Further to my previous posts on this topic, reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, confirming that when a Rule 15 matter settles pre-trial and the settlement agreement incorporates costs, these should be assessed at $6,500 unless there are compelling facts and circumstances.
In the recent case (Ostadsaraie v. Shokri) the Plaintiff settled his claim 55 days prior to the scheduled trial and also prior to his Trial Management Conference. The Plaintiff sought $6,500 in costs and Registrar Cameron agreed this amount was appropriate After canvassing the relevant authorities the Court provided the following reasons:  In this case, Ms Neathway had done a substantial amount of preparation and delivered a settlement offer that resulted in a settlement of the case some 55 days before trial. There was a housekeeping matter left to be done, a trial management conference – but given the settlement, it did not occur.  Ms Neathway had delivered all of her expert reports and had prepared and completed all of the discovery in readiness for trial. She was frank to say that she would have needed to interview again one or more of the witnesses that would be called at trial and of course complete the final preparations for her client to give his evidence at trial. Nonetheless, a substantial amount of the preparation had in fact been completed by the time the settlement was made and in the circumstances it is appropriate to award the plaintiff the full amount of the cap…
Reasons for judgement were released recently by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, dealing with damages for minor soft tissue injuries following a so-called ‘low velocity impact‘ collision.
In the recent case (Wallner v. Uppal) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2008 rear-end collision. Fault was admitted. The collision was relatively minor causing just under $450 worth of vehicle damage. Despite this the Plaintiff suffered a soft tissue injury to her neck and shoulder. Her symptoms were “mild” but were expected to linger into the future. In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $20,000 Madam Justice Stromberg-Stein provided the following reasons:  The plaintiff’s claim is for damages for a permanent partial disability relating to her intermittent ongoing neck, upper back and shoulder pain and left arm pain, and numbness and tingling she says is caused by the accident. The plaintiff acknowledges her condition is relatively mild but maintains it is persistent and likely permanent. She claims she experiences pain and discomfort while commuting to work, at work, doing household work, and during recreational activity. She complains of intermittent weakness and lack of sensitivity in her left hand. She claims she is unable to predict when she will be symptomatic.  In this case, in addition to minimal cosmetic damage to the vehicles, the plaintiff’s subjective complaints were not objectively verifiable, and in any event her injuries were minor and of minimal impact on her life. The plaintiff has not missed any work and has no claim for past wage loss or for loss of future earning capacity despite maintaining a permanent partial disability. The evidence establishes the plaintiff suffered soft tissue injuries of a minor nature, with continued minor, intermittent numbness and tingling in her left arm and fingers, which injuries have had and will have minimal impact on her life.  In the result, based on an assessment of the evidence and considering the authorities relied on by counsel, the plaintiff is awarded general damages in the amount of $20,000. In addition, she is awarded special damages in the amount of $283, with court order interest. With the agreement of counsel, costs are set pursuant to Supreme Court Civil Rules, R.15-1(15)(c) at $11,000 and disbursements.
Further to my previous posts on this topic (which can be found here and here), reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, finding that the Rule 15 costs cap can apply to a personal injury claim litigated outside of the fast track when a settlement below $100,000 is achieved.
