ICBC Injury Claims and Future Wage Loss

One of the most difficult types of damages to value when a person sustains serious and permanent injuries through the fault of another in a BC Car Crash is that of ‘Future Wage Loss’.
Courts in British Columbia often view a person’s ability to earn a living as a ‘capital asset’ and if disabling injuries are sustained then that capital asset becomes diminished.  Accordingly BC Courts often assess damages for future wage loss as damages for a ‘diminished earning capacity’.
The basic principles that courts consider in awarding damages for ‘diminished earning capacity’ were set out almost 25 years ago in a BC Supreme Court case named Brown v. Golaiy,  These factors are as follows:

The means by which the value of the lost, or impaired, asset is to be assessed varies of course from case to case. Some of the considerations to take into account in making that assessment include whether:

1.      The plaintiff has been rendered less capable overall from earning income from all types of employment;

2.      The plaintiff is less marketable or attractive as an employee to potential employers;

3.      The plaintiff has lost the ability to take advantage of all job opportunities which might otherwise have been open to him, had he not been injured; and

4.      The plaintiff is less valuable to himself as a person capable of earning income in a competitive labour market.

In 2007, in a case named Steward v. Berezan, the BC Court of Appeal rejected a trial judges award for diminished earning capacity stating that “… The claimant bears the onus to prove at trial a substantial possibility of a future event leading to an income loss, and the court must then award compensation on an estimation of the chance that the event will occur…

Ever since Berezan many ICBC Injury Defence Lawyers have argued that the law has changed since Brown v. Golaiy and that there is a higher burden to reach before damages for future wage loss can be awarded.

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court (Ashmore v. Banicevic) dealing with this argument and concluding that the factors set out in Brown v. Golaiy remain good law.  In a thorough analysis Madam Justice Smith gave the following reasons:

[140]          While a literal reading of that statement might indicate a change in the law, embodying an express direction to inquire first into whether there is a substantial possibility of future income loss before embarking on assessment of the loss (see Chang v. Feng, 2008 BCSC 49; 55 C.C.L.T. (3d) 203, and Naidu v. Mann, 2007 BCSC 1313, 53 C.C.L.T. (3d) 1), the Court of Appeal inDjukic v. Hahn, 2007 BCCA 203, 66 B.C.L.R. (4th) 314 (at para. 14) limited Steward v. Berezan to its facts, stating: 

…The error of the trial judge in Steward was in awarding damages for loss of earning capacity based on the plaintiff’s inability to work as a carpenter in circumstances where he had not worked as a journeyman carpenter for twenty years prior to the trial and, at age 55, did not contemplate any return to the trade.  The case turned on its facts and did not establish any new principle of law.  Conversely here, the assessment was based on a business actively pursued by both respondents when the accidents intervened and not on any long abandoned occupation without a prospect of their return to it.  I am satisfied that Steward has no application in the case at bar. 

[141]        In Sinnott v. Boggs, the plaintiff was a 16-year-old girl who had been 11 at the time of the accident.  The medical prognosis was that she would continue to suffer neck and shoulder aches, ongoing discomfort and intermittent headaches.  The trial judge assessed non-pecuniary damages of $35,000, past wage loss of $2,400 and lost earning capacity of $30,000 “for being less marketable as an employee because of the limitations on her ability to work competitively in all jobs previously open to her”.  The assessment of damages was upheld on appeal.  Mackenzie J.A. referred to the submission of the defendant on appeal that since there was no finding that any particular types of work were foreclosed to the plaintiff, no award for lost earning capacity could be made.  He referred to a number of authorities, including Steward v. Berezan, at para. 11, and stated:

All of those cases involved middle-aged plaintiffs in settled occupations.  Their continuing symptoms resulted in continuing pain and occupational discomfort but they did not reduce the plaintiffs’ ability to earn income in their chosen occupations.  There was no prospect that they would change employment to occupations where their earning capacity would be impaired.

[142]        MacKenzie J.A. then stated at para. 13 – 17:

In my view, the limitation on loss of earning capacity awards advanced by the appellant is not supported either in logic or by the authorities.

Three of the four factors outlined in Brown are broad enough to support an award in circumstances where a plaintiff is able to continue in an occupation but the ability to perform and the earning capacity resulting from that ability are impaired by the injury.

The line between non-pecuniary damages and damages for loss of earning capacity is between losses that sound in pain and suffering and loss of non-remunerative amenities on the one hand, and pecuniary losses in the form of a reduced ability to earn income on the other. There is no reason why an injury which permits a plaintiff to continue in a particular occupation but at a reduced level of performance and income should not be compensated for that pecuniary loss through damages for loss of earning capacity.

