$110,000 Non-Pecuniary Assessment For Chronic Low Back Pain

Reasons for judgement were published today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, assessing damages for partly disabling chronic back pain caused by a collision.

In today’s case (Teunissen v. Hulstra) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2012 collision caused by the Defendant.  The crash caused a soft tissue injury which was chronic and partly disabling in nature.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $110,000 Madam Justice Burke provided the following reasons:

[67]         I conclude the medical evidence clearly establishes Mr. Teunissen suffered a soft tissue injury in the accident and continues to suffer from chronic back pain. It also establishes the accident is a material contributing cause to Mr. Teunissen’s back injury, pain and resulting disability…

[92]         Mr. Teunissen is a determined and stoic individual who has persisted in trying to work and support his family, despite the chronic pain. He has demonstrated this more than once, attempting work opportunities that he previously would have had no difficulties with and which he unfortunately cannot continue.

[93]         The assessment of non-pecuniary damages depends on the particular circumstances of the plaintiff in each case. Having considered Mr. Teunissen’s age, the nature of the injuries, the severity of his symptoms and the fact they have been ongoing for five years, the poor prognosis for recovery, and the authorities, I am of the view the appropriate award for non-pecuniary damages is $110,000.

BC Court of Appeal Denies Severe Injury Claim Because Teenaged Plaintiff “Ought to Have Known” Vehicle Driven Without Consent

Today’s guest post comes from B.C. injury claims lawyer Erik Magraken

In the recent case (Schoenhalz v. ICBC) the Plaintiff, who was 17 at the time, was badly injured while riding as a passenger in a vehicle involved in a 2007 collision.  The Plaintiff suffered spinal fractures, various burns to her body, dental injuries and a pelvic fracture.  The driver of the vehicle was found to be negligent and damages of $282,992 were assessed.

The Court found, however, that the driver of the vehicle was not operating it with either the express or implied consent of the owner.  Accordingly the lawsuit against the vehicle owner was dismissed.    The driver was 15 years of age at the time and did not have a license.  The Court concluded that “at the time of the accident (the Plaintiff) knew that (the driver) was age 15 and did not have a driver’s license.”.

ICBC denied coverage to the Plaintiff and the current lawsuit was commenced.   As discussed several years ago, a Plaintiff cannot access section 20 uninsured motorist funds if they “at the time of the accident as a result of which the bodily injury, death or loss of or damage to property was suffered, was an operator of, or a passenger in or on, a vehicle that the person knew or ought to have known was being operated without the consent of the owner, and, in the case of a leased motor vehicle, the lessee.”

A similar exclusion exists if a Plaintiff seeks to access their own Underinsured Motorist Protection coverage.  Section 148(4)(c) of the Insurance (Vehicle) Regulation lets ICBC off the hook in circumstances where the Plaintiff ” is an operator of, or a passenger in or on, a vehicle that the insured knew or ought to have known was being operated without the consent of the owner.

In finding ICBC was right to deny coverage the BC Court of Appeal noted as follows:

[44]         Having canvassed counsel on this line of cases and on the “adult activity” line most recently considered in Nespolon v. Alford (1998) 110 O.A.C. 108, lve. to app. dism’d.[1998] S.C.C.A. No. 452, I do not find it necessary to consider them further in this case. Both lines concern the law of negligence as applied to young persons – but this is not the context before us. As I read s. 91, this case is concerned only with whether a reasonable person in the plaintiff’s place ought to have known Ms. Reeves was driving without the owner’s consent. In my opinion, a reasonable person would (as the trial judge here acknowledged) have known this; and even if one took into account the plaintiff’s age and experience, the test would also be met. As Mr. Brown submits, the plaintiff, age 17, had a driver’s license and was aware Ms. Reeves was too young to be licensed and that the owner’s permission was needed to drive the Camaro.

[45]         The trial judge reasoned that while it would not be reasonable for an adult to assume that Luke “was able to give [the girls] Steven’s permission when he directed them to take the car”, it had been reasonable for an “incredibly young” 17-year-old girl to have believed he would. With respect, it seems to me that the trial judge here erred in applying a largely subjective standard in the face of statutory wording that has long connoted a well-understood objective standard. With respect, a reasonable person “ought to have known”, and indeed would have known, that neither Steven Hammond nor his mother was consenting to the Camaro being driven by an unlicensed 15-year-old. I agree with counsel for ICBC that as a matter of public policy, there is no rationale for holding the plaintiff to a lower standard in relation to her decision to become the passenger of Ms. Reeves.

