Tag: formal settlement offers

Defendant Awarded Trial Costs for Beating Formal Settlement Offer in ICBC Claim

While Rule 37B is still being shaped in its application one pattern that is relatively well established is that if a Plaintiff is awarded less at trial than ICBC’s formal settlement offer the Plaintiff will likely be deprived of their trial costs and be ordered to pay a portion of the Defendant’s costs.  Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Courtenay Registry, demonstrating such a result.
In this week’s case (Berry v. LaBelle) the Plaintiff was injured in a motor vehicle collision.  He sued for damages.  The month before trial ICBC made a formal settlement offer to resolve the claim for $46,000.  This offer was rejected.  At trial the Plaintiff was awarded $30,000 in total damages by the BC Supreme Court (you can click here to read my article summarizing the trial judgement).
ICBC brought a motion under Rule 37B to be awarded double costs for all steps taken in the lawsuit after the formal offer was delivered.  Madam Justice Baker refused to award double costs, however the Court did deprive the Plaintiff of costs following the formal offer and ordered that the Plaintiff pay the Defendant’s costs from the week after the offer was made through to trial.
The Court recognized that such an order would significantly reduce the amount of damages the Plaintiff would receive.  Madam Justice Baker provided the following reasons justifying this result:
[13] Counsel for the defendant submits, and I agree, that the plaintiff did set his sights very high at trial.  In oral submissions at the end of trial, counsel for the plaintiff argued that the appropriate award for non-pecuniary damages was between $150,000 to $200,000; that the plaintiff should receive an award of $45,000 to $60,000 for past loss of income; and that the court should award $400,000 for loss of the capacity to earn income in future.  The submissions about income loss were particularly ambitious given that the plaintiff provided no documentary evidence whatsoever about income earned by the plaintiff before or after the accident…

[15]        I consider that the offer made by the defendant was one that ought reasonably to have been accepted, although the plaintiff would, in my view, have reasonably needed some time to consider his position and seek his counsel’s advice.

[16]        As stated earlier, the plaintiff ought to have anticipated significant difficulty in maintaining a loss of income claim without the ability, or willingness, to provide documentary evidence about his earnings before or after the accident.

[17]        By the date of the defendant’s offer, the plaintiff had available to him the medical opinion evidence on which he relied at trial.  Given that the medical evidence ruled out neurological injury; plaintiff’s counsel would have had plenty of precedents available to assist in assessing the likely range of quantum of non-pecuniary damages…

[19]        Certainly the effect of the costs order the defendant is seeking would be to deprive the plaintiff of the greater part of the compensation to which I concluded he is entitled by reason of the defendant’s negligence and the plaintiff’s injury…

[21] In all of the circumstances, I am satisfied that it would be inequitable to make an award of double costs in favour of the defendant.  The defendant having elected to proceed under Rule 66, I am satisfied that the defendant’s entitlement to costs should be governed by Rule 66.  I award the plaintiff his costs, on Scale B, not to exceed $6,600, up to and including April 21, 2009, plus disbursements incurred to that date.  In respect of proceedings after that date, the defendant shall have her costs, but also limited to $6,600 pursuant to Rule 66(29); and her disbursements from and after April 22, 2009.   There shall be no order for double costs.

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.

You can click here to access my archived posts discussing other Rule 37B cases.

No Double Costs for "Walk Away Offer" In Defeated Lawsuit

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court considering whether a Defendant should be awarded double costs for successfully defeating a lawsuit where they made a formal settlement offer before trial.
In today’s case (McVeigh v. McWilliams) the Plaintiff sued the Defendant alleging defamation.  Before trial the Defence lawyer made a ‘walk away’ offer under Rule 37B (click here to access my previous posts and recent video discussing formal settlement offers and costs consequences) which was phrased as follows:
Our client will waive costs in exchange for your consent to a dismissal of your claim on a “without costs” basis. Our client reserves the right to bring this offer to the attention of the court for consideration in relation to costs after the court has rendered judgment on all other issues in this proceeding, in accordance with Rule 37(b) of the Rules of Court.
The Defendant, who was awarded Costs for succeeding in the lawsuit, asked the Court to exercise its discretion under Rule 37B and award double costs.  Mr. Justice Shabbits refused to do so finding that the Plaintiff was entitled to his day in Court and should not be penalized with an order of double costs for failing to beat a walk away offer.  The Court reasoned as follows:

[23] A defendant in every case in which a non-monetary issue is at stake could offer to “settle” on the basis that the plaintiff concede the cause of action, and they could do so as soon as they file the statement of defence. The issue is whether such an “offer” should attract double costs.

[24] I acknowledge that in this case the defendant did offer to waive costs to the date of the offer. But, costs here were never the issue. In my view, the defendant’s offer did not really involve any meaningful element of compromise. In respect of the cause of action, the defendant’s position after delivery of the offer to settle was the same as before delivery. It was as set out in the pleadings.

[25] In my opinion, it was not unreasonable of the plaintiff to refuse the defendant’s offer. He, too, was entitled to have the issue tried.

