Tag: Issue Estoppel

Liability Findings in Tort Action Binding in Subsequent HCCRA Prosecution

Reasons for judgment were published this week by the BC Supreme Court concluding that a trial court’s findings of liability are binding in subsequent Health Care Costs recovery prosecutions undertaken by the Province.
In the recent case (British Columbia v. Tekavec) the Defendant owned an apartment building.  A guest fell from the balcony and sued for damages.  The Defendant was found liable and ordered to pay damages.  Prior to trial the Province initiated collateral proceedings under the HCCRA.  They did not participate in the tort trial.  After trial they continue the HCCRA prosecution against the Defendant. The Defendant brought an application to strike the Claim.  Mr. Justice Bracken held that the action can continue and further that Defendant cannot re litigate the issue of liability as it was fully canvassed in the tort trial.  In reaching this conclusion the Court provided the following reasons:
[42]         While the Province could have joined in the original action to fully advance its claim, it chose not to.  Perhaps that decision resulted from the conclusion in Gosselin that the Act did not apply to the injuries Mr. Jack suffered before the Act came into force so the Province concluded it could not take an active role in the original action and had to proceed with an independent action.
[43]         Whatever the reason, it seems clear that the court in the original action thoroughly canvassed the issues the defendant has raised in its Response to Civil Claim filed in this action.  I accept that the Province was sufficiently privy to the original action to engage the doctrine of issue estoppel.  The Province had a right to participate with the plaintiff and had a participatory interest in the outcome.  If the court had determined that the defendant was not negligent that outcome would have bound the Province for the purposes of this proceeding.
[44]         The defendant referred to MacIver v. The Queen, 2005 TCC 250, as support for its submission; however, that case is distinguishable on its facts and was not a case where conclusions were reached after a full trial on the very issues the defendant wishes to raise again in this action.  It is not appropriate to allow the same issues to be canvassed again in this action.
[45]         The issues of liability and contributory negligence were fully dealt with and the defendant has exhausted any rights of appeal.  I am satisfied that the defendant is prevented from raising any defence related to his liability or the plaintiff’s contributory negligence in this action.

Why An Acquittal of Criminal Charges Is No Barrier to a Civil Negligence Case

If the OJ Simpson saga taught us anything it is that being acquitted of criminal charges does nothing to stop a civil action for damages from proceeding.  Reasons for judgment were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vernon Registry, demonstrating this.
In the recent case (McClusky v. Desilets) the Plaintiff was profoundly injured in a single vehicle collision in 2008.  The driver was charged with dangerous driving under the Criminal Code.  The case proceeded to trial where he was acquitted.  The Defendant then sought to have the lawsuit by the injured plaintiff against him dismissed arguing that “the issue of liability was determined when he was acquitted of criminal charges“.
Mr. Justice Steeves quickly dispatched this argument, finding the matter could proceed and ultimately determined that the defendant was negligent in causing the collision.  In addressing the Defendant’s argument the Court provided the following reasons:
[153]     With regards to the criminal charges against the defendant, he was charged with dangerous driving causing death and dangerous driving causing bodily harm. A trial was held in November 2010 and, on December 3, 2010, Mr. Justice Dley acquitted the defendant on all charges. Among other findings he concluded that there were insufficient factors on speed that would elevate the facts of the case to the level of a criminal offense. As a result it was not possible to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant’s driving was objectively dangerous. Further, in reviewing all the evidence, the trial judge concluded that the defendant’s driving was not a marked departure from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe in his circumstance (paras. 59, 61).
[154]     It is now submitted on behalf of the defendant in this civil action that the issue of liability has been decided in his favour by the previous criminal proceedings. That is, he is not liable for the accident and the injuries to the plaintiff.
[155]     The approach of previous decisions on this issue have focused on issue estoppel (Petrelli v. Lindell Beach Holiday Resort Ltd. 2011 BCCA 367 at para. 63; citing Danyluk v. Ainsworth Technologies Inc., 2001 SCC 44 at para. 25). With regards to issue estoppel there are three preconditions: the same question has been decided in the previous proceeding, the previous decision was final and the parties in both proceedings are the same. In the subject case, the parties are not the same as the criminal proceeding and the issues of criminal negligence causing death and dangerous driving causing bodily harm are not the same issues as the civil liability of the defendant here. On this basis issue estoppel has no application.
[156]     With regards to abuse of process, such an abuse has been found where an arbitrator was asked to re-litigate whether an employee was guilty of a criminal sexual assault. A previous criminal court had convicted the employee. The arbitrator found that that the employee had not committed the sexual assault and the courts set this decision aside (Toronto (City) v. CUPE (2001), 55 O.R. (3d) 541,149 O.A.C. 213).
[157]      In the subject case, again, the defendant was acquitted of criminal charges with regards to the same incident that gave rise to this civil action. However, the cause of action in the latter is based in negligence not in the Criminal Code. I am not re-litigating whether the defendant committed a criminal offence, as was apparently the case in Toronto (City).
[158]     I find that it is not an abuse of process for the plaintiff to seek civil damages against the defendant when the defendant had previously been acquitted of criminal charges.

