Tag: Rule 9-7

Examination For Discovery Evidence and Proper Procedure at Summary Trials

Update July 19, 2013 the below decision was upheld in reasons for judgement released today by the BC Court of Appeal
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Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, discussing the introduction of examination for discovery evidence at a summary trial.
In the recent case (Mawani v. Pitcairn) the Plaintiff was injured in a pedestrian/vehicle collision.  Fault was disputed and following a summary trial Mr. Justice Kelleher found both parties equally to blame.
In the course of the summary trial the Plaintiff tendered an affidavit which attached the transcript from the Defendant’s examination for discovery as an exhibit.   The Plaintiff’s application response clearly indicated that the Plaintiff was only relying on specific questions and answers from the examination.  Despite this the Defendant argued that the entire transcript was put in evidence by the Plaintiff therefore the Plaintiff was bound by the unhelpful answers.
Mr. Justice Kelleher rejected this argument finding that in circumstances where the Plaintiff clearly identifies the specific questions he is relying on such a harsh result is not justified.  The Court provided the following reasons:

[23]At the hearing before me, the defendant argued that the entire examination for discovery of the defendant is before me.  That is because of para. 46 of the earlier ruling:

[46]      … Neither the deposition evidence nor Mr. Pitcairn’s examination for discovery are tendered as part of Mr. Pitcairn’s case.  If they are before me at all, they are before me as part of Mr. Mawani’s case.  His evidence, as matters currently stand, includes both the entirety of the examination for discovery evidence, and an affidavit from Ms. Forrest disclosing those portions of the examination for discovery he intends to rely on.  It also includes the entirety of the deposition evidence, but as I already noted, the rules do not provide for the admissibility of the deposition on summary trial unless arguably the court makes an order for its admission.  As I have also noted, there has been no application yet made by any party for that deposition evidence to be received in whole or in part.

[24]I disagree with the defendant that the entire examination for discovery is before me.  Mr. Justice Harris went on to direct, at para. 69, that plaintiff’s counsel file an application response which sets out the material on which he relies as part of the evidence in his case.  Mr. Gourlay did that on February 29, 2012.

[25]Mr. Arvisais argues that the entire transcript is in evidence.  In a conventional trial, the transcript would not be an exhibit.

[26]The application response filed February 29, 2012, makes it clear that the plaintiff is relying on certain questions and answers only.  Despite Mr. Justice Harris’s statement at para. 46 of his reasons, which were published before the application response was filed, the plaintiff does now make clear what questions and answers are relied upon.  The attachment of the entire transcript of the examination for discovery is consistent with the “proper procedure” outlined by Burnyeat J. in Newton v. Newton, 2002 BCSC 14.

Provincial Court BackLog Justifies Modest Injury Trials in BC Supreme Court


Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, awarding a Plaintiff damages and costs for modest injuries following a motor vehicle collision.  Although the claim was straight-forward and damages were within the jurisdiction of the Small Claims Court, the Plaintiff was awarded costs with Mr. Justice Burnyeat finding that the Supreme Court’s summary trial process is a reasonable alternative to the backlog litigants face in Small Claims Court.
In today’s case (Parmar v. Lahay) the Plaintiff sustained a modest whiplash injury as a result of motor vehicle collision.  ICBC ran the “Low Velocity Impact” defence arguing no compensation should be awarded.  The trial proceeded summarily and took less than one day.  The Plaintiff’s evidence was accepted and non-pecuniary damages of $12,000 were awarded.
The Court went on to award costs despite the modest quantum.  In doing so Mr. Justice Burnyeat provided the following reasons:

[9] I cannot reach the conclusion that the legal or factual complexity of the case, the need for discovery of documents and examination for discovery, and the need for a judgment enforceable outside of British Columbia are applicable reasons why this action was commenced in the Supreme Court of British Columbia rather than in Provincial Court.  However, I am satisfied that the summary trial procedure available in the Supreme Court and the availability of costs makes the Supreme Court a preferable and justified forum for this Action.

[10] I take judicial notice that this case reached the Court for decision much more quickly than if the Action had been commenced in the Provincial Court.  In this regard, I take judicial notice of the absence of a considerable number of judges at the Provincial Court level and the backlog in hearing matters that the failure to appoint more judges has produced.

