Tag: Mr. Justice Harris

ICBC "Nuisance Offer" Fails to Trigger Double Costs


One of the most welcome developments under the New Rules of Court (and for a short while prior to their introduction, Rule 37B) was the introduction of discretion to the costs process following trials where formal settlement offers were made.  It used to be that if a Plaintiff had their case dismissed at trial where a formal offer was made before hand (even a $1 offer) the Plaintiff was forced to pay double costs.  Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, demonstrating this discretion in action.
In last week’s case (Byer v. Mills) the Plaintiff was one of two occupants of a vehicle involved in a serious collision.  Prior to trial the Parties agreed to quantum of $125,000.   The parties could not agree on the issue of liability with ICBC arguing the Plaintiff was the driver of the at-fault vehicle (not the passenger as he alleged).  ICBC made a formal settlement offer of $5,000.
At trial the Plaintiff’s case was dismissed with the Court finding he likely was the driver.  ICBC asked for double costs to be awarded.  Mr. Justice Harris refused to do so finding a nuisance offer that does not provide a genuine incentive to settle should trigger double costs.  The Court provided the following reasons:

[21] It is in these circumstances that one must assess whether the offer of $5,000 plus costs was one that ought reasonably to have been accepted by the plaintiff. Although the prospect of the plaintiff succeeding was always highly uncertain and difficult realistically to assess, I cannot see that it can fairly be characterised as a case that was lacking in some substantial merit. In my view, the offer does not rise above a nuisance offer. The merits of the case, on both sides, and the uncertainties facing all parties, called for a more substantial offer if the offer were to serve the purposes of the Rule. Accordingly, I cannot conclude that the offer was one that ought reasonably to have been accepted by the plaintiff while it was open for acceptance.

[22] In reaching this conclusion, I have approached the question whether the offer was one that ought reasonably to have been accepted by the plaintiff from the plaintiff’s perspective. It will be apparent, however, from my general comments about the inherent uncertainties affecting predicting the merits of the case, that I do not view the offer that was made as objectively reasonable. In that sense, I cannot conclude that it provided a genuine incentive to settle the case. The offer does not possess those characteristics that would justify rewarding the party who was successful at trial with an award of double costs.

[23] I turn to consider the other considerations that may justify an award of special costs, even though the offer is not one that ought reasonably to have been accepted. I approach these factors recognising that the Rule is intended to penalise a party for failing to accept an offer and reward a party who makes a reasonable settlement offer. In brief, I do not find that any of those considerations justify an award of double costs.

[24] Although the plaintiff would clearly have been substantially better off to have accepted the offer, this consideration standing alone is not determinative.

[25] I cannot conclude that the relative financial circumstances of the parties lend support to the conclusion that, nonetheless, an award of double costs is justified.

[26] I am not persuaded that there are any other considerations that would justify an award of double costs. The defendants criticised the cross-examination of their expert, which they characterised as suggesting guilt by association. I did not view the cross-examination as overstepping reasonable professional boundaries.

[27] The application for double costs is dismissed. There will be one set of costs.

Documented "Prior Inconsistent Statements" Need To Be Listed Under the New Rules of Court

Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, dealing with document listing obligations under the new Rules of Court.
In last week’s case (Tran v. Kim Le Holdings Ltd.) the Plaintiff sued for damages as a result of personal injuries.  In the course of trial the Defendant called a witness who gave evidence as to the circumstances of the Plaintiff’s injury which were not favourable to the Plaintiff’s case.  The same witness had provided the Plaintiff’s lawyer a statement years before the trial with a different version of events.  The Plaintiff failed to disclose the existence of this document in her list of documents.  The Plaintiff argued that the new Rules of Court don’t require such statements to be listed as they only go to credibility which is a collateral matter.
Mr. Justice Harris disagreed finding that statements containing prior witness inconsistencies can go beyond the issue of credibility and therefore need to be listed.  The Court provided the following reasons:

[13] Counsel submits, first, that a prior inconsistent statement is not a document that could be used to prove or disprove a material fact. It is a document relevant only to credibility. Therefore, it is not required to be listed. Secondly, counsel submits that until the contradictory evidence was given by the witness, counsel had no intention of using the document at trial. The use of the document has only become necessary because of the surprise in the evidence that was given.

