Note: The case discussed in the below entry was overturned by the BC Court of Appeal with respect to the Diminished Earning Capacity Award on March 18, 2010. You can read my post on the BCCA’s decision by clicking here.
Reasons for judgement were released today compensating a Plaintiff for injuries and losses sustained in a 2004 car accident.
The Plaintiff was driving her daughter to pre-school when her vehicle was rear-ended. The impact was ‘sudden and relatively severe‘ and caused enough damage to render the Plaintiff’s vehicle a write-off.
The court heard from a variety of medical ‘expert witnesses’ and placed the most weight on the Plaintiff’s GP. The court found that the Plaintiff ‘now has chronic pain with her soft tissue injuries and that pain and discomfort, in varying levels depending on activity level, will continue indefenately.’ The court also found that the Plaintiff suffers from ‘anxiety associated witht he accident’ and that ‘(she) is at risk of premature arthritis in her cervical spine and left shoulder‘.
In awarding $50,000 for the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary loss (pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) the court noted that:
 The injuries have affected the plaintiff’s family relationships. She is not able to participate in normal physical family and recreational activities to the same extent as before the accident. She cannot perform housework or garden to the same extent. She presents as a perfectionist and is clearly bothered by these restrictions on activities that she enjoys and takes pride in.
 (The Plaintiff) is also anxious and, perhaps, somewhat depressed; her relationship with her husband has been adversely affected, and she is naturally concerned and upset that her children now turn more naturally to their father for physical support and comfort. In addition to the ongoing pain and discomfort that restricts general activities, these factors also affect enjoyment of life. I take them into account in determining a fit award for non-pecuniary loss.
The most interesting part of this judgement for me was the court’s discussion of loss of earning capacity. Here the court found that the Plaintiff does have permanent injuries but that these will have ‘slight, if any, actual impact on her future earnings‘.
What interested me was the courts comments trying to reconcile to seemingly opposed lines of authority from the BC Court of Appeal addressing loss of future earnings. When one asks for an award for ‘loss of future income’ or ‘loss of earning capacity’ one has to prove this loss. There are various ways of doing this at trial.
Here the Plaintiff advanced a claim of loss of earning capacity using the ‘capital asset approach‘ as set out by our Court of Appeal in Pallos v. ICBC. The Defence lawyer argued that a subsequent case (Steward v. Berezan) overruled the law as set out in Pallos.
After listening to this debate the court noted that:
44] With respect, it is not clear, as I understand Steward, how one gets to the capital asset approach without first proving a substantial possibility of future income loss in relation to the plaintiff’s position at the time of trial. I cannot reconcile that approach with the factors first listed in Brown, later summarized in Palmer, and finally approved in Pallos in the passages set out earlier in my reasons.
 It would be helpful if the Court of Appeal has an opportunity to address these issues fully. I observe that the Court of Appeal since held in one decision that Steward turned on its facts and did not create any new principle of law. The court also affirmed Parypa in the same decision. See Djukic v. Hahn, 2007 BCCA 203, at paras. 14 and 15.
Here the court held that “there is no reference in Steward to Pallos. Steward, in my view, does not over rule Pallos‘.
Mr. Justice Macaulay went on to reconcile the apparent conflict between these cases by concluding that Steward should be limited to its own ‘narrow factual circumstances‘ and awarding the Plaintiff damages based on the less stingent ‘capital asset approach‘.