"Genuine Belief" in Entitled Damages Will Not Avoid Formal Settlement Offer Costs Consequences

In a fairly routine exercise of the Court’s discretion, reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, ordering a Plaintiff to pay the Defendant’s trial costs for failing to best a pre-trial formal settlement offer in a personal injury claim.
In this week’s case (Wilson v. Honda Canada Financial Inc.) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2009 rear end collision.  Fault was not at issue.   Although the Court found that there “are serious issues regarding (the Plaintiff’s) credibility”  Madam Justice Fitzpatrick concluded the Plaintiff suffered a variety of soft tissue injuries, some of which remained symptomatic on an intermittent basis at the time of trial.  Six weeks prior to trial the Defendant made a formal settlement offer of just over $121,000.  The Plaintiff sought an award well above this at trial but many of the claimed damages were rejected with the court assessing damages about $25,000 below the formal settlement offer.
The Defendant sought post offer costs and these were granted.  In finding that a Plaintiff’s “honest belief” in entitlement to damages does not avoid the costs consequences intended by the Rules of Court, Madam Justice Fitzpatrick provided the following reasons:
[11]         Mr. Wilson argues that he “genuinely believed” that he had incurred a past and future wage loss because he was unable to work for Taja. With respect, it can hardly be the case that honest belief alone will avoid the intended effect of the Rule. This is similar to my rejection of his honest belief as to disability where that belief was not supported by any medical evidence: Reasons, para. 137. As set out in the Reasons, there were numerous difficulties with Mr. Wilson’s arguments regarding Taja, including the lack of proper documentation, lack of medical evidence, and a rejection of his testimony on this issue (see paras. 120-146, 157-163). His claim for future massage therapy of $30,000 was also rejected for the reason that no medical evidence supported that claim.
[12]         Finally, Mr. Wilson’s evidence also suffered from credibility problems particularly where not supported by other credible evidence: Reasons, para. 42. Failure to anticipate credibility issues will also not avoid the operation of the Rule: Gehlen v. Rana, 2011 BCCA 219 at paras. 50-51.
[13]         Mr. Wilson argues that he should not be penalized for “guessing wrong”, citing Fan (Guardian ad litem of) v. Chana, 2009 BCSC 1497. However, it is clear from the comments of the court in that case that there were difficult issues relating to the evidence and how any offer could be dealt with, particularly given the involvement of the public trustee. Similar difficulties do not arise in this case.
[14]         I agree that a party is not required to “guess” about the probable outcome; rather, he or she is required to fairly and objectively assess the evidence intended to be adduced at trial and make a reasoned decision about the relative merits of the claim or defence, having in mind a certain amount of litigation risk. In essence, the party receiving the offer must critically review the merits of the claim in relation to the amount offered. As the court noted in Fan, quoting A.E.:
[62]      Regardless of the merits of the plaintiff’s claim the defendant’s offer to settle cannot be ignored, because to do so would undermine the purpose of the Rule. Having decided to proceed in the face of a not insignificant and ultimately successful offer to settle, the plaintiff cannot avoid some consequences.
[15]         The offer amount, while not approaching the amounts sought by Mr. Wilson, in all likelihood fairly assessed the claims about which there was no dispute and added further amounts for the litigation risk that the more contentious claims would go against the defendants. The offer was, no doubt, also prepared recognizing the substantial cost to both parties if the matter proceeded to trial. It cannot be understated that one of the purposes of the Rule is to avoid costs of proceeding further in the action: Martin, para. 8.
[16]         I conclude that the offer should reasonably have been accepted by Mr. Wilson shortly after it was made and that this factor favours the defendants…
[24]         I conclude that all factors to be considered under Rule 9-1(6) favour the costs award sought by the defendants. Accordingly, Mr. Wilson will recover his assessed costs and disbursements up to April 27, 2013, which is 5 days after the offer was sent in recognition that some reasonable period of time would have been necessary to consider the offer. Thereafter, the defendants will recover their assessed costs and disbursements commencing April 28, 2013. After assessment of these respective amounts, the parties shall set off the awards to produce a net award.

bc injury law, Madam Justice Fitzpatrick, Rule 9, Rule 9-1, Rule 9-1(5), Rule 9-1(6), Rule 9-1(6)(a), Wilson v. Honda Canada Financial Inc.

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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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