Tag: Rule 9-1(4)

Court Should Avoid "Unduly Punitive" Costs Awards in Face of Formal Settlement Offers

In a good demonstration of the Court’s discretion following a trial where a Plaintiff does not beat a pre-trial defence formal settlement offer, reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, taking a Plaintiff’s post offer costs and disbursements away but not requiring the Plaintiff to pay the Defendant’s costs and disbursements.
In this week’s case (Tompkins v. Bruce) the Plaintiff turned down a pre-trial formal settlement offer of $950,000.  Following trial the Plaintiff was awarded net damages of $851,437.  ICBC applied for post offer costs.  Mr. Justice Curtis found such a result would not be appropriate and instead took away the Plaintiff’s post offer costs and disbursements.  In doing so the Court provided the following reasons:

[28] When the offer in this case was received on October 6, 2011, the plaintiff and his counsel were in possession of the information necessary to make a realistic assessment of the potential recovery.  Naturally, there is no mathematical certainty in those matters and differing courts may give differing amounts.  The plaintiff and his counsel would clearly have contemplated a range of possible recoveryies.  The plaintiff, of course, hopes for the high end of the range and the paying party the low ? settlements are often made somewhere in between.

[29] The offer in this case was reasonable on the facts of the case as they were known to the parties.  It could reasonably have been accepted as being within the range of possible recovery, although likely it would not have been thought by either party at the high end of the range.  The amount of the Offer was reasonable as was its timing: the information necessary to assess the claim was in the possession of the parties, yet there was plenty of time to give careful consideration to the matter before the November trial date.  On the other hand, Mr. Tompkins was seriously injured.  He and his counsel’s view of the matter was that it was worthwhile going to court in the hope of getting a significantly higher award.  It cannot be said that such a decision was unreasonable at the time.

[30] The purpose of cost consequences of reasonable offers is to encourage settlement.  On the other hand, onerous cost penalties should not discourage the seriously injured from a proper hearing and a chance to obtain a higher award, nor should they seriously subtract from what the court has found is appropriate compensation for the injury.

[31] Considering the factors set out in the Rules, it is my opinion that the interests of justice are best served in this case by awarding Mr. Tompkins his costs and disbursements up to and including October 31, 2011, but disallowing them after that date, with the Third Party to bear its own costs.  There is then a consequence for not accepting a reasonable Offer, but the consequence is not unduly punitive in the circumstances.

Today’s case is also worth reviewing for the Court’s discussion of various Part 7 Deductions following a tort action.

Formal Settlement Offers and Costs Consequences: A "Broad Discretion"


Reasons for judgement were released last month by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, discussing the broad discretion that Judges have respecting costs consequences following trial where formal settlement offers have been made.
In last month’s case (Ward v. Klaus) the Plaintiff was involved in a motor vehicle collision.  Prior to trial ICBC tabled a $493,000 settlement offer.  As trial neared the offer was increased to $595,000.  The Plaintiff rejected these offers and went to trial.  At trial the presiding judge awarded just over $434,000.
ICBC brought an application to be awarded post offer costs.  This would have created a ‘costs swing‘ of $149,000.  Mr. Justice Goepel ultimately stripped the Plaintiff of her post offer costs but did not make her pay the Defendants costs reducing the sting of her failure to best the formal settlement offer.  In demonstrating the ‘broad discretion‘ of Rule 9-1 Mr. Justice Goepel provided the following reasons:

[32] Since its inception in 2008, much ink has been spilled explaining the Rule. LexisNexis Quicklaw presently references some 231 decisions in which the Rule has been discussed. From the decisions, some broad principles of general application have emerged concerning how the Rule should be applied.

