Reasons for judgement were released today addressing whether a Defendant who beat a formal settlement offer should be awarded costs.
In today’s case (Cue v. Breitkruez) the Plaintiff was involved in a rear-end collision. He sued the rear motorist for damages. Prior to trial the Defendant made a formal settlement offer for $1. With liability being hotly contested the Plaintiff proposed that the case be transferred to Small Claims Court. The Defendant refused to consent stating that “such a transfer would result in greater delay“.
At trial the Plaintiff’s case was dismissed with a finding that the Plaintiff was responsible for the collision. (You can click here to read my summary of the trial judgement). The Defendant then applied to be awarded double costs pursuant to Rule 9-1(5) because they beat their formal offer at trial.
Mr. Justice Smith dismissed the application noting that since Rule 14-1(10) generally restricts Plaintiff’s awarded an amount within the small claims court jurisdiction from being awarded trial costs that the Defendant should be refused costs for not agreeing to have the case heard in Provincial Court. Specifically Mr. Justice Smith noted as follows:
7] The matter remained in this court subject to an agreement to still limit the claim to what could be awarded in Provincial Court. Had my liability decision been different and the matter proceeded to an assessment of damages, Rule 14-1(10) would have been a bar to an award of any costs, other than disbursements, in favour of the plaintiff. In my view, fairness requires that the same limitation apply to the successful defendant, particularly as the defendant did not agree to the proposed transfer to Provincial Court.
 I therefore decline to award any costs to the defendant, other than disbursements. There is therefore no need to consider the offer to settle because there are no costs to double.
I’ve previously posted on the topic of costs consequences when a Plaintiff succeeds in a BC Supreme Court lawsuit but is awarded damages within the small claims court jurisdiction.
For the Plaintiff to be entitled to costs it must be found that the Plaintiff had “sufficient reason for bringing the proceeding in the Supreme Court”. Reasons for judgement were released today dealing with this issue.
In today’s case (Johannson v. National Car Rental) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2005 BC Car Crash. The Defendant admitted fault. At trial Mr. Justice Barrow found that the Plaintiff suffered soft tissue injuries which he summarized as follows:
I am satisfied that the plaintiff suffered a mild to moderate soft tissue injury to her upper back and neck in the accident. She followed all of the medical advice she was given and was, I am satisfied, motivated to overcome her injuries. Between the date of the accident and the end of the year, she saw her chiropractor approximately 25 times. I am satisfied that the frequency of these visits was due to the pain and discomfort she was experiencing. The injuries caused her considerable discomfort, moreso than similar injuries might cause to other persons because of her pre-existing condition.
Mr. Justice Barrow awarded the Plaintiff just over $15,000 in total damages (well below the Small Claims Court’s current monetary jurisdiction of $25,000). One of the central issues at trial was weather the Plaintiff suffered a frozen shoulder in the car accident on top of her soft tissue injuries. Ultimately the Court found that the Plaintiff did suffer from a frozen shoulder but this was not caused by the accident.
The Plaintiff brought a motion to be awarded Supreme Court Costs arguing she had sufficient reason to bring her claim in the Supreme Court. Specifically it was argued that if the Plaintiff’s expert evidence was accepted with respect to the cause of her frozen shoulder her claim was well within the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction. The Defence lawyer argued otherwise stating that there was no sufficient reason to sue in the Supreme Court and that “the Plaintiff should have realized at the time she commenced her action that her frozen shoulder was not caused by the motor vehicle accident”.
The Court concluded that there was sufficient reason for this Plaintiff to sue in Supreme Court. In reaching this conclusion Mr. Justice Barrow summarized and applied some of the principles in these types of cases as follows:
Rule 66(29) is, by its terms, subject to Rule 57(10). Rule 57(10) provides as follows:
A plaintiff who recovers a sum within the jurisdiction of the Provincial Court under the Small Claims Act is not entitled to costs, other than disbursements, unless the court finds that there was sufficient reason for bringing the proceeding in the Supreme Court and so orders.
 The onus is on the plaintiff under Rule 57(10) to justify her choice of forum (Bhanji v. Quezada, 2003 BCCA 445). Until the Court of Appeal’s decision in Reimann v. Aziz, 2007 BCCA 448; 286 D.L.R. (4th) 330, there was some uncertainty as to whether the plaintiff’s obligation to justify its choice of forum was a continuing one or rather one to be assessed only at the time the action was commenced. Chaisson J.A. resolved that issue, concluding that a plaintiff must only demonstrate that it had sufficient reason to bring the proceeding in the Supreme Court at the time the action was commenced.
 The “sufficient reason” referred to in the rule is often, but not invariably, related to whether the anticipated judgment will exceed the monetary jurisdiction of the Provincial Court. If, at the time the action was commenced, there was sufficient reason to conclude that the judgment would likely exceed the Provincial Court’s monetary jurisdiction, then the decision to proceed in this court will usually be found to be justified. There may be other reasons for proceeding in the Supreme Court. Some of those other reasons were identified in Kuehne v. Probstl, 2004 BCSC 865. Where those other reasons are present then, even if the anticipated monetary award is likely to fall within the jurisdiction of the Provincial Court, there may still be “sufficient reason” to proceed in this court.
 In the case at bar, the only basis advanced for proceeding in the Supreme Court is that the reasonably expected award was likely to exceed the monetary jurisdiction of the Provincial Court…
 In effect the plaintiff took the position when she launched this action that her frozen shoulder was the consequence of the defendant’s negligence. I am satisfied that she has always honestly believed that. While that conclusion was not free from doubt when the action was launched, it was not an unreasonable position to take at the time. The fact that her own doctor came to share that view is some indication that the position was not unreasonable, even though there is no evidence that she had the benefit of that opinion at the time the action was started.
 In summary, I am satisfied that there was sufficient reason for the plaintiff to bring this proceeding in the Supreme Court. The plaintiff is, therefore, entitled to her costs which, given the length of trial and the provisions of Rule 66(29)(b), I set at $6,600 plus disbursements.
In my continued effort to cross reference the current Supreme Court rules with the new Rules of Court that come into force on July 1, 2010 I will note that the Current Rule 57(10) will become Rule 14-1(10) and it reads identical to the current rule so the precedents developed under Rule 57(10) regarding costs should continue to assist litigants under our new rules.