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Whose Fault is it Anyways?

When someone’s symptoms seriously spiral years after the collision, who is responsible for their losses?

In today’s case, the 19 year old plaintiff was seriously injured in a 2010 crash (Turner v Dionne 2017 BCSC 1905).  The many experts in the case essentially agreed on her crash injuries – she’d suffered some compression fractures in her thoracic spine and a significant concussion, amongst various soft tissue injuries.  In the first two years after the crash, the plaintiff made something of a recovery – she completed her high school degree, lived independently, weaned herself off narcotic medication, and worked about 25 hours per week at a small restaurant.   In 2013, the plaintiff decided to chase a long-held dream and applied to nursing school.

She got into the program and started classes in September of 2013.  She testified that her symptoms of pain and anxiety spiked as the course work mounted, and she turned first to her family doctor for assistance and then to an unnamed “friend” who provided her with oxycodone.    She testified that she was desperate to get through the course, and was willing to do anything to succeed  – and succeed she did, getting through first year with respectable grades.

Ms. Turner started her second year in September of 2014, which involved two weekly shifts at the hospital on top of classes and labs.  She really struggled with the increased coursework, and continued to use oxycodone procured by her “friend.”  She testified that she quickly reaching a breaking point, with uncontrollable pain and anxiety.  She withdrew from the program, a decision she described as “earth-shattering, extremely traumatic, and very, very devastating.”  She became depressed and suicidal.

From that point on, Ms. Turner’s condition deteriorated.  By the time of trial, she was unemployed (and perhaps unemployable), socially isolated, in constant pain despite heavy narcotic usage, and suffering from serious psychological and emotional problems.  The point of contention in this case was not whether or not Ms. Turner had been injured in the crash, but whether the crash injuries had caused that downward spiral four years later.    The defendants said that it was really her pre-existing academic shortcomings that created her difficulties with nursing, leading to her withdrawal and subsequent issues.  Justice Adair disagreed:

[297]     I find that, but for the injuries that Ms. Turner sustained in the accident, Ms. Turner would not have developed the chronic pain, generalized anxiety disorder and depressive disorder, and that, absent the accident and the development of the anxiety disorder, depression and chronic pain, Ms. Turner would have been able to cope with stress more effectively and not been so overwhelmed by it.  I find, therefore, that, but for the injuries she sustained in the accident, Ms. Turner would not have withdrawn from the Selkirk nursing program in September 2014.

[…]

[302]     In my opinion, Ms. Turner’s pre- and post-accident history at Selkirk shows motivation and a determination to pursue a goal, even when things are challenging.  Ms. Turner’s withdrawals or incomplete courses can be seen as strategic.  Rather than have a failing grade (which could jeopardize her future plans) on her transcript, she preferred to withdraw and try again, which she did.  After the accident, Ms. Turner was clearly motivated to engage in vocational rehabilitation, part of which involved upgrading her education.  She did that despite how she was feeling physically.  However, I find that, by September 2014, as a result of her chronic pain symptoms, and the associated anxiety and depression, Ms. Turner had depleted her resources and was unable to continue.

[…]

[304]     I find that Ms. Turner’s current circumstances have come about as a consequence of the injuries she sustained in the accident.  The prognosis is very guarded concerning whether and the extent to which those circumstances may improve in the future.

 

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