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Tag: Cap on Non-Pecuniary Damages in Canada

$300,000 Non-Pecuniary Assessment For Severe Brain and Orthopaedic Injuries

The current judicial cap for non-pecuniary damages in Canada for negligently caused injuries rests at  just over $342,000.  Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, discussing whether such an assessment was appropriate for a severe traumatic brain injury coupled with multiple orthopaedic injuries.
In last week’s case (Clost v. Relkie) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2009 collision described by the trial judge as “a shocking scene of mayhem”.  The Plaintiff suffered a severe traumatic brain injury and multiple bone fractures   These disabled her for life from her own occupation as a pharmacy technician.  The Plaintiff’s limitations were profound enough that a Committee was appointed to manage her affairs.  Despite this she made a satisfactory recovery to the point where she gained a fair level of independence in her daily life.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $300,000 Madam Justice Baker provided the following reasons:
[437]     Ms. Clost is seeking an award for non-pecuniary damages at the upper limit set by the Supreme Court of Canada.  Counsel agreed the upper limit, adjusted for inflation, was $342,500 at time of trial.  The defendants submitted that an award of $175,000 to $225,000 would adequately compensate Ms. Clost for the pain, suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life caused by the accident injuries. 
[438]     The submissions made by counsel largely focused on the issue of whether Ms. Clost’s injuries should be characterized as “catastrophic” ? the term most often used by judges who have awarded the upper limit for non-pecuniary damages.  The plaintiff says “catastrophic” is merely a synonym for “severe” or “devastating”; the defendants submit that given the significant recovery Ms. Clost has made, particularly in relation to her cognitive functioning, the injuries have not had a “catastrophic” impact on her life…
[442]     Ms. Clost does not, as did many of the plaintiffs in the cases referred to by plaintiff’s counsel, require constant supervision for her own protection.  She continues to enjoy a considerable degree of independence and to exercise control over most aspects of her life.   She has returned to living in her own home.  She is able to do most activities of daily living without assistance.  She is entirely capable of bathing, toileting, dressing and feeding herself.  She can walk, she can swim, she can drive, she can use a computer; she can cook, she can bake, she can shop ? for necessities and for enjoyment.  She goes out to the library; for lunch and visits with friends.  She can still do many household and outdoor chores although there are also some she cannot do or can only do in a modified way or with assistance.  She has continued to manage her own finances, taking care of banking and bill-paying on-line, as she did before the accident.  She has not demonstrated a propensity to engage in behaviours that make her a danger to herself or others, as was the case with the plaintiffs in Spehar andCoulter.   
[443]     I am of the view, however, that Ms. Clost has experienced pain, suffering and loss of enjoyment of life and will continue to experience losses for which she is entitled to very significant compensation and to an award above the range suggested by defendants’ counsel.  Having considered the various authorities, I have concluded that the appropriate award for non-pecuniary damages in this case is $300,000.
[444]     I have already reviewed the evidence of Ms. Clost’s numerous serious orthopedic injuries and the details of the injuries to her brain.  She was in a coma for a month and only gradually returned to consciousness.  She has a gap in her memory of events for some period before and after the accident.  She required two major orthopaedic surgeries within the month following the accident to repair numerous fractures.  I have concluded she will require at least one and possibly more surgeries in future to fuse the joint in her left foot and ankle; to remove hardware in the ankle and possibly in her wrists as well; and a possible ankle replacement surgery.   Her orthopedic injuries caused her considerable pain; and she was essentially confined to a hospital bed and unable to bear weight or to walk for several months.  There was a period during which she was unable to use her arms due to injuries to her arms, wrists and hands.   
[445]     In total, Ms. Clost was confined to one type of hospital or another for five months following the accident.  Her rehabilitation was ongoing at time of trial.  She continues to have pain or discomfort in many parts of her body.  She has frequent headaches.  The most significant and frequent sources of pain are her left foot and ankle; she also has swelling there and the injury disables her from walking or standing for extended periods of time.  Although a fusion of the joint may reduce the amount of discomfort she experiences, the medical opinions I accept indicate that she is unlikely to be pain-free.  At time of trial she still needed to take strong medications to control her pain and to help her to sleep.   

BC Civil Sexual Assault Lawsuits Part 3 – Non-Pecuniary Damages

Further to my recent posts on BC civil sexual assault claims addressing limitation periods and vicarious liability, I will now address another topic in this unique area of law – the assessment of non-pecuniary damages.
Non-pecuniary damage” is the legal phrase that describes compensation for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life.  When a person is harmed at the hands of others, be it intentionally or negligently, the harmed individual is usually able to claim compensation for their losses including for non-pecuniary loss.  Some of the factors that go into valuing non-pecuniary loss in British Columbia are discussed here.
Historically there was no ceiling in the amount of money that could be awarded to an injured plaintiff for non-pecuniary loss in Canada.  This changed, however, in 1978 when the Supreme Court of Canada heard a “Trilogy” of cases and handed down a significant decision which held that there should be a cap on Canadian awards for non-pecuniary damages.  Specifically the Canadian high court held that “Save in exceptional circumstances…an upper limit of non-pecuniary loss”  should be set at $100,000.
This cap on non-pecuniary damages has been the subject of much criticism and recent court challenges, however, none of this has resulted in change.  Unless there is legislative intervention or a reversal by the Supreme Court of Canada this cap will continue to remain in place.  This figure has been subject to inflation and now, in 2010, the rough upper limit is set at approximately $320,000.
With that introduction out of the way that brings me to today’s topic.  Does this ceiling for non-pecuniary damages apply to civil sexual assault cases?  The answer is no and this was made clear by the BC Court of Appeal in a case named S.Y. v. F.G.C.
In the S.Y case the Plaintiff was the victim of sexual abuse.   At trial a Jury awarded her $650,000 including $350,000 for non-pecuniary and aggravated damages.  This amount greatly exceeded the Canadian cap on non-pecuniary damages which was at $260,000 at the time.
The Defendant appealed arguing that non-pecuniary damages in sex assault cases are caught by the trilogy therefore the Jury’s award was in excess of what was permitted by law.  The BC Court of Appeal disagreed with this submission and made it clear that in British Columbia victims of sexual abuse are not caught by the Canadian cap on non-pecuniary damage awards.  Specifically the Court held as follows:
I am not persuaded that the policy reasons which gave rise to the imposition of a cap in “the trilogy” have any application in a case of the type at bar…The policy considerations which arise from negligence causing catastrophic personal injuries, in the contexts of accident and medical malpractice, do not arise from intentional torts involving criminal behaviour…A cap is not needed to protect the general public from a serious social burden, such as enormous insurance premiums.  Insofar as damage awards may be so high as to be wholly erroneous, or wholly disproportionate, an appellate court may intervene to correct disparity, and to foster consistency…In some cases, sexual abuse victims may require and deserve more than the “cap” allows, due to the unpredictable impact of the tort on their lives.  Judges, juries and appellate courts are in a position to decide what is fair and reasonable to both parties according to the circumstances of the case.
Just as with limitation periods and the principles of vicarious liability, the law of non-pecuniary damages in sexual assault claims in BC recognizes that these cases are unique and certain advantages are provided in prosecuting such claims in the Civil Courts.