ICBC Law

BC Injury Law and ICBC Claims Blog

Erik MagrakenThis Blog is authored by British Columbia ICBC injury claims lawyer Erik Magraken. Erik is a partner with the British Columbia personal injury law-firm MacIsaac & Company. He restricts his practice exclusively to plaintiff-only personal injury claims with a particular emphasis on ICBC injury claims involving orthopaedic injuries and complex soft tissue injuries. Please visit often for the latest developments in matters concerning BC personal injury claims and ICBC claims

Erik Magraken does not work for and is not affiliated in any way with the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC). Please note that this blog is for information only and is not claim-specific legal advice.  Erik can only provide legal advice to clients. Please click here to arrange a free consultation.

Posts Tagged ‘Abuse of Process’

ICBC’s Inconsistent Pleadings Following a Collision “Reprehensible”

July 26th, 2017

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.


Court Finds Careless Driving Admission Not Binding in Subsequent Injury Lawsuit

April 25th, 2017

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, finding a motorist faultless for a collision even though that same motorist entered a guilty plea to a charge of driving a vehicle without due care and attention.  While this is not the first noted circumstance of this occurring the Court provided helpful reasons setting out the circumstances where the prior admission will not be an abuse of process to re-litigate.

In today’s case (Chand v. Martin) the Plaintiff was operating a vehicle struck by a train.  He was injured and a passenger in his vehicle was killed.  The Plaintiff was charged with “driving a vehicle without due care and attention” and plead guilty (meaning an admission that he did so beyond a reasonable doubt).

The Plaintiff then sued a host of parties including the train conductor alleging they were at fault for the incident.  The Court found that the train conductor was indeed negligent for the incident noting that he proceeded into the train crossing when the signal lights were not working and this created an unreasonable risk of harm.

The Defendants argued that the Plaintiff was also partly at fault and cannot escape this given the previous admission of careless driving.  Madam Justice Russell disagreed and in allowing the issue to be re-litigated despite the previous guilty plea noted as follows:

[86]        The key decision regarding the effect of a guilty plea in a subsequent proceeding involving the same facts is Toronto (City) v. CUPE Local 79, 2003 SCC 63. In that case, the Supreme Court of Canada was considering whether the grievance of a dismissal following a conviction for sexual assault amounted to an abuse of process. The Court provided the following comments at paras. 51-53:

[51] Rather than focus on the motive or status of the parties, the doctrine of abuse of process concentrates on the integrity of the adjudicative process. Three preliminary observations are useful in that respect. First, there can be no assumption that relitigation will yield a more accurate result than the original proceeding. Second, if the same result is reached in the subsequent proceeding, the relitigation will prove to have been a waste of judicial resources as well as an unnecessary expense for the parties and possibly an additional hardship for some witnesses. Finally, if the result in the subsequent proceeding is different from the conclusion reached in the first on the very same issue, the inconsistency, in and of itself, will undermine the credibility of the entire judicial process, thereby diminishing its authority, its credibility and its aim of finality.

[52] In contrast, proper review by way of appeal increases confidence in the ultimate result and affirms both the authority of the process as well as the finality of the result. It is therefore apparent that from the system’s point of view, relitigation carries serious detrimental effects and should be avoided unless the circumstances dictate that relitigation is in fact necessary to enhance the credibility and the effectiveness of the adjudicative process as a whole. There may be instances where relitigation will enhance, rather than impeach, the integrity of the judicial system, for example: (1) when the first proceeding is tainted by fraud or dishonesty; (2) when fresh, new evidence, previously unavailable, conclusively impeaches the original results; or (3) when fairness dictates that the original result should not be binding in the new context. This was stated unequivocally by this Court in Danyluk, supra, at para. 80.

[53] The discretionary factors that apply to prevent the doctrine of issue estoppel from operating in an unjust or unfair way are equally available to prevent the doctrine of abuse of process from achieving a similar undesirable result. There are many circumstances in which the bar against relitigation, either through the doctrine of res judicata or that of abuse of process, would create unfairness. If, for instance, the stakes in the original proceeding were too minor to generate a full and robust response, while the subsequent stakes were considerable, fairness would dictate that the administration of justice would be better served by permitting the second proceeding to go forward than by insisting that finality should prevail. An inadequate incentive to defend, the discovery of new evidence in appropriate circumstances, or a tainted original process may all overcome the interest in maintaining the finality of the original decision (Danyluk, supra, at para. 51; Franco, supra, at para. 55).