In the recent case (Varga v. Shin) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2006 collision. The plaintiff initially sought significant damages over $422,000 and the case was prosecuted in the usual course. It was never put into the fast track rule. Prior to trial the case settled for $65,000 plus costs “to be assessed or agreed“. The parties could not agree on the costs consequences with the defendant arguing that the Rule 15 cap should apply. Registrar Sainty agreed and in doing so provided the following reasons:  I prefer Ms Taylor’s submissions in relation to the application of the costs provisions of R. 15-1. In my view, this action, even though it was not declared to be a “fast track” action, is subject to the costs provisions of R. 15-1(15). I agree with Ms Taylor’s submissions that R. 15-1(1) is exclusive and not inclusive. In my opinion, if a matter settles for less than $100,000, R. 15-1(15) applies to the costs of the action. This is made clear, in my view, by the addition to the Rules of R. 14-1(1)(f). That subrule effectively fast tracks actions that were not fast tracked but should have been (see Axten, supra, and Affleck v. Palmer, 2011 BCSC 1366). The cases cited by Mr. Warnett (listed above) were all, in my view, decided per incuriam: without reference to either R. 15-1(1) or 14-1(1)(f) in relation to the issue of costs.  This interpretation is in keeping with the object of the Rules: “to secure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every proceeding on its merits” (R. 1-3(1)) and the proportionality provisions set out in R. 1-3(2).  Finally, I note that Mr. Warnett also suggested that, if the defendants wished the provisions of R. 15-1(15) to apply to the action, they ought to have applied to place it into fast track and as they did not do so, they should not be allowed to limit the plaintiff’s costs to the costs allowed under R. 15-1(15). This suggestion cuts both ways however. Just as it was open to the defendants to seek an order bringing the matter into fast track, it was also open to Mr. Warnett to seek an order (even at the trial management conference) that R. 15-1 not apply to the action. He did not do so and as the action is by operation of the Rules a fast track action, it attracts costs per R. 15-1(15).  As I have found that the action falls within the provisions of R. 15-1(15), thus the plaintiff is entitled to some proportion of the $6,500 “cap” available (see Duong v. Howarth, 2005 BCSC 128; and Anderson v. Routbard, 2007 BCCA 193 [Anderson]). In order to avoid a re-attendance before me (or some other registrar) to determine how much of that cap the plaintiff may claim, I am going to employ some “rough and ready justice” (see Anderson, at paragraph 49 and Cathcart v. Olson, 2009 BCSC 618 at paragraph 19) to this matter. I will set the amount at the full $6,500, plus tax. This matter settled some 15 days before trial. Likely a good deal of the trial preparation had occurred up to the settlement. It is therefore appropriate that the plaintiff receive the full amount of the cap: see Gill v. Widjaja, 2011 BCSC 951 (Registrar), aff’d 2011 BCSC 1822.
Adding to this site’s archived caselaw dealing with BC Supreme Court’s Fast Track Rule, reasons for judgement were released addressing the appropriate costs for a Fast Track trial which exceeds 3 days.
Rule 15-1(15)(c) fixes costs for fast track trials which exceed two days at $11,000 “unless the court otherwise orders”. In the recent case (Coutakis v. Lean) the Court held that the circumstances were appropriate to depart from this default amount.
In the Coutakis case the Plaintiff suffered C6/7 disk herniation. His claim proceeded via fast track trial and ultimately took more than three days to conclude. The Plaintiff argued that the $11,000 costs cap should be set aside to account for the lengthier than anticipated trial. Mr. Justice Saunders agreed finding that the pronged hearing was due in part to the Defendant leading “irrelevant” and “ineffectual” evidence. In assessing costs at $14,000 the court provided the following reasons:  Under subrule 15-1(15), the court is given a wide discretion to order an amount of costs other than the fixed amounts set out therein. In my view, this is a case which clearly calls for the exercise of that discretion, in favour of the plaintiff. That the hearing of the evidence took three days, rather than two, was largely as a result of the defence’s cross-examination of four of the plaintiff’s treating physicians, and the defence’s tendering as opinion evidence of the consultation report of a neurosurgeon. Hearing the evidence of all of these physicians took more than three hours, and, as I stated in my judgment, all of it was ineffectual. Further time was spent hearing irrelevant evidence from the defendant.  I find that the plaintiff is entitled to costs for each of the four days spent hearing evidence and argument, and for the fifth day which was scheduled but on which the trial did not proceed.  The plaintiff seeks a further allocation for additional preparation associated with the trial being continued eight months after it commenced. Having reviewed the evidence before the court on the third day of trial, I do not think that the additional preparation would likely have been significant, and in any event any further cost incurred by the plaintiff is addressed by having awarded the plaintiff full costs for the aborted day of trial.  Using the amounts prescribed in the subrule as reference points, I award the plaintiff base costs of $14,000, plus disbursements.
One practice that has arisen since the new rules of court were introduced a few years ago relates to parties occasionally slotting actions into the fast track rule when the case is not suitable for fast track litigation. Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, discussing this practice finding that a Plaintiff’s claimed damages (as opposed the Defendant’s perceived valuation) is a driving force.
