More on ICBC Injury Claims, Lawyers and Binding Settlements


Further to my previous post on this topic, reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Court of Appeal discussing the principles behind binding settlement agreements in ICBC injury claims when lawyers accept an offer on their client’s behalf.
As I wrote earlier:
Lawyers act as agents for their clients.  Lawyers can, therefore, bind their clients to a settlement.   Typically a client will give a lawyer authority to settle their claim for X dollars and the lawyer will attempt to get that amount or more.  If a lawyer accepts an ICBC settlement offer on behalf of their client the client is typically bound to the settlement, even if the client later wishes to get out of the settlement by not signing ICBC’s full and final release.
Today’s case (Lacroix v. Loewen) demonstrated this principle.  In Lacroix, the Plaintiff gave her lawyer instructions to accept a settlement offer.  The lawyer then did accept ICBC’s settlement offer.  The client, after speaking with some friends, decided not to proceed with the settlement and did not sign ICBC’s settlement contract.  The client proceeded with her Injury Claim and ICBC brought an application to dismiss the lawsuit on the basis that it was already settled.  The Chamber’s judge ruled that the case was not settled because ICBC insisted on a term beyond the scope of the initial settlement agreement thus ‘repudiating‘ the contract.  ICBC appealed and succeeded.  In setting aside the lower court’s judgement the BC Court of Appeal found there was no repudiation and set out the following principles:
25] The chambers judge held that there was a settlement and that ICBC then repudiated the agreement by insisting upon terms that were not agreed upon….

[38] Applying the principles of contractual interpretation, the communications between Mr. Mickelson and the adjuster, Mr. Per, objectively indicate that there was an enforceable settlement including both tort and Part 7 claims. Looking at all the material facts, the reasonable objective bystander would conclude that the parties intended to make a final settlement of both tort and Part 7 claims.

[39] At the time of the discussions between Mr. Mickelson and Mr. Per, there was no outstanding action for either tort damages or Part 7 benefits. There was simply a “file” which included both tort and Part 7 claims. When Mr. Mickelson and Mr. Per spoke, the evidence indicates that their discussions concerned the “file” as a whole, and the “merits” of her claims. No differentiation was made between tort and Part 7. Their discussions about “settlement” were directed to settling the “file”/“matter”. This is clear from Mr. Per’s affidavit, which states:

3.   On March 11, 2004, I received a telephone call from John Mickelson with respect to special expenses which he wanted covered. After a discussion of the merits of the file I offered to settle the matter for $5,500.00. John Mickelson stated that he would speak to his client and get back to me…

9.   On March 16, 2004, I spoke to John Mickelson by telephone with respect to the returned cheque and release. I specifically asked Mr. Mickelson if he had instructions from Ms. Lacroix to settle the matter at the time that the counter offer was made and accepted by myself. He told me that he did have such instructions.

[40] The judge correctly noted at para. 30 of his reasons that, “There was no mention of the fate of any subsequent Part 7 claims until the release was forwarded to counsel for the plaintiff”. However, the trial judge failed to acknowledge that there was little or no specific mention of individual aspects of any claims, tort or Part 7. The objective observer would conclude that was so because Mr. Mickelson and Mr. Per’s discussions were directed to a settlement of the “file” or “matter” as a whole. Both sides understood the benefits and advantages of settling early, and concluding the matter in its entirety. To an objective observer, they did so.

[41] While the above conclusion makes it unnecessary to consider the repudiation issue, a word or two is warranted. While the chambers judge cited proper authority in Fieguth in relation to repudiation, he incorrectly applied that authority. The judge concluded that the mere tendering of documents with terms that have not been agreed upon can constitute repudiation. That is an error. As set out above, in Fieguth Chief Justice McEachern said at p. 70:

…One can tender whatever documents he thinks appropriate without rescinding the settlement agreement. If such documents are accepted and executed and returned then the contract, which has been executory, becomes executed. If the documents are not accepted then there must be further discussion but neither party is released or discharged unless the other party has demonstrated an unwillingness to be bound by the agreement by insisting upon terms or conditions which have not been agreed upon or are not reasonably implied in the circumstances.

[42] This passage continues to be a correct statement of the law and to accord with sound practice.

I repeat my advice that the lesson in this case is to make sure that when you give your lawyer settlement instructions understand that he/she can make a binding commitment on your behalf based on these instructions.  Better yet, if you don’t know your lawyers negotiation tactics consider asking him or her to negotiate on a non-binding basis giving you, the client, the final say when the claim settlement paperwork is presented to you.

Agency, Binding Settlements, contract law, icbc injury claims, icbc settlements, lacroix v. loewen

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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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