Rule 37B and the Discretion of the Court

As I’ve previously written, one of the biggest improvements in the new Rule 37B over it’s predecessor (Rule 37) is that it gives the Court discretion when assessing costs consequences when a party beats a formal settlement offer at trial.
Reasons for judgment were released today by the BC Supreme Court demonstrating the flexibility of this discretion in assessing fair costs consequences.
In today’s case (Petojevic v. Solari) the Plaintiff sued for personal injuries.  Prior to trial the Defendants made a formal settlement offer of $60,000.  After trial the Plaintiff was awarded a total of just over $42,000 in damages.  In the defence of the claim the Defendants incurred “costs” of $5,051 and disbursements of $2,060.
The Defendants brought an application to be awarded “double costs”.  Under the old Rule 37 the Judge would have had no discretion in making such an award and double costs would automatically be awarded in these circumstances.  Under the new Rule 37B, the court has significant discretion over the costs to be awarded when a formal settlement offer is beat due to Rule 37B(5) and (6) which read as follows:

Cost options

(5) In a proceeding in which an offer to settle has been made, the court may do one or more of the following:

(a) deprive a party, in whole or in part, of any or all of the costs, including any or all of the disbursements, to which the party would otherwise be entitled in respect of all or some of the steps taken in the proceeding after the date of delivery of the offer to settle;

(b) award double costs of all or some of the steps taken in the proceeding after the date of delivery of the offer to settle.

(c) award to a party, in respect of all or some of the steps taken in the proceeding after the date of delivery or service of the offer to settle, costs to which the party would have been entitled had the offer not been made;

(d)  if the offer was made by a defendant and the judgment awarded to the plaintiff was no greater than the amount of the offer to settle, award to the defendant the defendant’s costs in respect of all or some of the steps taken in the proceeding after the date of delivery of the offer to settle.

[am. B.C. Reg. 165/2009, s. 1 (a), (b) and (c).]

Considerations of court

(6) In making an order under subrule (5), the court may consider the following:

(a) whether the offer to settle was one that ought reasonably to have been accepted, either on the date that the offer to settle was delivered or on any later date;

(b) the relationship between the terms of settlement offered and the final judgment of the court;

(c) the relative financial circumstances of the parties;

(d) any other factor the court considers appropriate.

In today’s case Mr. Justice Williamson refused to award the Defendant double costs but did award increased costs at 125% of the actual costs.  In justifying this result Mr. Justice Williamson highlighted the following facts:

[5] Here, the offer was not accepted and the matter went to trial. Nevertheless, the Court retains a discretion with respect to costs. Generally, litigants will be limited to the maximum costs allowable pursuant to Rule 66 (29) unless the Court rules otherwise.  In determining whether to “otherwise order” the circumstances to be considered may include the making of an offer pursuant to Rule 37, the relationship of the award to the offer, the length of the trial, the degree of complexity, the conduct of the litigation, the financial circumstances of the parties, and any other relevant circumstances.

[6] In addition, I have in mind the express object of Rule 66 to provide a speedier and less expensive determination of certain actions, and the object of Rule 37 to encourage settlement.

[7] The defendant concedes that in exercising a discretion pursuant to Rule 37B(5) an award may be discounted for work done prior to the delivery of an offer to settle.  They note that the ceiling for double costs awards pursuant to Rule 66 would amount to $13,200. They therefore say that their claim for costs in the amount of $10,102.24 plus disbursements is reasonable as it is equivalent to a discount of approximately 25%. In addition, the defendants note that the plaintiff was granted several adjournments and given the fact that the plaintiff was represented by counsel during two periods after the delivery of the offer to settle, he had considerable time to consider the appropriateness of the offer and the consequences of failure to accept it.

[8] The plaintiff submits Rule 66 should apply. He submits in any case the offer came after examination for discovery, an attempt at mediation, and an application to strike portions of the plaintiff’s claim. As such, he submits, any award of costs to the defendants should be limited.

[9] Here the trial took two days, the period contemplated by Rule 66. Liability was admitted, and the trial was not particularly complex, although previously existing injuries were a somewhat complicating issue. The defendant submits the plaintiff’s conduct of the litigation had a negative impact on the proceedings, a situation unfortunately not unusual when litigants represent themselves. I have no direct evidence of the financial circumstances of the plaintiff, although I infer from the evidence of impact of his injuries that he is in financial difficulty.