[26] In my opinion, no order for double costs is warranted. The defendant is entitled to his costs on Scale B except for the costs of this application. The plaintiff has enjoyed substantial success on this application, and he is entitled to his costs of it on Scale B.

I should point out that it is possible for a Defendant to be awarded double costs for beating a settlement offer if the lawsuit is dismissed, however, in cases where the settlement offer was no more than a ‘nuisance’ offer or a ‘walk away’ offer the BC Supreme Court may be reluctant to make such an award.

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.

ICBC Injury Claims and Formal Settlement Offers; What You Need to Know

When taking an ICBC or other BC personal injury claim to trial in the Supreme Court it is vital to understand the financial consequences that can be triggered when formal settlement offers are made. I have written dozens of articles on this topic and you can access these here.
Below is a brief video discussing some of the key factors you need to consider when reviewing ICBC’s formal settlement offer under the BC Supreme Court Rules and further the issues you should consider when making your own formal settlement offer. I hope this information is of assistance.

More on Formal Settlement Offers – Relevance of Insurance and a Novel Use of Rule 37B


In my continued efforts to write about the development of Rule 37B (the rule that deals with costs consequences after a party beats a formal settlement offer at trial) two cases were released this week further interpreting this rule.
The first case (Ostiguy v. Hui) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2003 BC car crash.  She ultimately represented herself.  In the course of the lawsuit ICBC made a formal settlement offer under the old Rule 37 for $30,000.  The Plaintiff did not accept this offer and went to trial.  The Jury awarded the Plaintiff $10,000.   The Defendants brought a motion for costs.
After addressing a technical issue about the offer’s general compliance with the old Rule 37 Mr. Justice Williams decided that the offer was capable of triggering costs consequences under the new Rule 37B.  The Court went on to award the Defendant 60% of their costs from the time that liability was admitted onward.  In reaching this decision the Court held that whether the Defendant was insured with ICBC was not to be considered (an issue the BC Supreme Court cannot agree on and needs to be addressed by the Court of Appeal).
The Court made the following notable comments:
[68] I have no knowledge as to the circumstances of the defendants; I will proceed on the basis that they are ordinary people of ordinary means. I should note parenthetically that, although they were represented by an insurer, it is their circumstances and not those of the insurer which are to be considered…

[71] In this case, the costs which the plaintiff is liable to pay are substantial. That is attributable in significant part to the fact that this litigation dragged on considerably. The plaintiff hired and subsequently discharged two different lawyers before proceeding to act for herself. There were a number of delays. Costs have mounted.

[72] The law is clear that sympathy is not a basis to determine the outcome of matters such as this. Nevertheless, it is quite disconcerting to see the plaintiff’s award of damages for her injury completely obliterated and overshadowed by a costs obligation, and for the consequences in fact to go further, to leave the plaintiff with a huge bill to pay as well.

[73] At the same time, the Court must be cautious that the sound and basic principles that underlie the costs regime are not simply disregarded because the plaintiff chose to represent herself and chose to proceed as she did.

[74] In the final result, the matter requires a balancing of a number of considerations and a significant application of judgment to try and fashion an outcome that is fair in the circumstances. Approaching the task in that fashion, I have decided as follows:

(a)      The effective date of the Offer will be July 14, 2008, when the defendants advised the plaintiff that liability was being admitted.

(b)      Up to July 14, 2008, the plaintiff is entitled to recover from the defendants her costs and disbursements.

(c)      For the time period following July 14, 2008, the defendants are entitled to recover from the plaintiff their disbursements and 60% of their costs.

For my readers not familiar with the potential extent of cost consequences I should point out that on these findings there is a good chance that the Plaintiff, despite being awarded $10,000 by the Jury, would end up owing ICBC money.  When preparing for trial it is imperative that parties consider the potential consequences of formal settlement offers.

________________________________________________________________________________________________

The second case released this week was interesting because the Defendant made what appears to be a novel use of Rule 37B.  Usually parties restrict formal settlement offers to the issues to be addressed at trial.  In this week’s case (Moro v. El Mantari) the Defendant used Rule 37B in a Chambers application.

The parties could not agree on a lot of issues in the lawsuit.  Prior to trial the Parties brought cross motions to be decided in Chambers.  Prior to this pre-trial hearing the Defendant made a formal settlement offer under Rule 37B asking that the Plaintiff consent to various aspects of their motion.

The Defendant was largely successful in Chambers.  The Court was asked to award the Defendant double costs for Chambers because of the formal offer.  In the first case that I’m aware of using Rule 37B in this fashion Mr. Justice Chamberlist agreed that it was a permitted use of the Rule.  Specifically the Court held as follows:

[18] The defendant submits that it should be entitled to double costs on the basis of its offer to settle to the plaintiff made on June 26, 2009.  At that time the defendant asked the plaintiff to consent to items 1, 4, 6, 7, 8, and 10 of her notice of motion.

[19] The fact is that R. 37 has since 2008 been amended by deleting the subrules that an offer to settle did not apply to interlocutory proceedings.  The overriding fact is that there must be substantial success.  ..

22] Thus R. 37B(4) permits the court to consider an offer to settle when exercising the court’s discretion in relation to costs.

