"Nominal" ICBC Offer Fails To Trigger Double Costs Award
As previously discussed, BC has a true ‘loser pays‘ system which generally requires the loser of a lawsuit to pay the winners costs. If a Defendant makes a formal settlement offer and defeats the Plaintiff’s lawsuit the Court has the discretion to award double costs. Reasons for judgement were released recently by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, refusing to make such an order in circumstances where the formal offer was little more than a walk-away offer.
In last week’s case (Habib v. Jack) the Plaintiff was injured while riding as a passenger in the Defendant’s bus. The parties agreed on the value of the Plaintiff’s injuries but disagreed on the issue of fault. Prior to trial ICBC made a formal settlement offer of $1,000. The Plaintiff rejected this offer, proceeded to trial, and had her claim dismissed.
ICBC was awarded costs and asked the Court to award double costs pursuant to Rule 9-1(5). Madam Justice Ross refused to do so noting that the offer was ‘nominal’ and that it was not unreasonable for the Plaintiff to have her day in court. The court provided the following helpful reasons:
 The defendants submit that having regard to the factors enumerated in the Rule, the court ought to award double costs. Counsel submits that the offer was not nominal; it gave the plaintiff modest recovery and represented a willingness to compromise that the Rule is meant to foster. The offer was made at a time when the discoveries of both parties were complete and the evidence was known. The plaintiff’s position is that this was a nuisance offer and it cannot be said, without applying hindsight, that it ought to have been accepted.
 At the time the offer was made, it was clear that the plaintiff had suffered an injury. There was a dispute with respect to liability. Mr. Jack had limited recollection. The only two witnesses were Ms. Habib and Mr. Jack.
 In my view the offer was nominal given Ms. Habib’s injury. I agree with the observations of Burnyeat J. in Martin v Lavigne and Neufeld (Costs), 2010 BCSC 1610 at para. 13, that there are situations in which a nominal offer should have been accepted. However, in my view this is not such a case. It cannot be said that it was clear that the action had little chance of succeeding on the merits. Rather, there was a significant risk that the case would be lost on liability. This risk materialized and the action was lost at trial; however, in the circumstances it was not unreasonable for the plaintiff to reject the offer and proceed to trial.
 On balance I have concluded that this is not a case to make an order for double costs as sought by the defendants based upon the offer to settle. In the result, the defendants will have their costs.