Single mother awarded $458k in crash settlement

More than four years after a Jeep Cherokee crashed into her car during a driving lesson, a Coquitlam mother of two was awarded $458,603 in a recent B.C. Supreme Court judgment.

Born and raised in Romania, Simona Rusu immigrated to Canada in 2009 to join her husband Victor. The couple were starting a life in Maple Ridge when Victor was diagnosed with colon cancer.

After initially making a full recovery, Victor’s cancer returned, leaving Rusu to spend three years caring for her husband and their two young children. Victor died in 2016.

After failing her first drivers’ test later in November 2017, Rusu was taking a driving lesson in a Toyota Corrola on December 13, 2017.

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Rusu, who was 35 at the time, brought the Corolla to a full stop at 216th Street and Lougheed Highway in Maple Ridge. Rusu and the driving instructor were hit by a Jeep Cherokee driven by Christopher Hinchliffe. The jeep was owned and leased by Willowbrook Motors Ltd.

The Corolla was written off as an “obvious total loss,” noted Justice Palbinder Kaur Shergill.

The case was complicated by the fact, three years after the first crash, Rusu was riding in a car that was rear-ended at Lougheed Highway and Dewdney Trunk Road in Maple Ridge.

Ms. Rusu alleged that the injuries from the second crash exacerbated and aggravated her injuries from the first collision.

Because the defendants, Hinchliffe and Willowbrook Motors Ltd., admitted liability, the case was about two issues. First, the court had to determine if it was possible to distinguish the effects of the first crash from the effects of the second collision. The second issue was the amount owed to Rusu to compensate for her pain, suffering, earning capacity and cost of future care.

Ultimately, Justice Shergill determined it was “not possible” to separate the effects of the second collision from the first crash.

After the first crash

Suffering from “almost daily pain in her neck, shoulders, upper and lower back, and hip,” Rusu started going to physiotherapy in 2018.

After moving to Coquitlam, she underwent 31 physiotherapy sessions at Trailside Physio, which helped reduce her pain. She also went for counselling to help with her driving anxiety.

Pain medicine specialist

Rusu was diagnosed with: “chronic whiplash associated disorder, chronic mechanical spine pain, cervicogenic headache, chronic myofascial pain syndrome, mood and anxiety symptoms, and sleep disruption,” by pain medicine specialist Dr. Aaron MacInnes.

Nearly four years after the crash, Rusu continued to experience low mood, anxiety, insomnia and pain in her neck, back and shoulders.

MacInnes said it was unlikely Rusu would make a full recovery to her “pre-collision state.”

A close friend testified that, prior to the crash, Rusu had been outgoing and energetic, adding they would hike the Coquitlam Crunch together.

After the crash she was less happy, less patient and more lethargic, according to the friend.

Rusu testified that she’s unable to walk for more than 500 meters without experiencing pain.

Those injuries affected her relationship with her children, Rusu testified.

Work

In the fall of 2019, Rusu got a part-time job as an office assistant at the BC Christian Academy Society. Her three-month contract was not renewed in 2020 because she lacked the necessary computer skills, according to Shergill’s rulling.

Rusu was unemployed at the start of the pandemic and hadn’t gone back to work as of November 2021.

Final award settlement

Non-pecuniary damages – which account for such things as pain and suffering as well as loss of enjoyment of life – were a source of some dispute at the trial.

Rusu submitted she should receive between $100,000 and $130,000.

The defendants argued Rusu’s injuries are not as severe as suggested and that she should be awarded between $40,000 and $55,000.

Justice Shergill awarded Rusu $100,000.

“During a time when her children need her the most, she finds herself being less patient with them, more irritable, and less willing to engage in physical activity. Since her husband’s passing, Ms. Rusu’s primary social supports in Canada have been her friends. However, because of her injuries and related pain, her friendships have also suffered,” Shergill wrote.

The award would have been $110,000 but Shergill opted to deduct $10,000 due to Rusu’s failure to follow a 12-week rehabilitation program as well as an exercise program recommended by Dr. MacInnes.

The defendants established a “real and substantial possibility” that Rusu would have improved her strength, endurance and tolerance for pain if she’d followed the doctor’s recommendations, Shergill wrote.

Loss of earning capacity

Rusu was awarded $335,000 in lost income. Shergill accounted for the salaries of entry level jobs, the labour market, and Rusu’s role as a single parent and financial needs, according to her judgment.

Including lost earning capacity, pain and suffering, future care and special damages, Rusu was awarded a total of $458,603.

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