In the case at bar, Ms. Sinnott is a young person who has not yet established a career and has no settled pattern of employment. In such circumstances, quantifying a loss is more at large. Southin J.A. commented on this distinction in Stafford

[42]  That there can be a case in which a plaintiff is so established in a profession that there is no reasonable possibility of his pursuing, whether by choice or necessity, a different one is obvious. For instance, on the one hand, if a judge of this Court were to be permanently injured to the extent that he or she could no longer do physical, in contradistinction to mental, labour, he or she would have no claim for impairment of earning capacity because the trier of fact gazing into the crystal ball would not see any possibility that the judge would ever abandon the law for physical labour, assuming that immediately before the accident the judge was capable of physical labour. But, on the other hand, if a plaintiff is young and has no trade or profession, the trier of fact gazing into the crystal ball might well consider whether the impairment of physical ability will so limit his future employment opportunities that he will suffer a loss. See e.g. Earnshaw v. Despins (1990), 45 B.C.L.R. (2d) 380 (C.A.).

[43] There is, if I may use the word, a continuum from obviously no impairment of earning capacity from a permanent physical impairment, no matter how serious the impairment, to a very large potential loss which must be based on all the circumstances of the particular plaintiff.

I agree with those observations.  Ms. Sinnott is in a category of those who are young and without a settled line of work. The trial judge has found that Ms. Sinnott faces limitations on her ability to work competitively in jobs that were previously open to her. In my view, that finding is an adequate foundation for the trial judge’s award. I am satisfied that there was evidence to support the trial judge’s conclusions on the facts and there is no palpable and over-riding error of fact which would permit this Court to disturb her conclusion or award.

[143]        I conclude that the approach I should take to the assessment of lost earning capacity has not changed.  Accordingly, I must consider, with reference to the factors listed in Brown v. Golaiy, whether the evidence establishes the basis for an award in this case, and if so, at what level.

______________________________________________________________________________________

On another note, today’s case dealt with chronic soft tissue injuries and serious headaches.  In awarding $80,000 for the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary losses, the court made the following findings of fact about the Plaintiff’s injuries and prognosis:

[113]        I have considered all of the evidence given by treating physicians and other health care practitioners, as well as the evidence of Dr. Jung and Dr. Schweigel, who saw the plaintiff for the purpose of providing medical-legal reports.  Dr. Schweigel deferred to the expertise of Dr. Blasberg with respect to the jaw injury; as well, he saw the plaintiff on only one occasion, while Dr. Bowlsby and Dr. Condon both saw him on a number of occasions.  Both Dr. Bowlsby and Dr. Condon are very experienced practitioners and struck me as fair-minded witnesses who were not advocating for their patient.  Dr. Jung’s two examinations of the plaintiff were thorough and well-documented.  I accept the evidence of Dr. Condon, Dr. Bowlsby and Dr. Jung, who all had extensive contact with the plaintiff, and do not accept the evidence of Dr. Schweigel where it is in conflict with their evidence.  I also accept the evidence of Dr. Blasberg.

[114]        Upon consideration of all the evidence, I find that Mr. Ashmore suffered a whiplash injury in the motor vehicle accident affecting his jaw, neck, shoulders and back.  I find that he suffers a continuous low-grade headache and serious headaches at least twice weekly, and that he continues to experience right-sided neck and upper back pain, pain with swallowing, and pain in the region of the jaw joint.  There is no evidence that he suffered from these symptoms prior to the motor vehicle accident.  I do not find on the evidence that stress causes his symptoms, although it may exacerbate them.  I find that but for the accident Mr. Ashmore would not experience the persistent headaches which I find are his worst ongoing symptom, and that but for the accident he would not suffer the other symptoms I have referred to.  I find that the plaintiff has met the burden of showing on the balance of probabilities that the defendant’s negligence caused his injuries.

[115]        The plaintiff’s symptoms arising from the injuries caused by the accident have caused him frequently to require rest in the middle of the day, necessitating work late into the night.  The extent of those symptoms is shown by the fact that they have caused him to give up most of the very active sports he formerly enjoyed, and have constrained his ability to assist with the care of his young children and to enjoy the kind of life he led before the accident.  As well, these symptoms have reduced the amount of time and energy he has available for work outside his regular employment.  Finally, the symptoms have led him to spend considerable time pursuing relief through various forms of treatment.

[116]        Taking into account the opinion evidence of all of the expert witnesses as to the likelihood of further recovery, I find that Mr. Ashmore is not likely to make a full recovery, although he may experience some improvement to the point where he will be able to manage his symptoms better. 

ashmore v. banicevic, brown v. golaiy, diminished earning capacity, dr. schweigel, future wage loss, icbc advice, icbc claims lawyer, icbc injury claims, icbc injury lawyer, neck injury, soft tissue cases, whiplash cases

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ERIK
MAGRAKEN

Personal Injury Lawyer

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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