Tag: Double Costs

A Costs Argument That "Ought Not To Have Been Made"

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Victoria Registry, criticizing a costs argument advanced by defense counsel after failing to best the Plaintiff’s formal settlement offer at trial.
In today’s case (Tenhunen v. Tenhunen) the plaintiff was injured when she tripped and fell on a deficient ramp constructed by the Defendant.  At trial both were found equally to blame for the incident.  Prior to trial the Plaintiff made a formal settlement offer of $80,000.  The Defendant did not accept this and the trial damages awarded amounted close to $125,000.
The Plaintiff sought post offer double costs but the Defendant opposed arguing, in part, that the Defendant was of modest means.  The court, suspicious of this argument asked about whether the claim was insured to which Defence counsel refused to answer citing the Code of Professional Conduct.  Plaintiff’s counsel then “provided a copy of the policy of insurance that the defendant was obliged to produce” which led to the following judicial criticism of the defence argument and an award of partial post offer double costs –

[27]        The defendant’s principal argument is based on Rule 9-1(6)(c), as she points to her own unfortunate circumstances, subsisting barely on a disability pension, and contrasts this to the far better financial position enjoyed by the plaintiff, who had been employed on an income between $77,000 and $101,511 in the five years between 2009 and 2013. The defendant argues that this financial disparity militates against an order for double costs. This submission, bearing in mind the evidence at trial, raises a logical question of insurance coverage.

[28]        The plaintiff and defendant are mother and daughter, respectively. They were and are close. The defendant ordinarily lives in the rented house where the plaintiff fell and suffered her injury, and from the photographs submitted into evidence, that residence would not suggest an ability to pay substantial damages. It is unlikely in the extreme that the plaintiff would sue her daughter, and proceed to trial, if the only prospects of recovery were limited to the defendant’s disability pension.

[29]        While the defendant’s straightened finances would argue against her being able to afford insurance premiums, those same financial constraints would argue more strongly against the defendant being able to afford to retain senior counsel for the entire action, or to offer to settle her mother’s claims for $80,000 all-inclusive on October 30, 2014. I recognize that an offer to settle is not a guarantee of payment, as it would simply have entitled the plaintiff to enter judgment for the amount of the offer, had she accepted it. In these circumstances, however, the plaintiff would have every reason to know that her daughter had no ability to pay the amount offered from her own funds.

[30]        The defendant’s argument under Rule 9-1(6)(c) made the question of insurance relevant to the costs issue, and by memorandum to counsel I invoked Rule 7-1(4) and asked if there were a policy of insurance to which the defendant could turn for indemnity. The Rule provides:

Despite subrule (3), information concerning the insurance policy must not be disclosed to the court at trial unless it is relevant to an issue in the action.

[31]        Counsel for the defendant replied to this question in this way:

Finally, and more on the basis of a footnote, the Court has inquired as to whether there is a policy of insurance that the Defendant may look to for indemnification of damages and Costs. It would be entirely inappropriate for defence counsel to make any submission as to whether Ms. Kim Tenhunen may or may not look to a policy of insurance for indemnification. Defence counsel has a dual retainer in the circumstances and owes an obligation to both the Defendant and to an insurer not to compromise their respective interests: Professional Conduct Handbook, Chapter 6.4(a-d).

[32]        The Code of Professional Conduct for British Columbia (BC Code) replaced the Professional Conduct Handbook on January 1, 2013. I have examined the previous rule cited by counsel, and see nothing there to prevent the disclosure requested. I have examined the BC Code, with the same results.

[33]        The most charitable interpretation of counsel’s argument is that it is hypothetical. Even on that assumption, it still does not respond to the question posed under Rule 7-1(4), and that is whether the existence of a policy of insurance is relevant to the costs issue, and, if it is, whether there is a policy of insurance available to the defendant in this case.

[34]        How a lawyer’s duties are supervised by the Law Society – to both an insurer who retains the lawyer and the insured on whose behalf the lawyer acts under the retainer – have little to do with the question raised in this application. Nothing in the question put to counsel could raise a risk of dividing counsel’s loyalties to an insurer and insured, assuming that is the relationship that has existed.

