Plaintiff Awarded $9,500 Costs Despite $4,000 Damage Assessement


Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, with the “curious result” of costs recovery at over double the amount of assessed damages.
In last week’s case (Kargbo v. Chand) the Plaintiff was involved in a motor vehicle collision.  ICBC disputed both fault and injury.  At trial the Plaintiff’s claim was accepted and modest damages of $4,000 were awarded.  The Plaintiff sought her costs.  ICBC opposed arguing the Plaintiff did not have sufficient reason to sue in Supreme Court.
Earlier this year the BC Court of Appeal made it clear that more than the value of an ICBC Claim can be considered in deciding whether there is sufficient reason to sue in the Supreme Court.  Mr. Justice Williams went on to canvass factors other than value and concluded that the Plaintiff was entitled to $9,500 in costs under Rule 15-1(15).  The Court provided the following reasons:

[9] The problem ultimately reduces to this: If the Court determines that the plaintiff had sufficient reason for commencing or proceeding in the Supreme Court, she should be entitled to recover costs in accordance with Rule 15-1(15). If the Court finds that there was not sufficient reason for bringing the proceeding in this Court, then she is not entitled to recover her costs.

[10] In Reimann v. Aziz, 2007 BCCA 448, the Court of Appeal clarified that the issue has to be analyzed as at the point in time that the plaintiff initiated the action; there is no ongoing obligation to assess the quantum of claim.

[11] I have been provided with a number of decisions where judges of this Court have assessed the circumstances of cases to decide whether or not an order for costs is warranted. Obviously, the plaintiff bears the onus of establishing that there was sufficient reason for filing in the Supreme Court. It is not simply a matter of assessing the anticipated value of the claim. A number of factors have been identified in the cases as being relevant to the issue. These include the following (the list is not intended to be exhaustive):

1.         the legal or factual complexity of the case;

2.         the need for discovery of documents and examinations for discovery;

3.         the need for a judgment enforceable outside of British Columbia;

4.         a bona fide preference for a jury trial;

5.         access to the summary trial procedure available in Supreme Court; and

6.         the need for the plaintiff to have legal counsel, in light of the defendant’s denial of liability, dispute as to causation, injury or loss and allegations of contributory negligence, pre-existing conditions, previous causes and a failure to mitigate.

[12] In the present case, liability was denied and in the circumstances could reasonably have been expected to represent a challenge to prove. As well, the issue of damages had the real potential of being a problem. The plaintiff had a history of prior accidents and had been hospitalized shortly after the accident in question for matters not related to the accident. She was also injured in another more serious accident some several months after the accident at bar. It was the sort of case that a self-represented plaintiff would find daunting no doubt.

[13] Taking those considerations into account, it is my view that this plaintiff had sufficient reason for bringing her proceeding in the Supreme Court.

[14] As a parenthetical observation, it is true that a party such as this plaintiff could elect to pursue the claim in the Provincial Court with legal counsel, although the prospect of incurring the expense to do so without any right to recover court costs is a legitimate factor to consider. As well, where the plaintiff elects to bring suit in the Supreme Court, she runs the real risk of an adverse costs outcome if the action is unsuccessful.

[15] In the circumstances, it is my view that the plaintiff should be entitled to costs in accordance with the Rules of Court. I recognize that might appear to produce a curious result in that the award of costs is substantially greater than the damages that she recovered. However, if the matter is considered fairly and objectively and the relevant rule applied, that result follows.

[16] There is no question that the policy which underpins Rule 14-1(1) is to encourage parties with claims of modest value to bring their action in the Provincial Court, and to provide for a penalty against one who does not. That is consistent with the concept of proportionality which is a foundational consideration of the Court’s Rules.

[17] The clear default position will be that, with respect to claims where the award is less than $25,000, the plaintiff will not be entitled to an award of costs. Nevertheless, there will be situations where there is sufficient reason to bring the action in the Supreme Court. It will be for the Court to examine the circumstances of each particular case to determine whether or not there is sufficient reason.

For more cases addressing sufficient reasons to sue in Supreme Court you can click here to access my archived posts on this topic.

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ERIK
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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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