Whiplash lead to chronic pain and $400,000 award.

https://www.canlii.org/en/bc/bcsc/doc/2017/2017bcsc2068/2017bcsc2068.pdf

The plaintiff in this case was 67 years old and worked as a care aid and masseuse. She was injured in a motor vehicle accident after an oncoming vehicle made a left turn in front of her at an intersection. She sustained multiple physical injuries – most notably a whiplash type injury. The plaintiff later went on to develop chronic pain and psychological injury, including depression.

Of interest in this case was that the judge found the plaintiff’s ongoing chronic pain to be largely psychological and pre-existing, but reactivated by the initial genuine physical injuries. Since the plaintiff had a genuine belief that her pain was real, she was entitled to compensation for it:

“[343]     She reactivated a pre-existing major depressive disorder with psychosis which is now in partial remission. Although she suffers from chronic pain disorder, I do not accept that the pain in the plaintiff’s groin, thigh and numbness in her lower legs were caused directly by the accident; they are the result of a chronic pain disorder or somatoform disorder. Nonetheless, her perception of pain in the low back is disabling and a function of the chronic pain disorder—thus, some of her current symptoms are contributed to indirectly by the accident.”

The plaintiff was given an award of $180,000 for pain and suffering. She was also given a relatively large award for Future Cost of Care of $90,000. The judge decided that an award for Future Cost of Care “should reflect what the evidence establishes is reasonably necessary to preserve the plaintiff’s health.” The plaintiff’s award included amounts for: physiotherapy, a driving service, and further psychological treatment.

This case illustrates the complexities involved in chronic pain cases, as the source of these injuries is typically both physical and psychological. This case also shows a growing acceptance by the courts to acknowledge injuries of a purely psychological nature.

Wage Loss Claims and Pre-Existing Injuries.

Wage loss claims that involve a plaintiff with pre-existing injuries are always complicated. It is the courts role to determine what losses are attributable to the new claim and what losses would have occurred in any event.

http://www.courts.gov.bc.ca/jdb-txt/sc/17/20/2017BCSC2098.htm

In this recent Supreme Court of British Columbia case, the plaintiff was employed as a fisherman, with a history of working as a crew member or a skipper on seine style fishing boats. The plaintiff, at the time of their motor vehicle accident, was approximately 67 years old and had a pre-existing arthritis in his wrists and hands and diabetes. The plaintiff, after the accident, had surgeries to correct carpal tunnel syndrome, but the courts ruled that the carpal tunnel syndrome and the resulting surgeries were unrelated to the accident. The courts also ruled that the plaintiff’s arthritis would have gotten worse, even if the accident had not happened.

The plaintiff suffered a variety of soft tissue – including whiplash – injuries in a motor vehicle collision. Most notably, he suffered injury to his wrists and hands. This gave the courts the difficult task of determining what damages were related to the pre-existing hand and wrist injuries and which damages were related to injuries sustained in the motor vehicle collision. The plaintiff worked for approximately 3 more years after their accident but did not work afterwards. The plaintiff’s inability to work was the result of physical injuries and external market conditions, such as variations in fish runs.

The courts ruled that the plaintiff did have some impairment in his ability to work caused by their motor vehicle accident, but much of the plaintiff’s ongoing and previous income loss were due to his pre-existing injuries and resulting surgeries.

This case illustrates the difficulty in proving a past or future wage loss claim, but also illustrates that having pre-existing injuries is not a complete bar to recovery.

 

Plaintiff given award for Early Retirement.

http://www.courts.gov.bc.ca/jdb-txt/sc/17/19/2017BCSC1958.htm

In a recent Supreme Court of British Columbia decision, a plaintiff, who was a 53 year old aesthetics instructor, was given an award of $27,000 to compensate her for the possibility of early retirement.

What’s interesting about this award is that the plaintiff, who was only 53 years old, did not plan to retire until age 65, and these damages were entirely speculative. The judge was satisfied that there was a “real and substantial” possibility of loss and treated the possibility of early retirement due to injury as a lost capital asset. The judge then awarded the plaintiff a half a year of wages.

The plaintiff in this case had suffered a chronic soft tissue injury arising from 2 separate motor vehicle collisions. Just over 4 years after their first accident, the plaintiff continued to suffer from ongoing back and neck pain that was disrupting her ability to sleep and leading to fatigue. The plaintiff had to switch roles at work. She no longer was able to be as active in instruction and instead focused on administrative work. The judge concluded that there was room for improvement in the plaintiff’s condition but no objective basis to conclude that the plaintiff would make a full recovery.

This case illustrates many of the challenges that arise when dealing with claims for future losses.

Evasive Actions: personal injury claims without actual collisions.

http://www.courts.gov.bc.ca/jdb-txt/sc/17/12/2017BCSC1217.htm

This recent Supreme Court of British Columbia case dealt with a motorcyclist who was force to take evasive action while entering an intersection. The motorcyclist had the right of way, and another vehicle entered the intersection after stopping at a stop sign to the right of the motorcyclist. The motorcyclist was able to avoid striking the other vehicle, but ultimately lost control of their motorcycle and suffered a significant injury while striking the ground. The courts found that the motorcyclist’s actions had been prudent in the circumstances and that they were still entitled to make a claim against the other driver, despite the fact that no collision had occurred between the two motor vehicles.