[11] I also take into account the ability of the Plaintiff to have costs awarded in this Court but not in Small Claims Court.  In that that regard, I adopt the reasoning of Harvey J. in Zale v. Colwell, 2010 BCSC 1040, where he states:

In each of the above three decisions [Spencer v. Popham, supra; Faedo v. Dowell, 2007 BCSC 1985; and Kanani v. Misiurna, 2008 BCSC 1274] the primary reason for awarding the plaintiff costs, in circumstances not unlike these facing the plaintiff here, was the consideration that given the need to retain counsel to battle an institutional defendant, a reasonable consideration in determining the forum is the matter of indemnity for the costs of counsel.  (at para. 14)

[12] I also adopt the statement of Humphries J. in Kananisupra:

… in a situation where the defendant put the plaintiff to the proof of having suffered any injury at all, thus making her credibility a crucial issue at trial, it was reasonable for the plaintiff to require the assistance of counsel.  She was therefore justified in commencing the action in Supreme Court where she could hope to recover some of the costs it was necessary for her to expend in retaining counsel to recover the compensation to which she was found to be entitled. This reasoning has application here as well. (at para. 8).

[13] I take into account that it may well be economically unrealistic for counsel to be retained for up to three appearances in Small Claims Court where the damages sought are nominal.  This must be contrasted with the institutional defendant and its unlimited resources.  In an action in Supreme Court, counsel for a plaintiff is only required to appear once in Court if an application pursuant to Rule 9?7 of the Supreme Court Civil Rules is appropriate.  In the case at bar, the application has taken approximately one hour.

[14] In the circumstances, I am satisfied that the Plaintiff should be entitled to his costs throughout on a Party and Party (Scale B) basis.

Social Host Lawsuit Involving "Disastrous" Injury Survives Summary Dismissal Application


Important reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, demonstrating that given the right circumstances a ‘social host’ can be found negligent if one of their guests becomes impaired and subsequently causes a motor vehicle collision.
In this week’s case (Sidhu v. Hiebert) the three infant plaintiffs were injured in a motor vehicle collision.  They were passengers in their parents vehicle which was struck by another motorist.  There was evidence that the driver of the other vehicle was previously at a social party where he consumed alcohol.   There was also evidence that he had blood alcohol content high enough that he “would have had to drink between 20 and 26 ounces of hard liquor to produce such a result“.  The liquor was not necessarily all consumed at the social gathering.
One of the infant plaintiff’s was “disastrously injured”  with his spinal cord severed in the high cervical area.
The lawsuit was launched alleging negligence against not only the motorists but also the social host.  The social host brought an application for summary dismissal arguing that the 2006 Supreme Court of Canada judgement of Childs v. Desormeaux eliminated the possibility of success in social host lawsuits.  Mr. Justice Johnston disagreed and dismissed the Defendant’s motion.
The Court held that given the right circumstances social host lawsuits can succeed but given some conflicts in the evidence presented this specific case was inappropriate for summary disposition.  In dismissing the application Mr. Justice Johnston provided the following reasons:
[32] Whether a duty had been established on the face of it depended on the answer to this question: “What, if anything, links party hosts to third-party users of the highway?” (Childs, para. 24)…

[43] The court says at para. 31:

… However, where the conduct alleged against the defendant is a failure to act, foreseeability alone may not establish a duty of care. In the absence of an overt act on the part of the defendant, the nature of the relationship must be examined to determine whether there is a nexus between the parties. Although there is no doubt that an omission may be negligent, as a general principle, the common law is a jealous guardian of individual autonomy. Duties to take positive action in the face of risk or danger are not free-standing. Generally, the mere fact that a person faces danger, or has become a danger to others, does not itself impose any kind of duty on those in a position to become involved. [Emphasis in original.]

[44] I take from this passage that this aspect is also evidence-driven, in that whether there is a nexus between the parties will depend on the nature of any relationship revealed by the evidence. The passage also suggests that if there is more than a “mere fact that a person faces danger,” again revealed in the evidence, the general statement may not apply.

