Ontario: the dangers of arguing a particular step would have caused discovery

I often see defendants argue that if a plaintiff had undertaken a certain step, discovery would have occurred on an earlier date.  Without evidence that the plaintiff taking this step on a specific date would have resulted in the plaintiff learning on another specific date the facts necessary for discovery, this argument is purely hypothetical and can’t succeed.  The court in Ledoux v. Lee makes the point:

40.              Uber also argued that Mr. Ledoux’s lawyer should have served Co-operators with a formal notice of his claim against Mr. Lee after getting the police report. Mr. Giugaru contended that this is a standard practice because it allows a plaintiff to claim pre-judgement interest from the date of the notice.  Had Mr. Ledoux’s counsel put Co-Operators on formal notice of a potential claim, he argued, the insurer might have advised the plaintiff of the coverage issue and disclosed Mr. Lee’s activity as an Uber driver.

41.              This argument is speculative.  I could not conclude, on the evidence before me, that it is standard practice for plaintiff’s counsel in MVA claims to formally notify the defendant motorist’s insurer of a potential claim. Even if I had been able to, I could not infer that a formal notice letter to Co-Operators would have yielded information about its position on coverage.  Mr. Ledoux’s lawyers were in communication with Co-Operators from September 2017 forward, providing it with a copy of the police report and Mr. Ledoux’s hospital record.  There is no evidence that, in the course of this correspondence, the adjuster ever so much as hinted that it might deny coverage or disclosed that Mr. Lee was participating in the gig economy, even though it notified the insured of its denial of coverage on this basis two weeks after the accident.

Ontario: the principles of mva “threshold” claims

Dimech v. Osman contains a useful summary of the limitation of claims for non-pecuniary losses arising from a motor vehicle accident:

[14]      Under s. 4(1) of the Limitations Act, 2002 a person loses the right to sue for a claim two years after she “discovers” the claim. Under s. 5(2) of the Limitations Act, 2002 a plaintiff injured in a car accident will be presumed to have discovered her claim on the day of the accident unless she proves that she did not discover the claim that day and that a reasonable person with her abilities and in her circumstances would not have discovered the claim until a later time.

[15]      While one might normally think that being injured in a car accident automatically gives one a claim or the right to sue, that is not necessarily the case. Under s.267.5(5) of the Insurance Act, RSO 1990, c I.8 a person injured in a car accident in Ontario can only sue for non-pecuniary losses if the accident caused her to suffer “permanent serious impairment of an important physical, mental or psychological function.” This is commonly referred to as the “threshold”. If a plaintiff cannot prove that her injuries meet the threshold, her claim for non-pecuniary loss will be dismissed.

[16]      While a plaintiff can sue for pecuniary loss without meeting the threshold, case law provides that for the limitation period to commence in Ontario in relation to a motor vehicle accident lawsuit in which both pecuniary

and non-pecuniary damages are claimed, the plaintiff must have known or ought reasonably to have known that she could likely meet the threshold so as to have the right to sue. In Ioannidis v. Hawkings 1998 CanLII 14822 (ON SC), Justice Langdon held that for the two-year limitation period to start running, there must be,

…a sufficient body of evidence available to be placed before a judge that, in counsel’s opinion, has a reasonable chance of persuading a judge, on the balance of probabilities that the injury qualifies.

[17]      The question of when the limitation period commences is a question of fact. See: Farhat v Monteanu2015 ONSC 2119 (CanLII), at para. 33. It requires a finding of a date when a plaintiff or her lawyer knew or ought reasonably to have known that she had a reasonable chance to prove that she suffered permanent serious impairment of an important physical, mental or psychological function as a result of the car accident.

The decision also provides an example of the consequences of failing to adduce the evidence material to the limitation of these claims:

[18]      There is no evidence from Mr. Bekiaris as to whether he, as the plaintiff’s counsel, had formed an opinion during the 37-day pre-limitation period window that the plaintiff had a reasonable chance of persuading a judge that his injuries would meet the threshold. I offered Mr. Bekiaris an opportunity to consider refraining for acting as counsel on this motion both due to this evidentiary issue and in consideration of the fact that if the defendants succeed in having this action dismissed, Mr. Bekiaris could possibly face a claim for having missed the limitation period. He determined to proceed as counsel.

 [22]      With no evidence from counsel, and no evidence of any contemporaneous prognosis from a doctor, I am left to try to determine by inference whether the plaintiff or his counsel ought reasonably to have known that his injuries reasonably could have met the threshold during the 37-day pre-limitation period window.

 [26]      The defendants argue that with the burden lying on the plaintiff to prove that he could not reasonably have discovered his claim in the 37-day pre-limitation period window, it was incumbent upon him to adduce evidence to show that he or his counsel acted with diligence by asking a doctor for a prognosis. The defendants argue that the plaintiff has failed to prove that he asked any doctor whether his injuries were likely to permanently seriously impair an important function right up to the time that the claim was issued. As such, he cannot meet his burden to show that he acted with diligence as required to rebut the presumption in s. 5(2) of the Limitations Act, 2002.

