Double Costs Denied Following Modest Besting of Formal Settlement Offer
Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, denying a Plaintiff double costs after modestly beating a pre-trial formal settlement offer.
In today’s case (Barnes v. Lima) the Plaintiff was injured in a collision and sued for damages. The morning before trial the Plaintiff tabled a $60,000 formal settlement offer. ICBC rejected this offer and proceeded to trial where damages just over $67,000 were assessed. The Plaintiff applied for double costs although the Court did not award these finding it was reasonable not to accept the last minute offer. In reaching this decision Mr. Justice Weatherill provided the following reasons:
 The action arose from injuries sustained by the plaintiff in a motor vehicle accident. It was commenced on September 18, 2012. It was a fast track action commenced under Rule 15-1 of the Supreme Court Civil Rules, B.C. Reg. 168/2009 (the “Rules”). The trial was heard on June 24 to 26, 2014. It lasted 3 days. My Reasons for Judgment were pronounced on July 11, 2014, indexed as 2014 BCSC 1282. The plaintiff was awarded $67,214.19.
 On June 23, 2014, the morning before commencement of the trial, the plaintiff communicated a formal offer to settle the claim for $60,000 plus reasonable disbursements. The offer was stated to be open for acceptance until that same afternoon at 4 p.m. The defendant did not respond to that offer, although it had responded to earlier settlement offers from the plaintiff including by making his own formal offer to settle for $39,651.69 plus funding for 12 active rehabilitation sessions…
 I have considered how the offer compares to the amount ultimately awarded after trial. The award at trial was only $7,214.19 more than the plaintiff’s offer. As matters transpired, it turned out to have been a reasonable offer, although it was a short-fuse offer made on the eve of trial. It should have been made weeks earlier. Be that as it may, it was straight forward and contained no ambiguities. Counsel for the defendant candidly acknowledged that his client had sufficient time before the trial in which to consider it. However, the fact that the award at trial was greater than the offer is not determinative: Ward v. Klaus, 2012 BCSC 99 at para. 46. The reasonableness of a decision not to accept an offer to settle must be assessed not by reference to the award that was ultimately made but rather the circumstances existing when the offer was open for acceptance: Ward, at para. 36.
 On the eve of the trial, the defendant had a legitimate defence to the plaintiff’s claim, particularly his claim for loss of capacity which in his earlier communications to the defendant the plaintiff had indicated was significant. The plaintiff did not break his settlement offer into its components and provided the defendant with no ability to assess how much of it was to compensate the plaintiff for his loss of capacity claim. At the time the offer was communicated, there was a reasonable possibility that the plaintiff would not recover anything for that claim, which ultimately proved to be the case. It was reasonable for the defendant to wish to test the plaintiff’s position that his inability to work overtime at Carter Motors was due to the accident and not to other factors such as his marriage, particularly in the absence of supporting documentation.
 Moreover, most of the plaintiff’s injuries were soft-tissue in nature. He had a pre-existing right shoulder injury. There were live issues regarding whether the plaintiff’s T-4 vertebra fracture had healed and, if so, when, as well as the plaintiff’s credibility relating to the extent that his injuries had affected his life. Parties should not be unduly deterred from bringing meritorious, but uncertain, defences because they fear a punishing costs order: Currie v. McKinnon, 2012 BCSC 1165 at para. 20.
 In addition, the plaintiff provided the defendant with several photographs of the plaintiff’s carpentry skill but gave no explanation for how he intended to rely upon those photographs until after his settlement offer had expired.
 The court has a broad discretion when determining the issue of costs: Ward at para. 33.
 In my view, having considered all of the foregoing circumstances, the offer was not one that the defendant ought reasonably to have accepted.