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Tag: want of prosecution

The Perils of Ignoring the Rules of Court

Failing to follow the obligations set out in the BC Supreme Court Rules can not only result in financial penalties, it can result in having your lawsuit outright dismissed before trial.  Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, demonstrating this.
In last week’s case (Balaj v. Xiaogang) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2003 collision.  She sued for damages.  The Defendant admitted being at fault for the crash.  At times the Plaintiff had a lawyer, at others she was self represented.  In the course of the lawsuit plaintiff failed to discharge her disclosure obligations under the Rules of Court and further failed to obey court orders.
ICBC ultimately applied to have the claim dismissed before trial.  In granting the order and in further ordering that the Plaintiff pay costs Mr. Justice Brown provided the following reasons:

[34] Given the factual background in the case at bar, it is abundantly clear, beyond any doubt, that the defendants are entitled to an order dismissing the plaintiff’s action. The plaintiff has failed to comply with court orders on several occasions, has failed to produce relevant documentation upon numerous and repeated requests by the defendants, has failed to participate in examinations for discovery in good faith, and has failed to attend court appearances, such as the recent trial management conference. Moreover, it now appears the plaintiff will seek another adjournment in these proceedings after the date of September 30, 2011, in direct contravention of my Order dated August 11, 2011.

[35] With respect to want of prosecution, I find the length of the delay in these proceedings is inordinate. Nearly nine years have passed since the accident. I also find the delay, virtually all of which has been caused by the plaintiff, is inexcusable. I find the defendants have suffered serious prejudice due to the delay in these proceedings and, on balance, justice requires dismissal of the action.

[36] With respect to the plaintiff’s failure to comply with the Civil Rules, the onus is on the plaintiff to present a lawful excuse for her non-compliance. I find she has failed to present a lawful excuse that is worthy of acceptance.

[37] Finally, with respect to the plaintiff’s failure to comply with the direction of this Court, I also find the plaintiff has failed to present a lawful excuse for her repeated failure, either by refusal or through neglect, to comply with court orders, the most recent being my Order after the trial management conference on August 11, 2011.

[38] For these reasons, the plaintiff’s action will be dismissed under Rule 22-7 for want of prosecution, failure to comply with the Civil Rules, and failure to comply with the Order of this Court dated August 11, 2011. Although the dismissal of an action is a blunt tool that is to be used sparingly, I find the circumstances of the case at bar are such that this tool should be used. In my view, the application of Rule 22-7 in the circumstances furthers the object of the Civil Rules to “secure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every proceeding on its merits.”

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?

How Long is Too Long for an ICBC Claim to go to Trial?

As I’ve previously written, ICBC and other personal injury claims can take a long time prior to settlement or trial.  This is particularly true in cases involving serious injuries where the long term prognosis remains unknown for  a number of years.  As I explained in this video, it is difficult to value a claim until the prognosis is known and it could be risky to settle a claim before this.
Appreciating that injury claims can take a long time, how long is too long?  Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, addressing this issue.
In this week’s case (Hullenaar v. Wells) the Plaintiff was allegedly injured in an assault in 1997.  He claimed two cars being driven by the defendants boxed him in and then one of the defendants “struck him in the face with a stick causing damage” which led to a serious eye injury.
The Plaintiff sued the alleged assailants and ICBC within the time set out in the Limitation Act.  The personal injury lawsuit dragged on for years.  ICBC grew tired of the matter and brought a court application to dismiss the claim for want of prosecution.  Master Caldwell granted the application and dismissed the lawsuit.  In doing so the Court provided the following comments:

[16]         Once inordinate and inexcusable delay is found, a rebuttable presumption of prejudice to the defendants arises; see Tundra Helicopters. None of the evidence presented to me rebutted that presumption.

[17]         There is some evidence that the plaintiff and the defendant Flynn were examined for discovery in 2002 and 2003 respectively; minimal if any examination of the defendant Wells has occurred. None of the transcripts of the discovery were produced.

[18]         This is a case which will depend largely on the evidence of the parties who were present at the time of the event. The evidence at trial will be the13 – 15 year old recollection evidence of witnesses who had spent a significant part of the evening drinking alcohol at private parties and commercial bars.

[19]         In my view the delay of 13 years, which will be almost 15 years by the time of trial, has prejudiced and will continue to prejudice the defendants in their ability to present a full and proper defence.

[20]         This is an unfortunate case. The plaintiff appears to have suffered significant injury. It is hard to imagine why the matter was not moved forward with anything approaching reasonable speed, however the plaintiff alone is responsible for the delay. Based upon the evidence presented, the interests of justice do not mitigate in favour of allowing the plaintiff to continue his action, rather they favour the dismissal sought by the defendant/third party.