 [29]      Like the plaintiff, the defendants have adduced no evidence to establish that a reasonable person, in the first 37 days after this type of accident, suffering injuries like those of the plaintiff, would likely know that he or she is likely to meet the threshold. There is no expert prognosis. There is no evidence about whether in the 37-day pre-limitation period window the plaintiff’s counsel ought to have concluded that he had a sufficient body of evidence to provide a reasonable chance of persuading a judge that the plaintiff’s injuries will meet the threshold.

 [31]      In my view, the defendants have not met their evidentiary burden to allow me to fairly and justly adjudicate the limitation period issue summarily. While there may perhaps be cases where a plaintiff’s injuries are so severe that they can confidently be said to meet the threshold from day one, I cannot tell if this is such a case. The defendants have given me the plaintiff’s medical records. But I have nothing to allow me to draw an inference that the plaintiff or his lawyer ought to have concluded in the first 37 days after the accident that the injuries met or were likely to meet the threshold at some time in future.

 [32]      Similarly, while I was able to conclude at first instance in Yasmin that the plaintiff had not diligently pursued a claim on the facts, I have nothing to allow me to reach the same conclusion here and now. I do not know if a reasonable patient 37 days into treatment ought to have been asking his doctors for long term prognoses about serious impairment of important functions. Neither is there any evidence before me to let me weigh or conclude whether a reasonable personal injury lawyer ought to have been seeking reports from the doctors about threshold issues within the 37-day pre-limitation period window.

Ontario: don’t rely on a lawyer’s affidavit to establish discovery

The Superior Court decision in 1365 California Ltd. v. Moss Property Management Inc. is an appeal from a master’s decision granting leave to add a proposed defendant.  It provides two important reminders: a lawyer’s affidavit is a lousy way of rebutting presumptive discovery and sometimes lawyers get cross-examined on their affidavits.

The court held that the master’s determination of when the plaintiffs subjectively discovered their claim was in error.  The plaintiffs had not filed any evidence of when they discovered their claims.  They had filed only a lawyer’s affidavit that did say when discovery occurred.  On cross-examination by the proposed defendants, the lawyer admitted that he didn’t know what the plaintiffs knew, and that he hadn’t spoken with them.  Accordingly, for want of evidence the plaintiffs couldn’t rebut the presumption that subjective discovery occurred on the date of the act or omission giving rise to the claim .

These are the material paragraphs:

[19]           With respect, the Master’s finding that the Respondents did not have actual knowledge of the claims against the Proposed Defendants until they received the Second Report is not supported by the evidence.

 [20]           In support of their motion for leave to amend, the Respondents relied upon the affidavit of Mark Russell (the “Russell Affidavit”), an associate at the firm representing the Respondents in this litigation but who is not involved in the file.  The Russell Affidavit gives a chronology of the steps in the proceeding, as described above.  It does not state when the Respondents had actual knowledge of the facts underlying the New Claims against the Proposed Defendants.  Nor does the Russell Affidavit state that the Respondents did not know that they had claims against the Proposed Defendants until the Second Report was received, or at any time before December 16, 2016.  The affidavit is silent as to what the Respondents knew and when they knew it.
 [21]           On cross-examination, Mr. Russell admitted that he did not know what the Respondents knew, and that he did not know whether they knew more or less than he did.  Mr. Russell stated that he had not spoken to the Respondents and repeatedly stated that he did not have carriage of the file.
 [22]           Since the Respondents bear the burden of showing that they lacked the requisite knowledge as of two years before the motion was brought, the “critical issue” is “what the plaintiff or its agents (chiefly its lawyers) knew or ought to have known about the facts underlying the [proposed claim.]”  Sealed Air, at para. 18.

[24]           In determining whether the Respondents rebutted the statutory presumption, the issue was not, as the Master stated, whether the Respondents had actual knowledge as of the date of the First Report, but whether they had actual knowledge at any time before December 16, 2016.  At no time did the Respondents state that they did not know facts underlying the New Claims when the acts took place.  The Respondents adduced no evidence as to when they knew those facts.  The lack of any “suggestion” that the Respondents knew of the claims when they occurred was not sufficient to rebut the presumption.  In the absence of any evidence from the Respondents as to when they had actual knowledge, the Master committed a palpable and overriding error in finding that they had no knowledge until they received the Second Report.

