Plaintiff Receives Award Less Than Defendant’s Offer, However Defendant Is Denied Post Offer Costs

In Barta v. DaSilva, the Plaintiff was injured in a motor vehicle accident, and consequently sued for damages.


The Plaintiff alleged a plethora of injuries, most notably a mild traumatic brain injury, which he alleged deprived him of the ability to make sound financial decisions, leading to a substantial loss in capital and income up to and after the time of trial.


Prior to trial, ICBC’S lawyer made a formal offer to settle in the amount of $150,000.00, plus costs and disbursements. This was offer was rejected by counsel for the Plaintiff, who made an offer of $970,000.00, plus costs and disbursements, which was also rejected.


At trial, the Plaintiff was only awarded $77,750.00 in damages, as it was determined that the Plaintiff had not suffered a brain injury, and that any loss of capital and/or income were not caused by any injuries attributable to the accident. As the court award was less than the formal offer made by ICBC’S lawyer, the Court’s discretion to award legal costs against the Plaintiff was triggered.


Counsel for the Plaintiff argued that the Plaintiff should be awarded party and party costs throughout the entirety of the proceeding, including trial. ICBC’S lawyer argued that the Plaintiff should be entitled to costs only up the point that the Defendant’s formal offer was made, and that the Defendant should be entitled to costs after the point that the Defendant’s formal offer was made, or alternatively, that the Plaintiff be awarded costs up to the point of the Defendant’s formal offer, with each party bearing their own costs after that point in time.


The Court concluded that the Defendant’s offer ought reasonably to have been accepted, given the tenuous connection between the Plaintiff’s injuries, and the alleged financial losses.


The Court also took note of the fact that the Defendant’s formal offer was almost double that of the actual Court award, leading the Court to conclude that the Plaintiff should not be awarded costs throughout, including trial, as this would defeat the purpose of the deterrent function of the costs rule.


The Plaintiff was awarded costs up to the point of the Defendant’s formal offer to settle. Usually under the circumstances of the case at bar, the Plaintiff would be ordered to pay the Defendant’s post offer costs for failing to beat the Defendant’s formal offer to settle, however the Court ruled that each party would bear their own post offer costs.


[10]        The plaintiff submits the offer made by the defendant was not one “that ought reasonably to have been accepted”. Mr. Creighton submits that when a plaintiff experiences depression that condition may manifest itself in a variety of ways, including those that mimic a mild traumatic brain injury, and therefore the plaintiff in this case was faced with particular difficulties in assessing the reasonableness of the defendant’s offer. I do not agree. Many plaintiffs in personal injury cases have far more complex conditions than Mr. Barta but they must, nevertheless, do their best to make a realistic assessment of their claim when they receive an offer to settle.


[12]        The defendant’s offer of $150,000 plus costs and disbursements was a serious offer. The plaintiff ought to have known that the defendant’s legal advisers had a plausible basis for concluding that the plaintiff would be unable to prove a causal connection between his accident injuries and his financial losses. In my opinion the defendant’s offer ought reasonably to have been accepted.


[13]        The relative financial position of the parties is of no consequence on this application. The defence was conducted by ICBC, which obviously has much greater financial strength than the plaintiff, but unless it used that strength improperly in this litigation that is a neutral factor: See Vander Maeden v. Condon, 2014 BCSC 677.


[14]        When its offer to settle was not accepted the defendant had no serious option but to defend the action at trial. The result was an award of damages about one half the offer made by the defendant. In that circumstance the deterrent function of the costs rule would be nullified if I exercise my discretion by awarding costs to the plaintiff throughout as he submits I should. I declined to do so.


[15]        The evidence at trial indicates that the plaintiff’s assets were severely depleted by the effects of the financial downturn in 2008 and 2009. Mr. Creighton informed me that his client’s income is now meagre. I can see no utility in imposing the costs of the trial on the plaintiff.


[16]        My order is that the plaintiff is entitled to his costs and disbursements to and including May 15, 2014, and that thereafter the parties will each bear their own costs and disbursements. I recognize that the usual order would be to impose the costs following the defendant’s offer on the plaintiff. The defendant, however, has proposed the disposition which I have made, which I consider to be generous to the plaintiff in the circumstances.


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