BCCA – Obtaining Judgement Below Amount Sought Is Not a Proper Reason to Deprive Costs

Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Court of Appeal confirming that a party who is awarded damages below the amount sought, even if significantly so, is not a reason in and of itself for depriving the party of costs.
In last week’s case (Loft v. Nat) the Plaintiff was injured in a motor vehicle collision and sued for damages.  At trial the Plaintiff sought substantial damages of over $1.8 million.  The Plaintiff’s claims were largely rejected with damages just over $60,000 being awarded.  The trial judge found that the Defendants had been largely successful and ordered that the Plaintiff pay the Defendants costs.  The Court of Appeal found this was plainly an error.  In reaching this conclusion the Court provided the following reasons:
[46]        Pursuant to Rule 14-1(9), costs in a proceeding must be awarded to the successful party unless the court otherwise orders. At its most basic level the successful party is the plaintiff who establishes liability under a cause of action and obtains a remedy, or a defendant who obtains a dismissal of the plaintiff’s case: Service Corporation International (Canada) Ltd. (Graham Funeral Ltd.) v. Nunes-Pottinger Funeral Services & Crematorium Ltd., 2012 BCSC 1588, 42 C.P.C. (7th) 416.
[47]        In this proceeding Mr. Loft was awarded damages for injuries he had suffered in the motor vehicle accident. The respondents had denied liability until shortly before trial. Although the damage award was far less than sought, Mr. Loft was the successful party. The fact that he obtained a judgment in an amount less than the amount sought is not, by itself, a proper reason for depriving him of costs: 3464920 Canada Inc. v. Strother, 2010 BCCA 328, 320 D.L.R. (4th) 637.
[48]        The trial judge’s stated reason for awarding costs to the respondents was that the respondents had been largely successful in all areas of the claim. With respect, that decision is wrong in principle and cannot stand. I note that on the hearing of the appeal the respondents did not suggest otherwise.
[49]        The fact that a party has been successful at trial does not however necessarily mean that the trial judge must award costs in its favour. The rule empowers the court to otherwise order. The court may make a contrary order for many reasons. One example is misconduct in the course of the litigation: Brown v. Lowe, 2002 BCCA 7, 97 B.C.L.R. (3d) 246. Another is a failure to accept an offer to settle under Rule 9-1. A third arises when the court rules against the successful party on one or more issues that took a discrete amount of time at trial. In such a case the judge may award costs in respect to those issues to the other party under Rule 14-1(15): Lee v. Jarvie, 2013 BCCA 515. Such an order is not a regular part of litigation and should be confined to relatively rare cases: Sutherland v. Canada (Attorney General), 2008 BCCA 27, 77 B.C.L.R. (4th) 142; Lewis v. Lehigh Northwest Cement Limited, 2009 BCCA 424, 97 B.C.L.R. (4th) 256. Whether a judge will order otherwise in any particular case will be dependent upon the circumstances of that individual action.
[50]        Costs are very much a matter of the trial judge’s discretion. In the circumstances of this case, the basis upon which that discretion was exercised was in error. That said, the trial judge remains in the best position to determine the proper costs order and to what extent, if any, the offer to settle that was made in this case should impact on costs. On the hearing of the appeal both parties suggested that if the costs appeal was allowed, costs should be referred back to the trial judge.
[51]        I would allow the costs appeal and refer the matter of costs back to the trial judge for a further determination.
 

bc injury law, Loft v. Nat, RUle 14, Rule 14-1, Rule 14-1(9)

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ERIK
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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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