What are the Vicissitudes of Life?

What are the Vicissitudes of Life?

If you are bringing a claim for damages against your employer (as we discussed in this blog) or against a third party (as we discussed in this blog), you will eventually encounter the term “vicissitudes of life” and no doubt wonder what exactly it means.

The word “vicissitudes” has its’ base in Latin originally, but in the legal context, it means a change in circumstances or fortune which could have resulted in a person who is claiming damages for an injury to have had a loss of income anyway.

The objective of paying an injured person compensation for personal injury is to place that person in as good a position as he or she would have been but for the accident (a process of restitutio in integrum). This means restoring the injured person to their original position. It doesn’t mean to put the injured person into a better position than he or she might have otherwise been if not injured.

In other words, compensation for a personal injury isn’t intended to be a windfall or a bonus for an injured person. It’s meant to return an injured person to where he or she would have been if uninjured.

In New South Wales and Queensland, the standard discount for the vicissitudes of life on damages claimed for future economic loss is 15%. This means that you calculate how much a plaintiff may have earned from the date of their injury to the expected date of retirement (currently at 67 years of age), and then knock 15% off that figure. The percentage of the discount might also be altered upwards or downwards in certain circumstances – it really depends on what the evidence says.

Let’s look at why a discount for vicissitudes may be applied:

Unrelated illness or injury: some people are unfortunate enough to have more than one injury serious enough in their lifetime to need to make a claim for compensation. The vicissitudes discount allows the defendant to only pay damages to the extent that is fair to compensate the plaintiff for the effects of the accident that the defendant is liable for, and not for another accident or injury that the defendant didn’t cause.

Unemployment: no person can guarantee that he or she is going to work until the standard retirement age. There are lots of reasons that people may retire early – for example, because of pre-existing illness or ailment, to care for an ill family member, to go travelling and see the world, or because of a lotto win. The discount ensures that this future possibility is reflected in the compensation paid.

Life expectancy: it is morbid, but fact, that statistically not every person in the general population is going to live to retirement age, and therefore, work until retirement age. For example, if a person claiming future economic loss is diagnosed with an unrelated illness that is likely to be terminal, it is unfair to the defendant to have to pay compensation to that person to retirement age when the evidence says that he or she is not likely to live to that age. The 15% discount for vicissitudes considers this factor, ensuring that the compensation awarded is in line with the injured party’s expected future circumstances.

Calculating the damages that a person is entitled to claim is complicated. No two cases will be the same, but the same legal principles will be applied. In our view, it’s important that you understand the details of quantifying your personal injury claim (in other words, working out how much your claim is worth in monetary terms) so that you don’t feel confused or dumbfounded when providing instructions to your solicitor.

If you’re going through a personal injury claim and finding it hard to understand what is happening, jump onto one of our claim checkers here, and we’ll get back to you about how we can help you.