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Tag: Madam Justice Bruce

Late Formal Settlement Offers Still Capable of Triggering Costs Consequences

Two judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court demonstrating that formal settlement offers made late in the litigation process are still capable of triggering costs consequences.
In the first case (Dennis v. Fothergill) the Plaintiff was injured in a motor vehicle collision and sued for damages.   The Defendant made a formal settlement offer for $279,000 days before the start of trial.  Following trial global damages of just over $48,000 were awarded.  The Plaintiff argued that no costs consequences should be triggered, in part, due to the timing of the late formal settlement offer.  Madam Justice Bruce disagreed and awarded the Defendants costs and disbursements from the date of the offer onward and stripped the Plaintiff of her costs and disbursements of the trial.  In addressing the timing of the offer the Court provided the following reasons:
[30]         The plaintiff had three days to consider the offer and, while her counsel was out of town at the time the offer was served, she had an opportunity to speak with him by telephone prior to its expiry. The offer was straightforward and did not involve complicated calculations that would have required further time to consider and evaluate. Counsel deposes that the plaintiff’s alcohol consumption was interfering with his ability to obtain instructions from her at the time of the offer; however, the plaintiff’s mental health or state of sobriety was not of such a serious nature that it led counsel to apply for an adjournment of the trial that began within days of the offer. At no time was the Court advised that the plaintiff was unable to testify or appear for her trial due to mental health concerns.
[31]         I find the terms of the offer were clear and unambiguous. The amount of Part 7 benefits and the possible income tax holdback was nominal compared to the amount of the defendant’s offer to settle. The offer was also expressed to be “new money”, which meant in addition to Part 7 benefits paid to the plaintiff in advance of trial. The offer of settlement was clearly not a “nuisance offer” that could be easily dismissed by the plaintiff.
[32]         For these reasons, I find the plaintiff ought reasonably to have accepted the offer of settlement.
In the second case (Brewster v. Li) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2008 collision.   The parties exchanged a series of formal settlement offers, the most relevant of which being a defence offer of $450,000 made 4 days prior to trial.  At trial the Plaintiff sought damages of approximately $1,750,000.  Much of the sought damages were not awarded with a judgement of just over $418,000.
The Plaintiff argued that no costs consequences should accrue.  Mr. Justice Voith disagreed and stripped the Plaintiff of post offer costs and disbursements.  In addressing timing of the offer the Court provided the following reasons:
[25]         The timing of the Last Offer is also relevant. There is no requirement in Rule 9–1, as there was in earlier Rules, that an offer be made within a specific time from the start of trial. In several cases judges have used seven days as a reasonable time to consider an offer; see for example Bailey at para. 39; McIsaac v. Healthy Body Services Inc., 2010 BCSC 1033 at para. 87; Gonzales at para. 51.
[26]         It is clear, however, that this issue is largely driven and governed by context. In Bennett, where the defendant made an offer that was open for two days, Madam Justice Dardi succinctly said:
[34]      Mr. Bennett submits that the Second Offer should be given no force and effect because it was received “some two clear working days before the commencement of the trial.” Rule 37B does not contain the same seven-day notice provision as its predecessor. No inflexible “seven-day” rule is imposed by the Rules; rather every case must be judged on its own facts: Dodge v. Shaw Cablesystems Ltd., 2009 BCSC 1765. The proper issue for consideration is whether, in all the circumstances, the offeree had a reasonable opportunity to consider the offer: Uppal v. Rawlins, 2010 BCSC 11.
[35]      The Second Offer was made shortly before trial. The impact of the lateness of the offer was tempered by Mr. Bennett’s awareness of the settlement negotiations that had previously occurred between counsel. Given Mr. Bennett’s personal knowledge of the material facts as referred to above and his representations to the CRA in April 2005 that he had no interest in the Property, I find that neither the timing of the offer nor the late disclosure of the income tax information negatively impacted his ability to meaningfully evaluate the Second Offer. In all the circumstances, I find that as of November 19, 2008, Mr. Bennett was in a position to reasonably evaluate the Second Offer, that the two days were reasonably sufficient time for him to do so, and that he should have accepted the Second Offer.
[27]         In Enviro West, Madam Justice Boyd considered that an offer which was only open for less than two days provided the plaintiff with adequate time to properly consider the offer. She was influenced both by the fact that the defendants had made an earlier offer that “was not far different” from its last offer and by the fact that the plaintiff was “a sophisticated litigant” (at para. 55).
[28]         In Uppal v. Rawlins, 2010 BCSC 11, Mr. Justice Grauer dealt with an offer that was open for 51 hours and said:
[20]      In this case, although the offer was open for only a relatively short period of time, it was presented just before trial, when all discovery of documents and examinations for discovery had been completed, and when the issues had been fully aired in a Rule 18A application for judgment brought by the defendants. That application was dismissed because the chambers judge found that the case was not suitable for determination by summary trial given the credibility issues. Nevertheless, the position of the defendants was made abundantly clear to the plaintiffs. There would be no surprises at trial. Moreover, the perjury and forgery of the plaintiff Navjeet Uppal had been exposed, and the defendants had obtained admissions on discovery that had seriously imperiled the plaintiffs’ case.
[21]      In all of these circumstances, I have no hesitation in concluding that the offer was one that ought reasonably to have been accepted within the 51 hours or so during which it was open for acceptance. Had the plaintiffs accepted it, they would have saved $26,000 that they will now lose, they would have received $40,000 that they will not now get, they would have saved the time and expense of many days of trial, and they would have avoided all their additional liability for costs.
[29]         Finally, in Wright v. Hohenacker, 2009 BCSC 996, Madam Justice Fisher considered that four days was a reasonable time to weigh an offer in circumstances where the parties “were exchanging offers for a week before” (para. 17).
[30]         In this case counsel for Ms. Brewster emphasized the plaintiff’s emotional frailty. He argued, and she deposed, that she had only been examined for discovery a week or so before the Final Offer was made, that that process had been upsetting to her and further that when she received the Last Offer she felt “doubtful, angry and bullied”.
[31]         Though Ms. Brewster may have felt these things, there was no objective reason to feel bullied. Similarly, the fact that her examination for discovery only took place shortly before the trial does not appear to have been through any fault of the defendant.
[32]         Having said this I do accept that receiving two different offers, which replaced an earlier offer, in close succession and without any explanation, late on the Friday before the week in which the trial started, had the prospect to confuse and be more difficult to deal with. I further accept, having seen Ms. Brewster give evidence, that she would have been somewhat fragile emotionally on the eve of trial.
[33]         Accordingly, different aspects of the considerations raised by Rule 9–1(6)(a) favors each of the parties. On balance, therefore, this consideration is neutral…
[39]         I return to where I started. The dominant object that animates Rules 9–1(5)–(6) is the promotion of reasonable settlements. The plaintiff’s position, that she be awarded the costs of the trial notwithstanding the Last Offer, completely ignores this object.
[40]         I consider that a result which properly gives effect to Rule 9-1(4) and which properly reflects the additional considerations that I have identified, would be to deprive the plaintiff of all of her costs, including all disbursements, after February 11, 2013. This result accords with the result arrived at by the court, for example, in each of Tompkins at paras. 28-31 and Wafler at para. 41.

