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Astronomy or Astronomical: Did the Mayans project the future?

Much like predictions based on interpreting the Mayan Calendar, determining the career path of a child or a student is always a difficult exercise. Typically, with an individual who has already commenced their work-life, a history of employment would be available that would provide some guidance as to what could be expected in the future. However, with a student or child, there would be no history as guidance. Accordingly, projecting the future for a child or a student requires a variety of different considerations.

The Courts in Canada have indicated that such considerations include the education levels of the parents, the grades of the plaintiff, acceptance of grades or requirements into various college or university programs, the probability of completing certain education levels, qualifications for specific employment positions; the probability of attaining employment in a specific position and the assumptions that the plaintiff had with respect to their future career. Contingencies must also be considered, though to date no court has suggested addressing the probability that the world will end come December 21, 2012.

Frequently when assessing such a future income loss claim, the first issue to be dealt with is how far the child or student would progress in their academic career. Such a determination can prove difficult with children who are in elementary school. Basing projections on grades at a young age can be problematic as much can change by the time a child would complete high school. In such cases, it would make sense not only to look at both the education attainment levels of the parents and the composition of the family.

As an example, the probability of a child attending university is much higher if the parents attended university. Furthermore, the probability of attending university is much higher for a child living with both birth parents versus living with a single parent. Statistics Canada provides statistics under a wide variety of scenarios considering the education level of the parents and the composition of the family.

If it is assumed that the plaintiff would complete some form of post-secondary education, the entry qualifications of the specific programs must be considered. Furthermore, if the plaintiff is already attending high school, their grades can provide guidance as to what programs they would likely qualify for. It is equally important to consider the probability that the plaintiff would have completed their post secondary education, which is also impacted by the education levels of the parents and the composition of the family.

One common issue addressed in these situations occurs when the plaintiff asserts that they would work in one of several specific career choices. Depending on the age of the plaintiff, such indications may or may not be helpful. Statistics Canada studies have demonstrated that the projections of 15 and 17 year olds as to their career at age 30 are likely not accurate.  However, where the plaintiff is already in college or university, the educational path may provide guidance as to the reasonability of their career aspirations. For example, if the assertion is that the plaintiff would go on to become a police officer or say a firefighter, it would be a reasonable step to determine if the educational attainment of the plaintiff would qualify them for such a position.

Once it is determined if the plaintiff would meet the qualifications of a specific occupation, it should then be determined the likelihood of obtaining such a position. For many public sector occupations (such as a police officer), recruitment statistics can generally be obtained through requests made via the Access to Information Act. Frequently, the probability of obtaining a police officer or firefighter position for qualified individuals can be extremely low. The probability of obtaining any specific position should be factored into the projections.

Projecting future income streams for children and students is an exercise that is driven by assumptions. While the Mayans discovered the use of the number zero long before other cultures, and were renowned mathematicians and astronomers, their own prediction records were less than perfect. In the context of assessing income loss claims for minors and students, considering the issues above will ensure that the assumptions made are both reasonable and supportable.

By Matthew Mulholland. Published in A Quarterly Newsletter published by Dutton Brock, LLP- Winter 2012, Issue Number 43.

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