On January 15, 2011, while she was a front-seat passenger, a woman was injured in a vehicle that was rear-ended in stop-and-go traffic. The 54 year old woman suffered a whiplash injury which caused neck and back pain. Her symptoms persisted and worsened, and evolved into chronic pain syndrome. She had difficulty standing or sitting for any length of time and was unable to return to her job as a social worker. In Nkunda-Batware v Zhou, 2016, the plaintiff sued the ‘at fault’ driver for damages, including loss of past and future income, future care, and general damages (for pain and suffering) and was awarded $418,330 in damages in a trial by jury. The judge accepted the opinion of the three psychiatrists who testified on behalf of the plaintiff that the whiplash sustained in the accident caused her chronic pain, as well as the opinion of the occupational therapists who testified that there is a significant interference in the plaintiff’s ability to perform ordinary housekeeping and home maintenance responsibilities. It was also accepted that her condition is not likely to substantially improve, and her injury met the threshold of a serious and permanent impairment of an important physical, mental or psychological function.
What is Chronic Pain Syndrome?
Chronic Pain Syndrome (CPS) normally occurs as the result of a serious injury or illness, when the pain from the injury lasts longer than six months. Sometimes, the chronic pain itself causes further complications that can make the pain worse for the sufferer. As a result, chronic pain syndrome is a vicious cycle; it is a combination of chronic pain and secondary complications that worsen the original pain.
The secondary complications are problems that result from the ongoing pain. People who are in pain due to an injury typically have trouble sleeping. Constant fatigue makes it more difficult to deal with the pain. Because they are feeling unwell, sufferers may stop working and subsequently experience financial difficulties from their loss of income. The stress from these issues intensifies their difficulty sleeping and fatigue and individuals often become irritable, anxious and depressed.
Stress often affects the nervous system. Thus, the stress that is felt by people in this situation manifests as a nerve related problem. Medical experts who rehabilitate people with chronic pain explain that once this nerve-related pain travels along the nervous system to the person’s brain, it registers as actual pain (The Institute for Chronic Pain, Sept 27, 2015). The pain signals in the brain are amplified when stress affects the nervous system.
How does CPS affect people?
Some of the physical symptoms of chronic pain syndrome are: headaches, lower back pain, neurogenic pain (pain that results from damage to the central nervous system or peripheral nerves), arthritis pain, and psychogenic pain (pain that is not due to any past injuries or illness, and for which there is no visible sign of damage). A single person may suffer from multiple co-existing chronic pain conditions. Some of these conditions are: chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, endometriosis, inflammatory bowel disease, and others. According to the American National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), it has not been determined whether these conditions share a common cause.
As well as sometimes having to give up their job, many people experiencing CPS no longer participate in social and family functions. This condition may lead to marital problems and other family issues. Victims of chronic pain syndrome commonly express feelings of guilt and a lack of direction in life. Adolescents with CPS are at greater risk of contemplating and attempting suicide.
Treatments for people with Chronic Pain Syndrome
CPS is a difficult condition to treat due to the complexity of causal factors and a poor response to treatment. Some diagnosticians identify a patient as suffering from chronic pain syndrome when pain persists longer than the expected healing time, which may be diagnosed as early as three months following an injury or a severe illness.
Treatments for chronic pain include medications, brain stimulation, acupuncture, local electrical stimulation and surgery (according to the U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke). Additional treatments for CPS are relaxation and medication therapies, psychotherapy, behaviour modification and biofeedback.
Obtaining compensation for people suffering from CPS
Anyone who was injured in an accident may be eligible for compensation for the losses they suffered. Motor vehicle accident victims in Ontario are eligible to make a claim for statutory accident benefits under their vehicle insurance policy, which also applies to pedestrians, cyclists and others injured in a motor vehicle collision. Accident victims who were injured due to the negligence of another person can also claim for damages against the person responsible for the accident. “Damages” refers to financial compensation that is awarded in a civil lawsuit, for pecuniary losses (monetary losses or expenses) and non-pecuniary losses (i.e. for pain and suffering) that are experienced as a result of an accident.
Ontario courts recognize chronic pain syndrome as a very real condition that some people struggle with for many years following an accident. CPS may result after a motor vehicle collision, a slip, trip and fall, or any type of accident that causes serious injury. Individuals suffering from chronic pain are urged to seek medical treatment that is personalized for their symptoms so that they can improve their quality of life in as much as is possible, given their unique circumstances.
If you or a loved one are experiencing chronic pain in the aftermath of an accident, an experienced personal injury lawyer can determine whether you have a valid claim for damages. The lawyers at Kotak Law have helped many accident victims suffering from CPS get the compensation they are owed.
If you are being denied long-term disability benefits, we can act as your representative to ensure you get deserved disability benefits from your insurer or CPP-disability benefits. If your injuries resulted from an accident in which another person was negligent, call Kotak Law to build a strong claim against the ‘at fault’ party. Let us take care of the financial and legal aspects of your claim, so that you can focus on getting well.