Tag: Apportionment of Costs

"Costs Awards Should Not Punish Plaintiffs From Taking Forward Meritorious Claims"

In a demonstration of the judicial flexibility that exists under the BC Supreme Court Rules when assessing costs consequences following trials with formal offers in place, reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, awarding a Plaintiff full costs despite failing to beat a Defense formal settlement offer.
In today’s case (Anderson v. Kozniuk) the Plaintiff was involved in a pedestrian/vehicle collision.  Both parties were found partially at fault.  The Plaintiff suffered various physical injuries but also advanced a brain injury claim which was not accepted at trial.  Prior to trial ICBC issued a formal settlement offer of $125,000.  At trial the Plaintiff’s damages were assessed at $78,897 less 30% to reflect the plaintiff’s contributory negligence.
ICBC sought to strip the Plaintiff of post offer costs as a result but the Court exercised its discretion to award the Plaintiff full costs.  The Court was influenced by the fact that the costs of the prosecution were significant and an award of costs to ICBC would strip the Plaintiff of the totality of his damages.  In reaching this decision Madam Justice Sharma provided the following reasons:

[29]         The plaintiff submitted that the award of costs in this case exceeds the total amount of the judgment. In his written submissions, the plaintiff states that “[i]f the court orders that the Plaintiff is to pay costs to ICBC, it means that Mr. Anderson must pay the entire judgment award to ICBC, instead of spending this money on his health condition and prognosis.” I agree that is a significant factor if the court is to be mindful that costs awards should not punish plaintiffs from taking forward meritorious claims, as discussed above.

[30]         The plaintiff also says that the defendant was defended and funded by the insurer, whereas Mr. Anderson is impecunious having lost the ability to work, and previous cases have held this is a proper consideration: Smith v. Tedford, 2010 BCCA 302; Hunter v. Chandler, 2010 BCSC 1124 at paras. 23-25; Gregory v. Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, 2010 BCSC 1369 at para. 9; andMartin v. Lavigne at para. 23. I agree. Although there was no evidence before me about Mr. Anderson’s impecuniosity, I have no reason to doubt counsel’s word. Certainly at trial the evidence was consistent with counsel’s statement.

[31]         Based on these factors (and all others), the plaintiff submits it would be unfair and unreasonable that the plaintiff be ordered to pay costs to the defendant.

[32]         Finally, the plaintiff points to other factors that he says are relevant to the court’s exercise of discretion. He points out that two expert doctors did conclude that he suffered a brain injury. He also says it was not disputed that after the accident he displayed a number of characteristics consistent with having suffered a brain injury, including the fact that he had a flat affect and his behaviour around his family was different, as well as showing increased irritability, frustration and anger. The plaintiff also points out that the brain scans clearly show that he had brain lesions consistent with a brain injury. The plaintiff had increased difficulties with concentration and learning new tasks. Although I made a finding that both his alcohol consumption and anxiety had significant impacts on his life following the accident, the plaintiff suggests he should not be faulted for failing to guess that those factors would be essentially held against him when making a conclusion about whether he had a brain injury or not.

[33]         The award of costs is an exercise of the court’s discretion, guided by the legal principles identified above. This is not an exercise of counting up which factors favour which party and doing a mathematical calculation. The court must take into account all of the factors weighed against the circumstances of the case. Remembering that ultimately the result must not impose injustice or unfairness on either party, I exercise my discretion and conclude the normal rule of apportionment does not apply and therefore the plaintiff is entitled to 100% of his costs at trial. Because he has been successful on this application, I also award him the costs of this hearing.