Passenger 50% at fault for Collision with pedestrian

In what can only be described as a unique and bizarre collision, reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Chilliwack Registry, assessing fault for a collision where an individual was struck by his own vehicle put in motion by his spouse.
In this week’s case (Mayne v. Mayne) the Plaintiff was in his vehicle with his wife, the Defendant, occupying the passenger seat.   As he was pulling out of his garage he stopped the vehicle and went back in his home to retrieve a key.   He left the vehicle running in neutral (mistakenly believing it had been placed in park).  The vehicle slowly started to run down into the roadway.  His wife, concerned it would be involved in a collision, reached over and attempted to put the vehicle in park.  She was not successful, however, and shifted the vehicle into drive.  The vehicle lurched forward and struck the Plaintiff who was just coming back out of the home.
The Court found both individuals equally to blame for the incident.  In placing 50% of the fault on the Defendant Madam Justice Bruce provided the following reasons:
[31]         Having regard to the circumstances of this case, I am unable to find that Mrs. Mayne has satisfied the onus of proof regarding the defence of “agony of the moment”. There was only a nominal risk of harm to the neighbour’s home and Mrs. Mayne panicked and took unreasonable and dangerous steps to stop the backward rolling vehicle. While Mrs. Mayne did not expect the Buick to roll backward, having no foreknowledge of Mr. Mayne’s failure to engage the emergency brake or to leave the vehicle in park, she nevertheless severely overreacted to the perceived danger. Given the very slight slope of the driveway, and viewed in light of the video presentation showing the likely speed of the Buick as it rolled backward, it is apparent that things were not happening quickly at all. The Buick was travelling ever so slowly albeit in a backward direction. There was no one in the area and the roadway was devoid of other traffic. The neighbour’s home was a considerable distance away. The Buick would have to travel out of the driveway, over the first curb, cross the roadway and negotiate the next curb, and travel through the lawn and the hedges of the neighbour’s home before it would have come into contact with a structure.
[32]         In these circumstances, Mrs. Mayne had time to consider what to do. She could have easily unbuckled her seatbelt to make it easier to reach over and place the vehicle in park. She could have simply taken the key out of the ignition. There was no imminent danger from any objective point of view.
[33]         The court must not make armchair judgments based on hindsight; however, clearly Mrs. Mayne panicked in a situation that would not have panicked a reasonable person in the same circumstances. Counsel argued that her age should be a factor. At 81, her reaction times and her judgment would be impaired. However, the law cannot countenance a lower standard for elderly drivers. Mrs. Mayne had a drivers’ licence and regularly operated the Buick. As a consequence, the court must presume that she possessed sufficient competence to operate a motor vehicle safely.
[34]         For these reasons, I find that Mrs. Mayne was negligent when she took control of the Buick and struck Mr. Mayne.