You Can't Sue Twice; The Doctrine of Res Judicata


Res Judicata is a legal principle which prevents a claimant from having their legal issues decided twice.  Once you’ve had your day in Court on an issue you are stuck with the result (subject to an appeal).  You can’t sue again and have a second trial hoping for a different result.  Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Court of Appeal discussing the scope of this principle.
In today’s case (Innes v. Bui) the parties were involved in a a two vehicle intersection collision in 2001.  They approached each other from opposite directions.  The Plaintiff (Innes) attempted to go through the intersection and the Defendant (Bui) commenced a left turn.  The vehicles then collided.
ICBC, as is often the case in British Columbia, was the insurer for both parties.  ICBC decided that the Ms. Bui was entirely at fault.  This raised her insurance premiums.  Ms. Bui sued ICBC in small claims court arguing that she was not at fault and should have her increased premiums returned.  Eventually Ms. Innes was substituted for ICBC.   Ms. Innes was defended by an ICBC appointed lawyer.  ICBC argued that Ms. Bui was at fault.
At trial the Judge found that both Ms. Innes and Ms. Bui were ‘honest people” and he could not choose between their testimony.  The Small Claims judge dismissed the lawsuit finding that “In essence, I cannot choose between them, and to use a probably inappropriate sports metaphor, tie goes to the defendant in a case like this.  In other words, because I cannot decide who it is that I believe, I  have to dismiss the claim, and that is what I am doing.”
At the same time Ms. Innes filed a separate lawsuit against Ms. Bui in the BC Supreme Court alleging that Ms. Bui was at fault.  The Plaintiff was asking for compensation for her personal injury claims.  ICBC appointed a lawyer to Defend Ms. Bui and in this lawsuit argued that Ms. Innes was at fault.     ICBC brought a motion asking the lawsuit to be dismissed based on the principle of “res judicata“.  They argued that since the Small Claims judge already heard the issue of fault and called it a ‘tie‘ Ms. Innes’ case needs to be dismissed in the same way that Ms. Bui’s case was.
A chambers’ judge agreed and dismissed the lawsuit.  The Plaintiff appealed.  The BC High Court overturned the dismissal and found that the Chamber’s judge misapplied the law of ‘res judicata’.  The BC Court of Appeal provided the following useful analysis setting out the limits of the res judicata principle:

19]         There are two forms of the doctrine of res judicata: cause of action estoppel and issue estoppel.  Both operate where the court has adjudicated a cause of action between two or more parties and one of them seeks to re-litigate on the same facts.  Where the cause of action is the same, cause of action estoppel operates to prevent re-litigation of any matter that was raised or should have been raised in the prior proceeding.  Where the cause of action in the two proceedings is different, issue estoppel operates to prevent re-litigation of any issue determined in the prior proceeding.

[20]         The pre-conditions to making out issue estoppel are stated in Angle v. Minister of National Revenue, [1975] 2 S.C.R. 248 at 254:

Lord Guest in Carl Zeiss Stiftung v. Rayner & Keeler Ltd. (No. 2), at p. 935, defined the requirements of issue estoppel as:

… (1) that the same question has been decided; (2) that the judicial decision which is said to create the estoppel was final; and, (3) that the parties to the judicial decision or their privies were the same persons as the parties to the proceedings in which the estoppel is raised or their privies …..

It seems to me that in the circumstances of this case, all that had to be considered on both motions before the court was whether the criteria set out in Angle had been met and, if they had been met, whether the court should exercise its discretion against applying the doctrine of res judicata.

[30]         In my opinion, it cannot be said that the question of liability for the collision was adjudicated upon in the Small Claims proceeding.  Having decided as a fact that the parties left their respective stop signs at “more or less the same time”, the Small Claims judge failed to consider the other important factual question before him – whether Ms. Bui had her left-turn signal on.  Furthermore, he failed to consider the rules of the road imposed upon each of the parties under the applicable sections of the Motor Vehicle Act, R.S.C.B. 1996, c. 318 and how those rules would apply to the determination of responsibility in tort for the collision.  This was not a case of inevitable accident or of no negligence.  One or the other of the parties was wholly responsible, or liability was to be divided.

[31]         The reasons of the Small Claims judge fell well short of deciding the negligence question.  That issue remains alive in the Supreme Court action.  The res judicata arguments of both parties fail.

[32]         The above is enough to allow this appeal.

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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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