How ICBC Spends Your Money: Res Judicata Defence Flushed

There’s always more where that came from.

In the course of any personal injury action where ICBC is the insurer, ICBC provides instructions to defence counsel hired by ICBC. That means ICBC gets to decide how to spend your money in defending a legal action against an insured person. ICBC’s right to do this is set out in the Insurance (Vehicle) Regulation:

74.1 Subject to section 79 of the Act, on assuming the defence of an action for damages brought against an insured, the corporation shall have exclusive conduct and control of the defence of the action and, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, the corporation shall be entitled to

(a) appoint and instruct counsel to defend the action,

(b) admit liability, in whole or in part, on behalf of the insured,

(c) participate in any non-judicial process which has as its goal the resolution of a claim, and

(d) compromise or settle the action.

Res Judicata in ICBC Injury Cases

This point should be kept in mind while pondering the recently published case of Singh v. McHatten, 2011 BCSC 1093. In this case, ICBC attempted to have a personal injury claim thrown out of the Supreme Court on the grounds that the Plaintiff had already had issues respecting his damages decided in Provincial Court. ICBC’s argument, therefore, was that the Plaintiff’s case was “res judicata”. The interesting thing about ICBC’s court application was that there was almost no evidence to support it, and certainly no compelling evidence. In legal matters, evidence tends to be crucial to a successful outcome. Madam Justice Loo’s decision exemplifies the enduring truth of that general point.

 

The trial in the Provincial Court dealt with matters of liability for the accident and the insurance deductible only. This was all clearly spelled out in the transcript of the Provincial Court case. In fact, ICBC’s own lawyer in that case was on the record as saying that the Provincial Court proceedings were to deal only with the issue of liability for the accident and confirmed that the issue of damages was to be determined later. The claim relating to the plaintiff’s vehicle damages did not go forward, as ICBC had already paid out the plaintiff for damages to his vehicle. The Provincial Court action, therefore, did not deal with personal injury damages in any way, shape or form. All of this evident on the record.

 

Despite the above, when the plaintiff did file a claim in the Supreme Court for his personal injury damages and losses, the Defendants (i.e. ICBC) took the position that the plaintiff had already sued in Provincial Court for damages relating to the accident. In tossing out ICBC’s application to have the plaintiff’s case dismissed on that basis, Madam Justice Loo said the following:
[31] In my view the cause of action in the prior Small Claims action is distinct from the cause of action in this Court. While the Notice of Claim filed by the plaintiff in Small Claims Court claimed “vehicle damage & repair costs”, it is clear on a review of the transcript of the proceedings that the plaintiff’s vehicle had been repaired by ICBC; he was not seeking damages for repair costs because ICBC had paid the repair costs. The primary issue was ICBC’s determination that the plaintiff was wholly at fault for the accident and the plaintiff’s increased insurance premiums. Counsel for the plaintiff made it clear that the claim for personal injuries and damages would be dealt with later, and that was understood by counsel for ICBC. On that basis neither the third nor the fourth criteria for cause of action estoppel, or the first criteria for issue estoppel have been met.

 

[32] The facts of this case are similar to the facts in Innes v. Bui and Evans v. Campbell. Whether issue estoppel or cause of action estoppel is applicable, at the end of the day the court must determine whether it should exercise its discretion to bar the action by reason of res judicata or whether there are exceptional or special circumstances that should apply.

 

[33] I find that all of the criteria necessary for cause of action estoppel or issue estoppel have not been met. If I am wrong, there are special circumstances not to apply res judicata for to do so would cause a real injustice to the plaintiff. The plaintiff has not had his day in court on his claim for damages for personal injuries arising out of the accident. It may be that the issue of liability is res judicata, but the application was not argued on that basis. Rather, it is argued that the plaintiff should have brought his claim for personal injuries at the same time he brought his action in Small Claims Court. In certain circumstances that may be correct but only if the claim can be brought within the monetary limit of Small Claims Court. However, the fact remains that the plaintiff’s claim for damages for personal injuries has never been before a court and considered. To dismiss the plaintiff’s claim at this stage of the litigation would be denying the plaintiff an opportunity to be heard on that issue and unjust.

 

[34] The application is dismissed with costs.

 

The plaintiff’s successful submissions were made by Mr. Anthony Thomas of Simpson Thomas and Associates.

 

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