Tag: future wage loss

What's Sex Got to do With It? Gender and Damages for Diminished Earning Capacity


Imagine two individuals catastrophically injured due to the negligence of others.  The injuries will be totally disabling over the course of their lifetime.  The individuals are identical in every way except for their gender.  Statistics tell us that the man’s lifetime earnings absent injury would likely exceed those of the woman.  In these circumstances is it fair to award the woman less damages in a personal injury lawsuit for diminished earning capacity (future wage loss)?
The BC Court of Appeal addressed this issue in reasons for judgement released this week (Steinebach v. O’Brien).  In short the BC Court of Appeal held that while it is improper to reduce a female’s diminished earning capacity award based on “simply discriminatory” components, statistics as to the difference of lifetime earnings cannot wholly be ignored.  However, the Court went further and stated that it would be proper to offset this difference in part by adding an economic value to females statistically greater participation in child-rearing and housekeeping activities and addressing this in damages for pecuniary loss.   Mr. Justice Groberbam provided the following useful reasons for judgement:

[60] There are, in fact, a number of different components that account for the difference between women’s average earnings and those of men. Some are simply discriminatory – they reflect historical patterns of undervaluing the work that women do, and paying them less than men for similar work. The defendants appear to concede that such factors should not be used to reduce damage awards for infant female plaintiffs.

[61] It seems to me that such a concession is appropriate. It is no longer seen as acceptable that women should earn less than men simply by virtue of their sex. It would appear that such blatant discrimination is vanishing; in any event, the courts should not countenance such discrimination by incorporating it into damages awards.

[62] Others components of the difference between men’s and women’s average earnings may, indeed, reflect lifestyle choices. Of particular importance are patterns of earning related to childbearing and child-rearing. Women, to a much greater extent than men, leave the workforce or engage in part-time work so that they are able to bear and raise children.

[63] In MacCabe v. Westlock Roman Catholic Separate School District No. 110, 2001 ABCA 257, 96 Alta. L.R. (3d) 217, it was held that it was an error in principle for the trial judge not to have taken into account negative contingencies associated with childbirth and child-rearing in assessing future income loss for a female plaintiff who had indicated, before she suffered her injury, that she wished to have several children and would consider staying home with them…

[65] To some extent, I agree with the reasoning of the Alberta Court of Appeal. The fundamental purpose of tort damages is compensation of victims. It would be highly artificial to impose on that system of compensation a regime designed to deal with inequalities that are inherent in the lifestyle choices that people actually make.

[66] The difficulty I have with the approach in MacCabe, however, is that it treats child-rearing as an activity having no economic value. I do not believe that this reflects the reality for most parents who choose to withdraw from the paid workforce to raise children, or choose to take part-time work in preference to full-time work. Nor am I of the view that the law requires child-rearing to be treated as a non-economic activity.

[67] The value of child-rearing has long been recognized in the domain of family law. Spouses are treated as economic partners. Where one takes over child-rearing responsibilities that would otherwise have to be paid for or shared by a spouse, he or she is still seen as contributing to the family’s economic well-being, and this may have an effect on family asset division in the case of marital breakdown.

[68] This is not a mere quirk of family law, but the reality of most family units where one spouse withdraws from the workforce (or reduces his or her working hours) in order to raise children. Such a decision is rarely taken lightly, and is typically accompanied by a re-allocation of family resources rather than being a hardship suffered by the non-income-earning spouse alone.

[69] The burden of economic costs being a shared one, it can be misleading to represent it as simply being borne by the spouse who does not earn an income. Yet, for the purposes of earnings tables, this is exactly how the burden is reflected. For certain purposes, it would be more accurate to account for the shared burden by notionally transferring earnings from the income-earning partner to the partner who decreases his or her income in order to devote time and effort to child-rearing.

[70] Women are much more likely than men to leave the workforce temporarily or reduce their paid work in order to take on homemaking or child-rearing roles. The result is that earnings tables reflect the economic costs associated with such decisions as falling disproportionately on women. Earnings for men are thereby overstated, while those for women are understated.

[71] Even if it were to reject the idea of treating the costs associated with such decisions as shared ones, the Court would still have to adjust earnings table amounts to reflect the economic value of child-rearing. At one time, it may have been debatable whether a spouse who took on child-rearing or housekeeping responsibilities could claim compensation if, as a result of a tort, s/he became unable to continue to perform them (see Regina Graycar, “Hoovering as a Hobby and other Stories: Gendered Assessments of Personal Injury Damages” (1997) 31 U.B.C. L. Rev. 17). It is now established, however, that a person who undertakes housekeeping activities and is disabled from doing so can make a claim to pecuniary damages: Kroeker v. Jansen (1995), 123 D.L.R. (4th) 652, 4 B.C.L.R. (3d) 178 (B.C. C.A.).

[72] It seems to me that, in line with Kroeker, the courts must not presume that the absence of monetary recompense for an activity necessarily means that pecuniary damages will be unavailable to a plaintiff who is disabled from engaging in it. Because earnings tables fail to account for the value of such unpaid activities as child-rearing and housekeeping, they will tend to represent under-estimates of a plaintiff’s loss of future earnings.

Diminished Earning Capacity Awards Without Past Wage Loss

(UPDATE February 9, 2012:  The Damages in the below case for Diminished Earning Capacity and Cost of Future Care were reduced somewhat by the BC Court of Appeal on February 9, 2012)

A common misconception is that a person cannot claim for diminished earning capacity (future wage loss) in an ICBC Claim when there has been no past wage loss.  As I’ve previously discussed, this simply is not true.  Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, demonstrating this.
In last week’s case (Morlan v. Barrett) the Plaintiff was injured in two separate motor vehicle collisions.  Fault was admitted by the Defendants in both actions.  The Court found that both crashes caused a single indivisible injury (chronic widespread pain eventually diagnosed as fibromyalgia).
The Plaintiff’s injuries and limitations caused her to change employment to a job that was less physically demanding.  Fortunately, her new job paid a better salary and the Plaintiff had no past wage loss from the time of her first crash to the time of trial.  Her injuries, however, were expected to cause ongoing limitations and the Plaintiff claimed damages for diminished future earning capacity.  Mr. Justice Stewart agreed the Plaintiff was entitled to these damages and assessed the loss at $425,000.  In reaching this assessment Mr. Justice Stewart gave the following useful reasons:
[7] The plaintiff found work at the Electrical Industry Training Institution (EITI) in 2008 and is employed there as a Program Coodinator.  The job is far less demanding and the commute is only 20 minutes.  The job is also far less rewarding in terms of job satisfaction.  Having to change jobs was a huge blow and this will be reflected in the non-pecuniary damages I award later.  By happenstance the plaintiff’s salary actually went up when she switched jobs.  For that reason there is no claim for loss of earning capacity to the date of trial.  But there is a claim for loss of opportunity to earn income – including benefits – in the future…

