Tag: walk away offer

"Walk Away" Offer Results in Double Costs After Plaintiff Claim Dismissed

Reasons for judgement were released today ordering a Plaintiff to pay costs and post offer double costs after having his personal injury claim dismissed at trial.
In today’s case (Johnson v. Jamiesen) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2010 collision.  Fault was disputed.  In the course of the litigation the Defendant made an offer to settle the claim for $0 with both parties bearing their own costs to date.  The Plaintiff proceeded to trial and the claim was dismissed.  In finding that the ‘walk away’ offer ought to have been accepted and awarding double costs Mr. Justice Brown provided the following reasons:

[14]         The plaintiff had in hand the defendant driver’s witness statement when he received the offer to settle. Six months later, the parties conducted examinations for discovery. The only witness called by the plaintiff was his girlfriend. He should have been aware of the reliability and shortcomings in her evidence by then. Further, following examinations for discovery, the plaintiff was positioned to see the perils of his position on liability.

[15]         The defendants characterize their offer as a “walk-a-way” offer. While a nuisance offer may bear no real relationship to a plaintiff’s claim and not constitute an offer reasonably capable of acceptance, the court has recognized a walk-a-away offer may bear a realistic relationship to the plaintiff’s claim, reasonably capable of acceptance and, if rejected, justify an award of double costs, Riley, v. Riley, 2010 BCSC 822. In Riley, the court found the plaintiff possessed all the information the defendant intended to rely on at trial, which in this case, would be the evidence of the defendant driver. There were some potential accident witnesses at the scene potentially available to the plaintiff, but he could not call them because he and his girlfriend chose not to obtain any contact information from them, electing to go to a pub for a beer and to watch the hockey game.

[16]         The weaknesses of the plaintiff’s case on liability were quite apparent, his testimony rife with inconsistencies and improbabilities. I agree with the defendants that the plaintiff should have readily recognized the high risk of dismissal that he faced. I note the offer was open for acceptance any time before 4:00 p.m. on the last business day before commencement of the first day of trial. The long period between the tender of the offer and trial afforded ample time to consider the offer, which I find was one reasonably capable of acceptance.

[17]         See, besides Riley: Henry v. Bennett, 2014 BCSC 1963 at paras. 29 and 30; Houston v. O’Connor, 2011 BCSC 509 at para. 59; Catalyst Paper Corporation v. Companhia de Navegação Norsul, 2009 BCCA 16 [“Catalyst”]; Brooks v. Gilchrist, 2011 BCSC 56 at para. 16; and Bay v. Pasieka, 2014 BCSC 809 at para. 20.

[18]         In Catalyst, Hall J. A. made this useful comment at para. 16:

[16]      It seems to me that the trend of recent authorities is to the effect that the costs rules should be utilized to have a winnowing function in the litigation process. The costs rules require litigants to make careful assessments of the strength or lack thereof of their cases at commencement and throughout the course of litigation. The rules should discourage the continuance of doubtful cases or defences. This of course imposes burdens on counsel to carefully consider the strengths and weaknesses of particular fact situations. Such considerations should, among other things, encourage reasonable settlements.

[19]         I am not aware of any particular financial considerations. The plaintiff has not made submissions on costs.

[20]         Accordingly, the defendants have an order for all costs of the proceedings at Scale B, up to and including May 15, 2012. For all the steps they took in the proceeding after the October 9, 2012 examinations for discovery, they are entitled to double costs.

