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Predicting the Future – Claims for Future Economic Loss

Case note: O’Connor v Wright [2021] QDC 173

In this matter, the Plaintiff made a claim for compensation arising from personal injuries sustained in a motor vehicle accident dated 5 January 2018. The matter was taken to trial in the District Court of Queensland in the Brisbane Registry.

Facts

On 5 January 2018, Jessica O’Connor (the Plaintiff) was driving her motor vehicle on the Bruce Highway at Palmview. She had slowed her vehicle nearly to a stop when Lawrence Wright (the First Defendant), who was traveling in the same direction, changed lanes and collided with the rear of the Plaintiff’s vehicle, forcing it into another vehicle in front. The Plaintiff’s vehicle was extensively damaged in the collision.

The First Defendant and his CTP insurer Suncorp Insurance (Second Defendant) admitted liability in full for the accident. This means that the only question which remained for the court was the question of ‘quantum’ (i.e., the amount of compensation that the Plaintiff was entitled to).

The Plaintiff

The Plaintiff was 16 years old at the time of the collision and was about to start year 12 at school. The Plaintiff was a high academic achiever, working up to 30 hours per week in hospitality. She also participated in volleyball and netball teams.

The Plaintiff had also been suffering for scoliosis since several years prior to the accident.

The Injury

The Plaintiff sustained a soft tissue injury to her spine, aggravating her scoliosis. There was no dispute that this aggravation was a result of the collision.

The Claim

The plaintiff sought damages in the amount of $213,077.44 plus interest. At the conclusion of the trial, the Plaintiff amended the amount claimed to $99,650.00 as follows:

  • General Damages (hurt, pain and suffering) = $16,150.00
  • Past Special Damages = $1,500.00
  • Future Expenses = $2,000
  • Future Economic Loss = $80,000.00
  • TOTAL = $99.650.00

Decision

The judge found that, in consideration of the evidence provided from independent medical exams of the Plaintiff, the Plaintiff had no ongoing whole person impairment. As such, her injuries had almost resolved by the time of trial. In paragraph 16, His Honour Justice Moynihan QC DCJ stated:

“On the whole of the evidence, I am satisfied on the balance of probabilities that the Plaintiff did suffer a mild whiplash injury to her cervical spine that has almost completely resolved and that her lower back pain was secondary to an aggravation of her thoracolumbar scoliosis. The aggravation of her scoliosis has also almost completely resolved, and the ongoing back pain is mainly the result of her pre-existing symptomatic condition. The soft tissue injuries, although initially more intense, have almost resolved, at the latest by the time of trial, and the Plaintiff has no ongoing whole person impairment…“

Moynihan QC DCJ found that the Plaintiff’s earning capacity had been diminished by reason of the injury caused by the First Defendant’s negligence. However, His Honour also noted that the impact of the injury upon future earnings is very difficult to assess due to the Plaintiff’s age and life stage. His Honour concluded that the extent of the loss will be limited, stating in paragraph 37:

“The 19 year old Plaintiff’s future career ambitions, if any, are uncertain. Her life could take various paths and the impact of an injury such as this is difficult to assess. It is very finely balanced but synthesising the considerations I have identified, I am satisfied that the diminution in the Plaintiff’s earning capacity may produce financial loss, however the extent of that loss will be limited.”

In summary the Judge assessed the damages to be as follows:

  • General Damages = $10,900.00
  • Past Special Damages = $1000.00
  • Future Expenses = $500.00
  • Future Economic Loss = $17,500.00
  • TOTAL = $29,900.00

Lessons

A Plaintiff’s claim for future economic loss is often a key dispute between a Plaintiff and the Defendant insurer. This is because

  • The claim for future economic loss can be a substantial part of the overall claim; and,
  • The claim for future economic loss requires an element of crystal-ball gazing into the future, which can lead to dispute between the parties.

Indeed, while the Plaintiff was successful in her case, she ultimately only obtained a judgement of $29,900 (as opposed to her initial claim of $213,077.44 plus interest). This is largely due to His Honour’s view of her injuries and the impact it will have on her future.

This article was written by Sarah Gates & Luke Borgert

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