Rule 37B and the Discretion of the Court

As I’ve previously written, one of the biggest improvements in the new Rule 37B over it’s predecessor (Rule 37) is that it gives the Court discretion when assessing costs consequences when a party beats a formal settlement offer at trial.
Reasons for judgment were released today by the BC Supreme Court demonstrating the flexibility of this discretion in assessing fair costs consequences.
In today’s case (Petojevic v. Solari) the Plaintiff sued for personal injuries.  Prior to trial the Defendants made a formal settlement offer of $60,000.  After trial the Plaintiff was awarded a total of just over $42,000 in damages.  In the defence of the claim the Defendants incurred “costs” of $5,051 and disbursements of $2,060.
The Defendants brought an application to be awarded “double costs”.  Under the old Rule 37 the Judge would have had no discretion in making such an award and double costs would automatically be awarded in these circumstances.  Under the new Rule 37B, the court has significant discretion over the costs to be awarded when a formal settlement offer is beat due to Rule 37B(5) and (6) which read as follows:

Cost options

(5) In a proceeding in which an offer to settle has been made, the court may do one or more of the following:

(a) deprive a party, in whole or in part, of any or all of the costs, including any or all of the disbursements, to which the party would otherwise be entitled in respect of all or some of the steps taken in the proceeding after the date of delivery of the offer to settle;

(b) award double costs of all or some of the steps taken in the proceeding after the date of delivery of the offer to settle.

(c) award to a party, in respect of all or some of the steps taken in the proceeding after the date of delivery or service of the offer to settle, costs to which the party would have been entitled had the offer not been made;

(d)  if the offer was made by a defendant and the judgment awarded to the plaintiff was no greater than the amount of the offer to settle, award to the defendant the defendant’s costs in respect of all or some of the steps taken in the proceeding after the date of delivery of the offer to settle.

[am. B.C. Reg. 165/2009, s. 1 (a), (b) and (c).]

Considerations of court

(6) In making an order under subrule (5), the court may consider the following:

(a) whether the offer to settle was one that ought reasonably to have been accepted, either on the date that the offer to settle was delivered or on any later date;

(b) the relationship between the terms of settlement offered and the final judgment of the court;

(c) the relative financial circumstances of the parties;

(d) any other factor the court considers appropriate.

In today’s case Mr. Justice Williamson refused to award the Defendant double costs but did award increased costs at 125% of the actual costs.  In justifying this result Mr. Justice Williamson highlighted the following facts:

[5] Here, the offer was not accepted and the matter went to trial. Nevertheless, the Court retains a discretion with respect to costs. Generally, litigants will be limited to the maximum costs allowable pursuant to Rule 66 (29) unless the Court rules otherwise.  In determining whether to “otherwise order” the circumstances to be considered may include the making of an offer pursuant to Rule 37, the relationship of the award to the offer, the length of the trial, the degree of complexity, the conduct of the litigation, the financial circumstances of the parties, and any other relevant circumstances.

[6] In addition, I have in mind the express object of Rule 66 to provide a speedier and less expensive determination of certain actions, and the object of Rule 37 to encourage settlement.

[7] The defendant concedes that in exercising a discretion pursuant to Rule 37B(5) an award may be discounted for work done prior to the delivery of an offer to settle.  They note that the ceiling for double costs awards pursuant to Rule 66 would amount to $13,200. They therefore say that their claim for costs in the amount of $10,102.24 plus disbursements is reasonable as it is equivalent to a discount of approximately 25%. In addition, the defendants note that the plaintiff was granted several adjournments and given the fact that the plaintiff was represented by counsel during two periods after the delivery of the offer to settle, he had considerable time to consider the appropriateness of the offer and the consequences of failure to accept it.

[8] The plaintiff submits Rule 66 should apply. He submits in any case the offer came after examination for discovery, an attempt at mediation, and an application to strike portions of the plaintiff’s claim. As such, he submits, any award of costs to the defendants should be limited.

[9] Here the trial took two days, the period contemplated by Rule 66. Liability was admitted, and the trial was not particularly complex, although previously existing injuries were a somewhat complicating issue. The defendant submits the plaintiff’s conduct of the litigation had a negative impact on the proceedings, a situation unfortunately not unusual when litigants represent themselves. I have no direct evidence of the financial circumstances of the plaintiff, although I infer from the evidence of impact of his injuries that he is in financial difficulty.

[10] The amount awarded at trial is more than two thirds of the amount offered by defendants. As well, on the second day of the proceedings the plaintiff succeeded in obtaining an award of special damages greater than that offered at that point by the defendants.

[11] The defendants proffered Bill of Costs in the amount of $5,051.12 plus disbursements of $2,060.02. They seek a doubling of the costs plus the disbursements ($10,102.24 plus $2,060.02 = $12,162.26).

[12] Taking all of these factors into consideration, and exercising the discretion permitted a trial judge pursuant to the Rules, I am satisfied that it would be contrary to the object of these Rules to deny the defendants application. However, I am not persuaded in the circumstances of this case that the award of costs sought by the defendants is warranted. In the result, I award costs to the defendants at 125% of their claimed costs ($5,051.12 X 1.25 = $6,313.90) plus disbursements of 2,060.02 for a total of $8,373.92.

civil procedure, icbc injury claims, Mr. Justice Williamson, Petojevic v. Solari, Rule 37, Rule 37B, settlement, settlement offers

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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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