Husband awarded $20,000 for nervous shock after seeing accident scene and dying spouse
Stegemann v. Pasemko 2007 BCSC 1062, tells the story of Mr. Stegemann and hiswife, Ms. Collier. They met in 1988 and became friends. They began to live together common law in 1991. They married in July of 1994. Ms. Collier had been skiing on March 9, 2003. Ms. Collier had made arrangements to ride home with some friends. Mr. Stegemann expected a phone call from Ms. Collier so that he could pick her up part way and drive her the rest of the way. He did not receive that call. He attempted to phone her but did not receive an answer on her cell phone. He became concerned and began driving back towards the ski hill. He came upon the scene of the accident. He recognized the vehicle in which Ms. Collier was riding. It had been struck in a head on collision. Ms. Collier died shortly after, either on the way to the hospital or at the emergency room in the hospital. Liability is not an issue.
Mr. Stegemann made a claim for compensation under the Family Compensation Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 126. Mr. Stegemann also claimed damages for nervous shock and depression. He came upon the scene of the accident shortly after it occurred while the police and ambulance were in attendance. He also saw Ms. Collier shortly after in the hospital emergency room.
In assessing the claim of Mr. Stegemann for nervous shock, the court noted that Mr. Stegemann and Ms. Collier had a close and loving marriage. They were both committed to their family and worked well together supporting each other. This was a first marriage for each of them and they were both in their thirties at the time of their marriage. The Court recognized that Mr. Stegemann has suffered a great deal of grief at the loss of his wife.
The court opined that it does not compensate an individual for the indirect results or reaction to the death or injury of a loved one; that is for sorrow or grief that they may have suffered as a result of the loss of a close family member, but rather the court has the authority to compensate a person for injuries they may have suffered as a result of a nervous shock. In other words, an actual psychological or emotional injury caused by, but not resulting from the negligence of the defendant.
In this case, Mr. Stegemann was waiting for Ms. Collier to call him so that he could meet the friends that were giving her a ride home from the ski hill. He would then give her a ride the rest of the way home. When she did not call, he attempted to reach her, but did not receive a response. He became concerned and began driving back towards the ski hill. He came upon the scene of the accident, the ambulance and the police cars were in attendance. He parked his vehicle and approached on foot. He came upon the vehicle and recognized it as the vehicle in which Ms. Collier would have been riding. He met one of the friends that Ms. Collier would have been riding with and was told that Ms. Collier was not in good shape and it was best that he not see her. He did see Ms. Collier in the ambulance, he did see her move but she was not responsive. His children were with him in his vehicle and he took steps to have them cared for and immediately attended at the emergency room in the hospital. Ms. Collier was being attended by two or three doctors and some nurses. Mr. Stegemann’s evidence is that upon seeing her, he believed that she had died.
The Court held that while he was required to explain to the children that their mother had died and deal with all of the matters that arise following the death of a close family member this was not compensable. In assessing the effect of the collision on Mr. Stegemann, the Court found:
59 His evidence is that his obligations towards the children are what kept him going, but that his wife’s death and the impact of seeing her at the accident scene and in the hospital affected him in a number of ways. He had to drive by the scene of the accident any time that he took the children skiing. He suffered headaches from the stress, fear and shock. He attended his family doctor and was prescribed antidepressants. His evidence is that he suffered from lack of sleep and had flashbacks. He said that the scene of the accident has left a visual imprint on him. Seeing the vehicles he could observe the tremendous force that must have occurred. If he hears ambulance or police sirens at night, he is unable to sleep. He says that the effects are less now than they were originally. In one particular incident last year he was driving towards the scene of the accident on the way to the ski hill. He said for reasons he does not understand, he almost came to a complete stop on the highway. He was not aware of what he was doing until one of the children asked him why he was stopping.
Mr. Stegemann’s family prescribed him medication as he was suffering from a major sleep disorder and poor concentration. The doctor’s opinion is that Mr. Stegemann suffered “severe mental and emotional shock at the sudden death of his wife in an automobile accident”. The Court held:
61 I find that Mr. Stegemann has proven that he did suffer a direct psychological injury caused by shock of coming upon the scene of the accident and seeing the wreckage and the condition of his wife at the scene as well as seeing her body immediately thereafter at the emergency room in the hospital. This is separate from his grief. This was reasonably foreseeable and was caused by the negligent act of the defendant.
In reviewing other judicial decision for similar injuries the Court held:
64 In the present case, I find that the appropriate amount of damages are $20,000.00.