In last week’s case (Narain v. Gill) the Plaintiff was injured in a motor vehicle collision. In the early stages of litigation ICBC filed a Notice of Fast Track. Prior to trial the Plaintiff made a formal settlement offer of $200,000 and the Defendant provided a formal offer of $102,500. Following trial damages of $116,737 were assessed. At issue was the appropriate costs award. Mr. Justice Meiklem had to decide whether the Notice of Fast track made the lesser Rule 15 costs scale applcable. In deciding that the plaintiff’s valuation is a driving factor the court provided the following reasons:  Counsel for the third party argues that the plaintiff was notified that the third party considered this to be under Rule 15-1 with the filing of the notice and a matter is only removed from fast track by court order, either by the court on its own motion, or the application of any party and the court so orders, as provided by Rule 15-1(6)…  As I read Rule 15-1(2), the simple filing of a notice of fast track action in form 61 does not turn any action into a fast track action; rather, any party may file such notice “if this rule applies to an action” [my emphasis]. It is Rule 15-1(1) that defines when the rule applies, and it is important to note that the monetary criteria set out in subrule (1)(a) depends on the total amount of money claimed by the plaintiff for pecuniary loss and to be claimed by the plaintiff for non-pecuniary loss.  Counsel for the plaintiff in the case at bar communicated to counsel for the third party his belief that the claims being advanced exceeded the $100,000.00 limit. After that communication, there was no insistence on the action proceeding as a fast track action, and it would be reasonable to infer from third party counsel’s subsequent conduct in not adding the required notation to subsequent filings, agreeing to an extension of the trial estimate to five days and making a formal offer exceeding the $100,000.00 limit, that third party counsel had tacitly agreed with plaintiff counsel’s view that this was not an action to which Rule 15-1 should apply.  In short, I do not view the failure to add the required notation to the style of cause as an irregularity curable by amendment in order to conform to reality, as was done in the Foster case. This is not an action in its infancy that would benefit from an amendment making it clear that it is subject to Rule 15-1. This action was never clearly within the definition set out in Rule 15-1(1), and the filing of a form 61 notice did not change that.  That being said, hindsight will hopefully instruct counsel to clarify opposing counsel’s intentions, and, if necessary, seek an order by consent or otherwise to avoid similar circumstances arising in the future.
Last year reasons for judgement were released discussing the lump sum costs available to parties under Rule 15. Reasons for judgement were recently published by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, finding that the quantum pre trial Rule 15 settlement costs should remain a matter of discretion.
In the recent case (Benz v. Coxe) the parties settled a personal injury claim for an undisclosed quantum plus costs. The parties could not agree to the amount of costs and the issue was put before the Court. Ultimately Registrar Sainty held $6,5000 was an appropriate quantum of costs on the facts of the case (settled in the mature phase of litigation) but held that no hard and fast rule should exist making this amount appropriate across the board. In doing so the Court provided the following reasons:
I appreciate the submissions of counsel. I have found those of Mr. Jeffrey to be more persuasive than those of Mr. Cope. I am going to continue to support my decision in Cathcart No.1 for a variety of reasons.
Firstly, I think it is important to note, as Harvey J. confirmed in Gill v. Widjaja, supra, that Rule 15-1(15) gives the Registrar wide discretion in determining the appropriate tariff amount. If I were to accede to Mr. Cope’s submission — that in every case you get the cap unless there are special circumstances — I believe that, would be taking away from the discretion given to the Registrar to make these types of decisions.
Secondly, I think Mr. Cope’s approach, rather than taking away from confusion, makes matters more confusing. I do not think one can draw a line in the sand and decide, for example, that where there has been discovery and there are no other special circumstances, you get the cap. However, If there has been no discovery and there are no other special circumstances (yet to be decided and which must be argued), you will probably get some proportion of the cap. One might still end up in the same position. Because whether you call it special circumstances, parsing out, or rough and ready, the parties will still end up assessing costs before a registrar who would then decide where the case was, in terms of preparedness, and who would also have to decide if there are (or are not) special circumstances such that the cap or something less might be awarded.
I agree with Mr. Jeffrey, who submitted that the fairest approach in these types of circumstances is to consider all of the circumstances of the action. I also agree that the fact Harvey J. says one should not get bogged down in the details does not take away from the rough and ready approach, which is actually more fair, I think, to all the parties, because to make discoveries, say, the arbitrary line in the sand could result in some injustices. For example, there may be those odd circumstances where no discoveries have been conducted and were set for a week or two before trial for some reason or other. In those circumstances, using Mr. Cope’s “line in the sand”, a plaintiff might have to apply to a registrar to find special circumstance so that they might get the full cap amount (or something approximating it) if the case settled before the discoveries had been conducted but still, essentially, on the eve of trial.
