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

A Costs Argument That "Ought Not To Have Been Made"

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Victoria Registry, criticizing a costs argument advanced by defense counsel after failing to best the Plaintiff’s formal settlement offer at trial.
In today’s case (Tenhunen v. Tenhunen) the plaintiff was injured when she tripped and fell on a deficient ramp constructed by the Defendant.  At trial both were found equally to blame for the incident.  Prior to trial the Plaintiff made a formal settlement offer of $80,000.  The Defendant did not accept this and the trial damages awarded amounted close to $125,000.
The Plaintiff sought post offer double costs but the Defendant opposed arguing, in part, that the Defendant was of modest means.  The court, suspicious of this argument asked about whether the claim was insured to which Defence counsel refused to answer citing the Code of Professional Conduct.  Plaintiff’s counsel then “provided a copy of the policy of insurance that the defendant was obliged to produce” which led to the following judicial criticism of the defence argument and an award of partial post offer double costs –

[27]        The defendant’s principal argument is based on Rule 9-1(6)(c), as she points to her own unfortunate circumstances, subsisting barely on a disability pension, and contrasts this to the far better financial position enjoyed by the plaintiff, who had been employed on an income between $77,000 and $101,511 in the five years between 2009 and 2013. The defendant argues that this financial disparity militates against an order for double costs. This submission, bearing in mind the evidence at trial, raises a logical question of insurance coverage.

[28]        The plaintiff and defendant are mother and daughter, respectively. They were and are close. The defendant ordinarily lives in the rented house where the plaintiff fell and suffered her injury, and from the photographs submitted into evidence, that residence would not suggest an ability to pay substantial damages. It is unlikely in the extreme that the plaintiff would sue her daughter, and proceed to trial, if the only prospects of recovery were limited to the defendant’s disability pension.

[29]        While the defendant’s straightened finances would argue against her being able to afford insurance premiums, those same financial constraints would argue more strongly against the defendant being able to afford to retain senior counsel for the entire action, or to offer to settle her mother’s claims for $80,000 all-inclusive on October 30, 2014. I recognize that an offer to settle is not a guarantee of payment, as it would simply have entitled the plaintiff to enter judgment for the amount of the offer, had she accepted it. In these circumstances, however, the plaintiff would have every reason to know that her daughter had no ability to pay the amount offered from her own funds.

[30]        The defendant’s argument under Rule 9-1(6)(c) made the question of insurance relevant to the costs issue, and by memorandum to counsel I invoked Rule 7-1(4) and asked if there were a policy of insurance to which the defendant could turn for indemnity. The Rule provides:

Despite subrule (3), information concerning the insurance policy must not be disclosed to the court at trial unless it is relevant to an issue in the action.

[31]        Counsel for the defendant replied to this question in this way:

Finally, and more on the basis of a footnote, the Court has inquired as to whether there is a policy of insurance that the Defendant may look to for indemnification of damages and Costs. It would be entirely inappropriate for defence counsel to make any submission as to whether Ms. Kim Tenhunen may or may not look to a policy of insurance for indemnification. Defence counsel has a dual retainer in the circumstances and owes an obligation to both the Defendant and to an insurer not to compromise their respective interests: Professional Conduct Handbook, Chapter 6.4(a-d).

[32]        The Code of Professional Conduct for British Columbia (BC Code) replaced the Professional Conduct Handbook on January 1, 2013. I have examined the previous rule cited by counsel, and see nothing there to prevent the disclosure requested. I have examined the BC Code, with the same results.

[33]        The most charitable interpretation of counsel’s argument is that it is hypothetical. Even on that assumption, it still does not respond to the question posed under Rule 7-1(4), and that is whether the existence of a policy of insurance is relevant to the costs issue, and, if it is, whether there is a policy of insurance available to the defendant in this case.

[34]        How a lawyer’s duties are supervised by the Law Society – to both an insurer who retains the lawyer and the insured on whose behalf the lawyer acts under the retainer – have little to do with the question raised in this application. Nothing in the question put to counsel could raise a risk of dividing counsel’s loyalties to an insurer and insured, assuming that is the relationship that has existed.

[35]        Counsel for the plaintiff has provided a copy of the policy of insurance that the defendant was obliged to produce as part of pre-trial document discovery. The argument against double costs based on the parties’ relative financial circumstances ought not to have been made.

