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Tag: RUle 14

"Special Costs" Clause Takes the Teeth Out of ICBC's Formal Settlement Offer

I’ve written many times about the risks and consequences formal settlement offers can create in the course of a personal injury lawsuit.  Interesting reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, refusing to give ICBC double costs after the dismissal of a lawsuit because of a ‘special costs‘ clause in their formal offer.
In this week’s case (Wong v. Lee) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2003 motor vehicle collision.  She sued her driver but the lawsuit was dismissed with a Jury finding the driver was not negligent.  Typically such a result obligates the Plaintiff to pay the Defendant’s costs due to the BC Supreme Court’s Loser Pays system.
Prior to trial ICBC made a formal settlement offer of $60,000.  In these circumstances the Court has the discretion to award ‘Double Costs‘.  ICBC, on the Defendant’s behalf, asked for the Court to make such an order.  Madam Justice Dardi refused, however, finding that the ‘special costs’ clause which is contained in many of ICBC’s formal settlement offers operates to create uncertainty in the settlement process.  The Court provided the following useful reasons:

[27] The plaintiff’s overarching submission is that the inclusion of para. 6 in Appendix A of the Offer to Settle is fatal to the defendants’ application for double costs. The Offer to Settle was subject to the conditions in Appendix A which provides in para. 6 as follows:

Nothing in this offer detracts from the Defendants’ right to seek special costs against the Plaintiff or his counsel above and beyond the Defendants’ entitlement to costs under this offer. Neither the making nor the acceptance of this offer shall be deemed a waiver or estoppel by the Defendants in respect to any reprehensible or improper conduct on the part of the Plaintiff and / or his counsel in respect of this proceeding. [Emphasis added.]

[28] Based upon these terms, even if the plaintiff had accepted the Offer to Settle, the defendants nonetheless would have been at liberty to pursue the plaintiff for special costs. Thus, there was a potential risk that the acceptance of the offer may not have ended all of the outstanding disputes between the parties.

[29] The Court of Appeal, in discussing Rule 9-1(5) in Evans v. Jensen, 2011 BCCA 279, articulated at para. 35 that “the most obvious and accepted intent of this Rule, namely to promote settlement by providing certainty to the parties as to what to expect if they make, or refuse to accept, an offer to settle”. The Court reasoned as follows:

[41]      This conclusion is consistent with the importance the Legislature has placed on the role of settlement offers in encouraging the determination of disputes in a cost-efficient and expeditious manner. It has placed a premium on certainty of result as a key factor which parties consider in determining whether to make or accept an offer to settle. If the parties know in advance the consequences of their decision to make or accept an offer, whether by way of reward or punishment, they are in a better position to make a reasoned decision. If they think they may be excused from the otherwise punitive effect of a costs rule in relation to an offer to settle, they will be more inclined to take their chances in refusing to accept an offer. If they know they will have to live with the consequences set forth in the Rule, they are more likely to avoid the risk.

[42]      This certainty in terms of the result of either making, accepting or refusing to accept an offer is also more conducive to the overall object of the Rules, which is “to secure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every proceeding on its merits”.

[30] It clearly emerges from the authorities that an important objective of offers to settle under the Rules is to bring certainty and finality to litigation. The reservation of the defendants’ right to seek special costs from the plaintiff after the acceptance of the offer is antithetical to this objective. It cannot be said that the Offer to Settle provided a genuine incentive to settle. As was stated inGiles v. Westminster Savings and Credit Union, 2010 BCCA 282 at para. 88, “plaintiffs should not be penalized for declining an offer that did not provide a genuine incentive to settle in the circumstances”.

[31] In short, para. 6 in Appendix A of the Offer to Settle militates against an award of double costs…

[34] In weighing all of the factors, the most significant being the inclusion of para. 6 in Appendix A of the Offer to Settle, I conclude that the plaintiff should not be required to pay double costs.