[14] I turn to deal with this point. I must say that I am sceptical that the plaintiff’s argument is correct. It is common ground that the document here is covered by litigation privilege, which necessarily ties it into relevant issues in the litigation. Rule 7?1(6) governs the listing of privileged documents. It is not obvious to me from the wording of the rule that the scope of the obligation set out in Rule 7?1(6) is qualified or limited by Rule 7?1(1).

[15] More importantly, however, prior inconsistent statements can be used, in my view, to prove or disprove material facts. Depending on how a witness responds to the statement when put to the witness, the effect of the use of the statement may well go beyond merely affecting credibility. The witness may adopt the content of the statement insofar as it relates to material facts; in that sense, at least, statements can facilitate the proof of material facts. Statements can facilitate the proof of material facts even if the witness does not adopt them, because findings on material facts may be affected by findings on credibility. But if a witness does adopt a prior inconsistent statement and accept the truth of it, that statement may be used as proof of the truth of its contents, and thereby be used to prove or disprove material facts.

[16] A fine parsing of the obligation to list documents is, in my view, contrary to the policy of disclosure which is exemplified by the Stone decision in the Court of Appeal.

Mr. Justice Harris agreed that while the document should have been listed, it could be used in cross examination as the failure to list was done in good faith and further there was no real prejudice to the Defendant.  In doing so the  Court applied the following factors in exercising its discretion:

[19] What is clear, however, from these cases is that my discretion has to be exercised on the basis of the following principles:

(a)      whether there is prejudice to the party being cross-examined ?? in this case, of course, it is a witness who is being cross-examined, but the relevant prejudice is to the defendants;

(b)      whether a reasonable explanation of the party’s failure to disclose has been provided;

(c)      whether excluding the document would prevent the determination of the issue on its merits; and

(d)      whether, in the circumstances of the case, the ends of justice require the documents to be admitted.

[24] It is evident that there is a policy against insulating a witness from cross-examination on prior inconsistent statements, because to do so would undermine the search for truth. It is also evident that requiring listing can be seen in some respects as being inconsistent with the purpose of litigation privilege. Both of these points were accepted in the Cahoon decision, in the context of a discussion of the limitation, or explanation, of the scope of the Stone decision…

[33] I observe further, with respect to prejudice, that the defendants could readily have determined whether or not the witness had given a statement. The fact of the existence of the statement was within the knowledge of the defendants. It is not a situation quite like Stone where there would simply be an assumption by counsel that a pain journal had likely been kept and that the fact of the existence of the document could not be verified without the document having been listed. In my view, this mitigates the prejudice, to some degree, that is associated with the use of the document.

[34] Weighing and balancing these conflicting principles, I have reached the conclusion that, in the interests of justice, counsel ought to be permitted to use the document for the purpose of cross-examination.

Access to Discovery and Summary Trial "Sufficient Reason" to Sue in Supreme Court


As previously discussed, a litigant who receives less than $25,000 in damages following a Supreme Court trial is dis-entitled to costs unless they have ‘sufficient reason’ to sue in the Supreme Court.  Reasons for judgement were released today canvassing this area of law.
In today’s case (Mehta v. Douglas) the Plaintiff was injured in a motor vehicle collision.  He sued and following trial was awarded just over $18,000 in damages.  ICBC argued the Plaintiff should not be awarded costs because he did not have sufficient reason to sue in the Supreme Court.  Mr. Justice Harris disagreed and found that access to examinations for discovery and summary trials were were sufficient for commencing the lawsuit in the Supreme Court.  In awarding the Plaintiff costs the Court provided the following reasons:

[9] I accept the submissions of the plaintiff. In my view, the plaintiff required counsel to present her case. It would be unjust to deny her costs that would permit her partially to defray the expense of retaining counsel. Although it would have been difficult to predict at the outset whether this matter would prove to be suitable for summary determination, the availability of examinations for discovery and the possibility of summary trial are both factors that in the circumstances of this case are sufficient to justify starting the action in this court. The availability of these procedures and their potential to promote a proportionate and efficient use of resources is something that would be known at the outset. In my view, it would be unjust to deprive the plaintiff of costs in circumstances where knowing of those procedures she has subsequently used them efficiently.