[Emphasis added]

[87]        I find that the case at bar fits within the exception emphasized above in CUPE Local 79 at para. 53. Mr. Chand had no memory of the collision, and so he could not offer a full and robust defence. In addition, the fine was quite minor, with the stakes of this subsequent proceeding being much higher. In those circumstances, it is not surprising that Mr. Chand chose to enter a guilty plea.

[88]        Consequently, I find that in these circumstances, Mr. Chand’s guilty plea does not constitute proof in these proceedings that he was driving without due care or attention on the night in question. In keeping with the independent eyewitness testimony of Mr. Harkness and Mr. Angus, I find that Mr. Chand was not speeding or driving erratically.


Court Finds It is an Abuse of Process For ICBC to File Inconsistent Pleadings From Single Collision

September 1st, 2016

Interesting reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vernon Registry, finding it is an abuse of process for a defendant sued by multiple parties from a single collision to admit liability in one action but deny in the other “where there are no facts to distinguish the two”.

In today’s 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.  In reaching this result Madam Justice Gropper provided the following reasons:

[67]         In considering my analysis of this application, I must note that the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC), the Province’s public mandatory motor vehicle insurer had conduct of both the Glover and the Yeomans actions. The evidence provided is sparse, but it is clear that the adjuster in the Yeomans Action determined that liability would be admitted on behalf of Mr. Leakey whereas the adjuster in the Glover action determined that liability would be denied. I expressly find that ICBC knew of the inconsistent pleadings and that the insured, Kenneth Leakey knew or ought to have known of the inconsistent positions…

[93]         The defendant claims that to find these pleadings as inconsistent and an abuse of process will discourage admissions, contrary to public policy. I find that there is much larger public policy at stake. It is an abuse of process to allow a defendant to admit liability in respect of one passenger and deny liability in respect of the other where there are no facts to distinguish the two. Requiring a party, even ICBC, to file consistent pleadings is not onerous and, with respect, is a principled way to proceed. The pleading of inconsistent positions in this case cannot be condoned.

[94]         I have declared a mistrial in this case. It may appear that my decision on the abuse of process application is moot. It is not for three reasons:

1.               A declaration of mistrial means that the matter will proceed to a new trial.

2.                I grant judgment on the liability issue in favour of the plaintiff.

3.               The plaintiff seeks special costs related to the abuse of process and has asked for leave to provide further submissions in that regard.

[95]         Both parties may seek to appear to address the issue of special costs based on my finding of an abuse of process.


Costs Threats Against Expert Witnesses An Abuse of Process

May 13th, 2014

In the first case I have seen addressing this issue, reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, striking out language in correspondence between lawyers as an abuse of process.

In today’s case (Walker v. Doe) the Plaintiff objected via letter sent to Defence counsel to the admissibility of Defense expert reports, and as part of the “boilerplate” objections Plaintiff’s counsel noted that “we shall seek sanctions personally against [expert’s name], including but not limited to special costs“.

In finding that the Rules of Court allow a Judge to strike out language in such a letter Mr. Justice Butler reasoned as follows:

[7]             Letters sent by counsel to provide notice of objection to the admissibility of an expert report are required to be served pursuant to R. 11-6(10). The notice must set out “any objection to the admissibility of the expert’s evidence that the party receiving the report … intends to raise at trial.” The notice required by the Rule is a document mandated by the Rules in which a party must set out their position for trial.

[8]             Rule 9-5(1) is not limited to pleadings but also applies to petitions and “other documents”. Document is defined in R. 1-1(1) in broad terms. There is no doubt the notice required under R. 11-6(10) is a document pursuant to that definition. However, the word must be interpreted ejusdem generis in the context of the phrase, “pleading, petition or other document”. Applying that aid to interpretation, I conclude that “other document” refers to documents which are required by the Rules to formally set out a party’s position, claim or defence. The notice under R. 11-6 (10) is such a document.

