Court of Appeal Decision of the Week

Workers’ Comp.: ‘No Room for Courts of Appeal to Legislate Caps on Damages’

Case: Postma v. Horizon Helicopters Ltd., 2016 YKCA 12 (CanLII)

Keywords: Helicopter Accident; Workers’ Compensation Act, S.Y. 2008, c. 12; Statutory Interpretation; Deference to Legislative Intent

Synopsis:

The Respondents, Jonathan Postma and Raphael Roy-Jauvin are passengers injured in a helicopter accident while out collecting grizzly bear hair samples for the Yukon Government.

The Appellant, Horizon Helicopters Ltd. (Horizon) is registered owner of the helicopter, piloted by Paul Rosset. Horizon pays Paul’s Aircraft Services (PAS) for Mr. Rosset’s services as a pilot; pays liability insurance for the helicopter.

The Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board confirm s. 50(4) of the Workers’ Compensation Act allows a cause of action (the claim) by Mr. Postma and Mr. Roy-Jauvin as against Horizon.

Horizon seeks an interpretation of the Workers’ Compensation Act, S.Y. 2008, c. 12 such that the quantum recoverable under the s. 50(4) exception is limited to the amount payable under the liability insurance policy. The Trial Judge dismisses Horizon’s application; refuses to “read in” a cap or maximum quantum of damages available in the court action.

Horizon appeals on the grounds that the judge erred in his interpretation of the Workers’ Compensation Act. Specifically, Horizon argues that the judge:

a) failed to interpret the Act in accordance with the modern principle of statutory interpretation which requires examination of what is necessarily implied by the words chosen in 1992 by the Yukon Legislature in light of the context, purpose, and intention of the Act and generally accepted principles of workers’ compensation;

b) failed to properly understand the legislative evolution of the Act; and

c) erroneously treated Horizon as a third party to the workers’ compensation regime.

The Court of Appeal dismisses Horizon’s appeal; finds the wording of s. 50(4) clear and unambiguous and finds “there is no room for this Court to literally ‘legislate’ a cap on damages” in the Workers’ Compensation Act. (See para. 49).

Importance:

Section 50 of the Workers’ Compensation Act provides as follows:

50(1) No action lies for the recovery of compensation and all claims for compensation shall be determined pursuant to this Act.

(3) If a worker suffers a work-related injury and the conduct of an employer who is not the worker’s employer, or of a worker of an employer who is not the worker’s employer, causes or contributes to the work-related injury, neither the worker who suffers the work-related injury, nor their personal representative, dependent, or employer, has any cause of action against that other worker or other employer.

(4) Subsection (3) does not apply when the work-related injury arose from the use or operation of a vehicle.

In other words: generally no cause of action; all claims fall under the act unless the work-related injury is from the use/operation of a “vehicle”. As per s. 3(1) of the Workers’ Compensation Act, the definition of “vehicle” includes helicopters.

For the Court of Appeal, Horizon’s requested interpretation of the Workers’ Compensation Act (to cap damages recoverable by way of action) was really a “not insignificant” call for the Court to provide an addition of words to the Yukon legislation – in effect, redrafting s. 50(4) along the lines of similar legislation in the Northwest Territories which contains a cap on damages in its insured vehicle exception. (See paras. 32-33).

At para. 34, the Court of Appeal outlined Horizon’s proposed additions as follows:

(4) Subsection (3) does not apply when the work-related injury arose from the operation of a vehicle, provided however that the maximum liability for any employer or worker referred to in subsection (3) is the amount payable under the policy of liability insurance in respect of bodily injury or death.

The “underlined” portions represent the Court of Appeal’s rendition of Horizon’s requested interpretation. In support of their submission, Horizon stated the failure to interpret s. 50 of the Workers’ Compensation Act in the manner outlined above would defeat the purpose of the so-called “historic trade-off” at the birth of workers’ compensation legislation in Canada: “This trade-off saw workers lose their cause of action against employers but gain no-fault compensation that did not depend on the employer’s ability to pay.” (See para. 37).

For the Court of Appeal, Horizon’s interpretation would “…require this Court to divine legislative motivations that go beyond the legislative intent as expressed in the words of the statute.” (See para. 46). Emphasis in original.

Counsel for the Appellant: Sean Taylor (Harper Grey LLP, Vancouver)

Counsel for the Respondents: Joe Fiorante, Q.C. and Jamie Thornback (Camp Fiorante Matthews Mogerman, Vancouver)

Counsel for the Defendant Robinson Helicopter Company Incorporated: Daniel Fetterly (Edwards, Kenny & Bray LLP, Vancouver)

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Posted: Tuesday, October 11, 2016