[35]        Counsel for the plaintiff has provided a copy of the policy of insurance that the defendant was obliged to produce as part of pre-trial document discovery. The argument against double costs based on the parties’ relative financial circumstances ought not to have been made.

It Is Not Open For a Trial Judge To Award a Defendant Double Costs Where a Plaintiff Obtains Judgement

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Court of Appeal (C.P. v. RBC Life Insurance Company) confirming that a trial judge does not have the option of awarding a Defendant double costs in circumstances where a Plaintiff obtains a judgement at a quantum below a Defendant’s formal offer to settle.  In noting this restriction in judicial costs options the Court provided the following reasons:

[90]         Neither the trial judge nor the judge at Minhas made reference to the decision in Gulbrandsen v. Mohr, 2013 BCSC 1481. In Gulbrandsen the trial judge, in reasons indexed at 2013 BCSC 959, initially awarded the plaintiff costs up to the date of the defendant’s offer to settle, and double costs to the defendant thereafter. He then reconsidered the double cost award. After reviewing numerous authorities including A.E., A.E. Appeal,Ward v. Klaus, 2011 BCSC 99 and Currie v. McKinnon, 2012 BCSC 1165, he concluded that it was not appropriate to make an award of double costs to a defendant where the plaintiff had obtained a judgment.

[91]         I am of the same opinion. I do not believe that R. 37B intended to change the long-standing practice concerning the circumstances when double costs could be awarded. A plaintiff who obtains a judgment for less than an offer to settle is already subject to sanctions: R. 9-1(6)(a) allows the court to deprive the successful plaintiff of costs to which it would otherwise be entitled. Rule 9-1(5)(d) provides an even more punishing outcome as the plaintiff is not only deprived of costs he or she would otherwise receive, but must also pay the defendant’s costs subsequent to the offer to settle. To also allow a defendant double costs would skew the procedure in favour of defendants and unfairly penalize and pressure plaintiffs. I would adopt in that regard the comments of Madam Justice Adair in Currie:

[18]      I think it certainly can be argued that if a defendant who has made an offer to settle in an amount higher than the amount awarded to the plaintiff at trial (and that is what has been done in this case) was then awarded double costs, this would skew the procedure in favour of defendants and unfairly penalize and pressure plaintiffs.  This is because a plaintiff who rejected an offer to settle would potentially risk a triple cost penalty if he or she were to win at trial an amount less than the offer.  The plaintiff would suffer loss of the costs that he or she would normally receive on obtaining judgment at trial, and face double costs payable to the defendant.

[19]      In my view, there is a good reason to apply Rule 9-1 in a way that is even-handed, or more even-handed, as between plaintiffs and defendants.  I would say for this reason one would expect to see double costs awarded to a defendant, using the offer to settle procedure, in exceptional circumstances only, such as a situation where the plaintiff’s claim was dismissed all together after a plaintiff rejected an offer to settle.

[92]         In the result, I find that it was not open for the trial judge to award double costs to the defendant. It was an error in principle to do so. The decision in Minhas which made a similar order was also wrongly decided and should not be followed.

Double Costs Rejected In Face of Plaintiff Credibility Concerns

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, rejecting a request for double costs following a trial where a Plaintiff beat her formal settlement offer by a slim margin.
In today’s case (Griffith v. Larsen) the Plaintiff suffered an injury in a collision.  Prior to trial the plaintiff provided  a formal settlement offer of $85,000 which was rejected.  At trial she was awarded $85,159.  The Plaintiff asked for double costs but Mr. Justice Affleck refused to award these finding it would not be appropriate in the face of credibility concerns and further with the Defendant enjoying some success at trial on one of the most contentious issues.  In rejecting the request for double costs the Court provided the following reasons:

[5]             I have considered two factors which have influenced my decision against awarding double costs. The first is my findings of credibility which were not favourable to the plaintiff. While I concluded the plaintiff had suffered soft tissue injuries of some duration which were deserving of an award of damages, I also concluded that she had not given her evidence with candour. An award of double costs is meant in part to penalize a party for failing to accept a reasonable offer. On the other hand a party who has not been candid with the court at least in some instances ought not to be rewarded with double costs even if her damage award exceeds the offer. This is one of those instances.