On the basis of all of the above, I stand by my decision in Cathcart No.1.
Two useful, albeit unreported, cases were recently provided to me dealing with objections to two fairly common examination for discovery questions and dealing with their propriety.
In the first case (Blackley v. Newland) the Plaintiff was injured in two motor vehicle collisions. In the course of examining the Defendant for discovery, the Plaintiff’s lawyer asked a series of “do you have any facts known or knowable to you” questions addressing the specific allegations set out in the Pleadings such as:
do you have any facts known or knowable to you that relate in any way to whatever injuries Mr. Blackley received in this collision?
do you have any facts known or knowable to you that relate in any way to what pain or suffering Mr. Blackley has had because of this collision?
At trial, the Plaintiff proposed to read this series of questions and the answers that followed to the Jury. Mr. Justice Williams held that while the exchange should not go to the jury as its prejudicial effect outweighed its probative value, the series of questions was entirely appropriate in the context of an examination for discovery. Mr. Justice Williams provided the following comments:  Speaking generally, in this case, I do not find that the questions asked at the examination for discovery are improper. They can be said to have been substantially informed by the statement of defence that was filed by the defendant. As is usual, that statement of defence is replete with denials and positings of other alternative propositions.  The examination for discovery conducted by plaintiff’s counsel was obviously shaped in part as a response to the pleadings of the defendant and was an appropriate use of the examination process, specifically to discovery the defendant’s case.
In the second decision (Evans v. Parsons) the Defendant put a medico-legal report to the Plaintiff and asked the broad (and arguably compound) question “Okay. Was there — the facts in Dr. Aiken’s report, was there anything that struck you as incorrect?“. The Plaintiff’s lawyer objected to the question resulting in a chambers application. The Defendant argued the question was fair and further that the limited two hour discovery in Rule 15 matters allowed this type of a short cut question.
Master Caldwell disagreed finding the question was too broad and vague. In doing so the Court provided the following reasons: All right. Thank you. Applications to have a subsequent examination for discovery done specifically to address what I do find as an extremely general and vague question which was asked and objected to at the first discovery. That comment probably leads one to surmise the application will be dismissed, at it will. There was an opportunity to specify what facts were being referred to, and counsel refused to further qualify. There’s a reason for short discoveries in rule 15-1 cases. Two hours were granted. If this was an important question, it could have been addressed earlier in the discovery. I don’t, in the circumstances of the context of the question, believe it to have been a fair question to the plaintiff. It was far too general, and, as I say, defence counsel refused the opportunity to further qualify or narrow it. I’m not going to force the Plaintiff to answer such a general question. Application is dismissed. Costs to the Plaintiff. To my knowledge these judgements are not yet publicly available. As always, I’m happy to provide a copy to anyone who contacts me and requests copies.
Adding to this site’s expanding database for BC soft-tissue injury assessments, reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, addressing damages for chronic soft tissue injuries with a poor prognosis.
In last week’s case (Bissonnette v. Horn) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2007 collision. Fault was admitted focusing the trial on damages. The Court found that the Plaintiff suffered various soft tissue injuries involving her beck, back hip and leg. The injuries continued to cause difficulties to the time of trial and were expected to linger into the future. In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $50,000 Madam Justice Gray provided the following reasons:
I accept the evidence of Dr. Frankel that Ms. Horn continues to suffer with left hip, neck, left leg, and lower back pain, disturbed sleep patterns, headaches, anxiety, and weight gain as a result of her motor vehicle related injuries. I also accept his opinion that, as these symptoms have continued for over four years since the accident, her prognosis for full recovery is guarded. Dr. Chu testified that the prognosis was fairly good for Ms. Horn’s widespread myofascial pain syndrome and that it usually responds to active exercise and treating sleep or mood disturbances. I accept this evidence as well….
Ms. Horn’s continuing pain has diminished since the accident, but remains significant enough to affect her work, recreation, and sleep. She suffered other symptoms closer to the accident, including severe headaches, a broken tooth, and a finger injury.
