Saturday, December 10, 2005

Plaintiffs Ordered to Pay Over $130,000 to the Defendants for Unsubstantiated Allegations of Undue Influence and Causing Death

In British Columbia lawsuits, the courts have discretion to order that one party pay another party’s court costs. The usual rule is that the unsuccessful party must pay the successful party’s costs. However, the costs awarded by the courts generally represent only a small fraction of the successful parties’ actual legal expenses.

If the court finds that a party’s conduct is reprehensible, the court may make an order against that party to pay “special costs” which usually represents an amount approaching the successful party’s actual legal expenses.

In Ravnyshyn et al v. Drys, 2005 BCSC 561, the Plaintiffs sought to have the will of their relative George Demediuk declared invalid. They alleged that the will was the product of the Defendants’ undue influence over Mr. Demediuk. They further alleged that the Defendants had “feloniously” caused Mr. Demediuk’s death. After 22 days of trial, Mr. Justice Warren dismissed the Plaintiffs' claim. The Plaintiffs have appealed the decision to the British Columbia Court of Appeal.

In his reasons for judgment on costs at 2005 BCSC 1216, Mr. Justice Warren ordered the Plaintiffs to pay the Defendants’ special costs. He wrote:
In this case, the allegations made by the plaintiffs were of the most serious nature. Both in their pleadings and in court they accused the defendants not only of undue influence, but also of being involved in the death of the testator in order to profit from his estate. These allegations were never withdrawn and were vigorously pursued through the entirety of the trial. As I found in my Reasons for Judgment, these allegations were not supported by the evidence and were based on the mere suspicions of the plaintiffs. Such conduct in my view is sufficiently “reprehensible” to entitle the defendants to special costs.

In a decision released a few days ago, in Ravnyshyn et al v. Drys, 2005 BCSC 1716, District Registrar Bouck assessed the amount of the Defendants’ costs that the Plaintiffs are required to pay at the full amount of the Plaintiff’s legal expenses, including fees of over $114,000, disbursements of $15,000 and fees for the assessment of costs of $4,500.

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