[6]             The second factor I have considered is the defendants’ relative success on the most contentious issue at the trial. The plaintiff advanced a claim far exceeding the award which was largely predicated on the proposition she would need surgery to overcome a disabling thoracic outlet syndrome. I did not accept the plaintiff’s evidence on that issue. The defendants largely succeeded in persuading me that the thoracic outlet syndrome, if the plaintiff actually experienced it, had little effect on her physical condition. That is a further reason for concluding it is not appropriate to penalize the defendants with an award of double costs.

[7]             In Mudry v. Minhas, 2010 BCSC 1110, Kelleher J. discussed apportionment of an award of costs for relative success on an issue under the then Rule 57(15). While the court concluded the plaintiff had not met the test for apportionment, the plaintiff’s success in that case on the issue of fault (although no damage was found and the action dismissed) was a relevant factor under Rule 37B(6)(d), now Rule 9-1(5)(b), on considering if the defendant was entitled to double costs when there had been a defence offer, which in Mudry obviously exceeded the damage award which was nil..

[8]             I acknowledge there is some merit to the plaintiff’s submission that, notwithstanding the absence of success on the issue of thoracic outlet syndrome, the plaintiff’s offer took into account the risk of failure on that issue. Nevertheless, in the circumstances of this action I am unwilling to penalize the defendants in costs when they largely succeeded on that question. The usual rule will prevail that party and party costs on Scale B follow the event.

"Short Fuse" Formal Settlement Offer Triggers Double Costs

Reasons for judgment were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, addressing whether a formal settlement offer open for only 3 days could trigger costs consequences.
In today’s case (Henry v. Bennett) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2008 collision and sued for damages.  The claim was ultimately dismissed with the Plaintiff being at fault for the crash.  Prior to the trial the Defendant provided a formal offer of $30,000 which was only open for acceptance for three days.
The Plaintiff argued that the offer should not attract double costs in part due to its short window.  Madam Justice Ballance disagreed finding given the significant liability risks at trial it was a reasonable offer.  In addressing its short lifespan not being a barrier the Court provided the following reasons:

[41]         I would ordinarily regard a three-day fuse attached to an offer that was delivered close to the eve of trial, where it would be expected that the party would be engrossed in the demands of trial preparation, as posing an unreasonable time constraint within which to give it meaningful evaluation.  The difficulty facing Mr. Henry, however, is that due mainly to his own damaging discovery evidence, he ought reasonably to have anticipated that he faced significant exposure of not only faring poorly on the issue of liability, but losing his case altogether.  Knowing, as he did, his harmful evidence, Mr. Henry should have appreciated the deep weakness of his claim and the risk of significant apportionment against him or the outright dismissal of his suit and his exposure for an adverse costs award.  All things considered, the 2011 Offer was one that ought reasonably to have been accepted by Mr. Henry.

[42]         With respect to other the pertinent factors, in dismissing Mr. Henry’s case, the Court placed heavy emphasis on his discovery evidence concerning liability for the accident.  Relatively little is known about Mr. Henry’s specific financial circumstances.  Based on the evidence at trial, it is reasonable to infer that his financial situation is modest.  However, that, of itself or in combination with any other factor, is not reason enough in this case to refuse the defendant an award of double costs.

[43]         The defendant is entitled to costs of this proceeding at Scale B up to and including March 8, 2011, and double costs thereafter.

