Mark G. Carter
Personal Injury & ICBC Lawyer in Vancouver
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Blog | Personal Injury Lawyer Vancouver

Special Costs Against Lawyers Personally

In “very special circumstances", courts may order special costs against a lawyer personally rather than his or her client - the purpose of such an order being to punish or deter the lawyer’s reprehensible conduct.

In Nuttall v Krekovich, 2018 BCCA 341, the British Columbia Court of Appeal discussed when such orders are warranted. In that case, the Plaintiff was injured in a hit and run accident. Plaintiff’s Counsel began the lawsuit by naming ICBC as a nominal defendnat pursuant to s. 24 of the Insurance (Vehicle) Act, but later added the Defendant when it appeared that he was the driver responsible for the accident. Shortly after, Plaintiff’s counsel realized that the Defendant was not, in fact, the responsible driver and discontinued the action against him. The Defendant sought costs against the lawyer personally and was successful in obtaining such an order from the Chambers judge.

Plaintiff’s Counsel successfully appealed. In overturning the decision of the Chambers judge, the Court of Appeal provided a summary of this area of law as follows:

[26]        …[S]pecial costs have a punitive or deterrent element and are only appropriate where the conduct in issue is deserving of punishment or rebuke. This well-known principle stems from numerous cases, most recently enunciated in J.P. v. British Columbia (Children and Family Development), 2018 BCCA 325 at para. 28

[27]         In Young the court directed judges to be “extremely cautious” in awarding costs personally against lawyers given their duties to guard confidentiality of instructions and to bring forward with courage even unpopular causes:

... A lawyer should not be placed in a situation where his or her fear of an adverse order of costs may conflict with these fundamental duties or his or her calling.

[28]         In Jodoin, the court confirmed that the threshold for exercising the power to award costs against lawyers is high, such that there must be a finding of reprehensible conduct by the lawyer. Reprehensible conduct “represents a marked and unacceptable departure from the standard of reasonable conduct expected of a player in the judicial system” (at para. 27). Mr. Justice Gascon, for the majority, described the kind of conduct that would justify such an order at para. 29:

[29]      In my opinion, therefore, an award of costs against a lawyer personally can be justified only on an exceptional basis where the lawyer’s acts have seriously undermined the authority of the courts or seriously interfered with the administration of justice. This high threshold is met where a court has before it an unfounded, frivolous, dilatory or vexatious proceeding that denotes a serious abuse of the judicial system by the lawyer, or dishonest or malicious misconduct on his or her part, that is deliberate...

[29]         Consistent with these decisions, this Court has long held that such orders should be made only in “very special circumstances”, and not on the basis of mistake, error in judgment or even negligence: see Hannigan v. Ikon Office Solutions Inc. (1998), 61 B.C.L.R. (3d) 270 (C.A.); Pierce v. Baynham, 2015 BCCA 188 at para. 41.

[30] … A special costs order is not justified only because counsel fails to disclose evidence that ultimately proves to be material or incorrect: see Pierce at para. 43. …

[34] … Rule 14-1(33) gives the court discretion to make various orders if it considers that a party's lawyer “has caused costs to be incurred without reasonable cause, or has caused costs to be wasted through delay, neglect or some other fault”. One of those orders is that the lawyer “be personally liable for all or part of any costs that his or her client has been ordered to pay to another party”.

[35]         This rule, which does not distinguish between party and party costs and special costs, has expanded the scope of conduct which might support a costs order against a lawyer. As explained in Nazmdeh v. Spraggs, 2010 BCCA 131, there is no requirement for “serious misconduct” to justify an order that a lawyer pay party and party costs, but it is still necessary to find reprehensible conduct on the part of the lawyer to justify an order for special costs. Moreover, the lower standard mandated by Rule 14-1(33) must also be exercised with restraint, as the Court reasoned at paras. 103‒104:

[103]    The power to make an order for costs against a lawyer personally is discretionary. As the plain meaning of the Rule and the case law indicate, the power can be exercised on the judge’s own volition, at the instigation of the client, or at the instigation of the opposing party. However, while the discretion is broad, it is, as it has always been, a power to be exercised with restraint. All cases are consistent in holding that the power, whatever its source, is to be used sparingly and only in rare or exceptional cases.

[104]    The restraint required in the exercise of the court’s discretion is not to be confused with the standard of conduct which may support its use. Care and restraint are called for because whether the unsuccessful party or his lawyer caused the costs to be wasted may not always be clear, and lawyer and client privilege is always deserving of a high degree of protection.

Mark Carter