BC Court of Appeal to Consider Discretionary Costs Awards and Formal Settlement Offers

After dozens of trial judgements which have applied Rule 37B (the current rule dealing with formal settlement offers which will be replaced with the almost identical Rule 9 on July 1, 2010), the BC Court of Appeal has agreed to hear what I believe will be their first case dealing with the application of this rule.
Reasons for judgement were published today on the BC Court’s Website where the BC High Court agreed to hear such an appeal.  In today’s case (Gehlen v. Rana) the Plaintiff was injured in a BC motor vehicle collision.  The Plaintiff sued.  Prior to trial ICBC made a formal settlement offer of $22,000.  The Plaintiff rejected this and proceeded to trial.  At trial a jury awarded just over $13,000 in damages.
In these circumstances the trial judge had the discretion to order that the Plaintiff pay the Defendant’s trial costs.    Mr. Justice Leask refused to do so and instead ordered that the Defendant pay the Plaintiff’s costs.   (You can click here to read my article discussing the trial decision).
The Defendant (through ICBC) asked for permission for the BC Court of Appeal to hear the case and they agreed to do so.  In deciding that this case merits an appeal the BC High Court reasoned as follows:

[3]             I am satisfied that the defendant has met the test for leave to appeal on both grounds, as that test is set out in Power Consolidated (China) Pulp Inc. v. British Columbia Resources Investment Corp. (1988), 19 C.P.C. 3d 396 (B.C.C.A.) (Chambers). With respect to the merits of the appeal, I appreciate that an order for costs is a discretionary order to which an appellate court will give considerable deference. I am nevertheless satisfied that the first ground of appeal may be characterized as a question of law, and the second as an error in principle. In fact, counsel advises that leave has been granted in another appeal on the question of whether it is appropriate to adjust costs on the basis that one party chose a jury trial.

[4]             The issue is of significance to the parties as the order under appeal entitles the plaintiff to costs in the range of $47,000, while if the defendant is successful he will recover costs in the range of $8,000.

[5]             It is more difficult to see significance to the practice in this appeal, but I do not find that militates against granting leave. The defendant does say that this court has not had the opportunity to hear many cases that provide guidance on R. 37B and its interaction with R. 57(10).

[6]             Finally, being an order for costs at the end of the action there is no need to consider possible delay due to the appeal.

As I recently wrote, ICBC has asked the Court of Appeal to also consider the issue of ‘costs’ awards when Plaintiff’s receive a judgement below $25,000 at a BC Supreme Court trial and these appeals may be heard together.

Clarity from the BC High Court will be welcome on numerous issues regarding the effects of formal settlement offers and costs awards after trial and I will be sure to report the highlights of the decisions when they are pronounced.

bc court of appeal, costs awards, Formal Settlement Offers. Rule 37B, Gehlen v. Rana, icbc injury claims, Rule 37B, Rule 9

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ERIK
MAGRAKEN

Personal Injury Lawyer

When not writing the BC Injury Law Blog, Erik is the managing partner at MacIsaac & Company, based in Victoria, B.C. He is also involved with combative sports regulatory issues and authors the Combat Sports Law Blog.

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