There has been some uncertainty in the law over the past few years over the amount that is to be deducted by trial judges when awarding past income loss in tort claims arising from BC motor vehicle collisions. This issue was clarified in reasons for judgement released today by the BC Court of Appeal.
In today’s case (Laxdal v. Robbins) the Plaintiff was injured in a motor vehicle collision and sued for damages. She was awarded $3,306 for past loss of income. Section 98 of the Insurance (Vehicle) Act requires past income loss awards to be reduced to “net income loss” after taking income tax into account.
The trial judgement did not reduce the wage loss award finding that “In my view, the authorities support the conclusion that where the gross award is at or below the amount exempt from taxation, there would be no tax payable so that the net past income loss would be the same as the gross past income loss….Accordingly there will be no deduction for income tax as the amount of past wage loss is below the personal exemption”
ICBC disagreed and appealed this finding. ICBC argued that any past loss of income awards need to be combined with actual income earned during the year of the loss and tax consequences need to be determined using the global figure. The BC Court of Appeal agreed and provided the following clarity in this contentious area of personal injury law:
 I have concluded that the trial judge was incorrect in interpreting ss. 95 and 98 of the Insurance (Vehicle) Act as not requiring a reduction in her award for past loss of income to reflect the tax consequences when that loss is combined with earned income during the same period. The words of those sections must be read in their grammatical and ordinary sense.
 Having found that the losses all occurred in 2006, the trial judge ought to have combined the respondent’s 2006 income with the past income loss award for the purpose of determining the income she would have earned for income tax purposes “as if she had continued working” (as per Tysoe J.A. at para. 185 of Lines). To achieve this result, the appellant proposed the use of what has been referred to as the “stacking approach”.
 I am satisfied that, where an income loss can be attributed to a particular tax year or years, the language of ss. 95 and 98 of the Insurance (Vehicle) Act requires a resort to the stacking approach. Although Tysoe J.A. explained in the examples he referred to in Lines that “it was the intention of the Legislature to give a discretion to the judge to determine what period or periods are appropriate for the determination of net income loss in all of the circumstances”, once that determination is made, the legislation requires a deduction from the gross income loss to take into account the provisions of the Income Tax Act of British Columbia, the Income Tax Act of Canada and the Employment Insurance Act of Canada for the relevant year or years…
 As Tysoe J.A. observed in Lines at para. 180:
… It does seem somewhat odd for the income loss allocated to a particular year to be reduced according to one set of tax rules (i.e., the tax rules for the preceding year), while the plaintiff’s actual earnings for that year are taxed according to a different set of tax rules (i.e., the tax rules for the year in which the income was earned).
 The application of the stacking approach in accordance with the legislation will result in the combination of the award for past income loss with the other income earned for the same year, but the application of the enumerated legislation from the preceding year to only that portion of the total income for that year represented by the award. While the result is a cumbersome calculation, I see no need to resort to any exceptional construction of the legislation, as discussed by Lamer J., as he then was, in R. v. Paul,  1 S.C.R. 621 at 662, in order to achieve the legislative intent of ss. 95 and 98 of the Insurance (Vehicle) Act. Section 95(a) of the Insurance (Vehicle) Act refers in each of its subsections to taxes or premiums as the enumerated Acts “read on December 31 of the calendar year before the calendar year in respect of which the net income loss is to be determined”. In my view, this wording accommodates awards for either single or multiple years of income loss by permitting a judge to allocate the loss as discussed at para. 184 of Lines, and to then subject the award for that year or years to the effect of the specified legislation based on their provisions for the preceding year.
 A feature of the present legislation that does not arise in this case is the inability of a person injured in a motor vehicle collision to take advantage of any tax planning, such as a contribution to a Registered Retirement Savings Plan. In Lines Tysoe J.A. concluded at paras. 190-194 that such a notional contribution could not be allowed when calculating net income loss under ss. 95 and 98. While the inability to take advantage of such tax planning will not place the injured person in the same position that he or she would have been in, but for the accident, the application of the stacking approach will come as close to so doing as possible, while at the same time giving effect to the intent of the Legislature.
 In this case, the respondent’s total reported income for the year 2006 was $40,175.00. The respondent paid $6,024.05 for federal and provincial income tax that year, which represented an overpayment of $202.26.
 I conclude that the appropriate means by which to arrive at the respondent’s net past income loss is:
a) to determine her income from other sources during 2006 ($40,175.00);
b) add that figure to her income loss after taking into account the sick benefits she received ($3,306.24);
c) determine the tax that would be payable on $43,481.24, based upon the 2005 income tax rules and regulations by computing the amount in accordance with the provisions of theIncome Tax Act of British Columbia, the Income Tax Act of Canada and the Employment Insurance Act of Canada applicable to the calendar year ending December 31, 2005 and on $40,175.00 based upon the 2006 income tax rules and regulations by computing the amount in accordance with the provisions of the Income Tax Act of British Columbia, the Income Tax Act of Canada and the Employment Insurance Act of Canada;
d) subtract the difference between the two tax figures determined in c, above;
e) then deduct d from the income loss award, net of sick benefits that she received.