[17]        Pure happenstance resulted in her suffering no loss of income to the date of trial, i.e., she got a less demanding job which happened to pay more than her job at the B.C. Fed.  But a reduction in her capacity to earn income has been made out.  Her having to give up her job at the B.C. Fed demonstrates that the circle of secretarial or administrative positions for which she could, if necessary, compete has been narrowed.  (Exhibit 6, a “Functional Capacity Evaluation” and Exhibit 5, the report of an “Occupational Health Physician” simply confirm the obvious.)  To put it in familiar terms:  she is less marketable as an employee; she is less capable overall from earning income from all types of employment; she has lost the ability to take advantage of all job opportunities which might otherwise have come her way; and she is less valuable to herself as a person capable of earning income in a competitive labour market (Rosvold v. Dunlop, 2001 BCCA 1 at paragraph 10).  The live issue is whether there is a real and substantial possibility that the reduction in her capacity to earn income will in fact result in lost income – including benefits – in the future (Sobolik v. Waters, 2010 BCCA 523, paragraphs 39-43).

[18]        As noted earlier, having considered the whole of the evidence placed before me I rely on the evidence of the plaintiff’s family physician, Dr. Beck, as I peer into my crystal ball and consider the plaintiff’s future.

[19]        The fact that the balance of the medical evidence does not replicate what Dr. Beck said at Exhibit 4 page 6 – that the plaintiff has “plateaued even slightly worsened over the past year” – and indeed the evidence of the rheumatologist, Dr. Shuckett is quite different – is neither here nor there as having considered the whole of it I say as the trier of fact that Dr. Beck was an impressive, thoughtful witness of great experience who offered up her opinion against a background of having dealt with the plaintiff for 25 years and, more particularly, having had close supervision of the plaintiff’s medical condition since January 6, 2007 and the advent of the motor vehicle accidents.  In saying that I have not lost sight of the fact that Dr. Beck has in fact retired.

[20]        Having considered the whole of the evidence together, I say that three real and substantial possibilities have been made out:  that the plaintiff’s condition will improve; that the plaintiff’s condition will remain as it is; and that the plaintiff’s condition will worsen.  In “giv[ing] weight according to their relative likelihood” to these three hypothetical events I find that the possibility of her condition improving barely rises above mere speculation and that the possibility of her remaining the same and the possibility of her condition worsening are both great (Athey v. Leonati, [1996] 3 S.C.R. 458 at paragraph 27).

[21]        I find that there most certainly is a real and substantial possibility that the reduction in the plaintiff’s capacity to earn income will result in lost income – including benefits – in the future.  Beyond the fact that nothing in life is certain and that she may yet find herself on the job market there is the real and substantial possibility that even if she remains in her current job until the end of her working career, her working career will end earlier than it would otherwise have absent the effects on the plaintiff of the defendants’ negligence.  That is so because it is a real and substantial possibility that her fibromyalgia will remain as it is but common experience dictates that as one moves into one’s latter years the ability to work in spite of a condition that drains one’s energy diminishes.  Independently of that, it is a real and substantial possibility that the plaintiff’s fibromyalgia – and with it loss of energy – will worsen.  I make that finding having considered the whole of the evidence including that of the plaintiff as to her recent experience and of all of the doctors and concluded as the trier of fact that I rely most on the evidence of Dr. Beck.

[22]        I take into account factors beyond those that relate to the state of the health of the plaintiff and her ability to work.  The plaintiff has established a real and substantial possibility – not mere speculation – that had she not had to forfeit her job at the B.C. Fed she would have, within a few years of the date of the motor vehicle accidents, taken advantage of an opportunity to perhapsmove up in the hierarchy of the B.C. Fed to the point of becoming a Director and with that received an increase in salary and benefits.  That is the net effect of the evidence of the plaintiff and of Lynda Bueckert.  Moreover, as of January 6, 2007 the plaintiff had to assume that she would retire from the B.C. Fed when she turned 65.  After January 6, 2007 the law changed.  I find that the plaintiff’s love for her job at the B.C. Fed combines with my picture of what she was before January 6, 2007 and results in my accepting her evidence to the effect that it is a real and substantial possibility that absent the defendants’ negligence she would have continued to work at the B.C. Fed even after she had turned 65.  I have considered the positive and negative vagaries of life, i.e., the contingencies.  Having considered the whole of it I award the plaintiff $425,000.

Filling in the Gaps – Lack of Expert Evidence and Future Wage Loss Awards


Generally when a Plaintiff advances damages for diminished earning capacity (future wage loss) in a personal injury lawsuit expert evidence is called to address the long term prognosis and consequences of a Plaintiff’s injuries.  Interesting reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, making such an award despite the lack of medical opinion evidence addressing the issue.
In today’s case (Helgason v. Bosa) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2006 motor vehicle collision.  Her vehicle was t-boned by the Defendant.  Fault for the crash was admitted.  The trial focused on the value of the Plaintiff’s claim.
In support of her case the Plaintiff attempted to introduce two medico-legal reports written by her GP.  The first report, dated May 11, 2009 stated that “You have asked me to comment with regard to [the plaintiff’s] loss of earning capacity.  I do not feel that [the plaintiff] is less capable overall from earning income from all types of employment and I do not feel she is less marketable or attractive as an employee to potential employers as a result of the motor vehicle accident.”
As time passed the doctor changed her mind and wrote a second report indicating that the Plaintiff’s injuries would cause a diminished earning capacity.  The Defendant argued that the second report did not comply with the Rules of Court and that it should be excluded from evidence.  Mr. Justice Silverman agreed.  This left the Court with only the doctor’s first report providing an opinion of the Plaintiff’s future earning capacity.
The Defendant’s lawyer then argued, given the first report, the Court should not make an award for diminished earning capacity.  Mr. Justice Silverman disagreed and filled in the gaps addressing this issue with factual evidence presented at trial.  The Court went on to award the Plaintiff $45,000 for this loss and in doing so provided the following helpful reasons:

[48]         It does not follow from my ruling that I must conclude that the doctor’s opinion as of May 11, 2009, was still her opinion at trial.  Clearly, it was not.  However, the most significant consequence of my ruling is that there is no expert opinion in evidence with respect to future issues to support the plaintiff’s argument that I should be awarding damages for various of the plaintiff’s future concerns.

