Tag: setting aside a settlement

“Broad” Non Disparagement Clause Makes Settlement Agreement “Unjust to Enforce”

Reasons for judgement were published today by the BC Supreme Court, Victoria Registry, finding that the settlement of a personal injury claim could be set aside given the inclusion of a broad non disparagement clause.

In today’s case (Wannan v. Hutchison) the Plaintiff sued for damages for injury and loss she alleges to have suffered as a result of naturopathic treatments performed on her by the defendant.  In the course of the lawsuit the Defendant presented a formal settlement offer which the Plaintiff, through her counsel, accepted.   As part of the settlement a release had to be signed which included a confidentiality and non-disparagement clause.  After accepting the offer the Plaintiff objected to the broad language contained in the non disparagement clause as it prevented her from voicing her concerns about the treatments she received.

The Defendant brought an application to enforce the settlement.  The court rejected this finding that “that this is one of those rare cases in which it would be unjust to enforce the agreement.”.  In refusing to enforce the settlement Madam Justice Murray provided the following reasons:

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Setting Aside an Unfair Settlement in an ICBC Injury Claim


As I’ve previously written, typically when an ICBC claim is settled and a “full and final release” is signed the agreement is binding and can’t be undone.
BC Courts can, however, set aside ‘grossly unfair‘ agreements.  Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Victoria Registry, dealing with this area of the law.
In today’s case (McIsaac v. McIsaac) the Plaintiff was injured in a single vehicle car crash.  Her husband was driving and was the at fault party.   The Plaintiff’s injuries were serious enough to require hospitalization.
In the months that followed the collision ICBC approached the Plaintiff on a number of occasions and eventually a settlement was reached to resolve her claims for $22,000.  The agreement was ‘somewhat low‘ given the severity of her injuries.  She regretted finalizing her claim and retained a lawyer.   She commenced a lawsuit and asked the settlement to be set aside.  ICBC argued that it was a binding contract and should not be undone.  Mr. Justice Wong agreed with ICBC but before dismissing the lawsuit the Court set out the following useful summary of the law:

[17] I agree with defendant’s counsel’s submission that there are two alternative tests to assess the validity of the settlement.  Also, to have a settlement set aside or voided, the insured must have been unfairly induced to accept the settlement or release, and that the settlement or release must also be grossly unfair or grossly inadequate.  Settlement and release of a claim may not be set aside where the parties are not on equal footing if the insurer can demonstrate that the settlement is fair and reasonable.

[18] There are two alternative tests to determine the validity of a settlement.  Whether, when the settlement is looked at in the light of the knowledge of the adjuster at the time the settlement was entered into, the bargain was fair, just and reasonable, and whether the transaction seen as a whole is not sufficiently divergent from community standards of commercial morality that it should be rescinded.  See McCullogh v. Hilton (1998) 63 B.C.L.R. (3d) 272 (B.C.C.A.) and see also Gindis v. Brisbourne (2000) 72 B.C.L.R. (3d) 19 (B.C.C.A.), particularly at paragraphs 42 to 44.

[19] A settlement with an unrepresented claimant will not necessarily be invalid simply because all of the symptoms stemming from any injuries have not been fully resolved.  Again, see McCullogh.

[20] There is no evidence that the injuries sustained by the plaintiff were, at the time of settlement, any worse than what was understood by the plaintiff and the adjuster, nor is there any evidence that the plaintiff’s injuries have become any worse since the settlement was entered into.

[21] Quite apart from any alleged inequality of bargaining power, the plaintiff and the adjuster had a complete picture of the plaintiff’s medical condition at the time of the settlement directly from the plaintiff’s medical caregivers.

[22] Clearly on the evidence, the plaintiff relied on and trusted the ICBC adjuster and their bargaining power were unequal, but the ultimate question is whether viewed objectively, the agreement was unconscionable and offended applicable standards of commercial morality.

[23] I am satisfied on the evidence that it cannot be said that the plaintiff was taken advantage of by ICBC.  The plaintiff, upon receiving the offer to settle at $22,000, could have consulted with a lawyer before accepting the offer, but for reasons of her own chose not to.

[24] Counsel for the plaintiff now submits the adjuster relied on outdated 12 to 18 year case law authorities as guidance on damage quantum range, and did not make any adjustment for interim inflation.  Be that as it may, the amount offered likely also factored in some discount for contributory negligence by the plaintiff in not being seat belted at the time of the accident.

[25] I might consider the amount settled by the parties in this case to be somewhat low, but taking into account all of the outlined factors related earlier, I cannot say the bargain struck was grossly unfair and unconscionable.  In order to maintain consistency and predictability in commercial transactions, public policy requires court enforcement of contracts not found to be unconscionable.

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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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