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Tag: Mr. Justice Greyell

Defendant Awarded Double Costs for Successfully Defeating Claim Where "Walk Away" Offer was Made

Rule 37B, the BC Supreme Court Rule dealing with formal settlement offers, continues to be shaped by the Courts.  One factor that is not yet firmly established is what effect a “walk away” offer made by a Defendant has after a Plaintiff’s claim is dismissed at trial.
When a party sues for damages in the BC Supreme Court and later decides that their lawsuit is likely going to lose at trial they can discontinue.  If this is done the Defendant is able to seek their costs at the time of discontinuance unless they waive this right.  A common strategy of Defendants when they are confident they will win at trial is to make a formal “walk away” offer where they waive their right to costs if the Plaintiff discontinues.  If the Plaintiff does not take the offer and goes on to lose at trial the Defendant may be entitled to ‘double costs’ which could easily add up to tens of thousands of dollars.  Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court dealing with a walk away offer.
In this week’s case (Riley v. Riley) the parties were involved in a lawsuit involving the transfer of real-estate between family members.  (although this was not a personal injury case there is no reason why the Court’s reasoning cannot be used in the injury claims context).  Prior to trial the Defendant made a formal offer under Rule 37B for the Plaintiff to walk away from the lawsuit on a ‘no costs‘ basis.  The Plaintiff refused the offer, went to trial where her case was dismissed.  The Defendant then asked the Court to award ‘double costs‘ and Mr. Justice Greyell agreed to do so.  In concluding that this was a fair result the Court provided the following reasons:

[20] In MacKinlay v. MacKinlay Estate, 2008 BCSC 1570, Savage J. also considered the effect of Rule 37B when a nominal offer was made.  The issue was whether double costs should be awarded where the successful defendant had made a nominal offer to settle.  He held, at paras. 34-35:

[34]      While a nominal offer might be described as strategic, it was a strategy aimed at persuading the Plaintiffs to discontinue the proceeding, an outcome that is favourable as compared to the outcome the Plaintiffs obtained at trial.  Such an offer is one of the few tools in the arsenal of a defendant of relatively modest means which might exert pressure on a plaintiff pursuing an unmeritorious claim.

[35]      In this regard, albeit in the context of the former Rule, the Court of Appeal in Kurylo v. Rai 2006 BCCA 176, 53 B.C.L.R. (4th) 214, at ¶ 7 said:

…. When a defendant assesses his position in litigation of any kind he may consider that the plaintiff has no case and if the case goes to trial, will fail.  But the defendant may also be willing to make some minor offer which would carry with it the costs in the hope that the action will go away and that he will not, thereafter, incur large legal bills to establish his legal position that the plaintiff has no case.

[21] I see no logical distinction between a nominal offer and an offer such as that made by the defendant in this case.  The principle is the same.  One party is provided with an offer to settle and if not successful at trial in advancing its position relative to the offer it may be held accountable for costs of pursuing the matter to trial.

[22] The second factor referred to in Rule 37B(6) clearly favours the defendant.  The judgment upheld the position she outlined in the offer to settle.  Had the plaintiff accepted it he would have saved not only his legal costs but also the legal costs he must pay to the defendant as the successful party.

[23] There are no other relevant circumstances which bear on my determination of double costs.  The caution expressed by Hall J.A. in Catalyst Paper Corporation v. Companhia de Navegaçäo Norsul, 2009 BCCA 16, 86 B.C.L.R. (4th) 17, is applicable in this case.  Based on the considerations in the above paragraphs, I conclude the plaintiff shall pay double costs to the defendant.  Those double costs shall commence seven days from the date the offer was made.

As mentioned at the start of this article, the formal offer Rule is still being shaped and the result of a ‘walk away’ offer is still not certain.  To read a case where the Court refused to award double costs where a walk away offer was made you can click here.
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 so the issue of the effect of ‘walk away’ offers will continue to be judicially shaped moving forward.

