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Psychiatric injury similar in impact to brain injury – results in one of the highest non-pecuniary awards for psychiatric injury in Canadian history

The plaintiff in Hans v. Volvo Trucks North America Inc., 2016 BCSC 1155 received one of the highest non-pecuniary awards for psychiatric injury in Canadian history – $265,000. He was a long haul trucker driving his tractor-trailer on the Trans-Canada Highway in Manitoba when, without warning, all electrical power was lost. The plaintiff lost all control and the trailer jack-knifed and came towards the driver’s side of the truck’s cab. The plaintiff thought he would die. The manufacturer of the vehicle, Volvo, was held liable for the resulting collision. The 33 year old plaintiff did not suffer any serious physical injuries, but did suffer PTSD and a major depressive disorder.

The court found that the plaintiff’s “injuries were life altering in every respect.” Emotionally and socially he became a shadow of this former gregarious self. He was left with a slow gait due to psychomotor retardation or the effects of the medication for his psychiatric symptoms, and he had problems with concentration, memory, nightmares, and sleeplessness. He attempted suicide three times, each of which saw him hospitalized for an extended period of time. It was found that there is little prospect that the plaintiff will “ever recover socially, emotionally or mentally.”

In awarding $265,000 for non-pecuniary damages the court found the plaintiff’s psychological injuries to be near catastrophic and similar in impact to that of a serious brain injury. The court stated that it would be artificial to differentiate the two. This decision may be signalling a shift towards a judicial recognition that psychological injury, such as PTSD, can have an impact similar to that of a traumatic brain injury.

Case law summary by Tim Wedge