ICBC Under "No Obligation" To Advise You of Your Legal Rights

As previously discussed ICBC adjusters often operate in a legally permissible conflict of interest.  When dealing with ICBC it is important to know that “your” adjuster has no obligation to advise you of your legal rights regarding a claim for compensation against the at fault motorist.  This was demonstrated in reasons for judgement released this week by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry.
In this week’s case (Morris v. Doe) the Plaintiff was injured in a hit and run collision.  She sued ICBC under s. 24 of the Insurance (Vehicle) Act although the claim was dismissed at trial with Madam Justice Ker finding that the Plaintiff failed to make all reasonable efforts to identify the at-fault motorist.
The Plaintiff was ordered to pay ICBC costs following trial.  The Plaintiff opposed arguing this would “financially cripple” her and that such a result would be unfair because ICBC failed to advise the Plaintiff of the steps she needs to take to make a successful claim for compensation.  Madam Justice Ker rejected this argument finding that the law imposes no duty on ICBC adjusters to do so.  In upholding the costs award against the Plaintiff the Court provided the following reasons:

[8] During his oral submissions, counsel for the plaintiff argued that costs ought not to be awarded against the plaintiff as the defendant, the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (“ICBC”), through its adjusters ought to have advised the plaintiff of the importance of immediately obtaining legal advice on the steps she needed to take to satisfy the unidentified motorist provisions of the Act.  Counsel appears to argue that it is this failure and circumstance connected with the case that renders it manifestly unfair to award costs against the plaintiff in this case, citing Currie v. Thomas Estate (1985), 19 D.L.R. (4th) 594 (B.C.C.A.) at para. 47 and the reference therein to the speech of Viscount Cave in Donald Campbell & Co. v. Pollack, [1927] A.C. 732 (H.L).

[9] No statutory authority or case authority was provided to support the proposition that ICBC through its employees has a duty to provide a potential plaintiff with a warning that it is in their interests to obtain legal advice.  Indeed, counsel recognized and seemed to suggest that the law, although not there yet, ought to be moving in that direction. ..

[51] It is clear from the decisions cited in my original judgment dismissing the action that ICBC has no obligation to advise a plaintiff of the nature of the steps they need to take in order to satisfy the court they have taken all necessary and reasonable steps to ascertain the identity of the offending unidentified driver.

[52] I do not understand the jurisprudence or the governing statutory provisions to place any sort of positive obligation on ICBC through its employees to either advise a plaintiff of the steps they must take to ascertain an unknown driver’s identity or of the need to obtain independent legal advice on this provision.

[53] I cannot accede to counsel’s suggestion that ICBC or an insurer has a positive obligation to advise an insured of the need to obtain legal advice.  To do so would fundamentally change the nature of the contractual relationship between the insurer and insured and place the insurer in a position of quasi-authority requiring it to provide an element of legal advice, something adjusters and claims managers may not be well suited to do and may create a host of unanticipated and unforeseen consequences.

[54] While the comments of Barrow J. in Tessier are compelling as to the fairness that at least notifying a plaintiff of the provisions of the Act would appear to create, the fact of the matter is that there is no statutory authority mandating that ICBC advise or alert a potential plaintiff of the provisions of s. 24(5) of the Act.

[55] Moreover, the jurisprudence since 2003, and most recently re-stated in Wah Fai Plumbing, establishes that denying a successful litigant its costs based on pre-litigation conduct or for reasons that appear to impose quasi-liability on the successful party and sanction non-actionable conduct is not an appropriate or principled application of the costs rules.

[56] I must say again that, in this case, I have a great deal of sympathy for the unsuccessful plaintiff, particularly in light of ICBC’s failure to set her straight at the outset when it was apparent she did not understand the process.  However, by the time the statement of defence was issued in October 2007, it would have been clear to the plaintiff and her counsel that her case was in peril, or definitely not nearly as strong as initially believed.

If all of this seems unfair you can click here to read my views regarding a solution to this conflict of interest.