Double Costs Ordered After Baseball Brawl Lawsuit Dismissed

Earlier this year the BC Supreme Court dismissed a lawsuit following a fight between two adults at a Pee Wee baseball game.  Prior to trial the Defendant made several fairly modest settlement offers, one of which was a formal offer giving the Court the discretion to award double costs.  In finding it was unreasonable for the Plaintiff to reject the offer and proceed to trial Madam Justice Watchuk (Charland v. Cloverdale Minor Baseball Association) provided the following reasons ordering the Defendant to pay double costs:
[17]         Mr. Wheeler submits that the offers were offers which ought reasonably to have been accepted.  There is now general agreement on the law that, “in determining whether the offer to settle ought reasonably have been accepted the court does not consider the final result…  The reasonableness of a decision not to accept an offer must be assessed … [by] the circumstances existing when the offer was open to acceptance:” [Ward at para. 36]. 
[18]         The first offer of $3000, although not a formal offer under the Rules, was made on March 13, 2012.  It canvassed the minor injuries set out in Mr. Charland’s records, and noted that there was not the required supporting letter to substantiate the amount of an offer which had been made by Mr. Charland.
[19]         On June 8, 2012, a formal offer to settle in the amount of $5000 was served on counsel for Mr. Charland.  It was open until five minutes after the commencement of the trial.
[20]         Discoveries of Mr. Charland were held in late July 2012.  On August 2, 2012, counsel for Mr. Wheeler wrote to plaintiff’s counsel expressing reasons why Mr. Charland’s case was problematic.  Those reasons, the credibility of Mr. Charland and the nature and extent of his injuries, were later the subject of findings made at the trial which supported the position of Mr. Wheeler.
[21]         At that time, previous offers were retracted and a “nuisance offer” of $250 was formally made.
[22]         Mr. Wheeler submits that the fact that the final offer was reduced significantly following discoveries should have no effect on the determination of whether double costs are appropriate in this case.  I agree.
[23]         It was incumbent on Mr. Charland to “make a careful assessment of the strength or lack thereof of [his] case at the commencement and throughout the course of the litigation” [Hartshorne at para. 25].  Mr. Charland had knowledge, particularly after his Discovery, of the evidentiary problems in his case.  He chose to proceed to trial despite knowledge of those problems.  In light of that knowledge at the time the $5000 offer was made, and in light of the heightened knowledge at the time the nominal offer of $250 was made, his decision not to accept the offers was not reasonable.
[24]         As in Riley, Mr. Charland ought reasonably to have anticipated that his claim would be dismissed at trial.
[25]         With regard to the other factors listed in Rule 9-1(6), the relationship between the terms of settlement offered and the final judgment of the court may be considered by the court.  The second and final offers were more favourable to Mr. Charland than the decision of the court since his claim was dismissed with costs.
[26]         The court may also consider the relative financial circumstances of the parties.  Little is known regarding this factor.  It appears from the evidence that both parties have similar financial circumstances.  Both have legal costs arising from the litigation.
[27]         There are no other factors raised by Mr. Wheeler and, in the absence of submissions from Mr. Charland, no other factors that the court considers appropriate to take into account.
[28]         On consideration of the factors set out in Rule 9-1(6), I conclude that Mr. Wheeler is entitled to double costs from the date of the first formal offer, June 8, 2012. 
 

Pending Appeal No Reason For Trial Judge Not To Finalize Costs

Short and to the point reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, awarding a plaintiff double costs after proceeding to trial and besting a pre-trial settlement offer.
In the recent case (Codling v. Sosnowsky) the Plaintiff was injured in a motor vehicle collision.  Prior to trial she made a formal settlement offer for $55,000.   ICBC rejected this and proceeded to trial where she was awarded just over $70,000.  The Court awarded the Plaintiff double costs for besting the offer.  ICBC argued that it was premature to settle costs as the case was under appeal.  Mr. Justice Smith quickly disposed of this argument providing the following reasons:
[3]             The defendant also says it is premature to deal with costs because he has filed an appeal and even partial success could reduce the award to an amount below the offer to settle. I do not accept that argument. The duty of this court is to finalize its own judgment. If the Court of Appeal finds that judgment to be in error, the costs consequences will change accordingly.
In confirming that this was an appropriate case for double costs Mr. Justice Smith reasoned as follows:
[7]             On the basis of the evidence that the parties could reasonably have anticipated being called at trial, I find that the plaintiff’s offer represented a reasonable effort to assess her possible recovery. It was one the defendant should have recognized as being within the range of possible awards and ought reasonably to have been accepted, particularly when weighed against the cost of going to trial. I recognize that liability was denied and the plaintiff’s offer made no apparent discount for risk on that issue, but this was a rear-end collision and the defendant had little prospect of success on liability or contributory negligence.

