Tag: timing of formal settlement offers

Formal Offer on Eve of Trial Not "Too Late" To Trigger Costs Consequences

Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, discussing the effects of a formal settlement offer made on the eve of trial.
In last week’s case (J.D. v. Chandra) the Plaintiff was injured in two motor vehicle collisions.  At trial she was awarded just over $500,000 in damages.  On the last business day before trial the Plaintiff made a formal offer to settle for $200,000.  The Plaintiff sought double costs for the trial arguing the offer should have been accepted.  The Defendant argued the offer was made too late in the process to trigger such consequences.  In rejecting this position Madam Justice Griffin provided the following reasons:
[16]         One of the defendants’ arguments is that the offer was delivered too close to the start of trial.  The offer was delivered at the end of the day on Friday, January 31, 2014, and counsel for the defendants submits that he did not see it until the next day, Saturday, February 1, 2014.  The trial was set to and did commence the following Monday, February 3, 2014.
[17]         The shortness of time to consider the offer does give me pause.  However, counsel for the plaintiff has pointed out case authorities where ICBC has taken the position that offers it has delivered to plaintiffs on the eve of trial ought to be considered by the court in depriving the plaintiff of costs.  These arguments have been accepted in some cases, for example, see Bevacqua v. Yaworski, 2013 BCSC 29.
[18]         As noted by Mr. Justice Voith in Brewster v. Li, 2014 BCSC 463, there is currently no requirement in the Rules that an offer be made within a specific time from the start of trial.  The question of what is a reasonable time to consider an offer is “largely driven and governed by context” (para. 26).
[19]         Here, the context was that counsel for the defendants had delivered an offer to settle on January 21, 2014; the parties had attended a Judicial Settlement Conference on January 29, 2014, and the defendants had delivered an additional offer to settle on January 30, 2014.  This context suggests that the defendants were in a position where they were well able to analyze the risks of going to trial and the relative merits of each side’s position.
[20]         There was nothing complicated about the offers to settle which required lengthy analysis.  The parties were just exchanging dollar amounts.  There was no revealing new analysis of the issues or last minute disclosure of material information.
[21]         The plaintiff’s form of offer to settle adopted a form similar to that of the defendants.
[22]         The defendants were represented by experienced counsel for ICBC.  I find that the defendants were in a good position to be able to analyze and respond to the offer within hours, if not minutes.  I find that the defendants had sufficient time to assess the reasonableness of the plaintiff’s offer to settle.
 

