Tag: formal offers

Defendant Refused Costs at Trial For Failing to Consent to Small Claims Court Transfer


Reasons for judgement were released today addressing whether a Defendant who beat a formal settlement offer should be awarded costs.
In today’s case (Cue v. Breitkruez) the Plaintiff was involved in a rear-end collision.  He sued the rear motorist for damages.  Prior to trial the Defendant made a formal settlement offer for $1.  With liability being hotly contested the Plaintiff proposed that the case be transferred to Small Claims Court.  The Defendant refused to consent stating that “such a transfer would result in greater delay“.
At trial the Plaintiff’s case was dismissed with a finding that the Plaintiff was responsible for the collision.  (You can click here to read my summary of the trial judgement).  The Defendant then applied to be awarded double costs pursuant to Rule 9-1(5) because they beat their formal offer at trial.
Mr. Justice Smith dismissed the application noting that since Rule 14-1(10) generally restricts Plaintiff’s awarded an amount within the small claims court jurisdiction from being awarded trial costs that the Defendant should be refused costs for not agreeing to have the case heard in Provincial Court.  Specifically Mr. Justice Smith noted as follows:

7]             The matter remained in this court subject to an agreement to still limit the claim to what could be awarded in Provincial Court. Had my liability decision been different and the matter proceeded to an assessment of damages, Rule 14-1(10) would have been a bar to an award of any costs, other than disbursements, in favour of the plaintiff.  In my view, fairness requires that the same limitation apply to the successful defendant, particularly as the defendant did not agree to the proposed transfer to Provincial Court.

[8]             I therefore decline to award any costs to the defendant, other than disbursements.  There is therefore no need to consider the offer to settle because there are no costs to double.

One More Rule 37B Case

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, giving more interpretation to Rule 37B in ICBC Injury Claims (click here to read my previous posts on this topic).
In today’s case (Smagh v. Bumbrah) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2004 motor vehicle crash.  The defendant made an offer to settle the case for $20,000 plus costs and disbursements in 2006.  This offer was rejected and the plaintiff proceeded to trial.  After a 10 day jury trial in early 2009 damages of $2,200 were awarded.
The defendant applied for double costs from the date of the offer onward.  Mr. Justice Kelleher refused to grant this motion however he did award the Defendant costs from the date of the offer onward.  In doing so he made the following observations about Rule 37B:

[7]                Rule 37B came into force in July 2008.  It is common ground that Rule 37B applies, even though the offer was made before Rule 37B came into effect.  Subrules (4), (5), and (6) are relevant here:

Offer may be considered in relation to costs

(4)        The court may consider an offer to settle when exercising the court’s discretion in relation to costs.

Cost options

(5)        In a proceeding in which an offer to settle has been made, the court may do one or both of the following:

(a)        deprive a party, in whole or in part, of costs to which the party would otherwise be entitled in respect of the steps taken in the proceeding after the date of delivery of the offer to settle;

(b)        award double costs of all or some of the steps taken in the proceeding after the date of delivery of the offer to settle.

Considerations of court

(6)        In making an order under subrule (5), the court may consider the following:

(a)        whether the offer to settle was one that ought reasonably to have been accepted, either on the date that the offer to settle was delivered or on any later date;

(b)        the relationship between the terms of settlement offered and the final judgment of the court;

(c)        the relative financial circumstances of the parties;

(d)        any other factor the court considers appropriate.

[8]                Here the defendant seeks an award of double costs pursuant to Rule 37.  I turn to the considerations in Rule 37B (5)(b) and (6).

(a)        Whether the offer to settle was one that ought reasonably to have been accepted, either on the date that the offer to settle was delivered or on any later date.

[9]                The plaintiff argues that, at worst, costs should only be awarded to the defendant commencing November 6, 2008.  That is when the defendant forwarded the report of Dr. Matushak, an orthopaedic surgeon who conducted an independent medical examination and whose report was not favourable to the plaintiff.  Before that time the plaintiff had the reports of her family doctor and two specialists.  All three of these physicians were supportive of her claim that her symptoms were related to the accident.

[10]            The difficulty with this submission is that these three reports were based on an acceptance of what the plaintiff told them.  Simply put, the jury did not believe what these physicians believed.

[11]            I conclude that the offer ought reasonably to have been accepted one week after it was made. 

(b)        The relationship between the terms of the settlement offered and the final judgment of the court

[12]            This factor favours an award of costs to the defendant.  The jury awarded an amount substantially less than the defendant’s offer.