[25]           Without any evidence on the Respondents’ knowledge, it could not be inferred that the Respondents did not have actual knowledge until they received the Second Report.  A chronology of steps taken in the litigation, without more, is insufficient to draw any inference as to the state of the Respondents’ knowledge in this case.
[26]           The Respondents’ failure to rebut the statutory presumption of knowledge under s. 5(2), means that, pursuant to s. 5(1)(a), the claim was discoverable when the act or omission took place.  The two-year limitation period would run from that date.  The allegations in the Statement of Claim end in November 2011.  Other than to give the chronology leading up to the delivery of the Second Report, the Amended Statement of Claim does not allege specific acts or dates in relation to the Proposed Defendants.  Accordingly, the limitation period expired in November 2013.  Pursuant to s. 21(1) of the Limitations Act, if a limitation period in respect of a claim against a person has expired, the claim shall not be pursued by adding the person as a party to any existing proceeding.

Ontario: the evidentiary threshold for adding a defendant after the limitation period’s presumptive expiry

The Court of Appeal’s decision in Mancinelli v. Royal Bank of Canada is now a leading decision on the addition of a defendant to proceeding after the presumptive expiry of the limitation period.  The Court set out the test, and held that it applies equally to limitations periods that are not subject to the discovery provisions in the Limitation Act:

[23]      When a person opposes a plaintiff’s motion to add it as a defendant on the basis of the apparent expiry of a limitation period, the motion judge is entitled to assess the record to determine whether, as a question of fact, there is a reasonable explanation on proper evidence as to why the plaintiff could not have discovered its claim through the exercise of reasonable diligence. If the plaintiff does not raise any credibility issue or issue of fact about when its claim was discovered that would merit consideration on a summary judgment motion or a trial and there is no reasonable explanation on the evidence as to why the plaintiff could not have discovered the claim by exercising reasonable diligence, the motion judge may deny the plaintiff’s motion: Arcari v. Dawson2016 ONCA 715 (CanLII)134 O.R. (3d) 36, at para. 10. 

[24]      However, the evidentiary threshold that must be met by a plaintiff on such a motion is low: Pepper v. Zellers Inc. (2006), 2006 CanLII 42355 (ON CA)83 O.R. (3d) 648 (C.A.), at para. 14Burtch v. Barnes Estate (2006), 2006 CanLII 12955 (ON CA)80 O.R. (3d) 365, at paras. 26-27. The plaintiff’s explanation should be given a “generous reading”: Wakelin v. Gourley (2005), 2005 CanLII 23123 (ON SC)76 O.R. (3d) 272, at para.15, aff’d 2006 CarswellOnt 286 (Div. Ct.). Whether the plaintiff and its counsel acted with reasonable diligence must be considered in context: Fanshawe College of Applied Arts and Technology v. Sony Optiarc Inc.2014 ONSC 2856, at para. 45 (the “Fanshawe Pleadings Motion”.)

[25]      While ArcariPepper and Wakelin dealt with motions to add defendants that were opposed based on the apparent expiry of the limitation period under the Act, the same approach, and the same low threshold, is warranted where the motion is opposed or also opposed based on the apparent expiry of any statutory limitation period subject to the discoverability principle: see, for example, Fanshawe Pleadings Motion.

[…]

[30]      A plaintiff’s failure to take reasonable steps to investigate a claim is not a stand-alone or independent ground to find a claim out of time. Instead, the reasonable steps a plaintiff ought to take is a relevant consideration in deciding when a claim is discoverable under s. 5(1)(b): Galota v. Festival Hall Developments Ltd.2016 ONCA 585 (CanLII), 133 O.R. (3d) (C.A.), at para. 23; Fennel v. Deol2016 ONCA 249 (CanLII)265 A.C.W.S. (3d) 1029, at paras. 18, 24.

[31]      Where the issue on a motion to add a defendant is due diligence, the motion judge will not be in a position to dismiss the plaintiff’s motion in the absence of evidence that the plaintiff could have obtained the requisite information with due diligence, and by when the plaintiff could have obtained such information, such that there is no issue of credibility or fact warranting a trial or summary judgment motion: Wong v. Adler (2004), 2004 CanLII 8228 (ON SC)70 O.R. (3d) 460 (Ont Master), at para. 45Pepper, at para. 18.

The Court overturned the motion judge’s decision (which I noted for its summary of the relevant principles) for applying too high a standard to high an evidentiary threshold.

[26]      In the context of a motion to add defendants in a class action alleging a secret conspiracy brought before any statements of defence had been filed or any discoveries had taken place, the motion judge required the appellants to meet too high an evidentiary threshold.

[27]      Giving the requisite generous, contextual reading to the appellants’ explanation, the appellants provided a reasonable explanation why they could not have identified the respondents as co-conspirators before July 20, 2014. I note that in the Fanshawe Pleadings Motion, the motion judge permitted plaintiffs alleging a price-fixing conspiracy to amend their statement of claim to add defendants on evidence as to due diligence that essentially consisted of reviewing publically available documents, albeit a more detailed list of those documents was provided.