Interest on Disbursements: The Uncertainty Continues

The BC Court of Appeal released reasons for judgement today in a case addressing the recoverability of interest on disbursements in personal injury lawsuits.  It was anticipated that the Court would set out a firm answer to this issue.  Unfortunately the question remains unanswered as the BC Court of Appeal held that “this is not the right case to address the issue“.
In today’s case (Milne v. Clarke) the Plaintiff was injured in a motor vehicle collision.  The case settled but following this the parties could not agree whether the interest charges on disbursements for private MRI’s were recoverable.  Ultimately Mr. Justice Burnyeat held that this was a recoverable disbursement finding as follows:
[9] The law in British Columbia is that interest charged by a provider of services where the disbursement has been paid by counsel for a party is recoverable as is the disbursement.  The interest charge flows from the necessity of the litigation.  If the disbursement itself can be assessed as an appropriate disbursement, so also can the interest owing as a result of the failure or inability of a party to pay for the service provided.  In order to obtain the M.R.I., it was necessary to pay not only the $975.00 cost but also the interest on any unpaid balances that were not paid immediately.  The cost plus interest was the cost of obtaining the M.R.I.  The claim for interest should have been allowed.
ICBC appealed this as a test case hoping to get a firm answer from the BC Court of Appeal.  The Appeal was dismissed with the Court finding that there was insufficient material before them to address the issue.  The Court provided the following reasons:

[13] There is, as Mr. Justice Frankel observed, divergent authority on the recoverability of interest on disbursements under Rule 57(4) (now Rule 14-1(15)).  There may be different answers to that question depending upon the circumstances of the charge, the time and purpose for which the charge was incurred, and the circumstances that caused counsel to pay the bill, but this must be a question for another case.  It is clear from the fresh evidence that in this case the recoverability of the interest paid by counsel requires an interpretation of the settlement agreement.  One question is whether the amount in issue is properly characterized as a claim for special damages rather than disbursement, and is thus captured within the agreed sum.  Another question is whether, on a correct interpretation of the settlement agreement, the amount in issue is recoverable as “a necessary and reasonable disbursement”.  The judge, having been presented with the case as an application of Rule 57(4), did not deal with either of these issues.

[14] To look at it another way, it was intended that this appeal would be concerned with the recoverability of interest as a disbursement under Rule 57(4).  On the material before us, the case turns on the characterization of the charge as a disbursement or special damages, and the interpretation of several terms of the settlement agreement, on only one of which the law on Rule 57(4) might be a reference point, and even there is not directly engaged.

[15] In our view this is not the right case to address the issue raised in the leave application.  While that issue is of interest to the profession, its answer must await a case that directly engages the rule, in the context of a proper factual matrix rather than a hypothetical.

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.

The High Risk of Personal Injury Trials: The Costs and Disbursements Swing

As previously discussed, personal injury trials can be risky and expensive.  The British Columbia Supreme Court has a so-called ‘loser pays’ system which generally makes the losing side pay the winning side’s costs and disbursements (the hard expenses associated with running a trial such as court filing and expert witness fees).  Last month the BC Supreme Court, Victoria Registry, released reasons for judgement demonstrating this reality.
In this recent case (Sartori v. Gates) the Plaintiff was injured in 2005 when a truck owned by his friend accidentally struck him.  The Plaintiff sued for damages.  As the lawsuit progressed ICBC made a formal settlement offer of $230,000 plus costs and disbursements.
The Plaintiff presented his own formal offer of $600,000 plus costs and disbursements.   These offers were rejected and the claim proceeded to trial.  Ultimately a jury found the Plaintiff 33.3% at fault for the collision but accepted that he was injured and awarded damages.
When all the dust settled, the Plaintiff was awarded $234,000.  ICBC argued that since the final result was “within a knife’s edge” of their offer that the Plaintiff should be stripped of his post offer costs and disbursements.  This was a significant development because the Plaintiff spent over $120,000 in disbursements while advancing his claim.
Ultimately Mr. Justice Wilson found that this result would not be fair.  However, the Court disallowed disbursements associated with one of the Plaintiff’s expert witnesses and further reduced the disbursements the Plaintiff was entitled to by 1/3 to take into account the jury’s finding of fault and section 3 of the Negligence Act.  Some quick math reveals this results in about $40,000 of the real costs of advancing the claim not being recovered by the Plaintiff.  This large swing highlights the need to consider potential costs consequences when deciding whether to settle an ICBC claim or to proceed to trial.
This recent case is also noteworthy for a few other reasons.  ICBC argued that the usual rule of a winner receiving costs should not be followed given how close the settlement offer was to the jury verdict.   Mr. Justice Wilson rejected this argument providing the following useful reasons:

[42] The governing principle on the first issue, is R. 14-1(9).  The material words of that subrule, on this application, are:

… costs of a proceeding must be awarded to the successful party unless the court otherwise orders.

