Low Velocity Motor Vehicle Case Decided by Summary Trial

Low Velocity Motor Vehicle Case Decided by Summary Trial

One advantage of bringing an action in the B.C. Supreme Court rather than Provincial Court is the availability of the “summary trial” process governed by Rule 9-7 of the SUPREME COURT CIVIL RULES, B.C. Reg. 168/2009. A summary trial allows the court to resolve a case based solely on written evidence and affidavits, greatly reducing the costs and time required to resolve a matter. The summary trial process can be used where there is not a significant dispute over the facts or issues of a case and there is no need to make oral submissions on controversial points.

The case of DOLHA V. HEFT, 2011 BCSC 737 (“DOLHA”) provides an example of how the summary trial process can be used in a personal injury context. In this case, the parties did not dispute liability, and both sides consented to the use of the summary trial process. The Court agreed that the summary trial process was appropriate given that the material facts were not in dispute and the accident at issue was a low-velocity collision resulting in mild whiplash injuries. The only issue to be decided was the appropriate amount of non-pecuniary damages. When deciding what an appropriate quantum of damages would be, the Court referred to the Plaintiff’s affidavit and expert medical reports to assess the nature of the injuries and the impact they had on the Plaintiff.

The Defendant argued that because the Plaintiff experienced no residual effects from the low-velocity impact and suffered “minor injuries”, including soft-tissue damage, an award of between $1,000 and $3,500 was appropriate. However, the Court noted that while the Plaintiff suffered minor injuries and had “full range of motion in her back and her neck throughout her convalescence” (at para. 19), she also suffered headaches and emotional anxiety following the accident. After noting that the evidence disclosed that the Plaintiff “is a relatively young woman who does not suffer from any particular emotional or physical condition that rendered or could have rendered the injuries she suffered more disabling” (at para. 21), the Court awarded $7,000 in non-pecuniary damages.

While the Court in DOHLA found that the case was appropriate for the summary trial process, the fact that the damages awarded fell within the jurisdiction of the Small Claims Court (being less than $25,000) meant that “Rule 14-1(10) may apply” (at para. 23). Rule 14-1(10) states that “a plaintiff who recovers a sum within the jurisdiction of the Provincial Court under the SMALL CLAIMS ACT is not entitled to costs, other than disbursements, unless the court finds that there was sufficient reason for bringing the proceeding in the Supreme Court and so orders”.  Because “low velocity” personal injury cases where liability is not contested will likely not exceed the $25,000 jurisdiction of the Small Claims Court, this Rule creates the possibility that a plaintiff will not be able to get costs despite properly electing to rely on the summary trial process to avoid expending unnecessary resources.

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