Tag: Negligence Act

"Costs Awards Should Not Punish Plaintiffs From Taking Forward Meritorious Claims"

In a demonstration of the judicial flexibility that exists under the BC Supreme Court Rules when assessing costs consequences following trials with formal offers in place, reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, awarding a Plaintiff full costs despite failing to beat a Defense formal settlement offer.
In today’s case (Anderson v. Kozniuk) the Plaintiff was involved in a pedestrian/vehicle collision.  Both parties were found partially at fault.  The Plaintiff suffered various physical injuries but also advanced a brain injury claim which was not accepted at trial.  Prior to trial ICBC issued a formal settlement offer of $125,000.  At trial the Plaintiff’s damages were assessed at $78,897 less 30% to reflect the plaintiff’s contributory negligence.
ICBC sought to strip the Plaintiff of post offer costs as a result but the Court exercised its discretion to award the Plaintiff full costs.  The Court was influenced by the fact that the costs of the prosecution were significant and an award of costs to ICBC would strip the Plaintiff of the totality of his damages.  In reaching this decision Madam Justice Sharma provided the following reasons:

[29]         The plaintiff submitted that the award of costs in this case exceeds the total amount of the judgment. In his written submissions, the plaintiff states that “[i]f the court orders that the Plaintiff is to pay costs to ICBC, it means that Mr. Anderson must pay the entire judgment award to ICBC, instead of spending this money on his health condition and prognosis.” I agree that is a significant factor if the court is to be mindful that costs awards should not punish plaintiffs from taking forward meritorious claims, as discussed above.

[30]         The plaintiff also says that the defendant was defended and funded by the insurer, whereas Mr. Anderson is impecunious having lost the ability to work, and previous cases have held this is a proper consideration: Smith v. Tedford, 2010 BCCA 302; Hunter v. Chandler, 2010 BCSC 1124 at paras. 23-25; Gregory v. Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, 2010 BCSC 1369 at para. 9; andMartin v. Lavigne at para. 23. I agree. Although there was no evidence before me about Mr. Anderson’s impecuniosity, I have no reason to doubt counsel’s word. Certainly at trial the evidence was consistent with counsel’s statement.

[31]         Based on these factors (and all others), the plaintiff submits it would be unfair and unreasonable that the plaintiff be ordered to pay costs to the defendant.

[32]         Finally, the plaintiff points to other factors that he says are relevant to the court’s exercise of discretion. He points out that two expert doctors did conclude that he suffered a brain injury. He also says it was not disputed that after the accident he displayed a number of characteristics consistent with having suffered a brain injury, including the fact that he had a flat affect and his behaviour around his family was different, as well as showing increased irritability, frustration and anger. The plaintiff also points out that the brain scans clearly show that he had brain lesions consistent with a brain injury. The plaintiff had increased difficulties with concentration and learning new tasks. Although I made a finding that both his alcohol consumption and anxiety had significant impacts on his life following the accident, the plaintiff suggests he should not be faulted for failing to guess that those factors would be essentially held against him when making a conclusion about whether he had a brain injury or not.

[33]         The award of costs is an exercise of the court’s discretion, guided by the legal principles identified above. This is not an exercise of counting up which factors favour which party and doing a mathematical calculation. The court must take into account all of the factors weighed against the circumstances of the case. Remembering that ultimately the result must not impose injustice or unfairness on either party, I exercise my discretion and conclude the normal rule of apportionment does not apply and therefore the plaintiff is entitled to 100% of his costs at trial. Because he has been successful on this application, I also award him the costs of this hearing.

Court Finds Plaintiffs Can Face Costs Risks If Defendant Succeeds in Contributory Negligence Claim


Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court finding that Rule 14-1(15) provides the court with discretion to award costs to a Defendant following a finding of contributory negligence as against a Plaintiff.
In last week’s case (Brooks-Martin v. Martin) the Plaintiff was involved in a motorcycle collision.  At trial she was found 30% at fault with the Defendant bearing 70% of the blame.  The Court awarded the Plaintiff 70% of her costs in accordance with the BC Negligence Act.  Although not specifically asked to address this issue, the Court went further and found that the Rules of Court permit a costs award to be made against a Plaintiff if they are found contributorily negligent.  Mr. Justice Halfyard provided the following reasons:

[41] Section 3 of the Negligence Act directs that the plaintiff shall receive 70% of her costs of this proceeding, from the defendant Martin. But that statute does not entitle the defendant Martin to receive 30% of his costs of the proceeding, from the plaintiff, because he sustained no damage or loss. See Bedwell v. McGill 2008 BCCA 526 at paras. 29-30 and 32.

