A car accident lasts just a few seconds, but it can have a lifelong impact on your physical and mental health. In many cases, an accident will lead to lost earning capacity (your ability to make money by working), because your injuries keep you from resuming your pre-accident employment with the same degree of vigor—or at all.
Under British Columbia law, you are entitled to seek compensation for all your accident losses, including lost earning capacity, from a negligent driver who caused your injuries.
On June 29, 2018, the B.C. Supreme Court issued a judgment in a personal injury lawsuit arising from a 2014 Vancouver auto accident. The plaintiff left her workplace one afternoon to look for the location of a doctor’s office where her daughter had a future appointment. The plaintiff subsequently got lost and pulled into a commercial parking lot to figure out her bearings.
After a few minutes, the plaintiff exited the parking lot the same way she entered, via a 42-foot wide passageway. The plaintiff drove up the passageway and signaled a right turn. Before she could make the turn, she observed a sport-utility vehicle, driven by the defendant, “cutting the corner” and coming right at her.
The plaintiff managed to quickly apply her brakes, but the left front of the defendant’s car still managed to collide with the left front of the plaintiff’s vehicle.
According to the defendant’s account of the accident, he was entering the parking lot at a speed of between 10 and 15 kilometres per hour. His view of the passageway was initially obstructed by a tractor-trailer in front of him. He said that when the trailer cleared and he turned onto the passageway, he immediately collided with the plaintiff.
There was apparently no photographic or additional evidence gathered at the accident scene. The court relied primarily on the parties’ testimony to sort out what happened. The trial judge, Justice Kenneth N. Affleck of Vancouver Supreme Court, said in his judgment that he considered both the plaintiff and the defendant to be “transparently honest witnesses.”
As it turned out, the defendant’s honesty worked to his detriment. He admitted he “cut the corner,” which Justice Affleck interpreted to mean that he “intruded into the plaintiff’s lane of travel.” The Court also noted the defendant regularly parked his vehicle in the lot where the accident occurred, which suggests he “may have become casual about the risk of encountering vehicles leaving the parking lot.”
In addition, the tractor-trailer likely obstructed the plaintiff’s view, too, which would explain why she never saw the defendant’s SUV prior to the collision.
Finally, the defendant appeared to misunderstand the relevant traffic laws applicable to this situation. He testified that he “had to cross over a double solid yellow line” to enter the parking lot. The defendant was under the impression such a crossing was against B.C. traffic laws, but “everyone does it.”
In fact, Justice Affleck pointed out, it is permissible to make a left turn over a double-solid line provided the driver determines it is “safe to do so without affecting the travel of another vehicle.” Here, the defendant did not make such a determination, leading Justice Affleck to conclude he was “solely at fault for the accident.”
With liability resolved, the Court turned to calculating the plaintiff’s damages. A critical issue here was the plaintiff’s loss of earning capacity. Prior to the accident, she worked as youth counselor for the Boys and Girls Club. She was forced to retire upon the advice of her doctor following the accident.
The plaintiff is currently 65-years-old. Had she been able to continue working at the Boys and Girls Club full-time until she reached the age of 70, the judge explained, she would have earned $64,000 per year, and an additional $51,000 per year had she worked reduced hours from ages 70 until her expected retirement at age 75.
The Court also took notice of the fact that the plaintiff currently works as a part-time counselor earning $20,000 per year, but that she would not have chosen this path had the accident never occurred. Altogether, the Court determined the plaintiff’s future lost earning capacity was $350,000.
The Court further awarded $130,000 in non-pecuniary damages, which are designed to compensate the plaintiff for her pain and suffering. As Justice Affleck explained, non-pecuniary damages are “an assessment not a calculation,” since one cannot mathematically quantify pain and suffering.
Instead, B.C. courts consider several independent factors, including the plaintiff’s age, the nature of her injuries, the severity and duration of her physical pain, and the overall loss or impairment of the plaintiff’s daily living.
In his overall assessment, Justice Affleck said the accident “transformed” the plaintiff “from a physically active woman into an inactive woman with constant, debilitating pain.” For instance, the plaintiff could no longer enjoy hiking or bicycling as she did prior to the accident. It was also “impossible for her” to perform regular housework or gardening.
Taking all of this into account, as well how other B.C. courts have assessed pain and suffering awards in similar cases, Justice Affleck awarded non-pecuniary damages of $130,000.
The Court awarded total damages of approximately $718,000, which incorporates not just the non-pecuniary and loss of future earning capacity amounts discussed above, but also the costs of her future medical care and “past loss of housekeeping capacity.” The plaintiff was also entitled to a separate award of court costs.
Damages in car accident cases can quickly add up, particularly when the injuries affect the victim’s professional livelihood and daily living.
If you or a family member have been involved in an auto accident, it is a good idea to consult with a qualified Vancouver personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. Contact the Preszler Law Firm today to schedule a free consultation with a member of our legal team to discuss your accident and how we can best help you.