Post Crash Alcoholism Claim Dismissed at Trial

Last year I highlighted a claim which successfully advanced damages for alcoholism which developed following motor vehicle collision related injuries.  Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, considering a similar claim which was rejected at trial.
In this week’s case (Dennis v. Fothergill) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2007 rear-end collision.   She alleged that the injuries resulted in chronic pain which led to post collision alcoholism.  Madam Justice Bruce noted “serious reservations about the credibility of the plaintiff’s evidence overall” and dismissed the claim for post collision alcoholism.  In doing so the Court provided the following reasons:
87]         Turning to the superimposed illnesses of depression and alcoholism, I find there is insufficient, cogent evidence to establish a causal connection between these illnesses and the accident. While there is evidence that people who suffer from chronic pain can develop depression and alcohol dependence in response to the pain experience, there is a lack of evidence to establish a causal connection on the facts of this case. The plaintiff did not raise any concerns about her mood or her alcohol dependence with her physicians until December 2009 during an unrelated consultation with Dr. Zentner when asked about alcohol consumption and in December 2010, when she reported symptoms of depression to Dr. Swope. Thus there is a significant time gap.
[88]         Further, the only evidence of when and how the plaintiff began drinking to mask the pain subsequent to the accident is the plaintiff’s testimony, which is significantly inconsistent. The plaintiff’s disclosure to Dr. Zentner in December 2009 that recently her consumption of alcohol had increased to two or three glasses per day is not consistent with her testimony that since the accident she was consuming the same amount or more each night. The plaintiff’s testimony regarding the motivation for drinking is also inconsistent with her description of her past history with alcohol and her pre-accident injuries. The plaintiff testified that growing up with an alcoholic stepfather taught her to fear alcoholism and steeled her against becoming alcohol dependent as an adult. Prior to the accident she rarely drank and often abstained entirely. This positive attitude toward a healthy lifestyle and aversion to alcohol generally is quite inconsistent with a decision to immediately resort to drinking to lessen pain and improve sleep after the accident. Surely it would have taken some considerable time to break down a resolve to abstain from alcohol consumption that had sustained the plaintiff until she was 42 years old. The plaintiff’s description of how the drinking began is also inconsistent with a failure to develop alcohol dependence when faced with a similar history of chronic pain in her neck, shoulders and back prior to the accident. Lastly, the plaintiff’s evidence that she immediately began drinking alcohol for pain reduction after the accident is inconsistent with the fact that her neck pain was actually improving in early October 2007, just a few days after the accident.
[89]         I am also satisfied that there were many other stressors in the plaintiff’s life, apart from the injuries related to the accident, that are far more likely to be connected with her depression and alcoholism. The plaintiff had difficulties in her workplace; she left the Bee Hive because of disputes with clients that threatened the salon’s business. Had she not left voluntarily, Ms. White would have terminated her arrangement with the plaintiff. The plaintiff had significant financial problems. Her condominium leaked and she needed to raise $65,000 to pay for her share of the repairs. There was also an ongoing dispute with Visa over a $6,000 debt that led to a protracted lawsuit. She was behind on her mortgage, strata fees and income tax. It is significant that during the counselling sessions the plaintiff attended in 2011 and 2012, the subject of the accident never came up and pain was mentioned only once in the context of the plaintiff’s decision to go back to yoga for pain management. It was alcohol, relationships and financial problems that arose before the accident or were unrelated to the accident that formed the basis of her discussions with the counsellor. In addition, the plaintiff had a prior bout of depression in 2004 and 2005 that stemmed from financial worries and the troubling Visa lawsuit. She also had a significant family history of depression that created a risk for developing this illness.
[90]         While I find the evidence of Dr. Lu establishes that the plaintiff currently suffers from depression and alcoholism, I am unable to conclude on a balance of probabilities that these illnesses have a causal connection to the accident or to the injuries caused by the accident. Dr. Lu’s opinions about the causal connection to the accident are highly dependent upon the veracity of the plaintiff’s description of her chronic pain and its origins. As described above, the plaintiff has been dishonest with her physicians and has provided inconsistent evidence at trial. I found she was not a credible witness. Her explanations for these inconsistencies were neither candid nor reasonable. Dr. Lu agreed that alcoholics do not tell the truth about their drinking and try to appear functional when they are not. He testified that an alcoholic’s ability to work is the last to go. Thus the failure to call any corroborating witnesses outside of the workplace to describe the plaintiff’s drinking habits before the accident is a significant omission. I accept that the plaintiff may have lost contact with friends since the accident; however, this fact does not explain why she could not approach one of them to testify on her behalf about her pre-accident health and lifestyle. In all of the circumstances, it would be unsafe to accept the plaintiff’s description of her alcohol consumption as accurate either before or after the accident without some corroborating evidence. None of the collateral witnesses had any real knowledge of the plaintiff’s drinking habits because they did not socialize with her outside of the workplace. They could only say that she did not appear to come to work hung over. Ms. Hicks had no direct contact with her daughter until four years after the accident.
[91]         Accordingly, for these reasons I find that the plaintiff has failed to prove on a balance of probabilities that her current alcoholism and depression is causally related to the accident…

