Tag: spine injury

$140,000 Non-Pecuniary Damage Assessment for T-12 Burst Fracture

Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, assessing damages following a 2005 motor vehicle collision.
In this week’s case (X v. Y) the Plaintiff was an RCMP officer.  (Supplemental reasons were released permitting the Plaintiff to identify himself by initials and to seal the Court file given the Plaintiff’s undercover work).  He was responding to an emergency call.  He was travelling on his motorcycle when he was struck by a truck driven by the Defendant who was in the course of making a U-turn.  Although fault was put at issue the Court found the defendant fully liable for the collision.

The Plaintiff suffered a burst fracture at the T-12 level which required surgical intervention.  He suffered from chronic pain following this and although he was able to return to police work he could only do so in a more administrative (as opposed to front-line) capacity.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $140,000 Madam Justice Dardi provided the following reasons:
[101] The plaintiff underwent surgery on July 21, 2005, after which Dr. D. explained to the plaintiff that he had a burst fracture in his vertebrae in the thoracolumbar region, and that metal rods, clamps and screws had been placed in the area to fuse the spine together. The plaintiff was fitted with a clamshell brace in order to stabilize his fused spine and prevent him from moving. He was not allowed to sit or stand up unless he was wearing this brace. He used a walker to manoeuvre around the hospital. After physiotherapy treatments, he was able to walk short distances, go to the bathroom, and get in and out of his hospital bed. He was released from the hospital on July 27, 2005…
[147] It is uncontroversial that the plaintiff suffered a serious injury in the accident: a fractured spine which required surgical fusion with metal instrumentation. The medical evidence clearly establishes that he is permanently disabled insofar as repetitive heavy bending, lifting and high-impact activities. He has an increased risk for the development or acceleration of degenerative disc disease and is at an increased susceptibility for reinjuring his back…




[163] In summary on this issue, I find that the plaintiff’s symptoms are genuine. He regularly experiences varying degrees of pain and significant stiffness, tightness, and spasms in his back. The cold exacerbates his symptoms. He will continue to experience episodic aggravation of his symptoms. He is at an increased risk of developing degenerative arthritis and he has an increased susceptibility for further injury to his back. He also faces the possibility of another surgery to remove the hardware in his back. He has reduced stamina and tires much more easily than prior to the collision. I also conclude that as the plaintiff ages, there is a substantial likelihood that his pain and discomfort will increase because he will not be able to maintain the same level of conditioning in the muscles supporting the fused area of his back.

[164] In terms of his career, the preponderance of the evidence clearly supports a finding that the plaintiff is not fit to perform the full range of policing duties. He must avoid impact activities and any risk of physical altercations with suspects, which restricts him from participation in front-line policing duties. He can no longer perform the duties of a motorcycle officer, nor is he able to pursue his ambition to join the ERT as an operational member…




[179] While the authorities are instructive, I do not propose to review them in detail, as each case turns on its own unique facts. Having reviewed all of the authorities provided by both counsel, and in considering the plaintiff’s particular circumstances, I conclude a fair and reasonable award for non-pecuniary damages is $140,000.

BC Supreme Court Discusses Pedestrian Visibility in Negligence Claims


Reasons for judgement were released yesterday by the BC Supreme Court considering whether a pedestrian involved in a collision was at fault for not being visible enough to the motorist.
In yesterday’s case (Smaill v. Williams) the pedestrian was struck by a minivan while he was walking on a dirt road in dusk conditions.  When he heard the vehicle approaching he “took a few quick steps to the side out of the travelled path of the road”.  Unfortunately he could not get out of the way and was “thrown up onto the hood, striking his back and shoulders, and then was thrown to the ground on his hands and knees“.
The Defendant argued that the Plaintiff was partially at fault for the accident for wearing dark clothing, not having a flashlight and not wearing a reflective traffic vest.  Madam Justice Russell rejected this argument and in doing so provided the following reasons:

[68] I accept the plaintiff’s evidence that it was dusk but not dark enough for him to require a flashlight and therefore the plaintiff was not contributorily negligent and the defendants’ liability should not be reduced as such.

[69] I note as well, that while carrying a flashlight might be a prudent practice for all pedestrians in dark areas, it is not a universal or even common requirement, no more than it is wise, but not common, for pedestrians to wear reflective traffic vests.

[70] I note, too, that the plaintiff testified he paid heed to the sound of the oncoming car and took several steps off the roadway to be out of its way.

[71] I find the plaintiff did take reasonable care for his own safety by trying to stand well out of the roadway and to avoid the oncoming vehicle.

[72] I find no contributory negligence on the part of the plaintiff.