[42] However, the defendant Martin was successful on the issue of contributory negligence on the part of the plaintiff. In my opinion, the costs entitlement of the plaintiff is defined solely by theNegligence Act. That statute directs that the plaintiff shall recover 70% of her costs of the proceeding from the defendant Martin. It seems to me that the Rules of Court relating to costs should govern the issue of whether the defendant Martin should recover any of his costs from the plaintiff. Rule 14-1(15) reads in part:

(15)      The court may award costs

. . .

(b)        that relate to some particular application, step or matter in or related to the proceeding . . .

[44] I think that the issue of whether the plaintiff was contributorily negligent is a “matter in or related to the proceeding” under the new rule… I conclude that the court has the discretion to award costs of the contributory negligence issue, to the defendant Martin. I am not suggesting that such costs should be awarded, only that the court has jurisdiction to entertain such an application under the Rules of Court.

ICBC Injury Claims, Trials and Costs

I’ve written many times about the costs consequences of ICBC Claims and Supreme Court Trials where a formal offer of settlement is made under Rule 37B.  What about when no offer is made, what are the costs consequences then?  In these circumstances Rule 57(9) of the Supreme Court Rules governs which holds that “Subject to subrule (12), costs of and incidental to a proceeding shall follow the event unless the court otherwise orders
What this basically means is to the victor goes the spoils.  If you bring an ICBC Injury Claim to trial in BC Supreme Court and are successful unless the court otherwise orders you will be entitled to your ‘costs’.  But what happens if you are only partially successful in your ICBC Injury Claim?  Can you still get your full costs or can these be split?  
Reasons for judgement were released today (Heppner v. Zia) dealing with this issue.  In today’s case the Plaintiff brought an injury claim following a 2004 motor vehicle collision in New Westminster, BC.  Prior to trial the Plaintiff was seeking to settle her ICBC Injury Claim for $349,900 and ICBC was offering $20,000.
After a 15 day trial the court found that the Plaintiff was 50% responsible for the collision.  In addition to being found partially at fault, the Court rejected the Plaintiff’s claim that she sustained a disc herniation as a result of the collision and that she was permanently disabled from her employment as a result of the collision.  In the end the Plaintiff was awarded damages of just over $45,000 for her soft tissue injuries.
In the normal course the Plaintiff would be entitled to her costs as she was awarded an amount greater than ICBC’s settlement offer and an amount greater than the Small Claims Court monetary jurisdiction.  ICBC, however, argued that they were largely successful in defending the claim in both proving the Plaintiff was partially at fault and in refuting her claim that her disc herniation was related to the collision  ICBC argued that the costs should be apportioned accordingly.  Mr. Justice Cohen of the BC Supreme Court agreed.
In concluding that the Plaintiff should be deprived of her costs for that portion of the trial which involved the claim of an accident related disc herniation Mr. Justice Cohen summarized and applied the law as follows:

[11]            In Sutherland v. The Attorney General of Canada, 2008 BCCA 27 at para. 31, Finch C.J.B.C., for the Court, said, as follows:

The test for the apportionment of costs under Rule 57(15) can be set out as follows:

(1)        the party seeking apportionment must establish that there are separate and discrete issues upon which the ultimately unsuccessful party succeeded at trial;

(2)        there must be a basis on which the trial judge can identify the time attributable to the trial of these separate issues;

(3)        it must be shown that apportionment would effect a just result….

[16]            Upon a review of the authorities submitted by both sides, particularly the recent decision of Romilly J. in Shearsmith v. Houdek, 2008 BCSC 1314, I am satisfied that the issue of the plaintiff’s disc herniation is a discrete issue upon which the plaintiff did not succeed.

[17]            In the case at bar, the Court noted at para. 290 of the Reasons, that the main thrust of the plaintiff’s claim for damages was that she sustained a low back soft tissue injury that eventually lead to disc herniation surgery that has rendered her permanently disabled, and that this outcome was due directly to the accident.

[18]            At paras. 291-292 of the Reasons, the Court said, as follows:

[291]    The defence position is that given the history and the onset of symptoms of low back pain; the plaintiff’s prior history of work related low back injuries and complaints; that the plaintiff’s first onset of low back pain after the accident was caused by the same movement of bending forward as caused the plaintiff’s work related onset of low back pain; and that the plaintiff was working as hard after the accident as she was before the accident, it is impossible to conclude that the accident caused the plaintiff’s chronic low back pain.

[292]    The essence of the defence based on causation is that the plaintiff did not complain about low back pain until about two months after the accident, and then only intermittently thereafter.  The defendants assert that a significant increase in the plaintiff’s low back symptoms and the onset of new symptoms can actually be dated from the plaintiff’s fall down the stairs in her home in early March 2005.  It was this event, claim the defendants, that caused the plaintiff to undergo disc herniation surgery and is the real reason why she did not return to her occupation as a nurse’s aid.