[45] The court in Childs summarized three situations where courts have in the past imposed positive duties to act: where a defendant has intentionally attracted and invited third parties to inherent and obvious risks created or controlled by the defendant; where there is a paternalistic, supervisory or controlling relationship between defendant and plaintiff; and where the defendant is engaged in a public function or commercial enterprise that implies responsibility to the public.

[46] I agree with counsel for Mr. Rattan that this case does not fit comfortably within any one of these three situations, but I also note that the Court in Childs at para. 34 said these were not strict legal categories, but serve to elucidate factors that can lead to positive duties to act.

[47] After pointing out that the three situations have in common the defendants’ “material implication in the creation of the risk or his or her control of a risk to which others have been invited,” and the reluctance of the law to infringe on the personal autonomy of someone in Mr. Hiebert’s position without good reason, the Court at para. 39 points out that someone in Mr. Rattan’s position might be expected or required by law to impinge on Mr. Hiebert’s autonomy only when he has a special relationship to the person in danger (not apparent here), or “… a material role in the creation or management of the risk.”…

[56] Because I am persuaded that this case should be decided on a full record of evidence at trial, I conclude that I should leave to trial the question of whether motorists can reasonably rely on a social host to not exacerbate an obvious risk by continuing to supply alcohol to an apparently impaired guest who the host knows will drive away from the party. It seems to me that justice requires that I allow the parties to develop the evidence and argument on a full trial.

[57] Mr. Rattan’s application is dismissed with costs in the cause.

This case is also worth reviewing for the Court’s discussion of whether a passenger in the alleged impaired driver’s vehicle could be found liable.  The Social host brought ‘third party’ proceedings against the motorists passenger arguing that if they are liable then the driver’s passenger should be as well.  Mr. Justice Johnston dismissed this allegation finding that even viewing the evidence in the most favourable light this allegation would fail.  The Court provided the following reasons:

[65] If I assume for the purposes of this application that the evidence showed that Mr. Braun and Mr. Hiebert arrived together at the party in an intoxicated condition, both continued to drink Mr. Rattan’s alcohol to excess at the party, and both left together at the end, in a more intoxicated condition than when they arrived – with Mr. Hiebert driving and Mr. Braun as his passenger – is there a possibility that the first branch of the Anns test might be satisfied? My answer is no.

[66] The language in Childs that might allow a court to conclude that a social host owes a duty of care to highway users injured by a driver who becomes impaired as a guest of the host does not go so far as to admit the possibility of a duty on a companion or fellow traveler who does no more than observe the risky behavior of the drinking guest, and perhaps acquiesce to an extent in the risk by drinking with and then accepting a ride home from the party with the drunken guest.

Credibility Cases Not Suitable for Severance of Issues and Summary Trial


Earlier this year Mr. Justice McEwan provided reasons for judgement finding that an order to sever issues under Rule 12-5(67) is a prerequisite to having only part of a case tried by way of summary trial.   Today, reasons for judgement were released confirming this point and finding that where credibility is an issue a case will likely not be suitable for severance or summary trial.
In today’s case (Erwin v. Helmer) the Plaintiff alleged injuries in a trip and fall incident.  She sued for damages under the Occupiers Liability Act.  The Defendants applied to dismiss the case via summary trial.  Mr. Justice McEwan dismissed the application finding that a a summary trial was not appropriate.  In doing so the Court provided the following reasons regarding credibility, severance and summary trials:



[9] This case inherently turns on credibility. While counsel for the plaintiff has not objected to severance, the court must still be concerned with the proper application of summary process and with the sufficiency of the evidence on which it is expected to rule that a party will be deprived of a full hearing.

[10] It appears from what is before the court that the precise nature of the “hole” into which the plaintiff alleges she stepped will not be established with any precision. There nevertheless appears to be a question to be tried on the balance between the risk assumed by the plaintiff and the duty imposed on the defendants to ensure that the premises were reasonably safe. There is simply not enough material presently before the court to reliably make that call. The defendant relies on the fact that the plaintiff had been drinking as if that essentially speaks for itself, but the presence of drinking invitees on the defendant’s premises was, on the material, foreseeable. There is little, if any evidence as to what efforts, if any, were made to render the premises reasonably safe for those who attended the wedding in those circumstances, including, for example, whether paths were designated or lighting was supplied.

