Valuing pain and suffering after a car accident
Reasons for judgment were given last week in the case of Morgan v. Allen, a decision which involved the claim of a 53 year old woman for damages following two motor vehicle accidents. Before the accidents the plaintiff was an active and healthy person, with no significant physical ailments or limitations. The first accident occurred in the summer of 2013 and the second accident occurred in the summer of 2014. The trial judge described the function of damages following a car accident as being to restore the plaintiff to his or her original position, to the extent that a financial award can ever do so. The award of damages however, is not expected to place the plaintiff in a better position than he or she would have been in but for the defendant’s conduct.
In assessing non pecuniary damages, or the damages for the pain, suffering and loss of enjoyment of life that the plaintiff suffered, the judge emphasized that the appropriate amount is not merely a function of the seriousness of the plaintiff’s injuries viewed in isolation. Rather the court must consider the effect of the injuries on the plaintiff’s particular circumstances, taking into account factors such as the plaintiff’s age, the nature of the injury, the severity and duration of the plaintiff’s pain, the extent of any disability, the effect on family and social relationships, impairment of the plaintiff’s mental and physical abilities and the effect on the plaintiff’s lifestyle. The court can also take guidance from awards in comparable cases.
The judge summarized the nature, extent and effect of the injuries suffered by the plaintiff as follows:
a) After the first accident, Ms. Morgan experienced pain in her neck, back and shoulder as a result of soft tissue injury and headaches. The pain did not effect Ms. Morgan’s ability to go to work or to do the administrative components of her job, but it was significant enough for Ms. Morgan to give up the teaching component of her job. The pain also affected Ms. Morgan’s ability to do housework, and limited her recreational activities. The headaches were also significant and, among other things, made it difficult for Ms. Morgan to sleep through the night.
b) The second accident exacerbated the effects of the first. The pain in Ms. Morgan’s neck, back and shoulder continued, as did the headaches.
c) In the net result, both accidents caused soft tissue injuries and headaches. There is no evidence of nerve damage or physical disability, although the neck, shoulder, and back pain do make it painful for Ms. Morgan to perform some physical tasks, including leaning over or lifting heavy items.
d) The chronic pain and headaches are not disabling, but have significantly impacted upon Ms. Morgan’s quality of life, by limiting her ability to do things such as working around her house, playing with her grandchildren, and engaging in some recreational activities. The headaches also limit Ms. Morgan’s ability to concentrate for a prolonged period on any one specific administrative task at work, and inhibit Ms. Morgan’s ability to sleep through the night.
e) The effects of Ms. Morgan’s injuries have been more or less constant. Ms. Morgan has not seen any notable improvement in the three years since the second accident and the effects can be expected to continue indefinitely. There is no objective basis for concluding that Ms. Morgan will achieve a full recovery.
After considering comparable cases, the judge awarded the plaintiff $62,000 for pain and suffering.