There are myriad ways in which a person may suffer injuries as a result of a traffic accident. The most common is due to an accident between two motor vehicles. However, accidents occur between other entities, such as between one vehicle and a pedestrian or between a motorized vehicle and an unmotorized vehicle, such as a collision between a car and a bicyclist. The case of Sanson v Paterson is an example of this third type of collision between a motor vehicle and a bicyclist.
A Driver Strikes a Bicyclist with His Vehicle
The case of Sanson v Paterson involved a cyclist, Geraldine Sanson (“Sanson”), who the court described as “a highly respected human rights lawyer.” On October 19, 2012, Sanson was riding her bicycle home from work when she approached an intersection in downtown Toronto. Sanson, travelling in a lane that instructed vehicles and bicycles to share the road, brought her bicycle to rest at the front of the lane, just before the intersection. When she first came to a stop, Sanson was alone on her side of the intersection. As she waited for the light to change to green, she observed a vehicle pull beside her in the center lane. She also heard another vehicle pull into the curb lane behind her, and she could hear its engine rumbling as it idled. When the light changed to green, Sanson looked to her left and right before proceeding into the intersection. As she did so, she felt a vehicle clip her bicycle from behind, which caused her to lose her balance. Her bike was then struck a second time, which caused her to fly off the seat of her bicycle and fall to the ground, striking her (helmeted) head. Then, Mr. Paterson (“Paterson”) approached Sanson, who identified himself as the vehicle’s driver who had just struck her.
A Trial is Held; A Driver is Held Responsible
At the trial of this matter, the judge concluded that Paterson had paid insufficient attention to Sanson’s position within the lane and that he had failed to determine whether it was safe for him to accelerate into the intersection in the manner he had. The trial judge concluded that Paterson had been preoccupied during the accident and had failed to take proper care or make appropriate observations before proceeding into the intersection. As a result, the trial judge was satisfied that Paterson was entirely responsible for the accident, that Sanson had not contributed to the events of the day, and that Paterson was entirely liable for all damages resulting from the accident.
The trial judge evaluated all of the evidence, including medical and psychological evidence and the testimony of friends and colleagues of Sanson, and concluded that Sanson “was more likely than not in the minority of patients who continue to suffer from mild traumatic brain injuries on an ongoing basis and her injuries had persisted to the point that they would now be regarded as permanent”. Sanson was awarded a total of $2.5 million in damages for the various injuries she had suffered as a result of the accident.
The Driver Appeals
Paterson appealed the trial judge’s decision on grounds of both liability and the amount of damages awarded. Regarding liability, the Court of Appeal was satisfied that Paterson had appropriately been found entirely liable for the accident and the injuries suffered by Sanson. To that end, the trial judge had appropriately concluded that Sanson’s conduct had in no way, shape, or form contributed to the occurrence of the accident. Moreover, Paterson acknowledged in his testimony that he failed to look toward Sanson and her bicycle once the light turned green. The court also acknowledged the directive under section 193(1) of the Highway Traffic Act, which dictates that when loss or damage arises as a result of a motor vehicle, the operator of such vehicle bears the onus of demonstrating that the operation of said motor vehicle did not cause such loss or damage. This is known as a “reverse onus,” and Paterson was found by the trial judge not to have discharged this burden. The Court of Appeal agreed, thus finding that the trial judge’s conclusions with respect to liability were correct.
As for the amount of damages awarded, Paterson contended that the $2.5 million awarded by the trial judge was inappropriately high. The total amount comprised damages awarded for costs of future care, future loss of income, pain and suffering, prejudgment interest and loss of enjoyment of life. Paterson specifically disputed the amount awarded for past and future income lost. The court reviewed that specific award and noted that, at trial, Sanson’s counsel had proposed an award in the range of $147,500 – $248,500 in 2022 dollars for this head of damage. After reviewing all applicable evidence, the trial judge found Sanson’s pre-collision earning capacity to be $210,000. The “figure was to apply from the date of the collision and then was adjusted for inflation going forward from that point.” “The trial judge based his past and future income loss award on [Sanson] earning $210,000 in 2012 dollars (the time of the accident)”, which Paterson pointed out was the equivalent of $267,680.01 in 2022 dollars. As Sanson’s expert and counsel had presented the range of her income as $147,500-$248,500, the trial judge’s award had exceeded what even Sanson sought as compensation for the accident. Paterson argued that such a valuation was incorrect and inappropriate and should be reversed.
The Court of Appeal agreed with Paterson. It was satisfied that the figures offered by Sanson at trial were presented in 2022 dollars, not 2012 dollars, which was “a feature overlooked by the trial judge.” Even Sanson acknowledged that the amount awarded under this head of damage was far more than the amount she had sought. Further, the range presented by Sanson at trial already accounted for inflation, which meant that the trial judge had not been required to make an additional adjustment for the same reason. In effect, “the trial judge erred in relying on the 2022 estimates in Mr. Milburn’s evidence and treating them as 2012 figures in his loss of income calculations. This was a palpable and overriding error”. As such, the appeal was allowed on this one narrow, specific point, and the amount awarded for past loss of income was adjusted from $210,000 in 2012 dollars to $210,000 in 2022 dollars.
Contact Our Personal Injury Lawyers at Tierney Stauffer LLP in Ottawa for Your Personal Injury Legal Needs
If you have been involved in a motor vehicle accident, whether as a driver, pedestrian or cyclist, you need a personal injury lawyer’s capable and knowledgeable assistance. Fortunately, the law offices of Tierney Stauffer LLP offer just such a service. From our offices in downtown Ottawa, Ontario, the lawyers at Tierney Stauffer LLP are proud to assist Ontarians throughout the capital region with their personal injury needs.
Contact us online or by telephone at 1-888-799-8057 to schedule a confidential consultation with one of our experienced personal injury lawyers, who will help you receive the compensation you deserve.