A B.C. woman has received a court award for $362,102 in damages after developing a debilitating neck pain following two minor fender benders that occurred three years apart.
Even though the court reduced the award from what the injured driver had initially requested, the decision provides an example of why insurer auto liability costs are escalating across the country.
Elizabeth Anderson, a social worker, had to cut down her hours at the Lion’s Gate Hospital in Vancouver to permanent part-time hours because of neck pain arising from two separate minor collisions, neither of which was her fault. Included in the total award, the B.C. Supreme Court awarded the single mother of three children more than $240,000 for impaired earning capacity and future care costs.
The first collision occurred in April 2011, when Anderson’s Dodge van was rear-ended while she was waiting at a red light at an intersection in Surrey, B.C. The defendants in the case, Darryl Paul Gagnon and Amy Lee Irene Gagnon, said their vehicles only “touched a bit,” referring to the impact with Anderson’s van. They said Anderson reported no pain at the time, and they saw only a scratch on her vehicle and a screw mark on her bumper.
The Gagnons argued before the court that Anderson’s claim was a “scam” because they were almost stopped when they made contact with Anderson’s van.
The court took a dim view of the scam defence, which was based on the low severity of impact.
Anderson’s counsel cited multiple cases in support of “the principle that collisions involving minor damage to motor vehicles is not the yardstick by which to measure the extent of injuries suffered by the plaintiff,” the B.C. Supreme Court found. “I accept [Anderson’s] argument and will consider [her] claims based on the evidence presented, and not on any speculative theory that in the absence of evidence of significant vehicle damage, this plaintiff has exaggerated her symptoms.”
During numerous medical consultations, Anderson’s doctor observed “visible signs of spasm and prominent spasms” in Anderson’s paraspinal muscles in 2011, 2012, 2015, and 2016, the court observed.
Anderson said she developed neck pain immediately after the first accident. Court records show that between June 2011 and April 2014, Anderson’s sleep was interrupted and her neck and back pain varied depending on her activity levels and the successive treatments.
Her symptoms were aggravated by a second-fender bender collision in August 2014. Again, she was stopped at a red light in Vancouver and was struck from behind. The impact damaged the bike rack on the rear of her vehicle and caused some bumper dislocation. The driver of the car behind her, Jae Won Seo, agreed he had stepped hard on his gas pedal and accelerated forward for two to three seconds before colliding with Anderson’s vehicle.
After the second collision, Anderson reported worsening neck pain to her doctor. In September 2016, she took a temporary, full time position as a social worker in Lion’s Gate Hospital. She left this position three months later due to increases in her symptoms.
Since then, she returned to permanent part-time work at Lion’s Gate Hospital and informed her employers that, beginning January 2017, she would not work Wednesdays. She continues casual work on Thursdays and Fridays.