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December 28, 2011

Happy Holidays

Happy holidays from the Ontario Insurance Law Blog! Thanks for your support and we hope you continue to enjoy the blog in the new year. See you in 2012!

December 21, 2011

Summary Judgment - Oral Evidence

In this post, we continue our discussion of the Court of Appeal's decision in Combined Air Mechanical Services Inc. v. Flesch, 2011 ONCA 764.

Rule 20.04(2.2) permits a judge to hear oral evidence on a summary judgment motion. The Court provided guidance on when this discretion may be exercised.

The Court held that a party that moves for summary judgment must be in a position to present a case capable of being decided on a paper record. The motions judge can decide if he or she requires viva voce evidence under r. 20.04(2.2). The purpose of the rule is not to allow a party to enhance the record it has put before the court.

An order for oral evidence will generally be appropriate where the judge concludes the exercise of powers under r. 20.04(2.1) will be facilitated by hearing oral evidence of a limited number of witnesses on one or more specific, discrete and likely determinative issues.

An order under r. 20.04(2.2) may be appropriate where:

(1) Oral evidence can be obtained from a small number of witnesses and gathered in a manageable period of time;
(2) Any issue to be dealt with by presenting oral evidence is likely to have a
significant impact on whether the summary judgment motion is granted; and
(3) Any such issue is narrow and discrete – i.e., the issue can be separately decided and is not enmeshed with other issues on the motion.

- Tara Pollitt

December 14, 2011

Court of Appeal comments on the new summary judgment rule

The Court of Appeal has now released its decision regarding the new summary judgment rule. The appeal was heard before a five panel Court and pertained to five action. It is released under the name Combined Air Mechanical Services Inc. v. Flesch, 2011 ONCA 764.

The Court held that there are three types of cases that are amenable to summary judgment:

1. Where the parties agree it is appropriate to determine an action by way of summary judgment (para. 41);
2. Claims or defences that are shown to have no merit (para. 42); and
3. Where the trial process is not required in the interest of justice (para. 44).

It is not necessary for the judge to categorize the type of of case in question. In fact, the Court held that the latter two types of cases are not to be viewed as discrete compartments.

The test for summary judgment is the "full appreciation test". The motions judge must ask "can the full appreciation of the evidence and issues that is required to make dispositive findings be
achieved by way of summary judgment, or can this full appreciation only be achieved by
way of a trial?" (para. 50). In cases that call for multiple findings of facts emanating from a number of witnesses and found in a voluminous record, summary judgment is not a substitute for the trial process. On the other hand, the full appreciation test may be met in document-driven cases with limited testimonial evidence, cases with limited contentious factual issues or where the record can be supplemented to the requisite degree at the motion judge's direction by hearing oral evidence on discrete issues.

It remains to be seen how this will impact summary judgment motions going forward. Are judges going to be more reluctant to grant summary judgment?

- Tara Pollitt

December 7, 2011

Occupier’s Liability S.4(4)(f): Recreational Trail

In Turner v. Kitchener (City) [2011] O.J. No. 4803, the plaintiff was riding his bike along a recreational trail in Kitchener. It was his regular route and time of travel which put him on the trail at 5:15 am.

Earlier that day vandals had set fire to a bridge along the trail and after investigating, the police and fire personnel had blocked off the bridge with a wooden barricade and yellow caution tape.

The plaintiff was biking at a relatively high speed for the time of morning, was wearing a helmet but did not have any light affixed to his bike. As the plaintiff approached the barricade, he was not able to see it, and when he did notice it is was too late to stop safely. The plaintiff applied his brakes so hard that he flipped over the bike and suffered injuries.

In this case, the plaintiff must establish that the defendant acted with “reckless disregard” towards him.

The trail is a “recreational trail”, so that s.4(4)(f) of the Occupier’s Liability Act (“Act”) was triggered. Section 4(3)(c) of the Act is also triggered and the plaintiff is deemed to have willingly assumed all risks when he rode his bike on the trail that day.

The deputy trial judge cited Cormack v. Mara (Township) (1989), 68 O.R. (2d) 716 (C.A.) which defined “reckless disregard” as doing or omitting to do something which the occupier “should recognize as likely to cause damage or injury to [the person] present on his or her premises, not caring whether such damage or injury results”.

After the fire, police and fire personnel attended the scene the city dispatched a crew to erect an orange barrier with several lines of yellow caution tape blocking off bridge access. The bridge was blocked off in order to arrange an inspection to determine if the bridge was structurally safe.

The plaintiff’s expert report concluded that the city ought to have used either a reflective warning sign and/or a flashing beacon.

The city offered evidence that the recreational trails are closed between 11pm and 6am. There are signs posted which state this and there is a by-law which specifically prohibits presence in the park, including on the trails between those hours.

The deputy judge accepted the city’s evidence, although it only showed that the plaintiff was in violation of a city by-law. He held that the city did not act with “reckless disregard” for the plaintiff. The deputy judge further explained that,“it could not be deemed likely, from the city’s perspective, that a bicyclist riding a trail while it was closed, and more importantly, while it was almost completely dark, without a headlight, would fail to see the barricade until it was too late to stop safely. Nor do I find that the city did not care whether injury resulted from its erection of the barricade.”

The deputy judge also stated that a flashing light on the barricade would have increased the possibility of the plaintiff seeing the barrier, but that a light on his bike and riding at a slower speed in the dark would have done the same thing.

If the deputy judge had found for the plaintiff on liability, he would have reduced the damages by a factor of 70%.

Also see Kennedy v. London (City) (2009), 58 M.P.L.R. (4th) 244 (Ont S.C.J.) and Schneider v. St. Clair Region Conservation Authority (2009), 97 O.R. (3d) 81 (C.A.) on the issue of recreational trails.

- Alison McBurney