Provincial Court BackLog Justifies Modest Injury Trials in BC Supreme Court


Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, awarding a Plaintiff damages and costs for modest injuries following a motor vehicle collision.  Although the claim was straight-forward and damages were within the jurisdiction of the Small Claims Court, the Plaintiff was awarded costs with Mr. Justice Burnyeat finding that the Supreme Court’s summary trial process is a reasonable alternative to the backlog litigants face in Small Claims Court.
In today’s case (Parmar v. Lahay) the Plaintiff sustained a modest whiplash injury as a result of motor vehicle collision.  ICBC ran the “Low Velocity Impact” defence arguing no compensation should be awarded.  The trial proceeded summarily and took less than one day.  The Plaintiff’s evidence was accepted and non-pecuniary damages of $12,000 were awarded.
The Court went on to award costs despite the modest quantum.  In doing so Mr. Justice Burnyeat provided the following reasons:

[9] I cannot reach the conclusion that the legal or factual complexity of the case, the need for discovery of documents and examination for discovery, and the need for a judgment enforceable outside of British Columbia are applicable reasons why this action was commenced in the Supreme Court of British Columbia rather than in Provincial Court.  However, I am satisfied that the summary trial procedure available in the Supreme Court and the availability of costs makes the Supreme Court a preferable and justified forum for this Action.

[10] I take judicial notice that this case reached the Court for decision much more quickly than if the Action had been commenced in the Provincial Court.  In this regard, I take judicial notice of the absence of a considerable number of judges at the Provincial Court level and the backlog in hearing matters that the failure to appoint more judges has produced.

[11] I also take into account the ability of the Plaintiff to have costs awarded in this Court but not in Small Claims Court.  In that that regard, I adopt the reasoning of Harvey J. in Zale v. Colwell, 2010 BCSC 1040, where he states:

In each of the above three decisions [Spencer v. Popham, supra; Faedo v. Dowell, 2007 BCSC 1985; and Kanani v. Misiurna, 2008 BCSC 1274] the primary reason for awarding the plaintiff costs, in circumstances not unlike these facing the plaintiff here, was the consideration that given the need to retain counsel to battle an institutional defendant, a reasonable consideration in determining the forum is the matter of indemnity for the costs of counsel.  (at para. 14)

[12] I also adopt the statement of Humphries J. in Kananisupra:

… in a situation where the defendant put the plaintiff to the proof of having suffered any injury at all, thus making her credibility a crucial issue at trial, it was reasonable for the plaintiff to require the assistance of counsel.  She was therefore justified in commencing the action in Supreme Court where she could hope to recover some of the costs it was necessary for her to expend in retaining counsel to recover the compensation to which she was found to be entitled. This reasoning has application here as well. (at para. 8).

[13] I take into account that it may well be economically unrealistic for counsel to be retained for up to three appearances in Small Claims Court where the damages sought are nominal.  This must be contrasted with the institutional defendant and its unlimited resources.  In an action in Supreme Court, counsel for a plaintiff is only required to appear once in Court if an application pursuant to Rule 9?7 of the Supreme Court Civil Rules is appropriate.  In the case at bar, the application has taken approximately one hour.

[14] In the circumstances, I am satisfied that the Plaintiff should be entitled to his costs throughout on a Party and Party (Scale B) basis.

bc injury law, Mr. Justice Burnyeat, Parmar v. Lahay, RUle 14, Rule 14-1, Rule 14-1(10), Rule 9, Rule 9-7

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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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