[11] The application is accordingly dismissed and, the whole matter will be put on the trial list. The question of severance, if it arises again, should be the subject of an application. Where credibility is a significant issue it should generally be decided on the whole case, not on the fraction of it, unless the test for severance has specifically been met. Otherwise the trier of fact may be deprived of useful information relevant to the over-all assessment of credibility.



Want of Prosecution, Proportionality and the New Rules of Court

One of the overarching changes in the current Suprene Court Rules is the introduction of the principle of ‘proportionality’.  When any applicaiton is brought before the Court the presiding Judge or Master must consider this concept in applying the Supreme Court Rules.  Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Chilliwack Registry, discussing this in the context of a dismissal application.
In last week’s case (Ellis v. Wiebe) the Plaintiff sued various Defendants for alleged misrepresentation in the course of a purchase and sale agreement relating to property.   The lawsuit started in 2004 and by 2011 still had not been resolved.
The Defendant Wiebe brought an application to dismiss the lawsuit for want of prosecution (failure to prosecute in a timely fashion).  Madam Justice Bruce held that while the delay in the prosecution was inordenate and inexcusable there was no prejudice and did not dismiss the claim for this reason.  The Court did, however, go on to dismiss the claim on it’s merits.  Prior to doing so the Court made the following findings with respect to the application of the proporitonality principle in want of prosecution applications:
[8] The parties do not dispute the test to be applied by the court in determining whether an action should be dismissed for want of prosecution. The test is concisely summarized in Shields v. Nishin Kanko Investments Ltd., 2008 BCSC 36 at para. 25, wherein Mr. Justice Parrett cites the comments of Scarth J. at para. 3 of March v. Tam, 2002 BCSC 1125:

… I conclude that the principles of law which govern the exercise of the Court’s discretion in the circumstances of this case may in summary form be stated as follows: The defendants must establish that there has been inordinate delay and that this delay is inexcusable. If those two factors are established a rebuttable presumption of prejudice arises and the onus shifts to the plaintiff to prove on a balance of probabilities that the defendants have not suffered prejudice or that on balance justice demands that the action not be dismissed.

[9] The authorities also consistently hold that the court must look to the objects of the Supreme Court Rules as these relate to the particular circumstances of the case to determine whether an action should be dismissed for want of prosecution….

[10] When the Supreme Court Rules were amended in July 2010, a new subsection was added to Rule 1-3 to further refine the meaning of “just, speedy and inexpensive determination”. Rule 1-3 (2) provides as follows:

(2)   Securing the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of a proceeding on its merits includes, so far as is practicable, conducting the proceeding in ways that are proportionate to

(a)      the amount involved in the proceeding,

(b)      the importance of the issues in dispute, and

(c)      the complexity of the proceeding.

[11] In my view, Rule 1-3 (2), in part, reflects the approach adopted by our Court of Appeal to the issue of dismissal for inordinate delay; that is, the facts of each case have a significant impact on the outcome of any particular application for dismissal based on want of prosecution. While the principles of law are relatively straightforward, it is the application of these principles to widely varied fact situations that is critical. As noted in Rhyolite Resources Inc. v. CanQuest Resource Corp., 1999 BCCA 36, at para. 16:

Cases vary so infinitely that it is not always easy to apply to one factual situation the decision in another very different factual situation. However, it is the task of the court to seek to apply in a rational fashion the principles that have been laid down in the decided cases, always bearing in mind that the facts in each case are going to have a significant influence on the actual outcome of the individual application. I believe, with respect, that this approach or principle can be found well expressed in a case that was cited to us, Lebon Construction Ltd. v. Wiebe (1995), 10 B.C.L.R. (3d) 102 (C.A.), a recent decision of this court. That was a builder’s lien case and in that class of case, one would expect a swifter pace to the action than might be the case of say a personal injury case where a very serious injury and the course of recovery of a plaintiff must be assessed over time. Although it is always desirable to move on promptly with litigation, the simple fact is that in certain cases the interests of justice demand a rather more stately and measured pace than would be proper with regard to another class of action. Although it is desirable that all cases proceed with reasonable promptitude, the key word is reasonable and the ultimate consideration must always be: what are the interests of justice?