[43] The onus is on the defendant to persuade me why I should otherwise order….

[55] The plaintiff reminds me that the discretion conferred by the cost rules must be exercised judicially.  The parameters of that judicial duty were referred to in Stiles v. B.C. (Workers’ Compensation Board), and iterated consistently thereafter.  The court said:

… The discretion must be exercised judicially, i.e. not arbitrarily or capriciously.  And, as I have said, it must be exercised consistently with the Rules of Court.  But it would be a sorry result if like cases were not decided in like ways with respect to costs.  So, by judicial comity, principles have developed which guide the exercise of the discretion of a judge with respect to costs.  Those principles should be consistently applied; if a judge declines to apply them, without a reason for doing so, he may be considered to have acted arbitrarily or capriciously and not judicially.

[56] The Rules of Court mentioned in that extract are those cited above.  The “principles … developed …” or “purposes”, were referred to in Giles v. Westminster Savings and Credit Union:

The purposes for which costs rules exist must be kept in mind in determining whether appellate intervention is warranted.  In addition to indemnifying a successful litigant, those purposes have been described as follows by this Court:

•     “[D]eterring frivolous actions or defences”:  Houweling Nurseries Ltd. v. Fisons Western Corp. (1988), 37 B.C.L.R. (2d) 2 at 25 (C.A.), leave ref’d, [1988] S.C.C.A. No. 200, [1988] 1 S.C.R. ix;

•     “[T]o encourage conduct that reduces the duration and expense of litigation and to discourage conduct that has the opposite effect”:  Skidmore v. Blackmore (1995), 2 B.C.L.R. (3d) 201 at para. 28 (C.A.);

•     “[E]ncouraging litigants to settle whenever possible, thus freeing up judicial resources for other cases”:  Bedwell v. McGill, 2008 BCCA 526, 86 B.C.L.R. (4th) 343 at para. 33;

•     “[T]o have a winnowing function in the litigation process” by “requir[ing] litigants to make a careful assessment of the strength or lack thereof of their cases at the commencement and throughout the course of the litigation”, and by “discourag[ing] the continuance of doubtful cases or defences”:  Catalyst Paper Corporation v. Companhia de Navegaçao Norsul, 2009 BCCA 16, 88 B.C.L.R. (4th) 17 at para. 16.

[57] Giles is also authority for the proposition that the “usual rule” is that costs follow the event…

Here, this plaintiff did succeed.  The defendant’s argument is that he did not succeed to the extent of his aspirations.  Therefore, goes the argument, the defendant should have the costs of establishing that failure.

[81] In my opinion, that proposition is not a phenomenon contemplated by R. 14?1(14) or Forrest v. Gaidner.

[82] My conclusion on the first issue is that the defendant has not persuaded me that this is a case on which I should otherwise order.  The plaintiff is entitled to his costs, subject to the disallowance of one day of trial and disbursements associated with Dr. Hunt’s involvement.

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.

