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Damages for Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

In Noiles v. MTD Products Inc., 2019 ONSC 4642, the plaintiff was putting air into a tire of a snow thrower when the tire rim exploded. He was 39 years old at the time.

Pieces of the fractured rim and tire struck the plaintiff’s right shin. He sustained bruising and a laceration which required three stitches, but there was no hole in his jeans or sock.

The plaintiff asserted that he developed Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (“CRPS”) as a result of the accident. One of the experts testified that CRPS is essentially a pain syndrome that lasts longer than expected based on observation of an injury or appearance.

The expert said that signs and symptoms of CRPS can include changes in sweating, changes in temperature, swelling, weakness, sustained contractions, sustained postures of limbs, pain that is out of proportion, and pain that is elicited by benign or innocuous stimuli, such as a light touch or breeze.

The plaintiff testified that he has trouble sleeping. He wakes up because of pain and burning.  Sheets or blankets touching his leg cause pain. He cannot predict when he will have pain. He was able to return to work seven months after the accident, but at reduced hours and capacity.

Several witnesses provided evidence of a significant change in the plaintiff since the accident.

The defendants argued that the plaintiff sustained only nominal injury beyond the laceration and that his inability to work in his pre-accident capacity was due to a subsequent motor vehicle accident and back problems unrelated to the incident in question.

In addition, surveillance showed the plaintiff engaging in physical activities, such as cutting his grass, pruning plants, fixing his eavestrough, driving to an arena, and carrying heavy garment bags containing hockey sweaters.

The plaintiff’s expert stated that the surveillance was not clinically relevant to him because CRPS is cyclical in nature. The defence expert initially believed that the plaintiff had developed mild to moderate CRPS, but changed his opinion after reviewing the surveillance.

Justice Leitch accepted that the accident caused CRPS and assessed non-pecuniary general damages at $125,000.

Justice Leitch assessed past income loss at $375,600 and future income loss at $641,960. Future care costs were assessed at approximately $82,000.

The plaintiff’s spouse was awarded $45,000 under the Family Law Act, and his two children were each awarded $20,000.

Disability benefits were not deducted from the damages because there was evidence that the plaintiff contributed to the cost of the disability insurance.

Justice Leitch also rejected the defendants’ argument that the plaintiff failed to mitigate his losses.

In total, the plaintiffs were awarded over $1.3 million. This case is an example of a seemingly minor accident leading to a significant award of damages.