BC Government Shielded From Liability in "Shaken Baby" Lawsuit

Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Victoria Registry, discussing when a government authority can be pursued for damages for the negligent excercise of their powers.
In last week’s case (Sivertson (Guardian ad litem of) v. Dutrisac) the infant Plaintiff was brain injured allegedly “while in the care of…a licensed daycare ‘Kare Bare Child Care’ “.  The Plaintiff sued various Defendants including the Capital Health Region “CHR” who were responsible for licensing the Daycare in question.
The CHR brought an application to dismiss the lawsuit against them arguing that even if they inadequately exercised their duties the lawsuit could not succeed because the CHR did not owe the Plaintiff a ‘private law duty of care‘.  Madam Justice Boyd agreed and dismissed the lawsuit against the CHR.  In doing so the Court provided the following reasons:
[51] The overall statutory scheme governing the licensing of daycare facilities provides an efficient framework to ensure the operation of community care facilities “in a manner that will maintain the spirit, dignity and individuality of the person being cared for “(s. 4(1)(a)(i)). …

[57] As in the Cooper decision, the CHR and its inspectors must balance a myriad of competing interests when dealing with the licensing and inspection of daycares, including the daycare owner’s interest in the continued operation of her business and the parents’ and the public’s interest in the protection of children in the care of the daycare owner.

[58] In my view, this balancing of interests is inconsistent with the imposition of a private duty of care.  Thus, on a review of all of the authorities, and a consideration of the legislation in issue, I reject the notion that any private law duty of care was owed by the CHR (and its employees) to the infant plaintiff and his family.

[59] If however I am in error, and it is found that such a private duty of law does arise in the circumstances of this case, then I nevertheless find that the application of the second stage of theAnns test yields no different result.  As the Ontario Court of Appeal held in Williams v. Canada (Attorney General), 2009 ONCA 378, at para. 17, at the second stage :

…the court considers whether there are “residual policy considerations” that militate against recognizing a novel duty of care.  …These are policy considerations that “are not concerned with the relationship between the parties, but with the effect of recognizing a duty of care on other legal obligations, the legal system and society more generally”.

[60] In my view, any private law duty of care which may arise in this case would be negated for overriding policy reasons as in the Cooper case.  This is because (i) the licensing officers were exercising both policy and quasi-judicial functions such that any decision required the balancing of both public and private interests.  The Director must act fairly or judicially in removing an operator’s license and this is potentially inconsistent with a duty of care to children and families; (ii) the Director must make difficult discretionary decisions in an area of public policy.  His decisions are made within the limits of the powers conferred on him in the public interest; and (iii) if there was a private duty of care owed by the Director to the children and parents, it would effectively create an insurance scheme for all those children attending licensed daycares within the Province, at great costs to the taxpaying public.  As the Court held in Edwards, there is no indication here that the Legislature intended that result.  Indeed the statutory immunity from liability provision suggests the contrary.

Affidavits and Exhibits: Take Care To Review the Whole of the Evidence


Once evidence is introduced at trial it is fair game for the finder of fact to rely on it even if the party that introduced it opposes this result.  Useful reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Kelowna Registry, illustrating this fact.
In this week’s case (Chow-Hidasi v. Hidasi) the Plaintiff was injured in a single vehicle accident.  She was a passenger and sued the driver claiming he was at fault for losing control for “overdriving the road conditions“.  The Defendant argued that he lost control because he experienced a sudden and unexpected mechanical failure and could not avoid the collision.  Ultimately this explanation was accepted and the Plaintiff’s lawsuit was dismissed.  Prior to reaching this conclusion the Court ruled on an interesting evidentiary issue.
The trial was a “summary trial” under Rule 9-7 in which the evidence is introduced through affidavits.  The Plaintiff’s lawyer’s legal assistant attached portions of the Defendant’s examination for discovery transcript as an exhibit to her affidavit.
The Plaintiff wished to only rely on portions of the reproduced transcript.  The Defendant decided to take advantage of other portions of his discovery evidence which was included in the affidavit.  The Plaintiff objected arguing that he introduced the evidence and only wished to rely on limited portions of it.  Mr. Justice Barrow rejected this argument finding once the evidence was introduced through the affidavit it was fair game for the defendant to rely on it.  The Court provided the following insightful reasons:

