Tag: severance

Unknown Prognosis a Barrier to Quantum Trials, But Not Liability


Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, addressing the fact that an unknown prognosis is a true barrier to a personal injury quantum claim proceeding to trial.
In this week’s case (Dazham v. Nachar) the Plaintiff sued the Defendant for injuries sustained in a 2009 collision.  Fault was disputed.  As the matter approached trial the Plaintiff sought an adjournment arguing that the matter was not yet ready as the Plaintiff’s physicians were unable to comment on his prognosis.  The Court agreed but instead of adjourning the entire matter severed the issues of quantum and liability and ordered that the trial proceed solely on the issue of fault.  In doing so Master Baker provided the following reasons:
[12]         Nevertheless, I have concluded that this is not one of those cases where the injuries can be said to have plateaued, that it is now just a matter of waiting. That is not the case to me at all. Both physicians have indicated further surgical intervention. They have also indicated that that is a contingency; in essence  a) whether the cortisone injections work; and b) whatever the MRI says.
[13]         So by no means are we at a point where the extent of Mr. Dazham’s injuries and their expected recovery can be given with satisfactory accuracy. I just do not think we are there yet.
[14]         As I say, the liability is very much in issue, and why it is generally the situation or circumstance that the court prefers not to sever issues, when we have a lay witness, when we have such an active issue. I think it is in everyone’s interest that that matter be resolved first, and then as a consequence, rather than adjourn the matter, that the issues of liability and quantum be severed and that the matter of liability proceed.
[15]         With respect, I adopt Mr. Justice Finch’s comments in Radke v. M.S., 2006 BCCA 12 at paragraph 24, in which he comments that:
If the plaintiff’s injuries have not resolved to the point where damages can fairly be tried, the parties may still try the liability issues while the events are fresh in the witnesses’ memories.
[16]         I understand Ms. Meade’s concerns about credibility being an important aspect, both as to liability and as to damages, but I can’t see that that is a sufficient concern or basis for not severing. I also think severing is the appropriate approach, rather than adjourning, as I have already said.
[17]         As a consequence, there will be an order directing that the issues be severed.
You can click here to read my archived posts addressing adjournment applications and severance applications in the BC Courts.
 

Court Refuses To Sever Liability From Quantum Where Damages Disputed

Reasons for judgement were released recently by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, (Hou v. McMath) refusing to sever liability from quantum in a personal injury trial where the Defendant not only disputed fault but also took the position that “no compensable injury” occurred.
Interestingly the Court did go on to proceed on the issue of ‘fault’ without making a formal negligence finding.  In doing so Madam Justice Kloegman provided the following reasons:
[2] Both parties desired to sever the issue of liability from damages and proceed on the question of liability alone. However, due to the defendant’s position that this accident caused no damage or compensable injury to the plaintiff, I refused to make an order severing liability from quantum. It is basic tort law that without damages there can be no finding of negligence or liability. I suggested instead that we proceed to hear viva voce evidence on the sole issue of “fault” for the accident; that is, who breached the standard of care of the reasonable, prudent driver in the circumstances?
The trial focused on the colour of the light in an intersection collision ultimately finding that the Defendant drove through a red light finding him at fault for the crash.

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.



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.)).

"Proportionality" Given First Judicial Interpretation, Severance of Liability and Quantum Considered


Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Victoria Registry, interpreting two topics under the New BC Supreme Court Civil Rules, the test of “proportionality” and the circumstances permitting a Court to sever liability (the issue of fault) from quantum (the value of a personal injury claim).
In today’s case (Cayou v. Cayou) the Plaintiff was injured in an intersection collision in 2006.  The Plaintiff was the front seat passenger in a vehicle being driven by her daughter.  The Plaintiff sued the drivers of both vehicles.  ICBC alleged that the Plaintiff was in breach of her policy of insurance and intervened as a statutory Third Party.  The Plaintiff’s claim was set for trial in November to be heard by Judge and Jury.  The Plaintiff applied for an order seperating quantum from liability seeking to have the issue of fault determined by Judge alone.
Mr. Justice Wilson dismissed the application and in doing so found that the New Rules of Court dealing with severance of issues are identical to the old rules therefore old precedents should retain their value as guiding authorities.  Specifically Mr. Justice Wilson held as follows:

[22]         The plaintiff’s application is said to be made pursuant to Rule 1-3 and 12-1(9), of the Rules of Court.

[23]         Rule 1-3 directs the court on the object of the rules, including the notion of “proportionality”.

[24]         Rule 12-1(9) confers upon the court a power to adjourn a trial.

[25]         Although not stated, the plaintiff also, presumably, finds authority for her application in Rule 12-5(67) and (68).

[26]         Rule 12-5(67) confers a power on the court in these words:

(67)      The court may order that one or more questions of fact or law arising in an action be tried and determined before the others.

[27]         Rule 12-5(68) confers a power on the court in these words:

(68)      The court may order that different questions of fact arising in an action be tried by different modes of trial.

[28]         There is a change in the wording between Rule 12-5(67) and the former rule, Rule 39(29).

[29]         I conclude that the power to sever issues is the same in substance between the former rule and the current rule.

[30]         The governing principles established for the exercise of the power conferred under the previous rules have been established. Since I find that the power conferred under the new rule is the same as the old rule, I conclude that the principles defined under the former rule must be considered.

The Court went on to note that while the law of severance of issues remains the same the Court now must consider the overarching purpose of ‘proportionality’ when applying the Rules of Court.  This is the first case I’m aware of addressing this principle.  Mr. Justice Wilson provided the following comments:

[48]         To the framework of analysis under the pre-existing rule, must be added a consideration of the objective of “proportionality” mandated by Rule 1-3(2):

(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.