[10] The amount awarded at trial is more than two thirds of the amount offered by defendants. As well, on the second day of the proceedings the plaintiff succeeded in obtaining an award of special damages greater than that offered at that point by the defendants.

[11] The defendants proffered Bill of Costs in the amount of $5,051.12 plus disbursements of $2,060.02. They seek a doubling of the costs plus the disbursements ($10,102.24 plus $2,060.02 = $12,162.26).

[12] Taking all of these factors into consideration, and exercising the discretion permitted a trial judge pursuant to the Rules, I am satisfied that it would be contrary to the object of these Rules to deny the defendants application. However, I am not persuaded in the circumstances of this case that the award of costs sought by the defendants is warranted. In the result, I award costs to the defendants at 125% of their claimed costs ($5,051.12 X 1.25 = $6,313.90) plus disbursements of 2,060.02 for a total of $8,373.92.

Rule 37B and the Significance of Insurance

(Please note the case discussed in this post was upheld by the BC Court of Appeal in June, 2010.  You can click here to read my post discussing the BCCA decision)
When a party beats a formal settlement offer at trial in the BC Supreme Court the existence of the offer can be brought to the courts attention and the Court can then award or deprive a party of Costs as permitted under Rule 37B.
In determining costs consequences Courts have discretion and are to consider various factors as set out in Rule 37B(6).  One of these factors requires the court to consider ‘the relative financial circumstances of the parties‘.  One of the matters still being worked out by BC Courts under Rule 37B is whether a party being insured is a relevant factor when weighing the financial circumstances of the parties.
Today reasons for judgement were released by the BC Supreme Court, Chilliwack Registry addressing this matter.  In today’s case (Smith v. Tedford) the Plaintiff made a settlement offer.  The defendant did not immediately accept and proceeded to trial.  Several days into trial the Defendant accepted the offer.  At issue was what costs the Defendant should pay the Plaintiff.
The Defendant was apparently insured with ICBC.  In arguing what costs consequences should follow the Defendant submitted that the fact insurance was in place was not a relevant consideration.  In asking the court to consider the ‘relevant financial circumstances of the parties‘ the defendant put forward an affidavit setting out her ‘modest circumstances‘.
Mr. Justice Grist rejected this argument and held that the existence of insurance was relevant and could properly be considered by the Court.  Specifically Mr. Justice Grist reasoned as follows:

[14]         Here, I think the consideration stipulated in Rule 37B(6)(c), “the relative financial circumstances of the parties,” also has a bearing. The plaintiff has very limited financial resources and the personal defendant had the advantage of a defence conducted by her automobile insurer. This fact should not constantly put the defence at a disadvantage on costs but, in my view, it is particularly relevant when a late acceptance of an outstanding offer has required the plaintiff to submit to a less certain and potentially prohibitively costly mode of trial.

[15]         Counsel for the defence argues that insurer’s conduct of the case is not a relevant feature and cites Bailey v. Jang, [2008] B.C.J. No. 1952, in this regard. In Bailey the court held that the fact a defendant’s case was conducted by the defendant’s insurer was irrelevant to the Rule 37B(6)(c) consideration of relative financial circumstances. Almost contemporaneous to this decision, however, the issue was independently considered in Radke v. Parry, [2008] B.C.J. No. 1991. In the Radke case, the court awarded the plaintiff double costs for a trial ultimately settled by the exchange of a further plaintiff’s offer and the defendants’ acceptance of the offer, in circumstances where the plaintiff had earlier made a much more modest initial offer. The relevant comment (at para. 42) was as follows:

…The defendants, represented by ICBC, had substantially greater resources to finance a trial than the individual plaintiff. Had the defendants accepted the plaintiff’s initial reasonable offer, the plaintiff would not have had to incur the significant costs associated with nearly two weeks of trial.

