Possibility of Jail Not a "Negative Contingency" When Assessing Diminished Earning Capacity
This week the BC Court of Appeal provided reasons explaining that it is not appropriate for a judge or jury to reduce damages for diminished earning capacity when there is a possibility the Plaintiff will be incarcerated in the future.
In this week’s case (Albert v. Politano) the Plaintiff was seeking substantial damages for a collision caused injury which impeded him in his usual occupation. Prior to his injury trial the Plaintiff was charged with a criminal offence which he was disputing. The Defendant argued that the jury could consider the possibility of conviction and incarceration in assessing injury caused diminished earning capacity. In finding this inappropriate the BC Court of Appeal provided the following comments:
42] I do not agree the judge erred as alleged. I reach this conclusion for three reasons. First, the judge was not asked to give the instruction now advocated, notwithstanding the opportunity given to counsel to comment on the proposed instructions. Second, there was no evidence upon which a jury could assess the value of such a contingency. Third, and most important, I do not consider it would have been appropriate for the jury to reduce the future damage award for the negative contingency of a possible future jail sentence, in the circumstances before the Court. Mr. Albert stood in the courts, and in the community, as innocent until proven guilty. Even if proven guilty, there was no certainty that he would receive a jail sentence. In my view, it would have been entirely speculative for the jury to reduce the damage award to reflect the chance that he might be convicted on the outstanding charges. This is unlike the case relied upon by the appellants, British Columbia v. Zastowny,  1 S.C.R. 27, (2008) S.C.C. 4, wherein the Supreme Court of Canada, on appeal from this court, affirmed the appropriateness of a deduction in damages to take account of a period of incarceration that was established as a fact at the trial.