Persons who suffer serious personal injuries often have difficulty returning to the normal life they led before the accident. A lawyer who is a member of OTLA can help recover money for a range of changes or ‘damages’ due to an injury. These can include ongoing pain and suffering, changes in their inability to work, the need for medical treatments, and changes in their ability to complete tasks at home. This article will focus on the tasks at home.
Housekeeping and home maintenance is a big topic, and it is completely different for every person. A person living alone in a downtown apartment will have wholly different responsibilities at home from a person living with their parents and children in the countryside.
The starting point for this kind of claim is an assessment of what a person did before they suffered their injuries. Lawyers will want to ask who did the laundry, who cleaned the floors, who made dinners, who bought groceries, who cut the grass, and who shoveled snow. Next, we consider what has changed.
A common example would be a person who suffered serious back injuries in a motor vehicle accident. They have returned to many of their household tasks, but they cannot shovel the snow or carry a heavy laundry basket due to back pain.
It is up to the Courts to determine the value of this claim. Lawyers representing the Defendants in these matters will often scoff at the idea of paying for someone to shovel the snow or carry laundry baskets. They will ask who is doing it now – and whether they are being paid.
For many injured persons this puts them into a difficult situation. They do not have the money to pay for someone else to do the tasks. Maybe a loved one has taken the duties on – and is not being paid.
I once attended a discovery where my client gave evidence that her husband was doing all the cooking – which was a big change in their relationship. She expressed that it was disappointing to her since he was not quite up to her standards on his methods. When the lawyer asked if her husband was requiring payment for the cooking, my client said – “he better not ask me for money!”
Housekeeping and home maintenance claims are regularly undervalued in personal injury claims. It is a gendered issue, and it has not gone unnoticed by the Supreme Court of Canada. In 1993, Justice McLachlin wrote:
“The notion that household and childcare services are not worthy of recognition by the court fails to recognize the fact that these services are of great value… The notion, moreover, is a pernicious one that systematically devalues the contributions which women tend to make to the family economy. It has contributed to the phenomenon of the feminization of poverty” Peter v. Beblow  1 S.C.R. 980.