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Leading up to the trial the Plaintiff made a formal offer to settle under the now repealed Rule 37 for $400,000.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[12] Satanove J. noted that Rule 37(10) had been repealed when the counteroffer was made and Rule 37B did not contain an analogous provision.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.

37b, costs consequences, formal settlement offers, ICBC settlement offers, oliver v. moen, Rule 37B

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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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