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April 30, 2014

Evidence Required to Dismiss a Non-Earner Benefits Claim

In Willoughby v.Dominion of Canada General Insurance Co, 2014 ONSC 1136 (S.C.J.), the plaintiff sustained injuries in a motor vehicle accident on July 8, 2004. The plaintiff settled her claim for income replacement benefits with her insurer and proceeded to bring a claim for non-earner benefits.
The insurer brought a motion for summary judgment on the basis that the plaintiff did not satisfy the test for non-earner benefits. To support the motion, the insurer submitted an affidavit relying on the oral evidence given by the plaintiff at her examinations for discovery that showed she had continued to engage in her pre-accident activities. The plaintiff opposed the motion and submitted an Affidavit sworn by the plaintiff, a report of a neurologist and a report from an occupational therapist, all highlighting the differences in her pre and post-accident life. The insurer did not cross-examine on the affidavit nor did they submit an affidavit in response. Given this the court held that the evidence provided by the plaintiff would be considered undisputed.

In their reasoning, the court relied on the Ontario Court of Appeal’s decision in Heath v. Economical [2009] O.R. (3d) 785 for the general principle that in cases where pain is a primary factor preventing the claimant from engaging in substantially all of her pre-accident activities the question is not whether the insured is physically able to do these activities, but whether the degree of pain experienced is such that the claimant is practically prevented from engaging in those activities. The court applied a qualitative perspective requiring the activities to be viewed as a whole and held that the evidence led by the insurer was insufficient. Therefore the motion was dismissed.

Willoughby indicates the high standard courts will apply in summary judgment motions to dismiss applications for non-earner benefits. Defendants who bring such motions should not merely rely on the plaintiff’s evidence provided at examinations for discovery to satisfy the court’s qualitative approach.  

April 23, 2014

Substantial Indemnity Costs for Unsubstantiated Bad Faith Claim

In Sagan v. Dominion of Canada General Insurance Company, 2014 CanLII 16478 (SC.J.), the defendant insurer successfully moved to dismiss the plaintiff's claim for non-earner benefits and mental distress.  The claim continued "a litany of unsupported allegations of bad faith, misconduct and incompetence against the defendant".  There was no evidence to support the allegations and they were maintained right up until the hearing of the motion.

Justice Lofchik awarded substantial indemnity costs for the motion itself, and partial indemnity costs for the remainder of the action.  He held that substantial indemnity costs may be appropriate where a party makes empty bad faith allegations.  The purpose is to diminish frivolous and speculative litigation, to cause litigants to focus on the real issues and to foster sober reflection above that of an emotional response.

Although brief, Sagan is a useful decision, especially where plaintiffs commonly throw in allegations of bad faith where an insurer denies a claim.

April 16, 2014

Courts Have Inherent Jurisdiction to Order Assessments by Non-Health Practitioners

For several years, there have been two streams of cases regarding whether courts can order independent medical assessments by non-health practitioners under s. 105 of the Courts of Justice Act and r. 33.  The Divisional Court considered the issue in Ziebenhaus v. Bahlieda, 2014 ONSC 138 (S.C.J.).

The Court held that court have inherent jurisdiction to order physical or mental examinations by non-health practitioners.  The inherent jurisdiction is to be exercised to further trial fairness and justice.  There is no automatic rule that "levels the playing field" by providing the defendant is entitled to each type of report that is obtained by the plaintiff.  The focus is on the need for a particular examination in order to meet the plaintiff's case.

Ziebenhaus provides guidance on an area that has called out for clarification for some time. Defendants who bring motions to compel IMEs should make sure they address how the proposed assessment will further trial fairness and justice.  It may be that it will become easier to obtain IMEs with future care cost assessors, occupational therapists and so forth than in the past.

April 9, 2014

Action Against Municipality Dismissed for Failure to Give Notice

The new test for summary judgment as set out in the Supreme Court in Hryniak has been applied to dismiss a claim against a Municipality for failing to give notice as required by s. 44(10) of the Municipal Act.

In Hennes v. City of Brampton, 2014 ONSC 1116 (S.C.J.), the plaintiff slipped and fell on an icy sidewalk.   He did not give notice until 18 months after the fall, contrary to s. 44(10) which provides for a 10 day notice period.  The plaintiff admitted he knew the City owned and maintained the sidewalk and that ice caused his fall.  He claimed he had a reasonable excuse for failing to give notice as he did not know how serious his injuries were until months after the fall. 

The Court did not accept that the plaintiff had a reasonable excuse; he did not seek advice about his rights or obligations for over a year after a claim was apparent.  In addition, the plaintiff bore the onus to show the Municipality was not prejudiced by the failure to give notice, and he failed to do so.  The plaintiff did not take timely photographs, and had not disclosed the contact information or a summary of a potential witness.  The action was dismissed. 

Hennes is a good example of how the new summary judgment rule can be used to dispose of a claim at an early stage. 

April 2, 2014

Duty to Defend - Extrinsic Evidence Not Permitted

In Liardi v. Riotrin Properties (Kingston) Inc., 2013 ONSC 7544 (S.C.J), the defendant, Future Shop, brought a motion for a declaration that Zurich had a duty to defend the underlying action.  The issues on the motion were whether the plaintiff's pleadings raised covered and non-covered claims, and whether extrinsic evidence could be admitted in enlarge or explain the pleadings.

In the main action, the plaintiff alleged he bought a television at Future Shop and was instructed to move his car to the back of the store to load it.  An employee was having difficulty lifting the television so the plaintiff got out of his car to assist.  He alleged he slipped on ice and fell as he was walking to the rear.  The allegations against Future Shop included that it failed to have adequate persons to load the television, knew a dangerous condition existed and failed to ameliorate it, failed to ensure the premises were properly salted/sanded, and failed to properly monitor the area.

The landlord, Riotrin, was responsible for common areas under the lease.  Future Shop was named as an additional insured on the landlord's policy with Zurich.

Zurich sought to introduce extrinsic evidence as to the way Future Shop operated its businesses, including policies with respect to loading merchandise into customers' cars.  Justice Tausendfreund refused to admit the evidence as it touched on matters at issue against Future Shop which might prejudice Future Shop or bring it into conflict with the insurer.

Justice Tausendfreund held there was a duty to defend.  The plaintiff fell on snow and ice in the parking lot and the reason he did so was not relevant.  The claim did not relate to the way Future Shop did business but rather to the condition of the parking lot.  

When deciding duty to defend motions, courts will look at the essence of a claim.  It may be difficult to show that certain parts do not require a defence unless there are clear claims that could stand on their own.