In finding the costs threat amounted to an abuse of process the Court provided the following reasons:

[15]         In conclusion, expert witnesses play an important role in the litigation process. When an expert is properly qualified within an area of expertise and the expert’s opinion evidence, which is not otherwise excluded, meets the essential criteria of relevance and necessity in assisting the trier of fact, it can be admitted to assist the court: R. v. Mohan, [1994] 2 S.C.R. 9. The Rules establish a process which provides adequate notice of expert opinions and sets up a way to challenge admissibility. There is no need to introduce into the process, by way of boilerplate language in notices under R. 11-6(10), threats of claims against experts for special costs. As I have already noted, it is entirely unnecessary. Further, it has the potential to frustrate the litigation process because it may discourage the participation of expert witnesses. In addition, and contrary to the intent of the new Rules, it would seem to place the expert in an adversarial position.

 


Criminal Conviction Strips Defendant of Civil Liability Denial

January 17th, 2014

Reasons for judgment were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, confirming that it is an abuse of process to deny liability in a civil lawsuit for damages following a criminal conviction related to the same incident.

In today’s case (McCaffery v. Arguello) the parties were involved in a road rage incidence during which the Defendant “proceeded to intervene in the fight between Mr. McCaffery and Mr. Segundo by repeatedly striking Mr. Mccaffery with the baseball bat, causing him serious but non-life-threatening injuries to his head and wrist.”

The Defendant was criminally convicted of assault with a weapon and assault causing bodily harm.  The Plaintiff sued for damages and the Defendant denied liability.  In summarily finding the Defendant civilly liable Mr. Justice Sewell provided the following reasons:

[33]         Mr. Arguello’s counsel submits that as provocation may affect the quantum of damages It will still be necessary to hear viva voce evidence about the circumstances leading up to the assault at the assessment. That may be so. But the evidence will have no bearing on liability. I am also of the view that evidence restricted to the limited issue of provocation will not materially lengthen or complicate the assessment process.

[34]         I am also satisfied that I should grant judgment on liability notwithstanding the fact that this amounts to a severance of the issues of liability and assessment. Rule 9-7(2) permits a party to apply for judgment on an issue or generally. In my view this is an appropriate case to dispose of liability before assessing damages. Mr. Arguello clearly has no defence on the issue of liability. There is no reason to require him to re-litigate that issue.

[35]         Finally, I conclude that there is no merit in the argument that judgment cannot be granted in the absence of the defendant Mr. Segundo. I was not referred to any authority for the proposition that the plaintiff is not permitted to pursue judgment against one defendant in an assault case. If Mr. Arguello wishes to pursue a claim against Mr. Segundo for contribution, he is at liberty to do so. However I see no reason why that possibility should delay the plaintiff’s claim against him.

[36]         Accordingly I find that the plaintiff is entitled to judgment finding the defendant liable for his injuries, with damages to be assessed.


Why An Acquittal of Criminal Charges Is No Barrier to a Civil Negligence Case

June 28th, 2013

If the OJ Simpson saga taught us anything it is that being acquitted of criminal charges does nothing to stop a civil action for damages from proceeding.  Reasons for judgment were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vernon Registry, demonstrating this.

In the recent case (McClusky v. Desilets) the Plaintiff was profoundly injured in a single vehicle collision in 2008.  The driver was charged with dangerous driving under the Criminal Code.  The case proceeded to trial where he was acquitted.  The Defendant then sought to have the lawsuit by the injured plaintiff against him dismissed arguing that “the issue of liability was determined when he was acquitted of criminal charges“.

Mr. Justice Steeves quickly dispatched this argument, finding the matter could proceed and ultimately determined that the defendant was negligent in causing the collision.  In addressing the Defendant’s argument the Court provided the following reasons:

[153]     With regards to the criminal charges against the defendant, he was charged with dangerous driving causing death and dangerous driving causing bodily harm. A trial was held in November 2010 and, on December 3, 2010, Mr. Justice Dley acquitted the defendant on all charges. Among other findings he concluded that there were insufficient factors on speed that would elevate the facts of the case to the level of a criminal offense. As a result it was not possible to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant’s driving was objectively dangerous. Further, in reviewing all the evidence, the trial judge concluded that the defendant’s driving was not a marked departure from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe in his circumstance (paras. 59, 61).