Winners and Losers: More on Costs Consequences and Formal Settlement Offers

How can a Plaintiff who is awarded damages following a personal injury trial end up owing ICBC money?  The answer relates to the costs consequences that can be triggered by formal settlement offers.  I’ve discussed this topic previously and two sets of reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court further demonstrating this reality.
In the first case (Dempsey v. Oh) the Plaintiff was injured in a bicycle accident when he was struck by the Defendant’s vehicle.  In the course of the lawsuit ICBC made a formal settlement offer of $40,000.  As trial neared ICBC increased their formal offer to $165,000.  The Plaintiff rejected this and proceeded to trial.  At trial the Court made some critical findings relating to the Plaintiff’s credibility and awarded damages of just over $20,000.
Following trial ICBC asked for an order pursuant to Rule 9-1(5) that the Plaintiff pay all of the Defendant’s costs following their first formal offer.  The Plaintiff objected to such a result arguing that “if he is ordered to pay the defendant’s costs he will end up owing it money“.  Mr. Justice Myers rejected this argument and ordered that the Plaintiff pay the Defendant’s post offer costs.  In rejecting the Plaintiff’s submission the Court made the following comment “It is not the court’s function to ensure that a plaintiff makes a net recovery from an action when it has ignored a reasonable offer.  That would defeat the purpose of the Rule and does not accord with common sense”.
On another note, this case is worth reviewing in full for the Court’s discussion of Rule 14-1(10).  The Defendant argued that the Plaintiff should be deprived of his pre-offer costs as there was no sufficient reason to sue in Supreme Court.   Mr. Justice Myers rejected this argument finding that when the lawsuit was started the Supreme Court was an appropriate venue.  In making this finding the Court provided the following useful reasons:
[11]    In part due to the loss of income, this was a more complicated case than Ghelen.  This action was commenced approximately six months after the accident.  At that point I find it was reasonable for the plaintiff to have commenced the action in this Court because he was reasonably entitled to see the impact of the accident on his prior condition.  There is nothing in the rules which imposes a cost penalty on a party who files its suit quickly after its cause of action arises.  And, in Reimann v. Aziz, 2007 BCCA 448, the Court of Appeal held that there is no ongoing obligation on a party to assess his action as it progresses in the Supreme Court in order to consider whether it should be moved to Provincial Court.
In the second case released this week (Miller v. Boughton) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2006 collision.  She sued for damages and her case went before a jury.  The trial lasted 7 days.  Prior to trial ICBC made a series of escalating formal settlement offers starting at $22,000 with the final offer made shortly before trial topping out at $62,500.
The Plaintiff rejected these offers and proceeded to trial.  The Jury found the Plaintiff 45% at fault for the crash and the Defendant 55% at fault.   After taking this split into account the Jury’s award was a modest $3,880.  ICBC’s motion for post offer costs and disbursements was granted.  After factoring these in the Plaintiff likely ended up owing ICBC a significant amount of money.   (UPDATE September 12, 2011 – click here for follow up reasons confirming the Defendant’s costs were assessed at over $42,000)
Cases such as these illustrate the important lesson that formal offers create a “loser pays” system which could result in significant costs swings following trial.  When considering ICBC formal settlement offers it is important to keep this in mind when deciding whether to accept the offer or proceed to trial.

More on ICBC Claims, Costs and Sufficient Reason to Sue in Supreme Court

Earlier this year the BC Court of Appeal released important reasons finding that more than value of a claim can be considered in deciding whether a Plaintiff has sufficient reason to sue in the Supreme Court when considering costs under Rule 14-1(10).   Useful reasons for judgement were released last month  by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, further addressing this issue in the context of an ICBC Injury Claim.
In last month’s case (Taylor v. Kassa) the Plaintiff was injured in BC motor vehicle collision.  His injuries were modest and it was “readily apparent from the outset that the quantum of damages would fall within the jurisdiction of the Small Claims Court“.  Despite this he sued for damages in the Supreme Court under the fast track rule.
After examinations for discovery a damages settlement was reached for $15,000.  The parties agreed to ask the Court to address the issue of whether costs should be payable.  Mr. Justice Davies found that given ICBC’s boilerplate response to the lawsuit it was reasonable for the Plaintiff to pursue the claim in Supreme Court with the assistance of counsel therefore entitling the Plaintiff to costs.  In reaching this decision the Court provided the following reasons:
[7] ….I make that ruling because I find it to be significant that this matter did not settle until there had been examinations for discovery.
[8]  The defendants availed themselves of the discovery procedure and then revised their assessment of the case.  Prior to discoveries, there had been a complete denial of liability and causation including allegations of pre-existing injury and failure to mitigate, all of which matters had rendered the case somewhat complex.
[9]  As Justice Punnett said in Spencer at para. 23 and 24

[23] Arguably, at the time the action was started, the claim could have exceeded $25,000. The plaintiff knew her injuries, from which it took her 18 months to substantially recover, caused her pain at work, disturbed her sleep, made her unable to do housework, and decreased her leisure activities. She had missed seven days of work and required numerous visits to a chiropractor and massage therapist. There is no evidence that the plaintiff misled counsel or that her complaints lacked credibility.