[10] Although the plaintiff did not initially plead the injuries that ultimately formed the primary basis of the summary trial, I accept that it is appropriate to be cautious in assessing what could reasonably be predicted as the quantum for a damages claim when the action is started, particularly in the case of an infant. While on the facts that were known concerning the minor nature of the plaintiff’s soft tissue injuries and the speed with which they had resolved, it would have been unlikely that the award would exceed the small claims jurisdiction, but the exact value of the claim nevertheless could not be predicted accurately. Given the uncertainties facing the plaintiff at the time she started the action, it was not unreasonable to start it in this court.

[11] Taking all of these factors into account, I am of the view that the plaintiff had sufficient reason to start this action in this court and accordingly she is entitled to her costs in accordance with Schedule B.

Can Lawyers Swear Affidavits In Support of Their Clients Interlocutory Applications?


In British Columbia the short answer is yes.  Useful reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, addressing this topic at length.
In last week’s case (The Los Angeles Salad Company Inc. v. Canadian Food Inspection Agency) the Plaintiff’s lawyer filed an affidavit in support of two applications of the Plaintiff.  The Defendant objected to this arguing that it was an improper practice and breached the principles set out in the Canadian Bar Association’s Code of Professional Conduct and the BC Professional Conduct Handbook.  Mr. Justice Harris disagreed and provided the following helpful reasons:

[15] No authority was cited to me in that establishes a binding general rule that solicitors cannot not swear affidavits in interlocutory proceedings in which they or their firm are counsel. To the contrary, even the professional guidelines support such a practice within limits. The case law also indicates that counsel is legally competent to swear an affidavit, even in relation to matters in dispute, although that practice is to be discouraged: see, National Financial Services Corporation v. Wolverton Securities Ltd. (1998), 52 B.C.L.R. 302 (S.C.) at para. 7.

[16] The Canadian Bar Association Code of Professional Conduct qualifies its statement of principle about lawyers swearing affidavits by referring to local rules or practice authorizing lawyers to do so. In British Columbia it is the practice for counsel to swear affidavits, on occasion, particularly in respect to uncontroverted matters or matters relevant to the interlocutory issue before court. The practice obviously carries risks, not least that a solicitor may be cross-examined on the affidavit, waive privilege or may succeed inadvertently in putting his or her credibility in issue. There are many good reasons for counsel to take great care in swearing affidavits in cases in which they are counsel.

[17] Nonetheless, there are occasions when the use of counsel affidavits is justified as a matter of practice. Sometimes, at least in respect of interlocutory matters, the evidence of counsel may be the best evidence available. It may often be economical and timely to have counsel swear an affidavit in support of interlocutory application. Introducing a legal rule that upset this practice would defeat the object of the Supreme Court Civil Rules to secure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every proceeding on its merits including conducting the proceeding in ways proportionate to the amount involved in the proceeding, the importance of the issues in dispute and the complexity of the proceeding.

[18] Equally, the fact that the affidavit contains some evidence on information and belief provided to the affiant by Mr. Sanderson who then commissioned the affidavit and argued the matter in court does not in itself compel the conclusion that the affidavit is inadmissible. I was not taken to any particular examples of information provided by Mr. Sanderson that gave rise to a concern that counsel were merely attempting to circumvent the professional guideline that counsel should not speak to their own affidavits, particularly if the subject matter is contentious.

[19] In my view, it would be a mistake to recognize or create a special rule requiring the rejection of affidavits sworn by counsel if those affidavits contain both admissible and inadmissible evidence. Insofar as admissibility is concerned, solicitors’ affidavits are governed by the same rules as any other affidavit. Inadmissible content may be ignored or formally struck, but the affidavit as a whole need not be rejected.

Document Disclosure Obligations and the Implied Undertaking of Confidentiality


Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, finding that personal injury plaintiffs need to list and produce examination for discovery transcripts from previous claims dealing with similar injuries under Rule 7-1(1) of the Rules of Court.  This decision appears to me to be at odds with previous cases addressing this issue (you can click here to access my archived posts on this topic).  This issue may need to be dealt with by the Court of Appeal in order to have some certainty in this area of law.
In today’s case (Cochrane v. Heir) the Plaintiff was injured in a motor vehicle collision.  She sued for damages.  ICBC appointed the same lawyer to defend the claim that defended a previous lawsuit of the Plaintiffs.  In the previous lawsuit ICBC’s lawyer conducted an examination for discovery of the Plaintiff.  He applied for an order to set aside the ‘implied undertaking of confidentiality’ that applied to the former transcript.
Mr. Justice Harris granted the application but went further and ordered that Plaintiffs are obligated to list and produce previous discovery transcripts.  Mr. Justice Harris provided the following reasons:

[5] In my view, there should be no need to relieve counsel for the defendants of his obligation under the implied undertaking. The documents are either in the possession of the plaintiff or they were in her control or possession. The plaintiff has an independent obligation to list and produce them further to her obligations under Rule 7-1(1)(a)(i) of the Civil Rules. The plaintiff cannot shield herself from her obligation to list and produce relevant documents by invoking the implied undertaking against opposing counsel who came into possession of those documents in the previous litigation: see Wilson v. McCoy, 2006 BCSC 1011.

