Tag: Binding Settlement Agreements

Why Global Settlement Offers Are OK in BC Wrongful Death Lawsuits

Interesting reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vernon Registry, addressing the propriety of a global settlement in a wrongful death lawsuit involving children as beneficiaries.
In the recent case (Gaida v. McLeod) the Plaintiff Brenda Leah died “as a result of methotrexate toxicity and that the medication was mistakenly given to her daily, rather than weekly“.  The Defendants admitted liability in causing the wrongful death.   In the course of the lawsuit the Defendants and the estate of the Plaintiff reached a global settlement.   A disagreement arose and leading to a Defendant application to declare that a binding settlement took place.
The Plaintiff opposed this arguing that “ the failure to allocate specific amounts of the settlement money to the two minor children renders the proposed settlement too uncertain and vague to be enforceable.”  Mr. Justice Pearlman rejected this argument and provided the following reasons explaining why a global settlement can survive scrutiny:
[60]         In British Columbia, the court must approve the amount to be paid in settlement of an infant’s claim before the settlement of a claim under the FCA may be implemented.  The court may approve payment to an infant in an amount different from that proposed by the parties or recommended by the Public Trustee and Guardian.  The court may increase the amount to be paid in settlement of an infant’s claim beyond that proposed by the parties, and may do so at the expense of an adult claimant…
[67]         Any amounts which the parties propose to allocate to the heads of damages applicable to minor claimants, including loss of care, guidance and companionship, and loss of inheritance, are proposals only, subject to the court’s approval.  Ultimately, the court must determine the amount to be allocated to each minor claimant, which may require the reapportionment of allocations proposed by the parties within the global settlement amount.  While the global amount of settlement will not change, there can be no certainty respecting the parties’ allocation of specific amounts to each of the claimants, because the court has the exclusive jurisdiction to determine the allocation of settlement monies to the minor claimants.
[68]         Under s. 3(6) of the FCA, a defendant may make a single payment into court, in satisfaction of all claims, without specifying how that amount is to be allocated among the claimants.  There is no requirement under the FCA that a defendant making a payment into court must specify the amounts to be paid out to minor claimants.  In cases where the payment into court is accepted by the plaintiff, if the claim involves infant claimants the court must still approve the distribution of settlement monies to the minor claimants.
[69]         I conclude that the allocation of specific amounts to minor claimants, which is always subject to the court’s approval, and may vary from the amount proposed by the parties, is not an essential term for the formation of an enforceable settlement agreement.

Can a Lawyer Bind a Client to a Settlement Agreement Without Client Consent?


As strange as it may sound the answer is yes.  Lawyers are client’s agents and as such their actions can bind their clients.  If a lawyer agrees to a settlement even if the lawyer does not have or is mistaken about their client’s instructions the settlement agreement can be binding.  Reasons for judgement were released today demonstrating this.
In today’s case (Park v. Palmer) the Plaintiffs took their claim to trial.  The Plaintiffs were represented by their niece who was a lawyer from Toronto.
At the close of the Plaintiffs case the Defendants brought a no-evidence motion. (a motion to dismiss a plaintiff’s claim for failure to call any evidence on an essential element of the case).
The Plaintiffs were apparently concerned about the costs consequences they’d be exposed to if the motion was successful.  Before the Court ruled on the motion the Plaintiff and Defence lawyers had settlement discussions.  When the parties returned to court the Defence lawyer advised the court as follows:
My Lady, I can advise the court of a settlement that was just reached between my friend and I.  The plaintiffs agree to withdraw and discontinue their action, and the defendants, in turn, agree to waive their costs.  We wanted to alert Your Ladyship and with apologies for not being able to advise you of this earlier, but that is the arrangement.  That is the settlement that has been agreed to between myself and my friend.
The Plaintiffs lawyer was present in Court when this statement was made.
The settlement the Plaintiff lawyer allegedly accepted was a Defence offer to “settle the matter by waiving costs and disbursements in return for the plaintiffs agreeing to discontinue and withdraw thier action against the defendants“.
Upon hearing that a settlement was reached the Court did not rule on the No Evidence Motion.  Some time passed and the parties could not agree on whether or not there was a binding settlement.  The Plaintiffs said that “they did not give instructions to settle (to their lawyer)”.  The parties ultimately brought this matter before the Court and asked the presiding Judge to decide “whether or not a settlement was reached in this matter“.
Madam Justice Dillon held that the matter was indeed settled.  Specifically the Court held:
Certainly (the Plaintiffs lawyer) was in the courtroom at that time (the court was informed there was a settlement).  There is some controversy in the affidavits before me as to whether or not (the Plaintiffs) were in the courtroom.  Notwithstanding that uncertainty, clearly (the Plaintiffs lawyer) had authority, as lawyer, agent, and representative of the plaintiffs, to speak on their behalf before the court.  As a lawyer and officer of the court, this court can rely on what (the Plaintiffs lawyer) tells the court. ..

[11] While I realize that this creates an unfortunate situation for the plaintiffs, there is no doubt that (their lawyer) settled this matter before the court by the plaintiff agreeing to withdraw and discontinue their action and the defendants waiving their costs.  The plaintiffs’ recourse now is against (their lawyer) for failure to follow instructions, if that indeed is the case.

[12] This court has to rely on the statements of legal counsel and, in the circumstances before me, I have no alternative but to enforce the settlement that was stated before me on July 4, 2008.

[13] Therefore, I order that this matter is discontinued.  The plaintiffs’ writ and statement of claim is ordered to be withdrawn, and there will be no costs to the defendant.

It is worth noting that the Court did not decide whether the Plaintiffs’ lawyer actually had instructions to accept the settlement matter.  Ultimately it does not matter.  If the Plaintiffs did give those instructions then the case was settled.  If the lawyer acted without instructions the case would still be settled but as Madam Justice Dillon pointed out “the Plaintiffs’ recourse is now against (their lawyer) for failure to follow instructions, if that indeed is the case“.

There is a good lesson to learn here for both clients and lawyers.  If you are giving your lawyer instructions to settle it is vital to know that your lawyer can create an agreement that is binding on you even if you later change your mind.   For this reason you should be committed to the result when giving a lawyer settlement instructions.  For lawyers, it is a good idea to take important instructions in writing so that there is clarity and certainty before settlement offers are made and accepted.

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If you would like further information or require assistance, please get in touch.

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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