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Valuing Pain and Suffering for a Young Stoic

How does the court assess pain and suffering?  What if I’ve been able push through my symptoms and carry on with my life, but only because I grit my teeth and get through it?

In reasons released this week, the British Columbia Supreme Court considered the damages owing to a young man who’d been injured in a collision at age 19 (Lewis v Rubboli 2018 BCSC 17).  Prior to the collision, the plaintiff (Mr. Lewis) was in perfect health – he was an avid hockey player who was working fifty-hour weeks in carpentry and spent his spare time helping his mom maintain their cabin and engaging in various outdoors activities like quadding, fishing, and boating.  After the collision, he had to slow down to ‘just’ eight hour days at his physical job and spent a lot more time resting at home rather that going out with his friends to play sports.

While the defendant had proposed that Mr. Lewis be compensated for his pain and suffering in the range of $25,000.00 – $30,000.00, Justice Adair agreed with Mr. Lewis’ lawyer, and awarded the plaintiff $85,000.00 for pain and suffering:

[81]         Since the accident, his life has changed.  Although, after the accident, he followed the advice of his doctor and others, including to remain active, his pain symptoms persisted.  Once he returned to work in November 2014, the symptoms did not improve, and in some instances (his shoulder symptoms, for example) have become worse.  Even small things like picking up a milk jug or looking down to study can trigger pain symptoms.  His work is more difficult, and the physical demands often aggravate his symptoms.  Mr. Lewis does not claim that the symptoms resulting from his injuries have prevented him from pursuing his goal of becoming a red seal carpenter.  Rather, he works through the pain.  As a result, he is more tired at the end of the day, and lacks the energy to do things that he was accustomed to doing before the accident, including earning extra income and taking on projects around the family home and cabin.  Sometimes pain from Mr. Lewis’s workday can last into the evening and the following day.  The prognosis is that Mr. Lewis will be living with chronic pain for the rest of his life.

[82]         The effects of his injuries have affected Mr. Lewis’s mood, which Mrs. Lewis has also observed.  Mr. Lewis is frustrated about his inability to recover, and worried about his ability to pursue his goal of working as a red seal carpenter.  Working at something he loved to so, but with chronic pain, was not what he expected when he started as an apprentice.  Although he has carried on with some of his recreational activities, he has not been able to participate to the same degree, particularly with hockey, and is more withdrawn socially.  Before the accident, Mr. Lewis enjoyed helping the family by doing chores and looking after projects, especially where he could use his carpentry skills.  He is no longer able to do this to the same extent, as a result of the injuries he sustained in the accident.

[83]         Taking into account Mr. Lewis’s age, his circumstances following the accident and the effects the injuries have, and will continue to have, on his life, the purpose of an award of non-pecuniary damages, and the cases cited to me, I assess Mr. Lewis’s non-pecuniary damages at $85,000.