[46]         In my opinion, if Ms. Schoenhalz did not “know” that the car was being driven without the owner’s consent, she “ought to have known” that this was the case. I would allow the appeal and set aside the order granted by the trial judge in this proceeding.

“It Is Not Necessary To Call Expert Evidence On Each Issue”

In recent years expert evidence has become more common in injury litigation and it is not unusual to see litigants sometimes err on the side of overkill.  To this end helpful comments were recently released by the BC Supreme Court, Kelowna Registry, highlighting this practice and reminding litigants expert evidence can be used judiciously.

In the recent case (Truax v. Hyrb) the parties were involved in a collision and fault was at issue.  The Defendant brought an application seeking a dismissal of the lawsuit and argued that the Plaintiff failing to adduce expert engineering evidence should lead to an adverse inference.  In rejecting this suggestion Mr. Justice Dley provided the following comments about the over-use of expert evidence:

[20]         The defence argues that the failure by the plaintiff to introduce engineering evidence of the collision is “telling” and that an inference should be drawn against Mr. Truax. I agree that the absence of engineering evidence is telling – there is no need to call such expert evidence when common sense prevails.

[21]         Litigation has become a costly venture; oftentimes unnecessarily so. Litigants are far too quick to secure expert testimony when it is not required. Perhaps that is out of an abundance of caution and concern that the absence of expert evidence will be a failing of counsel.

[22]         Each case should be considered on its unique circumstances. It is trite to say that it is not necessary to call expert evidence on each issue. Expert testimony should be restricted to those matters where it would actually assist the court because the evidence is so specialized, scientific or complex. Expert evidence should not be viewed as a default or automatic step in litigation strategy.

 

$75,000 Non-Pecuniary Assessment for Aggravation of Chronic, Disabling Pre-Existing Condition

Reasons for judgement were published today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, assessing damages for a collision which aggravated long-standing pre-existing health complications.

In today’s case (Cheema v. Khan) the Plaintiff was disabled since 2003 due to arthritis and depression.  She was involved in a 2012 collision that the Defendants admitted fault for.  The collision aggravated her pre-existing issues.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $75,000 Chief Justice Hinkson provided the following reasons:

[103]     There is no question that Ms. Cheema was unemployable after 2003. She had been on long-term disability from employment as a linen worker since 2004 due to rheumatoid arthritis and major depressive disorder. She was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in the 1990s. The pain was in her neck initially, followed by bilateral hand pain since 2000. Her rheumatoid arthritis affected her hands, wrists, feet, ankles and shoulders. In the month preceding the Collision, the plaintiff had a flare up of her rheumatoid arthritis. Since 2000, the plaintiff had also suffered from longstanding, severe and chronic major depressive disorder, chronic anxiety and panic attacks leading up to the Collision.

[104]     I am unable to accept the plaintiff’s submission that her condition prior to the Collision was stable. She suffered from severe rheumatoid arthritis, Morton’s neuromas and a severe major depressive disorder prior to the Collision, and these conditions compromised her ability to ambulate, cook, clean and perform other household activities. I am satisfied that the plaintiff’s severe rheumatoid arthritis and severe depression waxed and waned prior to the Collision, but overall were worsening, and would have continued to worsen even if she had not been involved in the Collision.

[105]     I find, however, that the Collision caused an aggravation of her pre-Collision neck, back and shoulder pain and headaches, and likely had a negative effect on the symptoms arising from her rheumatoid arthritis.

[106]     I conclude that the plaintiff’s neck, back and shoulder pain and headaches were worsened by the Collision and that without the accident she would not have suffered from those difficulties as much as she has for the four years that have followed the Collision.

[107]     I accept the evidence of Dr. Shuckett that stress has a negative effect on someone suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, and has had such an effect on the plaintiff and accelerated the progress of her disease.

[108]     I am also persuaded that the Collision had a negative effect on the plaintiff’s psychiatric state that has resulted in a downward spiralling effect causing the plaintiff to brood about her physical condition and limit her activities, in turn worsening her depression, in turn compromising her participation in certain activities and so on…

[133]     I assess the plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages at $75,000.

$85,000 Non-Pecuniary Assessment for L1 Fracture and Concussion

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, assessing damages for injuries sustained in two collisions.

