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April 29, 2015

Plaintiffs May Provide Corroborating Evidence of Threshold Impairment

The Insurance Act provides that in order to prove they meet threshold, plaintiffs must lead evidence from a qualified physician as well as “adduce evidence that corroborates the change in the function that is alleged to be a permanent serious impairment of an important physical, mental or psychological function.”  The Court of Appeal recently held that plaintiffs may provide such corroboration themselves. 

In Gyorffy v. Drury, 2015 ONCA 31 (C.A.), the plaintiff was in a car accident in November 2003.  The defence brought a threshold motion while the jury was deliberating.  The plaintiff and three physicians testified.  The trial judge ruled the plaintiff's injuries has satisfied the impairment threshold, but held that the plaintiff could not provide the corroborating evidence that ss. 4.2 and 4.3 of Ontario Regulation 461/96 required.  Accordingly, the action was dismissed.

The Divisional Court allowed the appeal, and the Court of Appeal dismissed a further appeal.  It confirmed that a plaintiff can provide corroborating evidence in order to prove he or she meets threshold.  The evidence that has to be corroborated is the physician's, not the plaintiff's.

Given the conclusion in Gyorffy, it is perhaps more important to focus on the quality of the evidence provided by the plaintiff rather than on the need for corroboration.

April 22, 2015

The Calculation of Pre-judgment Interest in Motor Vehicle Claims

On January 1, 2015, s. 258.3(8.1) of the Insurance Act was amended to change the rate at which pre-judgment interest ("PJI") in motor vehicle claims.  A recent Superior Court of Justice decision held that the change is retrospective, meaning it will apply to all motor vehicle claims, regardless of the date of loss.

The effect of the amendment is that the provision in r. 53.10 which sets PJI for non-pecuniary loss at 5% no longer applies.  Accordingly, PJI is to be calculated at the rates set out for each quarter in s. 127(1) of the Courts of Justice Act.

In Cirillo v. Rizzo, 2015 ONSC 2440 (S.C.J.), the plaintiff was in a motor vehicle accident on October 1, 2005.  In January 2015 the plaintiff accepted the defendant's offer of $50,000.  The question was how PJI should be calculated.  The defendant argued the amendment should have retrospective application because it is procedural in nature; the plaintiff argued it should not, as it is substantive in nature.

Justice MacKenzie agreed with the defendant.  Although entitlement to interest is a substantive right, the means by which the entitlement can be quantified are procedural.  As a result, the rates set out in s. 127 applied, which had the effect of reducing PJI from 5% to 4.5%.

Given the low interest rates in recent years, the changes to the way PJI is calculated could have a substantial impact on the amount of interest defendants must pay.

April 8, 2015

The Standard of Care for Grocery Stores

The Court of Appeal has once again confirmed that the standard of care for occupiers is reasonableness, not perfection.

In Saisho v. Loblaw Companies Ltd., 2015 ONCA 172 (C.A.) the elderly plaintiff was hit in 2007 by a customer pushing an overloaded shopping cart.  One customer (Beardy) paid for his purchases and loaded his cart.  His friend, Sakakeep, paid for his purchases independently as he was paying, Beardy loaded Sakakeep's purchases into the same cart.  As they moved toward the exit, Beardy bumped into the plaintiff.  The plaintiff suffered severe injuries and was in hospitalized from the date of the incident to his death in 2010.  The claim was dismissed at trial and the plaintiff appealed, alleging that the store should have had a specific policy on overloaded carts and required cashiers to specifically look to ensure customers did not overload the carts.

The Court of Appealed disagreed.  The store had a general policy to be alert for potentially dangerous activities.  Staff were aware that overloaded carts had the potential to cause injury or harm, and if they saw one, they would intervene.  The Court held that to require a standard specifically addressing the problem of overloaded shopping carts would present a standard of perfection, which is not what the law requires.

The trial judge concluded that it was not reasonable to expect a cashier to look behind her to ensure that two distinct customers were not loading their purchases into one cart.  He concluded it was reasonable for the cashier not to have intervened.   The Court of Appeal upheld the decision, holding that the standard of care is reasonableness in the circumstances, and the store met the standard.

April 1, 2015

Full Costs Awarded to Defendant Where Plaintiff Abandoned Case at Trial

Plaintiffs who make unsubstantiated allegations of fraud may be liable for substantial costs if they later decide to abandon their claim.

In Sienna v. State Farm, 2015 ONSC 786 (S.C.J.), the plaintiff sued her own insurer for failing to pay non-earners benefits.  The Statement of Claim sought $900,000 for punitive and aggravated damages caused by the defendant's bad faith.  It made allegations of "unlawful claims practices" and a "conspiracy" aimed at the plaintiff and other policyholders.  The matter was set for trial commencing January 26, 2015.  On January 14th, the plaintiff advised she was abandoning her case and would call no evidence.

The issue then became costs.  The defendant sought costs on a substantial indemnity basis, arguing the claim was without merit, it made a reasonable offer to settle, and the allegations against it were akin to fraud.  The plaintiff argued the allegations in her Statement of Claim were not outrageous and are commonly plead in accident benefits cases, that the defendant should have brought a motion to strike the allegations, and that the defendant should have ceased its trial preparation after a similar case ruled favourably for another insurer.

Justice Arrell did not accept the plaintiff's arguments.  He did not agree the allegations are common, when there is no foundation or evidence to support them.  They were akin to fraud.  The defendant should not be put to the expense of striking allegations made in the Statement of Claim; on the contrary, the plaintiff should have withdrawn the offensive portions.  There was no merit to the argument the defendant should have ceased trial preparation as the favourable analogous decision was being appealed, and the plaintiff had not abandoned her claim.

Justice Arrell awarded the defendant the total amount of its bill of costs, plus $2,000 for the costs motion, for a total of $35,92.97.