More on Rule 37B – Offers to Multiple Defendants and Reality of Insurance Discussed

Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, dealing with several issues under Rule 37B.
In this case (Towson v. Bergman) the Plaintiff was involved in 2 BC motor vehicle collisions, the first in 2002, the second in 2004.    At trial liability was found as against a Defendant in the first trial.  The second case was dismissed.  Leading up to trial the Plaintiff made a formal offer to all of the Defendants for $500,000.  Following trial over $1.1 million dollars in damages were awarded (click here for my previous posting on the trial judgment).
The court was asked to consider whether the Plaintiff can have double costs when her formal settlement offer under Rule 37B was made to multiple defendants.  The liable defendant argued that “the offer under 37B was invalid…because it was made to multiple defendants…and could only have been accepted by all the defendants, including the defendant’s against whom (the Plaintiff’s) claim was eventually dismissed by the court”.
Madam Justice Gray disagreed with this submission and held that there is no reason why costs consequences can’t follow a formal offer made to multiple defendants under Rule 37B.  Her reasoning was as follows:

[59] Aspen Enterprises Ltd. v. Quiding, 2009 BCSC 50, is the only case I located which considered the effect of a global offer to settle made under Rule 37B.  The plaintiffs inAspen argued that Rule 37B is “intended to be broader in application than the former rules, and therefore should apply to global offers”.  They argued that the fact that a global offer has been made should not preclude a court from considering the factors set out in subrule 37B(6) and exercising its discretion to award double costs.

[60] Fenlon J. appeared to accept this argument, although she found, on consideration of 37B(6)(a), that the offer to settle was not one that ought reasonably to have been accepted by the defendants.  The offer as framed could not have been accepted by Aspen or Kingsway without the consent of the other, and without the further consent of Landmark, which was not even a party at trial.

[61] Rule 37B places no restrictions on the court’s discretion in relation to global settlement offers.  The purpose of the rule is to facilitate and encourage reasonable offers to settle.  It requires a settlement offer to be delivered to all parties of record.  The law developed under Rule 37 regarding global offers is of little assistance.  Pursuant to Rule 37B, the consideration for the court pertaining to global settlement offers is whether the offer was one that ought reasonably to have been accepted.

[62] In considering the effect of an offer to settle on an award for costs under Rule 37B, the court may consider the following factors:

(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.

[63] The Offer Under 37B was one that ought reasonably to have been accepted by MPS.  Despite the fact that the Offer Under 37 was addressed to all defendants, it was evident at the time that MPS was the party facing the greatest risk of liability to Ms. Towson.  When the Offer Under 37B was made, it was apparent that the liability, if there were any, of Ms. Chan, Mr. Ko, and Mr. Bergman was likely to be very significantly less than the liability of MPS.

[64] Although MPS could not accept the Offer Under 37B on behalf of Ms. Chan, Mr. Ko, or Mr. Bergman, MPS could have agreed to pay the $500,000 in full settlement of the claim against it.  The eventual judgment was for roughly $1.2 million, being more than double the amount Ms. Towson offered to accept.

[65] In this case, Ms. Towson’s award against the single unsuccessful defendant, MPS, is far greater than the amount she offered to accept. Global offers made in circumstances where there is more than one unsuccessful defendant may give rise to different considerations.

[66] Ms. Towson, at the time of trial, was in difficult financial circumstances.  She was unemployed, living with her parents, and receiving social assistance and disability payments.  MPS is a government ministry.  Ms. Towson’s financial circumstances were significantly worse than those of MPS.

[67] In all these circumstances, Ms. Towson is entitled to double costs, although when the double costs should begin is discussed below.

Madam Justice Gray went on to hold that double costs should begin one week following the delivery of the offer as that was a reasonable period for the Defendants to consider their response.

The other Rule 37B issue that was addressed was whether the existence of insurance should be considered when weighing costs consequences.  Our courts are currently split on this issue.  Madam Justice Gray held that Insurance should not be considered and set out the following reasons:

[113] The British Columbia Supreme Court has divided on the issue of whether insurance should be considered in assessing the relative financial circumstances of the parties.  InBailey, Hinkson J. considered that insurance should not be taken into account:

33.       While I accept that it is likely that most drivers in British Columbia are insured by ICBC, the wording of subrule 37B does not invite consideration of a defendant’s insurance coverage. There may be good policy reasons for this. Insurance coverage limits with ICBC are not universal, and will vary from insured to insured. Certain activities may result in a breach of an individual’s insurance coverage, or the defence of an action under a reservation of rights by ICBC. A plaintiff will not and likely should not be privy to such matters of insurance coverage between a defendant and ICBC.

34.       The contest in this case was between the plaintiff and the defendants, and the insurance benefits available to the defendants do not, in my view, fall within the rubric of their financial circumstances, any more than any collateral benefit entitlement that a plaintiff may have would affect that person’s financial circumstances for the purpose of determining their loss.

[114] Conversely, Madam Justice Boyd in Radke v. Perry, 2008 BCSC 1397, 90 B.C.L.R. (4th) 132, did consider the fact that the defendants were insured by ICBC, stating, at para. 42:

It is also clear that there is a substantial disparity in financial circumstances between the parties. The defendants, represented by ICBC, had substantially greater resources to finance a trial than the individual plaintiff. Had the defendants accepted the plaintiff’s initial reasonable offer, the plaintiff would not have had to incur the significant costs associated with nearly two weeks of trial.

[115] Bailey was released on October 16, 2008, six days before the October 22, 2008 release of Radke.  Radke does not refer to Bailey, and Bailey was likely not brought to the court’s attention.

[116] In my view, the reasoning in Bailey should be preferred, and the court should consider the “relative financial circumstances of the parties” without considering the insurance benefits available to the defendant.  Here, however, there was no evidence concerning the insurance benefits available to Ms. Chan and Mr. Ko.

I will continue to post about Rule 37B cases as they come to my intention despite the fact that the current BC Civil Rules are being repealed on July 1, 2010.  The reason for this is after July 1, 2010 formal settlement offers in the BC Supreme Court will be dealt with under Rule 9-1 which has language that is almost identical to the current Rule 37B making these precedents useful.

costs consequences, formal settlement offers, Madam Justice Gray, Rule 37B, Rule 9-1, settlement offers, towson v. bergman

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ERIK
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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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