[154]     It is now submitted on behalf of the defendant in this civil action that the issue of liability has been decided in his favour by the previous criminal proceedings. That is, he is not liable for the accident and the injuries to the plaintiff.

[155]     The approach of previous decisions on this issue have focused on issue estoppel (Petrelli v. Lindell Beach Holiday Resort Ltd. 2011 BCCA 367 at para. 63; citing Danyluk v. Ainsworth Technologies Inc., 2001 SCC 44 at para. 25). With regards to issue estoppel there are three preconditions: the same question has been decided in the previous proceeding, the previous decision was final and the parties in both proceedings are the same. In the subject case, the parties are not the same as the criminal proceeding and the issues of criminal negligence causing death and dangerous driving causing bodily harm are not the same issues as the civil liability of the defendant here. On this basis issue estoppel has no application.

[156]     With regards to abuse of process, such an abuse has been found where an arbitrator was asked to re-litigate whether an employee was guilty of a criminal sexual assault. A previous criminal court had convicted the employee. The arbitrator found that that the employee had not committed the sexual assault and the courts set this decision aside (Toronto (City) v. CUPE (2001), 55 O.R. (3d) 541,149 O.A.C. 213).

[157]      In the subject case, again, the defendant was acquitted of criminal charges with regards to the same incident that gave rise to this civil action. However, the cause of action in the latter is based in negligence not in the Criminal Code. I am not re-litigating whether the defendant committed a criminal offence, as was apparently the case in Toronto (City).

[158]     I find that it is not an abuse of process for the plaintiff to seek civil damages against the defendant when the defendant had previously been acquitted of criminal charges.


Emergency Driver Found Fully at Fault for Intersection Crash; Abuse of Process Discussed

March 19th, 2012

The BC Motor Vehicle Act provides the RCMP and other drivers of ‘emergency vehicles‘ the right to speed and run red lights and stop signs.  This right, however, is not absolute and cannot be exercised without care to other motorists.   If an emergency vehicle operator is careless in the exercise of their emergency powers they can be liable for a resulting collision.  Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, demonstrating such a result.

In today’s case (Haczewski v. British Columbia) the Plaintiff was killed in a 2007 motor vehicle collision.  His vehicle was struck in an intersection.  He entered on a green light.  At the same time an RCMP vehicle was approaching with “her emergency lights and siren” on.  She entered against the red light at high speed and the collision occurred.

At trial the Defendant agreed she was careless and contributed to the collision but argued the Plaintiff was also partly to blame.  Mr. Justice Grauer rejected this argument and found the Defendant fully at fault.  In doing so the Court provided the following reasons:

[12] No statute need be cited for the general proposition that a vehicle entering a controlled intersection with a green light has the right-of-way over vehicles facing the red light.  But is this still the case when the vehicle with the red light is a police car responding to an emergency with its lights flashing and siren sounding?  The answer is:  it depends.

[13] The Motor Vehicle Act provides certain privileges to emergency vehicles, including the limited right to proceed through a red light without stopping:…

[14] The use of those privileges is governed by the Motor Vehicle Act Emergency Vehicle Driving Regulation, B.C. Reg. 133/98…

[16] Thus the statutory privileges granted by the Motor Vehicle Act’s section 122 exemption are subject always to balancing the exigencies of the emergency with the risk of harm arising from the operation of the vehicle.  In particular, the driver of any emergency vehicle exercising those privileges who approaches or enters an intersection must slow to a speed consistent with reasonable care.

[17] The Motor Vehicle Act deals further with right-of-way in section 177:

177 On the immediate approach of an emergency vehicle giving an audible signal by a bell, siren or exhaust whistle, and showing a visible flashing red light, except when otherwise directed by a peace officer, a driver must yield the right of way, and immediately drive to a position parallel to and as close as possible to the nearest edge or curb of the roadway, clear of an intersection, and stop and remain in that position until the emergency vehicle has passed…

[22] An article included as an appendix to the manual, entitled Rules of the Road: Some Perspectives on Emergency Driving, contained this recommendation:

8.         Come to a complete stop at all controlled intersections (e.g. red lights, stop signs) where you would not have the right-of-way without warning equipment.