Expert Evidence – Doctors, Biomechanical Engineers and Force Necessary to Cause Injury

When a personal injury claim is advanced the Plaintiff has the burden to prove what injuries they suffered and that these were caused (or materially contributed to) by the trauma in question.  In proving a case it is common for a Plaintiff to obtain expert opinion evidence from medical doctors to address issues such as diagnosis of injury, prognosis, treatment needs, disability and causation.
One tactic used by personal injury lawyers is to try and limit the scope of the opposing sides expert witness’ opinions.  If a witness wanders outside of their area of expertise then those portions of their opinion become inadmissible.
When addressing the issue of causation a developing area of BC Injury Law is whether a physician can give opinion evidence with respect to the forces necessary to cause a specific injury.  Some argue that this is outside of a medical doctors training and is better left to biomechanical engineers.  Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, dealing with such an argument.
In today’s case (Pham-Fraser v. Smith) the Plaintiff sustained numerous injuries in a 2006 BC car crash.  The Plaintiff’s vehicle was struck at an intersection when the Defendant entered against a red light.  The issue of fault was admitted focusing the trial on the issue of damages.
In support of her case the Plaintiff called numerous physicians to give expert opinion evidence.  One of these witnesses was Dr. Brian Hunt, a neurological surgeon.  He provided the opinion that the “accident created sufficient deceleration forces to produce damage to (the plaintiff’s) L5 vertebra through abnormal axial-loading but that a biomechanical engineer (would need to) confirm this probability“.
The Defence lawyer argued that Dr. Hunt was simply not qualified to give this opinion and that this opinion was inadmissible.  Mr. Justice Greyell rejected this submission and provided the following useful analysis:

[50] Mr. Killas argued certain aspects of the expert evidence called by the plaintiff were inadmissible and that other expert opinion evidence should be given little or no weight.  In particular the defendants argued I should give little or no weight to Dr. Hunt’s opinion the accident created sufficient forces to produce damage to the L5 vertebral body through abnormal axial loading.  Mr. Killas pointed out Dr. Hunt then qualified this opinion with this remark:  “However a biomechanical engineer will need to confirm this probability”.  Mr. Killas noted Dr. Hunt had not done an investigation into the circumstances of the accident (vehicle speed, etc.) to make his opinion.

[51] Mr. Killas also argued Dr. Hunt’s diagnosis that the plaintiff sustained a brain dysfunction secondary to brain injury was simply based on the reading of Dr. Longridge’s medical report and on an unproven assumption the plaintiff had a lack of awareness of the circumstances of the motor vehicle accident.  Mr. Killas also argued Dr. Hunt’s opinion the plaintiff probably suffered abnormal axial loading on her spinal column during the accident was qualified by Dr. Hunt when he said in his report that “a biomechanical engineer will need to confirm this probability”.

[52] I accept Dr. Hunt’s opinion on both these issues.  There was evidence concerning the plaintiff’s limited recollection of what happened following the accident and I accept Dr. Hunt, given his qualifications and special experience, was well able to offer the opinions he did.

[53] I have ascribed as much weight to Dr. Hunt’s opinion concerning the cause of the plaintiff’s lower back injury as I have on the opinions of the other specialists who testified, including Dr. Schweigel.  Dr. Hunt’s expertise (and that of the others) has been gained through many years treating patients who have been involved in motor vehicle accidents.  He is well qualified to offer the opinion he did.  The fact Dr. Hunt was prepared to defer to the opinion of a biomechanical engineer does not, in my view detract from his expertise in offering his opinion to the court on the cause of the plaintiff’s lumbar spine injury.  I similarly find that the evidence of Dr. Hartzell concerning the forces applied to the plaintiff’s lower spine during the accident is helpful to the court and hence admissible, given his experience and qualifications.  Both Dr. Hunt and Dr. Hartzell, through their long and distinguished medical practices have had experience with persons with spinal injuries.

