Court Rules Plaintiff Had Sufficient Reasons To Commence Action In Supreme Court; Awards Costs Accordingly

In Hall-Smith v. Yamelst, the Plaintiff was injured in a motor vehicle accident, and consequently sued for damages. Before trial, liability was admitted by ICBC’S lawyer on behalf of the Defendant.

 

At trial, the Plaintiff received an award of $24,187.00, which was comprised of $20,000.00 for non-pecuniary damages, and $4,187.00 for special damages (out of pocket expenses). The Plaintiff was not successful in her claims for income loss, loss of housekeeping capacity, diminished earning capacity, and the cost of future care. The amount of the award was within the $25,000.00 jurisdiction of the Provincial Court, prompting ICBC’S lawyer to argue that the Plaintiff should be deprived of her costs in Supreme Court.

 

The critical issue for the Court to consider was whether or not “sufficient reason” existed for bringing an action in Supreme Court at the point in time that the action was actually initiated. Factors a Court will consider are what the quantum of the claim will likely be, whether the need for counsel was reasonably required, whether an Examination for Discovery was reasonably necessary, and the suitability of the summary procedures available to a litigant under the Supreme Court Civil Rules.

 

In applying some of these factors to the case at bar, the Court found that the Plaintiff did indeed have sufficient reason to commence her action in Supreme Court. The Court was of the belief that it was reasonably possible at the time the action was commenced that the quantum would exceed $25,000.00. Further, the Court ruled that counsel was reasonably required, as the Plaintiff had limited personal skills, and was undergoing drug rehabilitation shortly after the accident. As well, the Defendants were represented by counsel, and there was some complexity to the case as the Defendants had initially denied liability and raised issues of causation, pre-existing injuries, and contributory negligence. Finally, the Response of the Defendants had raised enough issues such that continuing with the action in Supreme Court was warranted.

 

As the Court found that the Plaintiff had sufficient reason to commence her action in Supreme Court, she would be entitled to her legal costs.

 

[32] While “sufficient reason” is not limited to the likely quantum of the claim, it is often the most important factor (Gehlen at para. 37). If there is a “real concern” that the plaintiff’s total damages will exceed the Small Claims limit there is sufficient reason for bringing the claim in Supreme Court …

 

[33] The plaintiff was awarded $24,187, just within the small claims jurisdiction. Given the difficulty of estimating quantum of damages at the outset of the action and factoring in issues of credibility, it was reasonably possible that damages could have exceeded $25,000. The matter of quantum of damages gave sufficient reason to bring the action in the Supreme Court.

 

[35] Here, counsel was reasonably required. The plaintiff had very limited personal skills and was undergoing drug rehabilitation shortly after the accident. The defendants were represented by institutional lawyers. The case was somewhat complex because the defendants’ initial response to civil claim denied liability, causation and damages and alleged pre-existing injuries, independent causes and contributory negligence.

 

[41] In conclusion, the plaintiff had sufficient reason to bring her claim in the Supreme Court because: when the action was commenced, there was a reasonable possibility that damages would exceed $25,000; the plaintiff’s limited abilities, the institutional representation of the defendants, and the complexities of the case required a lawyer to present the plaintiff’s case; and the complexity of the case meant that discovery was reasonably necessary. The plaintiff will not be denied her costs under Rule 14-1(10).

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