Making Waves: How much are concussion cases involving entrepreneurs worth?

In this recent Supreme Court of British Columbia case, a successful owner of a brand devoted to the production of surf boards and clothing was injured in a motor vehicle accident. The injured party was riding a motorcycle when they were struck by an oncoming car making a left turn. This was a significant crash that involved the oncoming vehicle deploying both of its front airbags. The plaintiff was thrown violently to the ground and remembers waking up in the intensive care unit of the hospital. He was left with long lasting injuries including a concussion and a knee injury.

Prior to this accident, the plaintiff had, per the judge’s own words, “achieved more by the age of 32 than many people achieve in an entire lifetime”. His line of clothing and surf boards had, despite some ups and downs, grown greatly.

The courts were left with the difficult task of assessing the plaintiff’s income losses, both past and future. As in many cases involving business owners, the plaintiff’s income fluctuated dramatically, and his future income was even more uncertain, as recent financial restructuring resulted in dramatically increased possibilities of both failure and success.

The plaintiff, following his accident, was left partially impaired. He was able to continue working in his business, but did so with less confidence and vigor. He had to delegate tasks to others. The judge, however, concluded that the plaintiff still managed to demonstrate above average business skill and great creativity. In other words, the plaintiff was found to have a “partial impairment”. The judge ultimately decided that the best way to access the plaintiff’s losses was under the “replacement approach”, as the plaintiff had already hired employees to perform some of his tasks. The plaintiff was given an award for the likely costs of replacement labour for tasks he would have performed himself but for the accident.

The plaintiff was ultimately awarded a total award of approximately $1,000,000.00. This case demonstrates that even though the assessment of wage losses can be difficult, the courts will continue to do their best to assess those losses.

Who is at fault for a rear end collision?

Generally, the driver of the rear vehicle is at fault. Motorists have a duty to look ahead and keep a proper look out. Additionally, Section 162 of the Motor Vehicle Act has been interpreted to mean that drivers have a duty to leave significant space in front of them to allow them to stop safely without hitting the vehicle in front:

Following too closely

162(1) A driver of a vehicle must not cause or permit the vehicle to follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of the vehicles and the amount and nature of traffic on and the condition of the highway.

(2) The driver of a commercial motor vehicle or a combination of vehicles, when driving on a roadway outside a business or residence district, must not follow within 60 m of another commercial motor vehicle or a combination of vehicles, but this must not be construed to prevent one commercial motor vehicle or a combination of vehicles overtaking and passing another.

(3) The driver of a motor vehicle in a caravan or motorcade, other than a funeral procession, outside a business or residence district, must leave sufficient space between his or her vehicle and another vehicle or combination of vehicles to enable a vehicle to enter and occupy that space without danger.

The courts have also stated that there is a presumption that the rear driver is at fault, unless they can prove they are not. Defenses do, however, exist. Examples of situations where the lead driver may be found partially or totally at fault include, where:

  1. The lead driver has stopped in a place they were not permitted to.
  2. The lead driver has stopped suddenly and without sufficient reason.
  3. The lead driver has stopped in a place where their vehicle is not easily visible.
  4. The lead driver has made an unsafe lane change and “cut off” the rear driver.
  5. The lead vehicle does not make proper use of their turn signals or brake lights or has malfunctioning turn signals or brake light.

As per the above, there is a heavy onus on the rear vehicle to demonstrate why they are not at fault for a motor vehicle accident. Only in exceptional circumstances will a lead vehicle be found 100% at fault for a rear-end collision and, thus, be unable to recover damages for a personal injury case.



Plaintiff given award for Early Retirement.

In a recent Supreme Court of British Columbia decision, a plaintiff, who was a 53 year old aesthetics instructor, was given an award of $27,000 to compensate her for the possibility of early retirement.

What’s interesting about this award is that the plaintiff, who was only 53 years old, did not plan to retire until age 65, and these damages were entirely speculative. The judge was satisfied that there was a “real and substantial” possibility of loss and treated the possibility of early retirement due to injury as a lost capital asset. The judge then awarded the plaintiff a half a year of wages.

The plaintiff in this case had suffered a chronic soft tissue injury arising from 2 separate motor vehicle collisions. Just over 4 years after their first accident, the plaintiff continued to suffer from ongoing back and neck pain that was disrupting her ability to sleep and leading to fatigue. The plaintiff had to switch roles at work. She no longer was able to be as active in instruction and instead focused on administrative work. The judge concluded that there was room for improvement in the plaintiff’s condition but no objective basis to conclude that the plaintiff would make a full recovery.

This case illustrates many of the challenges that arise when dealing with claims for future losses.

Evasive Actions: personal injury claims without actual collisions.

This recent Supreme Court of British Columbia case dealt with a motorcyclist who was force to take evasive action while entering an intersection. The motorcyclist had the right of way, and another vehicle entered the intersection after stopping at a stop sign to the right of the motorcyclist. The motorcyclist was able to avoid striking the other vehicle, but ultimately lost control of their motorcycle and suffered a significant injury while striking the ground. The courts found that the motorcyclist’s actions had been prudent in the circumstances and that they were still entitled to make a claim against the other driver, despite the fact that no collision had occurred between the two motor vehicles.

