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Section 10 WCB Bar Fails to Protect Ministry of Solicitor General

(Update June 19, 2013 – the below decision was overturned in reasons for judgement released today by the BC Court of Appeal)
As previously discussed, Section 10 of the BC Workers Compensation Act can strip people of their right to sue if they are injured in the course of their employment by someone else in the course of their employment.
When a police officer in the course of their duties injuries someone through negligence they may be subject to this bar.  However, when an RCMP officer is negligent they usually enjoy personal immunity from lawsuits and instead the injured party needs to look to the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General for compensation who are exposed by statute for liability when RCMP members are negligent in the course of their duties.  (Note: this Ministry has recently been overhauled and renamed the Ministry of Justice)
Interesting reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Nanaimo Registry, discussing the interplay of the WCB Bar to lawsuits and actions against the Minister of Solicitor General for negligence of RCMP officers.
In last week’s case (Aitken v. Bethell) the Plaintiff was seriously injured while sitting in a parked vehicle.  The RCMP were in pursuit of the Defendant Bethell who lost control of his vehicle, colliding with another, and eventually causing a collision with the Plaintiff’s vehicle.  The Plaintiff sued various parties including the police officer.
Both the Plaintiff and the Police officer were found to be in the course of their employment at the time of the crash.   The Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General brought an application to have the lawsuit against them dismissed relying on the WCB section 10 bar.  Mr. Justice Halfyard refused to do so finding that while the bar could prevent the lawsuit against the individual officer, the Minister did not enjoy the same immunity as they were not an ‘employer‘ and their liability was created by virtue of statue.  In permitting the claim to proceed Mr. Justice Halfyard provided the following reasons:

[66]I have attached s. 10(1) of the Act as an appendix to these reasons. It seems to me that, in a negligence action for damages for personal injury, in order for a defendant to succeed in this defence, it must be established:

a)that the plaintiff, at the time of the alleged injury, was a “worker;”

b)that the alleged injury “[arose] out of and in the course of [the plaintiff’s] employment;”

c)that the defendant was the plaintiff’s employer, or the plaintiff’s co-worker, or “any employer within the scope of this Part” (i.e., Part 1 of the Act), or “any worker;” and

d)that the conduct of the defendant which is alleged to have caused the injury “arose out of and in the course of employment within the scope of this Part” (i.e. Part 1 of the Act).

[67]Where the statutory bar applies in favour of a defendant, the plaintiff cannot maintain his or her action as against that defendant. The plaintiff is restricted to making a claim for workers compensation in respect of the injury caused by that defendant.

[68]It appeared to be common ground that, if the Minister was an employer within the meaning of the Workers Compensation Act, then s. 10(1) would be an absolute bar to any action being brought against him by the plaintiff, i.e., a “worker,” (for any tort allegedly committed by him or by a police officer), even though neither the government nor the Minister was the employer of the police officers involved. The potential scope of the statutory bar appears to be broad…

[80]It seems to me that the Court of Appeal is saying, by necessary implication, that the province cannot be vicariously liable under s. 11 of the Police Act, and that only the Minister can be. If that is so, then on hindsight, it would appear that Mr. Justice Macaulay should not have granted judgment against both the government and the Minister, but should only have found the Minister to be vicariously liable. To my mind, that result cancels out the argument of the applicants based on Hill v. Hurst.

[81]If the plaintiff had sued the Government of British Columbia (which would have to be named as “Her Majesty the Queen in Right of the Province of British Columbia”: s. 7 of the Crown Proceedings Act), the finding of WCAT that the government was an employer within the meaning of the Workers Compensation Act could have the legal effect of entitling the government to the statutory bar in s. 10 of the Act (but only if the conduct of the government, or its servant or agent, was a cause of the injury, and that conduct “arose out of and in the course of employment”). But the plaintiff has not sued the government, nor could he have sued the government, in my opinion. I am not persuaded that the Minister should be accorded the status of an employer for the purpose of s. 10(1) of the Act, simply because the government is an employer and because the Minister is the designate, or is the agent of, the government for the purposes of the Police Act.

Suing the RCMP for Negligence, Can it be Done?

