11 May Does A History of Anorexia Nervosa Affect Your Personal Injury Claim?

In the case of Litt v. Guo, 2015 BCSC 2207, the Plaintiff was involved in two motor vehicle accidents.  She claimed that those accidents left her with ongoing pain and triggered a pain disorder, leaving her unable to continue with a promising career in banking or to fulfil her parenting and other household responsibilities.  ICBC admitted liability for both accidents but disputed the extent of the injuries and the effects those injuries had on her life. They argued that the anorexia nervosa she suffered from as a teenager would inevitably have had a significant negative effect on her life, even if the accidents had not occurred.

This case really came down to a question of (1) what degree of psychological injury, if any, either accident caused and (2) whether some portion of such an injury would likely have arisen even without the accidents, in view of the Plaintiff’s pre-accident history and vulnerabilities.

The Plaintiff developed anorexia nervosa in Grade 9.  It caused her to obsess over her diet, eat very little and exercise excessively. In the depths of her illness she weighed as little as 86 pounds and her overall health was at risk. The duration of the illness was approximately a year to eighteen months. After graduation she was able to maintain a healthy weight and was approximately 120 pounds when she married at the age of 20.  Around that same time, the Plaintiff was beginning her career with the Royal Bank.  A year later she was in the first motor vehicle accident.

Over the next six years the Plaintiff continued to work while managing her soft tissue pain and pain-related psychological problems.  During her pregnancy and the subsequent birth of her son in 2009, her weight rose to 238 pounds.  After maternity leave she resumed her sales success with the Royal Bank and was rewarded with a promotion to senior account manager and a salary increase.  Although the Plaintiff’s soft tissue injuries still caused her some discomfort, they were at a manageable level by the time of the 2010 accident.

The Judge heard testimony about the range of complex emotional issues that underlie anorexia nervosa and found that several of those issues applied to the Plaintiff.   He agreed that the Plaintiff’s vulnerabilities could have been aggravated “to an extent” by her other life stressors even if the accidents had not occurred. It was common sense that a sufferer of anorexia nervosa and depression would be affected by marital and family discord such as that which went on in the Plaintiff’s life after the 2003 accident. However, the Judge was satisfied it took the added ingredient of soft tissue injury pain to activate more serious psychological symptoms and that, however tumultuous at times, the Plaintiff’s other life pressures would not have done it.

Taking into consideration the impairment of the Plaintiff’s marital and family relationships, her ability to parent her young son and her emotional suffering, the Judge awarded her $120,000 in non-pecuniary damages.