When a person is injured in a motor vehicle accident in British Columbia, he or she may have as many as three types of ICBC claims. One of those is a tort claim against a negligent driver who caused the accident. In a tort claim, the injured person seeks to recover damages, which are an award of money intended to compensate him or her for the injuries and other losses caused by the accident.
Damages in British Columbia are meant to put an injured person in as good a position as he or she would have been in had those injuries never occurred. As a result, B.C. law recognizes many different kinds of damages, and which kinds are available vary from case to case depending on the evidence.
Understanding what damages are available through a B.C. tort claim is essential for an injured person to obtain just compensation for his or her injuries. This article introduces readers to damages in British Columbia tort claims, but those who have suffered an injury should consult an experienced personal injury lawyer for more detailed information.
A tort claim is a legal claim for damages caused by the wrongful act (or tort) of another person. Torts can be intentional or unintentional. Intentional torts are those—like battery, trespass, or intentional infliction of emotional distress—that a person intends to commit. Unintentional torts, which are more common, occur when a person injures another through negligence. Unintentional torts include things like:
In the context of B.C. motor vehicle accidents, a tort claim is a claim that another person was at fault in causing the accident and should be required to compensate an injured person for his or her injuries. Such claims are covered by the third-party liability provisions of ICBC’s Basic Autoplan.
In general, damages in B.C. tort lawsuits are intended to make the injured person “whole.” Put another way, they are supposed to put the injured person back in his or her “original position”—the position he or she would have been in if the injury had never occurred.
To accomplish this goal, British Columbia law recognizes many distinct types of damages to compensate for the different ways people are affected by their injuries. To simplify matters, we often group these types of damages into two categories:
Pecuniary damages are those that compensate for the consequences of an injury that are easily quantified, often because they come with a bill or other documentary evidence of amount. For example, pecuniary damages include:
Proving past pecuniary damages is relatively straightforward, so long as the injured person has maintained documentary evidence of his or her actual expenses and lost income. But proving future damages requires a more sophisticated approach. Naturally, such future damages will be estimates, but they cannot be speculative. The injured person must still provide evidence for his or her future damage estimates.
In contrast to the relative ease with which pecuniary damages can be determined, non-pecuniary damages compensate for those consequences of an injury that, although real, are not so easily quantified. These types of damages tend to relate to a person’s subjective experience of an injury, which, of course, are not accompanied by an invoice or receipt.
Perhaps the best-known type of non-pecuniary damages are damages for pain and suffering, which seek to compensate an injured person for having to experience pain as the result of the injury.
Other types of non-pecuniary damages include:
In fixing the amount of such damages in British Columbia, courts consider past awards in similar cases, taking into account the type of injury, age of the injured person, and other relevant circumstances.
When many people think of “pain and suffering” damages, they think of the extremely high damage awards often made in the United States. But here in Canada, the Supreme Court of Canada has long imposed an upper limit on pain and suffering and other non-pecuniary damages.
In the late 1970s, the Supreme Court of Canada decided a trilogy of cases in which it established a cap on non-pecuniary damages. As the Court explained (emphasis added):
[T]he problem here is qualitatively different from that of pecuniary losses. There is no medium of exchange for happiness. There is no market for expectation of life. The monetary evaluation of non-pecuniary losses is a philosophical and policy exercise more than a legal or logical one.
As a result, the Court established $100,000 as the cap on non-pecuniary damages. However, it later clarified that that amount was subject to inflation. Today, the cap is a bit more than $360,000.
Note, however, that this upper limit is only available in the worst of injury cases. For example, in two of the cases in which the Court first developed that limit, the plaintiffs were young adults who had become paralyzed from the neck down. In the average B.C. tort claim, plaintiffs should anticipate an award of non-pecuniary damages well below the cap.
Damages in British Columbia are a tool used by the courts to return injured British Columbians to the original position that existed before they sustained their injuries. With proper evidence, an injured person can receive compensation for the many different ways in which those injuries have impacted—and will continue to impact—his or her life.
By hiring a personal injury lawyer in British Columbia, injured individuals can help ensure that all necessary evidence is collected and remains available to pursue compensation through a personal injury claim.
Preszler Law Firm is a personal injury law firm in British Columbia that works closely with its clients to guide them through the process of personal injury litigation. Our lawyers work tirelessly to gather evidence and develop creative strategies tailored to each client’s needs to obtain the compensation to which B.C. law entitles them.
If you or a loved one has been injured by the wrongful act of another, contact us today for a free consultation where we can provide personalized advice about your case.