"Unreliable" Plaintiff Punished With Double Costs Award After Failing to Best Defence Offer

Update Auguaat 16, 2013 – In an interesting development, the below judgement was overturned by the Chambers Judge before entry of the costs order.  You can find reasons here
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Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, ordering a plaintiff to pay double costs to a defendant following a personal injury trial which failed to best the Defendant’s pre trial formal settlement offer.
In last week’s case (Gulbrandsen v. Mohr) was injured in a collision.  In the course of the lawsuit the Defendant offered to settle for $50,000.  The Plaintiff rejected this offer and proceeded to trial where a less favorable result was reached with damages being assessed at just over $28,000.
In the course of the trial the Court made negative findings about the Plaintiff’s reliability.  In stripping the Plaintiff of her post offer costs and ordering that the Plaintiff pay double costs to the Defendant Mr. Justice Affleck provided the following reasons;
[5]             In exercising that discretion there are three possible approaches I have considered. The first would be to award costs to the plaintiff up to the date of the offer and deprive her of costs thereafter. In my view that outcome cannot be justified. It would largely ignore the intent of the rules to provide for an award of costs in favour of a party who has made an offer which ought to have been accepted but was not. The second alternative would be to award the plaintiff costs up to the date of the offer and the defendant single costs thereafter. I would be inclined to make that award if the award of damages had fallen only slightly short of the offer. It did not.
[6]             The remaining possible outcome I have considered is to award the plaintiff costs to the date of the offer and to award the defendant double costs thereafter, as he proposes. The factor which might militate against doing so is the relative financial circumstances of the parties. The plaintiff is a woman of modest means. I know nothing of the remaining defendant, Mr. Mohr’s, means. The action was defended by counsel instructed by ICBC. The court may take into account the presence of insurance coverage when assessing the relative financial circumstances of the parties: Smith v. Tedford, 2010 BCCA 302 at para. 19. However, the presence of insurance coverage is not always a relevant factor. As the court observed in Hunter v. Anderson, 2010 BCSC 1591 at para. 22:
…it is in circumstances where a defendant’s insurance coverage creates an unfair advantage leading to unnecessary costs through testing the plaintiff’s case, where an insurer’s financial circumstances supplant those of the litigant as a factor to consider in determining costs.
[7]             I find that the presence of insurance coverage in the present case did not create an unfair advantage leading to unnecessary costs. It was the plaintiff who unreasonably rejected the defendant’s offer to settle. Therefore, I am unable to find a relevant significant disparity in the relative financial circumstances of the parties.
[8]             Unless there is some compelling reason to the contrary, the defendant is entitled to double costs from the date of the offer. Not only is there no reason to the contrary, in my view there is a compelling reason to accept the defendant’s argument. In my reasons for judgment which awarded damages to the plaintiff, I nevertheless found the plaintiff was an unreliable witness. This was not simply a matter of a witness who was honestly mistaken. I concluded the plaintiff had attempted to persuade me of facts that she knew were not true. On the costs hearing the plaintiff complained about my conclusions regarding her credibility but the costs hearing was not an occasion to re-argue her case for damages.
[9]             The plaintiff will be entitled to her costs up to the date of the offer to settle and the defendant will be entitled to double costs thereafter.

 One issue that apparently was not argued on this application was whether the Rules of Court allow for double costs in these circumstances.  While Rule 9-1 provides a Court with broad costs discretion following trials with formal offers in place, Rule 9-1(5)(b) seems to limit the Court to single post offer costs to a Defendant where they best their formal settlement offer.  I am not sure if this matter has been judicially considered but it is certainly an argument a Court would need to grapple with if asked to do so.