It is Unnecessary To "Label" Injuries In Pursuit of Proper Compensation

When assessing damages in a tort claim, the labels attached to injuries are far less important than the actual consequences of the injuries.  Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, demonstrating this in the context of a chronic pain case.
In this week’s case (Cantin v. Petersen) the Plaintiff was involved in an intersection collision in 2004.  Fault was admitted by the offending motorist.  The crash caused injuries resulting in chronic pain which persisted to the time of trial and was expected to continue indefinitely.  The medical labels attached to the injuries varied from ‘fibromyalgia‘ to ‘chronic pain syndrome‘.  The Plaintiff argued that “it is unnecessary to label the injuries” in the pursuit of lawful compensation.
Madam Justice Bruce accepted that, whatever the label, the Plaintiff’s symptoms were related to the collision and awarded the Plaintiff $150,000 in non-pecuniary damages.  In doing so the Court made the following findings:
[12] While there is generally a consensus among the medical experts regarding the initial diagnosis of Ms. Cantin’s injuries stemming from the accident, there is a considerable division of opinion as to the causes of her current complaints and symptoms. None of the physicians who examined Ms. Cantin and provided expert medical opinions doubted the veracity of her complaints of pain. The dispute among the experts lies in the cause of her current symptoms. While Ms. Petersen argues Ms. Cantin’s physicians have become advocates for her claim rather than independent experts, it is significant that none of the experts had any doubt that Ms. Cantin was suffering real and substantial pain symptoms. In addition, I cannot agree that Ms. Cantin’s physicians were advocates for her claim. They were passionate about their work in the field of chronic pain, and disagreed with the opinions of the defence experts concerning the cause of Ms. Cantin’s continuing symptoms. In my view, this does not render their opinions less reliable or less credible…

[22] There is no question that Ms. Cantin continues to suffer pain in her upper back, shoulders and neck. None of the medical experts believed she was fabricating her complaints or was malingering. There is no evidence of an intervening event that would break the chain of causation between the aggravation of Ms. Cantin’s chronic pain and the collision. The possibility that Ms. Cantin would have experienced the same symptoms in any event is a factor taken into account in determining damages; it is not relevant to causation. Thus I find that Ms. Petersen is liable for the continuing injury to Ms. Cantin’s upper back, shoulders and neck. A comparison of her condition before and after the accident will determine the quantum of damages and the extent of Ms. Petersen’s responsibility for Ms. Cantin’s present condition.

[23] Similarly, I find Ms. Petersen liable for Ms. Cantin’s continuing headache pain as these are causally connected to her chronic pain syndrome in her upper and lower body. The extent of Ms. Petersen’s responsibility will be determined by a comparison of Ms. Cantin’s past experience with headaches and her current experience…

[45] The soft tissue injuries occasioned by the accident have led to the development of serious, chronic pain in Ms. Cantin’s upper and lower spine, hips, and legs. Despite many types of therapy, she has continued to experience serious pain and a drastic reduction in her functional mobility for almost eight years since the accident. Ms. Cantin has lost the ability to work in a competitive labour market; she has no social life outside her home and her relationship with family members has deteriorated substantially as a result of her constant pain and mental distress. She is unable to achieve restful sleep; has suffered a cognitive decline in memory; and has become a social recluse. Her prognosis for any level of recovery is extremely guarded.

[46] While I believe the quantum of damages suggested by Ms. Cantin, adjusted for inflation, is more reflective of her loss than the range posited by Ms. Petersen, a lower amount is appropriate given the risks inherent in her pre-existing condition. Therefore, I award $150,000 in general damages for pain and suffering.