BC Supreme Court Continues to Have Broad Discretion of Costs Awards Following Trial

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Court of Appeal addressing the discretion of judges in making costs awards following trial under the new Rules of Court.
In today’s case (Lee v. Jarvie) the Plaintiff was involved in a rear-end collision in 2004.  Fault for the crash was admitted.  At trial the Plaintiff sought substantial damages in the range of $800,000.  Much of the Plaintiff’s claim was rejected at trial but damages of just over $50,000 were assessed.
Following trial the Court awarded each party 50% of their costs to be set off against one another and denied many of the Plaintiff’s disbursements.  The Plaintiff appealed arguing the Court did not have the authority to make such a costs order under the new rules of Court.  The BC Court of Appeal disagreed and found that a trial judge’s discretion with respect to costs is “at least as broad” as it was under the former rules.  In reaching this decision the Court provided the following reasons:
[37]        Interpreting Rule 14-1(15) as only allowing costs to be awarded in respect of specific procedures would run afoul of the principle that Newbury J.A. identified in the opening of her reasons for judgment inGreater Vancouver Regional District v. British Columbia (Attorney General), 2011 BCCA 345:
[1]        One of the well-known rules that guide Canadian judges in the interpretation of statutes is that wherever possible, the court should strive to give meaning and effect to every word used in an enactment. As stated in Maxwell on the Interpretation of Statutes (12th ed., 1969), “It is a principle of statutory interpretation that every word of a statute must be given meaning: ‘A construction which would leave without effect any part of the language of a statute will normally be rejected.” (See also Communities Economic Development Fund v. Canadian Pickles Corp. [1991] 3 S.C.R. 388 at 408; R. v. Kelly [1992] 2 S.C.R. 170 at 188; Hosseini v. Oreck Chernoff 1999 BCCA 386, 65 B.C.L.R. (3d) 182, at para. 27.).
[38]        The words “application” and “step” cover all procedural fragments of a proceeding. If “matter” were intended to be confined to a procedural event in litigation, it would cover no ground not already covered by “application” and “step”. I am therefore not persuaded that a “matter” must be a discrete procedure.
[39]        In my view, the canons of construction referred to by the plaintiff do not cast doubt on the conclusion that Rule 14-1(15) allows a judge to award costs in respect of a discrete issue in litigation.
[40]        I am satisfied that the discretion to award costs with respect to an issue in a proceeding is at least as broad under Rule 14-1(15) as it was under former Rule 57(15). Under that rule, the discretion was governed by the principles discussed by Finch C.J.B.C. in Sutherland v. Canada (Attorney General), 2008 BCCA 27 at paras. 30 and 31:
[30]      British Columbia v. Worthington (Canada) Inc. is the leading case with respect to the application of Rule 57(15). It affirms that under Rule 57(15) the Court has full power to determine by whom the costs related to a particular issue are to be paid. As Esson J.A. states in Worthington, the discretion of trial judges under Rule 57(15) is very broad, and must be exercised judicially, not arbitrarily or capriciously. There must be circumstances connected with the case which render it manifestly fair and just to apportion costs.
[31]      The test for the apportionment of costs under Rule 57(15) can be set out as follows:
(1) the party seeking apportionment must establish that there are separate and discrete issues upon which the ultimately unsuccessful party succeeded at trial;
(2) there must be a basis on which the trial judge can identify the time attributable to the trial of these separate issues;
(3) it must be shown that apportionment would effect a just result.
[41]        The trial judge explicitly addressed each of the three factors in Sutherland, and I am substantially in agreement with his analysis.
[42]        The issues upon which he awarded costs to the defendants were distinct issues in the litigation. While I acknowledge the appellant’s argument that there was some minor overlap between evidence going to general damages and evidence going to loss of income, this did not prevent the issues from being “separate and discrete” issues in the litigation. They were appropriately compartmentalized by the judge.
[43]        The judge identified the time attributable to the separate issues at trial at paragraphs 68-71 of his costs reasons. There is no basis for interfering with his findings in those paragraphs.
[44]        Finally, on the issue of whether the costs award is a “just result”, the trial judge comprehensively dealt with problems with the evidence in his trial judgment. He further dealt with the factors that led to the length of the trial in his costs judgment. The trial judge identified the factors that led him to find his costs award to be a just result. The reasons are cogent, and I would not interfere with his decision.