[23] As a result, the fact that the defendant has failed to meet the terms of the offer to settle will no longer necessarily mean that she would be deprived of her double costs.  In various decisions of this court it would appear that an issue which has been discussed in many cases is whether the offer to settle is one that ought reasonably to have been accepted (R. 37B(6)(a))….

[26] The enactment of R. 37B so that it now applies to interlocutory applications as well as trial, demonstrates the purpose of the new rule is to allow an offer to settle to be made, and if I were to follow the plaintiff’s position it would completely ignore the important deterrent function of the rule…

[32] In this case the offer to settle was made on June 26, 2009, and I find that the defendant was substantially successful.  The defendant shall have her costs of her attendance before me on August 27 and 28, 2009, as calculated in accordance with R. 37B, namely double costs.

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 these retain their value as precedents.

More on ICBC Claims and the Timing of Formal Settlement Offers


One principle that is becoming well defined with respect to Rule 37B is that settlement offers made on the eve of trial may not trigger any costs consequences.  Reasons for judgement were released today demonstrating this.
In today’s case (Parwani v. Sekhon) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2004 BC car crash.  The Plaintiff sued for damages.  As trial approached the Plaintiff offered to settle his case for $37,000 plus costs and disbursements.  On the last business day before trial the Defendants responded with a formal settlement offer under Rule 37B for $10,000 plus 50% of disbursements.
The claim went to trial and the Plaintiff claimed damages of $270,000.  The claim was largely unsuccessful with the Plaintiff being found 75% at fault.  Damages were assessed at $25,000 leaving an award of $6,250 for the Plaintiff (25% of $25,000).
The Parties could not agree on costs consequences.  The Defendants argued that since they beat their formal offer they should be awarded the costs of trial.  Madam Justice Ross disagreed with this submission finding that while the Defendants offer should have been accepted it was simply made too late.  In declining to award the Defendants any costs the Court reasoned as follows:

[18] The defendants submit that the offer to settle was one that ought reasonably to have been accepted given the evidence with respect to the liability issue. In addition, the position taken by the plaintiff at trial with respect to his losses was unreasonable given the medical evidence and the paucity of evidence to support the claims. The offer exceeded the plaintiff’s recovery at trial. The position of the plaintiff was that he did not have adequate time to consider the offer, coming as it did on the eve of trial. Moreover, had the plaintiff accepted the offer, considering the disbursements already incurred, the plaintiff would have recovered only $765.34. Accordingly, it was not reasonable to accept the offer. The plaintiff had made an early offer to settle that reflected a considerable discount to reflect the uncertainties in the case.

[19] In my view, while the defendants’ offer was reasonable, it was not early. It came on the eve of trial, after substantial costs and disbursements had been incurred. Such an offer is not the embodiment of the conduct the rule intends to promote. In the circumstances, and considering the factors identified in the rule, I am not prepared to consider the offer in relation to the award of costs.

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 should help cases such as this one retain their value as precedents.

You can click here to read access my archived posts discussing Rule 37B in injury lawsuits.

The Debate Goes On – Rule 37B and the Relevance of Insurance


Further to my numerous posts discussing the development of Rule 37B, reasons for judgement were released today demonstrating that this Rule’s application is still being shaped by the BC Supreme Court.
The one factor that has yet to receive judicial agreement is whether the defendant being insured is a factor the Court can consider when exercising its discretion to award costs under the rule.  There are cases going both ways and today’s case shows that the debate goes on.
In today’s case (Wittich v. Bob) the Plaintiff was injured in a car crash.  Her husband was the at fault driver.  She sued for damages.  Before the trial the Defendant (through his insurer ICBC) made a formal offer to settle the case for $40,100.  Later the Defendant withdrew this offer and made a second formal under Rule 37B to settle the case for $65,000.  The Plaintiff rejected this offer, made her own formal offer of $196,000 and proceeded to trial.
At trial the Plaintiff sought damages of $847,000.  The claim was largely unsuccessful with the Court awarding just over $31,000 in damages.  (You can click here to read my summary of the trial judgement).
The Defence then brought a motion to be awarded costs and disbursements.  This application was partially successful with the Defendant being awarded their costs and disbursements from 6 weeks before trial through trial.  Before coming to this decision, however, Madam Justice Bruce was asked to consider whether the fact that the Defendant was insured with ICBC was a factor the court can consider when weighing the financial positions of the parties.  The Court ruled that this indeed is a relevant factor holding as follows:

[23]        Turning to the financial circumstances of the parties, it is clear that, as a married couple, the plaintiff and the defendant have the same economic position.  The authorities are divided as to whether the circumstances of the insurer should be considered as a relevant factor in an order for costs. In the particular circumstances of this case, I find it is appropriate to consider the insurer’s resources in comparison to the plaintiff’s. The defendant Mr. Wittich supported his wife’s claim and testified that her pain and suffering after the accident was considerable and prolonged; however, counsel for the defendant took an entirely different position in argument. Thus it must be inferred that counsel was taking instructions from the insurer and not the litigant.