[6] The plaintiff objected to the admissibility of some of the examination for discovery evidence of Mr. Hidasi, evidence that Mr. Hidasi points to in support of his position. All of the impugned discovery evidence is exhibited to an affidavit of the plaintiff’s counsel’s legal assistant. As I understand the objection, it is that the questions in dispute were reproduced and exhibited to the legal assistant’s affidavit because they appear on pages of the transcript that contain other questions and answers which the plaintiff wishes to rely on. I pause to note that while that may be so, the affidavit itself does not contain a statement to that effect. On the first day of the hearing the plaintiff’s counsel provided the defendant with a list of specific discovery questions that he wished to rely on. The questions and answers to which objection is taken are not on that list.

[7] I am satisfied that the questions and answers are admissible, and that no prejudice inures to the plaintiff as a result. They are admissible because the plaintiff put them in evidence. As to the notice of the specific questions and answers the plaintiff wished to rely on, it does not alter of the foregoing. If it was intended to be a notice as contemplated by Rule 9-7(9), it was not filed within the time limited under Rule 8-1(8). It is therefore of no moment. As to the question of prejudice, the only reasonable inference to be drawn from the plaintiff’s notice of application is that the impugned evidence formed part of the plaintiff’s case. The defendant could have addressed the matters about which he gave evidence on discovery in his affidavit evidence. He may not have, I infer, because he concluded it was unnecessary given that the plaintiff had already put those matters into evidence. In any event, if the discovery evidence is excluded, fairness would require an adjournment to allow the defendant to supplement the evidence given the changed face of the evidentiary record he had reasonably thought would form the basis for the hearing. All that would have been accomplished in the result is that the evidence that is contained in the discovery answers would be before the court in the form of an affidavit.

This case is also worth reviewing for the Court’s discussion of the legal principle of ‘spoiliation’ at paragraphs 30-33 of the reasons for judgement.

Summary Trials and the Severance of Issues


Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, dealing with an interesting question: is a Court order for severance of issues required prior to a Court adjudicating an issue (as opposed to the entirety of a claim) in a summary trial?
The reason why this is an issue is due to two competing Rules of Court.  Rule 9-7(2) permits a party to “apply to the court for judgement…either on an issue or generally“.  On the face of it this rule seems to permit a party to apply for only part of a case to be dealt with summarily.  However, Rule 12-5(67) requires a Court Order to sever issues in a lawsuit stating that “the court may order that one or more questions of fact or law arising in an action be tried and determined before the others“:.
In this week’s case (Chun v. Smit) the Plaintiff was injured in a motor vehicle collision.  He brought a motion for the issue of liability to be addressed on a summary trial.  The Defendant opposed arguing that a summary trial was not appropriate.  Mr. Justice McEwan agreed and dismissed the application.  In doing so the Court provided the following useful reasons finding that an order to sever issues under Rule 12-5(67) is a prerequisite to having only part of a case tried by way of summary trial:

[7] The question is really whether Rule 9-7 merely describes a mode of trial, while the claim or cause of action remains otherwise subject to the rules that govern trial, or whether the trial of an “issue” under Rule 9-7, where that issue is the severance of liability from quantum, somehow bypasses Rule 12-5 (67) and falls to be decided on a lower standard.

[8] In the brief passage excerpted from Bramwell (above), three different approaches are apparent. It seems to me, however, that whether the test for severance, or of a trial of an “issue” is rationalized as within or outside Rule 9-7, it must meet the standard set out in Bramwell. Rule 9-7 is, in itself, a departure from the ordinary mode of hearing a trial, and proceedings within it are contingent upon the court accepting that the compromises inherent in that process will not impair the courts’ ability to do justice. That being so, it would be illogical that collateral to the compromises inherent in proceeding by summary trial, other aspect of the process were similarly downgraded. If a trial of an issue is found to be an appropriate way to proceed, it may be tried under Rule 9-7, if Rule 9-7 itself is properly applicable.  Where a party seeks to proceed on only part of a case under Rule 9-7, the first question is whether there should be severance at all, and the second is whether Rule 9-7 is appropriate. The correct approach is set out in Bramwell, which would bind me in any case (see Hansard Spruce Mills Ltd. (Re), [1954] 4 D.L.R. 590 (B.C.S.C.)).