[13]            However, this factor is not in itself determinative.  Decisions on damages by juries are somewhat more difficult to predict than assessments by judges.  Madam Justice Humphries put it this way in Lumanlan v. Sadler, 2009 BCSC 142, [2009] B.C.J. No. 224, at para. 35:

As well, an assessment of non-pecuniary damages, as every trial judge knows, is a difficult and somewhat subjective task, as hard as one tries to be consistent with other judgments.  A jury verdict can, of course, be even more disparate when compared to assessments by judges.

[14]            I agree with counsel for the plaintiff that the court should be cautious in placing too much weight on this factor.

(c)        The relative financial circumstances of the parties

[15]            The plaintiff is in difficult financial circumstances.  There is no evidence regarding the defendant’s financial position.  Counsel for the plaintiff argues that it is appropriate to consider the relevant circumstances of Ms. Smagh and the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, which defended the action on the plaintiff’s behalf.  She relies on Radke v. Parry, 2008 BCSC 1397, 64 C.P.C. (6th) 176, where Madam Justice Boyd made note of the “substantial disparity in financial circumstances between the parties”: at para. 42.  Her Ladyship went on to state at para. 42:

The defendants, represented by ICBC, had substantially greater resources to finance a trial than the individual plaintiff.

[16]            A different view was expressed in Bailey v. Jang, 2008 BCSC 1372, 63 C.P.C. (6th) 291, where Hinkson J. made the following comments:

[32]      Second, [the plaintiff] places her financial position against that of ICBC, as opposed to that of the defendants.

[33]      While I accept that it is likely that most drivers in British Columbia are insured by ICBC, the wording of subrule 37B does not invite consideration of a defendant’s insurance coverage.  There may be good policy reasons for this.  Insurance coverage limits with ICBC are not universal, and will vary from insured to insured.  Certain activities may result in a breach of an individual’s insurance coverage, or the defence of an action under a reservation of rights by ICBC.  A plaintiff will not and likely should not be privy to such matters of insurance coverage between a defendant and ICBC.

[34]      The contest in this case was between the plaintiff and the defendants, and the insurance benefits available to the defendants do not, in my view, fall within the rubric of their financial circumstances, any more than any collateral benefit entitlement that a plaintiff may have would affect that person’s financial circumstances for the purpose of determining their loss.

[17]            In Abma v. Paul, 2009 BCSC 60, [2009] B.C.J. No. 87, Madam Justice Gropper agreed with the reasoning in Bailey.  She distinguished the different circumstances in Radke, where the defendant accepted the plaintiff’s offer after 11 days of trial.

[18]            The decision in Bailey was also followed in Kanda v. Jackson (19 December 2008), Vancouver M030259 (S.C.)).

[19]            Although the matter is not settled, the emerging consensus appears to be that the financial position of ICBC is not determinative.  As Butler J. said in Arnold v. Cartwright Estate, 2008 BCSC 1575, 86 B.C.L.R. (4th) 99, at para. 23:

[T]here will always be a substantial difference between the relative financial circumstances of the usual personal injury plaintiff and the defendant’s motor vehicle insurer.  That difference, in and of itself, is not enough for the Court to exercise its discretion to deprive the defendant of costs.  If that was the intent of the new rule, it would have been more clearly articulated.

[20]            This third factor is not helpful in this case.

(d)        Any other factor the court considers appropriate

[21]            While the relative financial positions may not be determinative, I am prepared to consider the financial circumstances of the plaintiff.  They are poor.  She invested in a laundry business which has now failed.  The lender holds a claim over her home.  As well, she is responsible for some or all of a $62,000 personal guarantee given in connection with the business.

[22]            The plaintiff has begun working at a small firm on an as-needed basis for $11 per hour.  She is unable to pay her bills.  She owes her law firm some $40,000 for disbursements.  These circumstances militate against an award of double costs.

[23]            I conclude that the plaintiff is entitled to costs up to November 2, 2006.  The defendants are entitled to costs, but not double costs, from November 2, 2006, to date.

[24]            There has been mixed success on this application for costs.  No costs are awarded in connection with this application.

