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Can You Sue Twice For Damages From the Same Event?

(UPDATE June 28, 2012 – the case discussed in the below post was reversed by the BC Court of Appeal in reasons for judgement released today; you can click here to read the Court of Appeal’s reasons)
Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, discussing this topic.
In last week’s case (Singh v. McHatten) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2006 motor vehicle collision.  Following the collision ICBC found the Plaintiff at fault.  Displeased with this decision, the Plaintiff sued the Defendants in small claims court asking the Court to decide the issue of liability.  The Plaintiff sought damages for his deductible and increased insurance premiums.  His trial succeeded with the Court finding the Defendants at fault and awarding damages to the Plaintiff.
Before the limitation period expired the Plaintiff sued for damages stemming from his personal injuries from the same collision.  He did so in the BC Supreme Court.  ICBC brought a motion to dismiss the lawsuit arguing that the Plaintiff was “estopped” from suing again due to the small claims court trial.  Madam Justice Loo disagreed and allowed the personal injury lawsuit to proceed.  In dismissing ICBC’s motion the Court provided the following reasons:

[31] In my view the cause of action in the prior Small Claims action is distinct from the cause of action in this Court. While the Notice of Claim filed by the plaintiff in Small Claims Court claimed “vehicle damage & repair costs”, it is clear on a review of the transcript of the proceedings that the plaintiff’s vehicle had been repaired by ICBC; he was not seeking damages for repair costs because ICBC had paid the repair costs. The primary issue was ICBC’s determination that the plaintiff was wholly at fault for the accident and the plaintiff’s increased insurance premiums. Counsel for the plaintiff made it clear that the claim for personal injuries and damages would be dealt with later, and that was understood by counsel for ICBC. On that basis neither the third nor the fourth criteria for cause of action estoppel, or the first criteria for issue estoppel have been met.

[32] The facts of this case are similar to the facts in Innes v. Bui and Evans v. Campbell. Whether issue estoppel or cause of action estoppel is applicable, at the end of the day the court must determine whether it should exercise its discretion to bar the action by reason of res judicata or whether there are exceptional or special circumstances that should apply.

[33] I find that all of the criteria necessary for cause of action estoppel or issue estoppel have not been met. If I am wrong, there are special circumstances not to apply res judicata for to do so would cause a real injustice to the plaintiff. The plaintiff has not had his day in court on his claim for damages for personal injuries arising out of the accident. It may be that the issue of liability isres judicata, but the application was not argued on that basis. Rather, it is argued that the plaintiff should have brought his claim for personal injuries at the same time he brought his action in Small Claims Court. In certain circumstances that may be correct but only if the claim can be brought within the monetary limit of Small Claims Court. However, the fact remains that the plaintiff’s claim for damages for personal injuries has never been before a court and considered. To dismiss the plaintiff’s claim at this stage of the litigation would be denying the plaintiff an opportunity to be heard on that issue and unjust.

[34] The application is dismissed with costs.

As a point of interest, the recent BC Court of Appeal case of Innes v. Bui is worth reviewing for the Court’s comments on appropriate parties to sue when the only dispute following a collision is ICBC’s determination of fault and the premium consequences that flow from this.

action estoppel, bc injury law, Estoppel, issue estopel, Madam Justice Loo, Res Judicata, Singh v. McHatten

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