[16]         I choose to follow Radke in this regard. The ability to have a case advanced by experienced and well funded counsel is, to my mind, a resource that should be taken into account in exercising the judicial discretion stipulated under the new Rule. As an example of how the obvious intent of the Rule can be perverted if the consideration is made independent of insurance coverage, here counsel for the defendant produced an affidavit speaking of her modest circumstances. She, like the plaintiff, is a young person employed at near minimum wage. This was particularly hard to accept as a relevant consideration after the 6-day course of this abbreviated trial, during which the Insurance Corporation twice had separate counsel appear to argue issues that might easily have been dealt with by the two trial counsel appearing on the defendants’ behalf.

[17]         The appropriate order of costs is to award costs of the action to the plaintiff with the cost of the trial to be assessed as double costs, all at Scale B.

It appears that this interpretation may be gaining favor with BC Courts and hopefully this trend continues.  As always I will continue to report on these cases as they come to my attention.

An Interesting but Short Lived Rule 37B Precedent

Reasons for judgement were transcribed today by the BC Supreme Court giving a new and interesting interpretation to Rule 37B.
In today’s case (Oliver v. Moen) the the Plaintiff sued for personal injuries as a result of a BC Car Crash.  The matter proceeded to trial by Jury.
Leading up to the trial the Plaintiff made a formal offer to settle under the now repealed Rule 37 for $400,000.  The Defendant countered with a formal offer of $100,000.  The Plaintiff then delivered a formal offer under Rule 37B for $185,000.  After 12 days of trial the Jury awarded approximately $14,000 in total damages for the Plaintiffs injuries and losses.
More often than not, when a defendant beats a formal settlement offer at trial they are entitled to costs under Rule 37B and in today’s case the defendant brought an application for such an order.  In an interesting twist, however, Mr. Justice Joyce of the BC Supreme Court declined to award the Defendant costs finding that when the Plaintiff made the formal counter offer of $185,000 this constituted a rejection of the Defendant’s offer.  A rejection of an offer, at common law, takes the offer off the table.  Mr. Justice Joyce held that since this occurred the Defendant did not have a valid offer to settle in existence from the time of the Plaintiff’s offer to settle onward thus the offer ‘cannot be considred under Rule 37B when deciding the issue of costs’
Specifically the Court reasoned as follows:

[12] Satanove J. noted that Rule 37(10) had been repealed when the counteroffer was made and Rule 37B did not contain an analogous provision. Accordingly, the common law rule relating to contract applied. At paras. 8 and 9 Madam Justice Satanove said:

8          Turning then to the common law of contracts, it is trite to say that a counteroffer constitutes non-acceptance of a previous offer. The previous offer must be revived in order to be accepted after a counteroffer has ensued. (United Pacific Capital v. Piché, 2004 BCSC 1524; Cowan v. Boyd (1921), 49 O.L.R. 335 (C.A.)).

9          Applying these principles to the chronology of facts in this case, when the plaintiffs issued the counteroffer of January 6, 2009, they were communicating non-acceptance of the Rule 37B offer of November 28, 2008 from the defendants, and this latter offer was no longer extant. [emphasis added]

[13] On the authority of More Marine, I am driven to conclude that when the plaintiff made its offer of January 30, 2009 that counteroffer constituted non-acceptance of the defendant’s offer of February 25, 2008 and rendered the earlier offer no longer extant because the saving provision of Rule 37(10) was no longer in effect.

[14] As the defendant’s offer was no longer in existence and therefore no longer capable of acceptance it cannot be considered under Rule 37B when deciding the issue of costs. This may seem a harsh result but it is one that, in my opinion, follows from the failure to preserve the saving effect of the former Rule 37(10) in Rule 37B.

[15] The defendant submits that More Marine is distinguishable because in that case the offer in question was made under Rule 37B whereas the defendant’s offer in this case was made under Rule 37 and at a time when the saving provision of Rule 37(10) was in effect. It is my view, however, that one must consider the law as it was when the counteroffer was made on January 30, 2009. At that time there was no enactment in place to alter the common law principle that the defendant had to revive his offer in order to give it effect once again.

[16] The defendant argues, in the alternative, that where no formal offer exists, s. 3 of the Supreme Court Act gives the Court a broad discretion over costs and that in the exercise of that discretion I should award the plaintiff costs up to the date of the defendant’s offer and award costs to the defendant from the date of that offer. The defendant relies on British Columbia v. Worthington (Canada) Inc., [1988] B.C.J. No. 1214 (C.A.). That case was concerned with the discretion of a trial judge to order a party who was successful in the action as a whole to pay the costs of an issue in the action to the party who was successful in that issue but who lost the entire action. That issue does not arise in this case. This case does not concern success on separate issues. Mr. Oliver was successful in his action but the jury saw fit to award him only modest damages.

