April 11th, 2013
A common occurrence at Trial Management Conferences is adjournment in circumstances where it is clear the time available for trial is insufficient. Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, recognizing that this is a “serious penalty” and that in cases where the trial estimate when set was “not unreasonable” an advance payment order may be an appropriate remedy.
In this week’s case (Van Gils v. Grandmaison) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2008 collision. Liability was admitted. The Plaintiff alleged he suffered from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. The Defendant disputed the severity of the claimed injuries. The matter was set for an eight day trial but by the time of the Trial Management Conference it became clear this was insufficient. Mr. Justice Schultes adjourned the trial and ordered an advance of damages. In finding this was an appropriate use of the Court’s discretion Mr. Justice Schultes provided the following comments:
 It is common ground that the governing the authority is the decision of Mr. Justice Macfarlane in Serban v. Casselman (1995), 2 B.C.L.R. (3d) 316 (C.A.) leave to appeal ref’d  S.C.C.A. No. 120.
 The often-cited passage is at para. 11:
While such orders are often made when the adjournment was brought about through the fault of one party or where the conduct of the litigation demands such an order, the rule is not restricted to matters of that kind. It is obvious that an order for advance payments should only be made in special circumstances. Obviously such an order should not be made unless the judge who makes it is completely satisfied that there is no possibility that the assessment will be less than the amount of the advance payments.
 I think that the current situation meets the requirement of “special circumstances”. This trial was adjourned at the direction of the Court, pursuant to the Supreme Court Civil Rules, because it would exceed the original estimate and the trial schedule could not absorb that excess.
 Based on the material that I had at the trial management conference, I would not have been able to attribute any lack of care or diligence to either counsel for the increase in trial length since it was originally set. Mr. Van Gils’ counsel advised that he had set it for eight days in the specific anticipation that, if his estimate were to be exceeded slightly, the schedule can usually still accommodate a trial of up to ten days.
 When the estimate grew to potentially exceed that upper limit, he was still engaged in pruning his witness list when the defendants concluded that it was appropriate to add further witnesses. Neither approach is unusual in the course of trial preparation and neither is deserving of criticism.
 The penalty for an incorrect estimate is an extremely serious one: a court-compelled adjournment at the trial management conference if the schedule cannot accommodate the new time estimate.
 While this might be an appropriate deterrent for counsel who give their original estimates carelessly or who grossly underestimate the time required, it falls harshly on litigants and counsel whose original estimate was not unreasonable and whose requirement for additional time is based on changing circumstances as the trial grows closer.