Plaintiff Stripped of Significant Costs and Disbursements for Pursuing "Inflated, Exaggerated or Unrealistic" Claims


(Update January 16,2013 – the Court of Appeal granted leave to appeal the below costs award.  Once the final decision is released I will further update this post).
(Update December 10, 2013 – today the BC Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal of the below decision)
I have spent much time highlighting costs consequences plaintiff’s face under BC’s loser pays system and perhaps even more time discussing the further costs consequences that can flow from failing to beat a defence formal settlement offer at trial.
A less judicially considered area of the law relates to costs consequences where a plaintiff is awarded damages at trial far below the recovery sought where no defence formal settlement offer was in place.  The starting point in such cases is that a Plaintiff is generally entitled to costs provided the awarded damages exceed $25,000.  The court retains a discretion, however, to move away from this default position in “relatively rare cases”.  Such a result was demonstrated in reasons for judgement released this week by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry.
In this week’s case (Lee v. Jarvie) the Plaintiff was involved in a rear-end collision in 2004.  Fault for the crash was admitted.  At trial the Plaintiff sought substantial damages in the range of $800,000.  Much of the Plaintiff’s claim was rejected at trial but damages of just over $50,000 were assessed.
The Defendant apparently did not provide a pre-trial formal settlement offer.  As a result the default position of Rule 14-1(9) was triggered with the Plaintiff presumably being entitled to costs.  The Defendant argued that the Defendant was largely the victor at trial, at least insofar as the most substantial alleged damages were concerned, and that the Court should exercise its discretion to apportion costs pursuant to Rule 14-1(15).  Mr. Justice Gaul agreed it was appropriate to do so and stripped the Plaintiff of significant costs and disbursements.  In doing so the Court provided the following reasons:
[12]         The issues of apportioning costs between parties under Rule 57(15) of the former Rules of Court was addressed and considered in  British Columbia v. Worthington (Canada) Inc. et al(1988), 32 C.P.C. (2d) 166, 29 B.C.L.R. (2d) 145 (C.A) and more recently in Sutherland v. Canada (Attorney General), 2008 BCCA 27. From these cases, I have drawn the following guiding principles relating to the apportionment of costs:
1)    Applications to apportion costs should be the exception and not the norm in civil litigation, and they should be limited to “relatively rare cases”.
2)    The power to apportion costs is a discretionary one that “must be exercised judicially, not arbitrarily or capriciously”.
3)    The exercise of discretion must be connected to circumstances of the particular case “which render it manifestly fair and just to apportion costs”.
[13]         In addition to these principles, I am also guided by the test Finch, C.J.B.C. articulated in Sutherland at para. 31:
[31]      The test for the apportionment of costs under Rule 57(15) can be set out as follows:
            (1)        the party seeking apportionment must establish that there are separate and discrete issues upon which the ultimately unsuccessful party succeeded at trial;
            (2)        there must be a basis on which the trial judge can identify the time attributable to the trial of these separate issues;
            (3)        it must be shown that apportionment would effect a just result…
[38]         The apparent divergence of judicial approaches to the question of apportioning costs in personal injury cases appears to hinge on the determination of the degree of success the plaintiff enjoyed at trial and whether the trial was unnecessarily prolonged by the pursuit of inflated or unrealistic claims. Where the court finds the plaintiff was substantially successful at trial and there was no pursuit of exaggerated claims, then apportionment of costs will less likely be granted. However, where the court determines there was divided success, or finds there was a distinguishable portion of the plaintiff’s claim that was unrealistically pursued resulting in a more protracted proceeding, then subject to the guiding principles articulated in Worthington and Sutherland, apportionment of costs is a legitimate consideration…
[82]         In my opinion, the particular circumstances of this case permit the court to consider the plaintiff’s claims for loss of past opportunity to earn income, loss of future earning capacity and cost of future care as separate and discrete issues. Moreover, there is a clear basis upon which to calculate the amount of trial time, including argument, that was devoted to these issues. Finally, apportionment of costs would, given the divided success at trial and the plaintiff’s pursuit of inflated, exaggerated or unrealistic claims, affect a just result between the parties. I therefore find the case at bar falls into that category of “relatively rare cases” where apportionment of costs is appropriate.
[83]         What was to have been, and in my respectful view should have been, a 5?day trial, practically tripled in length, and much of that is attributable to the plaintiff and the nature of the evidence he led at trial. I rejected a significant portion of the plaintiff’s testimony. He was a poor historian of the facts and was at times deliberately evasive in answering questions. As I noted at para. 46 of my Reasons for Judgment, but for the detailed and probing cross-examination of the plaintiff, “…the court would have been left with an inaccurate impression and understanding of Mr. Lee’s situation and condition.” There were also significant deficiencies in the evidence of the plaintiff’s expert witnesses, Mr. Worthington-White, Ms. Quastel, Mr. Benning, Dr. Lee, Dr. Kokan and Dr. Hershler that only came to light during the course of extensive cross-examination.
[84]         The facts in the case at bar, as they relate to costs are, in my view, similar to those found in Bailey, Plackova, Berston, Shearsmith and Heppner, in that an inordinate and unreasonable amount of trial time was consumed by the plaintiff’s pursuit of exaggerated claims that were eventually rejected. The length of the trial was also made more difficult and prolonged as a result of the plaintiff’s credibility issues and his failure to fully and frankly disclose relevant information to his medical experts.

