Vancouver lawyer wins $6M settlement after nightclub fall

A Vancouver lawyer has been awarded $6-million for injuries she received while dancing at a nightclub in 2001, in what an expert says is a glimpse into the potential lifetime earnings of a promising lawyer.

Michelle Marie Danicek, 32 at the time, was articling at Alexander Holburn Beaudin & Lang LLP. The B.C. Supreme Court awarded her more than $5-million in loss of earnings capacity and $1-million in other damages for head injuries sustained after a colleague fell on her on the dance floor.

"Typically, when you're talking about an award at that level, either you're talking about very substantial sums to care for the injury, or you're talking about very substantial sums for loss of income," said Brian G. Grant, a managing partner at Lerner's and an expert on personal injury litigation.

He said the huge sum is is likely attributed to Ms. Danicek's potential future earnings as a lawyer just starting her career. Most lawyers work well into their sixties, so the settlement reflects losing at least 30 years of a lawyer's income.

Ms. Danicek was terminated from her job with Alexander Holburn Beaudin & Lang during the course of the lawsuit, and her lawyer, Joe Murphy, said she no longer practices law. "She leads a very sedate, quiet lifestyle," Mr. Murphy said.

In April, 2001, Ms. Danicek and some co-workers headed to Bar None in Yaletown after attending a firm-sponsored associates' dinner. Around 12:30 a.m., Ms. Danicek was dancing behind colleague Jeremy Martin Poole when Mr. Poole stumbled and fell backward onto Ms. Danicek, a slight woman just half his size. Mr. Poole landed on Ms. Danicek, causing her to hit her head on the floor. Both had been drinking.

Mr. Murphy said that while her injuries seemed minor at first, more significant problems soon emerged, including nausea, vomiting, persistent and severe headaches and cognitive deficits such as poor memory and illegible handwriting. Ms. Danicek took eight months off work.

Upon her return in December, 2001, Ms. Danicek took up to 30 Advils a day to cope with headaches and believed she had a cognitive deficit, according to court documents.

The following June, she was rear-ended while driving over the Lions Gate Bridge en route to Whistler. Ms. Danicek testified the incident exacerbated the injuries from the nightclub incident and resulted in chronic and debilitating headaches. She took a medical leave of absence from the firm in 2004.

Mr. Murphy argued she was on a trajectory to a full recovery at the time of the car accident and asked for $8-million in total damages during closing arguments.

In his judgment this week, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Kelleher awarded Ms. Danicek $5.1-million in loss of earning capacity, $559,220 in past income loss, $185,000 in nonpecuniary damages and nearly $70,000 more in special damages and cost of future care in relation to the nightclub accident. The judge ruled that the first acccident, at the nightclub, caused more significant injuries. In relation to the motor vehicle accident, Mr. Kelleher awarded her $10,600 in damages.

Mr. Grant said a brain injury would interfere with a lawyer's ability to multi-task, to concentrate, organize and express complex thoughts.

"That might not prevent them from working in a factory, it might not prevent them from lots of jobs. But it might completely stop them in their tracks from being a lawyer," Mr. Grant said. "You could have the exact same injury on someone who cleans pools for a living and there is zero loss of income."

The largest Canadian personal injury settlement was around $17-million, he said.

(Published by National Post - August 11, 2010)

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