Court Should Avoid "Unduly Punitive" Costs Awards in Face of Formal Settlement Offers

In a good demonstration of the Court’s discretion following a trial where a Plaintiff does not beat a pre-trial defence formal settlement offer, reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, taking a Plaintiff’s post offer costs and disbursements away but not requiring the Plaintiff to pay the Defendant’s costs and disbursements.
In this week’s case (Tompkins v. Bruce) the Plaintiff turned down a pre-trial formal settlement offer of $950,000.  Following trial the Plaintiff was awarded net damages of $851,437.  ICBC applied for post offer costs.  Mr. Justice Curtis found such a result would not be appropriate and instead took away the Plaintiff’s post offer costs and disbursements.  In doing so the Court provided the following reasons:

[28] When the offer in this case was received on October 6, 2011, the plaintiff and his counsel were in possession of the information necessary to make a realistic assessment of the potential recovery.  Naturally, there is no mathematical certainty in those matters and differing courts may give differing amounts.  The plaintiff and his counsel would clearly have contemplated a range of possible recoveryies.  The plaintiff, of course, hopes for the high end of the range and the paying party the low ? settlements are often made somewhere in between.

[29] The offer in this case was reasonable on the facts of the case as they were known to the parties.  It could reasonably have been accepted as being within the range of possible recovery, although likely it would not have been thought by either party at the high end of the range.  The amount of the Offer was reasonable as was its timing: the information necessary to assess the claim was in the possession of the parties, yet there was plenty of time to give careful consideration to the matter before the November trial date.  On the other hand, Mr. Tompkins was seriously injured.  He and his counsel’s view of the matter was that it was worthwhile going to court in the hope of getting a significantly higher award.  It cannot be said that such a decision was unreasonable at the time.

[30] The purpose of cost consequences of reasonable offers is to encourage settlement.  On the other hand, onerous cost penalties should not discourage the seriously injured from a proper hearing and a chance to obtain a higher award, nor should they seriously subtract from what the court has found is appropriate compensation for the injury.

[31] Considering the factors set out in the Rules, it is my opinion that the interests of justice are best served in this case by awarding Mr. Tompkins his costs and disbursements up to and including October 31, 2011, but disallowing them after that date, with the Third Party to bear its own costs.  There is then a consequence for not accepting a reasonable Offer, but the consequence is not unduly punitive in the circumstances.

Today’s case is also worth reviewing for the Court’s discussion of various Part 7 Deductions following a tort action.

bc injury law, Mr. Justice Curtis, Rule 9, Rule 9-1, Rule 9-1(4), Rule 9-1(5), Rule 9-1(6), Tompkins v. Bruce

Contact

If you would like further information or require assistance, please get in touch.

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.

“Work hard, be kind and enjoy the ride!”
Erik’s Philosophy

Disclaimer