Most accidents of any kind, but especially those involving emergency vehicles on emergency calls, occur at intersections.  The practice of stopping at intersections has not appreciably hurt my agency’s response times, although it has caused some shortening of brake life.  But faithful adherence to it has resulted in countless instances in which vehicles would otherwise have been broadsided by motorists who either insisted on their right-of-way or did not perceive the warning equipment.

[23] As a result of this accident, this recommendation has, as I understand it, now become RCMP policy.  At the time of the accident, the policy for an officer approaching a controlled intersection was to slow sufficiently, and to stop if necessary, in order to ensure that it was safe to proceed through the intersection, consistent with section 6 of the Regulation

[46] On all of the evidence, I have no difficulty in concluding that Constable Kostiuk failed to exercise the degree of care required of a reasonable police officer, acting reasonably and within the statutory powers imposed upon her, in the circumstances she faced that night (see Doern v. Philips Estate (1994), 2 B.C.L.R. (3d) 349 (S.C.) at para. 69, aff’d (1997), 43 B.C.L.R. (3d) 53 (C.A.)).

[47] As she headed up Kingsway in response to what she reasonably believed to be an emergency, Constable Kostiuk significantly exceeded the speed limit.  On a quiet night with little traffic, that was justified.  But circumstances changed when she approached the intersection with Royal Oak, a main street, facing a red light.  She was not familiar with the intersection, and visibility was limited.  She ought not to have entered it against the red light without first taking adequate steps to ensure that she could do so safely.  She failed to do so.  Reasonable care required her to slow right down before proceeding into that intersection, in order to ensure that it was in fact clear, and that she could enter it without risk of harm to the public.  Instead, she accelerated into the intersection from what was already a high speed.  In those circumstances, it was impossible for her to have any confidence that she could proceed safely, and the collision was the result.  Such action was in no way justified by the exigencies of the emergency to which she was reacting.

In addition to the above, this decison is also worth reviewing for the application of the ‘abuse of process’ doctrine following a motor vehicle act conviction.

In today’s case the RCMP officer was charged criminally with dangerous driving causing death.  She eventually plead guilty to careless driving under the motor vehicle act.  The Plaintiff argued it was an abuse of process to dispute civil liability in these circumstances.  Mr. Justice Grauer disagreed and provided reasons at paragraphs 154-160 setting out his view of why a guilty plea to careless driving should not be an absolute barrier to subsequently denying civil liability.  It is worth noting there is some inconsistency in this area of the law.


Criminal Guilty Plea Strips Defendant of Civil Liability Denial

February 21st, 2012

Typically it is an abuse of process for an individual to plead guilty to criminal charges and to then deny liability in a subsequent civil lawsuit arising from the same incident.  The BC Supreme Court Rules allow judges to strike pleadings denying previous admissions as an ‘abuse of process‘.  Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Nelson Registry, demonstrating such a result.

In this week’s case (Plishka-Humphries (Guardian ad litem of) v. Bolen) the Plaintiff was assaulted and battered by the Defendant Bolen.  The Defendant plead guilty to aggravated assault as a result of the incident.  In a subsequent civil lawsuit the Defendant denied liability.  The Plaintiff brought an application for summary judgement which was granted.  In finding the Defendant civilly liable for the incident Mr. Justice McEwan provided the following reasons:

[11] The present case differs from Franco in that the defendant is not asserting a defence that parallels the position he took before the criminal court. In such circumstances a defendant’s position at least has the virtue of consistency. Here, the defendant seeks to give an exculpatory version of facts he has previously admitted…

[13] Here, however, at the sentencing proceeding, the defendant admitted the facts that the plaintiff alleges in the civil case. He now wishes to contradict those admissions. This is not a case of a careless plea, or a plea to a vague and uncertain set of facts.  Nor is it a case where there was a lack of incentive to dispute a minor charge. It is also not a case of new evidence. There was no hint or suggestion of a threat from the plaintiff, at the sentencing proceeding, let alone facts that could be characterized as a form of self-defence. There was, rather, a submission that he was taking responsibility and acknowledging the harm he had done. In the context of that hearing it appears that this was offered as a kind of mitigation.