[49]         It does not necessarily follow from that, that the plaintiff is unable to mount an argument that there is still a sufficient basis for me to make the findings that she argues are appropriate.  The plaintiff argues that there is still sufficient evidence for me to draw the inferences which she argues I should draw, even without the opinion expressed in the inadmissible report.  It is noteworthy, in that regard, that when the defendants argued for the ruling with respect to admissibility, one prong of its argument was that the non-compliant report was not “necessary” because there was already other evidence with respect to the various future issues.

[50]         I am satisfied that indeed there is other evidence from which various inferences about the future might be drawn.  That other evidence consists of the following:

1.       Comments in the admissible report that do make projections into the future which are consistent with the position that the plaintiff takes:

“I do not think that [the plaintiff] has reached maximum medical improvement and she will continue to improve over the next 18 – 24 months.”

“Her present employment as a yard planner has a potential to exacerbate her symptoms.”

“I am not advising that [the plaintiff] change her current employment, but I will agree that her current employment does exacerbate her symptoms to a moderate degree.”

2.       The plaintiff’s own evidence at trial of her ongoing difficulties.

3.       The doctor’s oral evidence about various visits of the plaintiff since May 11, 2009, and the observations which she made (although her opinion arising from those visits was not admissible)….

[52] I am satisfied from the foregoing that the injuries, and other difficulties caused by the MVA, are ongoing and will continue to be ongoing, and will negatively affect the plaintiff’s capabilities and abilities in the future.

The Inability to Afford Therapy and the Duty to Mitigate Damages


As I’ve recently written, a Plaintiff has a duty to ‘mitigate‘ their losses after being injured otherwise the damages they are entitled to can be reduced.
The most common example of the ‘failure to mitigate’ defence comes up in personal injury claims where defence lawyers argue that a Plaintiff would have recovered more quickly and more completely had they followed through with all of the suggestions of their medical practitioners.  If evidence supporting such an argument is accepted then the Plaintiff’s award can be reduced.
What if a Plaintiff can’t afford to purchase all the therapies/medications recommended by their physicians?  Can their damage award be reduced in these circumstances?  Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, dealing with this issue.
In this week’s case (Trites v. Penner) the Plaintiff, an apprentice plumber, was injured in a forceful rear end collision in 2005.  Fault for the crash was admitted by the rear motorist.  The trial focused on the value of the Plaintiff’s claim.
The Plaintiff suffered various soft tissue injuries.  He followed a course of therapy in the months that followed and enjoyed some improvement in his symptoms.  During his recovery ICBC (the Plaintiff’s insurer for ‘no fault’ benefits) discontinued “funding for (the Plaintiff’s) efforts at rehabilitation.”
At trial the Defence lawyer argued that the Plaintiff should have followed through with these therapies in any event and that his damages should be reduced for failure to mitigate.   Madam Justice Ker disagreed and took the Plaintiff’s inability to pay for his therapies into consideration.  The Court provided the following reasons:

[209] Financial circumstances are certainly one factor to consider in the overall reasonableness assessment of whether a plaintiff has failed to mitigate their losses.  What is reasonable will depend on all the surrounding circumstances.  One significant factor in this case however, is that as Mr. Trites was on his upward climb to recovery, ICBC determined that it would discontinue funding his efforts at rehabilitation.  As a consequence, Mr. Trites was left to fund his continued rehabilitation on his own.  Instrumental to continuing his recovery and functioning was not only attendance at the gym but other treatment modalities including massage therapy and chiropractic treatments and taking prescription medication.  All of these items had significant benefits to Mr. Trites but they also carried with them significant costs.  In the first half of 2007, Mr. Trites was unable to fund all these aspects of treatment and chose the prescription medication as it was essential to his pain management on a daily basis.

[210] I find that in these circumstances, Mr. Trites’ decision not to continue with a gym pass on a monthly basis for the first six months of 2007 was not unreasonable.  This is not a case where the plaintiff has refused to take recommended treatment.  Rather Mr. Trites was engaged in all aspects of the recommended treatments and ICBC was, until December 2006, paying for them.  Thereafter ICBC unilaterally discontinued paying for these treatments, notwithstanding the fact that Mr. Trites was not yet fully recovered.  I cannot find that Mr. Trites acted unreasonably in determining how best to try and pay for all the treatment modalities that had been working for him in assisting his rehabilitation but were no longer going to be paid for by ICBC and were beyond his limited means at the time.  As Smith J. noted in O’Rourke v. Claire, [1997] B.C.J. No. 630 (S.C.) at para. 42 “it does not lie in the mouth of the tortfeasor to say that a plaintiff in such circumstances has failed to mitigate by failing to arrange and pay for his own rehabilitative treatment.”

[211] Accordingly, I find that the defence has not discharged its burden of establishing that Mr. Trites failed to mitigate his losses in this case.

You may be wondering if ICBC is allowed to, on the one hand deny a Plaintiff rehabilitation benefits, and on the other have the Defendant’s lawyer argue at trial that the Plaintiff should have pursued these benefits and therefor reduce the Plaintiff’s award.  The answer is yes and you can click here to read a previous article discussing this area of law, and here for the latest from the BC Court of Appeal on this topic.
Today’s case is also worth reviewing for the Court’s discussion of non-pecuniary damages and diminished earning capacity.
The Court accepted that the Plaintiff suffered moderate soft tissue injuries to his neck and back and these had a ‘guarded’ prognosis for full recovery.   $75,000 was awarded for his non-pecuniary damages and the Court’s reasons addressing this can be found at paragraphs 188-198.
The Plaintiff was also awarded $250,000 for diminished earning capacity.  He was an apprentice plumber and, despite his injuries, was able to continue to work in this trade in the years that followed the collision.  However he struggled in his profession and there was evidence he may have to retrain.  The court’s lengthy discussion addressing his diminished earning capacity can be found at paragraphs 213-239.

