More on Rule 37B – The Conduct of the Parties as a Factor

Further to my numerous posts revieiwng BC Supreme Court cases interpreting and applying Rule 37B following an injury claims trial, reasons for judgement were released today dealing with a unique issue; in exercising discretion under the Rule can the Court consider the conduct of the successful litigant?
In today’s case (Lakhani v. Elliott) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2005 car crash.  Before trial the Plaintiff made a formal offer to settle her case under Rule 37B for $95,000 plus costs and disbursements.
While the Plaintiff did not obtain all the compensation she sought at trial she fared well enough to beat her formal offer.  Specifically, after an 11 day trial Mr. Justice Voith awarded the Plaintiff just over $105,000 in total damages (You can click here to read my post summarizing the trial findings).
Despite the Plaintiff’s relative success at trial all did not go smoothly.  Mr. Justice Voith made some damaging findings with respect to her credibility.  Some of the highlights of these findings were as follows:

[33]      The defendants asserted that Mrs. Lakhani’s credibility was suspect. I agree in significant measure. I believe there are a number of distinct factors that have caused me to question, in some cases reject, and in other cases to significantly discount her evidence. In the main, I find that Mrs. Lakhani has overstated her symptoms resulting from the Accident; downplayed the significance of her 2001 workplace injury; and has been untruthful regarding the Accident’s effect on her graduation from nursing school. I will discuss these concerns in turn…

[40]      I believe that Mrs. Lakhani has tended to considerably overstate the severity of the symptoms that she suffers from as a result of the Accident….

[46]      For the plaintiff to assert that she has routinely and consistently suffered from pain, from the date of the Accident to the trial, which approaches the worst pain possible is not tenable. For her to describe her pain in terms which would be comparable to that of patients who are heavily medicated to assist with their pain management or who are inextremis goes beyond mere subjectivity or imprecision. It is instead either so inaccurate a description as to be of no value or it is a description intended to overstate. In either case it is not a description that can be relied upon….

[51]      The second significant concern with the plaintiff’s evidence was a tendency to downplay the significance of her 2001 workplace injury or to suggest some improvement in her symptoms in relation to that injury prior to the Accident…

[54]      Indeed Mrs. Lakhani sought broadly to suggest that in late 2004 she reclaimed or reassumed control of her life. She said this was so with respect to spending time with her sister, with respect to gardening and even with respect to her household activities. This too is all inconsistent with the objective record of what she told others she could do, with the medical assessment that her condition had plateaued or with her admission that things had become “as good as they were going to get”…

[59]      Quite simply the overall picture which the plaintiff sought to paint with her evidence was one where the very significant “life altering changes” brought on by her low back injury occupied little or no space. This absence of balance in her evidence had the affect of considerably detracting from its weight.

[60]      A third concern with Mrs. Lakhani’s evidence arises from having testified that the Accident caused her to graduate two terms later than she otherwise would have. Specifically, Mrs. Lakhani said that the pain and difficulty associated with the Accident caused her to skip the May to August 2005, as well as the January to April 2007 academic terms. This is not credible on an objective basis…

[66]      Plaintiff’s counsel sought to persuade me that an eight month delay in Mrs. Lakhani’s graduation was a very modest component of the plaintiff’s claim and not one that would cause the plaintiff to be less than forthright. In my view, however, the focus of the plaintiff’s evidence was not designed to obtain the modest financial benefit that receiving her degree earlier would have generated, but rather to impress upon the court the ongoing severity of her injuries. Quite apart from her motivation, the documents I’ve referred to as well as the admissions she made in cross examination, simply do not accord with the evidence she first gave.

With this background at hand the Plaintiff brought an application for double costs under Rule 37B.  The Defendants opposed and argued that given the Plaintiff’s “failure to be forthright at trial” the Court should not exercise its discretion to award the Plaintiff double costs.  Mr. Justice Voith agreed and provided the following analysis:

0] While the dominant objective of Rule 37B, found under the heading “Offers of Settlement”, is likely to promote early or reasonable settlement, additional factors, and in particular the conduct or honesty of one of the parties, can be relevant in considering whether to make an order of double costs under 37B(5)(b). This is apparent from numerous sources…
[13] Second, both the permissive nature of Rule 37B(5), which establishes that the new rule does not purport to create any automatic double cost consequences, and the non-exhaustive list of factors in Rule 37B(6) acknowledge the flexibility inherent in Rule 37B and the prospect that the Rule is amenable to furthering legitimate policy objectives apart from settlement…

[15] It is important to emphasize that in this case there is no issue of depriving the plaintiff of the ordinary costs to which she is entitled or of any award of special costs being made against her. Instead, the only issue is whether she should be entitled to double costs in light of various findings that I made in my Reasons for Judgment.

[16] Having regard to the foregoing authorities, and the underlying rationale that drives them, I can see no principled reason why a lack of candour or probity on the part of a party who gives evidence at trial should not constitute an “other factor the court considers appropriate” under Rule 37B(6)(d) in any potential award of double costs. An award of double costs, or a refusal to award such costs, is one of the means available to a court of signalling to litigants the types of conduct or behaviour it considers as either worthy of promotion or, conversely, as worthy of rebuke…

[20]        The same considerations apply to a party whose evidence is found by a court to be dishonest or designed to exaggerate or inflate a claim. Such a party should understand the seriousness with which that conduct will be regarded. It should similarly understand the potential consequences of that conduct, including its relevance to an award of double costs that the party might otherwise be entitled to.

[21]        In making these comments I am mindful that there are a great many cases where a party’s evidence is not accepted by the court for a variety of reasons. In many cases a party’s best recollection may simply not accord with other objective evidence. A party’s candid evidence may not, in light of the expert evidence, be accepted. Indeed it is not remarkable or unusual for a party to place a somewhat positive slant on given events. The mere fact that a party’s evidence is not accepted by the court, without more, does not engage the considerations I have identified. There is nothing in the conduct of such a party that warrants any reproach or criticism. It is, instead, the natural result of all cases where competing memories or competing versions of given events require resolution…

[24] In this case, the specific findings I referred to go beyond the “normal trial process” and do extend to a finding that the plaintiff sought to mislead the court and to significantly exaggerate the claim being advanced. Such conduct is worthy of censure and, in the circumstances of this case, disentitles the plaintiff to the award of double costs that she seeks.

This case serves as an important reminder of the crucial role that Plaintiff credibility plays in injury litigation.
In my continued efforts to get us all prepared for the New BC Supreme Court Civil Rules I will again point out that Rule 37B will be replaced with Rule 9 under the New Rules. The new rule uses language that is almost identical to Rule 37B which should help cases such as this one retain their value as precedents.

costs consequences, credibility, formal settlement offers, ICBC Claims and Trial Costs, Lakhani v. Elliott, Mr. Justice Voith, New BC Supreme Court Civil Rules, Rule 37B, Rule 9

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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.

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