[17] The usual rule as set out in Rule 57(9) is that the “costs of and incidental to a proceeding shall follow the event unless the court otherwise orders”. Having concluded that there is no offer by the defendant that can be considered under Rule 37B, the defendant has not persuaded me that there is any other circumstance that should cause me to depart from the usual rule.

[18] I therefore award the plaintiff the costs of the entire proceeding at scale B.

As far as I am aware this is a novel interpretation of Rule 37B.

Interesting as this case may be, and whether or not it is a correct interpretation of Rule 37B, the case’s value as a precedent will be short lived.  This case, although transcribed today, was pronounced in June, 2009.   As of July 1, 2009 Rule 37B has been amended adding a subrule which specifically states that “An offer to settle does not expire by reason that a counter offer is made.”   which in effect addresses the courts concerns about the short comings of this rule.

Here We Go Again – Rule 37B Amended

A year ago the BC Rule dealing with formal offers in the BC Supreme Court, Rule 37, was repealed and replaced with Rule 37B.   One of the primary differences between the rules was the greater discretion given to trial judges in awarding costs to litigants after beating a formal settlement offer at trial.
I have written about every Rule 37B case that came to my attention over the past year keeping track of the judicial development of this rule.  Now, after being in force for a short period of time, Rule 37B is being amended with the changes taking effect on July 1, 2009.
The new changes seem to be in direct response to a recent judgement of Mr. Justice Goepel where he decided that Rule 37B does not give judges the discretion to award Defendants their trial costs after beating a formal offer of settlement at trial.  This interpretation was great for Plaintiffs in personal injury claims because it diminished the financial risks for personal injury trials that did not proceed favorably.  I thought that the Court of Appeal would likely determine whether Mr. Justice Goepel’s interpretation was correct but this no longer will be necessary as the Rule amendment specifically addresses this point.
Interestingly, the new rule does not specifically address whether a Defendant being insured is a relevant factor for the court to consider when looking at the ‘financial circumstances of the parties’.  BC Courts have been inconsistent in determining whether this is a relevant consideration in ICBC Injury Claims.
As of July 1, 2009 the new Rule will read as follows:

Definition

(1) In this rule, offer to settle means

(a) an offer to settle made and delivered before July 2, 2008 under Rule 37, as that rule read on the date of the offer to settle, and in relation to which no order was made under that rule,

(b) an offer of settlement made and delivered before July 2, 2008 under Rule 37A, as that rule read on the date of the offer of settlement, and in relation to which no order was made under that rule, or

(c) an offer to settle, made after July 1, 2008, that

(i)  is made in writing by a party to a proceeding,

(ii)  has been delivered to all parties of record, and

(iii)  contains the following sentence: “The ….[name of party making the offer]…. reserves the right to bring this offer to the attention of the court for consideration in relation to costs after the court has rendered judgment on all other issues in this proceeding.”

Offer not to be disclosed

(2) The fact that an offer to settle has been made must not be disclosed to the court or jury, or set out in any document used in the proceeding, until all issues in the proceeding, other than costs, have been determined.

Offer not an admission

(3) An offer to settle is not an admission.

Offer may be considered in relation to costs

(4) The court may consider an offer to settle when exercising the court’s discretion in relation to costs.

Cost options

(5) In a proceeding in which an offer to settle has been made, the court may do one or more of the following:

(a) deprive a party, in whole or in part, of any or all of the costs, including any or all of the disbursements, to which the party would otherwise be entitled in respect of all or some of the steps taken in the proceeding after the date of delivery of the offer to settle;

(b) award double costs of all or some of the steps taken in the proceeding after the date of delivery of the offer to settle.

(c) award to a party, in respect of all or some of the steps taken in the proceeding after the date of delivery or service of the offer to settle, costs to which the party would have been entitled had the offer not been made;

(d)  if the offer was made by a defendant and the judgment awarded to the plaintiff was no greater than the amount of the offer to settle, award to the defendant the defendant’s costs in respect of all or some of the steps taken in the proceeding after the date of delivery of the offer to settle.