Working out the Kinks – More on Rule 37B and BC Injury Cases

Very important reasons for judgment were released today (AE v. DWJ) by the BC Supreme Court giving more interpretation to Rule 37B.  (Click here to read my previous posts discussing this rule.)
Rule 37B is still relatively new and the courts have not come up with a consistent application of this rule.  Today’s case takes this rule in a potentially new direction that can make access to justice a little less costly and risky for Plaintiff’s advancing injury claims.
In today’s case the Plaintiff was awarded damages of $348,075 after taking into account contributory negligence.  After statutory deductions the judgment in the Plaintiff’s favor was less than the Defendant’s formal offer of settlement.
The Defendant’s lawyer applied to court for an order that “the defendant should receive his costs (After the date that they made their formal settlement offer)”.
In declining to make this order Mr. Justice Goepel stated that under Rule 37B “the court cannot award costs to the defendant (where the defendant beats their formal settlement offer at trial) but is limited to depriving a party of costs or awarding double costs“.  This is the first case I’m aware of interpreting Rule 37B in this fashion.
Below I reproduce the highlights of Mr. Goepel’s reasoning:

Judicial Discretion In Awarding Costs

[48] The discretion a Supreme Court judge has in awarding costs was summarized in Stiles v. British Columbia (Workers’ Compensation Board) (1989), 38 B.C.L.R. (2d) 307 at 310, 39 C.P.C. 2(d) 74 (C.A.):

The power of a Supreme Court judge to award costs stems from s. 3 of the Supreme Court Act which confirms that the judges of the Supreme Court have the inherent powers of a judge of superior court of record.  The power to award costs is governed by the laws in force in England before 1858 and by the enactments, including the Rules of Court, affecting costs made in British Columbia since 1858.  Generally, the decisions on costs, including both whether to award costs, and, if awarded, how to calculate them, are decisions governed by a wide measure of discretion.  See Oasis Hotel Ltd. v. Zurich Ins. Co., 28 B.C.L.R. 230, [1981] 5 W.W.R. 24, 21 C.P.C. 260, [1982] I.L.R. 1-1459, 124 D.L.R. (3d) 455 (C.A.).  The discretion must be exercised judicially, i.e. not arbitrarily or capriciously.  And, as I have said, it must be exercised consistently with the Rules of Court.  But it would be a sorry result if like cases were not decided in like ways with respect to costs.  So, by judicial comity, principles have developed which guide the exercise of the discretion of a judge with respect to costs.  Those principles should be consistently applied: if a judge declines to apply them, without a reason for doing so, he may be considered to have acted arbitrarily or capriciously and not judicially.

[49] In Cridge, Lowry J.A. noted the right of the Lieutenant Governor in Council to restrict the exercise of a Supreme Court judge’s discretion in awarding costs at para. 23:

While, subject to abiding by established principles, a Supreme Court judge has a broad discretion in awarding costs, it remains open to the Lieutenant Governor in Council in promulgating the Rules of Court to restrict the exercise of that discretion as may be appropriate where it is thought that to do so will achieve a desired objective.  The purpose of Rule 37 is to encourage the settlement of litigation through prescribed consequences in costs as in sub-rule (24).  Given that the sub-rule provides for the litigants’ entitlement to costs while affording no discretionary alternative, I consider it clear that there is no room for judicial discretion where sub-rule (24) applies.

[50] A trial judge cannot impose cost sanctions that are not authorized by the Rules.  An example of an ill fated attempt to do so is Kurtakis v. Canadian Northern Shield Insurance Co.(1995), 17 B.C.L.R. (3d) 197, 45 C.P.C. (3d) 294 (C.A.).  In Kurtakis, the trial judge awarded the plaintiff three times special costs.  The Court of Appeal reversed noting at para. 9 that there was “no statutory authority for such an order … and therefore no basis upon which such an order could be made.”

[51] Rule 37B has returned to judges a broad discretion in regards to costs orders arising from an offer to settle.  The discretion is however not unlimited and must be exercised within the parameters set out in the Rule.  Rule 37B(5) dictates the cost options open to a judge when an offer to settle has been made.  A judge can either deprive the party, in whole or in part, of costs to which the party would otherwise be entitled in respect of steps taken in the proceeding after the date of the delivery of the offer to settle or award double costs of some or all of the steps taken in the proceeding after the delivery of the offer to settle.  As noted in Baker, the section is permissive and a judge is not compelled to do either.

[52] What a judge cannot do, however, in my respectful opinion, as a result of an offer to settle, is to order costs to a defendant where the offer to settle was in an amount greater than the judgment.  While that cost option had existed since the time of the 1890 rules, either as an exercise of the court’s discretion or because it was mandated by the terms of the rule, it is not an option available under Rule 37B.  The drafters of Rule 37B(5) have removed that option and presumably determined that the potential deprivation of costs to which a plaintiff would otherwise be awarded is a sufficient incentive for plaintiffs to settle litigation.  As noted in Cridge, the Lieutenant Governor in Council has the right to limit the court’s discretion.  Accordingly, I hold that pursuant to Rule 37B(5) the court cannot award costs to the defendant but is limited to depriving a party of costs or awarding double costs

[53] The defendant does not seek double costs in this case.  It would be a rare case that a plaintiff who recovers damages would face the sanction of double costs. I would expect those sanctions would be limited to situations in which a plaintiff’s case is dismissed or when the plaintiff was awarded more than its offer to settle.