[24]        The plaintiff is not a wealthy person. She has not worked for a considerable period of time. The defendant has an income of less than $70,000 per year. I thus find that their economic circumstances are far less substantial when compared to that of the insurer. It is also apparent that an award of costs may deprive the plaintiff of the judgment awarded at trial. These are factors in her favour.

Rule 37B has been on the books now for almost two years.  The Court is clearly conflicted about whether the availability of insurance is a relevant factor under the rule.  When the New BC Supreme Court Rules come into force on July 1, 2010 Rule 37B will be replaced with Rule 9.  Rule 9 uses language that is almost identical to Rule 37B so the lack of clarity will likely continue.  In light of the on-going conflicting authorities it will be useful if the BC Court of Appeal addresses this issue.

Rule 37B – Formal Settlement Offers and Liability Trials


It is not uncommon for personal injury lawsuits to sever the issues of quantum and liability.  What this means is that with a Court order a lawsuit can proceed on the issue of fault first and leave the issue of the value of the claim for a later date.  This often makes sense in serious injury litigation with contested liability where the cost of proving damages will be expensive and the parties wish to save the money associated with this until its clear who is at fault for an accident.
As readers of this post know Rule 37B permits the Court to reward a successful party in a lawsuit with a double costs award if that party beats a formal settlement offer.  In cases addressing quantum its easy to determine if a formal offer was beat at trial.  You simply look at the numbers.  But can Rule 37B be used in a liability only trial?  Reasons for judgement were released today dealing with this issue for what I believe is the first time.
In today’s case (McLaren v. Rice) the Plaintiff made a personal injury claim against the various defendants.   Liability and quantum were severed.  Before the liability trial proceeded the Plaintiff made the following formal settlement to the Defendants:

The plaintiff, Matthew R.J. McLaren, offers to settle the liability trial in this proceeding on the following terms: that the defendant is 99 percent responsible for the motor vehicle accident of February 26, 2005, in which the plaintiff was a passenger in the vehicle owned and operated by the defendants and costs in accordance with Rule 37B.

The plaintiff reserves the right to bring this offer to the attention of the court or consideration in relation to costs after the court has rendered judgment on all other issues in this proceeding relating to liability for the accident.

This offer was rejected.  The Plaintiff proceeded to trial and was successful with the Court finding that the defendants were jointly and severally liable for the accident.

The Plaintiff brought a motion seeking double costs under Rule 37B.  The Defendants opposed this arguing that when the plaintiff added the words “relating to liability in this proceeding” to the offer it was rendered null because it did not comply with Rule 37B(1)(c)(3) which requires a formal offer to contain the following sentence “the…[name of the party making the offer]…reserves the right to bring this offer to the attention of the court for consideration in relation to costs after the court has rendered judgement on all other issues in this proceeding“.

Mr. Justice Brooke rejected this argument and held that Rule 37B can be used in liability only trials.  The Court provided this short but helpful analysis:

[7] Despite the prescribed formulation in Rule 37B, 1(c)(3) being added to with the words “relating to liability in this proceeding”, I am satisfied that the plaintiff has complied with the definition of offer to settle contained in Rule 37B(1) and the issue is properly before me. On the trial of the quantum issue, it seems to me that Rule 37B may again be invoked. The two aspects of the trial are separate and discrete.

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.

