"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.

bc injury law, Madam Justice Ballance, Rule 9, Rule 9-1, Rule 9-1(6), walk away offer

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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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