New Formal Settlement Offer Rule Gets First Judicial Interpretation


The first judgement that I’m aware of dealing with the new formal settlement offer rule (Rule 9) was released today by the BC Supreme Court.
In today’s case (Demarzo v. Michaud) the Plaintiff was injured in a BC motor vehicle collision.  He went to trial and was awarded $356,000 in total damages.  (you can click here to read my post summarizing the trial judgement).  Prior to trial the Plaintiff made a formal settlement offer to resolve the claim for $150,000.
Having comfortably beat his pre-trial settlement offer the Plaintiff asked the Court to exercise its discretion and award double costs under Rule 9-1 (Rule 9 reads almost identically to the old Rule 37B.  You can access my archived posts dealing with Rule 37B by clicking here).
Prior to trial the Plaintiff obtained various independent medical reports.  The Plaintiff served these on the Defendant in compliance with the rules of Court but not as quickly as possible.  In an interesting application of the new rule Mr. Justice Brown held that double costs should not be ordered if a party failed to make “timely disclosure of documents“.  Specifically the Court held as follows in refusing to award the Plaintiff double costs:

[18]         The main purpose of Rule 9-1 is to encourage parties to settle, early if possible. But the purposes of the Rule, and modern practice, assumes timely disclosure of documents and reports that would significantly affect a party’s ability to make a rational assessment of the litigation risks they face. While it is true the Rules of Court provide parties means to discover facts and the parties can conduct their own investigations to assess litigation risks, in my view it is also incumbent on a party expecting an order for double costs to show timely disclosure of documents and reports that would have significantly affected the other party’s assessment of whether the offer ought reasonably to be accepted.

[19]         Further, while evidence at trial produced a judgment that was more than double what the plaintiff offered to settle for, I note that the plaintiff’s credibility, tested on cross-examination, and the specialist reports served in October 2009 were important factors in the damages awarded.

[20]         Considering these factors, I find an award of double costs is not in keeping with the purposes of the Rule and I decline an award.

ICBC Ordered to Pay "Double Costs" In Breach of Insurance Case; Timing and Finances of Parties Considered

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, ordering ICBC to pay ‘double costs‘ after losing a breach of insurance claim.
In today’s case (Barsaloux v. ICBC) the Plaintiff was the owner of a vehicle that was stolen and subsequently recovered.  It was damaged beyond repair.  The Plaintiff had insurance with ICBC and applied for coverage.  ICBC refused to pay stating that the Plaintiff was in breach of his policy of insurance for making a false declaration about the identity of the vehicle’s principal operator.
The Plaintiff successfully sued ICBC and was awarded $13,850 in damages.   Prior to trial, the Plaintiff made a formal settlement offer of $13,700.  The Plaintiff applied to Court to be awarded double costs under Rule 37B.
ICBC objected arguing that the offer was made only two days before trial and therefore there was no reasonable opportunity to consider it.  Mr. Justice Smith disagreed and awarded the Plaintiff double costs.  In doing so the Court made the following useful comments about two notable issues under Rule 37B, timing of settlement offers and the financial disparity between the parties:

[17] I stress that ICBC was directly a party to this action. That distinguishes this case from Bailey v. Jang, 2008 BCSC 1372, where Hinkson J. declined to consider the relative financial positions of the plaintiff and ICBC where ICBC’s involvement was in its capacity as insurer for the named defendant.

[18]         The unequal position of the parties is not determinative because, as counsel for ICBC points out, the same situation will exist in any case where there is a coverage dispute between the corporation and a policy holder. However, I am also of the view that, in this case, ICBC used its position of strength to maintain what it should have known was an untenable, or at least an insufficiently considered, position…

[22]         In the circumstances, ICBC should have realized the weakness of its position well before trial. The offer to settle was the only means the plaintiff had to exert additional, although modest, pressure and to provide ICBC with a further opportunity to re-assess and reconsider its position in light of the evidence that existed. I find that it was an offer that ought reasonably to have been accepted.