[24] Further, even if it was clear that the claim would fall within the Small Claims Court’s jurisdiction, the issues raised by the defendant increased the complexity of the claim and the plaintiff’s need for counsel. By denying liability, causation and that the plaintiff suffered any loss, the plaintiff would have been required to prove these elements at trial. Also, although unnecessary because the matter settled, discovery of the defendant, which had been arranged, could have been important to the plaintiff’s case.

[10]  I am satisfied that this case falls within that same exeption expressed in para. 24 and supports a finding of sufficient reason to commence the action in this case in this Court.
[11]  Discovery was not available in the Provincial Court and led to the settlement of this case.
[12]  There will be an order that the plaintiff recover his costs under the provisions of the fast-track litigation project.
The Taylor decision is unpublished but, as always, I’m happy to provide a copy to anyone who contacts me and requests a copy.

More on Costs and Sufficient Reason to Sue in the BC Supreme Court

Earlier this year the BC Court of Appeal provided much needed clarity to the factors Courts can consider when deciding whether a Plaintiff has sufficient reasons to sue in the Supreme Court when considering costs consequences following trial.   Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Court of Appeal further addressing this topic finding that while the Court can consider other issues, the value of the claim will be one of the most important factors.
In today’s case (Gehlen v. Ranathe Plaintiff was injured when she was a passenger involved in a rear-end car crash.  The Defendant admitted fault for the crash but denied liability to the Plaintiff claiming that the Plaintiff “was not present in the vehicle at the time of the accident“.  The Defendant made a formal offer to settle the Plaintiff’s claim for $22,000 plus disbursements.  The Plaintiff rejected this offer and went to trial.  After trial the Jury awarded the Plaintiff total damages of just over $13,000.
Despite this result the trial judge awarded the Plaintiff costs and found the Plaintiff has sufficient reason to sue in the Supreme Court.  The BC Court of Appeal found this was in error and in doing so provided these reasons addressing the issue of “sufficient reason” to sue in the BC Supreme Court in a personal injury claim:

[35] In Gradek, the Court interpreted the meaning of “sufficient reason” in Rule 57(10).  The Court acknowledged that the procedures available in the Small Claims Court will, in most cases, “enable the parties to proceed in a cost-efficient manner to a just result” (para. 18).

[36] The Court ultimately concluded that “sufficient reason” was not intended by the Legislature to be limited to the quantum as assessed at the outset of the claim.  However, the Court stated, at paras. 16 and 20:

[16]      The words “sufficient reason” are not defined in the Rules of Court.  In their ordinary and grammatical sense, they do not suggest a specific limitation in terms of application, although it is clear that “any reason” will not do.  The reason has to be “sufficient”, but there is nothing in the Rule to suggest that it has to be connected solely to the quantum of the claim.  On the other hand, the words do not connote the exercise of a discretion, with its attendant deferential standard of review.  That point was made by this Court in Reimann v. Aziz, 2007 BCCA 448, 72 B.C.L.R. (4th) 1, at para. 13:  …

[20]      I accept that the narrow interpretation of the words “sufficient reason” advocated by the appellant would provide greater certainty to litigants in knowing the consequences of proceeding in Supreme Court where the matter falls within the Small Claims monetary limit.  But I agree with the trial judge that if the Legislature had intended to limit the scope of the words “sufficient reason” to the extent suggested by the appellant, it could readily have done so.  While I am satisfied that the words, “sufficient reason” should not be interpreted in an expansive manner, but with restraint, I am also satisfied that they must be read in such a way that a trial judge is not forced to deny a party costs where he is satisfied, as here, that justice can only be achieved as between the parties by an award of costs to the successful party.

[37] As I understand the import of Gradek, it is that likely quantum, while perhaps the most important factor for determination of sufficient reason, is not the only factor that may be taken into account.  The Court in Gradek also accepted that there may be other circumstances that justify bringing an action in the Supreme Court despite the fact that the likely quantum will not exceed the Small Claims amount.  Thus, in Gradek the Court accepted the trial judge’s finding that Mr. Gradek, due to language difficulties, required the assistance of counsel and it would be unjust to require him to bring his claim in the Small Claims Court where he would be denied costs that would partially offset the expense of retaining counsel (para. 18).  However, it is clear from Gradekthat the burden is on the plaintiff to establish eligible circumstances that are persuasive and compelling to justify “sufficient reason”.

