Tag: Ciolli v. Galley

BC Court of Appeal Overturns $12 Million Jury Verdict

In a not unexpected development, the BC Court of Appeal released reasons for judgement today (Ciolli v. Galley) overturning a Jury Verdict awarding just over $12 Million dollars in damages to a Plaintiff who was injured in three separate motor vehicle collisions.
Following the Jury verdict the Defendants applied for a mistrial but the presiding Judge dismissed the defence motion.  The Defendants appealed the Jury Verdict arguing, amongst other reasons, that the trial judge failed to give appropriate instructions to the jury.  The BC Court of Appeal agreed and ordered a new trial.  In doing so the Court provided the following reasons:

[21]         As mentioned earlier, the defendants contend on appeal that the trial judge erred in refusing to grant the mistrial application and in failing to give an even-handed and fair summary of the evidence to the jury; and that the jury’s awards were without foundation or wholly out of proportion to the plaintiff’s losses.  I have already noted that the trial judge’s many references to the damages to which Ms. Ciolli was “entitled” may well have led the jury to be confused about the question of causation and about their duty to determine which of the plaintiff’s claims, if any, were properly attributable to the car accidents and in connection with the costs of future care, which were medically justified.  Fairness also required that in connection with loss of income-earning capacity and future care costs, the jury be instructed as to the need to apply a discount rate in order to assess the present value of the awards for future contingencies, and of course on the need to reduce such awards to reflect that they did represent contingencies rather than certain losses.  The law is clear that a trial judge’s failure to so instruct a jury constitutes error: see, e.g., Bell v. Stubbins (1991) 7 B.C.A.C. 177 at paras. 10-17; Halliday et al. v. Sanrud (1979) 15 B.C.L.R. 4 (C.A.) at 9.

[22]         It is also clear that the awards for non-pecuniary damages and loss of income-earning capacity were wholly out of proportion to what was justified by the evidence before the Court.  The non-pecuniary award of $327,000 would have been justified only had the plaintiff suffered a truly catastrophic injury, but the jury was not instructed to this effect.  (Counsel for Ms. Ciolli rightly acknowledged before us that her injuries were not catastrophic.)  With respect to loss of income-earning capacity, as Mr. Gunn submits, the sum of $5,600,000, if calculated over 23 years (i.e., until the plaintiff reaches age 65), constitutes an award of $243,478 per year.  It did not reflect the fact that the award is for a contingency rather than a certain loss, nor a discount rate required to represent the present value of the loss.

[23]         The foregoing errors are more than sufficient to warrant our interference with the jury’s award and to order a new trial.

Paragraphs 24-31 of the Judgement are also worth reviewing for the Court’s ‘obiter‘ discussion of when a trial judge should and should not declare a mistrial following an inordinately high Jury Verdict.

Please My Lady, Overturn that Award! One of BC's Largest Personal Injury Jury Awards Discussed


Late last year a Vancouver Jury handed out one of the biggest Personal Injury awards in British Columbia’s history.  In that case (Ciolli v. Galley) the Plaintiff was injured in three seperate motor vehicle accidents.  The trial for all of her claims were heard together and a Jury initally awarded some $12 million in compensation.
The award included $6.5 million for non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life).  Such an award is not allowed in Canada as a result of a series of cases known as “the trilogy”.  In the trilogy the Supreme Court of Canada found that the maximum a victim can be awarded for non-pecuniary damages in a negligence claim is $100,000.  Adjusted for inflation this cap is now close to $327,000.  After being advised of this fact the Jury reduced their award of non-pecuniary damages to this maximum amount bringing the total judgement to some $6.2 million.
The Defendants, undoubtedly surprised by the award, asked the trial judge to disregard the Jury’s award arguing that the damages awarded were “exceptional” and mandated “judicial intervention“.  The Defendants asked that a mistrial be ordered .
Madam Justice Loo dismissed the mistrial application finding she had no jurisdiction to overturn the award.   In reaching this conclusion Madam Justice Loo made the following observations:
Only in limited circumstances may a trial judge refuse to accept a jury’s verdict; when he or she concludes “that there is no evidence to support the findings of the jury; or where the jury gives an answer to a question which cannot, in law, provide a foundation for judgment”…
In my respectful view, the defendants are really complaining that the jury’s award is inordinately high or wholly out of proportion to the evidence and cannot be reasonably supported by the evidence. That may be, but unless there is no evidence to support the jury’s findings, a trial judge may not reject a jury’s verdict. I cannot conclude that there was no evidence before the jury relating to Ms. Ciolli’s claim for pecuniary loss, and accordingly, the application is dismissed.
This case is heading off to the BC Court of Appeal and I’ll be sure to report the BC High Court’s comments on this case once they have an opportunity to release their reasons for judgement.

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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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