Global damages of just over $100,000 were awarded demonstrating the soft cap in action set out for fast track trials in Rule 15. This is not the first time this has happened since the new rules came into force and also confirms the disjunctive nature of Rule 15 allowing for the prosecution of claims over the $100,000 damage cap.
Last year Master Baker released reasons for judgement assessing pre-trial settlement costs of a Rule 15 lawsuit at $6,500. Today reasons for judgement were released upholding this analysis finding no error was made in such an assessment.
In today’s case (Gill v. Widjaja) Mr. Justice Harvey provided the following reasons upholding the Master’s decision:
I turn now to the matter of the tariff fees allowed by Master Baker of the $6,500 in costs.
Rule 15-1(15) reads:
(15) Unless the court otherwise orders or the parties consent, and subject to Rule 14-1(10), the amount of costs, exclusive of disbursements, to which a party to a fast track action is entitled is as follows:
(a) if the time spent on the hearing of the trial is one day or less, $8,000;
(b) if the time spent on the hearing of the trial is 2 days or less but more than one day, $9 500;
(c) if the time spent on the hearing of the trial is more than 2 days, $11 000.
The Rule, as written, gives the registrar wide discretion in determining the appropriate tariff amount. Master Baker was aware of the steps taken in the litigation and the date of settlement relative to the trial date.
Having regard to the aforementioned test that I must apply, I am not of the view that an error in principle has been demonstrated nor do I find that the master was clearly wrong in his determination that the appropriate cost of tariff amount was $6,500.
The express purpose of Rule 15-1 is to streamline the process both for trial and, presumably, taxation of costs. Parsing out the details in each action where the amounts do not apply is not, in my view, the proper course. Indeed, were it, in this action there was a settlement conference which no doubt necessitated some significant preparation, much like trial preparation, and, as well, a trial management conference. Each of those events resulted in discussions leading to the settlement of this matter.
In those circumstances I find no error in principle such as to interfere with the finding of the master.
Earlier this year Master Bouck found that Rule 15 applies to cases worth below $100,000 regardless of length of trial and conversely to cases worth more than $100,000 where the length of trial is three days or less. This reasoning was confirmed in reasons for judgement released this week by Mr. Justice Grist.
In this week’s case (Sandhu v. Roy) the Plaintiff was injured in two separate motor vehicle collisions. He sued for damages and both actions were set for hearing, by consent, at the same time. ICBC unilaterally put the cases into Rule 15 and set a trial for three days. The Plaintiff applied to remove the case from Rule 15 arguing the case did not meet with its requirements given the value of the claims and the length of trial necessary.
ICBC argued that liability was “not seriously in dispute” and the trial can be completed in three days. Mr. Justice Grist found with liability denied in the pleadings the case was not suitable for fast track litigation and ordered the matter removed from Rule 15 (unless ICBC formally admitted liability within 14 days). In doing so the Court provided the following reasons confirming the Disjunctive nature of the fast track Rule:
The defendants’ point that the prerequisites for a Fast Track Notice are listed disjunctively is sound. In Hemani, Master Bouck recognized the disjunctive list of criteria in Rule 15-1(1), as allowing for a case requiring more than three days to be set on Fast Track, and held that an action will not be removed from Fast Track on an application under 15-1(6) for that reason alone. Rule 15-1, however, presents something of a conundrum on the question of removal of an action from Fast Track as a result of an estimated trial length beyond three days. If the action proceeds to a Trial Management Conference, Rule 15-1(14) applies:
If trial will require more than 3 days
(14) If, as a result of the trial management conference in a fast track action, the trial management conference judge considers that the trial will likely require more than 3 days, the trial management conference judge
(a) may adjourn the trial to a date to be fixed as if the action were not subject to this rule.
In a case like this one, where only three days are set aside for trial and the circumstances indicate that significantly more days are required, should the matter proceed to a Trial Management Conference, the court would in most cases be forced to require a second trial date be set, and may often be called on to remove the action from the strictures of the Rule…
I find merit in plaintiff’s application and would accede to the adjournment of the trial and removal of the action from the Fast Track Program. I consider, however, that the orders may not ultimately be necessary if liability for the two collisions were to be admitted. Defence counsel should be given the opportunity to re-assess his position once the effect of this decision is known. Accordingly, I will stipulate that the two orders will become effective should the liability issues not be settled within 14 days of these Reasons.
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.
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