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BC Court of Appeal Overturns $12 Million Jury Verdict

In a not unexpected development, the BC Court of Appeal released reasons for judgement today (Ciolli v. Galley) overturning a Jury Verdict awarding just over $12 Million dollars in damages to a Plaintiff who was injured in three separate motor vehicle collisions.
Following the Jury verdict the Defendants applied for a mistrial but the presiding Judge dismissed the defence motion.  The Defendants appealed the Jury Verdict arguing, amongst other reasons, that the trial judge failed to give appropriate instructions to the jury.  The BC Court of Appeal agreed and ordered a new trial.  In doing so the Court provided the following reasons:

[21]         As mentioned earlier, the defendants contend on appeal that the trial judge erred in refusing to grant the mistrial application and in failing to give an even-handed and fair summary of the evidence to the jury; and that the jury’s awards were without foundation or wholly out of proportion to the plaintiff’s losses.  I have already noted that the trial judge’s many references to the damages to which Ms. Ciolli was “entitled” may well have led the jury to be confused about the question of causation and about their duty to determine which of the plaintiff’s claims, if any, were properly attributable to the car accidents and in connection with the costs of future care, which were medically justified.  Fairness also required that in connection with loss of income-earning capacity and future care costs, the jury be instructed as to the need to apply a discount rate in order to assess the present value of the awards for future contingencies, and of course on the need to reduce such awards to reflect that they did represent contingencies rather than certain losses.  The law is clear that a trial judge’s failure to so instruct a jury constitutes error: see, e.g., Bell v. Stubbins (1991) 7 B.C.A.C. 177 at paras. 10-17; Halliday et al. v. Sanrud (1979) 15 B.C.L.R. 4 (C.A.) at 9.

[22]         It is also clear that the awards for non-pecuniary damages and loss of income-earning capacity were wholly out of proportion to what was justified by the evidence before the Court.  The non-pecuniary award of $327,000 would have been justified only had the plaintiff suffered a truly catastrophic injury, but the jury was not instructed to this effect.  (Counsel for Ms. Ciolli rightly acknowledged before us that her injuries were not catastrophic.)  With respect to loss of income-earning capacity, as Mr. Gunn submits, the sum of $5,600,000, if calculated over 23 years (i.e., until the plaintiff reaches age 65), constitutes an award of $243,478 per year.  It did not reflect the fact that the award is for a contingency rather than a certain loss, nor a discount rate required to represent the present value of the loss.

[23]         The foregoing errors are more than sufficient to warrant our interference with the jury’s award and to order a new trial.

Paragraphs 24-31 of the Judgement are also worth reviewing for the Court’s ‘obiter‘ discussion of when a trial judge should and should not declare a mistrial following an inordinately high Jury Verdict.

bc injury law, Ciolli v. Galley, Jury Charge, mistrial, Submissions to Jury