Late Formal Settlement Offers Still Capable of Triggering Costs Consequences

Two judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court demonstrating that formal settlement offers made late in the litigation process are still capable of triggering costs consequences.
In the first case (Dennis v. Fothergill) the Plaintiff was injured in a motor vehicle collision and sued for damages.   The Defendant made a formal settlement offer for $279,000 days before the start of trial.  Following trial global damages of just over $48,000 were awarded.  The Plaintiff argued that no costs consequences should be triggered, in part, due to the timing of the late formal settlement offer.  Madam Justice Bruce disagreed and awarded the Defendants costs and disbursements from the date of the offer onward and stripped the Plaintiff of her costs and disbursements of the trial.  In addressing the timing of the offer the Court provided the following reasons:
[30]         The plaintiff had three days to consider the offer and, while her counsel was out of town at the time the offer was served, she had an opportunity to speak with him by telephone prior to its expiry. The offer was straightforward and did not involve complicated calculations that would have required further time to consider and evaluate. Counsel deposes that the plaintiff’s alcohol consumption was interfering with his ability to obtain instructions from her at the time of the offer; however, the plaintiff’s mental health or state of sobriety was not of such a serious nature that it led counsel to apply for an adjournment of the trial that began within days of the offer. At no time was the Court advised that the plaintiff was unable to testify or appear for her trial due to mental health concerns.
[31]         I find the terms of the offer were clear and unambiguous. The amount of Part 7 benefits and the possible income tax holdback was nominal compared to the amount of the defendant’s offer to settle. The offer was also expressed to be “new money”, which meant in addition to Part 7 benefits paid to the plaintiff in advance of trial. The offer of settlement was clearly not a “nuisance offer” that could be easily dismissed by the plaintiff.
[32]         For these reasons, I find the plaintiff ought reasonably to have accepted the offer of settlement.
In the second case (Brewster v. Li) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2008 collision.   The parties exchanged a series of formal settlement offers, the most relevant of which being a defence offer of $450,000 made 4 days prior to trial.  At trial the Plaintiff sought damages of approximately $1,750,000.  Much of the sought damages were not awarded with a judgement of just over $418,000.
The Plaintiff argued that no costs consequences should accrue.  Mr. Justice Voith disagreed and stripped the Plaintiff of post offer costs and disbursements.  In addressing timing of the offer the Court provided the following reasons:
[25]         The timing of the Last Offer is also relevant. There is no requirement in Rule 9–1, as there was in earlier Rules, that an offer be made within a specific time from the start of trial. In several cases judges have used seven days as a reasonable time to consider an offer; see for example Bailey at para. 39; McIsaac v. Healthy Body Services Inc., 2010 BCSC 1033 at para. 87; Gonzales at para. 51.
[26]         It is clear, however, that this issue is largely driven and governed by context. In Bennett, where the defendant made an offer that was open for two days, Madam Justice Dardi succinctly said:
[34]      Mr. Bennett submits that the Second Offer should be given no force and effect because it was received “some two clear working days before the commencement of the trial.” Rule 37B does not contain the same seven-day notice provision as its predecessor. No inflexible “seven-day” rule is imposed by the Rules; rather every case must be judged on its own facts: Dodge v. Shaw Cablesystems Ltd., 2009 BCSC 1765. The proper issue for consideration is whether, in all the circumstances, the offeree had a reasonable opportunity to consider the offer: Uppal v. Rawlins, 2010 BCSC 11.
[35]      The Second Offer was made shortly before trial. The impact of the lateness of the offer was tempered by Mr. Bennett’s awareness of the settlement negotiations that had previously occurred between counsel. Given Mr. Bennett’s personal knowledge of the material facts as referred to above and his representations to the CRA in April 2005 that he had no interest in the Property, I find that neither the timing of the offer nor the late disclosure of the income tax information negatively impacted his ability to meaningfully evaluate the Second Offer. In all the circumstances, I find that as of November 19, 2008, Mr. Bennett was in a position to reasonably evaluate the Second Offer, that the two days were reasonably sufficient time for him to do so, and that he should have accepted the Second Offer.
[27]         In Enviro West, Madam Justice Boyd considered that an offer which was only open for less than two days provided the plaintiff with adequate time to properly consider the offer. She was influenced both by the fact that the defendants had made an earlier offer that “was not far different” from its last offer and by the fact that the plaintiff was “a sophisticated litigant” (at para. 55).
[28]         In Uppal v. Rawlins, 2010 BCSC 11, Mr. Justice Grauer dealt with an offer that was open for 51 hours and said:
[20]      In this case, although the offer was open for only a relatively short period of time, it was presented just before trial, when all discovery of documents and examinations for discovery had been completed, and when the issues had been fully aired in a Rule 18A application for judgment brought by the defendants. That application was dismissed because the chambers judge found that the case was not suitable for determination by summary trial given the credibility issues. Nevertheless, the position of the defendants was made abundantly clear to the plaintiffs. There would be no surprises at trial. Moreover, the perjury and forgery of the plaintiff Navjeet Uppal had been exposed, and the defendants had obtained admissions on discovery that had seriously imperiled the plaintiffs’ case.
[21]      In all of these circumstances, I have no hesitation in concluding that the offer was one that ought reasonably to have been accepted within the 51 hours or so during which it was open for acceptance. Had the plaintiffs accepted it, they would have saved $26,000 that they will now lose, they would have received $40,000 that they will not now get, they would have saved the time and expense of many days of trial, and they would have avoided all their additional liability for costs.
[29]         Finally, in Wright v. Hohenacker, 2009 BCSC 996, Madam Justice Fisher considered that four days was a reasonable time to weigh an offer in circumstances where the parties “were exchanging offers for a week before” (para. 17).
[30]         In this case counsel for Ms. Brewster emphasized the plaintiff’s emotional frailty. He argued, and she deposed, that she had only been examined for discovery a week or so before the Final Offer was made, that that process had been upsetting to her and further that when she received the Last Offer she felt “doubtful, angry and bullied”.
[31]         Though Ms. Brewster may have felt these things, there was no objective reason to feel bullied. Similarly, the fact that her examination for discovery only took place shortly before the trial does not appear to have been through any fault of the defendant.
[32]         Having said this I do accept that receiving two different offers, which replaced an earlier offer, in close succession and without any explanation, late on the Friday before the week in which the trial started, had the prospect to confuse and be more difficult to deal with. I further accept, having seen Ms. Brewster give evidence, that she would have been somewhat fragile emotionally on the eve of trial.
[33]         Accordingly, different aspects of the considerations raised by Rule 9–1(6)(a) favors each of the parties. On balance, therefore, this consideration is neutral…
[39]         I return to where I started. The dominant object that animates Rules 9–1(5)–(6) is the promotion of reasonable settlements. The plaintiff’s position, that she be awarded the costs of the trial notwithstanding the Last Offer, completely ignores this object.
[40]         I consider that a result which properly gives effect to Rule 9-1(4) and which properly reflects the additional considerations that I have identified, would be to deprive the plaintiff of all of her costs, including all disbursements, after February 11, 2013. This result accords with the result arrived at by the court, for example, in each of Tompkins at paras. 28-31 and Wafler at para. 41.