[28]      In the face of the appellant’s evidence of their search for other potential defendants, the respondents led no evidence of further reasonable steps that the appellants could have taken to ascertain their identities before July 20, 2014. Rather, the motion judge suggested that the appellants should have taken further steps to investigate whether the respondents were co-conspirators. At least some of the steps he suggested go beyond those a reasonable plaintiff would have taken in the circumstances, indicating that he held the appellants to too high an evidentiary standard. By way of example, it is not apparent how a plaintiff alleging a conspiracy that the defendants took active steps to conceal and that was conducted through secret “chats” could have possibly obtained the suggested Anton Pillar and Norwich orders. The evidentiary foundation required to obtain such orders is high.

[29]      Further, a representative plaintiff is not akin to the investigative arm of a regulator. Regulators often have investigative powers that civil plaintiffs do not. There was no evidence that any of the sophisticated regulators investigating the alleged conspiracy had identified any of the respondents as co-conspirators before the UBS proffer.

The decision is also noteworthy for what is arguably the addition of a new consideration to the test.  The Court criticized the motion judge for having failed to determine with sufficient precision when the plaintiffs ought to have discovered their claim.  Prior to this decision, I think it was generally understood that when a proposed defendant argues that leave is inappropriate based on evidence that the plaintiff could through reasonable diligence have discovered the claim within two years of the motion, it wasn’t necessary for the proposed defendant to provide an exact date on which discovery ought to have occurred.  Going forward, should the court neglect to make a finding in regards of the date when discovery ought to have occurred, there may be ground for appeal:

[32]      As the respondents appropriately conceded, there was no evidentiary foundation for the motion judge’s finding that the respondents’ identities as co-conspirators could have been established with reasonable diligence. The fact that UBS – one of the co-conspirators and a participant in the “collusive chats” – was able to identify other participants in the secret chats is no indication that the appellants, who were not co-conspirators, could have done so.

[33]      Nor did the motion judge determine with sufficient precision by when the appellants ought to have discovered that they had a claim. As noted above, the appellants claim would be statute barred only if the s. 5(1)(b) date were before July 20, 2014. The motion judge found the identity of BMO and TD could have been established “before the expiry of the limitation period”. It is not clear what the motion judge meant by “the expiry of the limitation period”. The respondents submitted that the limitation period expired on December 31, 2015 (two years after the end of the alleged conspiracy period). If the motion judge’s intended finding were that the appellants could have established the identities of BMO and TD by December 31, 2015, then the appellants’ claim against them would not have been statute-barred.

Ontario: Put that best foot forward (or else)

Bergen v. Fast Estate is a reminder from the Court of Appeal that in a summary judgment motion on a limitations defence, the plaintiff needs to put her best evidentiary foot forward, or lose:

[11]      In response to Aviva’s motion for summary judgment, no evidence was filed that had the effect of rebutting the presumption that as at the date of his accident, the appellant knew he was not the owner of the motor vehicle but his father was. In particular, there was no evidence from either the appellant or his father, Johan Bergen Sr., both of whom were clients of the law firm when the appellant’s claim was issued. Given the appellant’s obligation to put his “best foot forward” in response to Aviva’s motion for summary judgment and his onus to rebut the presumption under s. 5(2), the motion judge was entitled to assume that there would be no additional evidence at trial to assist the appellant on these issues.

[12]      Absent any evidence rebutting the presumption, the appellant and his counsel (as the appellant’s agent) were presumed to know who owned the vehicle prior to the issuance of the statement of claim. Accordingly, they were also presumed to know at that time that the owner was a potential defendant and that an action against the owner would therefore be an appropriate remedy to recover damages for the appellant’s injuries. That it was not strictly necessary to add the owner of the vehicle as a defendant at the time the statement of claim was issued does not determine whether an action against the owner was an appropriate remedy. As the motion judge stated, “[t]here could never be an argument that the appropriate remedy against the owner of the vehicle was anything other than to include him as a defendant in the action when the Statement of Claim was issued”.

Ontario: Rebutting presumptive discovery is the plaintiff’s burden

The Court of Appeal decision in O’Brien-Glabb v. National Bank of Canada states the principle that the plaintiff bears the onus of establishing the inappropriateness of a proceeding as part of a discovery argument:

[13]      We agree with the appellant that it was the respondent who bore the onus of leading evidence to establish on a balance of probabilities that a proceeding was not appropriate in 2010 (see: Miaskowski (Litigation guardian of) v. Persaud2015 ONCA 758(CanLII) at para 27Fennell v. Deol2016 ONCA 249 (CanLII) at para16; and Galota v. Festival Hall Developments Ltd.2016 ONCA 585 (CanLII) at para 15).

Even a vague familiarity with the operation of s. 5 of the Limitations Act means this principle is self-evident, but it’s nevertheless helpful to have it stated explicitly.