[6] Given that the documents in issue have not yet been listed and produced by the plaintiff, I am prepared to relieve counsel for the defendants of the implied undertaking in respect of the transcripts of the examinations for discovery conducted in the previous action and the documents in issue. The implied undertaking exists to protect privacy rights and to facilitate the free flow of information in litigation by providing an assurance that information compelled to be provided in discovery is not used for collateral purposes.

[7] In Juman v. Doucette, [2008] 1 S.C.R. 1011, the following is said that governs the exercise of my discretion to relieve a party or counsel of the obligations imposed by the implied undertaking:

[35]      The case law provides some guidance to the exercise of the court’s discretion. For example, where discovery material in one action is sought to be used in another action with the same or similar parties and the same or similar issues, the prejudice to the examinee is virtually non-existent and leave will generally be granted. See Lac Minerals Ltd. v. New Cinch Uranium Ltd. (1985), 50 O.R. (2d) 260 (H.C.J.), at pp. 265-66; Crest Homes, at p. 1083; Miller (Ed) Sales & Rentals Ltd. v. Caterpillar Tractor Co. (1988), 90 A.R. 323 (C.A.); Harris v. Sweet, [2005] B.C.J. No. 1520 (QL), 2005 BCSC 998; Scuzzy Creek Hydro & Power Inc. v. Tercon Contractors Ltd. (1998), 27 C.P.C. (4th) 252 (B.C.S.C.).

[8] The application of counsel for the defendants is granted.

Justice Harris Discourages Deposition Evidence Absent "Pressing Reasons"


Rule 7-8(1) of the BC Supreme Court Rules allows parties to a lawsuit to, by consent, record evidence of witnesses prior to trial by way of Deposition.  Deposition evidence can then be admitted at trial as authorized by Rule 12-5(40).
When evidence is taken prior to trial it is accompanied by certain shortcomings as compared to live courtroom testimony.  Mr. Justice Harris discussed these at length in an Appendix to reasons for judgement released earlier this month.
In this recent case (Byer v. Mills) the Plaintiff was seriously injured in a motor vehicle collision.  In the course of the lawsuit the parties agreed to record much of the evidence by way of pre-trial deposition.  Ultimately the Plaintiff’s lawsuit was dismissed.  Mr. Justice Harris shared some concerns about the shortcomings that can be created by deposition evidence at trial and suggested that counsel only agree to pre-trial depositions when there are ‘pressing reasons to do so‘.  The Court provided the following feedback to BC litigants:

a)    The majority of the defence evidence of fact was taken by deposition before trial began. This was done by consent as the Civil Rules permit. I presume it was done to convenience the witnesses, most of whom live in or near Quesnel and to save the expense of bringing witnesses to testify “live” before the court in Vancouver.

b)    During the course of one deposition, I expressed some reservations about using depositions in this way. What follows are some reflections triggered by the use of this practice, and are not comments directly arising from the way counsel in the case before me conducted the depositions. They are also not complete, but merely illustrative of the kind of problems that arise by taking evidence by deposition.

c)     It is well settled in our trial practice that the basic rule is that witnesses should testify live before the court. This proposition is reflected in Civil Rule12-5 (27) and in the many cases in which our courts have considered the basis on which to exercise their discretion to make an order that evidence be taken by deposition.

d)    In this case, the defence evidence was taken before trial and therefore before the plaintiff had led any evidence at all. In my view, there are good reasons why in a conventional trial a plaintiff is required to lead evidence first on matters on which he or she bears the burden of proof. The defence is then required to respond to the plaintiff’s case, including leading evidence on any matters on which it carries the burden. This provides an orderly framework for the receipt of evidence by the court. It helps keep the relevance of evidence in focus.