ICBC Injury Claims, Settlement Offers, Rule 37B, Sanderson Orders…

Where to begin…
Important reasons for judgement (Burdett v. Mohamed) were released on Friday by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry addressing a host of topics in the context of BC personal injury litigation.
By way of background the Plaintiff was a passenger in a 2002 motor vehicle accident.  She was riding in a vehicle operated by Mr. Mohamed and this vehicle collided with a vehicle operated by a Mr. Samuel.
The Plaintiff suffered various injuries including a traumatic brain injury.
The Defendant Mohamed was charged with Dangerous Driving and was deemed to be in breach of his insurance policy.  Accordingly, ICBC, Mr. Mohamed’s insurer defended the claim as a ‘statutory third party.’
There was reason to believe that Mohamed was solely responsible for the collision however the Plaintiff’s lawyer sued both Mohamed and Samuel.  The reason being was concern about limited insurance coverage.  Mohamed only had $1 million in insurance coverage.  The Plaintiff was not the only injured party and when sharing this money with the other claimants the Plaintiff was concerned she would be significantly undercompensated if this was the extent of her recovery.
ICBC made an offer to the various claimants to “get together to divide among themselves the $1,000,000 third party liability (coverage).”   This offer was not accepted and the Plaintiff proceeded to trial.
Prior to trial the Plaintiff made a formal offer to settle her claim against Mohamed for $1.5 million.  The Defendant Samuel made a formal offer to the Plaintiff to ‘walk away’ on a costs free basis.  After a lengthy trial the case against Samuel was dismissed, the Jury found Mohamed responsible for the Plaintiff’s injuries and the Plaintiff 20% contributorily negligent for her own injuries.   After this reduction in liability the Plaintiff was awarded over $1.8 million in damages.
The Court was asked to decide, amongst other things, whether the Plaintiff should be awarded double costs against Mohamed, whether Samuel should be awarded double costs against the Plaintiff and whether the Mohamed should pay to Samuel any costs the Plaintiff is exposed to.
Rule 37B – Is it reasonable to go to trial for a claim exceeding the Defendants insurance coverage?
The Plaintiff was awarded double costs for beating her formal offer of settlement against Mohamed.  In coming to this decision the Court had to grapple with an area of law that is still open to debate, specifically, when considering whether to award double costs can a court consider the insurance coverage available to the parties?
There are cases that go both ways on this topic and the law is not yet set in stone.  Usually Plaintiff’s argue that this is a relevant consideration and Defendants argue it is not.  Interestingly, here it was ICBC that was arguing the presence of insurance could be “the central factor driving the Court’s analysis under Rule 37B.”.  The Defendant submitted that the Plaintiff was unreasonable in going to trial “knowing of the third party liability policy limits“.
Madam Justice Boyd “entirely reject(ed) this submission.”   Specifically the Court held as follows:
[36] In my view, having never received an actual offer of settlement from the Third Party, it was reasonable for the plaintiff to choose to proceed to trial in this case.  She could expect that she would recover judgment against at least Mohammed and Dubois.  The judgment would also likely be in excess of the policy limits.  While the quantum of the judgment actually recovered would not exceed her pro rata share of the insurance funds (the calculation of which depended on settlements reached or judgments obtained by Maxwell and Sahota), she would still be left with the ability for the next ten years to pursue execution on the judgment against Mohammed and Dubois.  While the Third Party apparently insists that any such judgment will be dry, there is simply no evidence one way or another to confirm that likelihood.  It should also be noted that had the insurance monies been paid into court, and had the three claimants reached some agreement as to an appropriate division of the funds, the Third Party could not have enforced any requirement for a release of her claim against either Mohammed or Dubois.
Can a “Walk Away” offer trigger Double Costs under Rule 37B?
A ‘walk away’ offer is one where a Defendant, confident of winning at trial, offers that if the Plaintiff discontinues the lawsuit pre-trial that the Defendant will waive their entitlement to costs.  The Defendant Samuel made exactly such an offer to the Plaintiff.  The Plaintiff rejected this offer and went to trial.  The Plaintiff indeed was unsuccessful against Samuel.  Samuel asked for an order of Double Costs for beating their formal offer.
Madam Justice Boyd sided with the Defendants and granted the order for double costs.  The Court held that while not automatic, a walk away order is capable of triggering double costs and here it was appropriate to do so.  Specifically the court held as follows:
[56] My own impression is that faced with the grim realities of the other defendants’ limited insurance coverage, the plaintiff made a calculated decision to pursue a claim of very doubtful merit against Samuel, realizing that she would realize a substantial benefit even if Samuel’s liability was limited to a small percentage.  But for the insurance situation, I am confident that the Samuel offer would have been accepted early on by the plaintiff.  ..

[60] As Hinkson J. noted in Bailey v. Jang, 2008 BCSC 1372, the underlying purpose of the offer to settle provisions survived the repeal of Rule 37 and the implementation of Rule 37B.  That purpose is to encourage conduct which reduces both the duration and the cost of litigation, while also discouraging the conduct which has the opposite effect.

[61] I conclude that all of these factors weigh in favour of the defendant Samuel recovering double costs.

The Sanderson Issue:

When a Plaintiff sues 2 parties and succeeds only against one (which was the case here) the Court has a discretion under Rule 57(18) to order that the unsuccessful defendant pay the successful defendants costs.  This is called a “Sanderson Order”.

Here the Plaintiff, not wanting to have the ‘double costs’ order eat into into the limited $1,000,000 of insurance coverage applied for a Sanderson Order.  Madam Justice Boyd granted the order and required Mohamed to pay  Samuel’s court costs.  Vital in this decision was the fact that ICBC, in their Third Party Statement of Defence, alleged that Samuel was negligent in causing the collision.

In reaching this decision the Court held as follows:

[66] This raises the issue, was it reasonable for the plaintiff to have sued and continued her action against the defendant Samuel?  I accept that at the outset, given the evidence of the eyewitness to the effect the Dubois vehicle (driven by Mohammed) had fishtailed back and forth across the road before its collision with the oncoming Samuel vehicle, it was reasonable for the plaintiff to have joined Samuel as a defendant to the action.  However, after the receipt of the many engineering reports which overwhelmingly laid the blame on Mohammed and absolved Samuel of any negligence, was it reasonable for the plaintiff to have continued her action against Samuel?  …

[70] In my view, faced with ICBC’s plea that Samuel caused or contributed to this accident, the plaintiff had no choice but to continue her claim against Samuel.

[71] In all of these circumstances, I exercise my discretion under Rule 57(18) and find that a Sanderson order is appropriate in the case at bar, thus requiring the defendants Mohammed and Dubois to pay the costs which the plaintiff would otherwise pay to the successful defendant Samuel.

The lesson to be learned here is that if a Defendant is going to allege that another party is responsible for a car crash they should do so with caution.  The Plaintiff is free to bring them into the lawsuit and if the claims are not successful ultimately it is the Defendant who may be on the hook for the extra court costs.