Privileged Witness Statement Ordered Produced When Witness Becomes Party

Interesting reasons for judgement were released last month by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, addressing whether an otherwise privileged statement can be ordered to be produced in litigation where the statement was given by the opposing party.
In last month’s case (Cliff v. Dahl) the Plaintiff was injured in a collision when he was struck by a vehicle driven by the Defendant.  Shortly after the collision the Plaintiff’s lawyer obtained witness statements from a Mr. Weaver and Mr. Jones.
In the course of the lawsuit the Defendant Dahl requested production of these statements but the application was dismissed finding the statements were privileged.  Later Mr. Jones and Mr. Weaver were added as Defendants in the lawsuit.  They brought their own application for production.  Ultimately this was successful with the Court finding a different analysis is required when a party is seeking production of their own statement.   In compelling production Madam Justice Bruce provided the following reasons:

[35] Based on these authorities, I am satisfied that Mr. Weaver and Mr. Jones are entitled to a copy of the statement they provided to Mr. Cliff’s investigator. While their statements as witnesses would not be compellable due to litigation privilege, the change in their status to parties adverse in interest to Mr. Cliff place them on a different footing. Disclosure of these statements is necessary to ensure fairness in the litigation process, to enable these parties to properly defend themselves against allegations of negligence, and to support the truth seeking function of the court. Production of these statements is neither counter-productive to the adversary process nor to the confidential relationship between solicitor and client.

[36] The facts here present a particularly compelling case for production of the statements. The applicants permitted Mr. Cliff’s investigator to take their statements at a time when they were not represented. They were not offered copies of their statements nor advised to seek legal advice about this matter. In addition, Mr. Cliff interfered with the insurer’s investigation of the claim by counselling the applicants not to give a statement unless they first contacted his lawyer. By taking these steps Mr. Cliff’s actions may have prevented a timely statement from the applicants that could have formed a substitute for the statements taken by his investigator. Now that five years have elapsed since the date of the accident, it is apparent that the applicants’ memory of the events has faded. While there is nothing improper about Mr. Cliff’s conduct, it has imbued the applicants’ case with more of a sense of urgency and necessity. There is simply no other means by which the applicants could refresh their memories of the events surrounding the accident.

[37] For these reasons I order production of the signed statements of Mr. Weaver and Mr. Jones in possession of Mr. Cliff’s counsel and the audio recording of the statement. It is not appropriate that I order production of the transcript of the audio recording. This is an aid to follow along with the audio recording and commissioned by Mr. Cliff’s counsel. There is no principle of law that would require Mr. Cliff to share this work product with the applicants. They are free to commission their own transcripts of the audio recording. The applicants have not sought copies of the notes taken by Mr. Cliff’s counsel during his interviews with them. I do not regard these as statements made by the applicants; they are notes to refresh counsel’s recollection of the interview and nothing more. Accordingly, these notes should not be made the subject of a production order.

[38] Mr. Cliff shall produce the audio recordings and signed statements to the applicants within 14 days of this order and upon payment of the reasonable costs for production of copies thereof.

The Flexibility of the 7 Day Rule for Jury Strike Applications

Rule 12-6(5) imposes a 7 day deadline in which to dispute a jury notice. As previously discussed, the former rules of Court permitted parties to get away from this time limit by applying to strike a jury at a pre-trial conference.  With the overhaul of the civil rules does this exception still apply?  Reasons for judgement were released yesterday by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, finding that it does.
In yesterday’s case (Cliff v. Dahl) the Plaintiff was ‘severely injured‘ in a 2007 collision.   The Plaintiff’s claim was set for trial and the Plaintiff filed a jury notice.  The Defendant brought an application to strike the jury notice but failed to do so within the timelines required by Rule 12-6(5).
The Defendant’s application was ultimately dismissed on the merits but prior to doing so Madam Justice Bruce provided the following reasons confirming the 7 day jury strike deadline is not strictly applied under the current rules:
[12] Under the old Rule 35(4)(a), a pre-trial conference judge, the trial judge or a master could make an order that a trial be heard without a jury. The court interpreted this provision broadly; it permitted the application to be made outside the seven day time limit imposed in old Rule 39(27), which is for the most part identical to the new Rule 12-6(5). While the old Rule 35(4)(a) does not appear to have found its way into the new rules, the rationale behind permitting applications outside the strict seven day time limit remains consistent with the intent and purpose of the new rules. The ability to apply to strike the jury notice outside the strict time limit was necessary to ensure a fair trial and the court’s ability to respond to a change in circumstances surrounding the conduct of a trial. Further, it is apparent that a trial management judge has authority to grant the relief claimed by Ms. Dahl without any reference to the seven day time limit: Rule 12-2(9)(b). Lastly, the court has a discretion to extend time limits in appropriate circumstances without the necessity of a separate application: Rule 22-4(2).

