Tag: Rule 9-1(6)(a)

"Genuine Belief" in Entitled Damages Will Not Avoid Formal Settlement Offer Costs Consequences

In a fairly routine exercise of the Court’s discretion, reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, ordering a Plaintiff to pay the Defendant’s trial costs for failing to best a pre-trial formal settlement offer in a personal injury claim.
In this week’s case (Wilson v. Honda Canada Financial Inc.) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2009 rear end collision.  Fault was not at issue.   Although the Court found that there “are serious issues regarding (the Plaintiff’s) credibility”  Madam Justice Fitzpatrick concluded the Plaintiff suffered a variety of soft tissue injuries, some of which remained symptomatic on an intermittent basis at the time of trial.  Six weeks prior to trial the Defendant made a formal settlement offer of just over $121,000.  The Plaintiff sought an award well above this at trial but many of the claimed damages were rejected with the court assessing damages about $25,000 below the formal settlement offer.
The Defendant sought post offer costs and these were granted.  In finding that a Plaintiff’s “honest belief” in entitlement to damages does not avoid the costs consequences intended by the Rules of Court, Madam Justice Fitzpatrick provided the following reasons:
[11]         Mr. Wilson argues that he “genuinely believed” that he had incurred a past and future wage loss because he was unable to work for Taja. With respect, it can hardly be the case that honest belief alone will avoid the intended effect of the Rule. This is similar to my rejection of his honest belief as to disability where that belief was not supported by any medical evidence: Reasons, para. 137. As set out in the Reasons, there were numerous difficulties with Mr. Wilson’s arguments regarding Taja, including the lack of proper documentation, lack of medical evidence, and a rejection of his testimony on this issue (see paras. 120-146, 157-163). His claim for future massage therapy of $30,000 was also rejected for the reason that no medical evidence supported that claim.
[12]         Finally, Mr. Wilson’s evidence also suffered from credibility problems particularly where not supported by other credible evidence: Reasons, para. 42. Failure to anticipate credibility issues will also not avoid the operation of the Rule: Gehlen v. Rana, 2011 BCCA 219 at paras. 50-51.
[13]         Mr. Wilson argues that he should not be penalized for “guessing wrong”, citing Fan (Guardian ad litem of) v. Chana, 2009 BCSC 1497. However, it is clear from the comments of the court in that case that there were difficult issues relating to the evidence and how any offer could be dealt with, particularly given the involvement of the public trustee. Similar difficulties do not arise in this case.
[14]         I agree that a party is not required to “guess” about the probable outcome; rather, he or she is required to fairly and objectively assess the evidence intended to be adduced at trial and make a reasoned decision about the relative merits of the claim or defence, having in mind a certain amount of litigation risk. In essence, the party receiving the offer must critically review the merits of the claim in relation to the amount offered. As the court noted in Fan, quoting A.E.:
[62]      Regardless of the merits of the plaintiff’s claim the defendant’s offer to settle cannot be ignored, because to do so would undermine the purpose of the Rule. Having decided to proceed in the face of a not insignificant and ultimately successful offer to settle, the plaintiff cannot avoid some consequences.
[15]         The offer amount, while not approaching the amounts sought by Mr. Wilson, in all likelihood fairly assessed the claims about which there was no dispute and added further amounts for the litigation risk that the more contentious claims would go against the defendants. The offer was, no doubt, also prepared recognizing the substantial cost to both parties if the matter proceeded to trial. It cannot be understated that one of the purposes of the Rule is to avoid costs of proceeding further in the action: Martin, para. 8.
[16]         I conclude that the offer should reasonably have been accepted by Mr. Wilson shortly after it was made and that this factor favours the defendants…
[24]         I conclude that all factors to be considered under Rule 9-1(6) favour the costs award sought by the defendants. Accordingly, Mr. Wilson will recover his assessed costs and disbursements up to April 27, 2013, which is 5 days after the offer was sent in recognition that some reasonable period of time would have been necessary to consider the offer. Thereafter, the defendants will recover their assessed costs and disbursements commencing April 28, 2013. After assessment of these respective amounts, the parties shall set off the awards to produce a net award.

