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Injuries in car accidents can often impact an individual’s ability to work.  A recent British Columbia Supreme Court decision, Salame v. Sutherland explained the process of assessing this loss.  The plaintiff in Salame was injured in a June 1, 2013 motor vehicle accident.  The plaintiff was 52 years old and prior to the accident she worked at a Laundromat that she owned with her husband.  The plaintiff suffered significant injuries in the accident and was unable to return to light duties at the Laundromat until 18 months after the accident.  At the time of trial she said that her injuries continued to impact her ability to work.  In assessing her claim for loss of earning capacity the trial judge provided an excellent summary of the principles that are applied.  That summary was as follows:

[111]  Compensation must be made for the loss of income earning capacity as a capital asset and not merely the loss of earnings…Nevertheless, a pecuniary loss must be established, the existence of which is typically assessed by comparing what would have been the plaintiff’s past and future earnings if the accident had not occurred with the plaintiff’s actual past and likely future earnings given the accident did occur.  The fundamental question is whether the plaintiff has established, to the requisite standard of proof, an impairment to his or her income earning ability leading to a pecuniary loss, which loss might exist even when the plaintiff continues in his or her usual occupation…

[112]  The determination of what would have happened in both the past and the future had it not been for the accident, and the determination of what will happen in the future given the accident did occur, are hypothetical exercises.  While actual past events must be proven on a balance of probabilities, the standard of proof in relation to hypothetical events is simple probability.  If a plaintiff establishes a real and substantial possibility, as opposed to a speculative possibility, of a hypothetical event, the event must be given weight according to its relative likelihood and compensation must be awarded based on an estimation of the chance that the event will occur.  The court must make allowances for the possibility that the assumptions upon which the determination is based may prove to be worng, and all contingencies, positive and negative, that are established as realistic as opposed to speculative possibilities must be given effect.

[113]  In summary, to award damages for loss of past earning capacity, the court must be satisfied, on a balance of probabilities, that the accident caused an impairment of the plaintiff’s ability to engage in some activity relevant to her income earning potential and, if so satisfied, the court must assess the chances that the plaintiff would have earned more income than she did earn in the pre trial period had she not been injured and make an award based on that assessment that reflects all realistic contingencies.

[114]  To award damages for loss of future earning capacity, the court must be satisfied that, as a result of the accident, there is a real and substantial possibilitiy of a future event leading to an income loss.  If so satisfied, the court must assess the chances that the plaintiff would have earned more income in the future had she not been injured than she will earn in the future given that she had been injured and make an award based on that assessment that reflects all realistic contingencies.

As the above demonstrates, assessments of loss of earning capacity in motor vehicle accident cases is fact specific and dependent on an ability on the evidence to establish the loss.