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Psychological Trauma from a Scar and Disfigurement Injury

Posted by Kotak Law Office on May 22, 2017
Posted under General Information

Motor vehicle accidents and accidents in the home, such as burning or scalding incidents, are the most common accidental causes of scars and disfigurement in Canada. Such injuries may also result from a dog attack, an assault or a sports injury.  Whatever the cause, permanent scars or disfigurement are often traumatizing and have a substantial impact on a person’s life and their sense of self-esteem.  This is particularly true when a person sustains permanent scars on their face or another area of the body that is highly visible.

If you sustained a scar or disfigurement in an accident resulting from negligence, you likely have grounds to seek damages for losses arising from the physical and psychological injuries associated with your scar or disfigurement injury. Among the losses for which you may be compensated are: loss of income; reconstructive surgery, psychological counselling and other medical/rehabilitation treatments; and pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment in life. 

Medical and scientific studies reveal that many accident victims suffer a significant psychological impact as a result of a scarring or disfigurement injury, particularly in the case of facial scars.  Facial scars, even minor facial injuries, can cause anxiety and self-consciousness, as well as other psychological impacts.  Everyone is not impacted in the same way or to the same degree, but most people are negatively effected and these psychological injuries can be permanent as long as the scar remains.

In a 2010 report titled “Psychological Issues in Acquired Facial Trauma” published by the U.S. National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), the authors asserted that the face is a vital component of our body image and our personality.  After sustaining an injury to the face resulting in scarring or disfigurement, a person may acquire a range of body image issues, and may suffer psychological disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, anxiety and depression.

The NCBI article concluded that individuals with acquired facial trauma typically have unique psychological needs and impacts, when compared with those suffering other injuries. They are more likely to suffer from depression, hostility and anxiety.  They often express unhappiness with their facial appearance and this may lead to social withdrawal and isolation.  The study also found that, in social situations, such individuals may feel inferior to others and acquire a stigma associated with their facial disfigurement.  It is not surprising that these body image issues and psychological injuries often impact the accident victim’s general quality of life.

A scar or disfigurement injury may also sometimes result from a medical procedure or another treatment. In Ramotar v. La Fontaine Jeunesse (2010), a Toronto woman sued a Toronto cosmetic surgery clinic for burning and scarring to her face and neck, which she sustained during a laser surgery procedure.  The plaintiff was 24 years old and a full-time student at the time of the treatment, and she sought special and non-pecuniary/general damages. 

The plaintiff’s evidence included photographs of burn marks on her right cheek, chin and front neck area, taken on the day of the laser procedure.  A dermatologist who had been treating the plaintiff diagnosed her injuries as “post inflammatory hyper pigmentation of face and neck” caused by burns from laser hair removal.  Since the laser treatment, the plaintiff had been applying prescribed medication daily as well as make-up to conceal the scarring.  She testified that she was previously a very socially active person, but is now socially introverted and often depressed as a result of her injuries, and fears that her relationship with her boyfriend was at risk because of her disfigurement.  A friend of the plaintiff corroborated the change in personality and emotional strain suffered by the plaintiff.   Although the plaintiff thought and hoped that the scarring was not permanent, particularly with continued treatment, she felt that her situation is uncertain and it would take a long time to heal, which was consistent with the dermatologist’s diagnosis.

The trial judge was able to see the scarring and spotting on the plaintiff’s neck and jaw, and although not as extensive as immediately after her laser treatment, it was still very noticeable almost three years later.  Given the fact that the scarring caused a detrimental impact on the plaintiff’s physical appearance and self-image, which were important to her, the judge awarded general damages of $30,000 as well as special damages to cover such expenses as her cost of medication and make-up.

In another case, Kerins v. Deroche, a man sought damages after he was assaulted in the face by another patron at a Fox and Fiddle tavern in Richmond Hill.  The defendant smashed a glass into the plaintiff’s face when the plaintiff mistakenly sat in a seat he was reserving for a member of his group.  The assault ripped the skin of the then 20-year old man’s lips, nose, eye and cheek, and about 200 stitches were needed to close the wounds.  The defendant later pled guilty to a criminal charge of assault causing bodily harm.  The plaintiff underwent reconstructive surgery which improve the appearance of scarring; however, he was left with some permanent disfigurement. For the year and a half after the assault, he largely remained indoors because cold weather caused him pain and numbness.  In addition to his physical injuries, the plaintiff suffered emotionally from the assault; he continues to be self-conscious and suffers embarrassment and some humiliation in connection with his appearance.  The judge awarded $45,000 in general damages for pain and suffering, as well as an award for past loss of income.

There can clearly be substantial social, psychological and emotional effects when someone sustains a scar or disfigurement injury. If you were injured and wish to seek damages for your losses, call Kotak Personal Injury Law to learn about the strength of your claim and get frank advice on your best options for obtaining a favourable settlement.

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Disclaimer: This article is intended to supply general information to the public. We make every effort to ensure the accuracy of this information. However, as laws change quickly, the reader should always ensure the accuracy and applicability of such information with respect to their particular case. The information contained in this article cannot replace a thorough and complete review of the reader's situation by competent legal counsel who has had an opportunity to review all of the facts.
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