Recognizing the Real Financial Toll of Catastrophic Injuries


(UPDATE: February 3, 2012The below cost of care award was reduced somewhat in reasons for judgement released by the BC Court of Appeal)
Important reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Chilliwack Registry, recognizing the real financial toll that catastrophic injuries can cause.
In today’s case (O’Connell v. Yung) the Plaintiff was seriously injured in a 2007 motor vehicle collision.   Her car was struck by a tractor-trailer pinning her vehicle against the Massey Tunnel.  The injuries were extensive and these included traumatic brain injury, a cervical spine fracture, fractures to her right femur, ankle, tibia, fibula, toes, ribs, nose and sternum.  The Plaintiff also sustained injury to her spleen and liver. These left the Plaintiff with chronic pain and serious dysfunction requiring a high level of daily supervision and care.
The Plaintiff initially received such care from a ‘personal care worker’, however she was uncomfortable having strangers tend to her for prolonged periods and eventually her husband of many years took over the role as primary caregiver.  This amounted to full time work.
The biggest issue at trial was the Plaintiff’s accident related future care needs.  The Plaintiff sought compensation for the fair value of hiring individuals to provide her with the care she needed.  The Defendant argued that “any award for the future cost of personal care must be reduced to take into account the fact that Mr. O’Connell is present in the household to provide supervision and guidance and a contingency can be factored in to address the possibility that he will at some point be unable or unwilling to continue to provide this care“.
Madam Justice Fisher rejected this argument and went on to award the Plaintiff $2.25 million dollars to compensate her for her  future care needs.  In doing so the Court provided the following useful reasons:

[124]     I do not accept the defendants’ submission that an award for the cost of future personal care must be reduced to take into account the role Mr. O’Connell plays in providing supervision and guidance to Ms. O’Connell.  Ms. O’Connell is entitled to be compensated for the cost of care that is medically required. As Groves J. held in Cojocaru, the law does not permit the defendants to pass off their responsibility to provide appropriate future care by suggesting that Ms. O’Connell can and should rely on her husband to take care of her.  A husband is not expected to care for his injured wife on a gratuitous basis: see Andrews at p. 243.

[125]     The same principle was expressed in Vana v. Tosta, [1968] S.C.R. 71, where one of the issues involved an award for the cost of future housekeeping services.  The majority of the court stated at p. 75:

It is trite law that a wrongdoer cannot claim the benefit of services donated to the injured party. In the present case it amounts in my judgment to conscripting the mother and mother-in-law to the services of the appellant and his children for the benefit of the tortfeasor and any reduction of the award on this basis is and was an error in principle.

[126]     In McTavish v. MacGillivray, 2000 BCCA 164, the court was also dealing with an award for the loss of housekeeping capacity, both past and future, and interpreting and applying the principles set out in Kroeker v. Jansen.  At para. 43, Huddart J.A. stated:

.. the majority in Kroeker quite clearly decided that a reasonable award for the loss of the capacity to do housework was appropriate whether that loss occurred before or after trial. It was, in my view, equally clear that it mattered not whether replacement services had been or would be hired.

[127]     While Kroeker was restricted to housekeeping services and, as Huddart J.A. noted, the court did not adopt the analogy with future care as a general rule, it is my opinion that the same principle can be applied in the circumstances of this case with respect to personal care services that may or may not be hired in the future.

bc injury law, Cost of Future Care, in trust claims, Madam Justice Fisher, O'Connell v. Yung

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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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