ICBC Ordered to Pay "Double Costs" In Breach of Insurance Case; Timing and Finances of Parties Considered

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, ordering ICBC to pay ‘double costs‘ after losing a breach of insurance claim.
In today’s case (Barsaloux v. ICBC) the Plaintiff was the owner of a vehicle that was stolen and subsequently recovered.  It was damaged beyond repair.  The Plaintiff had insurance with ICBC and applied for coverage.  ICBC refused to pay stating that the Plaintiff was in breach of his policy of insurance for making a false declaration about the identity of the vehicle’s principal operator.
The Plaintiff successfully sued ICBC and was awarded $13,850 in damages.   Prior to trial, the Plaintiff made a formal settlement offer of $13,700.  The Plaintiff applied to Court to be awarded double costs under Rule 37B.
ICBC objected arguing that the offer was made only two days before trial and therefore there was no reasonable opportunity to consider it.  Mr. Justice Smith disagreed and awarded the Plaintiff double costs.  In doing so the Court made the following useful comments about two notable issues under Rule 37B, timing of settlement offers and the financial disparity between the parties:

[17] I stress that ICBC was directly a party to this action. That distinguishes this case from Bailey v. Jang, 2008 BCSC 1372, where Hinkson J. declined to consider the relative financial positions of the plaintiff and ICBC where ICBC’s involvement was in its capacity as insurer for the named defendant.

[18]         The unequal position of the parties is not determinative because, as counsel for ICBC points out, the same situation will exist in any case where there is a coverage dispute between the corporation and a policy holder. However, I am also of the view that, in this case, ICBC used its position of strength to maintain what it should have known was an untenable, or at least an insufficiently considered, position…

[22]         In the circumstances, ICBC should have realized the weakness of its position well before trial. The offer to settle was the only means the plaintiff had to exert additional, although modest, pressure and to provide ICBC with a further opportunity to re-assess and reconsider its position in light of the evidence that existed. I find that it was an offer that ought reasonably to have been accepted.

[23]         That conclusion is not altered by the fact that the revised offer to settle was delivered only two days before trial. ICBC relies on Bailey, where the court said seven days was a reasonable period of time to consider an offer and ordered double costs for the period beginning seven days after delivery of the offer.

[24]         I do not read Bailey as stating anything more than what was a reasonable period for consideration of an offer on the facts of that case. Rule 37B sets no time limit for delivery of a settlement offer. In that regard, it differs from the former Rule 37, where an offer delivered less than seven days before trial attracted different consequences than one delivered earlier. In fact, Rule 37B(6)(a) specifically refers to an offer that ought reasonably have been accepted “either on the date that the offer to settle was delivered or on any later date” (emphasis added).

[25]         In the circumstances of this case, including the issues involved, the delivery date of the offer gave ICBC sufficient time to consider its position before trial. As said above, ICBC should have known well before the offer was delivered that it could not prove an essential part of what it was alleging. I find the plaintiff is therefore entitled to double costs for the trial of this action.

As readers of this blog are likely aware, Rule 37B will be replaced with Rule 9 on July 1, 2010 when the new BC Civil Rules come into force. The new rule uses language that is almost identical to Rule 37B which will likely have cases such as this one retain their value as precedents moving forward.

More on Rule 37B and the Timing of Formal Settlement Offers, "All Inclusive" Offers Discussed


One pattern that is becoming well developed under Rule 37B (the Rule dealing with Formal Settlement Offers in BC Supreme Court Lawsuits) is that of timing.  Caselaw seems to require that formal offers need to be available for acceptance for a reasonable period of time before triggering cost consequences under Rule 37B.  Reasons for judgement were released this week demonstrating this.
In this week’s case (Dodge v. Shaw Cablesystems [SBC) Ltd.) the Plaintiff sued for damages as a result of a slip and fall.  As a result of the fall the Plaintiff injured her knee.  Before trial the Defendant made a formal offer for $50,000 on an “all-in” basis (meaning inclusive of all damages, costs and disbursements).  This offer was made two working days before the start of trial.
After trial, the Jury decided that the Plaintiff and the Defendant were equally at fault for the fall an awarded a net sum of $20,000 for her injuries.  The Defendant then brought a motion for costs under Rule 37B.  Mr. Justice Masuhara refused to award the Defendant any costs because the offer was not left open for consideration for a reasonable period of time.  In coming to this conclusion Mr. Justice Masuhara stated as follows with respect to timing of formal offers under Rule 37B:

I conclude that the defendant’s offer was in effect from Wednesday, January 7, 2009 to Friday, January 9, 2009.

