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Tag: Scoates v. Dermott

$250,000 Non-Pecuniary Assessment for "Open Book" Pelvic Fracture

Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, assessing damages for multiple injuries sustained in 4 motor vehicle collisions.
In last week’s case (Scoates v. Dermott) the Plaintiff was involved in multiple collisions.  He was found faultless for all of them.  The collisions resulted in numerous injuries the most serious of which was an open book‘ pelvic fracture.  The consequences of his injuries disabled him from his own occupation as an ambulance attendant and largely disabled him from any other occupation.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $250,000 Mr. Justice Smith provided the following reasons:

[171] In Stapley v. Hejslet, 2006 BCCA 34 at para. 46, the Court of Appeal set out a non-exhaustive list of factors to be considered including: the age of the plaintiff; the nature of the injury; the severity and duration of pain; the degree of disability; the impairment of family, marital, and social relationships; and loss of lifestyle.

[172] Reference to any and all of those factors in this case reveals a profound impact. The initial injuries and their immediate aftermath were horrific.  Although the plaintiff’s recovery was remarkable in some respects, his ongoing pain and disability, combined with the psychological difficulty and frustration of adjusting to that pain and disability, are likely to have severe adverse effects for the rest of his life.  Those effects will be felt in all his daily activities and in his family and social life.

[173] An additional factor in this case is the extent to which the plaintiff is affected by the loss of his pre-injury career.  The loss of income is, of course, separately compensated, but the plaintiff so enjoyed his job, and defined himself so much in reference to that job, that his inability to return to work as a paramedic magnifies his loss of enjoyment of life.

[174] I have considered the cases of Grewal v. Brar, 2004 BCSC 1157, Izony v. Weidlich, 2006 BCSC 1315, Lines v. Gordon, 2006 BCSC 1929,  Dikey v. Samieian, 2008 BCSC 604, andZawadzki v. Calimoso, 2010 BCSC 1952. Considering the awards made in those cases, comparing the injuries in those cases to those in this case, and most important, considering the individual circumstances of the this plaintiff and the impact of his injuries on his life, I find  an appropriate award of non-pecuniary damages to be $250,000.

[175] In awarding non pecuniary damages of $250,000, I have not overlooked the submission of defence counsel that cases awarding non-pecuniary damages below the upper limit but in excess of $200,000 frequently involve a finding of ongoing effects from organic brain injury.  Although I have found the plaintiff’s cognitive, emotional and personality difficulties may result from the complex interaction of chronic pain and depression, rather than organic brain injury, the intractable nature of those problems makes the distinction largely irrelevant.

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