Calculating the exact amount of a car accident victim’s injuries is often not a simple task. For instance, how do you put a dollar amount on the long-term effects of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder, all of which may result from a serious accident? Even when discussing economic damages, such as the loss of future income, how do you account for a victim who was still just getting started out in the working world and had yet to find her footing?
These were just some of the issues that came up in a recent B.C. Supreme Court case, Crozier v. Insurance Corporation of British Columbia. As the caption suggests, this lawsuit involved an ICBC claim arising from an accident in which the plaintiff was injured by an unknown driver. By law, ICBC is required to “step into the shoes” of such unidentified drivers and compensate the covered victim for her injuries.
The plaintiff’s accident took place on October 26, 2013. At the time, the plaintiff lived and worked in Sechelt, a district municipality on B.C.’s Sunshine Coast, located about 50 kilometres from Vancouver. Prior to the accident, the plaintiff worked under contract for the parks department of the Sunshine Coast Regional District. She had also recently trained in Thailand to be a massage therapist and had recently started treating clients.
The details of the accident itself were fairly straightforward. The plaintiff was riding in a friend’s car up the Sunshine Coast Highway (Highway 101) at Davis Bay, which is just south of Sechelt. It was just after 5 o’clock in the afternoon and therefore already dark outside. The plaintiff’s friend slowed down to turn off of the Sunshine Coast Highway when the plaintiff said she saw a “bright flash of light” and felt a “big impact” that she immediately assumed was an earthquake.
In fact, it was not an earthquake. Another vehicle had collided with the car. Subsequent photographs taken of the friend’s car indicated the rear bumper was cracked and the back of the trunk had been pushed inward. As the B.C. trial court observed, it was “obviously an impact of considerable force.”
The other vehicle and its driver were never identified. Nor did ICBC dispute it was legally responsible for the plaintiff’s accident-related injuries. Where the parties disagreed, however, was to the exact extent and dollar amount of those injuries.
The plaintiff’s case against ICBC was tried in B.C. Supreme Court in June 2018 before Justice Anthony Saunders. Justice Saunders issued his judgment on February 12, 2019. He awarded the plaintiff a total of $419,291.41 in damages. The two most substantial components of that award were $125,000 in non-pecuniary damages and $175,000 for loss of future earning capacity.
Non-pecuniary damages are supposed to cover an accident victim’s non-quantifiable pain and suffering, as well as the overall decrease in quality of life resulting from the accident. B.C. courts examine a number of factors when assessing non-pecuniary damages, including the victim’s age, the nature of the injuries, and the severity and frequency of pain. Justice Saunders noted he also took into consideration the following factors:
All of these additional factors weighed on the outcome of this particular case in the following ways, according to the judge. First, the plaintiff’s relationship with her boyfriend suffered significant damage as a result of the accident. The boyfriend lived in Australia, and the plaintiff planned to move there to live with him and his family. The plaintiff abandoned those plans after the accident, however, and the relationship eventually ended.
Second, the plaintiff pursued “high-level” soccer and singing as significant activities prior to the accident. But as a result of her injuries, the judge said the plaintiff “is no longer able to play soccer or engage in vigorous exercise.” While she continues to sing, she is limited in that endeavour due to her ongoing chest pain.
Justice Saunders also noted that the medical evidence presented at trial indicated that the plaintiff suffers from a variety of psychiatric ailments, including “depression and anxiety; fatigue, and problems with concentration and memory,” the latter of which may be due to an unconfirmed traumatic brain injury. Taking all of these factors into account, the Court determined a $125,000 award of non-pecuniary damages was appropriate.
As for loss of future income, at trial ICBC suggested that the plaintiff’s “pre-accident employment history reveals that she has never been particularly attached to the workplace.” In other words, she worked a variety of odd jobs and did not necessarily focus on a career. Rather, she prioritized “a lifestyle that allowed her to pursue her interests, travel, and work minimally.”
Justice Saunders agreed the plaintiff had a “spotty” work history. But the judge also pointed out the plaintiff was in her late 20s when the accident took place, and it is “not unusual for younger adults to demonstrate weaker attachments to the workforce in favour of pursuing travel and other lifestyle choices.” Many of people like the plaintiff only start to focus on their careers as they enter their 30s, the judge observed, and indeed the plaintiff had taken steps to launch a new career as a massage therapist just weeks before the accident.
The judge settled on an award of $175,000 for loss of future earning capacity, which largely reflects an estimated loss of $20,000 in average income loss projected for each of the next ten years (or $200,000), less a discount to account for the plaintiff’s “lower-than-average attachment to the workforce.”
Making a case for damages following a car accident — even one in which liability is not a contested issue — requires a certain degree of expertise and knowledge of the B.C. legal system. That is why it so important to work with a qualified Vancouver car accident lawyer. Contact Preszler Law Firm today if you need to speak with one of our lawyers about your accident.