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Pre-Trial "Borrowing" Not Relevant in Costs Assessment

Section 3 of BC’s Negligence Act reduces a Plaintiff’s entitlement to costs recovery to the same proportion as a Plaintiff’s degree of fault following a collision.   Reasons for judgement were released last month by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, addressing the factors a Court can consider in deviating from this typical result and further finding that pre-trial borrowing is irrelevant to the Court’s analysis.
In last month’s case (Gowler v. Ngo) the Plaintiff was injured in two motor vehicle collisions.  Following a 13 day trial a Jury found the Plaintiff 50% at fault for the first of the collisions.  Damages of $250,000 were assessed and these were cut in half to take the Plaintiff’s degree of fault into consideration.  The Plaintiff’s costs for proceeding to trial were over $100,000.   Neither party beat their pre-trial settlement offer leaving the Court to apply section 3 of the Negligence Act.
Madam Justice Gray found it would be unfair to strip the Plaintiff of 50% of his costs given their magnitude and instead reduced the Plaintiff’s entitlement by 35%.  In doing so the Court provided the following reasons:

[14] The factors to take into account in considering the court’s discretion are discussed in my decision in Moses v. Kim, 2007 BCSC 1820. I will talk about the Court of Appeal decision in a moment, but I will ask that the reasons for judgment, if they are reproduced, will now include paragraph 13 of the Moses v. Kim decision.

[13]   The authorities demonstrate many factors the court has considered in exercising this discretion. Among them are the following:

(a)  the seriousness of the plaintiff’s injuries;

(b)  the difficulties facing the plaintiff in establishing liability;

(c)  the fact that in settlement negotiations the amount offered was substantially below the ultimate amount;

(d)  whether the plaintiff was forced to go to trial to obtain recovery;

(e)  the costs of getting to trial;

(f)  the difficulty and length of the trial;

(g)  whether the costs recovery available to the plaintiff, if costs are apportioned according to liability, will bear any reasonable relationship to the party’s costs in obtaining the results achieved;

(h)  the positions taken by the parties at trial, in particular whether the positions taken were appropriate and reasonable in the circumstances;

(i)  whether the defendants made any settlement offers;

(j)  the ultimate result of the trial; and

(k)  whether the plaintiff achieved substantial success that would be effectively defeated if costs were awarded pursuant to s. 3(1) of the Negligence Act…

[35] In my view, in this case the most important factors are the costs of proving damages for an injury of this type, the fact that there is a very significant claim for disbursements, and the fact that the amount of the award is $125,000 and the costs claimed are about $104,000.

[36] Mr. Mussio asked me to take into account some borrowing that Mr. Gowler did prior to the trial. In my view, that is not a factor I can take into account, nor can I take into account the legal fees, based on the decision of the Court of Appeal in the Moses v. Kim case.

[37] Looking at all the applicable factors, in my view it would be unjust to award the plaintiff only 50 percent of his costs. That is because his award would be so diluted by the need to pay his disbursements that he would not have a sufficient recovery. However, it is not a case where Mr. Gowler’s damages were so significant as in the Moses case.

[38] Looking at the cases and all the applicable factors, in my view, the appropriate award is that the plaintiff should recover 65 percent of his costs.

Gowler v. Ngo, Loser pays, Madam Justice Gray, section 3 negligence act

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