Is it possible to sue a member of the RCMP in British Columbia for negligence as a result of their actions in the line of duty?  For example, if an RCMP member isn’t paying adequate attention when driving and causes a car crash can they be sued?
A person injured in these circumstances does have the right to seek remedy in the civil courts (a tort claim) however the Defendant will likely not be the individual officer rather the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General of the Province of BC on behalf of her Majesty the Queen in Right of the Province of BC (the “Minister”).
The reason for this is that individual members of the RCMP enjoy statutory immunity for negligence claims if the negligence occurs in the performance of their duties.  However, the Minister is ‘jointly and severally liable‘ for the negligent act meaning that the Minister can be sued.  Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Court of Appeal addressing this area of the law.
In today’s case (Amezcua v. Taylor) the Plaintiff was injured in a car crash caused by a member of the RCMP.  The RCMP member was sued directly.  She agreed that the accident was as a result of her “simple and regular negligence“.  She raised her statutory immunity as a defence.   Realizing that this would lead to a dismissal of the claim the Plaintiff brought a motion to amend the claim.  Ultimately this motion proved successful and the BC Court of Appeal allowed the proper party to be named.   Before reaching this conclusion the Court of Appeal did a great job discussing the law pertaining to negligence claims against the RCMP, specifically the BC High Court stated as follows:

[3] When authorized to carry out the powers and duties of a provincial police force under an agreement between Canada and the province, an RCMP officer is deemed to be a “provincial constable” (Police Act, s. 14(2)(b)).

[4] Section 11 of the Police Act provides that “[t]he Minister” is jointly and severally liable for torts committed, in the course of their employment, by, inter alia, provincial constables.  The Police Act does not define “the Minister”.

[5] Section 21 of the Police Act provides that no action lies against a police officer (“a person holding an appointment as a constable under this Act” (s. 21(1)) for negligence in the performance of their duties.  The restriction does not apply in circumstances in which the officer is grossly negligent (s. 21(3)).

[6] The Solicitor General of Canada and the Attorney General of British Columbia entered into a Provincial Police Service Agreement effective 1 April 1992, to continue until 31 March 2012.  Under s. 10.7 of the Agreement, if a member of the Provincial Police Service receives the benefit of a statutory defence (such as s. 11 of the Police Act) then “Canada shall indemnify and hold harmless the Province with respect to any such claims or actions” and “Canada shall assume the conduct and the carriage of any proceeding relating to such claim.”

It’s important to understand how these statutes work together if you have been injured by the negligence of a ‘provincial constable‘ in order to properly name the parties in a lawsuit otherwise you can risk having your case dismissed.

This case is also worth reviewing for the Court’s discussion of delay and prejudice in motions to amend pleadings.  In today’s case the Plaintiff  waited over 6 years from the expiration of the limitation period to bring a motion to add the Minister as a Defendant.  The BC Court of Appeal allowed the motion despite the significant delay finding that there was an adequate explanation for this delay and no demonstrated prejudice to the Defendant.  Specifically the Court held as follows:

[63] In my opinion, the chambers judge did not give due consideration to the first two factors to be considered under the Teal analysis.  In the result, she failed to give effect to the overriding factor of what is just and convenient in the circumstances.  The circumstances at play here were of a proposed party who, common sense demands in the absence of explanation to the contrary from the Minister, must have been informed of his potential liability.  An officer for whom the Minister was jointly and severally liable for torts committed in the scope of her employment had been charged with, and had admitted to, simple negligence.  The tenor of the correspondence throughout was that the Department of Justice was acting for both the defendant Taylor and the statutorily liable government representative.  If the Department of Justice wished to disabuse the plaintiff of any misapprehension on this point, counsel should have explicitly stated so.  The Minister’s submissions on appeal that he is prejudiced by the admission made by the defendant Taylor more than nine years ago and may have to himself allege gross negligence on the part of Taylor is not supported by evidence and places counsel for the Minister and Taylor in conflict.

[64] In my opinion, the delay in this case was explained, prejudice to the Minister was not established, and, therefore, the balance in this case favours the plaintiff.  It follows that I would allow the appeal with costs to the plaintiff both of the appeal and in the Supreme Court.