This article first appeared in the spring 1996 issue of the Expert Witness.
In Muir v. Alberta damages were awarded to the plaintiff on two grounds: first, that she was wrongfully confined, at the age of 10, in a home for the mentally defective; and, second, that while so confined, she was wrongfully sterilized. On the first of these claims, she was awarded $250,000 plus $115,500 interest for pain and suffering but was denied both aggravated damages and damages for loss of income. On the second claim, she was awarded $250,280 for pain and suffering and $125,000 for aggravated damages but was denied punitive damages.
Madam Justice Veit denied the claim for loss of earnings primarily on the ground that Ms. Muir had come from a dysfunctional family, leading her to suffer from severe emotional problems prior to her wrongful confinement. The confinement itself was found not to have exacerbated these problems.
Does this imply that all individuals in Ms. Muir’s situation will be denied damages for loss of earnings? We think not. Three sources of claims for lost earnings appear to have survived the decision in Muir.
- First, if the plaintiff did not come from a dysfunctional family, a claim for loss of earnings could arise from the wrongful confinement.
- Second, it might be argued that, had the plaintiff been placed in a foster home or group home for the care of emotionally disturbed children (possibilities which were canvassed by Madam Justice Veit), she would have overcome the effects of her dysfunctional upbringing. Hence, a loss of earnings would have arisen from the government’s failure to take advantage of one of these alternatives.
- Finally, it is possible that a claim for loss of earnings could arise from the action for wrongful sterilization. Madam Justice Veit concluded that the “…sterilization had a catastrophic impact on Ms. Muir.” (Emphasis added, p. 59) She also accepted a psychologist’s opinion that sterilization can have “profound detrimental effects on … education…” (p. 46) and a psychiatrist’s testimony that the impact of sterilization on “…a young woman … would be hard to over-estimate.” (p. 38) On these bases, it could be argued that a wrongful sterilization had impaired the capacity to earn income.