Not Done Yet…

One last point.  A companion set of reasons was also released in this case on Friday addressing tax gross ups and management fees.   You can find that decision here.

I Accept Your Settlement Offer…Wait a Minute, What Settlement Offer?


Reasons for judgement were released yesterday by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, dealing with a very interesting set of facts.  Can a Defendant accept a Formal Settlement Offer from a Plaintiff when the Plaintiff forgot the offer was made in the first place?
In yesterday’s case (Burton v. Bakker) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2005 BC motor vehicle accident.  He hired a lawyer to help him advance his ICBC claim.  In the course of the lawsuit the Plaintiff’s lawyer made a formal settlement offer to resolve the claim for $40,000.  Some time after this the Plaintiff switched lawyers.  When the new lawyer took over the file “there was no copy of the settlement offer made (by the last lawyer) in the file and the correspondence accompanying the file made no reference to (the) offer“.
Almost one year passed.  During this time the potential value of the Plaintiff’s claim appreciated significantly.  The Plaintiff’s new lawyer continued to be unaware of the outstanding offer made by the first lawyer.  Then the Defendants lawyer, without any prior notice to the Plaintiff’s new lawyer, accepted the formal settlement offer.  The parties could not agree if there was a binding settlement which resulted in the Defendants applying to Court for “a declaration that there is a binding settlement agreement“.
Madam Justice Bruce of the BC Supreme Court presided over the application.   The Plaintiff’s lawyer argued that “the offer to settle was made under a misapprehension of the facts underlying the claim such that it would result in an injustice to enforce the settlement“.  Ultimately the Court held that this is an issue that would better be dealt with by the trial judge as opposed to in a pre-trial chambers application.  Before reaching this conclusion, however, Madam Justice Bruce provided a useful discussion of the powers of BC Courts to offer remedies in the enforcement of settlement agreements.  Here are the highlights of the Courts discussion:

[20] The enforcement of settlement agreements is not a separate field of law exempt from the ordinary principles of contract law and the rules of procedure. The various means of enforcing a settlement agreement may involve equitable principles, discretionary remedies, and rules regarding the entry of consent orders; however, this does not oust the general principles of contract law. This proposition of law is amply supported by the reasoning of the Court of Appeal in Robertson where Lambert J.A. says at 386:

The law in relation to the enforcement of settlement agreements by stays of proceedings brings together principles of contract law, principles of the law of agency as they apply to barristers and solicitors, rules of equity as they apply to discretionary remedies, and rules of procedure as they apply to the pronouncement and entry of consent orders. In each case, the issues between the parties must be dealt with in accordance with those principles. The effectiveness and the enforcement of settlement agreements does not constitute a separate field of law to which the ordinary principles of contract law, agency, and equity, and the ordinary rules of procedure, do not apply.

[21] It is because the enforcement of settlement agreements involves such a collage of legal and equitable principles that the remedies available to the court have become somewhat muddied. On the one hand, it is apparent that the Rules of Court and in particular, Rules 37A and 37B addressing settlement offers, are not a complete code that have ousted the principles of contract law in respect of the enforcement and interpretation of settlement agreements. As Madam Justice Ross says in Thom at paras. 33 to 34:

[33] In my view, the decision in Acadia Hotels did not have the effect contended by counsel for the respondent of completely ousting the principles of mistake from a consideration of Offers to Settle.

[34] I find support for this conclusion in Craig Estates and in Vickaryous v. Vickaryous (2001), 19 R.F.L. (5th) 195, [2001] B.C.J. No. 1343, 2001 BCSC 930 (S.C.) per Garson J. In both decisions, the principles applicable to unilateral mistake were applied in relation to the acceptance of an Offer to Settle. Moreover, in 256593 B.C. Ltd., Mr. Justice Donald approved of the statement of law made by Baker J. in the Craig Estate decision.

[22] Thus, on an application for a declaration that a settlement agreement is binding on the parties, the court may apply the ordinary principles of contract law to determine the matter and grant or dismiss the application based on these principles.

[23] On the other hand, in an application to enforce a settlement agreement, the court has a broader range of remedies available to it that in an ordinary contract case, particularly because of s. 8 of the Law and Equity Act. This provision authorizes the court to grant a stay of proceeding in any cause or matter before it if it is just and fit in all of the circumstances. Alternatively, the court may exercise its discretion to leave the issue of the settlement agreement to the trial judge. As Garson J. (as she then was) says in Vickaryous v. Vickaryous, 2001 BCSC 930, 19 R.F.L. (5th) 195 at paras. 28 to 29:

[28] This application is brought pursuant to Rules 1, 2, 18A, 27 and 57 of the Rules of Court and s. 8 of the Law and Equity Act.

[29] In an application such as this, the court may grant or dismiss the application to enforce a settlement, pursuant to Rule 18A. Alternatively, pursuant to s. 8 of the Law and Equity Act the court may exercise its discretion in favour of granting a stay of the proceedings pending completion of the settlement agreement. The court also has a discretion to leave the settlement issue to be resolved at trial. (English v. Storey, [1999] B.C.J. No. 1647 (B.C.S.C.) and Hawitt v. Campbell (1983), 148 D.L.R. (3d) 341, 46 B.C.L.R. 260 (C.A.).)