e)    Taking defence evidence first carries with it risks and potential inefficiencies. First, there is the risk that a defendant may not correctly anticipate what the plaintiff’s evidence turns out to be at trial. The defence evidence may not be properly responsive to the plaintiff’s case. Evidence may be taken that is unnecessary. Issues may not be adequately addressed in the defence case, creating the risk that a party may need to apply to have a witness who has been deposed supplement his or her evidence. It seems to me to be generally undesirable to take trial evidence out of the normal order.

f)      There are further difficulties inherent in taking evidence by deposition. The evidence is not taken live and its receipt as trial evidence is not controlled by the trial judge as the evidence is being given. Objections may be made, as occurred in this case. Inevitably, the objection is made and left on the record. The witness then provides the evidence to which there is an objection, subject to a later ruling.

g)    This seems to me to be unsatisfactory. It is preferable that objections be ruled on before the evidence is given for a number of reasons. First, if the objection is upheld, a witness does not spend time answering improper questions. Where several witnesses are testifying about the same matter, a ruling at the outset will limit the scope of the evidence of all the subsequent witnesses. Secondly, it is not uncommon for counsel to frame questions in an objectionable manner, even though there are ways properly to elicit the evidence counsel is seeking. It is far better for the court to have the opportunity to ensure that questions are properly framed and evidence properly received than to try to “unscramble an omelette” after the fact. This is not just a practical issue. Often the way in which evidence is elicited can affect the weight it is entitled to receive. There is a risk of substantive prejudice to the parties if the trial judge is denied the opportunity at the time it is given to ensure that evidence is properly received.

h)    Finally, the trial judge has an important additional role to play in controlling the trial process. It is not uncommon for a trial judge to be called on during cross-examination, either at the request of counsel or on his or her own initiative, to control the conduct of the cross-examination. For example, it may be necessary to decide how much of a prior allegedly inconsistent statement ought properly to be put to a witness. That is a decision that should be made at the time the witness is confronted with the statement. Taking evidence by deposition necessarily deprives the trial judge of an essential judicial function. Doing so is fraught with risks to the trial process and risks substantive prejudice to the parties.

i)       I appreciate the Civil Rules permit depositions to be taken by consent. In my view, the purpose of allowing this to occur by consent is to obviate the need for an order where it is clear that the circumstances exist that would lead a court to make an order. Generally, the party applying to take evidence by deposition has a burden to meet to justify departing from the general rule that evidence be given live. I will not rehearse the law on this point. But I do not think the drafters of the Civil Rules intended to encourage a practice that is inconsistent with conventional trial practice.

j)      It follows from my comments above that I would discourage counsel from electing to resort to taking depositions by consent unless there are pressing reasons to do so. If there are legitimate concerns about cost and convenience, there are provisions permitting taking evidence by video conference. At least then the evidence is taken live.

Expert Reports and the New Rules of Court: The "Factual Assumptions" Requirement


One of the requirements in the new BC Supreme Court Rules is for expert reports to clearly set out the “factual assumptions on which the opinion is based“.  Failure to do so could result in a report being excluded from evidence.  Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, addressing this requirement.
In this week’s case (Knight v. Li) the Plaintiff attempted to cross 41st Avenue in Vancouver, BC when his vehicle was T-boned by a the Defendant.  The Plaintiff had a stop sign and was the ‘servient driver’.  The Defendant was speeding.  Mr. Justice Harris found the Plaintiff 75% at fault for the crash and the Defendant 25% at fault.  The reasons for judgement are worth reviewing in full for the Court’s through discussion of the legal principles at play in intersection crashes.
In the course of the lawsuit the Plaintiff introduced an expert report from an engineer.  The Defendant objected to the report arguing that it did not comply with the rules of Court.  Mr. Justice Harris ultimately did allow the report into evidence but made the following critical comments addressing an experts need to clearly set out the factual assumptions underpinning their opinions:

[38]         Our new Supreme Court Civil Rules codify the obligations of experts testifying in our Court. In my view, they restate obligations our law has long recognised. The Civil Rules require a clear statement of the facts and assumptions on which a report is based. It was incumbent on Mr. Gough to state clearly the assumptions on which his report was based. He did not do so. He did not provide me with an opinion of the effect of Mr. Li’s excessive speed on his ability to avoid the collision as he claimed. He gave me an opinion of Mr. Li’s ability to avoid the collision if certain assumptions favourable to Mr. Knight were made. He said nothing about being instructed to make those assumptions and nothing about the effect on Mr. Li’s ability to avoid the Accident if those assumptions did not hold.