[38] In the case at bar, the plaintiff reiterated before us the 12 reasons submitted to the trial judge to establish sufficient reason to commence the action in the Supreme Court.  However, eight of those reasons were circumstances that arose after the commencement of the action and were thus irrelevant to the analysis (the defendant’s offer to settle; the defendant’s failure to apply to move the action to the Small Claims Court; the defendant’s denial of liability for the plaintiff’s injury; the insurer’s characterization of the collision as low impact; the exchange of 60 documents; the defendant’s motion for a Rule 66 hearing and eventual removal; a Rule 28 examination of a witness; and the absence of expert evidence tendered by the defendant).

[39] The strongest reason for bringing the action in the Supreme Court related to the plaintiff’s alleged injuries, but that must be closely examined in light of her pre-existing condition.  While minor impacts do not necessarily preclude serious injuries, it must have been apparent to the plaintiff that after this minor collision her pre-existing condition was only modestly aggravated and would not attract a significant award of damages.

[40] In my opinion, the plaintiff has not identified a compelling circumstance that meets the sufficient reason test in Rule 57(10) as interpreted by Gradek.

[41] In my view, this was a case where it was plain and obvious at all material times that this was a proper action to be tried in the Small Claims Court.

The "Loser Pays" System: Rule 14-1(9) and Principles of Costs Consequences

Rule 14-1(9) of the BC Supreme Court Rules typically requires a losing party to pay costs to a successful party unless the Court “otherwise orders“.   Useful reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court discussing this Rule and the legal principles in play when a Court should deviate from the default “loser pays” result.
In last week’s case (LeClair v. Mibrella Inc.) the Plaintiff sued the Defendant for damages.  The lawsuit was ultimately unsuccessful and dismissed at trial largely because the court “did not accept the plaintiff’s evidence”.   The Plaintiff asked the Court to deviate from the usual costs result.  The Court found that the usual ‘loser pays‘ result should apply although the costs the Defendant was entitled to should be reduced by 50% to take into account some “improper” behaviour of the Defendant in the course of the lawsuit.  In discussing the principles behind Rule 14-1(9) Mr. Justice Voith provided the following useful summary:

[10] The following legal principles are relevant:

i)          Costs represent an important instrument by which courts can either promote or, conversely, sanction given conduct. Rule 14-1(9) provides one means of achieving this overarching object. The broad role served by cost awards is captured in the following statements:

a)         In Houweling Nurseries Ltd. v. Fisons Western Corporation (1988), 49 D.L.R. (4th) 205 at 226, 37 B.C.L.R. (2d) 2 (C.A.) at 25, leave to appeal ref’d, [1988] 1 S.C.R. ix, McLachlin J.A., as she then was for the courts, said:

… Parties, in calculating the risks of proceeding with a particular action or defence, should be able to forecast with some degree of precision what penalty they face should they be unsuccessful.

b)         In Karpodinis v. Kantas, 2006 BCCA 400 at para. 4, Hall J.A., for the court, said:

Cost considerations are meant to guide counsel and litigants in the choices and strategies they pursue in litigation. …

c)         In Skidmore v. Blackmore (1995), 122 D.L.R. (4th), 2 B.C.L.R. (3d) 201 (C.A.), Cumming J.A., speaking for a five member panel of the court, said:

[28] … the view that costs are awarded solely to indemnify the successful litigant for legal fees and disbursements incurred is now outdated. A review of Rule 37, which deals with offers to settle, reveals that in certain circumstances a party may be entitled to costs, or double costs, or to no costs at all. One of the purposes of the costs provisions in Rule 37 is to encourage conduct that reduces the duration and expense of litigation, and to discourage conduct that has the opposite effect. Thus, although it is true that costs are awarded to indemnify the successful litigant for legal fees and disbursements incurred, it is also true that costs are awarded to encourage or to deter certain types of conduct.

