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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.

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