Court Criticizes ICBC's "Disappointing" Take On Diminished Earning Capacity Claim

The factors to be considered when assessing damages for ‘diminished earning capacity’ are well established in law.  Reasons for judgement were released today  by the BC Supreme Court, Kelowna Registry, addressing this and criticizing ICBC’s approach when valuing this loss.
In this week’s case (Tarasevich v.Samsam) the “plaintiff’s hips and sacrum were seriously injured in a motor vehicle accident“.  The injury was expected to pose long term problems requiring serial surgeries to address these issues in the future.   The injury caused chronic pain and impacted the Plaintiff’s working tolerance.   Despite this, ICBC argued that the long term injury will only have  a modest impact on the Plaintiff’s earning capacity because “the plaintiff was bound to become a sedentary office worker in any event and that because her physiatrist has said that despite her injuries she can engage in a full-time sedentary occupation, she will therefore not suffer a significant loss of future income“.
Mr. Justice Rogers rejected ICBC’s position and provided the following criticism:
[52]         To repeat: the defence’s approach to this head of damages is to assert that the plaintiff was going to be a sedentary office worker in any event and that because the evidence shows that she is likely to now follow that career path, she cannot be said to have suffered a loss. The defence asserts this proposition notwithstanding the uncontroverted evidence that the plaintiff’s hip and lower back injuries markedly limit her ability to do the kind of work that she actually did, and did well, before her injury.
[53]         It is disappointing that in this day and age, nearly 30 years after Brown v. Golaiy, a defendant would cleave to such a wrong-headed approach to a claim for reduction of earning capacity…
[56]         The plaintiff was a young person when she was injured. It is possible that she would have enjoyed sufficient success in retail sales and management that she would not have gone on to work in an office environment. It is equally possible that she would have taken office administration courses while still working full or part‑time and would have gone on to find employment in an office. The plaintiff’s history in the labour force was too brief to support a confident prediction of the direction her future would take. One cannot, therefore, say that the plaintiff’s loss may be calculated by measuring the delta between pre- and post-injury income streams. For that reason, I find that assessment is the appropriate methodology for this case.
[57]         The plaintiff has made a genuine effort to engage in work. She has tried and failed to work as housecleaner. She has tried and failed to work full-time in the same type of sales job she did before the accident. If the plaintiff does not pursue sedentary work but continues to work in sales or some other occupation that requires her to be on her feet for the majority of the day, I find that her stated preference for part-time work is reasonable given her symptoms and limitations. If she works part-time in a sales position, she will likely have more energy to look after her household and to participate in social activities and such recreational pursuits as she can still do. Working part-time will allow her to achieve some reasonable degree of balance between earning a living and having a life to live.
[58]         On the other hand, I find that as a result of her injuries the plaintiff’s best course of action will be to earn a Grade 12 diploma or its equivalent and then to enroll in a course of post-secondary that will qualify her for employment in an office environment. Even in an office environment, the plaintiff will be a generally less desirable employee than her able-bodied colleagues. In order to work full-time, the plaintiff will need a sympathetic employer who is willing to accommodate her limitations.
[59]         In either case, the plaintiff’s participation in the labour force will be interrupted by serial hip replacement surgeries.
[60]         For these reasons, I have concluded that the proper award for reduction of the plaintiff’s earning capacity is $250,000.

bc injury law, Mr. Justice Rogers, Tarasevich v.Samsam

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ERIK
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When not writing the BC Injury Law Blog, Erik is the managing partner at MacIsaac & Company, based in Victoria, B.C. He is also involved with combative sports regulatory issues and authors the Combat Sports Law Blog.

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