ICBC Law

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“Meagre” Plaintiff Income Keeps Court From Awarding Costs to Successful Defendant

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, demonstrating judicial discretion in dealing with costs after a plaintiff fails to beat a defence formal offer at trial.

In today’s case (Barta v. DaSilva) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2007 collision and sued for damages.  The Plaintiff alleged traumatic brain injury and argued that he had millions in losses as a result.  At trial a jury rejected the alleged brain injury and awarded damages of $77,000 for the Plaintiff’s proven injuries.  Prior to trial ICBC offered to settle the case for $150,000.

The Plaintiff sought full costs for the trial where ICBC sought to have the Plaintiff pay their post offer costs or simply strip each party of costs for the trial itself.  In the end the court ordered that each party bear their own costs of the trial.  In finding this fair the court noted that due to the Plaintiff’s ‘meagre‘ income there would be “no utility in imposing the costs of the trial on the plaintiff.”.

In reaching this decision Mr. Justice Affleck provided the following reasons:

[12]        The defendant’s offer of $150,000 plus costs and disbursements was a serious offer. The plaintiff ought to have known that the defendant’s legal advisers had a plausible basis for concluding that the plaintiff would be unable to prove a causal connection between his accident injuries and his financial losses. In my opinion the defendant’s offer ought reasonably to have been accepted.

[13]        The relative financial position of the parties is of no consequence on this application. The defence was conducted by ICBC, which obviously has much greater financial strength than the plaintiff, but unless it used that strength improperly in this litigation that is a neutral factor: See Vander Maeden v. Condon, 2014 BCSC 677.

[14]        When its offer to settle was not accepted the defendant had no serious option but to defend the action at trial. The result was an award of damages about one half the offer made by the defendant. In that circumstance the deterrent function of the costs rule would be nullified if I exercise my discretion by awarding costs to the plaintiff throughout as he submits I should. I declined to do so.

[15]        The evidence at trial indicates that the plaintiff’s assets were severely depleted by the effects of the financial downturn in 2008 and 2009. Mr. Creighton informed me that his client’s income is now meagre. I can see no utility in imposing the costs of the trial on the plaintiff.

[16]        My order is that the plaintiff is entitled to his costs and disbursements to and including May 15, 2014, and that thereafter the parties will each bear their own costs and disbursements. I recognize that the usual order would be to impose the costs following the defendant’s offer on the plaintiff. The defendant, however, has proposed the disposition which I have made, which I consider to be generous to the plaintiff in the circumstances.

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