ICBC Injury Claims and Relevance of Minimal Vehicle Damage

Further to my numerous previous posts on Low Velocity Impacts (LVI Claims) reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court dealing with the relevance of photographs depicting minimal vehicle damage in Injury Litigation.
In today’s case (Deventer v. Woods) the Plaintiff was involved in 3 rear-end collisions.  Fault was admitted for all three crashes.   The Plaintiff claimed she was injured as a result of these crashes.  The matter was set down for a Jury Trial (ICBC normally sets LVI cases for Jury Trial) and proposed to put photos which ‘show very little damage to an of the cars involved’ to the Jury.
The Plaintiff objected arguing that the photos were not relevant.  Madam Justice Fenlon disagreed with the Plaintiff and allowed the photos to be put to the Jury.  In coming to this conclusion Madam Justice Fenlon referred to and summarized 2 previous authorities dealing with this issue at paragraphs 8-13 and went on to hold as follows:

[14] In any event, I am of the view that photographs showing the extent of the damage to the vehicles in this case are relevant and therefore admissible. They are relevant because it is a matter of common sense and common understanding that the greater the force with which two vehicles collide, the more likely it is that occupants of those vehicles will be injured. The relationship between increased force and damage and increased probability of injury does not mean that parties involved in lower impact collisions that do not cause very much damage to the vehicles involved cannot suffer significant injuries. Many cases have recognized that serious injuries can result from collisions involving little or no damage, as Mr. Justice Thackray observed in Gordon.

[15] In Brar v. Johal, 2002 BCSC 150, Mr. Justice Cohen, at para. 11, held that the onus would be on the defendant to lead engineering or medical evidence to support the submission that a plaintiff’s injuries are inconsistent with the force generated by the impact between two vehicles.

[16] The relevance of photographs showing the extent of damage to the plaintiff’s and defendants’ vehicles can be tested by considering photographs of highly damaged vehicles. It would be hard to imagine plaintiff’s counsel in such a case arguing that photographs of the damage were not relevant to the issue of whether the plaintiff suffered injuries in the accident.

[17] I have considered whether the probative value of the photographs in this case is outweighed by their prejudicial effect on the jury’s assessment. For the reasons set out inMakara by Mr. Justice Barrow, I am of the view that such prejudice can be adequately addressed by way of appropriate instructions to the jury. Such directions would not simply be to ignore the photographs, as plaintiff’s counsel argued, but rather, a direction to put the pictures into the context of the evidence as a whole. The pictures are one piece of evidence about the impact and the vehicles, as is the plaintiff’s evidence.  There would also likely be a direction that the fact that no or little damage has occurred to vehicles does not mean that a plaintiff cannot be injured.

[18] In conclusion on this issue, the photographs are admissible, subject to objections about their authenticity or accuracy.

Another intresting aspect of this judgement is the Court’ discussion of the Plaintiff’s financial status.  The Defendants wished to highlight certain elements of the Plaintiff’s finances in support of an argument that  “such information is relevant in assessing the quantum of damages for future wage loss because that information provides the context within which the jury must determine whether the plaintiff would have worked full-time in the future if the injuries sustained in the accident had not occurred.”

Madam Justice Fenlon agreed that such evidence is admissible in addressing a claim for future wage loss holding that:

[35] The plaintiff argues that the cases cited by the defendants in which a plaintiff’s financial circumstances were considered in relation to future wage loss were not jury cases. However, if the plaintiff’s financial circumstances are relevant to the assessment of future wage loss in a judge alone case, they are also relevant in a jury trial. The only additional question on a jury trial is whether the prejudicial effect of such evidence outweighs its probative value. The concern raised by plaintiff’s counsel, and it is a real concern, is that the jury may assume that because the plaintiff is relatively well-off she does not need to be compensated for future wage loss and they may reduce their awards for general and special damages as well. That would indeed be improper, but as I stated in relation to this issue on the admissibility of the photographs, I am of the view that the jury can be properly instructed to avoid this error and can be trusted to properly assess damages.

[36] In the circumstances of this case, I find that the probative value relating to the life insurance proceeds and the absence or existence of a mortgage outweighs the prejudicial effect of such evidence. However, I also find that the value of the new family home has such little probative value in relation to the propensity of the plaintiff to be working full-time or part-time that it is outweighed by the prejudicial effect of such evidence. I would therefore disallow that evidence.

[37] In conclusion on this issue, evidence relating to life insurance proceeds received, the payout of the mortgage on the family home at the time as a result of another life insurance policy, the existence of a current mortgage, and other evidence of that nature is admissible. Evidence regarding the value of the home the plaintiff is currently living in is not.

Can a Plaintiff be Awarded Significant Funds for Future Wage Loss when their Pain and Suffering is Relatively Minor?

The answer is yes and reasons for judgment were released today by the BC Supreme Court demonstrating this.
In today’s case (Sidhu v. Kiraly) the Plaintiff was awarded $35,000 for non-pecuniary damages for accident related soft tissue injuries.
Madam Justice Brown found that the Plaintiff suffered “soft tissue neck and back injuries and developed secondary muscle contraction occipital headaches”  These injuries largely improved over time and the Court found that “so long as (the Plaintiff) does not undertake any heavy labour, he has no significant complaints.  If he undertakes heavy work of any kind, his symptoms flare, he has neck, mid-back and shoulder pain as well as headeaches.
Unfortunately for the Plaintiff, his own occupation at the time of the collision involved heavy labour and once he realized the permanent nature of his injuries he concluded he could not carry on in his occupation.  He retrained for a lighter career as a realtor.  The court found that this was reasonable given the accident related injuries and awarded the Plaintiff $350,000 for his diminished earning capacity.  In arriving at this assessment Madam Justice Brown engaged in the following analysis:

[25] Turning now to future loss of income or future loss of capacity, as I have indicated, I accept that the plaintiff will not be able to return to his work as a heavy duty mechanic and that he is permanently unable to undertake heavy labour of any kind.  This is a limitation on the plaintiff’s “ability to take advantage of all job opportunities which might otherwise have been open to him, had he not been injured”, and a valid consideration in the determination of future income loss: Brown v. Golaiy (1985), 26 B.C.L.R. (3d) 353 at para. 8 (S.C.).

