High Court decision: Economic loss caps

The High Court this morning delivered judgment in the matter of Taylor v The Owners – Strata Plan 11564 & Ors [2014] HCA 9.

The Taylor matter required consideration of the appropriate interpretation of section 12(2) Civil Liability Act 2002 (NSW) which directs a court to disregard earnings of a high-earning claimant beyond three times average weekly earnings. The section does not expressly refer to earnings of a deceased, relevant in assessing damages in a compensation to relatives claim. The Court was required to determine whether reference to a deceased person’s earnings should be read into s 12(2).

The NSW Court of Appeal had ruled (by majority) that the section should be interpreted so as to apply to a deceased person’s earnings.

The High Court allowed the appeal, overturning the Court of Appeal. French CJ, Crennan & Bell JJ formed the majority, with Gageler & Keane JJ dissenting.

Quoting from the judgment summary:

The High Court, allowing Mrs Taylor’s appeal by majority, held that on no view could the word “claimant” as it is used in section 12(2) of the CLA be read as referring to the gross weekly earnings of the deceased.  That construction, which was adopted by the primary judge and the majority of the Court of Appeal, could not be reconciled with the language of the statute as enacted by Parliament.  The High Court held that the court is not required to disregard the amount by which the gross weekly earnings of Mr Taylor, but for his death, would have exceeded three times the average weekly earnings.