[24] In Hawitt v. Campell, (1983) 148 D.L.R. (3d) 341, 46 B.C.L.R. 260 (C.A.) [Hawitt CA], , the Court of Appeal articulated the circumstances in which the court may refuse a stay of proceedings and held that the same factors should apply whether the application is for a stay of proceedings or for summary trial on the issue. These factors are described by MacFarlane J.A. in Hawitt CA at paras. 20 to 23:

[20] The judge may refuse the stay if:

1. there was a limitation on the instructions of the solicitor known to the opposite party;

2. there was a misapprehension by the solicitor making the settlement of the instructions of the client or of the facts of a type that would result in injustice or make it unreasonable or unfair to enforce the settlement;

3. there was fraud or collusion;

4. there was an issue to be tried as to whether there was such a limitation, misapprehension, fraud or collusion in relation to the settlement.

[21] Refusal of a stay would leave the parties to their remedy in the action or in an action on the settlement.

[22] My fourth point arises from an analogy between a summary application to stay, and an application for summary judgment. In either case, if there is a triable issue then the parties ought to be left to their remedy at trial.

[23] In exercising his discretion to refuse to grant a stay, a judge will consider not only whether there was the required misapprehension by the solicitor but whether the result of that would be unreasonable or unfair to the client. It is in that sense that I understand the reference to reasonableness and fairness in the authorities cited.

[25] Finally, in Robertson the Court of Appeal clarified that the judgment in Hawitt CA deals with an application for a stay of proceedings or summary relief and does not address the legal and equitable principles that ultimately govern whether the settlement is binding on the parties. The latter question is to be determined by the ordinary principles of contract law. As Lambert J.A. says in Robertson at 388:

…But the remarks made in the course of the reasons in Hawitt v. Campbell that a stay might be refused if a settlement obtained as a result of a misapprehension was unreasonable or unfair should not be regarded as introducing a rule that settlements are not binding if they are unreasonable or unfair. In my opinion, those remarks were intended to apply to the exercise of the judge’s discretion upon a summary application for a stay. A judge hearing such an application might refuse a stay, if there had been a misapprehension of instructions, on the ground that to allow it might be unjust. The result of a refusal would be to leave the parties to seek their remedies in the action, in which the settlement might be pleaded, or to seek them separately in an action on the settlement. In short, Hawitt v. Campbell deals with the considerations which apply to the judicial discretion under s. 8 of the Law and Equity Act to grant or refuse a stay. But those same considerations do not determine whether a settlement is binding or not.

[26] Applying these principles to the case at hand, I find it would be inappropriate to grant a stay of proceedings or to grant the summary relief claimed by the defendants. In my view, Mr. Burton has raised a triable issue that there was a unilateral mistake and unfair reliance upon it by the defendants. Further, he has raised a triable issue that the offer to settle was made under a misapprehension of the facts underlying the claim such that it would result in an injustice to enforce the settlement. The parties should be left to pursue their remedies in respect of the settlement agreement at the trial of the action set to commence on April 19, 2010.

Ultimately this case serves as an important reminder that great care should be taken before making a settlement offer in an ICBC Claim otherwise the consequences could cause regret.  If the parties to this lawsuit are unable to come to a resolution before the case goes to trial the presiding Judge will certainly be asked to grapple with this interesting issue.  If that occurs I will be sure to write about the reasons for judgement once they are released

More on Rule 37B – The Conduct of the Parties as a Factor

Further to my numerous posts revieiwng BC Supreme Court cases interpreting and applying Rule 37B following an injury claims trial, reasons for judgement were released today dealing with a unique issue; in exercising discretion under the Rule can the Court consider the conduct of the successful litigant?
In today’s case (Lakhani v. Elliott) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2005 car crash.  Before trial the Plaintiff made a formal offer to settle her case under Rule 37B for $95,000 plus costs and disbursements.
While the Plaintiff did not obtain all the compensation she sought at trial she fared well enough to beat her formal offer.  Specifically, after an 11 day trial Mr. Justice Voith awarded the Plaintiff just over $105,000 in total damages (You can click here to read my post summarizing the trial findings).
Despite the Plaintiff’s relative success at trial all did not go smoothly.  Mr. Justice Voith made some damaging findings with respect to her credibility.  Some of the highlights of these findings were as follows:

[33]      The defendants asserted that Mrs. Lakhani’s credibility was suspect. I agree in significant measure. I believe there are a number of distinct factors that have caused me to question, in some cases reject, and in other cases to significantly discount her evidence. In the main, I find that Mrs. Lakhani has overstated her symptoms resulting from the Accident; downplayed the significance of her 2001 workplace injury; and has been untruthful regarding the Accident’s effect on her graduation from nursing school. I will discuss these concerns in turn…

[40]      I believe that Mrs. Lakhani has tended to considerably overstate the severity of the symptoms that she suffers from as a result of the Accident….