Defence Medico-Legal "Vacuum" Defeats Post Trial Costs Application

UPDATE January 28, 2014 – the BC Court of Appeal overturned the below result in reasons for judgement released today
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In an interesting demonstration of the BC Supreme Court’s discretion relating to costs awards following trials where formal settlement offers were made, reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, refusing to award ICBC costs where a Jury’s damages amounted to less than 10% of ICBC’s best formal settlement offer.
In the recent case (Paskall v. Scheithauer) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2005 motor vehicle collision.  Fault and damages were at issue.  Prior to trial ICBC tabled a $700,000 formal settlement offer.  The Plaintiff proceeded to trial and sought damages of over $2 million.  After a liability split of 80/20 in the Plaintiff’s favour the damages awarded by the jury came to just over $65,000.
Having enjoyed substantial financial victory as compared to their pre-trial offer, ICBC sought post offer costs and disbursements arguing their offer ‘ought to have been accepted’.  Mr. Justice Smith disagreed finding, interestingly,  that the the Defendant’s failure obtain medico-legal reports despite having the Plaintiff attend two independent medico-legal assessments created an evidentiary vacuum making it impossible for the Plaintiff to conclude that the formal offer was one that reasonably ought to have been accepted.  In dismissing ICBC’s sought costs the Court provided the following reasons:
[32]         In order to determine whether an offer is reasonable and ought to be accepted, the plaintiff must be able to consider it in relation to the evidence expected at trial and the apparent range of possible outcomes. In a personal injury case, that exercise usually includes consideration of conflicting medical opinions, along with the possibility and likely consequences of the court preferring certain opinions over others. Plaintiff’s counsel who is relying on an opinion from Dr. X can advise his or her client of the reduction in damages that may result from the court rejecting the evidence of Dr. X and accepting the opinion of Dr. Y that is being relied on by the defendant.
[33]         In this case, the evidence relied on by the plaintiff included opinions of a neuroradiologist, a neuropsychologist, a psychiatrist, an otolaryngologist and two physiatrists. The only experts put forward by the defendant on the question of damages were the occupational therapist dealing with cost of future care and the economist. The defendant served no medical expert opinions, although the plaintiff had attended two independent medical examinations at the request of defence counsel.
[34]         The onus of proof at trial is on the plaintiff. The defendant is under no obligation to produce medical evidence and may rely entirely on cross-examination of the plaintiff and the plaintiff’s medical experts to support an argument that the plaintiff has failed to prove damages. That is what defence counsel chose to do in this case, apparently with great success.
[35]         But the onus of proof at trial is not necessarily relevant to the question of whether an offer made before trial “had some relationship to the claim” or “could be easily evaluated”. In choosing to defend this case in the way he did, the defendant also chose not to provide the plaintiff with evidence on which she could judge the reasonableness of the offers to settle. With the plaintiff’s medical reports in hand, and in the absence of contrary medical opinions, I do not see how reasonable counsel could have recommended acceptance of either of the defendant’s offers or justified such a recommendation to the plaintiff.
[36]         A second factor for consideration set out in R. 9-1(6) is the relationship between the offer and the final judgment. However, the court cautioned against putting too much weight on this factor in cases involving jury trials, given the unpredictability of jury awards: Smagh v Bumbrah, 2009 BCSC 623 at paras 13-14.
[37]         In this case, I find the consideration under R. 9-1(6)(a) to be determinative. I am not only unable to say the offers ought reasonably to have been accepted, but I find that they could not reasonably have been accepted in the context of the evidentiary vacuum in which they were presented. I conclude the plaintiff is entitled to her costs as if the offers had not been made.

"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.



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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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