In civil lawsuits in Ontario, a claimant may seek various types of damages and it is important to understand the differences between them.
Compensatory damages, which are often sought in personal injury cases, are intended to financially compensate a person for injuries caused by the wrongful or negligent act of another person or party.
Punitive damages may be awarded over and above the actual damage and loss incurred. These are intended to be a warning to the wrongful or negligent party against repeating the acts that caused the losses.
Here, we focus on compensatory losses, which are generally categorized into pecuniary damages and non-pecuniary damages.
There are some basic differences between the two types that are discussed below.
What are compensatory damages?
In Ontario, you can sue for compensatory damages if you are physically or emotionally injured as a result of someone else’s wrongdoing or negligence.
These damages are intended to make the complainant “whole” again, i.e., as close as possible to the condition they were in before the accident and injury.
Compensatory damages occur as a direct result of the injury sustained and may include the following:
- Ambulance and emergency expenses
- Medical treatment costs
- Hospital bills
- Rehabilitation expenses
- Physical therapy bills
- Nursing home care costs
- Medical equipment costs
- Damage to property
- Lost earnings
Note that “injury” in personal injury cases can refer to bodily injuries and also damage to personal property (for instance, in a car accident, motorcycle accident or bicycle accident, both may occur).
Compensatory damages can be pecuniary or non-pecuniary and the majority of personal injury cases in Ontario involve both types.
Over the past five decades, Canadian laws regarding compensation have undergone significant changes.
Amendments made by The Supreme Court of Canada have had a lasting effect on what injured parties can claim for – especially with regards to pain and suffering.
What are pecuniary damages?
Pecuniary damages or losses are the compensatory damages that are directly linked to the incident that caused your injury.
They are sometimes called actual damages. They are easily quantifiable and can be readily measured in financial terms (dollars and cents).
For instance, if you or your family incurred medical expenses as a direct result of your injury, these are pecuniary damages. They are normally relatively simple to prove with bills, receipts, statements, payslips, tax returns and other documented proof of payment related to your personal injury case.
Some common pecuniary damages in personal injury cases include:
- Ambulance and emergency care bills
- Hospital bills, doctors’ bills, medication costs, etc.
- Lost wages (including losses incurred by a claimant’s inability to work as a result of their injury)
- Loss of earning capacity – if an injury precludes a person from continuing to do their job or follow a chosen career
- Future medical care costs (including long-term disability or chronic illness care and therapy)
- Damage to property owned by the claimant, such as a motor vehicle that needs to be repaired
Pecuniary costs may extend to the care provided by a family member, who may need to stop working and earning an income to look after the injured party.
To help your personal injury lawyer claim pecuniary damages, you will need to keep all the relevant documentation, such as receipts, accounts or statements relating to any expenses paid.
What are non-pecuniary damages?
Non-pecuniary damages are compensatory damages that cannot be quantified in monetary terms. They are sometimes called general, intangible or non-economic damages.
Non-pecuniary damages are often more subjective and more open to interpretation than pecuniary damages. Some good examples of non-pecuniary damages awarded in personal injury cases in Ontario include:
- Pain and suffering experienced by the claimant as a direct result of the incident
- Emotional distress such as depression or anxiety resulting from the incident
- Impairment in quality of life, meaning a long-term reduction in quality of life due to injuries
- Impairment of relationships, when the claimant’s relationships with family, friends, etc. are negatively impacted by the injury
- Mental impairment, if the claimant’s mental capabilities are negatively affected by the incident
- Physical impairment, which may apply if the claimant’s physical abilities are reduced by their injuries
- Loss of future earnings – if future ability to work is affected by the injuries
Virtually all personal injury cases in Ontario will involve pecuniary damages. Many also involve non-pecuniary damages.
Non-pecuniary losses: more difficult to measure
You cannot claim non-pecuniary losses with receipts or statements. The calculation of these damages is not an exact science and is open to interpretation.
Because of the relative difficulty in proving these damages compared to pecuniary damages, it is advisable to discuss your case thoroughly with an experienced personal injury lawyer who is familiar with the Ontario civil justice system before filing a personal injury claim.
Generally, the Ontario courts consider the following factors when awarding non-pecuniary damages:
- The severity of the injury – the worse the injury (and the greater its duration) the higher the compensation will generally be paid
- The age of the claimant – awards are generally higher for younger claimants
- Whether there is loss of life or disability – higher amounts may be awarded for temporary/permanent disability or loss of life
The judge or jury may need to exercise considerable discretion when deciding on the outcome of cases involving non-pecuniary losses.
Each personal injury case is unique and considered on its own merits but reference may be made to previous cases as guidelines for compensation award amounts.
Determine how much your personal injury claim is worth
If you have suffered an injury or loss caused by the negligence or wrongdoing of another party, sit down with a qualified personal injury lawyer to discuss your case as soon as possible.
You will be asked about the incident and the injuries you have suffered and your lawyer should be able to give you an indication of the pecuniary and non-pecuniary losses that you can claim.
It is important to be clear on the type of evidence you will need to provide to prove your losses so that you can assist your lawyer in building your case.
Start with a free case evaluation with one of the personal injury lawyers at Auger Hollingsworth in Ottawa.