ICBC Hit With Special Costs Award For “Reprehensible” Lawsuit Tactics

Reasons for judgement were published this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, finding ICBC is liable to pay special costs for ‘reprehensible’ conduct in litigation.

In the recent case (Zhang v. 328633 BC Ltd) the Plaintiff was injured while riding as a passenger in a bus.  A truck driver made an unsafe lane change in front of the bus.  This caused the bus driver to brake forcefully throwing the plaintiff from her seat leading to multiple injuries.  The truck driver did not remain at the scene of the incident and was unknown.  The Plaintiff sued both the bus driver and ICBC as a statutory defendant in place of the unidentified truck driver, a legal remedy available under s. 24 of the Insurance (Vehicle) Act.  ICBC had video evidence from the bus as to what actually occurred but failed to produce this for years.  They also denied that a s. 24 claim existed until deep into the trial.

The bus driver was not paying adequate attention at the time and the court found both the bus driver and truck driver shared liability.

As a result of ICBC’s late production of crucial evidence and unreasonable denial as to the merits of the s. 24 claim the presiding judge found ICBC should pay special costs.  In reaching this conclusion Mr. Justice Branch provided the following reasons:

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Court Declines to Award Plaintiff Double Costs Where Adverse Liability Finding was a “Live Possibility”

Often times when a plaintiff is awarded damages beyond their formal settlement offer the BC Supreme Court awards double costs.  Such an outcome is discretionary and not automatic and occasionally double costs are declined.  Reasons for judgment were published this week by the BC Supreme Court, Chilliwack Registry, with such an outcome.

In this week’s case (Enns v. Corbett) the Plaintiff was injured in a collision and sued for damages.  The Plaintiff was awarded damages approximately $30,000 above their formal settlement offer.  Despite this the Court declined to award double costs noting there was a ‘live possibility‘ of an adverse liability outcome.

In reaching this conclusion Mr. Justice Riley provided the following reasons:

[7]             I do not agree with the plaintiff that the offer ought reasonably to have been accepted as contemplated in Rule 9-1(6)(a). Rather, I agree with the defendant that at the time the offer was made, there was uncertainty as to the strength of the plaintiff’s claim, due in large measure to issues of contributory negligence and potential apportionment of liability. Despite the live issues as to liability, the plaintiff’s offer expressly rested on the premise that the defendant would be found “fully liable” for the collision; it made no allowance for the contingent risk that the plaintiff might be found contributorily negligent, which was a live possibility based on the evidence available to the parties when the offer was made. To quote from the defendant’s submission, the plaintiff’s offer “did not account for the real risk that the plaintiff’s claim might have been dismissed entirely or that liability might be apportioned, based on information available to the parties at the time”. As explained in Owen v. Folster, 2019 BCSC 407 at para. 12, the plaintiff’s offer did not put forward a “genuine compromise or an incentive to settle” in view of the litigation risks, such that the defendant did not act unreasonably in declining to accept it.

[12]         In my view, the most telling feature of this case is the fact that the offer to settle was premised on the plaintiff’s position that the defendant would be found fully liable for the collision, when there were live issues as to apportionment of liability. In these circumstances, it cannot be said that the offer “ought reasonably to have been accepted”. The other factors are less important in this particular case. The judgment obtained at trial was higher than the amount in the offer, but only marginally so as a proportion of the overall amount in issue. And, although the defendant’s insurance coverage placed her at some degree of financial advantage in terms of the decision to proceed to trial, there is no evidence that the defendant or her insurer used their financial strength in an untoward manner. The plaintiff was successful at trial and is therefore entitled to costs of the action at Scale B, but not double costs.

Plaintiff Stripped of Partial Costs For Trial Judgment Below Advance Payments

Reasons for judgement were published today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry addressing a somewhat unique fact pattern of what costs consequences should be after trial where a Plaintiff was awarded damages below the amount of money they received prior to trial by way of advances paid by the Defendants.

In today’s case (Singh v. Chand) the Plaintiff sued for damages as a result of two collisions.  The claim for the second collision was dismissed.  The Defendants for the first crash admitted liability.  Prior to trial they advanced the Plaintiff $250,000.   They agreed that they would not seek repayment regardless of the outcome of the trial.   At trial the Plaintiff’s damages were assessed below this amount with $137,288 being awarded.

