School district loses appeal

The Chilliwack school district has lost its appeal of a $1.3 million court award to a student who was injured playing field hockey in 1998 when he was 13.

The appeal court upheld the lower court’s ruling, but reduced the amount of the award by $265,000 to $1.1 million.

Devon Hussack, now 26, suffered a concussion when he was struck in the face with a field hockey stick during a physical education class at Vedder middle school on April 17, 1998.

But that injury developed over time into a “serious somatoform disorder” which is a psychiatric illness commonly known as hypochondria.

The trial judge found the disorder was caused by the injury, and that the P.E. teacher had breached his duty of care by allowing Devon to play the game without “progressively attaining the necessary skills” to play safely.

Devon was awarded $1,365,000 in damages, which included past and future wages lost as a result of the injury.

The school board appealed the ruling, arguing that the “obsessive, pathological behaviour” of Hussack’s father was the cause of the somatoform disorder, which had developed after the injury.

The board argued that Hussack’s father had a “smothering” relationship with his son prior to the injury, and Devon had missed so much schooling with his father’s consent that he likely would not have graduated, despite the injury.

However, the appeal court found that Hussack’s lawyer had “proven on a balance of probabilities that the blow to the head (resulting from the defendant’s negligence) was indeed the trigger which set in motion the sequence of events leading to the development of Devon’s somatoform disorder.”

While the father’s conduct was a “contributing cause,” the appeal court justices continued, it did not “relieve the (school) board of liability.”

The school district also argued that the trial judge had failed to deduct “residual future income-earning capacity” in her award of damages, and had erred in her assessment of past wage loss.

The appeal court agreed that given Hussack’s school record before the accident, there was a 25 per cent chance he would not graduate, so reduced the past wage loss award by $50,000 to $150,000 and the award for future earning capacity to $785,000 from $1 million.