Plaintiff 50% At Fault for Running Yellow Light

As the BC Court of Appeal recently confirmed, there is a range of possible splits of fault following many intersection collisions.  Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, further addressing this frequent type of collision.
In last week’s case (Ziani v. Thede) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2006 accident in Vancouver, BC.  He was travelling west on Kingsway.  As he approached the intersection of Boundary Road the light turned yellow.  He increased his speed to run the light.  At the same time the Defendant was approaching from the opposite direction on Kingsway making a left hand turn onto Boundary.  The Defendant testified that he had an advance green arrow although this evidence was not accepted with the Court finding that the Defendant was faced with the same yellow light that the Plaintiff had.

Madam Justice Bruce found that both motorists were equally to blame and in doing so provided the following reasons for judgement:

[24] On the facts of this case, the plaintiff entered the intersection on a yellow light and thus cannot be said to have the right of way. I am also satisfied that the defendant did not have an advance green light in his favour when he was attempting to turn left. Given the timing of the light sequences, and the evidence of the two independent witnesses, it would have been impossible for the defendant to have faced a green light when he was attempting to turn left. Had the defendant faced an advance green turn signal, the witnesses would not have seen a red light for oncoming east/west traffic at the time of the collision. Next in the sequence would have been a green light for through traffic on Kingsway. Moreover, Ms. Gjerding clearly testified that the defendant’s blue van was stopped in the left turn lane waiting for the through traffic to clear. This evidence is inconsistent with the defendant having the right of way with an advance green light.

[25] Thus on the facts of this case, the competing duties described in ss. 174 and 128 of the Motor Vehicle Act are squarely in issue. The burden of proof described in Dawes is not applicable where neither of the drivers had a presumptive right of way. Instead, the Court must examine the conduct of each driver to determine if they complied with their respective duties under ss. 174 and 128 of the Motor Vehicle Act…

[27] In my view, it is apparent that the plaintiff decided to increase his speed and “run” the yellow light in contravention of s. 128 of the Motor Vehicle Act in order to avoid the red light. It was only coincidental with the light turning yellow that he saw the defendant’s vehicle. It was not the presence of the defendant’s vehicle that led to the plaintiff’s decision to increase his speed in order to avoid a collision…

[29] In this case, however, I find the defendant did not assess whether the plaintiff was an immediate hazard or not when deciding to proceed with the left turn. Instead, the defendant wrongly assumed that he had the right of way due to the presence of an advance green signal. Instead of focusing on the oncoming traffic and any potential hazards created by those drivers, the defendant concentrated on ensuring there was no cross traffic or pedestrians in the crosswalk while he turned left. He looked left, then right, then left again before he looked ahead at oncoming traffic. By this time it was too late because the collision had already occurred. In my view, the defendant neglected to take the proper steps to ensure there was no oncoming traffic before he proceeded into the left turn. In this regard, I find the facts of this case are similar to those in Shirley where Mackenzie J. (as he then was) concluded that both drivers were at fault, the oncoming driver for running a yellow light and the left turning driver for proceeding into the turn when her view of the intersection and the oncoming traffic was partly blocked.

[30] For these reasons, I find that both the plaintiff and the defendant are at fault and their respective negligence both contributed to the accident. The degree of fault does not differ significantly. The defendant proceeded into a left turn without keeping a lookout for oncoming traffic due to his mistaken assumption that he had an advance green light. The plaintiff was equally at fault for increasing his speed and attempting to travel through the intersection before the light turned red and following an established amber. Accordingly, I find the plaintiff and the defendant each 50% responsible for the accident.

BC Supreme Court Criticizes ICBC LVI Defence as having "no scientific justification"

As frequently discussed, the Low Velocity Impact (LVI) defence has been criticized many times by the BC Supreme Court.  Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, demonstrating yet again that the LVI defence is not a recognized legal principle.
In today’s case (Dolha v. Heft) the Plaintiff was involved 2008 rear end collision.  Fault was admitted.  The Plaintiff suffered a “mild to moderate” whiplash injury which resolved in several months.  The Court awarded the Plaintiff $7,000 for non-pecuniary damages.  Prior to doing so the Court criticized the LVI Defence as having “no scientific justification“.  In assessing damages Madam Justice Bruce provided the following reasons:

[16] Based on the evidence led in this summary trial application, I find there is no reason to doubt the veracity of the plaintiff’s claims that she suffered pain in her neck and upper back, as well as headaches and dizziness, immediately following the accident and for a period of six to nine months thereafter. Moreover, there is no evidence to contradict Dr. Samaroo’s opinion that these symptoms arise from soft tissues injuries caused by the accident. There is no scientific justification for concluding that a low velocity collision is incapable of causing injuries. The minor nature of the collision is only one factor to consider when assessing the severity of the injuries suffered by the plaintiff. While the medical evidence before the court is primarily based on the subjective complaints of the plaintiff, there is no evidence that the plaintiff’s symptoms continued beyond what would normally be expected for these types of soft tissue injuries. Thus the caution expressed in Butler and Price is not relevant on the facts of this case….