[46]      For the plaintiff to assert that she has routinely and consistently suffered from pain, from the date of the Accident to the trial, which approaches the worst pain possible is not tenable. For her to describe her pain in terms which would be comparable to that of patients who are heavily medicated to assist with their pain management or who are inextremis goes beyond mere subjectivity or imprecision. It is instead either so inaccurate a description as to be of no value or it is a description intended to overstate. In either case it is not a description that can be relied upon….

[51]      The second significant concern with the plaintiff’s evidence was a tendency to downplay the significance of her 2001 workplace injury or to suggest some improvement in her symptoms in relation to that injury prior to the Accident…

[54]      Indeed Mrs. Lakhani sought broadly to suggest that in late 2004 she reclaimed or reassumed control of her life. She said this was so with respect to spending time with her sister, with respect to gardening and even with respect to her household activities. This too is all inconsistent with the objective record of what she told others she could do, with the medical assessment that her condition had plateaued or with her admission that things had become “as good as they were going to get”…

[59]      Quite simply the overall picture which the plaintiff sought to paint with her evidence was one where the very significant “life altering changes” brought on by her low back injury occupied little or no space. This absence of balance in her evidence had the affect of considerably detracting from its weight.

[60]      A third concern with Mrs. Lakhani’s evidence arises from having testified that the Accident caused her to graduate two terms later than she otherwise would have. Specifically, Mrs. Lakhani said that the pain and difficulty associated with the Accident caused her to skip the May to August 2005, as well as the January to April 2007 academic terms. This is not credible on an objective basis…

[66]      Plaintiff’s counsel sought to persuade me that an eight month delay in Mrs. Lakhani’s graduation was a very modest component of the plaintiff’s claim and not one that would cause the plaintiff to be less than forthright. In my view, however, the focus of the plaintiff’s evidence was not designed to obtain the modest financial benefit that receiving her degree earlier would have generated, but rather to impress upon the court the ongoing severity of her injuries. Quite apart from her motivation, the documents I’ve referred to as well as the admissions she made in cross examination, simply do not accord with the evidence she first gave.

With this background at hand the Plaintiff brought an application for double costs under Rule 37B.  The Defendants opposed and argued that given the Plaintiff’s “failure to be forthright at trial” the Court should not exercise its discretion to award the Plaintiff double costs.  Mr. Justice Voith agreed and provided the following analysis:

0] While the dominant objective of Rule 37B, found under the heading “Offers of Settlement”, is likely to promote early or reasonable settlement, additional factors, and in particular the conduct or honesty of one of the parties, can be relevant in considering whether to make an order of double costs under 37B(5)(b). This is apparent from numerous sources…
[13] Second, both the permissive nature of Rule 37B(5), which establishes that the new rule does not purport to create any automatic double cost consequences, and the non-exhaustive list of factors in Rule 37B(6) acknowledge the flexibility inherent in Rule 37B and the prospect that the Rule is amenable to furthering legitimate policy objectives apart from settlement…

[15] It is important to emphasize that in this case there is no issue of depriving the plaintiff of the ordinary costs to which she is entitled or of any award of special costs being made against her. Instead, the only issue is whether she should be entitled to double costs in light of various findings that I made in my Reasons for Judgment.

[16] Having regard to the foregoing authorities, and the underlying rationale that drives them, I can see no principled reason why a lack of candour or probity on the part of a party who gives evidence at trial should not constitute an “other factor the court considers appropriate” under Rule 37B(6)(d) in any potential award of double costs. An award of double costs, or a refusal to award such costs, is one of the means available to a court of signalling to litigants the types of conduct or behaviour it considers as either worthy of promotion or, conversely, as worthy of rebuke…

[20]        The same considerations apply to a party whose evidence is found by a court to be dishonest or designed to exaggerate or inflate a claim. Such a party should understand the seriousness with which that conduct will be regarded. It should similarly understand the potential consequences of that conduct, including its relevance to an award of double costs that the party might otherwise be entitled to.

[21]        In making these comments I am mindful that there are a great many cases where a party’s evidence is not accepted by the court for a variety of reasons. In many cases a party’s best recollection may simply not accord with other objective evidence. A party’s candid evidence may not, in light of the expert evidence, be accepted. Indeed it is not remarkable or unusual for a party to place a somewhat positive slant on given events. The mere fact that a party’s evidence is not accepted by the court, without more, does not engage the considerations I have identified. There is nothing in the conduct of such a party that warrants any reproach or criticism. It is, instead, the natural result of all cases where competing memories or competing versions of given events require resolution…

[24] In this case, the specific findings I referred to go beyond the “normal trial process” and do extend to a finding that the plaintiff sought to mislead the court and to significantly exaggerate the claim being advanced. Such conduct is worthy of censure and, in the circumstances of this case, disentitles the plaintiff to the award of double costs that she seeks.

This case serves as an important reminder of the crucial role that Plaintiff credibility plays in injury litigation.
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.

Contact

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.

“Work hard, be kind and enjoy the ride!”
Erik’s Philosophy

Disclaimer