[23]         That conclusion is not altered by the fact that the revised offer to settle was delivered only two days before trial. ICBC relies on Bailey, where the court said seven days was a reasonable period of time to consider an offer and ordered double costs for the period beginning seven days after delivery of the offer.

[24]         I do not read Bailey as stating anything more than what was a reasonable period for consideration of an offer on the facts of that case. Rule 37B sets no time limit for delivery of a settlement offer. In that regard, it differs from the former Rule 37, where an offer delivered less than seven days before trial attracted different consequences than one delivered earlier. In fact, Rule 37B(6)(a) specifically refers to an offer that ought reasonably have been accepted “either on the date that the offer to settle was delivered or on any later date” (emphasis added).

[25]         In the circumstances of this case, including the issues involved, the delivery date of the offer gave ICBC sufficient time to consider its position before trial. As said above, ICBC should have known well before the offer was delivered that it could not prove an essential part of what it was alleging. I find the plaintiff is therefore entitled to double costs for the trial of this action.

As readers of this blog are likely aware, Rule 37B will be replaced with Rule 9 on July 1, 2010 when the new BC Civil Rules come into force. The new rule uses language that is almost identical to Rule 37B which will likely have cases such as this one retain their value as precedents moving forward.

Plaintiff Awarded Double Costs for Beating Pre Trial Formal Settlement Offer; Relevance of ICBC Insurance Considered


In my continued efforts to track the judicial development of Rule 37B, reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, awarding a Plaintiff double costs for the trial of her ICBC claim.  The contentious issue of the existence of Insurance as a potentially relevant factor was also considered.
In today’s case (Pham-Fraser v. Smith) the Plaintiff was injured in a BC motor vehicle collision.  Before trial the Defendant (insured with ICBC) offered to settle under Rule 37B for $115,000.  The Plaintiff responded with a formal settlement offer of $149,000.  Neither party accepted the respective offers and proceeded to trial where the Court awarded just over $400,000 in total damages (click here to read my previous post discussing the trial judgement).
The Plaintiff, having comfortably beat her formal offer, asked the Court to award double costs under Rule 37B.  In granting the motion Mr. Justice Greyell held as follows:

[24] The second factor referred to in Rule 37B(6) also operates in the plaintiff’s favour.  There is a wide difference between the offer to settle and the final judgment.  The judgment is almost three times the amount offered.  The plaintiff’s offer was made because she wished to avoid court and having to give her evidence.  Some of her evidence was of a private nature relating to matters she did not wish to talk about in the public forum of a court of law (that is, how the accident affected her work and home life, her marital relationship with her husband after the accident, and the fact she suffered from incontinence).

[25] It is not necessary to consider factors set out in Rule 37B(6)(c) and (d).  I do not accept the plaintiff’s submission I ought to consider that the defendants, being represented by ICBC, are in a “sophisticated” position in terms of providing settlement instructions and that this is a factor to be taken into account and operate in the plaintiff’s favour in exercising my discretion under the rule.   The plaintiff’s argument seems to me to simply be another way of putting a “deep pockets” argument forward: an argument the courts have thus far rejected as being a factor to be considered in determining whether to award costs under Rule 37B.

[26] After considering the factors which I do consider relevant under Rule 37B, I conclude the plaintiff is entitled to an award of double costs.

As previously discussed, the BC Supreme Court is inconsistent on whether a Defendant being insured is a relevant factor under Rule 37B and clarity from the Court of Appeal would be welcome.  While more cases than not have held that insurance is not a relevant consideration it is not yet clear that this is correct.  If the law was settled it would assist lawyers in advising their clients of the potential risks and benefits of trial.

In my continued efforts to get us all prepared for the New BC Supreme Court Civil Rules I will again point out that Rule 37B will be replaced with Rule 9 under the New Rules. The new rule uses language that is almost identical to Rule 37B which should help cases such as this one retain their value as precedents.

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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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