[14] A party requires a reasonable time within which to consider an offer and decide in the circumstances existing at the time of the offer whether it should be accepted or rejected:Coquitlam (City) v. Crawford, 2008 BCSC 1507. There is case law on Rule 37B that suggests that a reasonable amount of time to consider an offer is seven days. In Arnold, Butler J. cited Bailey when he stated at para. 22 that “[a] reasonable period of time to consider an offer to settle is seven days”. In Towson v. Bergman, 2009 BCSC 978 at para. 70, Gray J. stated that the seven day period “has been applied in the case law.” I do not, however, read these cases as laying down a rule of general application. In Wright v. Hohenacker, 2009 BCSC 996, for example, Fisher J. did not consider a “seven day rule” when determining whether an offer should have been reasonably accepted, stating that, in the circumstances of that case, the fact that the offer was made only four days before trial was not particularly significant. Suffice it to say that every case must be judged on its own facts. Imposition of an inflexible rule as to what is considered a reasonable amount of time risks returning to the rigid consequences of the old Rule 37 and fettering the wide discretion intended under Rule 37B.

[15] In this case, the plaintiff was only given two days to consider accepting the offer before it expired. Apart from pointing out that the offer was made after mediation and after delivery of the defendant’s expert reports, neither party has led any evidence surrounding the circumstances at the time the offer was made. It is known, however, that the plaintiff was a resident of Ontario at the time, whereas her counsel was resident in Abbotsford. While this alone is not determinative (the plaintiff has not led any evidence of her whereabouts at the time of the offer), when an offer to settle is received, counsel and client are required to make a careful appraisal of the merits, taking into account complex and subjective factors in appraising the eventual outcome of a trial, in this case, a jury trial. Complexity is increased where the plaintiff is asked to evaluate an “all-in” offer where, by the very nature of the offer, the actual amount offered in discharge of the action is not immediately apparent.

[16] Taking into account that analysing the “all-in offer” would have required breaking out the appropriate cost consequences, and that plaintiff and counsel undoubtedly had many other things that required their attention, two days was an unreasonable amount of time in which to properly analyze the offer. Even if the offer did beat the result, counsel for the plaintiff did not have enough time to reach this conclusion within the deadline set by the defendant…

[18] Since I have decided that it was unreasonable for the defendant to expect that the plaintiff would accept the offer within two days, the policy underlying Rule 37B, which is to encourage the settlement of disputes by rewarding the party who makes a reasonable offer and penalizing the party who declines to accept such an offer, is not engaged. Accordingly, as permitted by Rule 37B(4), I decline to consider the defendant’s offer to settle in exercising my discretion relating to costs.

Another interesting point in this decision was the Court’s discussion of “all-inclusive” offers under Rule 37B.  Under the now repealed Rule 37 such offers were not allowed and could not trigger costs consequences.  Mr. Justice Masuhara ruled that such a strict prohibition is not warranted under Rule 37B but parties should make such “all-in” offers at their own peril, Specifically the Court stated as follows:

24] Since the introduction of Rule 37B, there is no longer a complete code to dictate the cost consequences of an offer to settle. Rule 37B contemplates a summary procedure to determine costs. It offers broad discretion to the trial judge to determine cost consequences of a failure to settle. While the defendant is no longer automatically entitled to costs from the date of the offer if the offer is more favourable than the judgment, Rule 37B(5)(d) still states that the court may in such a case “award to the defendant the defendant’s costs in respect of all or some of the steps taken in the proceeding after the date of delivery of the offer to settle.” While I accept that the consequences of an uncertainty in the calculation of costs up to the date of the offer to settle are no longer as stringent, as under the old Rules, the court is still faced with difficulty in summarily determining the relationship between the offer and the costs in an “all-in” offer. Consequently, the potential for injustice still exists. Thus, under Rule 37B, it does not appear to me that the rationale for the rule in Helm is no longer of assistance. In my view the language of Rule 37B is broad and assumes that the trial judge in every case is in the best position to determine whether an “all-in” offer can be considered. Provided that the proper form of an offer to settle is adhered to, the court has under Rule 37B the discretion to take into account that offer to settle. Nonetheless, defendants who make an “all-in” offer do so at their own peril.

In my continued efforts to get prepared for the New BC Supreme Court Civil Rules I am cross referencing Civil Procedure cases that I discuss on this blog with the New Rules.  To this end  it is worth pointing out that Rule 37B will be replaced with Rule 9 under the New Rules. The new rule uses language that is almost identical to Rule 37B which should help cases such as this one retain their value as precedents.

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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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