Laliberte v. Jarma: Does Being a Single Mother Affect a Personal Injury Award?
When it comes to personal injury claims arising from auto accidents in B.C., there is no one-size-fits all formula. A judge will take into account a number of factors related to the victim’s educational, employment, and even family status when determining damages for things like loss of past and future income or pain and suffering. Along those same lines, the defence will attempt to highlight certain aspects of the victim’s life in order to minimize their own financial liability for the accident.
Take this recent decision from B.C. Supreme Court, Laliberte v. Jarma. In this case, a now-21-year-old woman sustained serious injuries in an accident that took place three years earlier, when she was 18. According to the undisputed facts presented at trial, the plaintiff was a passenger in a car where the driver “lost control of the vehicle, went through a fence and over a bump and landed in a field.” The plaintiff subsequently sued both the driver and the owner of the vehicle, who conceded liability for the accident itself.
The defendants also agreed the plaintiff sustained injuries in the accident and deserved compensation. But there was disagreement as to the amount of compensation. A trial was therefore held before Justice Loryl D. Russell of B.C. Supreme Court in Nanaimo in March of this year. On June 14, Justice Russell issued her judgment.
Determining the Plaintiff’s Loss of Past (and Future) Income
The plaintiff’s status as a single mother played a significant role in Justice Russell’s determination of damages. The plaintiff was eight months pregnant at the time of the accident in December 2015. Due to the ongoing pain caused by the accident, however, the plaintiff testified she “could not hold her baby or more than five minutes without pain.” For example, the plaintiff could not carry her child upstairs to his nursery or place him in a car seat.
The plaintiff also testified she was afraid to have additional children in the future, as she would need to stop taking her pain medication for the duration of any future pregnancy.
Conversely, the defence pointed to the plaintiff’s pregnancy and single-mother status as proof she did not sustain serious damages with respect to her loss of past and future income. Prior to the accident, the plaintiff worked a number of “short-term, minimum wage jobs,” according to Justice Russell. The plaintiff testified she planned to become a hairdresser or tattoo artist, but she lacks the formal educational training for the former and the ability to physically perform the work required by the latter.
More to the point, the defence argued that due to her pregnancy and another medical condition unrelated to the accident, the plaintiff would not have been able to work full-time after December 2015 for at least a year. As for the plaintiff’s present employment situation, the defence noted that she waited until fall 2018–three years after the accident–to start looking for full-time work of any kind. And given that the plaintiff lacked even a high school education prior to the accident, it was unlikely she would have ever found more than minimum-wage work.
In short, the defence’s position was that the plaintiff chose to become a single mother at the age of 18 rather than pursue additional educational or employment opportunities. As this choice was unrelated to the auto accident, the defendants said they should not be liable for any employment-related losses claimed by the plaintiff.
Justice Russell ruled on these issues as follows:
- The Court agreed with the defence that between December 2015 and March 2016–the first months after the accident and after the plaintiff gave birth–the plaintiff would not have worked even if the accident never occurred; the plaintiff was therefore entitled to no damages for wage losses for this period.
- The period between March 2016 and January 2017 was somewhat trickier. The latter date is when the plaintiff started taking medication to manage her chronic, accident-related pain. Prior to this, Justice Russell said it would “not be reasonable to expect that [the plaintiff] would have been able to work during this period.” Even taking into account the plaintiff’s status as a single mother, she was still entitled to some compensation for the loss of income, which the Court calculated at $17,150.
- From January 2017 until the plaintiff returned to work in the fall of 2018, Justice Russell declined to award any damages for loss of income. By this point, the judge said, the plaintiff was medically capable of returning to work but chose to wait until fall 2018.
- Going forward, Justice Russell estimated the plaintiff would lose approximately ¾ of a day per week in lost income due to ongoing medical issues stemming from the accident. Based on the assumption the plaintiff will complete her the necessary education to become a hairdresser, the judge said this translated to a loss of future income of $130,000.
Compensating the Plaintiff for Her Childcare-Related Losses
Justice Russell also awarded the plaintiff $100,000 in non-pecuniary damages. In support of this figure, the Court cited the loss of the plaintiff’s “ability to cradle her baby in her arms and to breastfeed without pain” and the potential impact on the plaintiff’s decision to have more children for fear of aggravating her accident-related pain. The judge also noted the pain experienced by the plaintiff when giving birth to her present child was likely “heightened by the pre-existing injury.”
Call Preszler Injury Lawyers in Vancouver Today if You Have Been Seriously Injured in an Auto Accident
A personal injury from a car accident can affect your life in ways you probably cannot imagine unless it happens to you. Even simple everyday tasks like caring for a newborn baby may be significantly more difficult, if not impossible, following a serious accident. If you find yourself in this kind of situation, it is important to seek legal advice from a Vancouver personal injury lawyer with experience in assisting accident victims.
Call Preszler Injury Lawyers today to schedule a free consultation with a member of our legal team.