Plaintiff Ordered To Pay 30% of Defendant's Trial Costs for Failed Wage Loss Claim


One of the exceptions to BC’s general rule that ‘costs follow the event is that a party can be ordered to pay their opponents costs relating to a distinct issue at trial.  This was demonstrated in reasons for judgement released last week in the context of an ICBC claim.
In last week’s case (Garcha v. Gill) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2005 motor vehicle collision. Following trial the Plaintiff’s damages were assessed at just over $30,000.  The Plaintiff had sought damages for loss of income although this portion of his claim was largely unsuccessful.  The Defendant applied to be paid a portion of the trial costs.  Mr. Justice Cohen agreed that the Defendant was entitled to this relief as the wage loss claim was “the most contentious item during the litigation“.  In ordering the Plaintiff to pay 30% of the costs the Court provided the following reasons:







[42] I find that the defendant is entitled to an order for an apportionment of costs.

[43] The test for whether or not an apportionment of costs should occur is set out in Sutherland v. The Attorney General of Canada, 2008 BCCA 27:

[31]      The test for the apportionment of costs under Rule 57(15) can be set out as follows:

(1)        the party seeking apportionment must establish that there are separate and discrete issues upon which the ultimately unsuccessful party succeeded at trial;

(2)        there must be a basis on which the trial judge can identify the time attributable to the trial of these separate issues;

(3)        it must be shown that apportionment would effect a just result.

[44] First, I am satisfied that the issue of past income loss is a discrete issue.  I am further satisfied that an apportionment of costs of 70% to the plaintiff and 30% to the defendant, as submitted by the defendant, is fair in the circumstances of this case, given the amount for past income loss awarded to the plaintiff, when compared with his claimed amount; the fact that the plaintiff abandoned his claim for future income loss at the commencement of the trial; and, the inordinate amount of time which had to be spent by the defence prior to the trial to secure proper disclosure of the plaintiff’s business records.  There is no doubt from the chronology of the events preceding the trial that the plaintiff’s failure to provide full and timely document production of his business records had a large impact on the conduct of the proceedings leading up to and during the trial.







