Court Of Appeal Discusses Law Of “In Trust” Claims

It is quite often the case when you are injured that family and friends will help you throughout your recovery period.  When such people help you beyond what would reasonably be expected of them, even if provided for no charge, then they are entitled to be compensated if it can be proven that they suffered a direct economic loss due to the time and effort that went into performing duties for you, or their help resulted in replacing expenses which would otherwise have been incurred, such as for a housekeeper.

 

In Dykeman v Porohowski, the British Columbia Court of Appeal commented on the law of “in trust” claims.

 

[27] On appeal, counsel for the plaintiff contends that the trial judge was wrong to suggest that an in-trust award may be made only where the plaintiff’s injuries are particularly “grievous”.  He relies on this court’s more recent judgment in Ellis v. Star, 2008 BCCA 164 (CanLII), 2008 BCCA 164, in which the plaintiff was a police officer whose wrist had been injured. At trial, he received an in-trust award of $3,500 as compensation for household services (which he would otherwise have performed) carried out by his wife.  Mackenzie J.A. noted the defendant’s submission that the cases in which awards for gratuitous personal services have been made had involved “seriously injured plaintiffs or other support services beyond those normally expected in a marital relationship for minimal debilitating injuries.”  (Para. 18; my emphasis.)  The Court found that yard maintenance services undertaken by Ms. Starr were not “sufficiently extensive or related to the injury” to support an in-trust award.  The appeal was allowed to the extent of deleting the in-trust award.

 

[28] Since Kroeker, it has been settled law in this province that “housekeeping and other spousal services have economic value for which a claim by an injured party will lie even where those services are replaced gratuitously from within the family.”  In Kroeker, such recovery was allowed under the heading of ‘loss of future ability to perform household tasks’, but obviously, damages for loss of such ability prior to trial may also be properly claimed and recovered: see, e.g., McTavish v. MacGillivray, 2000 BCCA 164 at paras, 43, 51-7, perHuddart J.A.; West v. Cotton (1995) 10 B.C.L.R. (3d) 73 (C.A.) at para. 25; and Campbell v. Banman 2009 BCCA 484.  The reasoning in Kroeker has been extended beyond “spousal” services to services rendered by other members of a family: see Boren v. Vancouver Resource Society, Dufault, McTavish v. MacGillivray; Bystedt v. Hay, all supra.  Such awards are colloquially referred to as “in trust” even though it is the plaintiff who recovers them, and British Columbia courts do not generally impose trust terms in their orders, regarding the loss as that of the plaintiff: see Feng v. Graham (1988) 25 B.C.L.R. (2d) 116 (C.A.) at 9-10; McTavish, supra.

 

[29] The majority in Kroeker was alive to the possibility that awards for gratuitous services by family members of plaintiffs could “unleash a flood of excessive claims” (supra, at para. 29) and for that reason, urged courts to be cautious in making such awards.  In the words of Gibbs, J.A.:

 

… as the law has developed it would not be appropriate to deny to plaintiffs in this province a common law remedy available to plaintiffs in other provinces and in other common law jurisdictions. It will be the duty of trial judges and this Court to restrain awards for this type of claim to an amount of compensation commensurate with the loss. With respect to other heads of loss which are predicated upon the uncertain happening of future events measures have been devised to prevent the awards from being excessive. It would be reasonable to expect that a similar regime of reasonableness will develop in respect of the kind of claim at issue in this case.  [At para. 19; emphasis added.]

 

I do not read Kroeker or Ellis, however, as establishing a threshold of “grievousness” in terms of the injuries which may necessitate such services.  A plaintiff who has a broken arm, for example – presumably not a “grievous” injury – and who is obliged to seek assistance in performing various household tasks should not be foreclosed from recovery on this basis.  This was recognized in Ellis in the quotation reproduced above.  Thus I disagree with the trial judge’s reference to grievous injury as a threshold that the plaintiff was required to surmount if her claim was to go to the jury.  Instead, claims for gratuitous services must be carefully scrutinized, both with respect to the nature of the services – were they simply part of the usual ‘give and take’ between family members, or did they go ‘above and beyond’ that level? – and with respect to causation – were the services necessitated by the plaintiff’s injuries or would they have been provided in any event?  Finally, if these questions – which I would have thought are appropriate for determination by a jury – are answered affirmatively, the amount of compensation must be commensurate with the plaintiff’s loss.  The assessment of such loss has been the subject of several considered judgments in this province, most notably McTavish and Bystedt, both supra.

 

[30] The trial judge’s second reason for not putting the claim to the jury in this case was that the services which were the subject of the in-trust claim were not personal or household services but were related to the business operated by the plaintiff’s family.  As mentioned above, counsel evidently agreed that the plaintiff’s parents’ claim for ‘business losses’ had not properly been made.  It is not correct to say, however, that the plaintiff herself could not claim for assistance provided by family members in a family enterprise (see Johnson v. Miller, supra) or that there was no evidence of personal or household services having been provided by Ms. Dykeman’s parents to her.  The mother testified that she was “supposed to spend” a third of her time on the farm – in accordance with the partnership agreement in evidence – and had planned on going back to practice on a part-time basis.  Instead, she found herself spending at least 10 to 12 hours per week assisting in the business and babysitting her grandchildren when her daughter had medical appointments or migraine headaches.  At the time of trial, she testified, she was caring for her grandchildren “pretty well every day” plus assisting in the equestrian business.  The plaintiff’s migraines had become less frequent, but the medication she took for them essentially ‘knocked her out’ for 12-14 hours – during which Ms. Dykeman’s mother slept in the same room with her granddaughter.  The thrust of her evidence was that at least until her grandchildren were in school, she would not be able to return to practice even on a part-time basis.  Mr. Dykeman’s services, on the other hand, related almost entirely to “physical work” in the Freedom Fields Farm operation.

 

[31]           In all the circumstances, it seems to me that there was evidence of household and other assistance provided by Ms. Dykeman’s parents that could have been the basis of an award and that the trial judge erred in effectively granting a ‘no evidence’ motion in respect thereof.  I would allow the appeal on this ground.

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