03 Jun Chronic Pain Syndrome

In Sekhon v. Gill, 2019 BCSC 811, the Plaintiff sought damages for injuries in three motor vehicle accidents that occurred between August 2014 and April 2016.  The Plaintiff said that she developed chronic pain syndrome as a result of these accidents.

After the first accident, the Plaintiff had pain in her neck, shoulders, and lower back, as well as headaches, none of which had resolved by the time of the second accident and which were exacerbated by the third accident. The Plaintiff also experienced psychological symptoms, including anxiety.

There was no dispute that the accidents left the Plaintiff with significant soft tissue injuries. Two experts for the Plaintiff diagnosed her with chronic pain syndrome.  One expert noted that most recovery would have been expected to occur in the first 6 to 12 months following trauma and that recovery from multiple accidents was worse than from a single accident.

A psychiatrist whose practice included treatment of chronic pain assessed the Plaintiff and diagnosed a “chronic adjustment disorder” affecting her mood and anxiety level. Clinical experience and research indicated that anxiety and mood change were major complications of chronic pain, as was the case with this Plaintiff.

The Defendants pointed out that all of the medical evidence was based on symptoms reported by the Plaintiff. They asked the court to find the Plaintiff’s evidence unreliable. They submitted that the Plaintiff demonstrated poor recollection of treatments, treatment dates, and timelines of her improvement. They also said her evidence respecting the impact of her injuries was too vague.

The Judge did not agree with the Defendants and found the Plaintiff to be credible. Within the normal limits of human recollection, he found her evidence to be consistent and forthright.

The Judge went on to say that by its very nature, pain is subjective, variable, and highly personal. It cannot always be objectively confirmed by medical testing, and both medical professionals and the court must rely on the Plaintiff’s evidence. If that were not the case, no plaintiff could ever be compensated for pain.

The Judge found that the Plaintiff had proved, on a balance of probabilities, that she suffered soft tissue injuries in the three accidents, that the succession of accidents had a cumulative and aggravating effect and that her symptoms had evolved into a chronic pain syndrome with resultant and aggravating psychological features. The Judge further found that her chronic pain was likely to be permanent, although variable in its severity, and that she was at high risk for aggravation of symptoms in the event of future trauma or stress.

An award of non-pecuniary damages is intended to compensate a plaintiff for both past, present, and future pain, suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life.  The Plaintiff submitted the appropriate award of damages would be $110,000. The Defendants argued for an award of $45,000 to $60,000.  The Judge placed particular weight on the Plaintiff’s young age and the poor prognosis for recovery from her chronic pain, and awarded her non-pecuniary damages of $110,000.