[Emphasis added.]

d)         Recently, in Catalyst Paper Corporation v. Companhia de Navegação Norsul, 2009 BCCA 16, Hall J.A., in the context of addressing Rule 57(9), said:

[15] In the recent case of Bedwell v. McGill, 2008 BCCA 526, a case dealing with a particular aspect of costs not relevant to this appeal, Newbury J.A., for the court, at para. 33, noted the purpose of former R. 37(24) as being “aimed at encouraging litigants to settle wherever possible, thus freeing up judicial resources for other cases.”

[16] It seems to me that the trend of recent authorities is to the effect that the costs rules should be utilized to have a winnowing function in the litigation process. The costs rules require litigants to make careful assessments of the strength or lack thereof of their cases at commencement and throughout the course of litigation. The rules should discourage the continuance of doubtful cases or defences. This of course imposes burdens on counsel to carefully consider the strengths and weaknesses of particular fact situations. Such considerations should, among other things, encourage reasonable settlements.

ii)         The onus is on the person who seeks to displace the usual rule that costs follow the event: Grassi v. WIC Radio Ltd., 2001 BCCA 376 at para. 24.

iii)        Though Rule 14-1(9) conveys a discretion to the court, that discretion is to be exercised in a “principled way”: Rossmo v. Vancouver Police Board, 2003 BCCA 677 at para. 59; or on “sound principle”: Brown v. Lowe, 2002 BCCA 7 at para. 147.

iv)        The exercise of discretion must be connected to the conduct (or misconduct) of a party in the litigation: Lawrence v. Lawrence, 2001 BCCA 386 at paras. 31-32; Smith v. City of New Westminster, 2004 BCSC 1304 at para. 9.

v)         The conduct in question can arise either at trial or at some earlier stage in the proceeding. For example, conduct that has been held to justify a denial of costs includes giving false evidence on discovery: Brown at para. 149-150. It also includes a failure to make timely and thorough production of relevant documents; Forsyth v. Pender Harbour Golf Club Society, 2006 BCSC 1108 at para. 72.

vi)        Costs are not to be used to sanction a party whose evidence was exaggerated or who gave evidence in error: Brown at para. 149. Where the appropriate dividing line lies was explained in each of Roberts v. Wilson (1997), 10 C.P.C. (4th) 188 (B.C.S.C.) at para. 25; Cardwell v. Perthen, 2007 BCSC 366 at para. 13; Noyes v. Stoffregen, [1995] B.C.J. No. 73 at paras. 79-80.

vii)       Where a court concludes that a party has intentionally or deliberately sought to mislead the court that party will normally be deprived of its costs: Medeiros v. Vuong, 2001 BCSC 326 at para. 12.

[11] I would add the following additional comments. First, Rule 14-1(9) is not intended to provide an unsuccessful party with an opportunity to parse through the litigation conduct of the opposing party searching for behaviour that might be criticized. I do not say that the discretion which is conferred in Rule 14-1(9) is limited to exceptional cases. The Rule is not, however, intended to address imperfect or less than optimal conduct. It is generally not intended to address questionable judgment. Instead it provides the court with an objective means of communicating its censure in relation to conduct that manifestly warrants rebuke.

[12] Second, the Rules of Court and the rules of evidence apply equally to both parties who are represented by counsel and to those who are self-represented. Self-represented litigants are not insulated from these requirements or the obligations they create. Nevertheless, depending on the nature of the concern expressed, some greater flexibility or tolerance may be accorded a self-represented litigant. For some issues, the need for honesty being the clearest example, no different standard can or does apply to a lay litigant. The requirement that parties be forthright is readily understood by all and is inflexible.

[13] In other cases, some increased measure of lenience will be appropriate and necessary. For example, a well-intentioned lay litigant’s imperfect understanding of relevance may cause that litigant to fail to produce certain documents, or to ask unnecessary questions of a witness or to object to what are proper questions. So long as that litigant acts properly once alerted to the deficiencies in his or her conduct, little is achieved in seeking to sanction the earlier conduct. There is no intentional conduct or abuse of the court’s process that warrants sanction.