In coming to this conclusion, the judge applied a couple important legal principles:

  1. When avoiding a hazard ahead, a driver is not expected to make the perfect decision, only a decision that is reasonable in the circumstances. The existence of a better course of action does not result in a finding of negligence.
  2. It is up to the driver who has created the initial hazard to demonstrate that the other driver could have reasonably avoided the hazard.

In this case had the defendant been able to show that the plaintiff’s rate of speed had contributed to or caused their fall then the judge may have made a different finding on liability. However, neither side presented evidence to show that the motorcyclist had been speeding. This case once again demonstrates the importance of hiring legal counsel, and why doing so prior to speaking with ICBC can be important.

Construction worker given $430,000 award for soft-tissue injuries sustained in car accident.

The injured party was a construction worker and father of 4 children. His work primarily focused on residential renovations and building and servicing green houses at big box stores. The plaintiff was fifty years old at the time of trial and had been injured in what the courts described as a “violent” rear end type motor vehicle accident. Although the plaintiff continued to work after the accident, he was limited in what roles he could perform and how long he could work for, largely due to ongoing neck and chronic neck pain after the accident.

In this case the lawyers for the defence tried to make the argument that since the plaintiff had been to acupuncture treatments for neck and shoulder issues prior to the accident, he must have been suffering from soft-tissue injuries before the accident that were not caused by the accident. Fortunately, the judge found the plaintiff to be credible and dismissed the defence’s argument, stating:

“Receiving an acupuncture treatment (or a massage) for the relief of soreness or temporary muscle pain arising from long hours of driving or physically demanding activities is qualitatively different from attending an acupuncturist as a result of an injury on the recommendation of one’s general practitioner.”

This was a very astute observation by the judge and was based on medical expert evidence from an expert in occupational medicine who stated “people go for massages all the time when they are working at physical jobs or go to their gardens and they do a bunch of digging”, but it “does not mean they have an ongoing back pain disability”.

Student awarded $150,000 for Future Income Loss.

This case involved a plaintiff who was injured in 3 separate motor vehicle accidents. At the time of their first accident, the plaintiff was a bank teller who was pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Financial Services and Administration at Douglas College.

The plaintiff’s award for Future Income Losses was broken down into 2 components:

  1. $50,000.00 for a delay in her education and training; and
  2. $100,000.00 for loss of Future Earning Capacity.

The plaintiff was given these awards despite, at the time of trial, having the ability to work full time. The $50,000.00 was meant to compensate the plaintiff for any delays in her education caused by her inability to pursue career and educational goals with the same vigor had the car accidents not occurred. For example, if the plaintiff was not able to take as many courses or not pursue promotions or new opportunities, this award would compensate her.

The second part of the award, which consisted of $100,000 for Loss of Future Earning Capacity, was meant to compensate the plaintiff for future contingencies, such as time off work, early retirement, and an inability to pursue overtime. This figure of $100,000 was based loosely on her salary at the time, and she was given compensation for approximately 2 years of her current salary.

This case once again illustrates that despite uncertainty as to career paths, a young person or a students may still be entitled to compensation for future losses.

Who is at fault when a cyclist passes a vehicle on the right and an accident ensues?

In British Columbia, generally vehicles that pass other vehicles on the right are found partially or entirely at fault for ensuing motor vehicle accidents. There are exceptions to this rule. For example, when a vehicle is turning left, you may pass it on its right. This brings up the interesting case of cyclists. Cyclists are considered vehicles and must obey the rules of the road. However, cyclists also generally ride to the right of motor vehicles outside of regular car lanes.

This leads to many situations where a cyclist could be held at fault for an accident merely for being to the right of a motor vehicle. Despite the law being clear on this, the courts have thankfully decided to take a more nuanced approach:

Here, a cyclist collided with a car that was making a left turn in front of it. The cyclist was not in a marked bike lane but was in a shoulder frequented by cyclists. The defendant argued that the cyclist was at fault. The defendant was making a left turn in front of traffic going the opposite way. The opposite traffic was stopped for congestion, and the plaintiff bicyclist was passing this traffic on its right.

Although there was no distinct bicycle lane, this road was commonly frequented by bicyclists and had warning signs that bicyclist and pedestrians frequented the area. The judge stated:

“Mr. Ilett did not fail to take reasonable care for his own safety. Cyclists frequently rode on the shoulder at the Intersection and many were doing so that day. Mr. Ilett was visible to Ms. Mattina for a significant distance prior to the Intersection. There were no signals requiring northbound traffic on Admirals to stop. Although Mr. Ilett passed the slowly moving and stopped lane of traffic which was on his left while he rode on the shoulder, it was commonplace for cyclists to do so.

As a result, Ms. Buckley is entirely responsible for Mr. Ilett’s injuries.”

This case illustrates the ongoing conflict between cyclists and motorists on the streets of British Columbia. It also illustrates that as the number of cyclists on the roads increases in volume, motorists must take extra precautions to avoid injuring them.