[26] I also am of the view that his choice of real estate agent as a future career was a reasonable one in the circumstances.  In my view, given the plaintiff’s personality and his persistence, he is likely to succeed as a real estate agent.

[27] The plaintiff relies on the report of Gerry Taunton to calculate future income loss. Mr. Taunton calculates Mr. Sidhu’s without accident income as a mechanic to age 65 at $1,096,233 and his with accident income as a realtor at $561,552, a  difference of $534,681.

[28] The court must consider all of the evidence in assessing what makes a reasonable award for such a future loss.  Projections, calculations and formulas may be useful in determining what is fair and reasonable.  It is important for the courts to look at all relevant factors before fixing an amount.  Any award under this head of damages must be set off against appropriate contingencies.

[29] Having considered the assessment provided by Mr. Gerry Taunton and considering the contingencies in this case, positive and negative, in my view, an appropriate award for future loss of income or capacity is $350,000.  I do not accept the defendant’s submission that one year of income would be appropriate in this case.  As I have indicated, the plaintiff has been permanently disabled from his lifetime occupation as a heavy duty mechanic.  He has been forced to retrain.    There is some prospect that he will earn more than the median income of male realtors in British Columbia.  There is also the prospect that he will earn less.  I have assessed the amount of the award in this case as best I am able, considering all of the contingencies.

$75,000 Non-Pecuniary Damages for Moderate/Severe Post Traumatic Stess Disorder

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court awarding just over $320,000 in damages as a result of a serious BC Truck Accident.
In today’s case (Bonham v. Weir) the Plaintiff was driving a transport truck into Fort Nelson, BC, when another vehicle “crossed the centre line and collided head on with his truck. ”  The Plaintiff’s truck “burst into flames and (the Plaintiff) had to crawl out of the burning cab through a broken windshield.
ICBC admitted fault on behalf of the driver of the other vehicle leaving the court to deal only with an assessment of damages.
Mr. Justice Smith found that while the Plaintiff’s physical injuries were relatively minor and healed within a month or two, the psychological impact of the crash had more lasting and debilitating effects.   In awarding $75,000 for the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages, the court summarized his psychological injuries and their effect on his life as follows:

[25]         Mr. Bonham was involved in a horrific collision which could easily have been fatal for him, as it was for the other driver. Although his minor physical injuries healed quickly, he suffered and continues to suffer from post traumatic stress disorder. There is no doubt that his psychological complaints are genuine and that this condition has a very real and severe impact on his life. His personality has changed. He no longer interacts with family and friends as he used to. He has lost confidence in his abilities and lost interest in most of the things he formerly enjoyed. The psychological symptoms persist more than two years after the collision. Although the plaintiff can expect some improvement in his condition, some symptoms are likely to remain indefinitely.

[26]         Non-pecuniary damages must be assessed according to the impact of the injuries on the individual plaintiff. Decisions of the court in other cases are never completely comparable and provide no more than general guidance. However, recent decisions of this court that I have found particularly helpful in identifying a range of damages applicable to this care are:  Leung v. Foo, 2009 BCSC 747; Carpenter v. Whistler Air Services, 2004 BCSC 1510; and Latuszek v. Bell Air Taxi, 2009 BCSC 798.

[27]         Taking into account the differences and similarities between those cases and this one and, most importantly, the evidence of the impact of this plaintiff’s injuries on his life, I find $75,000 to be an appropriate award for non-pecuniary damages.

This case is also worth reviewing for the courts awards of Loss of Future Earning Capacity.
In this case the Plaintiff’s past wage loss was modest up to the time of trial totalling neat $6,000. Notwithstanding this minimal past wage loss the Court awarded significant damages of $225,000 for loss of future earning capacity because of the ongoing impact of the Plaintiff’s PTSD on his ability to work in his own occupation.  Paragraphs 28-42 of this case are worth reviewing for anyone interested in the law of damages in BC relating to future wage loss.

Can Injuries in an ICBC Claim be Worth Less for Failing to Lose Weight?

The short answer is yes.  In BC, if a Defendant who negligently injures you can prove that the extent of your injuries would have been less if you took reasonable steps to ‘mitigate’ your loss then the value of your damages can be reduced accordingly.  This principle of law is called ‘failure to mitigate’.
Failure to mitigate can include failing to follow a reasonable treatment or rehabilitation program such as a weight loss program.  Reasons for judgment were released today by the BC Supreme Court demonstrating the ‘failure to mitigate’ principle in action.
In today’s case (Rindero v. Nicholson) the Plaintiff was injured when seated as a rear-seat passenger in a pick up truck which struck a vehicle that ran a red light.  Fault was admitted leaving the court to deal with the issue of quantum of damages (value of the Plaintiff’s injuries and loss). In assessing the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) at $36,000 Mr. Justice Meiklem found that the Plaintiff suffered from Patellofemoral pain (knee pain), a slight exacerbation of pre-existing post traumatic stress disorder and recovered soft tissue injuries to the neck and shoulders with accompanying headaches.
The Court found that the Plaintiff’s knee injury was the most serious of the injuries and summarized its effect on the Plaintiff’s life as follows:
The plaintiff’s knee injury is probably chronic and not likely to fully resolve. It is troublesome and painful when he stands for long periods, sits for long periods, or overextends any vigorous physical activity….The most significant limiting effect on his activities that he mentioned in relation to his knee pain was restriction on his style of big game hunting, and fishing. He hunts only from roads as opposed to hiking off into the bush as he sometimes did, and he avoids fishing areas that involve difficult access.
In arriving at the $36,000 figure the court reduced the damages by 20% for the plaintiff’s failure to mitigate, specifically the failure to lose weight which would have reduced the extent of the knee pain.  Mr. Justice Meiklem summarized and applied the law of failure to mitigate as follows:

[30] The defendants argue that the plaintiff’s failure to significantly reduce his weight has contributed to the severity and persistence of his knee pain and amounts to a failure to mitigate, which should reduce his award. There can be no doubt that the plaintiff would suffer less with knee pain that is increased with physical activity if he lost weight. The medical evidence confirms this elementary physical principle. At an estimated 265 pounds at trial he was about 25 pounds heavier than he was when examined by Dr. McKenzie in July 2008. I note that in July 2008 his left knee pain, which is his primary injury, was less prominent than his right knee pain. I appreciate that sore knees would probably make it more difficult to engage in the vigorous exercise that is usually part of a weight loss program, but the plaintiff has demonstrated that he can lose a considerable amount of weight when he changes diet and lifestyle, and that his left knee pain was lessened when he weighed less.

