A Nova Scotia woman has been awarded $90,000 after witnessing a horrific traffic accident that killed her friend more than a decade ago.
In a decision dated March 21, Justice Michael Wood ruled Melissa Trenholm is entitled to the money because she suffers from post traumatic stress disorder as a result of the accident on Aug. 22, 2003.
Trenholm, who was 22 years old at the time, was driving home with two friends after an evening of playing pool in Amherst. They were headed to Oxford on the Trans-Canada Highway when their van broke down at about 2 a.m.
The three decided to walk home along the side of the highway. As they got to the Oxford exit, court heard that Trenholm stumbled as a transport truck passed them.
The truck struck her two friends. One of her friends, Tom Reid, was thrown into a ditch and killed instantly. The other friend was injured, while Trenholm was not physically hurt.
"Following the accident, she was in shock for a period of time and things became very emotional," Wood wrote in his decision. "She had a hard time sleeping. She felt guilty because Tom was killed and she was not hurt.
"She was angry at the truck driver, as well as how police acted and the assumptions they made about who was at fault."
In the 10 years since the accident, Trenholm moved around the country and held a series of short-term jobs in the service industry, according to court documents. She gave up on furthering her education until very recently.
Sleep and anxiety disorders
A number of medical experts have assessed and treated Trenholm over the years. Many of them were called to testify in her lawsuit, which took place over a six-month period last year.
"Ms. Trenholm described feelings of hopelessness, depression, anxiety and times when she felt 'that there is no point,'" Wood wrote. "She said that these feelings are integrated into every day."
Wood also describes some of the symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder that have plagued her since the accident.
"The sound of a large truck sometimes causes her to be jumpy," he wrote. "Driving by the scene of the accident causes her to remember it, as does seeing certain people, such as Tom's family or friends.
"It felt like being in a 'dark hole' and not wanting to look for a way out."
According to court documents, Trenholm has been prescribed Ativan for sleep and anxiety disorders. She's reported having night terrors and driving has also been difficult. Even as a passenger, court heard she cowers in the back seat of vehicles, huddled over.
She said getting the mail is also stressful because her family mailbox is at the end of the driveway near the highway and she would back away when vehicles passed by.
Trenholm had initially asked for $750,000 from the truck driver and the company that employed him. Instead, Wood awarded her $70,000 in general damages and $20,000 for diminished earnings and lost wages.
Trenholm's parents are also getting $3,000 each for the care and support they've provided her since the accident.