Slip and Fall Accidents in BC – What Does it Take For a Successful Lawsuit?


When you slip and fall and get injured on someone else’s property are you entitled to compensation?  The answer is not necessarily.
Injury in a slip and fall accident is only half of the equation.   The other half is fault.  The ‘occupier‘ of the property (or another defendant who owes you a duty of care) needs to be at fault for the slip and fall otherwise no successful claim for compensation can be brought.  Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, dealing with this area of the law.
In today’s case (Schray v. Jim Pattison Industries Ltd.) the Plaintiff fell (apparently on water) at a Save on Foods Grocery Store which was owned and operated by the Defendant.  The Plaintiff sued for her injuries alleging that the Defendant was at fault.  The Defendant brought a motion under Rule 18-A of the BC Supreme Court Rules to dismiss the case.  Madam Justice Arnold-Bailey denied the Defendant’s motion finding that the case was not suitable for summary dismissal.  Before reaching this conclusion, however, the Court summarized some of the legal principles behind a successful slip and fall lawsuit.   I reproduce these here for your convenience:

[21]        I agree that the prior summary trial judge set out the correct law in the previous application at paras. 5-10, as follows:

[5]        The duties of an occupier are set out in s. 3 of the Occupier’s Liability Act:

3(1)      An occupier of premises owes a duty to take that care that in all the circumstances of the case is reasonable to see that a person, and the person’s property, on the premises, and property on the premises of a person, whether or not that person personally enters on the premises, will be reasonably safe in using the premises.

(2)        The duty of care referred to in subsection (1) applies in relation to the

(a)      condition of the premises,

(b)      activities on the premises, or

(c)      conduct of third parties on the premises.

[6]        The Act does not create a presumption of negligence against an occupier whenever a person is injured on the premises.  To establish liability, a plaintiff must point to “some act (or some failure to act) on the part of the occupier which caused the [plaintiff’s] injury”: Bauman v. Stein (1991), 78 D.L.R. (4th) 118 at 127 (B.C.C.A.).

[7]        A similar test applies under the common law.

[8]        An occupier’s duty of care does not require the occupier to remove every possibility of danger.  The test is one of reasonableness, not perfection.  Thus, an occupier may avoid liability if it establishes that it had in place a reasonable system of inspection:  Carlson v. Canada Safeway Ltd. (1983), 47 B.C.L.R. 252 (C.A.).

[9]        The plaintiff also bears the burden of proving that the hazard in question caused the injury: Keraiff v. Grunerud (1990), 43 B.C.L.R. (2d) 228, 67 D.L.R. (4th) 475 (C.A.).

[10]      An occupier’s duty under the Act in relation to slips and falls in grocery stores was described as follows by Trainor J. in Rees v. B.C. Place (25 November 1986), Vancouver C850843 (B.C.S.C.) (quoted with approval by Hutcheon J.A. in Coulson v. Canada Safeway Ltd. (1988), 32 B.C.L.R. (2d) 212 at 214, [1989] 2 W.W.R. 264 (C.A.)):

The proceedings are brought under the Occupier’s Liability Act and that Act provides that an occupier has a duty to take that care that is reasonable in all the circumstances of the case to see that a person, in using the premises, will be reasonably safe.

The first requirement to satisfy that obligation is to take the kind of steps that were taken by the Defendants here to put into place a system to safeguard against dangerous substances being allowed to remain on the surface of the concourse. And then secondly to be sure that there was compliance by the people who were carrying out that responsibility with the system in place.

The bottom line is that the issue of fault is key.  When considering whether to sue for a slip and fall injury thought should be put to the issue of what the defendant did wrong to cause the incident or should have done to prevent it.

In my continued efforts to cross-reference the current BC Rules of Court with the soon to be in force New BC Supreme Court Civil Rules I will point out that Rule 18-A is kept intact under the new Rules and is reproduced almost identically at Rule 9-7 “Summary Trial“.

Contact

If you would like further information or require assistance, please get in touch.

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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