symptoms which followed.  As Dr. Foti noted, even in the immediate post-accident phase, it is difficult here to unravel the post-concussion symptoms from the somatic symptoms since they are essentially intertwined.  As I have chronicled earlier in these reasons, the immediate mild headache evolved and morphed over a brief period to include continuing headaches, head pain, photophobia, shaking and tremours, temperature control issues, and generalized joint pain.

[195]     As I have already noted earlier, I reject the notion that Devon’s somatic complaints all pre-dated the accident, and that regardless of the injuries suffered in the accident Devon would have developed the somatoform disorder from which he now suffers.  In my view he is entitled to full compensation for same.

[196]     While Devon returned to school following the accident, he was unable to cope in a regular Grade 8 setting and attempted to complete his studies first in a Hospital Homebound program and later by way of distance education.  Despite his obvious intellectual abilities he has never progressed beyond a Grade 9 or 10 schooling level.

[197]     While he initially ventured outside the home to meet with friends, he has gradually become more and more isolated and for the last several years has spent the majority of his time at home, primarily on the second floor of the house where a large den/games room has been set up to meet his needs.  As Dr. O’Shaughnessy describes in his report of June 12, 2008, Devon lives a lifestyle which is entirely antithetical to what one would hope for an individual managing chronic pain:

He basically has no structure or set pattern to his day.  He will never rise or go to bed at any set pattern and eating habits are variable day to day.  He engages in virtually no activity or exercise.  His only exercise appears to be going on the treadmill once every two weeks for anywhere from two to ten minutes duration.  He rarely leaves the home and claims that even walking up the block is too demanding.  At this point, his father quite literally waits on him 24 hours a day to the degree where his father does all the cooking, cleaning, shopping, etc and prepares (Devon’s) food and brings it to him.  Father and son indicate this pattern has been going on for some time as they feel (Devon’s) joints get too sore when he climbs down stairs to obtain food and/or his tremor limits him from carrying any liquids or pouring liquids etc.  …He has become extremely deconditioned which by itself could lead to some of the complaints of pain described…..

[198]     Since Devon’s situation has continued for approximately 10 years, the experts all agree Devon’s prognosis is very guarded and that his present situation “will not easily change”  (Dr. O’Shaughnessy report, Exhibit 20, Tab 15) unless there is intensive, prolonged intervention.  Dr. Nairne Stewart has opined that even with prolonged and intensive treatment, there is only a “minor hope that (Devon) might again become functional”.  Even assuming such intervention, Dr. Krywaniuk believes it is possible that following the removal of his present support structure (ie. the belief that he is indeed brain damaged and has suffered true physical injuries), Devon may become significantly depressed and perhaps even suicidal.

[199]     In these circumstances and relying upon previous case authorities where awards in the range of $75,000–$100,000 have been made in the case of individuals suffering somatoform disorders, the plaintiff submits an appropriate award would be $135,000, thus accounting for Devon’s youth and the fact that he effectively faces a lifelong, life-altering disability (Edwards v. Marsden; Samuel v. Levi; Yoshikawa).

[200]     I agree that in the circumstances of this case, considering that Devon has been substantially disabled since the age of 13, and now faces a bleak prognosis, struggling to achieve any measure of a mentally and physically healthy life, the appropriate award ought to exceed that made in Edwards, Samuel, or Yoshikawa.  In the circumstances, I award the sum of $125,000 for non pecuniary damages.

The reasons delivered by Madam Justice Boyd go on for over 250 paragraphs but are worth reading in their entirety for anyone interested in psychological injury cases in BC.  The Court deals extensively with the law of causation, the thin skull principle, the crumbling skull principle, foreseeability, intervening causative forces and other interesting and sometimes complex issues that often come up in psychological injury litigation.