ICBC Injury Claims, Trials and Costs

I’ve written many times about the costs consequences of ICBC Claims and Supreme Court Trials where a formal offer of settlement is made under Rule 37B.  What about when no offer is made, what are the costs consequences then?  In these circumstances Rule 57(9) of the Supreme Court Rules governs which holds that “Subject to subrule (12), costs of and incidental to a proceeding shall follow the event unless the court otherwise orders
What this basically means is to the victor goes the spoils.  If you bring an ICBC Injury Claim to trial in BC Supreme Court and are successful unless the court otherwise orders you will be entitled to your ‘costs’.  But what happens if you are only partially successful in your ICBC Injury Claim?  Can you still get your full costs or can these be split?  
Reasons for judgement were released today (Heppner v. Zia) dealing with this issue.  In today’s case the Plaintiff brought an injury claim following a 2004 motor vehicle collision in New Westminster, BC.  Prior to trial the Plaintiff was seeking to settle her ICBC Injury Claim for $349,900 and ICBC was offering $20,000.
After a 15 day trial the court found that the Plaintiff was 50% responsible for the collision.  In addition to being found partially at fault, the Court rejected the Plaintiff’s claim that she sustained a disc herniation as a result of the collision and that she was permanently disabled from her employment as a result of the collision.  In the end the Plaintiff was awarded damages of just over $45,000 for her soft tissue injuries.
In the normal course the Plaintiff would be entitled to her costs as she was awarded an amount greater than ICBC’s settlement offer and an amount greater than the Small Claims Court monetary jurisdiction.  ICBC, however, argued that they were largely successful in defending the claim in both proving the Plaintiff was partially at fault and in refuting her claim that her disc herniation was related to the collision  ICBC argued that the costs should be apportioned accordingly.  Mr. Justice Cohen of the BC Supreme Court agreed.
In concluding that the Plaintiff should be deprived of her costs for that portion of the trial which involved the claim of an accident related disc herniation Mr. Justice Cohen summarized and applied the law as follows:

[11]            In Sutherland v. The Attorney General of Canada, 2008 BCCA 27 at para. 31, Finch C.J.B.C., for the Court, said, as follows:

The test for the apportionment of costs under Rule 57(15) can be set out as follows:

(1)        the party seeking apportionment must establish that there are separate and discrete issues upon which the ultimately unsuccessful party succeeded at trial;

(2)        there must be a basis on which the trial judge can identify the time attributable to the trial of these separate issues;

(3)        it must be shown that apportionment would effect a just result….

[16]            Upon a review of the authorities submitted by both sides, particularly the recent decision of Romilly J. in Shearsmith v. Houdek, 2008 BCSC 1314, I am satisfied that the issue of the plaintiff’s disc herniation is a discrete issue upon which the plaintiff did not succeed.

[17]            In the case at bar, the Court noted at para. 290 of the Reasons, that the main thrust of the plaintiff’s claim for damages was that she sustained a low back soft tissue injury that eventually lead to disc herniation surgery that has rendered her permanently disabled, and that this outcome was due directly to the accident.

[18]            At paras. 291-292 of the Reasons, the Court said, as follows:

[291]    The defence position is that given the history and the onset of symptoms of low back pain; the plaintiff’s prior history of work related low back injuries and complaints; that the plaintiff’s first onset of low back pain after the accident was caused by the same movement of bending forward as caused the plaintiff’s work related onset of low back pain; and that the plaintiff was working as hard after the accident as she was before the accident, it is impossible to conclude that the accident caused the plaintiff’s chronic low back pain.

[292]    The essence of the defence based on causation is that the plaintiff did not complain about low back pain until about two months after the accident, and then only intermittently thereafter.  The defendants assert that a significant increase in the plaintiff’s low back symptoms and the onset of new symptoms can actually be dated from the plaintiff’s fall down the stairs in her home in early March 2005.  It was this event, claim the defendants, that caused the plaintiff to undergo disc herniation surgery and is the real reason why she did not return to her occupation as a nurse’s aid.