[31] I note that the plaintiff told Dr. McKenzie that he experienced knee pain when riding his mountain bike more than an hour as soon after the accident as June 2005, which, apart from showing that his knee injury was not very disabling,  shows that exercise is not out of the question for him. I find that the defendant has established a failure on the part of the plaintiff to mitigate his damages.

[32] The extent to which damages should be reduced is obviously not amenable to any precise calculation on these facts, but I note that in the Collyer case cited by the plaintiff, an award of $80,000 was reduced by $10,000 for a comparable failure. In the Crichton case cited by the defendants a 30% discount was applied for failure to participate in group psychotherapy sessions recommended by a psychiatrist and a family doctor, which would address an anxiety disorder and thereby assist in dealing with chronic pain. I find that a discount of 20% to the award I would otherwise make to account for failure to mitigate is appropriate.

On another note, this case contains a useful discussion of plaintiff credibility and some of the factors courts look at when gauging this.  Additionally, this case contains a very useful discussion of the law of ‘diminished earning capacity’ (future wage loss) at paragraphs 35-39.

BC Court of Appeal Discusses Future Wage Loss in Personal Injury Claims

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Court of Appeal increasing the award a Plaintiff received at trial for Diminished Earning Capacity (future wage loss).
In today’s case (Pett v. Pett) the Plaintiff sustained serious injuries in a 2003 BC motor vehicle collision.  The findings of fact made by the trial judge giving rise to the appeal were as follows:
[1] The appellant, Jacob Pett, now aged 23, was injured in a motor vehicle accident that occurred on a logging road near Rock Creek, British Columbia, on November 15, 2003.  He was a passenger in a pick-up truck being driven by his father, the defendant, David Pett.  The driver lost control and the vehicle slid off the road and rolled over a number of times before coming to rest in a farm field.  The appellant initially suffered from a concussion and an injured shoulder, but recovered satisfactorily from these injuries.  He complained of a very painful back shortly after the accident.  This back injury persists and continued to cause him difficulty at the time of trial…
[5] The judge found that the back injury had a negative impact on his recreational activities and that his enjoyment of those activities had been and will be diminished because of his back pain.  The judge awarded the appellant $85,000 for non-pecuniary damages.  He assessed damages for income loss between the date of the accident and the date of trial at $23,000.  The judge awarded the appellant the sum of $120,000 as damages for future loss.  It is this particular award that has led to the present appeal.  The appellant asserts that the amount awarded for future loss was unreasonably low.  The respondent submits it was an adequate award and says that if anything the award may have been on the generous side.
The BC Court of Appeal agreed with the Plaintiff that the damages for future wage loss were low given the findings of fact made by the trial judge.  In increasing the future wage loss award to $225,000 the Court summarized and applied the law of future wage loss as follows:

[18] In the recent case of Lines v. W & D Logging Co. Ltd., 2009 BCCA 106, Saunders J.A. said this:

[57]      There are two major components to an assessment of loss of future earning capacity.  One is the general level of earnings thought by the trial judge to be realistically achievable by the plaintiff but for the accident, taking into account the plaintiff’s intentions and factors that weigh both in favour of and against that achievement, and the other is the projection of that earning level to the plaintiff’s working life, taking into account the positive and negative vagaries of life.  From these two major components must be applied an analysis that produces a present value of the loss, adjusted for all appropriate contingencies.

[19] I think this to be a helpful framework for a court to follow in fixing a measure of damages for future loss.  Some cases speak of the loss of a capital asset and some of the loss of future earnings, but the essential matter that engages the attention of a court making an assessment in this area is to endeavour to quantify the financial harm accruing to the plaintiff over the course of his or her working career.

[20] In the case at bar, the trial judge said this in making his award for future loss:

[79]      Given the significant negative contingencies present here however, I am not satisfied that the award under this head of damages should be as high as suggested by plaintiff’s counsel.  I note that he is currently working alongside his father and being paid the same hourly rate.  He does, however, work fewer hours, partly in response to his lower back pain.  In all of the circumstances, I assess his loss of future earning capacity at $120,000.

[21] While there is unquestionably a measure of uncertainty about what the future holds for a person in the position of this appellant with a long working life ahead of him, the judge did not explain what he considered in arriving at that figure.  Particular contingencies are not identified and, perhaps more significantly, there is virtually no reference to the figures put forward by the parties’ experts, aside from a reference to some figure suggested by appellant’s counsel, presumably the $470,000 figure aforementioned.  The task of this Court in deciding on the adequacy of the award for future loss is made difficult because we are left with little to demonstrate how the figure of $120,000 was assessed as an appropriate damages award under this head by the trial judge.  Having regard to the evidence before the judge, particularly the reports of the two economic experts, the award appears to me to be unduly modest.

[22] I have considered whether the case might be remitted to the Supreme Court to deal with this issue in a more satisfactory fashion.  The appellant urged us, if we considered the award of damages inadequate, to set a figure.  It was submitted that considerations of cost and timing would support such an approach.  While this Court is usually reluctant to embark upon its own assessment of what is an appropriate figure for damages, I consider that this case calls for that treatment.  I reach this conclusion because there were no particular live issues of credibility in the instant case and the judge was of the view that he should generally accept the view of the medical experts called by the appellant.  We have the evidence of Messrs. McKellar and Gosling before us.  I consider it would not be appropriate to refer this matter back to the trial court for a new assessment having regard to the amounts involved and the additional delay and expense that would be occasioned.