"Walk Away" Offer Fails to Trigger Double Costs in Liability Trial

Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, addressing a defence application for double costs after a Plaintiff’s personal injury claim was dismissed.
In this week’s case (Miller v. Emil Anderson Co. Ltd.) the Plaintiff was involved in a motor vehicle collision alleging that an unidentified vehicle contributed to the incident.  Prior to trial the Defendant made a formal settlement offer of $1 which “expressed the defendants’ belief that the Court would conclude that Mr. Miller had suffered no compensable injury.”
Ultimately the Plaintiff’s claim was rejected with the Court concluding that “memory and perception of the key events preceding his loss of control of his vehicle were not reliable.”.  Despite this the Court found the walk-away offer was not reasonable as the plaintiff had a sincere belief in his perception of the event and that “ had he accepted the defendants’ offer, he would have been giving up, without adjudication, a claim that he believed had merit“.
In dismissing the Defendant’s request for double costs Madam Justice Ballance provided the following reasons:
[15]                      In the present case, Mr. Miller proceeded upon his hypothesis as to how the accident occurred, including the purported role of another vehicle.  He tendered no expert evidence in the field of engineering and/or accident reconstruction in support of his theory.  In weighing the evidence, I concluded that Mr. Miller had not proved his case on a balance of probabilities.  In reaching that conclusion, I found that his memory and perception of the key events preceding his loss of control of his vehicle were not reliable.
[16]                      Despite the frailties in Mr. Miller’s testimony and his faulty recall of events, I did not doubt that Mr. Miller’s perception of events, including his theory as to how the accident occurred, was sincere.  He did not attempt to mislead or deceive the Court.  Had he accepted the defendants’ offer, he would have been giving up, without adjudication, a claim that he believed had merit.  A belief that was neither groundless nor frivolous…
[18]                      The Offer is to be considered in the context of a serious liability issue where neither side called expert engineering or accident reconstruction evidence in relation to the pivotal issue of what had caused the accident.  Mr. Miller was aware that he and the defendants held conflicting versions of the material events and that there was a risk that, if the Court found that the evidence did not support his case, his action would be dismissed.  However, it does not follow that the nominal Offer ought reasonably to have been accepted by Mr. Miller at any time.  As was the case in Stuart, the Offer provided nothing to Mr. Miller in relation to the claim itself and proffered little meaningful benefit to him.
[19]                      The evidence indicates that Mr. Miller was in his early 70s at the time of the accident and was retired or semi-retired from prospecting.  Beyond that, there was no cogent evidence of his financial circumstances and I am therefore unable to agree with his counsel’s submission that it was clear he is impecunious.
[20]                      Although Mr. Miller ultimately failed to make out his case on a balance of probabilities, I would not characterize his refusal to accept the Offer as unreasonable.
[21]                      Weighing the pertinent factors and giving the most weight to the fact that I am unable to say that it was unreasonable for Mr. Miller to refuse the Offer, I consider it a fair exercise of my discretion to decline to order double costs.  An award of costs at Scale B in favour of the defendants is appropriate in this case and will likely be of significant consequence to Mr. Miller.
[22]                      Accordingly, the defendants’ application for double costs is dismissed.  They will have their costs at Scale B.

Double Costs Ordered for Taking "Extremely Weak" Case to Trial


As recently discussed, when a party is on the losing end of a lawsuit in the BC Supreme Court they usually have to pay the winning sides costs.  If the successful party beat a pre-trial formal settlement offer the Court has the discretion of awarding double costs.  Reasons for judgement were released this week considering an application for double costs where a very modest formal offer was made prior to trial.
In today’s case (Brooks v. Gilchirst) the Plaintiff was involved in two motor vehicle incidents.  She sued for damages and both claims were heard at the same time.  ICBC disputed the allegation that a collision took place in the first incident.  Prior to trial ICBC made a $1 formal settlement offer.  The Plaintiff rejected this offer and went to trial.  Mr. Justice Sigurdson dismissed the claim finding that “no collision” took place.
ICBC applied for double costs.  The Plaintiff opposed arguing that the nominal offer should not trigger increased costs.  Mr. Justice Sidgurson agreed that while this was typically the case, in circumstances where an ‘extremely weak‘ case proceeds to trial double costs could be awarded in the face of a formal settlement offer.   In reaching this result the Court provided the following reasons:

[16]         In terms of the relationship between the terms of settlement offered and the final judgment of the court, the offer was better than the result, but the offer was only for the sum of $1 plus disbursements.  Ordinarily I would think that a nominal offer of one dollar may not attract orders for double costs but I know that in some cases even nominal offers may attract orders of double costs.  See for example MacKinlay v. MacKinlay Estate, 2008 BCSC 1570; Ludwig v. Bos, 2010 BCSC 695.

[17]         This is a case where there had been expenditures on medical and expert reports.  I think that where it becomes clear that liability will be extremely difficult to establish a nominal offer that has the effect of allowing the plaintiff to recover disbursements and avoid liability for the other party’s disbursements may nevertheless be a substantial offer.

[18]         In considering whether the offer ought reasonably to have been accepted, I think it was quite clear that the plaintiff’s original theory that she had been sideswiped as a result of the collision involving the other two adjacent cars was not maintainable once each side had filed their expert reports.  This was not merely a case where the plaintiff had a claim that was difficult to prove at trial; this was a unique case where on the evidence available to her before trial the plaintiff should have realized that she did not have a realistic position on liability…

[23]         In the circumstances, I think that the ICBC defendants should be awarded costs with respect to the main action.  I have estimated the main action consumed 90% of the time at trial.  The defendants were clearly successful and, in my view, it is not an appropriate order for each side to bear its own costs.