[49]         Expense was the sole factor urged by the plaintiff in support of severance. In the event of a review, however, I will set out my findings on the factors prescribed in the rule.

[50]         First, I take the “amount involved” to mean the quantum of monetary damages awarded to the plaintiff as the result of a successful prosecution of her lawsuit.

[51]         This factor was not argued. But, seemingly, the method of trial currently extant is proportionate to, that is to say, “duly related” to, the amount involved. I find this factor to be neutral.

[52]         Second, the issue of credibility is important to the issue of fault, and, I am told, to the issue of quantum.

[53]         For the reasons given above, for deciding against severance on the ground of interconnected issues, I find that one trial of all issues is proportionate to the expense to be incurred, to conduct one trial.

[54]         Severance, for the economic reasons advanced in this case, by denying the trier of fact all of the evidence on the issue of credibility, would be disproportionate to the twin objectives of a just and speedy determination of the action, on its merits.

[55]         Third, I would not characterize this action as one of complexity.

[56]         Mr. Shumka is probably right. This action arises out of a routine intersection collision, involving a vehicle turning left in the path of an oncoming vehicle, with its attendant personal injuries. In the event, there is nothing on the record to suggest that complexity was a factor contributing to the notion of proportionality.

[57]         No other factors (other than economical) were identified.

[58]         In result, the plaintiff’s application is dismissed. Costs of the application will be in the cause, pursuant to Rule 14-1(12).

ICBC Claims and Trial Splitting

ICBC claims can be very expensive to bring to trial. Typically, most of the expenses are associated with the cost of presenting medical opinion evidence. Medical opinion evidence is often required to prove that injuries are caused by an accident, to discuss reasonable treatments (addressing special damages), and to address the specific diagnosis and prognosis of car accident related injuries. Such opinions can cost thousands of dollars to obtain and thousands more to present in court.
What if you have a case that is very risky? What if the trial outcome of ‘who is at fault’ is uncertain and should you lose on that issue you don’t want to be stuck with thousands of dollars of expenses for expert witness fees? Can you do anything about it? As with many areas of the law, the answer is sometimes.
Rule 39(29) of the BC Supreme Court Rules deals with splitting the issues at trial. In an ICBC claim, it is possible to use this rule to ask a court to let the liability (fault) part of a trial run first prior to the quantum part (the part that deals with the value of the ICBC claim).
Specifically, Rule 39(29) states 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, and upon the determination a party may move for judgment, and the court, if satisfied that the determination is conclusive of all or some of the issues between the parties, may grant judgment.
If the court allows an order splitting liability and quantum, and if you lose your ICBC claim at trial on the issue of liability, that could potentially save you tens of thousands of dollars by having the case dismissed prior to presenting all of your medical evidence.
Reasons for judgement were released today where the Honourable Madam Justice Allan refused to sever the issues of quantum and fault.
In paragraphs 11-15 her Ladyship summarizes some of the principles court’s consider when reviewing such an application. I set out these paragraphs below:

[11] There is ample authority for the proposition that an applicant must establish that there exist extraordinary, exceptional or compelling reasons for severance, and not merely that it would be just and convenient to order severance: MacEachern v. Rennie, 2008 BCSC 1064; Hynes v. Westfair Foods Ltd., 2008 BCSC 637; and Westwick v. Culbert, [1992] B.C.J. No. 2121.

[12] It is true that some recent cases have held that a judge’s discretion to sever an issue or issues is not restricted to “extraordinary or exceptional circumstances”: Nguyen v. Bains, 2001 BCSC 1130; Enterprising Minds Technology Inc. v. Lululemon Athletica Inc., 2006 BCSC 1168. However, there must be some compelling reasons to order severance, such as a real likelihood of a significant savings in time and expense.

[13] Mr. McGivern relies heavily on Vaughn v. Starko, [2004] Y.J. No. 50, a decision of the Yukon Supreme Court. In that case, the plaintiff sought a determination of liability pursuant to Rule 18A with damages to be assessed at a later date. Gower J. rejected the defendant’s argument that there must be extraordinary, exceptional or compelling reasons for a severance of liability and damages. He drew a distinction between applications under Rule 39(29) and Rule 18A. He concluded at para. 48 it would not be unjust to decide the issue of liability on a summary basis and that it would be appropriate to sever liability from the issue of damages. Because the application was made under Rule 18A, he found that it was not necessary to apply the heavier onus for severance that Rule 39(29) imposed.

[14] With respect, I do not agree with the analysis in that case. Rule 18A is a method of trying a case summarily. The issues in determining whether Rule 18A is suitable are (1) whether it is possible to find the facts necessary to decide the issues of fact or law; and (2) whether it would be unjust to decide those issues summarily. On the other hand, Rule 39(29) provides the Court with the discretion to try one question of fact or law before another and give judgment. A determination of an application for severance must be informed by the case law that relates to the issue of severance, not to the issue of disposing of an action summarily.

[15] In an earlier case, Legrand v. Canning and Canning, 2000 BCSC 1633, Scarth J. dealt with a severance application brought under Rule 18A. He concluded that the plaintiff had not established extraordinary, exceptional or compelling reasons for severance. In that case, the liability issues were not plain in the circumstances and there was a further issue of whether the plaintiff was contributorily negligent. Evidence relating to the severity of the impact in question was relevant to the issues of liability and quantum.

Rule 39(29) is worth reviewing for anyone advancing an ICBC claim where the issue of fault is uncertain to see if time and expense can be saved by severing the issues of fault and quantum.

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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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