A car accident can turn a victim’s life upside down in a matter of seconds. The physical and mental trauma of an accident can affect the victim’s ability to work, engage in recreational activities, and even perform the basic tasks of daily living. When such injuries are the result of third-party negligence, the victim has the right to seek compensation under B.C. law for all of these categories of damages and more.
Tyler Dennis and Almira Esmail, two of Preszler’s lawyers, were counsel on this trial.
A recent decision from the B.C. Supreme Court, Khademolhosseini v Ji, offers a useful example of how judges make a full assessment of a car accident victim’s injuries. This particular case originated with a 2014 accident in Burnaby. The defendant admitted liability for causing the accident that injured the plaintiff. Trial was therefore held solely on the question of damages.
Here is some background on the accident itself. On the evening of December 23, 2014, the plaintiff was in his car at the intersection of Kingsway and Boundary Road in Burnaby, adjacent to Swangard Stadium. Although there was minimal physical damage to the vehicles, the plaintiff said he “experienced neck pain immediately.”
At the time of the accident, the plaintiff attended graduate school at the University of British Columbia, where he was working toward a PhD. in mechanical engineering. As the trial judge noted in her judgment, prior to the accident the plaintiff was by all accounts “an exceptional student with a very bright future in the area of nanomechanics.”
The Impact on the Plaintiff’s Career
Because the plaintiff’s car accident took place during UBC’s winter holiday, the student care clinic he normally attended was closed. The plaintiff therefore did not see his doctor for treatment until January. By that point, the plaintiff said he was suffering from chronic neck pain and headaches that were “affecting his worn and interfering with his ability to focus.” In fact, the plaintiff said his injuries limited him to working no more than three hours per day.
Before the accident, the plaintiff planned to attend an “important conference” in Portugal to present his work in nanomechanics. But due to his injuries, the plaintiff said he could not “fully participate in the conference.” Consequently, the plaintiff testified at trial that “he lost his chance to move into a good industry job as a result of the difficulties he experienced.” The plaintiff ended up finishing his doctoral dissertation later than expected and he “did not have a suitable job in his industry” lined up.
Although the plaintiff did ultimately land an industry job with a company in California in early 2017, he said his injuries still kept him from working regular hours in the laboratory. Instead, he mostly works a “traditional desk” job that is less “lucrative” in terms of billable hours.
Judge: Insufficient Evidence to Award Damages for Loss of Past Income
The plaintiff’s case was tried before Justice Wendy A. Baker of B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver. In her judgment, she accepted the plaintiff suffers from “ongoing neck and upper back pain” as well as headaches. She rejected the defendant’s argument that because the vehicles involved in the accident were themselves “minimally” damages, that somehow undercut the plaintiff’s personal injury claims. Indeed, Justice Baker noted the defence’s own medical experts conceded the existence of the plaintiff’s injuries.
More to the point, the judge accepted the plaintiff’s testimony that his accident-related injuries significantly impacted his work and recreational activities. With respect to the latter, the court credited the plaintiff’s testimony that he “used to be an avid and successful recreational athlete,” but could no longer engage in such activities due to his chronic pain.
That said, the judge found there was “insufficient evidence” to support the plaintiff’s claim that he would have found a better-paying job had he been able to “fully participate” in the Portugal conference after the accident. For instance, the plaintiff did not present any “expert or statistical evidence” regarding the PhD job market in the nanomechanics field. And while the plaintiff may have felt restricted in his ability to find work, he nevertheless received a postdoctoral position at UBC following graduation and managed to find a job in the private sector afterwards. For these reasons, Justice Baker declined to award the plaintiff any damages for “past loss of income.”
But the Court did find there was sufficient evidence to support an award for estimated loss of future income. Specifically, Justice Baker said the plaintiff’s inability to work the same amount of hours in the laboratory (relative to his colleagues) would affect his ability to obtain seniority and pay raises over the course of his career. The Court therefore awarded the plaintiff $350,000 in damages under this heading.
“Fair and Reasonable” Damages for Pain and Suffering, Future Care
Justice Baker also awarded the plaintiff $85,000 in non-pecuniary damages. This part of the award reflects the plaintiff’s pain and suffering, as well as his overall loss of enjoyment of life. The amount is actually what the plaintiff requested at trial. The defence argued for a slightly lower award of between $70,000 and $80,000. But the judge said $85,000 was “fair and reasonable” under the circumstances.
The plaintiff also received $40,000 in damages for the estimated costs of his future medical care. Justice Baker noted that “[a]ll of the medical evidence in this case supports the need for ongoing future treatments” for the plaintiff, including therapy, rehabilitation, and pain medication. Again, the $40,000 amount was exactly what the plaintiff requested at trial. The defence argued that damages should be limited to just $5,000 in this area, but the judge sided with the plaintiff.
Contact Preszler Law If You Have Been Injured in a B.C. Car Accident
It is often difficult to precisely quantify how much an accident will prevent you from earning in the future. This is why it is important to work with qualified Burnaby personal injury lawyers who have experience in preparing and presenting these types of cases to B.C. judges. Contact Preszler Law today if you have been injured in a car accident and require legal advice on what steps to take next.