[24]         In terms of whether I should award double costs, I think that, in exercising my discretion, the offer reasonably ought to have been accepted in the days prior to trial.  Although the offer was modest, the circumstances at that time were clear that her case was extremely weak, she would have avoided liability for disbursements, and in fact recovered the disbursements she had incurred.

[25]         I award double costs for the period after two days prior to trial.

Defendant Awarded Double Costs for Successfully Defeating Claim Where "Walk Away" Offer was Made


Rule 37B, the BC Supreme Court Rule dealing with formal settlement offers, continues to be shaped by the Courts.  One factor that is not yet firmly established is what effect a “walk away” offer made by a Defendant has after a Plaintiff’s claim is dismissed at trial.
When a party sues for damages in the BC Supreme Court and later decides that their lawsuit is likely going to lose at trial they can discontinue.  If this is done the Defendant is able to seek their costs at the time of discontinuance unless they waive this right.  A common strategy of Defendants when they are confident they will win at trial is to make a formal “walk away” offer where they waive their right to costs if the Plaintiff discontinues.  If the Plaintiff does not take the offer and goes on to lose at trial the Defendant may be entitled to ‘double costs’ which could easily add up to tens of thousands of dollars.  Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court dealing with a walk away offer.
In this week’s case (Riley v. Riley) the parties were involved in a lawsuit involving the transfer of real-estate between family members.  (although this was not a personal injury case there is no reason why the Court’s reasoning cannot be used in the injury claims context).  Prior to trial the Defendant made a formal offer under Rule 37B for the Plaintiff to walk away from the lawsuit on a ‘no costs‘ basis.  The Plaintiff refused the offer, went to trial where her case was dismissed.  The Defendant then asked the Court to award ‘double costs‘ and Mr. Justice Greyell agreed to do so.  In concluding that this was a fair result the Court provided the following reasons:

[20] In MacKinlay v. MacKinlay Estate, 2008 BCSC 1570, Savage J. also considered the effect of Rule 37B when a nominal offer was made.  The issue was whether double costs should be awarded where the successful defendant had made a nominal offer to settle.  He held, at paras. 34-35:

[34]      While a nominal offer might be described as strategic, it was a strategy aimed at persuading the Plaintiffs to discontinue the proceeding, an outcome that is favourable as compared to the outcome the Plaintiffs obtained at trial.  Such an offer is one of the few tools in the arsenal of a defendant of relatively modest means which might exert pressure on a plaintiff pursuing an unmeritorious claim.

[35]      In this regard, albeit in the context of the former Rule, the Court of Appeal in Kurylo v. Rai 2006 BCCA 176, 53 B.C.L.R. (4th) 214, at ¶ 7 said:

…. When a defendant assesses his position in litigation of any kind he may consider that the plaintiff has no case and if the case goes to trial, will fail.  But the defendant may also be willing to make some minor offer which would carry with it the costs in the hope that the action will go away and that he will not, thereafter, incur large legal bills to establish his legal position that the plaintiff has no case.

[21] I see no logical distinction between a nominal offer and an offer such as that made by the defendant in this case.  The principle is the same.  One party is provided with an offer to settle and if not successful at trial in advancing its position relative to the offer it may be held accountable for costs of pursuing the matter to trial.

[22] The second factor referred to in Rule 37B(6) clearly favours the defendant.  The judgment upheld the position she outlined in the offer to settle.  Had the plaintiff accepted it he would have saved not only his legal costs but also the legal costs he must pay to the defendant as the successful party.

[23] There are no other relevant circumstances which bear on my determination of double costs.  The caution expressed by Hall J.A. in Catalyst Paper Corporation v. Companhia de Navegaçäo Norsul, 2009 BCCA 16, 86 B.C.L.R. (4th) 17, is applicable in this case.  Based on the considerations in the above paragraphs, I conclude the plaintiff shall pay double costs to the defendant.  Those double costs shall commence seven days from the date the offer was made.

As mentioned at the start of this article, the formal offer Rule is still being shaped and the result of a ‘walk away’ offer is still not certain.  To read a case where the Court refused to award double costs where a walk away offer was made you can click here.
In my continued efforts to get us all prepared for the New BC Supreme Court Civil Rules I will again point 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 so the issue of the effect of ‘walk away’ offers will continue to be judicially shaped moving forward.

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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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