More on the Standard of Care When Driving Near Children

As I’ve previously written, children can be unpredictable.  Accordingly drivers need to use extra care when passing by children otherwise they can be found liable for an accident in circumstances where their actions may not otherwise be considered careless.  In legalese, the presence of children raises the ‘standard of care‘.  Reasons for judgement were released today discussing this area of law in an unsuccessful personal injury lawsuit.
In today’s case (Chen v. Beltran) the Plaintiff was involved in an unfortunate accident in New Westminster, BC in 2006.  The 11 year old Plaintiff was lying on a skateboard travelling down a steep hill.  The Plaintiff lost control and entered an intersection against a red light.  He was struck by an oncoming motorist and was injured.
The Plaintiff’s lawyer agreed that the Plaintiff was at fault for this accident but argued that the driver was partially at fault as well.  Mr. Justice Greyell disagreed and found the Plaintiff was fully at fault for the incident.  Before dismissing the case, however, Mr. Justice Greyell summarized the standard of care imposed on motorists when driving by children.  The Court stated as follows:

[25] The law to be applied in determining the duty of a driver when there are children in or about the area was set out by Hood J. in Bourne (Guardian ad litem of) v. Anderson, [1997] B.C.J. No. 915, 27 M.V.R. (3d) 63 (S.C.) at paras. 55 and 56:

55 In my opinion, once the presence of a child or children on a road is known, or should have been known, to the driver of a vehicle proceeding through a residential area where children live, that driver must take special precautions for the safety of the child or children seen, and any other child or children yet unseen whose possible appearance or entrance onto the road is reasonably foreseeable. The precautions include keeping a sharp look out, perhaps sounding the horn, but more importantly, immediately reducing the speed of the vehicle so as to be able to take evasive actions if required.

The above standard of care has been followed in numerous subsequent decisions:  see for example, Hixon (Guardian ad litem of) v. Roberts, 2004 BCCA 335; Mitchell (Guardian ad litem of) v. James, 2007 BCSC 878; Johnson v. Eyre, 2009 BCSC 1711.

[27] The general principle underlying any determination of fault or blameworthiness rests on a finding whether the defendant could reasonably foresee that his or her conduct would cause or contribute to the accident.  When it is known there are young children in the area drivers must use extra care and attention as children do not always behave as adults would in similar circumstances.  In Chohan v. Wayenberg (1990), 67 D.L.R. (4th) 318 (B.C.C.A.), the Court of Appeal stated at 319:

… There is, of course, a need for constant vigilance for children on the roads, especially in suburban areas, for the very reason that they can not be expected always to act with the same care that is expected of adults.

While this greater standard of care ultimately did not assist the Plaintiff in succeeding in his lawsuit, this case demonstrates that our Courts will place greater scrutiny on the actions of a driver when they are driving by an area where there are children.

The Standard of Care When Driving Near Children

We all know that children can be unpredictable.  As such motorists have to take special precaution when driving by pedestrian children.  The standard of what is safe will be stricter in these situations and reasons for judgement were released this week discussing this legal principle.
In this week’s case (Johnson v. Eyre) the 7 year old Plaintiff, who was riding his bike, was struck by the Defendant’s motor vehicle and sustained injuries.  Ultimately the lawsuit was dismissed because the Court found that “(the Defendant) simply could not avoid striking (the Plaintiff)…The collision occurred because the youths turned…into the path of the (defendant) vehicle…(the Defendant) took appropriate evasive action in the little time he had to react.”
Before dismissing the claim, however, Mr. Justice Greyell did a good job summarizing the standard of care motorists should exercise when driving by children.  The below quote is a useful summary of this area of personal injury law:
[15] The plaintiff relies on the following passage in Bourne v. Anderson, 27 M.V.R. (3d) 63 where Hood J. said at para 55:

55        In my opinion, once the presence of a child or children on a road is known, or should have been known, to the driver of a vehicle proceeding through a residential area where children live, that driver must take special precautions for the safety of the child or children seen, and any other child or children yet unseen whose possible appearance or entrance onto the road is reasonably foreseeable. The precautions include keeping a sharp look out, perhaps sounding the horn, but more importantly, immediately reducing the speed of the vehicle so as to be able to take evasive actions if required.

This passage was cited with approval by the Court of Appeal in Hixon v. Roberts, 2004 BCCA 335.