[33] It is now generally recognized that the Rule provides for the exercise of a broad discretion by trial judges and provides principles to guide in the exercise of that discretion: Roach v. Dutra, 2010 BCCA 264, 5 B.C.L.R. (5th) 95…

[53] For the reasons I have stated, it cannot be said that the plaintiff should have accepted either offer. That is, however, the beginning, not the end of the analysis. Unlike Rule 37 which mandated the outcome regardless of the circumstances, Rule 9-1 gives the court a broad discretion to determine the consequence of a successful offer to settle. While the Rule is intended to reward the party who makes a reasonable settlement offer and penalizing the party who fails to accept it, the several options set out in Rule 9-1(5) allows the court to determine with greater precision the penalty or reward appropriate in the circumstances.

[54] In this case, regardless of the merits of the plaintiff’s case, the defendant’s offers to settle cannot be ignored. To do so would undermine the purpose of the Rule. Having decided to proceed in the face of two not insignificant and ultimately successful offers to settle, the plaintiff cannot avoid some consequences. That said, in the circumstances of this case, to deprive the plaintiff of her costs and have her in addition pay the costs of the defendant would be too great a penalty. It would not be fair or just to require the plaintiff to pay the defendant’s costs after the date of the First Offer. Similarly, however, I find that the defendant should not pay the costs of the plaintiff after the delivery of the First Offer, which costs were only incurred because the plaintiff decided to proceed.

[55] Accordingly, I find that the plaintiff is entitled to her costs up to May 3, 2010. The parties will bear their own costs thereafter.

"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.



Court Lacks Discretion To Deviate From Costs Agreement In Formal Settlement Offers


Authorities under the formal Rule 37B held that when a formal settlement offer dealing with costs consequences was accepted the BC Supreme Court had no discretion to make a different order with respect to costs.  The first case I’m aware of dealing with this issue under the New Rules was released today.  The Court upheld the principle developed under the former rule.
In today’s case (Sahota v. Sandulo) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2004 motor vehicle collision in Surrey, BC.  He started a lawsuit which was set for trial by Jury.  In the course of the lawsuit the Plaintiff incurred significant disbursements advancing the claim.  Fearful that the Jury trial would not go favorably the Plaintiff delivered a formal offer of settlement of $3,000 “plus court costs and disbursements“.  The Defendant accepted the formal offer.
The parties then could not agree on the costs consequences.  The Defendant brought a motion to address this issue.  Mr. Justice Armstong held that precedents developed under Rule 37B remain good law and that the Court has no discretion with respect to costs awards in these circumstances.   The Court provided the following reasons:

[28] Generally, the Court has discretion in relation to costs; however, where an offer to settle with specific terms as to costs has been accepted, to which Rule 9-1  applies, the Court does not have discretion to vary the terms of that agreement as they relate to costs.

[29] In Buttar v. Di Spirito, 2009 BCSC 72, Gerow J. held:

[11]      Both parties advanced arguments that the court has discretion under Rule 37B to make an order regarding costs. However, it is my opinion that the court has no discretion to make an order regarding costs in this matter. Mr. Buttar accepted the offer put forth by the defendants, including the offer regarding costs, without reservation. It is my view that Rule 37B does not confer discretion on the court to set aside an agreement that has been entered into between the parties regarding costs.

[33]         The rule in Buttar has been consistently applied in this Court and appears determinative of this issue.

[34]         Buttar and cases following it did not address Rule 9-1(4) as it relates to an accepted settlement that addresses costs. Rule 9-1(4) states:

(4)        The court may consider an offer to settle when exercising the court’s discretion in relation to costs.

[35]         Buttar held that the Court does not possess discretion to vary costs where a formal offer to settle, specifically addressing costs, has been accepted. If, in such circumstances, the Court is not in a position to exercise discretion in relation to costs, Rule 9-1(4) is of no application.

[36]         The rule in Buttar is applicable to the defendant’s application in this case. The plaintiff’s offer to settle, accepted by the defendant, created an agreement between the parties. This agreement is not subject to the Court’s discretion as to costs. In my view, the purpose of the rules would be frustrated if a party was free to accept an offer, clear and unambiguous on its face, and then move to invoke the Court’s discretion to add or vary terms to substantially rewrite the agreement reached by the parties.

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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.

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