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Woodlands Survivor Class Action Application Deadline Extended to September 2012

Earlier this year the BC Supreme Court refused to approve a class action settlement involving historic sexual abuse claims where the proposed settlement would impose a limitation period for class members where one would not otherwise exist.  Further reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, dealing with the balancing act of sexual abuse class action settlements and imposed limitation periods.
This week’s case (Richard v. British Columbia) involved the Woodlands school class action settlement which was initially approved on July 7, 2010.  One of the terms of the settlement required class members to advance their claims by September 19, 2011.  The deadline came and went and due to the complexity of the claims only a handful met the filing deadline.  An application was brought to extend this deadline.  Such applications were contemplated in the original settlement agreement.
Mr. Justice Bauman agreed that an extension was appropriate although declined the Plaintiff’s request for an indefinite extension.  Instead the Court moved the claims deadline to September 19, 2012 “without prejudice to the plaintiffs’ right to apply for further extensions“.  In striking this balance the Court provided the following comments seeking to reconcile the need for certainty in resolution against the need to protect BC sex abuse victims who generally aren’t faced with a limitation period in advancing their civil claims for damages:
[17]         I agree with the defendant that the application requires the Court to strike a balance between the parties which recognizes that in the give and take of the settlement negotiation process, each side made compromises to achieve their respective goals. It would be unfair, after the fact, to effectively take from one party a critical part of what it gained in the process through negotiation and compromise.
[18]         But in all the circumstances of this settlement, I do not believe that a substantial extension of the claims deadline can be so construed (especially in light of the fact that no limitation period attaches to these claims or at least a very substantial number of them). Still, an indefinite extension is not appropriate. I would, at this time, extend the claims deadline by one year to 19 September 2012, without prejudice to the plaintiffs’ right to apply for further extensions. It is not appropriate to condition this extension, as the defendant proposes, by requiring the Class Members to file a so-called “without prejudice interim claim” within three months. In my view, such a condition would effectively make the claims deadline extension illusory in the circumstances of the difficulties facing the plaintiffs and their counsel in advancing the claims process.

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