$3 million “diminished capacity” award for brain injury.

On December 14, 2015, the BC Supreme Court assessed damages of $3 million dollars for a plaintiff who sustained a brain injury in a vehicle collision.

In Grassick v. Swansburg the plaintiff, who was 16 at the time, was a pedestrian and struck by a vehicle driven by the defendant.  The plaintiff suffered a moderate to severe brain injury which impacted his cognition and was expected to have permanent repercussions.

The Court found that the plaintiff was an ambitious and hard working young man who, but for the brain injury, would have had a successful career in his anticipated profession as a civil engineer.  In assessing damages of $3 million for diminished earning capacity Madam Justice Loo provided the following reasons:

[197]     I do not accept the defendant’s argument that Stirling’s part-time employment as a server in a retirement home and his work during his co-op placements demonstrate that he has an ability to do well in the workplace. Quite the opposite. His work at Maple Reinders is a forecast of the difficulties he will have with maintaining employment.

[198]     While Stirling suffers only mild cognitive impairments, they are potent for him. His cognitive impairments directly impact his drive to excel. Perhaps if he was content to be less than average at everything he does, it would not matter so much. But he was not, and is not content to be being average.

[199]     Predicting what his future earning capacity would have been, but for the accident, is a complex task and the potential range of his earnings is broad. The plaintiff relies on the expert report of Darren W. Benning, economist, for the estimated lump sum present value of lifetime earnings of a British Columbia male civil engineer. The defendant did not require Mr. Benning to attend for cross-examination.

[200]     There is a range of possibilities for Stirling; from being, for lack of a better term, an average or 50th percentile engineer earning from May 1, 2016 when he is expected to graduate, through to age 65. Based on the present value of life-time earnings, $2,399,956. However, that figure – as do all of the figures provided by Mr. Benning – includes 24.2 percent reduction for the average labour market contingencies: unemployment, part-time work and part-year work. Without those contingencies, the figure for the 50th percentile engineer is $3,166,172.

[201]     Mr. Benning has also provided figures for engineering managers. With the labour market contingencies, the figures are $3,149,822 for the average engineering manager, and $3,868,882, and $4,880,954 for the 80th and 90th percentiles, respectively. Without the labour contingencies, the figures are $4,155,437, $5,104,065 and $6,439,253.

[202]     I conclude that there is a real and substantial possibility that Stirling would have worked for a number of years as an “average” engineer, before moving up the ranks of engineers. He would have worked full time, and his professional career would be an important part of his life.  He would have succeeded in becoming one of the higher paid engineers, a well above average engineer, or an upper management engineer.

[203]     Stirling may, like many professionals, work past the age of 65. On the other hand, he may, like other professionals, decide to retire early and do other things. However, given Stirling before the accident, and now, I do not think he is the kind of person who would choose to work part year or part time.

[204]     The plaintiff seeks damages for loss earning capacity in the sum of $3 million. I find this sum to be both reasonable to him and to the defendant. I award $3 million for loss of future earning capacity.