[23] It seems to me that the figure adumbrated by Mr. Gosling, approximately $300,000, is a useful starting point for an analysis of the loss suffered by the appellant under this head.  Although the earnings history of the appellant did not indicate that he had a history of earnings at around $32,000, which was a statistical figure used by the experts for a person with slightly better educational qualifications, it must be borne in mind that the appellant was just starting out and his historic earnings reflected the situation when he was just entering his twenties.  The level of income referred to by the experts seems to me to be not unrealistic.  A person in the occupation of the appellant with his work ethic should be able to achieve such earnings.  He apparently expected to earn perhaps something over $35,000 in the period immediately preceding the trial.  Of course, his ability to continue to earn at such a level is thrown in doubt by the medical opinions accepted by the judge.  The substantial difference between the experts as to expected loss in future income appeared to relate to their differing treatment of labour market contingencies.  Mr. Gosling essentially took a more pessimistic view concerning labour market contingencies than did Mr. McKellar.

[24] In this case, I consider the approach of Mr. Gosling to be preferable because of the very long span of time left in the expected working life of the appellant.  The length of time to be considered in my view mandates a fairly conservative approach to any prediction of future loss.  However, I do not perceive, as I noted, how the judge arrived at the figure he did.  I view as erroneous his treatment of the educational level of the appellant.  Perhaps this led him to very heavily discount the loss predictions.  I consider that, if one utilizes the approach suggested by Mr. Gosling as a helpful starting point, having regard to the facts in this case, a reduction of the magnitude reflected in the award of $120,000 under this head is not justified.  I think it is significant that this appellant has a very good work ethic and there was and is wide scope for employment opportunities in the construction field through the extended family of the appellant.  Opportunities for advancement in, and indeed continuation by the appellant in this field of endeavour are now considerably attenuated as a result of the accident.  The appellant’s back problem is likely to persist, based on the medical evidence, and there is a very real narrowing of future opportunities for him.  Thus, this injury appears very likely to result in a diminution of career options and, consequently, a long term earnings impairment.

[25] The work ethic of the appellant has to be taken account of in an assessment of a proper figure for future loss.  His positive work ethic suggests that, but for the accident, the appellant might have looked forward to earning more than the statistical average figures posited by the experts.  Thus, one could suggest his loss could be greater over his future earning years than suggested by the statistical figures.  His attitude to work, however, also means that he may in fact do better than expected in future despite his injury because he will not be as affected as might be the case with a person with a less robust work ethic.  This consideration would suggest a lesser loss than the statistical figures relied upon by the experts.  While the defendant tortfeasor must take the appellant as he finds him concerning educational level, he also in this case gets the benefit of a plaintiff with a positive work attitude.  These factors are to be taken account of and balanced in arriving at a fair assessment of damages for future loss.  Doing the best I can with the evidence and adopting a cautious approach because of the long time span, I am of the view that some discount from the amount resulting from the approach of Mr. Gosling would result in an appropriate award under his head of damages.  A discount ranging around $75,000 to $80,000 seems to me justifiable because of the work ethic of the appellant.  This yields a figure of about $225,000 for future loss and this is the amount I would substitute for the figure set by the trial judge.  I would accordingly allow the appeal in these terms and award the sum of $225,000 under the head of future loss.

More on ICBC Injury Claims and Future Wage Loss

If you are injured through the fault of another motorist in BC and advance a tort claim with ICBC can you receive damages for future wage loss even if you have sustained no past wage loss by the time of settlement or trial?  The short answer is yes and today 2 cases were released by the BC Supreme Court illustrating this principle.  
In the first case (Kasic v. Leyh) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2004 rear-end collision.  He suffered relatively serious and chronic injuries which were summarized as follows by Madam Justice Morrison of the BC Supreme Court:

[138]      Mr. Kasic’s headaches and neck pain which he suffered immediately after the accident resolved within a fairly short time.  However his lower back pain has not.  Ever since the accident, he has had serious and chronic pain.  That continues to this day.  He has been motivated and compliant with regard to all treatments suggested, with the exception of the Pulsed Signal Magnetic Therapy.

[139]      The medical evidence is not in complete agreement as to the exact diagnosis that is causing the pain in the lower back; Dr. McGraw believes that it is the sacroiliac joint, Dr. Hershler is of the opinion that it is a bulging disc irritating a nerve, or a combination of that and the sacroiliac joint.  But there is agreement that Mr. Kasic’s symptoms are aggravated by his activities.  And there is certainly agreement from all the evidence tendered that Mr. Kasic is in continuous and serious pain.

[140]      Will it be a permanent disability?  Dr. Hershler holds out hope that there could be a significant improvement if Pulsed Signal Magnetic Therapy were pursued.  But this is not a form of treatment widely recognized by the medical profession, and certainly not by Dr. McGraw.  Dr. McGraw seemed to hold out hope that if there were a correct administration of the injection of the therapeutic block, that this could eliminate some or much of Mr. Kasic’s pain.  Certainly the one injection in October 2008 in that area worsened Mr. Kasic’s condition.

[141]      Whether either or both of these suggested treatments are to be tried will be a matter between Mr. Kasic and his medical advisors.  But at the present time, the evidence remains that Mr. Kasic is suffering continuous and debilitating pain, and it has been chronic pain since the date of the accident.  It has changed him physically, mentally and emotionally.

[142]      The changes to Mr. Kasic’s life as a result of his injuries are many.  He continues to need pain medication.  His previous activities of bowling, tennis, soccer, bocce ball, baseball and picnics are no longer activities in which he can participate.  He can help very little around the house, whether it is vacuuming, loading or unloading the dishwasher, moving furniture, or doing yard work.

[143]      He cannot plan to buy his own home, as he can no longer do the jobs and the outside work that he would normally have done.  His leisure activities with his wife and children have been diminished dramatically, as has his intimate and sexual life with his wife.  He has continuous problems sleeping, and his wife often sleeps in another room.  Mr. Kasic’s mood, disposition and temper have changed significantly.  He cannot do the most simple things such as dressing himself, taking a shower or brushing his teeth without unusual discomfort, positioning and pain.

[144]      An undisputed hard worker, Mr. Kasic stated, “I like to work hard to make more money for my family.”  His work history has indicated that, both before and after the accident.

