LVI Defence, Liability Denial and Language Barriers Create Sufficient Reason to Sue in Supreme Court
While the BC Supreme Court Rules generally deprive a Plaintiff of costs who bring an action to trial that could have been brought in small claims court the BC Court of Appeal clarified that having ‘sufficient reason’ to sue in the BC Supreme Court is not limited to quantum of damages alone. ¬†Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, considering some such other factors.
In this week’s case (Bae v. Vasquez) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2010 rear-end collision. ¬†The Plaintiff suffered¬†relatively¬†minor soft tissue injuries. ¬†She sued in the BC Supreme Court and was awarded damages of just over $12,000. ¬†ICBC argued she should not be awarded costs as the action could have been brought in small claims court. ¬†Madam Justice Baker disagreed finding that ICBC’s initial denial of liability, LVI Defence and the Plaintiff’s language barriers were all reasons justifying bringing the action in the Supreme Court. ¬†In awarding costs the Court provided the following reasons:
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†I am satisfied that this case had neither legal nor factual complexities that made the Supreme Court a necessary venue.¬† I have already referred to the fact that a jury trial was not an option in any case; and there will be no need to enforce the judgment outside of the province.
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†In some cases, the fact that the plaintiff had difficulty with the English language; and therefore would have difficulty pursuing the claim without the assistance of counsel, has been held to be sufficient reason to proceed in Supreme Court, where the possibility of recovering costs makes it easier for a plaintiff to find counsel willing to act.
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Plaintiff‚Äôs counsel submits also that in this case, the defendant denied liability for the accident in the Response to Civil Claim.¬† Plaintiff‚Äôs counsel has advised the Court that prior to the action being commenced, the defendant‚Äôs insurer had indicated:
…that due to the ‚Äúminimal nature of the impact forces involved in the collision‚ÄĚ…the Plaintiff had not sustained any ‚Äúcompensable injury‚ÄĚ.
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†The defendant did not admit liability until January 30, 2012 and even at that date, continued to maintain that the plaintiff had suffered no injury, loss, damage or expense as a result of the accident.
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Plaintiff‚Äôs counsel submits that because the defendant was maintaining that the plaintiff‚Äôs negligence was the sole cause of the accident, an examination for discovery of the defendant was necessary and that procedure would not have been available to the plaintiff in Provincial Court.¬† Counsel pointed out that at the plaintiff‚Äôs examination for discovery in July 2011, she was asked questions pertaining to liability, including whether she had consumed alcohol or drugs prior to the accident; whether she was familiar with the location where the accident happened; whether her vehicle had been properly maintained and was in proper working order and whether she had a valid driver‚Äôs licence at the time.
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†It was not until August 18, 2011 – after both the plaintiff and defendant had been examined for discovery – that defendant‚Äôs counsel wrote to plaintiff‚Äôs counsel suggesting that the action should be heard in Provincial Court and seeking the plaintiff‚Äôs consent to transfer the action to that court.¬† Plaintiff‚Äôs counsel replied on September 21, 2011 indicating that if the trial could be heard in Provincial Court in the same time frame as the trial date set in Supreme Court – March 2012 – then the plaintiff would consider the request for a transfer.¬† Defendant‚Äôs counsel was asked to make inquiries to determine when the trial could be heard if transferred to Provincial Court.¬† No reply was received.
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Ms. Bae testified at trial with the assistance of an interpreter.¬† She had been examined for discovery without an interpreter and at trial indicated she had misunderstood some of the questions asked of her.¬† Ms. Bae is not an assertive individual and I am satisfied she would have had considerable difficulty pursuing this action without the assistance of counsel.¬† Of course, parties may be and often are represented by counsel in Provincial Court, but the unavailability of costs makes it more difficult to find representation.¬† There was a denial of liability in circumstances where normally liability would be admitted and it was reasonable for the plaintiff to wish to examine the defendant for discovery on the issue of liability – a procedure unavailable in Provincial Court.
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Taking all of these factors into account, I am of the view that there was sufficient reason for the plaintiff to bring her action in Supreme Court.¬† I award the plaintiff costs, the costs to be governed by Rule 15-1(15).