In coming to this conclusion, the judge applied a couple important legal principles:

  1. When avoiding a hazard ahead, a driver is not expected to make the perfect decision, only a decision that is reasonable in the circumstances. The existence of a better course of action does not result in a finding of negligence.
  2. It is up to the driver who has created the initial hazard to demonstrate that the other driver could have reasonably avoided the hazard.

In this case had the defendant been able to show that the plaintiff’s rate of speed had contributed to or caused their fall then the judge may have made a different finding on liability. However, neither side presented evidence to show that the motorcyclist had been speeding. This case once again demonstrates the importance of hiring legal counsel, and why doing so prior to speaking with ICBC can be important.

What is Whiplash?

The modern definition of whiplash, as it is used by various legal and medical bodies in British Columbia, traces its origins back to a study commissioned by the Quebec Automobile Insurance Society in 1989. The “Quebec Task Force” (“QTF”), which was the body commissioned with completing this report, provided an in depth report on whiplash, which included a “Whiplash Associated Disorder” (“WAD”) grading scale, which remains in use today.

The QTF completed their report at a time when much less was known about soft-tissue injuries and rehabilitation. As such, much of their report is no longer seen as valid, particularly the parts that relate to recovery time. The reality of long-term and even permanent soft tissue injuries arising from whiplash injuries is far more accepted now.

However, the grading scale, which is based on a score of 0-4, remains heavily in use. For example, the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia references this scale on their CL-19 forms, which are routinely provided to treating doctors when a personal injury claim is made. The British Columbia Chiropractors Association has similarly adopted this scale. The WAD scale involves placing whiplash injuries into 5 separate categories:

  1. Grade 0 WAD: No complaint about the neck and no physical sign of injury
  2. Grade 1 WAD: Neck complaint of pain, stiffness or tenderness only and no physical sign of injury
  3. Grade 2 WAD: Neck complaint and muskuloskeletal sign(s) of injury
  4. Grade 3 WAD: Neck complaint and neurological sign(s) of injury
  5. Grade 4 WAD: Neck complaint and a fracture or dislocation

Of note, is that as you go up the grading scale, the descriptions of the injuries become less subjective and more objective. As previously discussed diagnosing a subjective injury largely involves relying on complaints made by the injured party, whereas objective injuries are typically physically observable, such as broken bones. As, the vast majority of personal injury whiplash cases involve primarily subjective injuries, hiring a competent lawyer to properly frame these cases is extremely important.

Claims for speculative business losses in personal injury claims.

This is an issue that arises somewhat of often in my practice. Can an injured party make a claim for a small business that they have not actually started yet. This issue was dealt with in this recent Supreme Court of British Columbia case:

http://www.courts.gov.bc.ca/jdb-txt/sc/17/06/2017BCSC0644.htm

The plaintiff in this case was a 59 year old woman who had hoped to start her own cosmetics business. She had been injured in a motor  vehicle accident and was claiming that these injuries were preventing her from running a successful multi-million dollar cosmetics business.

The plaintiff in this action had taken a number of steps towards starting their business, including:

  1. Incorporating their business;
  2. Acquiring stock;
  3. Labeling and branding her stock;
  4. Getting approval for sale from Health Canada; and
  5. Applying for trademarks.

Approximately 2 years prior to their injury the plaintiff held a private seminar, where she successfully sold various beauty products. Her stated goal was to hire a team of salespeople to sell her products via future private seminars.  The judge, unfortunately for the plaintiff, found various deficiencies in the plaintiff’s claim, including that:  her goal of having seminars with a sales team was vague; the plaintiff’s evidence about market conditions was inadequate; the plaintiff’s previous lack of success with this business should be taken into consideration;  the plaintiff had not devouted full time hours to her business prior to her injury; and the plaintiff, although partially, was not totally disabled from running her business as a result of her injuries.

As a result, the plaintiff was not given an award for past nor future loss of earnings for her proposed business. She was, however, given an award of $100,000 for loss of her “entrepreneurial spirit”. This amount was considerably less than the several million dollar claim that the plaintiff was advancing for loss of profits from her proposed cosmetics business.

This case illustrates the difficulty that many plaintiffs will face when making a claim for income losses, particularly when there is a high degree of uncertainty concerning their potential earnings.

Construction worker given $430,000 award for soft-tissue injuries sustained in car accident.

http://www.courts.gov.bc.ca/jdb-txt/sc/17/05/2017BCSC0577.htm

The injured party was a construction worker and father of 4 children. His work primarily focused on residential renovations and building and servicing green houses at big box stores. The plaintiff was fifty years old at the time of trial and had been injured in what the courts described as a “violent” rear end type motor vehicle accident. Although the plaintiff continued to work after the accident, he was limited in what roles he could perform and how long he could work for, largely due to ongoing neck and chronic neck pain after the accident.

In this case the lawyers for the defence tried to make the argument that since the plaintiff had been to acupuncture treatments for neck and shoulder issues prior to the accident, he must have been suffering from soft-tissue injuries before the accident that were not caused by the accident. Fortunately, the judge found the plaintiff to be credible and dismissed the defence’s argument, stating:

“Receiving an acupuncture treatment (or a massage) for the relief of soreness or temporary muscle pain arising from long hours of driving or physically demanding activities is qualitatively different from attending an acupuncturist as a result of an injury on the recommendation of one’s general practitioner.”

This was a very astute observation by the judge and was based on medical expert evidence from an expert in occupational medicine who stated “people go for massages all the time when they are working at physical jobs or go to their gardens and they do a bunch of digging”, but it “does not mean they have an ongoing back pain disability”.