[39]         It must be remembered that Mr. Gough’s report is his evidence. In my view, the report as written did not comply with the requirements in the Civil Rules to state the facts and assumptions on which it is based. There is nothing improper in an expert accepting assumptions of fact that affect the opinions the expert provides, but they must be clearly stated. If they are not, there is a real risk that the trier of fact could be misled. In this case it required cross-examination to demonstrate the implications of the assumptions for the conclusions reached about Mr. Li’s ability to avoid the Accident. In my view, in this case, given the opinion being offered, the report should have clarified the effect of the assumptions about Mr. Knight’s driving on the conclusions about Mr. Li’s ability to avoid the Accident. By failing to do so, this aspect of the report descended into little more than a piece of advocacy.

The Shortcomings of "Occupant Dynamics" Expert Evidence


Accident reconstrucion experts routinely give evidence during BC personal injury lawsuits when fault for a motor vehicle crash is at issue.  One subset of such expert evidence is “occupant dynamic” evidence which seeks to explain how a passenger would be thrown around following a collision.  While this evidence can have some value at trial it is accompanied with certain shortcomings.  These were discussed in reasons for judgement released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry.
In this week’s case (Byer v. Mills) the Plaintiff was one of two occupants in a vehicle which was involved in an at-fault collision.  The central issue at trial was who the driver of the vehicle was.  The Plaintiff was badly injured and had no recollection of who was driving.  The second occupant of the vehicle died shortly following the crash.  There were no independent witnesses addressing who was driving at the time of the crash and the Court had to decide this issue relying on circumstantial evidence.
In the course of the trial the Court heard evidence from an ‘occupant dynamic‘ expert.   Ultimatley Mr. Justice Harris dismissed the Plaintiff’s lawsuit finding that, on a balance of probabilities, he was likely the driver therefore he was at fault for his own injuries.  This decision was most influenced by lay witness evidence and the occupant dynamic expert testimony was of little value in this particular case.  Mr. Justice Harris provided the following short but useful comment addressing the shortcomings of occupant dynamic evidence:
[54] The principles of occupant dynamics are helpful up to a point. Certainly, they assist in identifying the principal direction of force exerted on occupants. They are also helpful in identifying the point at which an occupant might be expected to make initial contact with the interior of the passenger compartment. In my view, in the circumstances of this collision, the predictive value of principles of occupant dynamics rapidly diminishes once the movement of the passengers is affected by contact with the interior of the compartment and with each other. At that point the situation becomes inherently dynamic and fluid. There are far too many variables involved to make accurate predictions of how the occupants and parts of their bodies would move once they start hitting each other. It must be remembered that if unrestrained an occupant would be traveling within the compartment at a speed of about 55 km/h. I am sceptical that any reliable prediction of how the occupants would interact with each other, with the interior of the passenger compartment and move within it can be undertaken.

Uncertain Prognosis Results in Injury Trial Adjournment


As previously discussed, it is risky to settle an ICBC claim prior to knowing the long-term prognosis of your injuries.  Without a prognosis it is difficult to value a case and therfore difficult to gauge a fair settlement amount.
The same caution holds true for taking a case to trial.  Absent recovery or a meaningful prognosis it will be difficult for a judge or jury to properly value the claim.  If a case is set for trial but the prognosis is unknown an adjournment can often be obtained pursuant to Rule 12-1(9).  This was demonstrated in short but useful reasons for judgement released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry.
In last week’s case (Cochrane v. Heir) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2006 collision.  She was scheduled to undergo surgery in February, 2011 and her lawsuit was set for trial shortly thereafter.  The Plaintiff was concerned that her prognosis would not be known at the time of trial and applied to adjourn.  The Defendant opposed arguing that the upcoming surgery was not related to the collision and the adjournment was not necessary.
Mr. Justice Harris concluded that ultimately it would be for the jury to decide whether the surgery was related to the crash, however, since it may be related an adjournment was in the interests of justice.  The Court provided the following reasons:

[3] There is some medical evidence before the court to the effect that the plaintiff’s condition, prognosis and ability to return to work cannot fairly be assessed until after the surgery and after sufficient time has been allowed for rehabilitation.