[19]            At para. 317 of the Reasons, the Court concluded as follows:

[317]    In the result, I find that the evidence does not establish a temporal link between the accident and the onset of the plaintiff’s low back symptoms ultimately leading to the diagnosis of disc herniation and disc herniation surgery.  In my opinion, the plaintiff has failed to prove on a balance of probabilities that the accident caused or contributed to the plaintiff’s disc herniation.  She has failed to prove that her disc herniation would not have occurred but for the negligence of the defendants.

[20]            Thus, in the circumstances of the case, I disagree with the plaintiff’s contention that the plaintiff’s disc herniation was not a discrete issue, but merely part of the overall burden on her to prove the extent of the injuries that she suffered as a result of the accident.

[21]            I also disagree with the plaintiff that it is not possible to attribute the time taken up in dealing with the issue of the plaintiff’s disc herniation, as opposed to the time taken up dealing with the plaintiff’s other injuries. 

[22]            I find that the plaintiff should be denied her costs associated with this discrete issue.

The Court then turned to the issue of liability and the fact that ICBC was successful in proving the Plaintiff 50% at fault for the collision.  Mr. Justice Cohen held that in these circumstances the Plaintiff’s trial costs should be reduced by 50% and summarized and applied the law as follows:

 

[25]            Finally, I turn to the matter of s. 3(1) of the Negligence Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 333 (the “Act”).  The defendants submit that the costs awarded in favour of the plaintiff ought to be reduced by 50% to reflect the court’s finding on liability. 

[26]            Section 3(1) of the Act states:

Unless the court otherwise directs, the liability for costs of the parties to every action is in the same proportion as their respective liability to make good the damage or loss.

[27]            The plaintiff says that an application of s. 3(1) would work an injustice in this case.  Her position is that the issue of liability occupied relatively little time at the trial, perhaps no more than a day or two.

[28]            In Moses v. Kim, 2007 BCSC 1820, the plaintiff sought 100% of his taxable costs, notwithstanding that he was held 65% responsible for the accident.  At para. 13, Gray J., as part of her analysis of whether she should use her discretion to depart from the usual rule, set out the following criteria to be applied by the Court:

(a)        the seriousness of the plaintiff’s injuries;

(b)        the difficulties facing the plaintiff in establishing liability;

(c)        the fact that in settlement negotiations the amount offered was substantially below the ultimate amount;

(d)        whether the plaintiff was forced to go to trial to obtain recovery;

(e)        the costs of getting to trial;

(f)        the difficulty and length of the trial;

(g)        whether the costs recovery available to the plaintiff, if costs are apportioned according to liability, will bear any reasonable relationship to the party’s costs in obtaining the results achieved;

(h)        the positions taken by the parties at trial, in particular whether the positions taken were appropriate and reasonable in the circumstances;

(i)         whether the defendants made any settlement offers;

(j)         the ultimate result of the trial; and

(k)        whether the plaintiff achieved substantial success that would be effectively defeated if costs were awarded pursuant to s. 3(1) of the Negligence Act.

[29]            In the instant case, the Court found that the plaintiff sustained mild to moderate soft tissue injuries as a result of the accident, and held that the general damage award should be based on the fact that her condition had improved and recovered to the stage that by a year post-accident she felt well enough to return to work on a gradual basis.  Hence, the plaintiff’s general damage award was substantially less than the amount she sought.

[30]            As well, the award received by the plaintiff for general damages was substantially less than that offered by her prior to the trial ($349,000), and somewhat closer to the amount offered by the defendants ($20,000).  Moreover, the factors of whether the plaintiff was forced to go to trial to obtain recovery, the costs of getting to trial, and the difficulty and length of the trial are applicable to both sides. 

[31]            Finally, given the ultimate result of the trial, and the fact that, in my view, the plaintiff did not achieve substantial success that would be effectively defeated if costs were awarded pursuant to s. 3(1) of the Act, I find that there are no features of the action to warrant departure from the usual rule. 

[32]            Accordingly, the plaintiff’s costs shall be reduced by 50% to reflect the division of liability.

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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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