Judge Finds Formal Offer to Settle Fatally Flawed:Defendants Lose Chance of Recovering Double Costs as a Result

A step too far!

In the recently published case of Wong v. Lee, 2011 BCSC 1087, Mr. Justice Dardi considered whether the language in ICBC’s standard-form Offer to Settle could support an award for double costs against a plaintiff who failed to prove to a jury that the defendants were negligent in a personal injury case. The plaintiff’s lawyer argued that it could not because it included a provision allowing the defendants to pursue the plaintiff for special costs, even if she had accepted the offer. The Court decided that this language was, indeed, fatal to the defendants’ ability to recover double costs. On that point, Mr. Justice Dardi said as follows:

[27] The plaintiff’s overarching submission is that the inclusion of para. 6 in Appendix A of the Offer to Settle is fatal to the defendants’ application for double costs. The Offer to Settle was subject to the conditions in Appendix A which provides in para. 6 as follows:

Nothing in this offer detracts from the Defendants’ right to seek special costs against the Plaintiff or his counsel above and beyond the Defendants’ entitlement to costs under this offer. Neither the making nor the acceptance of this offer shall be deemed a waiver or estoppel by the Defendants in respect to any reprehensible or improper conduct on the part of the Plaintiff and / or his counsel in respect of this proceeding. [Emphasis added in original.]

[28] Based upon these terms, even if the plaintiff had accepted the Offer to Settle, the defendants nonetheless would have been at liberty to pursue the plaintiff for special costs. Thus, there was a potential risk that the acceptance of the offer may not have ended all of the outstanding disputes between the parties.

[29] The Court of Appeal, in discussing Rule 9-1(5) in Evans v. Jensen, 2011 BCCA 279, articulated at para. 35 that “the most obvious and accepted intent of this Rule, namely to promote settlement by providing certainty to the parties as to what to expect if they make, or refuse to accept, an offer to settle”

[30] It clearly emerges from the authorities that an important objective of offers to settle under the Rules is to bring certainty and finality to litigation. The reservation of the defendants’ right to seek special costs from the plaintiff after the acceptance of the offer is antithetical to this objective. It cannot be said that the Offer to Settle provided a genuine incentive to settle. As was stated in Giles v. Westminster Savings and Credit Union, 2010 BCCA 282 at para. 88, “plaintiffs should not be penalized for declining an offer that did not provide a genuine incentive to settle in the circumstances”.

[31] In short, para. 6 in Appendix A of the Offer to Settle militates against an award of double costs.

[34] In weighing all of the factors, the most significant being the inclusion of para. 6 in Appendix A of the Offer to Settle, I conclude that the plaintiff should not be required to pay double costs.

In addition, the Court held that the costs awarded could not be made to ICBC, as ICBC was not a party to the proceedings. On that point, the Court said, in part, that:

[38] … An award of costs to ICBC, who is not a party to this proceeding, would constitute a departure from the usual rule that the defendants who were the successful parties in this litigation be awarded costs. In my view, these statutory provisions do not establish a basis for an order displacing the usual rule.

[46] In summary on this issue, I am not persuaded that in the circumstances of this case, there is any principled basis upon which this Court should order that the plaintiff pay costs to the non-party ICBC.

 

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