The Plaintiff suffered some serious injuries to his spine which were expected to cause some permanent restrictions.  In valuing the non-pecuniary damages at $100,000 the Court summarized the injuries and their effect on the Plaintiff’s life as follows:

[62] I accept the evidence of Dr. McKenzie.  I found him to be a careful and persuasive witness.  I accept his medical finding that the plaintiff suffered a fracture of the tranverse processes at L3 and L4, an injury to the sacroiliac joint and that formerly asymptomatic disc bulges and protrusions became symptomatic as a result of his injuries.  I accept that the plaintiff has proved on a balance of probabilities that the symptoms, including non-specific back pain that he currently suffers from, including disc protrusion, were caused by the first accident and the pain from those injuries was aggravated by the second accident.

[63] While none of the doctors could say with certainty that the disc problems were caused by the accident, this is not the standard required.  Dr. McKenzie testified, and I accept, that it is more probable than not that they were caused by the injury.  This is supported by the evidence of Dr. Dercksen who noted the injuries were more than normal degeneration for someone of the plaintiff’s age.

[64] Therefore, I agree with the plaintiff that, on a balance of probabilities, but for the negligence of the defendants, the plaintiff would not have sustained the injuries that he did, and  the plaintiff has met the test for causation:  Resurfice Corp. v. Hanke, 2007 SCC 7 at paras. 18-28, [2007] 1 S.C.R. 333. ..

[87] As a result of these accidents, the plaintiff sustained significant injuries and suffered from a great deal of pain, for which he is entitled to recover damages.  However, while I have the greatest sympathy for the plaintiff’s emotional suffering, there is evidence before this Court that this is a pre-existing condition from which the plaintiff had already been suffering and therefore this is not a ‘thin-skull’ situation.  The defendants are not liable to compensate the plaintiff for a condition which was already manifest at the time of the accident.

[88] In light of the plaintiff’s suffering, and taking into consideration his pre-exisiting condition and its contribution to his chronic pain, an award of $100,000 for non-pecuniary damages is appropriate.

Rule 18-A and Your ICBC Injury Case

One of the tools in a BC Trial Lawyers arsenal is BC Supreme Court Rule 18-A.
Rule 18-A permits claims to proceed to court via ‘summary trial’.   In summary trials no live witnesses are called, instead the evidence is put before the Judge by way of affidavit evidence.  From there the lawyers make their submissions and a ruling is made.  By this method the time, and therefore the cost, of trial can be cut down significantly.  
Rule 18-A is, however,  not without its shortcomings.  Without live witnesses taking the stand and getting faced down by a judge or jury it is difficult to weigh credibility.  Where there are 2 different sides to the story and credibility plays a central role Rule 18-A is usually not an appropriate way to proceed to trial.
In personal injury litigation the credibility of the Plaintiff is usually a key issue at trial and for this reason Rule 18-A is rarely used.  That said, this rule can be effective for certain ICBC and other personal injury claims and reasons for judgement were released today by the New Westminster Registry of the BC Supreme Court illustrating this fact.
In today’s case (Smith v. Bhangu) the Plaintiff was injured when she was 14 years old in a BC Car Crash.  The issue of fault was admitted.  This left the issue of quantum of damages (value of the ICBC case) to be decided by the trial judge.
Both lawyers agreed that Rule 18-A was appropriate for this case.  The Plaintiff;s MRI showed a herniated lumbosacral disc injury.  There was no dispute that the Plaintiff suffered from this condition, rather the key issue was whether the Plaintiff’s herniated lumbrosacral disc was related to the car accident.  In agreeing that it was, Mr. Justice Grist made the following findings:

[21]            I am satisfied that the evidence provides, on a balance of probabilities, a causal link between the motor vehicle collision and the lower back condition. I accept the Plaintiff’s evidence that the lower back complaints presented after a period of weeks or months from the motor vehicle collision and that there were no prior or subsequent events causing or contributing to the condition. Further, I accept that following the initial visit to the doctor, she did not present these continuing complaints for medical treatment until lower back spasms developed in 2004 and 2005. I also note Dr. Hershler’s comment that, based on the history and his physical examination, both the neck and lower back symptoms were referable to the motor vehicle collision.

[22]            The upper back condition continues to be symptomatic from time to time, but as in many cases, has shown improvement, and the overall effect of the assessments in the medical reports is an expectation of further progress.

[23]            The lower back condition, however, is more of a problem. The MRI shows a herniated lumbrosacral disk which continues to cause episodes of back pain, sometimes debilitating to the point of prompting attendance at an Emergency Ward. I accept that at age 14, this was not likely a degenerative condition and, as I have previously indicated, on the evidence, is most likely attributable to the collision.

General damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) were assessed at $65,000 and a further $80,000 was awarded for the Plaintiff’s diminished earning capacity to reflect the fact that her chronic condition will likely effect her vocationally over her lifetime.
What is remarkable about this case is that the trial took only one day.  Often times when ICBC Claims with serious injuries proceed to trial the process takes numerous days or even weeks.  Rule 18-A permitted this case to be adjudicated with one day of court time with costs savings to both parties.
While Rule 18-A is inaproppriate for many personal injury claims, this case shows that it can be used effectively in certain circumstances.  When prosecuting an ICBC injury claim this rule should not be automatically brushed aside and should be considered in appropriate circumstances.

Chronic Pain Syndrome and Fractured Spine Net $60,000 for Pain and Suffering

In a judgement released today a total of $81,694 was awarded in compensation as a result of a 2004 ‘chain rear end’ accident in BC.
The accident involved mutliple vehicles and the force of the crash was enough to write off the Plaintiff’s car. Fault was admitted by ICBC leaving only quantum of damages at issue.
As a result of crash the court found that the Plaintiff suffered from a fracture at T12 and a disc injury to T11 / T12 and perhaps T9 / T10 (basically fractures to the mid back) and that the Plaintiff ‘has gone on to develop a chronic pain syndrome with discomfort, sleep disturbance and depression.
The court went on to award $60,000 for pain and suffering, $20,000 for Loss of Earning Capacity and just over $1,000 in special damages (out of pocket expenses as a result of the accident.)
This case is worth reading for the judge’s discussion of credibility. When people complain of ‘chronic pain’ in an ICBC claim their credibility is always at issue. The reason is obvious, pain cannot be measured objectively. People can only describe their pain and a judge or jury can believe this descrpiton or reject it. In this case the judge had problems with the Plaintiff’s credibility but accepted that her chronic pain syndrome was legitimate.
More interesting is the judge’s comments on the credibility of the expert witnesses that testified. In this case ICBC, on behalf of the Defendant, hired an orthopaedic surgeon to examine the Plaintiff. He testified, in essence, that the Plaintiff had no serious injuries or ongoing problems. The court rejected this doctor’s evidence finding that ‘it was obvious to me that he had not spent as much time, nor was he as objective in his assessment of the Plaintiff (as her own physicians were). (ICBC’s doctor) impressed upon me that he was more of an advocate for ICBC than an objective expert, and I therefoe attach little wieght to his evidence.
This case is also worth reviewing for the judge’s great summary of the law relating to future wage loss at paragraphs 34 and 35.

ICBC Claims, Ruptured Discs and Causation

Reasons for judgment were released today involving a disc injury with 2 potential causes.
The Plaintiff was involved in 3 car accidents. This lawsuit involved the second accident. The Plaintiff was ultimatley diagnosed with a ruptured disc in her back. The issue at trial was whether the ruptured disc was caused by the first or second accident (apparently no-one blamed the third accident as a potential cause).
“Causation” is often a key issue at many ICBC claims and frequently ICBC takes the position at trial that while a Plaintiff is injured the injury would have existed even without the car accident as it was caused by previous or subsequent events.
In this case a physiatrist and a GP testified on behalf of the Plaintiff. No defence medical evidence was called, instead, the defence relied on their lawyer’s cross examination of the Plaintiff experts.
The Plaintiff had an MRI which showed a moderate sized diffuse disc bulge or protrusion at L-4/5 with associated disc desiccation or drying.
The court was not satisfied with the Plaintiff’s experts explanations linking the disc protrusion to the second car accident. The court instead found that it is more likely that the disc injury was caused by the first car accident and the second accident aggravated this injury for a period of time.
For the aggravation of this disc injury the court awarded general damages (pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) of $30,000. The Plaintiff’s claim for loss of earning capacity and cost of future care were dismissed on the basis that the disc injury was not caused by the accident and any exacerbation of the injury caused by the accident ended in 2005.
This case shows that nothing should be taken for granted when taking an ICBC claim to trial.  Here both doctors seemed in agreement that the second car accident caused the disc injury and no medical experts disagreed with this finding.  After hearing this evidence first hand in court the trial judge did not agree with the Plaintiff’s experts and dismissed the allegation that the second car accident caused the disc injury.  Even where the medical evidence is not contradicted you cannot guarantee that a court will accept it!  This is the risk of trial and cross-examination.  Trial risks need to be accounted for when considering ICBC claim settlement and valuing fair payment for injuries.

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!”
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