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31 Mar 2019

Sister’s Wrongful Death Does Not entitle siblings to pecuniary damages

by Andrew Moss
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Higgins v. Arseneau, 2019 NBCA 21

Caroline Higgins was 46 when she was killed in a motorcycle accident.  Ms. Higgins was jogging on the sidewalk when David Arseneau drove his motorcycle up onto the sidewalk and struck her.  Ms. Higgins practiced law, was unmarried and had no children. Her Will left the entire residue of her estate in trust for the benefit of her niece, who is disabled.

Ms. Higgins’ Estate brought an action against Mr. Arseneau claiming Ms. Higgins’ five siblings were entitled to pecuniary damages pursuant to New Brunswick’s Fatal Accident Act.  They argued that but for Ms. Higgins’ death in the motorcycle accident, the siblings would have eventually received an inheritance from her.  Mr. Arseneau argued Ms. Higgins’ siblings had no reasonable expectation of pecuniary loss resulting from her death.

Justice Clendening of the New Brunswick Court of Queen’s Bench dismissed the action. Justice Clendening acknowledged Courts have previously awarded pecuniary damages to spouses and children in wrongful death lawsuits.  However, Ms. Higgins’ siblings were not dependent on her and their potential losses were highly speculative.

Ms. Higgins’ Estate appealed.  The New Brunswick Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal.  Ms. Higgins’ siblings could not have reasonably expected to receive an inheritance from Ms. Higgins.  Only an improbable set of contingencies would have produced this: (1) the siblings surviving both Ms. Higgins and her young niece; (2) Ms. Higgins not marrying; (3) Ms. Higgins not changing her Will; and (4) the trust for Ms. Higgins’ niece not exhausting the inheritance.  The Court of Appeal concluded, “the contingencies make the [siblings’] reasonable expectation of pecuniary benefit look vanishingly remote.”

You can read Higgins v. Arseneau, 2019 NBCA 21 in its entirety here.

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