In today’s case (Wiebe v. Weibe) the Plaintiff was involved in two crashes, the first in 2012 the second in 2013.  The first collision caused a fracture at the L1 level of the Plaintiff’s spine along with a concussion.  The second aggravated some of her symptoms.  By the time of trial she was left with some residual barriers due to her injuries as well as lingering pain.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $85,000 Mr. Justice Tindale provided the following reasons:

[183]     I accept that the plaintiff suffered an L-1 fracture as well as an injury to her mid back. I also accept Dr. Reddy’s diagnosis that the plaintiff suffered a concussion which is in keeping with the plaintiff’s description of her injuries after the First Accident….

[185]     The plaintiff was virtually couch bound for a number of weeks after the First Accident.

[186]     The plaintiff suffered a considerable weight gain after the First Accident though she has ultimately lost that weight. The plaintiff is currently physically active, able to run on a regular basis as well as attend a gym.

[187]     The plaintiff still suffers from mid back pain though there has been significant improvement in her condition…

[190]     The plaintiff in the case at bar suffered a serious injury to her low back as well as injuries to her mid back. She also suffered a concussion and developed anxiety which had an impact on her daily life for a number of months after the First Accident.

[191]     Considering the inexhaustive list of common factors in Stapley and the fact that the plaintiff continues to suffer pain I conclude that damages of $85,000 are appropriate for this head of damage.

$90,000 Non-Pecuniary Assessment for Chronic Wrist Injury

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Kelowna Registry, assessing damages for a chronic wrist injury.

In today’s case (Ackerman v. Pandher) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2011 collision.  The Defendants admitted fault.  The Plaintiff worked as a tile setter and the chronic injury disabled him from his profession.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $90,000 Mr. Justice Schultes provided the following reasons:

[29]         The medical evidence about Mr. Ackermann’s wrist injury and its effects was not disputed. It indicates that he suffered what is known as a “perilunate dislocation injury[1]” in the accident. This results in “significant soft tissue/ligamentous disruption within the wrist.[2]” Some degree of stiffness is usually seen in patients with this type of injury and his ongoing symptoms are considered to be “reasonable given the nature and extent of his injury.[3]” When he was examined in May of 2015 he had flexion (moving the hand downward from a horizontal position) of only 20%, although his abilities to pinch and grasp were good[4]. His prognosis is for increasing arthritis in the joint as a result of the injury, “with gradually worsening pain and limitation.[5]” A consulting orthopedic surgeon described his condition in 2015 as “chronic and static with a very high likelihood of deteriorating over time.[6]

[30]         If his pain worsens he may require a partial or total wrist fusion, which “typically improve[s] pain however at the cost of significant range of motion.” A total fusion would mean that he could no longer flex or extend the wrist.[7] For now his symptoms can be “slightly improved” by the intermittent use of a brace and by anti-inflammatory medication.[8]

[31]         With respect to work prospects, the orthopedic surgeon offered the opinion that “[b]etween the associated pain and the limited range of motion to his wrist, [he does] not believe that there is any chance of Mr. Ackermann returning to a physical job involving extensive use of his right wrist.” Nor did he believe that there were any “interventions” that would allow Mr. Ackermann to do so[9].

[32]         During his evidence, Mr. Ackermann demonstrated the restrictions in his range of motion of his right wrist and how moving the wrist forward and backward or from side to side causes him pain.

[33]         When he attempted to return to work after the accident he quickly found that the pain in his wrist made it impossible to perform the essential tasks of tile setting.

[34]         This injury has also undermined his ability to engage in the extensive range of physical activities that made up his life outside of work. These have included gardening, shovelling manure for his wife’s chickens, performing home maintenance tasks and minor renovations, playing sports as part of his Sunday social activities and playing with his grandchildren. He also cannot go hunting because of the effect on his wrist of firing a gun.

[35]         Using his wrist to do work of any kind causes a burning pain which is severe enough that it can also wake him up at night. He always feels pain to some extent but if he “takes it easy” it is lessened…

[132]     I think that in this case Mr. Ackermann’s circumstances demonstrate a meaningful requirement for solace, one that is greater than his physical injury might otherwise suggest. It was not contested that he was previously a person for whom the ability to interact physically with the world, and his identity as a “worker” in both his actual employment and his home life, were extremely important. The pain that is brought on by the use of his wrist is serious enough, but in my view a critical aggravating factor has been the comprehensive undermining of his sense of capability in the parts of his life that he otherwise found the most fulfilling. Even though he was rather stoic when giving his evidence, the overall sense he projected of someone who has been cut adrift from the previous fundamentals of his life was still palpable.

[133]     Taking care to distinguish these effects from the harm that has been caused to his earning capacity, which is of course to be dealt with separately, I conclude that an award of $90,000 under this heading is appropriate.

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