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September 28, 2011

Information contained in written statement insured gave to insurer – is the insured required to provide this information at examination for discovery?

In Sangaralingam v. Sinnathurai, [2011] ONSC 1618, when examining the defendant for discovery, counsel for the plaintiff requested that the defendant provide information contained in the written statement he gave to his insurer following the motor vehicle accident. Defendant’s counsel refused to provide the statement or the contained information on the grounds that it was protected by litigation privilege.

A motion was made to a master who ruled that the defendant was not required to provide the information in the statement on the basis that the defendant had already been examined for discovery at length and the plaintiff also received a copy of the statement the defendant provided to the police following the accident. Therefore, such questioning would be solely with respect to the credibility of the defendant.

The master’s decision was appealed. The motions judge required the defendant to answer the question. The motions judge relied on the principle that questions on discovery seeking the facts of a party’s case do not offend privilege even though the source of the facts is a document over which privilege is being asserted.

There was a further appeal to the Divisional Court. Justice Herman referred to the test for when litigation privilege should be set aside as provided by Justice Ducharme in Kennedy v. McKenzie, [2005] O.J. No. 2060: where “the materials being sought are relevant to the proof of an issue important to the outcome of the case and [that] there is no reasonable alternative form of evidence that can serve the same purpose”.

Upon application of this test to the case at hand, Justice Herman concluded that in the course of the examination for discovery, counsel for the plaintiff had the opportunity to ask questions of the defendant that were relevant to the material issues. The defendant was co-operative and was not withholding information. Therefore, there was an alternative means available to obtain the relevant information and as a result litigation privilege should not be set aside.

Also, with respect to whether the request was directed solely to the credibility of the defendant, Justice Herman stated that it was his opinion that the sole purpose of the question being asked was to find out what the defendant told his insurer and therefore was asked for the sole purpose of credibility.

September 22, 2011

The Canadian Institute of Actuaries’ Recommendations to the Rules Committee on the Prescribed Discount Rate and Prejudgment Interest

On June 1, 2011 the Canadian Institute of Actuaries (CIA) submitted their observations and recommendations to the Civil Rules Committee with respect to the Committee’s review of rules 52.09 and 53.10 of the Rules of Civil Procedure (“the Rules”). The CIA reviewed these rules from the perspective of today’s economy − a low interest rate environment.

Rule 52.09(1) lays out how the discount rate is to be calculated for awards for future pecuniary damages in order to account for investment and price inflation rates. The CIA pointed out that the prescribed interest rate in Ontario for the first 15 years is lower than any other province or territory where discount rates are prescribed for this purpose. As a result, since interest rates are at historically low levels, a plaintiff will receive a higher settlement in Ontario than a plaintiff in another province or territory.

Rule 52.09(1) provides for a negative adjustment of 1%. This negative adjustment is a result of a belief in 2000 that rates of return for real return bonds were higher than the true underlying expected real rate of return. The CIA believes that this may not be a valid justification in today’s economic environment but noted that this negative adjustment could serve a valid public policy objective by providing a margin for adverse investment contingencies.

The CIA noted that there is a potential for misinterpretation of rule 53.09(1) and recommended that the wording be altered slightly to clarify that there is not only one discount rate to be applied to one particular loss under 53.09(1) and to make it clear that the rate prescribed by 53.09(1)(a) is to be used in discounting all losses.

Lastly with respect to rule 53.09(1), the CIA suggested that the Committee consider prescribing a nominal discount rate that could be used in situations when a real discount rate would be inappropriate.

Rule 53.10 sets the prejudgment interest rate for non-pecuniary damages at 5% per year. The CIA acknowledges that this rate is reasonable from a public policy perspective as it motivates settlement and compensates successful plaintiffs for delays in resolution. However, the CIA suggests that a floating rate based on yields on GICs with an adjustment may be a consideration. They recognize however that this would largely increase the complexity.

September 12, 2011

Summary Judgment Rule

(Canada) Attorney General v. Ranger, 2011 ON SC 3196

While we wait for the Ontario Court of Appeal to clarify the scope of the new summary judgment rule, the Honourable Justice Power has recently shown a preference for the interpretation of the new Rule 20 that expands the power of the court in making findings of fact.

Various Superior Court of Justice judges have interpreted the changes to Rule 2o differently, some suggesting that it does not give a motions judge the power to make findings of fact for the purpose of deciding an action on the basis of evidence while others (now including Power, J.) suggest that it does allow a motions judge to make findings of fact.

The ultimate resolution of these diverging points of view by the Ontario Court of Appeal will have a significant impact on insurance defence litigation. Often defendants are faced with having to decide whether to go through an expensive trial or just make a "smaller payment" to settle a claim, even where a defendant is fairly sure that there should not be a finding of liability. Given the extraordinary cost of trials, defendants often unfortunately decide to settle even where they should not if they can settle for a small sum and avoid the cost and risk of trial.

The recent decision of Power, J. in (Canada) Attorney General v. Ranger, 2011 ON SC 3196, granted summary judgment to homeowners who were being sued under the Occupier's Liability Act for injuries sustained by a postal worker who had slipped and fallen on ice and snow while delivering mail to their home. The evidence of the homeowners at their examination for discovery was that they had a routine whereby they shoveled snow and salted icy areas when needed. Power, J. found that no further evidence could be put before a trial judge and therefore it was not necessary to proceed to trial. Power, J. then dismissed the action in its entirety.

Defence lawyers and insurers may yet find the new summary judgment rule to be a helpful tool in addressing claims without merit.