[4] Counsel for the defendant opposes the adjournment because this is, he submits, a unique case. In a nutshell, he says that the delays and behaviour of the plaintiff in presenting the case are characteristic of her conduct in other matters she has been involved in. In effect, he submits that I should discount the evidence in support of the adjournment. In particular, I should be sceptical of the suggestion of any causal link between the accident and the condition that has led to the proposed surgery, as well as the need or the surgery itself. All an adjournment will do is expand the trial and encourage further delay and obstruction in bringing this matter to trial.

[5] Since I have decided that the interests of justice require an adjournment and since I am the trial judge, albeit with a jury, I have concluded that it would be unwise to comment directly on the evidence referred to by the parties in support of their positions. The issue of the causal connection between the accident, the plaintiff’s current condition and her alleged inability to work, are the primary matters that will be before the court for adjudication. Not to grant an adjournment would work relatively greater prejudice to the plaintiff than to the defendants by constraining her opportunity fully to present her case whatever its merits at trial.

More on ICBC Claims and Hit and Run Lawsuits: The "Reasonable Efforts" Requirement


Further to my previous articles on this topic, when suing ICBC for compensation for injuries sustained in a hit and run accident (Unidentified motorist claims) one of the requirements under Section 24 of the Insurance (Vehicle) Act is for the claimant to make “all reasonable efforts to ascertain the identity of the unknown driver“.  If a claimant fails to do so their claim for compensation against ICBC will fail.  Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, demonstrating such a result.
In this week’s case (Gonclaves v. Doe) the Plaintiff was involved in a motor vehicle collision on Highway 1 in British Columbia in 2006.  The Plaintiff was driving a bus at the time of the crash.  His vehicle was struck by another vehicle.  After the collision the Plaintiff failed to obtain identifying information from the other motorist.  In the days and weeks following the crash the Plaintiff did not report the incident to the police or ICBC, instead he assumed his employer would take care of this.  The Plaintiff then sued ICBC under section 24 of the Insurance (Vehicle) Act seeking compensation for his personal injuries.  ICBC opposed the lawsuit and asked that the case be dismissed.
Mr. Justice Harris agreed with ICBC that the Plaintiff failed to take reasonble efforts to identify the unknown motorist.  As a result the lawsuit was dismissed.  In doing so Mr. Justice Harris provided the following useful summary of the requirement for claimants to make “all reasonable efforts“:

[4]             Under s. 24 of the Insurance (Vehicle) Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 231, the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (“ICBC”) may be the nominal defendant and liable for damages to the plaintiff for damages from a motor vehicle accident where the identities of the owner and driver of the other vehicle involved are not ascertained.

[5]             ICBC will only be liable as nominal defendant if the plaintiff has made “all reasonable efforts to ascertain the identity of the unknown owner and driver or unknown driver, as the case may be”: Insurance (Vehicle) Act, s. 24(5).

[6]             The appropriate test to determine whether all reasonable efforts have been made is: Did the plaintiff do all that he would have to identify the other parties involved if he intended to pursue legal action against them, if ICBC were not potentially liable under s. 24 of the Insurance (Vehicle) Act?: Leggett v. Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (1992), 72 B.C.L.R. (2d) 201 (C.A.) at para. 13.

[7]             The requirement to make all reasonable efforts is not limited to the immediate aftermath of the collision. To satisfy this test, the plaintiff must have made all reasonable efforts at the scene of the collision to identify the other parties. The plaintiff must also have made all reasonable efforts to identify the other parties in the days and, possibly weeks, that followed the collision: Slezak v. ICBC, 2003 BCSC 1679, at para. 42.

[8]             “All reasonable efforts” does not mean “all possible efforts”. “Reasonable” means “logical, sensible and fair,” and does not mean “absurd, whimsical or unwarranted”: Slezak at para. 40.

[9]             Similarly, “not ascertainable” does not mean “could not possibly be ascertained,” but instead means “could not reasonably be ascertained”: Leggett  at para. 11.

[10]         The plaintiff is not required to take an action to identify the other parties that, while possible, is “highly unlikely” to produce any result: Liao v. Doe, 2005 BCSC 431, at para. 14.

[11]         “All reasonable efforts” includes a subjective aspect. In deciding whether all reasonable efforts were made, consideration must be given to the plaintiff’s physical and mental state at the time of the collision, and the circumstances surrounding the collision: Holloway v. I.C.B.C. and Richmond Cabs and John Doe, 2007 BCCA 175, at para. 13.

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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

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