Long term effects of injuries can change a person. Those changes can cause an end to a family relationship and reduce the likelihood of entering into another.
Those consequences are not only emotionally, but also financially difficult, as illustrated by the recent Saskatchewan Court of Appeal decision in University of Regina v. Biletski, 2019 SKCA 44 (CanLII).
The defence described Miranda Biletski as a “bright, funny, attractive, accomplished young woman with an active social life and a circle of friends”. They also pointed to one live-in romantic relationship in the 12 years between being rendered a quadriplegic at age 16 and the trial.
It was a high stakes argument, that Miranda’s ability to enter into a family relationship had not been reduced. They argued that her personal circumstances and attributes would buck the statistics that fewer disabled people enter into such relationships.
If successful, they wouldn’t have to compensate Miranda for the dollars and cents loss arising from that reduction.
High stakes because number crunchers (economists) hired by each party provided incredibly high assessments of the “interdependency benefits” of cohabitation relationships.
The numbers might surprise you.
At the low end was the defence assessment of approximately $470,000.00. The plaintiff economist’s assessment was approximately $1,500,000.00.
But when you consider the very real dollars and cents benefits of being in a permanent, financially interdependent relationship, the numbers start making sense.
Mr. Justice Cole in the British Columbia case of Grewal v. Brar et al, 2004 BCSC 1157, listed three aspects of loss: “1) loss of the benefit of increased income (especially for female plaintiffs who typically earn less than male partners); (2) loss of the benefit of shared expenses; and (3) loss of the benefit of shared homemaking.
Consider, by itself, the cost savings of a shared living space. Splitting a $2,000.00 per month rent saves you $1,000.00 per month. Crunch the numbers on that for a young person’s lifetime.
Then there’s shared furnishings, utilities, vehicles, savings from shared cooking, etc., etc., etc.
And all sorts of other very real, financial benefits that don’t come to mind. You can see why it would take an economist to fairly assess the full extent of these benefits.
In order to be compensated at all for a loss of these benefits, it must be proven that there is a “real and substantial possibility” that the ability to enter into a permanent, interdependent relationship has been impaired.
If that hurdle is met, the amount of compensation is determined by applying the likelihood the losses will be suffered to the assessed value of those benefits.
The defence argument did not succeed. The jury found that Miranda had suffered a loss of ability to enter into a permanent interdependent relationship and assessed her losses related to this aspect of her claim at $879,000.00.
And that assessment was upheld on appeal.
Relationships can be strengthened, rather than torn apart, by the adversity that comes from chronic pain and other long term impacts of injuries. And learning to live with those long term impacts might better prepare people for the ups and downs that naturally occur in relationships yet to be formed.
This loss does not automatically flow from permanent injuries. It is very much the exception and depends on the particular facts of each case.
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