No Costs Consequences Triggered With Marginal ICBC Victory Over Formal Settlement Offer

Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, addressing costs consequences following a trial where ICBC marginally beat their pre-trial settlement offer.
In last week’s case (Wattar v. Lu) the Plaintiff  was injured in a collision in which she and the Defendant were found equally at fault.  After the liability split the Plaintiff’s net damages awarded at trial came to $26,000.  Prior to trial ICBC made a formal offer of $27,500.  ICBC applied for costs consequences to flow from the Plaintiff’s choice to proceed to trial.  Mr. Justice Smith exercised his discretion and refused to award such consequences noting that the unrecovered potion of damages due to the operation of the Negligence Act was punishment enough.  The Court provided the following comments:
[13]         This was a three-day trial. In the absence of an offer to settle, the plaintiff would have been entitled to half of her costs, or $5,500, to reflect the division of liability. That would include $2,250, representing half of the costs attributable to three days of trial ($1,500 times three, divided by two). That is the proper amount by which to reduce the plaintiff’s costs as a consequence of her refusal to accept the settlement offer.
[14]         Counsel for the plaintiff argues that the plaintiff should recover all of her disbursements related to damages because she was substantially successful on that issue, but for the reduction resulting from the liability finding. I cannot accept that argument because the offer clearly encompassed a reasonable assessment of the plaintiff’s damages, discounted for the substantial liability risk. Acceptance of the settlement offer would have made it unnecessary for the plaintiff to prove her damages at trial.
[15]         The plaintiff is therefore entitled to costs of $3,250, plus one half of her disbursements to the date of the offer. In view of the modest award and the relatively small gap between the offer and the judgment, I do not consider it appropriate or necessary to further punish the plaintiff with an award of any portion of the defendant’s costs.

No Costs for ICBC Insured Defendant After Beating Formal Settlement Offer in Liability Trial

Three years ago the BC Court of Appeal clarified that a Defendant’s insured status can be taken into account when considering costs consequences in a trial where a formal settlement offer was in place.  Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court heavily relying on this factor in denying a Defendant post offer costs.
In this week’s case (Currie v. Taylor) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2008 collision.  Prior to trial ICBC offered to settle the issue of liability with the Defendant shouldering 41% of the blame.  The plaintiff rejected this offer and proceeded to trial where a less favorable split of 75/25 was obtained.
The Defendant sought post offer costs.  Mr. Justice Armstrong did strip the Plaintiff of trial costs but did not award these to the Defendant either.  In reaching this conclusion the Court provided the following comments about the significance of the Defendant’s insured status:
[65]         The defendants accept that the plaintiff is financially disadvantaged and that they are represented by an insurer. The defendants’ bill of costs has been presented in the sum of $30,000.32 whereas the plaintiff has disclosed an expenditure of disbursements exceeding $56,000. The plaintiff has not provided a draft bill of costs and I accept that the majority of those disbursements may relate to the issue of quantum. There is simply insufficient evidence on this point to influence the decision.
[66]         However, I am guided by the comments of Sewell J. Wong-Lai where he said:
[52]      I have also given consideration to the relative financial circumstances of the parties. The plaintiff has very limited means. The defendants are covered by insurance and in a very real sense it is the defendants’ insurer who is at risk in this action. I am entitled to take this factor into consideration in exercising my discretion: see Smith v. Tedford, 2010 BCCA 302, 7 B.C.L.R. (5th) 246. Given these circumstances, it is obvious that the relative financial consequences of depriving the plaintiff of her costs are much greater to the plaintiff than to the defendants.
[67]         I accept that there is a significant disparity between the financial resources of the parties and that the plaintiff has very limited means whereas the defendants are supported by an insurer and are at little risk in this action.
[68]         I will not order the plaintiff to pay the defendants’ costs after the delivery of their offer to settle. I have accepted the plaintiff’s arguments: there was a reasonable explanation for the plaintiff’s failure to accept the offer, the magnitude of the plaintiff’s claim is substantial, and there is a substantial discrepancy in the resources of the parties.
[69]         Accordingly, the plaintiff will recover 25% of his costs at Scale B until the date of trial. The defendants will not recover 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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