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Tag: Mr. Justice Shabbits

Dark Alley Assault Occupier's Liability Lawsuit Dismissed

Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Kelowna Registry, dealing with an interesting issue: Can a commercial occupier be sued for an intentional assault for having inadequate lighting in their alleyway.
In last week’s case (Vaughn v. Kelowna Speedometer Ltd.) the Plaintiff was a patron at the Blue Gator Bar and Grill in Kelowna, BC.  After several hours he left the pub.  As he was walking in the pub’s back alley he was “assaulted from behind and seriously injured“.  His assailant was unknown.  The Plaintiff sued the Pub alleging that the alley had poor lighting and this contributed to the assault.  Mr. Justice Shabbits dismissed the lawsuit finding that even if the lighting was inadequate for the conditions it did not cause the assault using the “but for” test.  In dismissing the claim the Court provided the following reasons:

[23] In my opinion, the plaintiff has not shown that but for proper lighting he would not have been injured. I agree with the submission that additional lighting may have reduced the risk of an assault, but lack of lighting did not cause the assault. The plaintiff could have been assaulted in daylight hours, or assaulted farther down the alley. It is speculation to infer that lighting was a factor in the assault occurring. Even assuming that the lighting at the rear of the Blue Gator was inadequate, the evidence is not capable of proving, on a balance of probabilities, that Mr. Vaughn would not have been injured had proper lighting been in place.

[24] Mr. Vaughn bears the burden of showing that “but for” the negligent act or omission, the injury would not have occurred. There is no evidence on which I would find that but for adequate lighting, the injury would not have occurred. I am of the opinion that it has not been shown, on a balance of probabilities, that a lack of lighting caused Mr. Vaughn’s loss.

Chronic Whiplash Associated Disorder and the "Unrelated Pain" Defence

It is well established that a small percentage of people who suffer from whiplash associated disorder following a collision go on to experience pain for a prolonged period of time.
When cases with prolonged injury go to trial it is not uncommon for the Court to hear competing medical evidence as to the cause of the chronic pain.  Oftentimes defence doctors provide opinions that causes unrelated to the collision are responsible for a Plaintiff’s ongoing symptoms.  Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Powell River Registry, dealing with and dismissing such a defence.
In today’s case (Borgfjord v. Penner) the Plaintiff was involved in a rear-end collision.  Fault for the crash was admitted by the Defendant.  The trial focused on the value of the Plaintiff’s claim.
The Plaintiff injured her neck in the crash.  She went on to have chronic symptoms of pain.  The Defendants acknowledged that the Plaintiff likely had on-going pain but argued that this was unrelated to the crash and instead was as a result of ‘degenerative changes’ .  Mr. Justice Shabbits rejected this argument and went on to assess the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages for her chronic whiplash injury at $85,000.  In rejecting the defence argument the Court provided the following useful reasons:
[74] Dr. Dommisse’s opinion is that cervical strain caused the plaintiff’s early problems and that her cervical strain symptoms likely resolved within 6 months to 2 years post accident. His opinion is that degenerative changes caused the plaintiff’s later problems. He says that degenerative changes are the cause of the plaintiff’s continuing problems…

[98]         In my opinion, the plaintiff has established that the accident caused her to suffer a cervical strain.

[99]         In my opinion, Dr. Dommisse is speculating when he opines that the plaintiff’s accident caused symptoms have already resolved. The usual pattern of soft tissue injury may well involve the resolution of symptoms within 6 months to two years post injury, but the plaintiff’s complaints have continued unabated and there is no certainty that the plaintiff’s disc protrusion or degenerative condition of the spine is now or ever has been symptomatic. Dr. Waterman’s opinion is that what he saw on the MRI, (which includes the disc protrusion), is unlikely to be clinically significant. He says it is difficult to attribute spine pain to what he observed.

[100]     I accept the opinion and prognosis of Dr. Waterman. In my opinion, his evaluation and analysis of the medical evidence is persuasive.

[101]     I find that the plaintiff suffered a whiplash injury in the motor vehicle accident and that her whiplash caused injuries are ongoing. I think it more likely than not that the plaintiff falls within that category of patients referred to by Dr. Waterman who experience whiplash caused pain for years post-accident. I find that the most likely outcome of the plaintiff’s injuries is that she will be improved in several years, but that she will suffer intermittent pain which she will be able to largely control by modulating her activities…

[124] I assess the plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages at $85,000…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In my continued efforts to get us all prepared for the New BC Supreme Court Civil Rules I will again point out that Rule 37B will be replaced with Rule 9 under the New Rules. The new rule uses language that is almost identical to Rule 37B which should help cases such as this one retain their value as precedents.