[19] Turning to the factors relevant to the assessment of non-pecuniary loss, it is apparent that the injuries suffered by the plaintiff were of a minor nature. While she experienced pain and required medication to alleviate this symptom, the plaintiff had full range of motion in her back and her neck throughout her convalescence. In addition, the symptoms experienced by the plaintiff were not sufficiently severe that she required passive modalities such as physiotherapy, massage therapy or chiropractic manipulation. The plaintiff last saw her doctor for pain due to accident-related injuries in late November 2008, some five months after the collision. The plaintiff’s injuries resolved entirely after a relatively short period of six to nine months. The headaches persisted for about a year; however, they decreased in intensity and severity over time. The plaintiff has no residual effects from the injuries. Lastly, the plaintiff’s lifestyle was only moderately impacted by the injuries. She was unable to run for a couple of months.

[20] The plaintiff suffered some emotional anxiety as a result of the accident and had sleep difficulties. The sleep problem resolved quickly and the increased anxiety was modest in severity and did not persist over a lengthy period of time.

[21] Lastly, the plaintiff is a relatively young woman who does not suffer from any particular emotional or physical condition that rendered or could have rendered the injuries she suffered more disabling.

[22] Having regard to the range of non-pecuniary damages awarded in the cases cited by the parties, and the particular circumstances of the plaintiff, I find an award of $7,000 is appropriate.

Want of Prosecution, Proportionality and the New Rules of Court

One of the overarching changes in the current Suprene Court Rules is the introduction of the principle of ‘proportionality’.  When any applicaiton is brought before the Court the presiding Judge or Master must consider this concept in applying the Supreme Court Rules.  Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Chilliwack Registry, discussing this in the context of a dismissal application.
In last week’s case (Ellis v. Wiebe) the Plaintiff sued various Defendants for alleged misrepresentation in the course of a purchase and sale agreement relating to property.   The lawsuit started in 2004 and by 2011 still had not been resolved.
The Defendant Wiebe brought an application to dismiss the lawsuit for want of prosecution (failure to prosecute in a timely fashion).  Madam Justice Bruce held that while the delay in the prosecution was inordenate and inexcusable there was no prejudice and did not dismiss the claim for this reason.  The Court did, however, go on to dismiss the claim on it’s merits.  Prior to doing so the Court made the following findings with respect to the application of the proporitonality principle in want of prosecution applications:
[8] The parties do not dispute the test to be applied by the court in determining whether an action should be dismissed for want of prosecution. The test is concisely summarized in Shields v. Nishin Kanko Investments Ltd., 2008 BCSC 36 at para. 25, wherein Mr. Justice Parrett cites the comments of Scarth J. at para. 3 of March v. Tam, 2002 BCSC 1125:

… I conclude that the principles of law which govern the exercise of the Court’s discretion in the circumstances of this case may in summary form be stated as follows: The defendants must establish that there has been inordinate delay and that this delay is inexcusable. If those two factors are established a rebuttable presumption of prejudice arises and the onus shifts to the plaintiff to prove on a balance of probabilities that the defendants have not suffered prejudice or that on balance justice demands that the action not be dismissed.

[9] The authorities also consistently hold that the court must look to the objects of the Supreme Court Rules as these relate to the particular circumstances of the case to determine whether an action should be dismissed for want of prosecution….

[10] When the Supreme Court Rules were amended in July 2010, a new subsection was added to Rule 1-3 to further refine the meaning of “just, speedy and inexpensive determination”. Rule 1-3 (2) provides as follows:

(2)   Securing the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of a proceeding on its merits includes, so far as is practicable, conducting the proceeding in ways that are proportionate to

(a)      the amount involved in the proceeding,

(b)      the importance of the issues in dispute, and

(c)      the complexity of the proceeding.