[am. B.C. Reg. 165/2009, s. 1 (a), (b) and (c).]

Considerations of court

(6) In making an order under subrule (5), the court may consider the following:

(a) whether the offer to settle was one that ought reasonably to have been accepted, either on the date that the offer to settle was delivered or on any later date;

(b) the relationship between the terms of settlement offered and the final judgment of the court;

(c) the relative financial circumstances of the parties;

(d) any other factor the court considers appropriate.

Costs for settlement in cases within small claims jurisdiction

(7) A plaintiff who accepts an offer to settle for a sum within the jurisdiction of the Provincial Court under the Small Claims Act is not entitled to costs, other than disbursements, unless the court finds that there was sufficient reason for bringing the proceeding in the Supreme Court and so orders.

[en. B.C. Reg. 165/2009, s. 1 (d).]

Counter offer

(8) An offer to settle does not expire by reason that a counter offer is made.

[en. B.C. Reg. 165/2009, s. 1 (d).]

ICBC's Trial Policy Gets Judicial Attention

It used to be that when ICBC claims went to trial ICBC would only require the people they insure to participate at trial as necessary.  For example if fault was at issue the defendant would testify as to how the crash happened or if the Plaintiff seemed uninjured at the scene the Defendant would share his/her observations with the court.
More recently, ICBC has created a policy where the people they insure have to get extensively involved in the trial even if they have no vital role to play.   Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court discussing this ICBC trial policy.
In today’s case (Coates v. Marioni) the Plaintiff was injured 2006 car crash.  The at fault driver was insured by ICBC.  In the lawsuit the issue of fault was admitted leaving the court to only deal with the issue of the value of the ICBC claim.  The matter went to jury trial.  Just before trial ICBC made an offer to settle.  The Victoria jury returned a verdict just below ICBC’s formal settlement offer.  The trial judge was asked to decide what costs consequences should follow under Rule 37B since ICBC beat their formal offer (click here to read my previous posts about Rule 37B in ICBC Claims).
Madam Justice Gerow, who presided over this jury trial, refused to give the Defendant their costs despite beating their formal offer.  The Plaintiff was awarded costs through trial.  2 factors leading to this decision were the late delivery of ICBC’s formal settlement offer and the fact that the jury award was very close to the formal offer.
In asking that the Plaintiff be deprived of trial costs the lawyer hired by ICBC noted that the Plaintiff attended fewer days of the trial than the Defendant.  The court rejected this argument and in doing so discussed ICBC’s policy of forcing their insured defendants to sit through trial even if they have nothing to add to the evidence at trial.  Below are the highlights of this discussion:

[53] The defendant also argues that the plaintiff should be deprived of her costs because the defendant attended all of the trial and the plaintiff did not.  However, the defendant chose to attend the trial.  Although she testified, her evidence was very brief as liability had been admitted.  There was no requirement that the defendant attend throughout the trial, particularly in circumstances where she had to take time off work and travel to Victoria.

[54] The plaintiff argues the fact that the defendant attended more of the trial than the plaintiff is not a factor to be considered in assessing whether the plaintiff should be deprived of her costs.  The plaintiff points to an ICBC claims bulletin dated June 13, 2008 outlining a policy that requires defendants to attend the trials from start to finish.  In the bulletin it sets out that:  “This policy applies even if they will not be testifying.  The intent of the new requirement is to present a ‘face’ for the defendant to the court.  Defence counsel will be instructed to have the defendant sit at counsel’s table if possible.”  In the circumstances, I do not accept the defendant argument that her attendance at the trial is a factor that should favour depriving the plaintiff of her costs.

[55] Having considered the factors set out in subrule 6, including the relationship between the offer and the award, I have concluded that this is not an appropriate case in which to exercise my discretion to deprive the plaintiff of her costs on the basis of the offer to settle.

If you are insured with ICBC and are at fault for a car crash and injure another do you think there is any value in being forced to trial even if you have nothing to add?  Does giving a ‘face to the defendant’ make any sense when the lawsuit is an insured claim?  As always, feedback is welcome.

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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