Post traumatic stress disorder, also known as PTSD, is a mental health condition that is triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.
When some people suffer from PTSD, it can be extremely disabling to all aspects of their lives. Not only can some people not work due to PTSD, they also have a hard time socializing and maintaining relationships. It can be a very severe condition.
PTSD is not an uncommon condition to develop when a someone is either involved in or witnesses a significant and severe motor vehicle accident. Kempton v. Struke Estate 2020 BCSC 2094 is a recent case involving an injured claimant who suffered from extreme PTSD as a result of a tragic motor vehicle accident.
In this case, the injured claimant was driving a tractor trailer on a highway just outside of Prince George. Traveling in the opposite direction was a 19 year-old male who had been drinking with friends the evening before and into the morning and who was likely fatigued. His car crossed the centre line into the lane occupied by the injured claimant’s oncoming truck. He tried to brake and the tractor-trailer locked in a long skid. The other driver made no attempt to brake and, just before impact, the injured claimant saw that the other driver’s head was slumped over the steering wheel, likely asleep. He stared at the sleeping other driver as his car disappeared under the front of his truck. The police report described the car as it being crushed like an accordion. In accident scene photographs, but for the tires, it is barely recognizable as a vehicle. The other driver’s body was crushed and torn apart. He was killed instantly.
The impact threw the injured claimant to the floor of his truck cab. The truck cab partly buckled in the collision, trapping him inside, wedged on the floor. Through the “ankle window” he could see up close the wreckage of the other car. He desperately tried to escape, as emergency responders tried to force open the doors. For the five years since the accident, he has been unable to sleep for more than two or three hours at a stretch. Recurring nightmares of the accident and being trapped in the cab cause him to jerk violently in his sleep. He claws the bedroom wall, and his toenails gouge his legs, as he tries to kick free.
Remarkably, the injured claimant did not suffer serious physical injury in the accident. Diagnosed injuries were limited to bruising on his chest and a friction burn on his calf. He was discharged from hospital later that day. His main injury from the accident was PTSD which was severe and disabling.
Based on the evidence presented at trial, the trial judge concluded that the accident affected every aspect of the injured claimant’s life. It rendered a vital, engaging, hard-working man into a broken and lethargic shell of his former self. The trial judge noted that his present despair was conveyed through his own testimony, through the testimony of his wife, and through the testimony of the medical experts who assessed him. It was also conveyed through his presentation during his lengthy testimony at trial. At all times, the trial judge noted that he seemed to be suffering from physical and emotional pain, with scarcely repressed anger. His appearance was disheveled. His affect was flat; his tone was blunt. His eyes were dark and darting. His testimony was often meandering and distracted. He had to ask for questions to be repeated. He would lose track of his answers halfway through and have to restart.
Damages for pain and suffering were awarded in the amount of $200,000.00.