The Court found that in these circumstances the Plaintiff should recover costs to the date of the advance payment and the Defendants entitled to their costs from that date onward.  In reaching this decision Madam Justice Watchuk provided the following reasons:

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Plaintiff Awarded Costs Despite Jury Awarding Damages Far Less than ICBC Formal Setttlement Offer

Reasons for judgement were published today by the BC Supreme Court, Penticton Registry, dismissing a defence application for costs and awarding a Plaintiff full costs despite receiving a jury award substantially smaller than a pre trial formal settlement offer.

In today’s case (Duarte v. McMillan) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2016 collision that the Defendant accepted fault for.  The matter proceeded to trial by Jury, an election made by ICBC on the Defendants behalf.

Prior to trial the Plaintiff made a formal settlement offer for $175,000.  The Defendant made several formal offers with the highest being $88,000 plus costs.  At trial the jury awarded far less with global damages being assessed at $22,000 being comprised of $7,300 for costs of future care and loss of homemaking capacity and $14,700 for non-pecuniary damages.

ICBC sought to have the Plaintiff pay costs.  The court declined and instead awarded the Plaintiff full costs finding with the evidence available it was reasonable to reject the settlement offer and proceed to trial.  In reaching this decision Madam Justice McDonald provided the following reasons:

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Late Offer to “Emotionally and Mentally Fragile” Plaintiff Fails To Trigger Costs Consequences

Reasons for judgement were published today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, declining to award a Defendant trial costs despite the Plaintiff receiving judgement for less than their pre trial settlement offers.

In today’s case (Wiseman v. Wang) the Plaintiff was injured in a collision and sued for damages.  Prior to a February 19, 2019 trial the Defendant made two formal settlement offers.  On June 13, 2018 the Defendant offered to settle the plaintiff’s claims for $100,000 new money plus costs and was open for acceptance until 4:00 pm on the last business day prior to the commencement of trial.  A second offer was delivered on February 13, 2019 and offered to settle the plaintiff’s claims for $150,000 new money plus costs. It was also open for acceptance until 4:00 pm on the last business day before the commencement of trial.

At trial the Plaintiff’s damages were assessed at $79,000.  The Court noted that trial “could have resulted in a much higher award” but reliability problems with the Plaintiff’s own evidence prevented a more favourable result.

The Defendant sought trial costs in these circumstances but the Court declined.  In dismissing the defence application the Court noted that the Plaintiff was ‘emotionally and mentally fragile‘ and the timing of the second offer made it such that costs consequences should not be triggered.  Mr. Justice Davies provided the following reasons:

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ICBC Hit With Double Costs For “Unreasonable” Settlement Refusal

Reasons for judgement were published today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, ordering that double costs be paid to a plaintiff who was awarded substantially more at trial than they were willing to settle their claim for.

In today’s case (Miller v. Resurreccion) the Plaintiff was injured in a collision and sued for damages.  Prior to trial the Plaintiff offered to settle their claim for $200,000 plus costs and disbursements.  ICBC, as insurer for the Defendant, refused offering a little more than half this amount.  The Plaintiff proceeded to trial where her damages were assessed at $440,057.

The Plaintiff asked for double costs for trial.  In finding such an award was warranted due to ICBC’s “unreasonable” refusal to accept the Plaintiff’s offer Madam Justice Baker provided the following reasons:

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ICBC Hit With Double Costs Due To Inadequate Settlement Efforts

Reasons for judgement were published today ordering double costs to a plaintiff who was awarded damages substantially above his settlement request following a vehicle injury.

In today’s case (Godbout v. Notter) the Plaintiff was injured in a a vehicle collision that the Defendant was at fault for.  Following an unsuccessful mediation the Plaintiff provided a formal offer to settle his claim for $300,000.  ICBC refused and offered 1/3 of this. At trial the Plaintiff was awarded damages totalling $583,199.36 for non-pecuniary loss, past wage loss, future lost earnings, future care costs, loss of housekeeping capacity and special damages.

