More on Costs and Sufficient Reason to Sue in the BC Supreme Court


Earlier this year the BC Court of Appeal provided much needed clarity to the factors Courts can consider when deciding whether a Plaintiff has sufficient reasons to sue in the Supreme Court when considering costs consequences following trial.   Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Court of Appeal further addressing this topic finding that while the Court can consider other issues, the value of the claim will be one of the most important factors.
In today’s case (Gehlen v. Ranathe Plaintiff was injured when she was a passenger involved in a rear-end car crash.  The Defendant admitted fault for the crash but denied liability to the Plaintiff claiming that the Plaintiff “was not present in the vehicle at the time of the accident“.  The Defendant made a formal offer to settle the Plaintiff’s claim for $22,000 plus disbursements.  The Plaintiff rejected this offer and went to trial.  After trial the Jury awarded the Plaintiff total damages of just over $13,000.
Despite this result the trial judge awarded the Plaintiff costs and found the Plaintiff has sufficient reason to sue in the Supreme Court.  The BC Court of Appeal found this was in error and in doing so provided these reasons addressing the issue of “sufficient reason” to sue in the BC Supreme Court in a personal injury claim:

[35] In Gradek, the Court interpreted the meaning of “sufficient reason” in Rule 57(10).  The Court acknowledged that the procedures available in the Small Claims Court will, in most cases, “enable the parties to proceed in a cost-efficient manner to a just result” (para. 18).

[36] The Court ultimately concluded that “sufficient reason” was not intended by the Legislature to be limited to the quantum as assessed at the outset of the claim.  However, the Court stated, at paras. 16 and 20:

[16]      The words “sufficient reason” are not defined in the Rules of Court.  In their ordinary and grammatical sense, they do not suggest a specific limitation in terms of application, although it is clear that “any reason” will not do.  The reason has to be “sufficient”, but there is nothing in the Rule to suggest that it has to be connected solely to the quantum of the claim.  On the other hand, the words do not connote the exercise of a discretion, with its attendant deferential standard of review.  That point was made by this Court in Reimann v. Aziz, 2007 BCCA 448, 72 B.C.L.R. (4th) 1, at para. 13:  …

[20]      I accept that the narrow interpretation of the words “sufficient reason” advocated by the appellant would provide greater certainty to litigants in knowing the consequences of proceeding in Supreme Court where the matter falls within the Small Claims monetary limit.  But I agree with the trial judge that if the Legislature had intended to limit the scope of the words “sufficient reason” to the extent suggested by the appellant, it could readily have done so.  While I am satisfied that the words, “sufficient reason” should not be interpreted in an expansive manner, but with restraint, I am also satisfied that they must be read in such a way that a trial judge is not forced to deny a party costs where he is satisfied, as here, that justice can only be achieved as between the parties by an award of costs to the successful party.

[37] As I understand the import of Gradek, it is that likely quantum, while perhaps the most important factor for determination of sufficient reason, is not the only factor that may be taken into account.  The Court in Gradek also accepted that there may be other circumstances that justify bringing an action in the Supreme Court despite the fact that the likely quantum will not exceed the Small Claims amount.  Thus, in Gradek the Court accepted the trial judge’s finding that Mr. Gradek, due to language difficulties, required the assistance of counsel and it would be unjust to require him to bring his claim in the Small Claims Court where he would be denied costs that would partially offset the expense of retaining counsel (para. 18).  However, it is clear from Gradekthat the burden is on the plaintiff to establish eligible circumstances that are persuasive and compelling to justify “sufficient reason”.

[38] In the case at bar, the plaintiff reiterated before us the 12 reasons submitted to the trial judge to establish sufficient reason to commence the action in the Supreme Court.  However, eight of those reasons were circumstances that arose after the commencement of the action and were thus irrelevant to the analysis (the defendant’s offer to settle; the defendant’s failure to apply to move the action to the Small Claims Court; the defendant’s denial of liability for the plaintiff’s injury; the insurer’s characterization of the collision as low impact; the exchange of 60 documents; the defendant’s motion for a Rule 66 hearing and eventual removal; a Rule 28 examination of a witness; and the absence of expert evidence tendered by the defendant).

[39] The strongest reason for bringing the action in the Supreme Court related to the plaintiff’s alleged injuries, but that must be closely examined in light of her pre-existing condition.  While minor impacts do not necessarily preclude serious injuries, it must have been apparent to the plaintiff that after this minor collision her pre-existing condition was only modestly aggravated and would not attract a significant award of damages.

[40] In my opinion, the plaintiff has not identified a compelling circumstance that meets the sufficient reason test in Rule 57(10) as interpreted by Gradek.

[41] In my view, this was a case where it was plain and obvious at all material times that this was a proper action to be tried in the Small Claims Court.

bc injury law, costs, Gehlen v. Rana, RUle 14, Rule 14-1, Rule 14-1(10), sufficient reason, sufficient reason to sue in supreme court

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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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