[11] In my view, Rule 1-3 (2), in part, reflects the approach adopted by our Court of Appeal to the issue of dismissal for inordinate delay; that is, the facts of each case have a significant impact on the outcome of any particular application for dismissal based on want of prosecution. While the principles of law are relatively straightforward, it is the application of these principles to widely varied fact situations that is critical. As noted in Rhyolite Resources Inc. v. CanQuest Resource Corp., 1999 BCCA 36, at para. 16:

Cases vary so infinitely that it is not always easy to apply to one factual situation the decision in another very different factual situation. However, it is the task of the court to seek to apply in a rational fashion the principles that have been laid down in the decided cases, always bearing in mind that the facts in each case are going to have a significant influence on the actual outcome of the individual application. I believe, with respect, that this approach or principle can be found well expressed in a case that was cited to us, Lebon Construction Ltd. v. Wiebe (1995), 10 B.C.L.R. (3d) 102 (C.A.), a recent decision of this court. That was a builder’s lien case and in that class of case, one would expect a swifter pace to the action than might be the case of say a personal injury case where a very serious injury and the course of recovery of a plaintiff must be assessed over time. Although it is always desirable to move on promptly with litigation, the simple fact is that in certain cases the interests of justice demand a rather more stately and measured pace than would be proper with regard to another class of action. Although it is desirable that all cases proceed with reasonable promptitude, the key word is reasonable and the ultimate consideration must always be: what are the interests of justice?

Negligence Claims Against Road Maintenance Companies

If a private contractor fails to clear ice, snow or other hazards on a roadway in British Columbia and this leads to a collision they can, depending on the circumstnaces, be sued for damages in negligence.  This topic was discussed in reasons for judgement released yesterday by the BC Supreme Court, Smithers Registry.
In yesterday’s case (Billabong Road & Bridge Maintenance Inc. v. Brook) the Plaintiff was involved in a single vehicle collision on Highway 16E near Smithers, BC.   She lost control of her vehicle on black-ice and left the roadway.  At the time the Defendant had the contract with the Provincial Government to maintain that stretch of highway.  They did not sand the road and the Plaintiff sued claiming they were at fault for the crash.  The Defendant argued that the Plaintiff drove carelessly and was solely to blame for the crash.
At trial the presiding Judge found both the Plaintiff and Defendant were at fault.  The road maintenance company appealed arguing that the Judge imposed an unfair standard on them.  The appeal was dismissed with the BC Supreme Court finding that the contractor did not respond appropriately to the known slippery conditions.  While the outcome of these cases are highly fact driven Madam Justice Bruce provided the following useful reasons discussing the law of road contractor liability in British Columbia:

[25]        Where the Province delegates responsibility for road maintenance to a private contractor, the contractor inherits the same Crown immunity for policy decisions, but continues to be liable under private law for negligence arising out of operational decisions. For example, where the contract with the Provincial Government specifies that particular road work must be completed within two hours of certain events, compliance with this standard is sufficient to clothe the contractor with immunity for any claim in negligence by a pedestrian or motorist. This is because the time frame for the completion of the work is a matter of policy set by the Provincial Government after balancing the costs associated with the work with the need to ensure the safety of the travelling public. As Meiklem J. says in Holbrook v. Argo Road Maintenance Inc., [1996] B.C.J. No. 1855 (S.C.) at paras. 27-28:

[27]      On the analysis prescribed by the majority of the Supreme Court of Canada in the Just and Brown cases, policy decisions of the Crown are not reviewable and in Brown it was expressly held that decisions as to the level of road maintenance are decisions of policy and cannot be reviewed on a private law standard of reasonableness. They are only reviewable if so irrational as not to be a proper exercise of discretion.

[28]      The application of these principles of course allows the government ministry to indirectly establish the upper limits of the standard of care that they are then held to in their operational functions. Thus the courts defer in a substantial way to the government ministry and the operational standard of care slides up and down the scale according to the level of road maintenance that is set as a matter of policy. Thus if a private law standard of reasonableness in a certain storm condition might suggest hourly patrols but policy has set the frequency of patrols at daily, the latter would prevail as the applicable standard in a negligence action against the Ministry.

[26]        On the other hand, where the negligence arises out of an operational decision, and is not based on a standard of care established as a matter of policy by the terms of the contract with the Provincial Government, a contractor must meet the private law standard. The Court of Appeal described this operational standard of care in Benoit v. Farrell Estate, 2004 BCCA 348 at para. 39:

[39]      The parties agree that Mainroad’s duty is coterminous with the Crown’s duty of care to users of public highways in respect of operational matters.  They agree that the decision whether to apply salt to Highway #4 was an operational decision and that the duty of Mainroad was to take reasonable care to prevent injury to users of the highway by icy conditions: Brown v. British Columbia, [1994] 1 S.C.R. 420 at 439.  The standard of care in respect of highway maintenance was more recently described in Housen v. Nikolaisen at para. 38, quoting from Partridge v. Rural Municipality of Langenburg, [1929] 3 W.W.R. 555 at 558-59 (Sask. C.A.):

…the road must be kept in such a reasonable state of repair that those requiring to use it may, exercising ordinary care, travel upon it with safety.  What is a reasonable state of repair is a question of fact, depending upon all the surrounding circumstances….

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