Calculating damages for pain and suffering is not a straightforward analysis for a judge or jury. There are a number of factors that are considered when determining the amount. Specifically, Courts have grappled with how to effectively assess such an award in cases dealing with senior plaintiffs, where one of the key factors is the plaintiff’s age. Defendants often argue that a plaintiff’s advanced age and shorter life expectancy justifies lowering an award because there are fewer years to suffer than with a younger plaintiff. However, the Golden Years Doctrine has been used by plaintiffs to diminish that argument.
The doctrine stands for the principle that awards ought not to be reduced based solely on the age of the plaintiff. At some point in people’s lives, aging limits activity which in turn, increases the perceived value of one’s remaining physical functions. The loss of any of these reduced functions impacts the plaintiff in a greater manner as a result. Stated another way, an individual’s retirement years are special ones, and an injury may have a greater impact to an older person, whose activities are already constrained by age, than on a younger person.
The doctrine was introduced and developed in British Columbia. However, Ontario courts have recognized its application, in appropriate cases. Most recently, the doctrine was considered in the 2021 Ontario decision Solanki v. Reilly.
In Solanki, a grandmother and adult son were injured as a result of a motor vehicle collision. At the time, the grandmother was 62 years old. She suffered a rib fracture, as well as injuries to her shoulders, neck, and back, which resulted in ongoing chronic pain. Her injuries and symptoms limited her function and impeded her ability to participate in housekeeping and personal care activities. In assessing damages, Justice Tranquilli recognized the approach of the Golden Years Doctrine and concluded that the plaintiff’s injuries disabled her from her daily and emotionally rewarding tasks. Justice Tranquilli awarded $85,000 for pain and suffering.
The recognition and use of the doctrine in Ontario provides additional protection for senior plaintiffs to ensure they are appropriately compensated for their injuries and not discriminated against based on their age.