28 August 2022 – 07:05
A Kamloops lawyer has been awarded $3.2 million after being hit from behind in a collision four years ago.
The car crash on the Trans-Canada Highway outside Golden left the young law student with chronic migraines that still occur three to four times a week.
According to an Aug. 8 BC Supreme Court ruling, Casey Lee Helgason was studying law at Thompson Rivers University in 2018 when the accident happened.
The decision said Helgason was in the back and his car was pushed into the ditch. The ruling did not specify how fast the car that hit Helgason was traveling, but the speed limit on the highway is around 90 km/h. She had her car towed to the cottage where she was staying over the weekend and she did not immediately go to the hospital.
However, she began to notice numbness and tingling in her right arm, neck and shoulder pain and “pretty intolerable” headaches.
Returning to Kamloops a few days later, she went to the hospital and was later diagnosed with concussion and post-concussion syndrome.
As the driver who ran over Helgason has admitted responsibility – a third vehicle was found not to be responsible – the recent court case has focused on the lawyer’s past and future loss of income.
The case points out that high-income earners will receive higher payouts if they win in many ICBC claims based on their projected future earnings.
Lawyers for both sides argued during a three-week trial over how much money Helgason would have made while she was alive had she not suffered cognitive damage from the car crash.
Several expert witnesses were called during the trial, including physiatrists and neurologists who gave their opinion on how the accident affected Helgason.
However, expert neurologists disagree with each other in their testimony, with one stating that Helgason was born with a predisposition to develop migraines.
Another neurologist disagreed, saying she suffered from post-traumatic brain injury syndrome.
The ruling said Helgason was still a straight student who had worked at the Kamloops law firm Fulton and Company during her undergraduate studies. She interned with the company and, after completing her law studies, became an associate lawyer with them.
However, in the summer of 2021, she has reduced her hours to 60% as she suffers from daily headaches and suffers from considerable neck and shoulder pain.
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Arguing for compensation, Helgason said she was on track to become a partner at the law firm and earn $400,000 a year – a significant increase from the maximum salary of $120,000 that an attorney partner wins.
However, since she cannot work more than 60% of the time, this has significantly reduced her career aspirations.
“There is no doubt that her ongoing issues have impacted her work and her life in general. She will likely continue to experience pain for the foreseeable future,” Judge Ronald Skolrood said. “Having said that, the evidence suggests that she continued many of her recreational activities, albeit at a reduced level. It should also be noted that after the accident, Ms Helgason successfully completed her law school and her studies and was retained as an associate lawyer.”
Helgason claims she would have become a partner and calculating her salary to age 70 would yield $9,934,077.
The defense disagreed, arguing that there was no guarantee she would become a partner and that statistically there was only a 50% chance that law graduates would remain in private practice.
The judge agreed.
“While there is no doubt that she is both driven and intelligent, and highly regarded by her colleagues at Fulton, it is simply too early in her career to be able to make that claim,” said said Judge Skolrood in the ruling. “Furthermore, statistical evidence and, more importantly, Fulton’s own history suggests that well under 50% of first-year associates who stay go on to become partners.”
The defendants also argued that Helgason had completed her law school and articled after the accident and that there was insufficient evidence that she could only work 60% of the time.
“Assessing the impact of this impairment on his ability to earn an income is obviously difficult,” the judge said. “In my opinion, if Ms. Helgason moves into a less demanding legal role and manages to improve her physical and cognitive/psychological symptoms, her persistent disability will be reduced, but not entirely eliminated.”
In the end, Judge Skolrood ruled that Helgason would have earned $3 million during his career.
Combined with other damages, Helgason was awarded $3,217,720.
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