ICBC Law

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ICBC’s Inconsistent Pleadings Following a Collision “Reprehensible”

Reasons for judgement were published this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vernon Registry, finding that ICBC taking inconsistent positions in lawsuits for fault after a collision is ‘reprehensible’ and awarded special costs as a deterrent.

In the recent case (Glover v. Leakey) the Defendant was involved in a crash and injured two passengers.  One sued and fault was admitted and ultimately settlement reached.  The second sued but fault was denied.  In the midst of a jury trial the Plaintiff discovered the inconsistent pleadings and asked for a finding of liability.

Due to a misunderstanding the matter proceeded to verdict and the jury found the Defendant was not negligent.  Before the order was entered the Court considered the matter and found that the liability denial was an abuse of process, stripped the defence and granted liability in favour of the plaintiff.

This week the Court went further and ordered special costs.  In findings this appropriate Madam Justice Gropper provided the following reasons:

[42]         I found that the inconsistent pleading by the defendant was an abuse of process because the principles such as judicial economy, consistency, finality and the integrity of the administration of justice were violated. The court cannot condone such conduct.

[43]         Abuse of process can be a basis for special costs. I find that in this case, the conduct of the defendant is of the type from which the court wants to disassociate itself, referring to Fullerton.

[44]         The defendant’s arguments about the merits of its position on the application and that special costs should only be for the application only, in my view, address the circumstances too narrowly. The plaintiff only discovered the inconsistent pleadings days as the jury trial was about to proceed; it was scheduled for 12 days; the jury panel had been summonsed; witnesses were on their way to or in Vernon to give evidence; expert witnesses were also arranged to be examined by video or in person; and the defendant’s counsel had threatened to apply for a mistrial if the inconsistent pleadings were raised before the trial judge or the jury. The application was made while the jury trial was underway. 

[45]         The repercussions of the abuse of process were wide spread and of significant expense to the plaintiff, who had marshalled all of her evidence. The defendant’s narrow approach fails to recognize that his conduct was not confined to the hearing of the application only; it went well beyond that.

[46]         Referring to the principles distilled in Westsea, I am satisfied that in awarding special costs in these unique circumstances meets the test of restraint but addresses the full impact of the defendant’s conduct; there are exceptional circumstances that justify such an order; the inconsistent positions on liability as between this action and the Yeomans’ action is reprehensible in and of itself, and amounts to an abuse of process; and the award of special costs in this action cannot be characterized as a “bonus” or further compensation for the plaintiff’s success on the application. 

[47]         The plaintiff is entitled to special costs arising from my finding that the conduct of the defendant was an abuse of process, including the costs of preparation and attendance at trial, as well as special cost of this application. The assessment of special costs is postponed until the defendant has exhausted all avenues of appeal.

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