[145]      Mr. Kasic’s ability to earn in the future has been compromised.  It is an asset he has, in part, lost.  His injuries have rendered him less capable overall from earning income from all types of employment, particularly those that require twisting, bending, standing, sitting for any length of time, or involve any kind of heavy work.  He is less marketable or attractive as an employee to potential employers.

[146]      One presumably has an obligation to advise a future employer if there are concerns such as chronic back problems.  This plaintiff has lost the ability to take advantage of job opportunities which he might otherwise have had.

[147]      Mr. Kasic appears to consider himself less capable and less valuable as a person, because of his condition.  He was 45 when this accident occurred.  He is 50 years of age now.  The real probabilities he faces are fewer jobs available to him, the chance of losing a job or jobs, and possibly having to retire early.  His reduced level of energy and inability to sustain work are factors to be considered.

Despite these serious and permanent injuries the Plaintiff had suffered a minimal wage loss by the time his tort claim against the at fault motorist went to trial.  In fact, the Plaintiff’s earnings increased from the time of the collision to the time of trial.  Depsite this the court held he was entitled to damages for loss of earning capacity and in assessing this loss at $100,000 the court reasoned as follows:

[152]      On the issue of loss of earning capacity, clear guidance can be found in the judgment of Huddart J.A. in Rosvold v. Dunlop.  Mr. Kasic’s capacity to earn income is an asset which has been, in part, taken away from him.  I have found that he has a permanent partial disability, and that limits his work in a number of areas, which in turn impairs his earning capacity.

[153]      The defence seems to suggest that Mr. Kasic has reached his goal upon coming to Canada, that his work as a caretaker together with a rental apartment in subsidized housing suggests that he has reached his earning capacity and goals.  They point to his past earnings, and note that he has steadily increased his earnings, which is true.  But as the courts have reminded us, past earnings are only one factor to consider.

[154]      The standard of proof to be applied in making an appropriate damage award under this category is simple probability, not the balance of probabilities.  And the Athey case reminds us that possibilities and probabilities, chances, opportunities and risks all have to be considered, as long as they do not amount to mere speculation.

[155]      Counsel for the plaintiff suggests that there is the possibility that Mr. Kasic will have to retire early, and I agree that this is a possibility.  Counsel argues that even if he had to retire just three years early, this would be a loss equivalent to $150,000.  This is based on Mr. Kasic’s earnings in 2007 of just over $40,000, and both counsel have factored in an additional $10,000 because of the generous housing allowance and benefits.  This would amount to a real loss of $50,000 a year or $150,000 if Mr. Kasic retired three years early.

[156]      Taking into account negative as well as positive contingencies, in my view an appropriate damage award for loss of earning capacity would be $100,000, and I award that amount.  In my view, the position taken by the defence with regard to this issue has been unrealistic, and their suggested figure of $10,000 under this category of damages does not meet the test of fairness and reasonableness.

In the second case released today (Weibe v. Peters) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2003 motor vehicle collision.  The Plaintiff was a career tradesman who worked as a vinyl deck installer.  As a  result of the collision Mr. Justice Grist of the BC Supreme Court found that the Plaintiff “will continue to have long term back pain fron the injuries suffered fron the collision which will restrict him from certain forms of physical activity...”

Despite his injuries the Plaintiff lost a minimal amount of time from work by the time of trial.  In awarding $125,000 for the Plaintiff’s diminished earning capacity Mr. Justice Grist engaged in the following useful analysis:

[32]        The wage loss prior to the date of trial in this case is confined to a minimal number of days off because of back pain, with some time loss to attend doctors’ appointments and physiotherapy. The plaintiff has not been able to provide a record of this wage loss and I cannot fix any sum under this head. As to loss of future earning capacity, I accept that Mr. Wiebe took his present form of employment because he was not able to maintain the physical demands of installations of vinyl decks. Further, he was not able to obtain a management position that would have relieved him from the demands of actual installations. He acted appropriately in taking the position he now holds, which pays the same as his past employment without the benefits which that employment offered. Again, there is no evidence of the value of lost benefits. I accept the evidence that the employment through Mr. Hepple has very little security. He is the only employee and dependent on success of both the turkey farm and the concrete mantle manufacturing business. Mr. Hepple is happy with the plaintiff’s work, however, as both the plaintiff and Mr. Hepple acknowledged, the earnings provided are probably more than this form of employment can justify. If Mr. Wiebe cannot continue in this form of work, he will likely have to retrain or find some opportunity as a manager in a deck installation company, a form of work he hasn’t been able to secure despite efforts in the past. In light of the risk inherent in being let go by his present employer, on balance I think it most likely that Mr. Wiebe will have to face this change of employment in the future, and that retraining is the most likely prospect. I keep in mind the factors mentioned in Kwei v. Boisclair, [1991], B.C.J. No. 3344 (C.A.), and Brown v. Golaiy, [1985] B.C.J. No. 31 (S.C.). In setting damages under this head of loss, specifically:

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

2.         The plaintiff is less marketable or less 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.

[33]        The plaintiff has been well regarded by his employers and has shown industry and responsibility to his family in retaining employment through the difficulties to the present time. I expect this will serve him well in the future. Nonetheless, retraining and start-up in a substitute form of employment will require a considerable period of time before Mr. Wiebe will be able to reproduce his past level of earnings.

[34]        The cases cited vary widely in fixing the loss of future earning capacity. At the high end, in Fox v. Danis, [2006] B.C.J. No. 1437 (C.A.), damages under this head of loss totalled $750,000. This however, was a case involving an individual likely to lose all forms of full-time employment. In Demedeiros, the head of damage was compensated in the sum of $180,000. This case, however, involved a stone mason who may have lost the opportunity to succeed his father in a fairly remunerative family business. In Kerr, the plaintiff was a 54 year old school teacher who had lost his ability to participate actively in sports, but who continued in his employment. It was judged that he may be forced to retire earlier and may be restricted in gaining employment after retirement. Damages under this head were assessed in that case at $75,000.

[35]        I view the likely loss here as greater in scope than indicated in Kerr but not of the degree of loss in Demedeiros and Fox. I think the appropriate level assessment under this head is the sum of $125,000.

Contact

If you would like further information or require assistance, please get in touch.

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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