[14] The transcript also contradicts the defendant’s suggestion that he pled guilty on his lawyer’s advice and not because he considered himself guilty. He stood in court while his lawyer represented variously that he was “deeply remorseful”, “wants to plead guilty”, “wants to announce his guilt” … “recognizes this,” that “[h]is reaction was wrong” or that he wanted to save the young man from going to trial, and “have some lawyer probing on–about ball bearings.”

[15] The material the defendant has presented does not raise a genuine issue to be tried. The Certificate of Conviction tendered in this case is roughly equivalent to proof of a formal admission. There is nothing arising from the circumstances in which the guilty plea was entered that casts doubt upon the defendant’s intention at the time, or his appreciation of what he was doing. There is no ambiguity in the facts that he admitted. The explanation he offers for sitting through the hearing on September 21st, 2005 while the case was, from his present perspective, grossly mischaracterized, is thoroughly unconvincing…

[17] There will therefore be judgment for the plaintiff on the issue of liability and a referral to the trial list on the issue of quantum.

For more on this topic you can click here to review a recent case where a careless driving guilty plea was a barrier to a civil denial of liability following a motor vehicle collision.


Court Finds Abuse of Process for Liability Denial After Careless Driving Conviction

February 7th, 2011

Useful reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, finding that it is an ‘abuse of process‘ pursuant to Rule 9-5(1)(d) for a Defendant to deny the issue of liability in a personal injury lawsuit after they have been convicted of careless driving as a result of the same collision.

In this week’s case (Ulmer v. Weidmann) the Plaintiff’s husband was killed when his motorcycle was struck by a vehicle operated by the Defendant.  The Plaintiff sued for damages pursuant to the Family Compensation Act.

Following the collision the Defendant was charged with “driving without due care and attention” under section 144(1)(a) of the BC Motor Vehicle Act.  He contested this charge but ultimately was found guilty following trial in the BC Provincial Court.

The Defendant then denied fault for the crash in the Wrongful Death lawsuit and claimed the Plaintiff was partly responsible.  Mr. Justice Truscott rejected this argument and found the Defendant solely responsible for the fatal collision.  The Court went further and found that while a party convicted under s. 144(1)(a) of the Motor Vehicle Act can argue an opposing motorist is partly to blame for a crash, it is an abuse of process for the convicted party to outright deny the issue of fault.  The Court provided the following useful reasons:

[83]         In my opinion the finding of driving without due care and attention in Provincial Court was akin to a finding of negligence against Mr. Weidmann, because his manner of driving was found to have departed from the standard of a reasonable man and he failed to avoid liability by proving he took all reasonable care in the circumstances.

[84]         I agree with plaintiff’s counsel that it was an abuse of process for the defendants to deny full liability in their statement of defence as this constituted an attempt to re-litigate the findings of the Provincial Court that were necessary for Steven Weidmann’s conviction of driving without due care and attention. This was an attempt to undermine the integrity of the adjudicative process which is not to be allowed.

[85]         I do not conclude however that the findings essential to Mr. Weidmann’s conviction in Provincial Court prevented Mr. Weidmann from alleging contributory negligence against Mr. Ulmer in this action…

[91]         While I have decided that there was no negligence on Mr. Ulmer contributing to the collision, based upon the evidence that I have accepted, I cannot say that this was a defence advanced in bad faith for the ulterior purpose of emotionally disturbing the plaintiff and putting pressure on her to settle at a figure favourable to the defendants.

[92]         Although I have concluded that it was an abuse of process by the defendants to deny liability completely, they were not guilty of an abuse of process in maintaining the defence of contributory negligence of Mr. Ulmer at all times.

The Plaintiff was ultimately awarded damages for her accident related losses and these included $10,000 for ‘nervous shock’.  Paragraphs 97-215 of the Reasons for Judgement are worth reviewing for Mr. Justice Truscott’s thorough review of the law of nervous shock claims.