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Punishing Costs Orders Should Not "Unduly Deter" Meritorious but Uncertain Actions

Further to my previous posts detailing the potential costs consequences following trials with formal settlement offers in place, reasons for judgement were released last week addressing this topic finding that costs consequences should be applied in an “even-handed” way and further should not unduly deter Plaintiff’s from bringing meritorious, but uncertain claims “because of the fear of a punishing costs order“.
In last week’s case (Currie v. McKinnon) the Plaintiff sustained soft tissue injuries in a collision which substantially recovered within one year.  Prior to trial ICBC made a formal settlement offer of $40,000.  The Plaintiff rejected this offer and proceeded to trial where he was awarded $22,000 in damages.
ICBC applied for double costs from the time of the offer onward.  Madam Justice Adair found that such a result was unwarranted and instead stripped the Plaintiff of post offer costs and disbursements.   In doing so the Court provided the following sensible comments:

[18] I think it certainly can be argued that if a defendant who has made an offer to settle in an amount higher than the amount awarded to the plaintiff at trial (and that is what has been done in this case) was then awarded double costs, this would skew the procedure in favour of defendants and unfairly penalize and pressure plaintiffs.  This is because a plaintiff who rejected an offer to settle would potentially risk a triple cost penalty if he or she were to win at trial an amount less than the offer.  The plaintiff would suffer loss of the costs that he or she would normally receive on obtaining judgment at trial, and face double costs payable to the defendant.

[19] In my view, there is a good reason to apply Rule 9-1 in a way that is even-handed, or more even-handed, as between plaintiffs and defendants.  I would say for this reason one would expect to see double costs awarded to a defendant, using the offer to settle procedure, in exceptional circumstances only, such as a situation where the plaintiff’s claim was dismissed all together after a plaintiff rejected an offer to settle.

[20] That is not the case here.  In my view, Mr. McKechnie, despite his able arguments, simply did not identify for me how the circumstances here were so exceptional as to justify an award of double costs against Mr. Currie.  While the purpose of the Rule is to encourage reasonable settlements, parties should not be unduly deterred from bringing meritorious, but uncertain, claims because of the fear of a punishing costs order…

[36] Having considered all of the factors in this case, I am not satisfied that it would be appropriate to award the defendants double costs as sought by Mr. McKechnie.  I have discussed earlier in these reasons my concerns about how that can have the effect of skewing the procedure in favour of defendants and unfairly pressurize and penalize plaintiffs, and I think that would be the result in this case.  Liability was admitted by the defendants.  Mr. Currie’s case was not dismissed.  Rather, he recovered judgment for non-pecuniary damages in an amount that was greater than what the defendants argued at trial he should recover.

[37] However, in my view, the defendants’ offer to settle cannot be ignored.  That would undermine the purpose behind the rule…

[39] In my view, therefore, the double costs sought by the defendants are neither a fair nor just result.  However, in my view, it is not a fair or just result for Mr. Currie to recover costs after he had had a reasonable opportunity with his counsel to review and consider the defendants’ offer to settle.  I would say that by November 30, 2011, Mr. Currie and his counsel had had a reasonable opportunity to review and consider the defendants’ offer and ask any questions they deemed necessary if they thought clarification was necessary.

[40] In my view, the defendants should not have to pay Mr. Currie’s costs after November 30, 2011.  However, I do not think it a fair result that Mr. Currie should have to pay the defendants’ costs after November 30, 20011, given his success ultimately at trial.

[41] My order then, with respect to costs, is that Mr. Currie will recover his costs and disbursements up to and including November 30, 2011, and that each side bear their own costs thereafter.

bc injury law, Currie v. McKinnon, Madam Justice Adair, Rule 9, Rule 9-1, Rule 9-1(4), Rule 9-1(5), Rule 9-1(6)