06 Jul Complicated Life Events and Stressors

The case of Wagner v. Newbery, 2015 BCSC 894, illustrates the court’s analysis when a Plaintiff alleging accident-related psychological injuries also encounters various life events before and after the accident.

 In this case, the court noted the following events and stressors in Ms. Wagner’s life:

– very difficult relationships with her mother, father and sister;

– the incident of inappropriate sexual touching that occurred five years prior to the first accident;

– breaking up with her son’s father because he was unfaithful;

– quitting her job as a dental receptionist, her first career-type job, due to conflict with the office manager;

– being fired from her next receptionist’s job; and

–  then working as a server in a restaurant, collecting EI and going on social assistance. 

Then the accidents occurred.  The court stated:

[209]     Then the two car accidents occurred.  I am satisfied that both accidents caused Ms. Wagner to have fears for the health of her unborn baby.  The first caused some distress, but the second was a great deal more traumatic for Ms. Wagner.  Still, the trauma she described for the second car accident was much less serious than the trauma she described surrounding the birth of her son and its aftermath.  In saying this I do not mean to say that in the immediate aftermath of the second car accident Ms. Wagner did not suffer great distress and fears for the safety of her unborn baby, because clearly she did, but it was also clear from her testimony that the post-childbirth crisis was by far the most traumatic of these three events.  I am also satisfied that the post-childbirth crisis was made more traumatic for Ms. Wagner by the prior car accidents because of the fears and anxiety those accidents had created.

The court then noted the following life events and stressors that were present after the accidents:

– being a single mother;

– having “emotional issues” about her son after he was born;

– constantly worrying that there was something wrong with her son;

– worrying obsessively over her son’s safety;

– feeling frustration and stress dealing with her accident claims on top of caring for her son;

– being in an on-off relationship for several years with a boyfriend she described as “abusive and manipulative”;

– living for two years in a basement suite she portrayed as rat-infested and mouldy;

– ending all contact with her father and sister;

– being in a further car accident in May 2012 which set her back;

– having stresses associated with her current employment;

– having problems with her kidneys;

– taking time off work, on recommendation of her family doctor, due to feeling overwhelmed; and

– being diagnosed in 2013 with chronic anemia.


After considering the expert evidence, the court concluded that the Plaintiff suffered from a “generalized anxiety disorder, PTSD and major depression” [para. 219].  The court found the Plaintiff’s difficulties were multi-factorial in nature, rather than intervening events.  The court stated:

[221]     Put another way, there are a number of unfortunate life events and stressors that have caused Ms. Wagner’s psychological problems.  I am satisfied that the two car accidents comprise two of the (perhaps) many causes of her present psychological condition.  This is sufficient to impose liability on the defendants for the whole of the loss:  Athey v. Leonati, [1996] 3 S.C.R. 458.

The court then considered whether there was a measurable risk that the other events would have caused the loss in any event.  After reviewing the evidence, the court concluded that there was a 25% risk that the Plaintiff would have developed her psychological conditions regardless of the two car accidents.  After deducting the 25% risk factor, the court awarded the Plaintiff a total of $285,000 in damages. 

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