[21]         The action is dismissed for want of prosecution. The applicant ICBC is entitled to its costs of this application as sought; no other party sought or is entitled to its costs.

While patience is important in the settlement of personal injury claims this case demonstrates that even with very serious injuries there is such as thing as “too long”.

Started a Lawsuit? Don't Forget to Serve the Defendant

When you start a lawsuit in the BC Supreme Court you need to serve the filed Writ of Summons on all Defendants within one year.  Failure to do so could result in a dismissal of your claim and reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Nanaimo Registry, demonstrating this.
In today’s case (Mackie v. McFayden) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2005 BC Car Crash.  The Plaintiff was allegedly injured in this crash and he sued the owner and driver of the other vehicle.
After the lawsuit was started the Plaintiff served the driver of the other vehicle.  However, the Plaintiff never served the Writ of Summons on the Defendant owner.   Some two years passed and still service was not affected.  The Defendant owner brought a motion to dismiss the Plaintiff’s lawsuit.  The Plaintiff brought a counter motion to renew the now expired Writ of Summons seeking permission to serve the document if renewed.
Master Bouck refused to renew the expired Writ of Summons and ordered that the lawsuit against the other vehicle owner be dismissed for “want of prosecution“.  In doing so the Court summarized and applied the law relating to renewing an expired writ of summons as follows:

[19]        The law regarding the renewal of the writ is relatively straightforward. Five factors are to be considered:

1. Whether the application to renew was made promptly;

2. Whether the defendant had notice of the claim before the writ expired;

3. Whether the defendant is prejudiced;

4. Whether the failure to effect service was attributable to the defendant; and

5. Whether the plaintiff, as opposed to his solicitor, is at fault.

Imperial Oil Ltd. V. Michelin North America (Canada) Inc. (2008), 81 B.C.L.R. (4th) 99 (C.A.).

[22]        In this case, the application for renewal of the writ was not made promptly. The writ expired in April 2008; the application for renewal was made eighteen  months later.

[23]        There is no evidence to suggest that Ms. McFayden has had notice of this claim.

[24]        Mr. Klear submits that there is prejudice to Ms. McFayden. While ICBC will defend the claim, it may seek indemnification for damages paid to the plaintiff.

[25]        Whether or not that is the case, prejudice may be presumed simply by the passage of time without the defendant McFayden having to prove actual prejudice: Mountain West Resources Ltd. v. Fitzgerald (2005), 37 B.C.L.R. (4th) 134 (C.A.). In this case, the writ has been outstanding for nearly three years.

[26]        There is no evidence that the failure to renew the writ is the fault of the defendant McFayden.

[27]        On the other hand, it would appear that the plaintiff’s solicitors (as opposed to the plaintiff) neglected to proceed with the application to renew the writ. Importantly, no explanation whatsoever is offered for this delay. The plaintiff may have his own remedy in these circumstances: Skolnick v. Wood, [1981] 2 W.W.R. 649. However, given the defendant Olson’s position that there is no cause of action against Ms. McFayden, the plaintiff may not need to seek such relief.

[28]        Balancing all of these factors, I am persuaded that the writ should not be renewed. Thus, the plaintiff’s motion is dismissed in its entirety.

The Court went on to hold that, even if this decision was wrong, the lawsuit against the vehicle owner should be dismissed for want of prosecution.  In doing so Master Bouck noted as follows:

[34]        The plaintiff has known since July 2007 that he required an order for substitutional service in order to proceed with the action. He did not pursue such an order for more than two years. Admittedly, the plaintiff attempted service (thanks to the defendant Olson’s information) in early 2009. However, by that time, the plaintiff (or at least his solicitor) should have been well aware that any application for renewal of the writ (and an order for substitutional service) must be pursued forthwith. Instead, such an application did not occur for another ten months. It is reasonable to infer  that the plaintiff’s application for this relief is merely reactive to the defendant’s motion.

[35]        There is no explanation or excuse offered for the delay.

[36]        Prejudice is presumed. No evidence is presented to rebut that presumption.

[37]        In the result, the action against Ms. McFayden is dismissed for want of prosecution.

The lesson to be learned from today’s case is that just because a lawsuit is filed within the appropriate limitation period doesn’t mean that the Plaintiff’s right to proceed with the lawsuit will continue indefinitely.  If the  lawsuit does not move forward with reasonable diligence a Plaintiff runs the risk of having their case dismissed.

Now to cross reference.  As readers of this blog know the New BC Supreme Court Civil Rules come into force on July 1, 2010.  Under the New Rules the “writ of summons” has been abolished.  However, the originating document in a personal injury lawsuit still needs to be served on Defendants within one year and the Court’s ability to renew the document and to dismiss a claim for want of prosecution remain intact.  Accordingly this case will likely retain its value as a precedent after the new rules come into force.