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If you’re hurt in a car accident, your physical injuries may heal fairly quickly. But the accident could also trigger long-lasting psychological injuries – for which you could be entitled to compensation.

In a recent case, Tess (names changed) stood at an intersection one Friday, waiting to cross. She was struck by Mike’s speeding car, which ran a red light. The impact lifted Tess off her feet. Her head and shoulders hit the windshield and she flew some 15 feet up in the air, landing about 20 feet away.

ICBC admitted Mike was to blame for the accident, but disagreed that the accident caused Tess’s post-accident psychological difficulties.

Tess’s recollection of the accident was hazy. She was taken to hospital by ambulance. Tests were done and she was sent home with her parents. The next Monday, Tess went back to teaching, but due to pain and exhaustion, she took almost three weeks off work. She completed her teaching term in June, and for another year taught part-time. But she then took consecutive leaves of absence from the Langley school board over the next three years. She mostly did tutoring and other less demanding tasks during this time.

Overall, Tess suffered surprisingly minor physical injuries from the impact. Apart from her head injuries, her body showed some bruising, and she had chest and back pain and neck issues. All her external physical injuries healed fairly quickly and fully though.

But that wasn’t the case with her psychological injuries. Tess said her “complicated” (or persistent) mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI) from the accident led to her three-year leave of absence from the school board. She also said her personality and ability to function had been impaired, dimming her future employment prospects too.

ICBC admitted Tess suffered an MTBI from the accident but argued it didn’t lead to permanent or long lasting psychological damage – there were other reasons for Tess’s leaves of absence and her current mental condition.

Years before the accident, Tess had worked in Africa with young children and found that work very meaningful. When she returned home she regained her teaching credentials but had some readjustment issues. The work wasn’t as meaningful she felt, and she had trouble coping with teaching in the normal prescribed environment, rather than her preferred Montessori environment, even before the accident. ICBC argued it was psychological issues pre-dating the accident that caused her ongoing difficulties.

The court pointed out that “mild” traumatic brain injury” is a misleading, relative term – it’s really a serious brain injury that can sometimes persist. Tess wasn’t exaggerating her problems after the accident. Her coping skills, energy and performance as a teacher suffered after the accident. She became irritable, and compared to before, her memory, concentration and mental function were impaired. She also became depressed and socially isolated. The car accident was a cause of these emotional and mental problems, though not the only cause.

The court decided Tess had sustained a complicated MTBI and awarded her about $700,000 in total compensation.

Janice Mucalov, LL.B. for Gertsoyg & Company. This column provides information only and must not be relied on for legal advice. Please call Gertsoyg & Company at (604) 602-3066 for a free legal consultation concerning your particular case.

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