BC Court of Appeal Discusses Discretionary Costs in Face of Formal Settlement Offers

Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Court of Appeal addressing the current landscape of judicial discretion when awarding costs in cases with formal settlement offers in play.
In this week’s case (Wafler v. Trinh) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2005 collision.  Prior to trial ICBC made three formal settlement offers, the final being $222,346.  The Plaintiff rejected this offer and proceeded to trial.  A jury assessed damages at $70,000 and after appropriate deductions this resulted in judgement of over $53,000.  ICBC applied for post offer costs.  Mr. Justice Voith did not agree that such a result was appropriate but did strip the Plaintiff of post offer costs and disbursements.  Given that the trial lasted 10 days this is a significant financial consequence.
ICBC appealed arguing “the purpose of the appeal on costs was to reverse what he described as a trend in the trial court wherein plaintiffs who succeed in “beating” an offer to settle are routinely awarded double costs but defendants who have made an offer to settle that was rejected but well within the claim value are deprived an order of costs. The defendant says this is unjust. In other words, the defendant submits there should be significant consequences to plaintiffs who fail to accept a reasonable offer.”
The BC Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal finding the trial judge fairly exercised his discretion.  In reaching this conclusion the Court provided the following reasons:
[79]         Pursuant to Rule 14-1(9) of the Supreme Court Rules, Mr. Wafler, as the successful party, is entitled to his costs unless the court orders otherwise. Pursuant to Rule 9-1(4), the court may consider an offer to settle when exercising its discretion in relation to costs. Rule 9-1(5) enumerates the orders the court may make. In making an order under subrule (5), the court may consider the factors listed in subrule (6).
[80]         The purpose for which costs rules exist, as stated in Giles v. Westminster Savings and Credit Union, 2010 BCCA 282, was referred to by the trial judge at para. 18 of his reasons (reproduced at para. 50 above).
[81]         I do not quarrel with the general proposition that a plaintiff who rejects a reasonable offer to settle should usually face some sanction in costs, even in circumstances in which it cannot be said that the plaintiff should have accepted the offer. To do otherwise would undermine the importance of certainty and consequences in applying the Rule. The importance of those principles was emphasized by this court in Evans v. Jensen, 2011 BCCA 279:
[41]      This conclusion is consistent with the importance the Legislature has placed on the role of settlement offers in encouraging the determination of disputes in a cost-efficient and expeditious manner. It has placed a premium on certainty of result as a key factor which parties consider in determining whether to make or accept an offer to settle. If the parties know in advance the consequences of their decision to make or accept an offer, whether by way of reward or punishment, they are in a better position to make a reasoned decision. If they think they may be excused from the otherwise punitive effect of a costs rule in relation to an offer to settle, they will be more inclined to take their chances in refusing to accept an offer. If they know they will have to live with the consequences set forth in the Rule, they are more likely to avoid the risk.
[82]         That said, under the present Rule, unlike its predecessor which mandated the result, it is for the trial judge to determine in any particular case the nature and scope of whatever sanctions are to be applied. The permissive wording in Rules 9-1(5) and (6) indicates the legislature intended to preserve the historically discretionary nature of costs awards, including an award of costs where an offer to settle has been made.
[83]         In my opinion, the judge adequately considered the factors under Rule 9-1(6) which were relevant in this case. Most significantly, the defendant’s contention that the plaintiff in this case did not suffer any consequences from his failure to accept the offers to settle ignores the fact that, as a successful party, he was deprived of his costs and disbursements from December 21, 2011, approximately six weeks before the jury’s verdict made on February 3, 2012. The verdict followed a ten day trial. Thus, the impact of the judge’s costs order was to deprive Mr. Wafler of taxable costs for the preparation of and attendance at a ten day trial, together with disbursements incurred after the offer, which presumably included fees for attendance by experts.
[84]         In these circumstances, I do not think it can be fairly said that the plaintiff in this case was not penalized for his failure to accept the defendant’s offer. In my view, the costs order reflected the underlying purpose of Rule 9-1.
[85]         In the result, I would dismiss the cross-appeal.
 

bc injury law, Mr. Justice Voith, Rule 9, Rule 9-1, Rule 9-1(6), Wafler v. Trinh

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ERIK
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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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