If this precedent holds then Plaintiffs will face fewer financial risks when proceeding to trial.  The costs consequences of going to trial and losing (not beating an ICBC formal offer of settlement) can be prohibitive and today’s case may lead the way to better access to justice in British Columbia for the victims of others negligence.

More on Rule 37-B

The first decision that I’m aware of was released today dealing with the costs consequences of accepting a Rule 37 offer under Rule 37B.
The full background facts are not necessary for this narrow post.  In this case the defendants made an offer to settle for $6,000.  This offer was made in compliance with the now repealed Rule 37.  The offer was made (and accepted) while Rule 37 was still in effect.
The parties could not agree to whether a formal settlement was agreed to nor what the costs consequences were.  The Plaintiff applied to court to enforce the settlement.  The court application was not heard until October, 2008 (well after Rule 37 was repealed and replaced with Rule 37B)
Mr. Justice Rogers held that in these circumstances a settlement did exist and that Rule 37B is applicable.
Particularly he noted that:
[10]            Like the parties, I am satisfied that the original claim advanced by the plaintiffs in their statement of claim was settled by the parties’ exchange of offer and acceptance.  There will, therefore, be a declaration that the plaintiffs’ claims against the defendants arising out of the writ and statement of claim have been settled.  There will be a declaration that the settlement price to be paid to each of the plaintiffs is $6,000….

[14]            As to whether Rule 37B applies to the present case, I believe that it does.  I have come to that conclusion because the rule permits the court to consider an offer to settle, including one made under Rule 37 but with respect to which no order has been made, when exercising the court’s discretion in relation to costs:  Rule 37B(4).  The court’s discretion relating to costs is engaged when a party asks the court to make an order.  In the case of an accepted offer to settle, a party may ask the court for a declaratory order or it may apply for judgment in the terms of the settlement.  Upon such an application, the court will have discretion as to costs with respect to the application itself and with respect to any costs contemplated by the settlement.

[15]            In the present case, the accepted offer did contemplate costs in the plaintiffs’ proceeding.  Those costs were under Rule 37, but that rule has been replaced.  The costs contemplated by the settlement must now be taken to be costs under Rule 37B.  Therefore, the plaintiffs’ present application for a declaration that their action has been settled engages the court’s discretion under Rule 37B with respect to the costs of the application itself, and also of the plaintiffs’ proceeding as a whole.

[16]            As noted above, the plaintiffs argue that the court should exercise its discretion in their favour for those steps taken in the litigation up to the date that the defendants delivered their offers to settle.  The defendants argue that no order for costs should be made until the counterclaim has been concluded.

[17]            Because the issue of the plaintiffs’ costs of the now settled action falls to be decided under Rule 37B, the court must examine that rule to learn what principles will guide its decision.  As to those principles, the new rule says:

(6)        In making an order under subrule (5), the court may consider the following:

(a)        whether the offer to settle was one that ought reasonably to have been accepted, either on the date that the offer to settle was delivered or on any later date;

(b)        the relationship between the terms of settlement offered and the final judgment of the court;

(c)        the relative financial circumstances of the parties;

(d)        any other factor the court considers appropriate.

[18]            This provision makes it clear that the Legislature intends the court to at least consider conducting a detailed examination into, among other things:  the circumstances that pertained at various stages of the litigation relating to the party’s knowledge of the strength of its own case and that of its opponent; if the case has gone to trial, the proportionality of the offer to the judgment; and the financial circumstances of all of the parties involved.  Presumably, that detailed examination will be based on some form of properly admissible evidence.

[19]            The scope of the inquiry that the court is expected to make before awarding costs under Rule 37B is, therefore, much wider than was the case under its predecessor rule.  Furthermore, the parties to a piece of litigation have, I think, a legitimate expectation that the court will at least put its mind to the factors set out in Rule 37B(6).  This raises the question of whether there may be cases where the court can properly decline to analyze a case in light of the factors set out in Rule 37B(6).  About that I will say nothing definitive, except that this case does not appear to me to be one in which it would be judicious to ignore Rule 37B(6).

No order as to costs was made in this case because “the parties have not adduced sufficient evidence on this application to permit the court to conduct a detailed examination of the factors outlined in Rule 37B(6).”

This is certainly far from the last of the judicial development of this new settlement rule.  I will continue to post and comment about Rule 37B cases as they are released by the BC Supreme Court.

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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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