[19]            At para. 317 of the Reasons, the Court concluded as follows:

[317]    In the result, I find that the evidence does not establish a temporal link between the accident and the onset of the plaintiff’s low back symptoms ultimately leading to the diagnosis of disc herniation and disc herniation surgery.  In my opinion, the plaintiff has failed to prove on a balance of probabilities that the accident caused or contributed to the plaintiff’s disc herniation.  She has failed to prove that her disc herniation would not have occurred but for the negligence of the defendants.

[20]            Thus, in the circumstances of the case, I disagree with the plaintiff’s contention that the plaintiff’s disc herniation was not a discrete issue, but merely part of the overall burden on her to prove the extent of the injuries that she suffered as a result of the accident.

[21]            I also disagree with the plaintiff that it is not possible to attribute the time taken up in dealing with the issue of the plaintiff’s disc herniation, as opposed to the time taken up dealing with the plaintiff’s other injuries. 

[22]            I find that the plaintiff should be denied her costs associated with this discrete issue.

The Court then turned to the issue of liability and the fact that ICBC was successful in proving the Plaintiff 50% at fault for the collision.  Mr. Justice Cohen held that in these circumstances the Plaintiff’s trial costs should be reduced by 50% and summarized and applied the law as follows:

 

[25]            Finally, I turn to the matter of s. 3(1) of the Negligence Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 333 (the “Act”).  The defendants submit that the costs awarded in favour of the plaintiff ought to be reduced by 50% to reflect the court’s finding on liability. 

[26]            Section 3(1) of the Act states:

Unless the court otherwise directs, the liability for costs of the parties to every action is in the same proportion as their respective liability to make good the damage or loss.

[27]            The plaintiff says that an application of s. 3(1) would work an injustice in this case.  Her position is that the issue of liability occupied relatively little time at the trial, perhaps no more than a day or two.

[28]            In Moses v. Kim, 2007 BCSC 1820, the plaintiff sought 100% of his taxable costs, notwithstanding that he was held 65% responsible for the accident.  At para. 13, Gray J., as part of her analysis of whether she should use her discretion to depart from the usual rule, set out the following criteria to be applied by the Court:

(a)        the seriousness of the plaintiff’s injuries;

(b)        the difficulties facing the plaintiff in establishing liability;

(c)        the fact that in settlement negotiations the amount offered was substantially below the ultimate amount;

(d)        whether the plaintiff was forced to go to trial to obtain recovery;

(e)        the costs of getting to trial;

(f)        the difficulty and length of the trial;

(g)        whether the costs recovery available to the plaintiff, if costs are apportioned according to liability, will bear any reasonable relationship to the party’s costs in obtaining the results achieved;

(h)        the positions taken by the parties at trial, in particular whether the positions taken were appropriate and reasonable in the circumstances;

(i)         whether the defendants made any settlement offers;

(j)         the ultimate result of the trial; and

(k)        whether the plaintiff achieved substantial success that would be effectively defeated if costs were awarded pursuant to s. 3(1) of the Negligence Act.

[29]            In the instant case, the Court found that the plaintiff sustained mild to moderate soft tissue injuries as a result of the accident, and held that the general damage award should be based on the fact that her condition had improved and recovered to the stage that by a year post-accident she felt well enough to return to work on a gradual basis.  Hence, the plaintiff’s general damage award was substantially less than the amount she sought.

[30]            As well, the award received by the plaintiff for general damages was substantially less than that offered by her prior to the trial ($349,000), and somewhat closer to the amount offered by the defendants ($20,000).  Moreover, the factors of whether the plaintiff was forced to go to trial to obtain recovery, the costs of getting to trial, and the difficulty and length of the trial are applicable to both sides. 

[31]            Finally, given the ultimate result of the trial, and the fact that, in my view, the plaintiff did not achieve substantial success that would be effectively defeated if costs were awarded pursuant to s. 3(1) of the Act, I find that there are no features of the action to warrant departure from the usual rule. 

[32]            Accordingly, the plaintiff’s costs shall be reduced by 50% to reflect the division of liability.

Contact

If you would like further information or require assistance, please get in touch.

ERIK
MAGRAKEN

Personal Injury Lawyer

When not writing the BC Injury Law Blog, Erik is the managing partner at MacIsaac & Company, based in Victoria, B.C. He is also involved with combative sports regulatory issues and authors the Combat Sports Law Blog.

“Work hard, be kind and enjoy the ride!”
Erik’s Philosophy

Disclaimer