The Plaintiff was then awarded double costs for ICBC’s unreasonable refusal to accept the Plaintiff’s settlement offer.  In finding double costs were warranted Mr. Justice Jenkins provided the following reasons:

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Court Declines to Order Double Costs After Jury Dismisses Injury Claim Based on Liability

Reasons for judgement were published last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, demonstrating the discretionary nature of double costs awards following the dismissal of a personal injury claim.

In last week’s case (Findlay v. George) the Plaintiff was involved in a significant 2013 collison.  The crash left the defendant motorist dead at the scene.  The Plaintiff  “attempted to assist with the rescue and resuscitation of the defendant at the scene and, in the result, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder “.

The Plaintiff’s damages were potentially significant with the Court noting “given the commonality of the medical evidence, damages could have reached seven figures.”.

Prior to trial ICBC provided a formal settlement offer of $80,000.  The Plaintiff declined and proceeded to trial where the claim was dismissed based on liability.  ICBC sought double costs.  Mr. Justice Harvey refused to grant these noting costs awards are discretionary and given the potential damages at play and further some evidence where contributory negligence could have been established it was reasonable for the Plaintiff to proceed to trial in the face of this offer.  In declining to award double costs the Court provided the following reasons:

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ICBC Hit With Double Costs For “Unreasonable Refusal” To Settle Injury Claim

Reasons for judgement were published today by the BC Supreme Court, Kelowna Registry, ordering ICBC to pay double costs after their ‘unreasonable refusal’ to accept a sensible settlement offer in an injury claim.

In today’s case (Stark v. Bartier) the Plaintiff was injured in a collision and sued for damages.  Prior to trial the Plaintiff sought to settle her claim for $70,000 plus costs.  ICBC refused to accept.  At trial ICBC was ordered to pay almost 80% more with a final judgement of $126,430.

The Plaintiff applied for an order of double costs

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BC Court of Appeal – Settlement Paying Pennies on the Dollar Beats Losing Your House

You are badly injured through the alleged negligence of others.  If you win at trial you can get north of $400,000 in damages.  If you lose you will literally lose your house to cover the costs of litigation. When faced with this stark reality a settlement offer that pays less than 1o cents on the dollar may very well be reasonable.  The BC Court of Appeal released reasons for judgment today saying as much.
In today’s case (Deo v. Vancouver) the infant plaintiff suffered serious injuries leaving him partially blind while at school.  He sued for damages and was largely unsuccessful on proving liability at trial.  The Plaintiff’s lawyer valued the claim at over $400,000 but before the liability appeals could be heard a settlement of $35,000 was reached.  The Plaintiff, being an infant, could not legally agree to any settlement and judicial permission was needed.  The BC Court of Appeal noted that if the lawsuit ultimately proved unsuccessful the costs consequences would be so steep that the Plaintiff’s parents would likely need to sell their house.  Appreciating this the risk-based settlement was reasonable and the Court approved it.  In supporting the settlement the BC Court of Appeal provided the following reasons:

[11]         Counsel assesses the quantum of damages for non-pecuniary loss in the range of $100,000 to $140,000 and for loss of future earnings in the range of $300,000 to $350,000. The estimate of an adverse costs award if the appeal is unsuccessful is in excess of $100,000.

[12]         Isaac lives with his parents in a house in East Vancouver. If costs are awarded against him, they would have to sell the house to pay the costs. His father says that he has weighed the prospects of success of the appeal against the risk of losing the home and the impact that would have on Isaac and the rest of the family. He says he has concluded that it is in Isaac’s best interests to accept the settlement.

[13]         The parties have consented to the trial judge approving the solicitor’s account without costs.

[14]         Having read the materials provided, it is our view that the settlement is a prudent one, and is in Isaac’s best interests. As was noted in Lotocky, “it is… artificial and misguided to judge the merits of the appeal in isolation from the financial ramifications that would arise from an unsuccessful appeal”: para. 69. Counsel for Isaac acknowledges the “very real” risk that the appeal on liability will be unsuccessful. In light of the serious financial consequences that would flow from an unsuccessful appeal, we agree with the assessment of counsel and that it is in Isaac’s best interests to accept the settlement.

[15]         The settlement is approved in the terms sought. The appeal and cross appeal are dismissed as abandoned on a without costs basis to any party. The matter is remitted to the Supreme Court to Justice Riley for approval of the solicitor’s account.

Contact

If you would like further information or require assistance, please get in touch.

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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