BC Injury Law and ICBC Claims Blog

When Does An Award of $20,000 = A Significant Debt

No, this is not a trick question.  When can a judge awarding you $20,000 leave you in ‘significant’ debt?  The answer is when you fail to beat a formal offer at trial and have ‘loser pays’ costs assessed you.  I’ve discussed this reality previously and it was demonstrated yet again in reasons for judgement released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry.

In last week’s case (Gonzales v. Voskakis) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2008 collison.  Prior to trial ICBC provided a formal settlement offer of $69,000.  The Plaintiff rejected this and proceeded to have a 12 day trial where she sought in excess of $385,000.  The claim was largely unsuccessful with the trial judge awarding just over $20,000 in damages.  ICBC asked that the Plaintiff be stripped of post offer costs and that the Defendant be awarded post offer costs and disbrsements.  The Plaintiff argued that such a result would “negate her entire judgement and leave her significantly in debt“.   Madam Justice Fitzpatrick noted that the underlying “behaviour modification objective” of the Rules of Court override any sympathy to the Plaintiff and levied substantial costs consequences.

The decision is also worth reviewing for the discussion of whether a post offer costs award to a Defendant can include disbursements.  The Plaintiff argued the Rules don’t contemplate this but the Court disagreed. In finding disbursements were also encompassed in the Rule Madam Justice Fitzpatrick provided the following reasons:

[65]         Rule 9-1(5) is headed “Cost options”. It is clearly intended to guide the court in deciding what costs award is just. Nevertheless, I do not see that subcategory (d) was intended to limit the discretion of the court to award a defendant’s disbursements in all cases when rewarding a defendant for making a reasonable offer. In many cases, disbursements are significant. In fact, the driving force behind an offer to settle may be the desire to avoid having to pay those disbursements. To limit the discretion of the court in awarding disbursements would defeat the clear intention of the Rule.

[66]         Although Brown J. came to another conclusion in Moore relating to double disbursements under Rule 9-1(5)(b), it appears that Kendall and Skidmore were not in front of her at that time. Therefore, in applying the principles set out in Re Hansard Spruce Mills Ltd., [1954] 4 D.L.R. 590, I do not consider that I am bound by her reasoning.

[67]         I acknowledge that the wording of Rule 9-1(5), in its reference to “disbursements” in subcategory (a) without an accompanying reference to “disbursements” in subcategory (d), is awkward and confounding. In my view, however, the fundamental purpose of the Rule — which, as stated by the Court of Appeal in Kendall and Skidmore, is to compensate for all “costs”, including disbursements — has not changed. One can only hope for some clarity on this issue by possible amendments to Rule 9-1(5).

[68]         In the meantime, I conclude that I have the discretion under Rule 9-1(5)(d) to award the defendant his costs, including disbursements.

[69]         I award such costs, which will include disbursements, in favour of Mr. Voskakis for the period from January 25, 2012 until February 29, 2012.

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