Apr 11, 2016

ONTARIO COURT OF APPEAL SUMMARIES (APRIL 4-8, 2016)

Basandra v. Sforza, 2016 ONCA 251 (CanLII)

Basandra v. Sforza, 2016 ONCA 251

[Strathy C.J.O., Lauwers and Benotto JJ.A.]

Counsel:

Gary Mazin and Supriya Sharma, for the appellant

Bruce Chambers, for the respondent

Keywords: Torts, Negligence, MVA, Insurance Law, Collateral Benefits, Deductions, Insurance Act, s.267.8, Jury Award, Ambiguity

Facts:

The appellant was injured in a motor vehicle accident. The jury found the respondent liable and, consistent with the jury questions, awarded damages. Unfortunately, the jury questions had grouped together damages for medical/rehabilitation, attendant care, and housekeeping. As a result, the trial judge could not deconstruct the award to make the necessary statutory reductions on a benefit-by-benefit basis pursuant to s. 267.8 of the Insurance Act.

Following the rendering of the verdict, counsel informed the trial judge that they were unable to agree on the impact of collateral benefits on the damages award. They moved for an order determining whether and how the grouped jury awards, specifically the $55,000 for “past loss of care, medical/rehabilitation and housekeeping” and $50,000 for “future care, medical/rehabilitation and housekeeping”, should be reduced under the provisions of the Insurance Act to account for the statutory accident benefits received by the appellant for healthcare and housekeeping.

The trial judge accepted the appellant’s evidence regarding the medical rehabilitation benefits, attendant care benefits, and housekeeping benefits. She also acknowledged that, in light of Bannon v. McNeely, “there is no question that it is the defendant that bears the onus of establishing beyond dispute that the deduction should occur.” She then noted that the sheer quantum of the collateral benefits already received under the three heads was “significantly higher than the jury award.” The trial judge then concluded that the jury’s awards for past and future attendant care, medical/rehabilitation, and housekeeping costs should be reduced from $105,000 to zero.

On appeal, the appellant argued that the defence had the onus to prove how the jury award should be reduced and that the trial judge erred by reducing the jury’s total award to zero. The respondent argued that the lack of clarity in the jury questions is the fault of the appellant, who should not now be permitted to separate the various heads of expenses so as to frustrate the application of the Insurance Act.

Issues: Did the trial judge err by reducing the jury’s awards for past and future attendant care, medical/rehabilitation and housekeeping costs from $105,000 to zero in the absence of clear evidence about the quantum of each collateral benefit?

Holding: Appeal Dismissed.

Reasoning:

No. After reviewing various legal principles associated with Ontario’s no-fault automobile insurance regime, the Court held that the trial judge was faced with a mandatory statutory direction to deduct collateral benefits under s. 267.8 of the Insurance Act. Moreover, the judge was reasonably assured, by comparing the quantum of benefits awarded to the appellant by the jury with the benefits that he had already received, that the appellant had been fully compensated for the applicable heads of damage, despite the fact that they were lumped together.

The Court held that it was reasonable for the trial judge to consider that the defendant had met the onus of proof for the reduction of the jury award for pecuniary losses pursuant to s. 267.8 of the Insurance Act and under Bannon v. McNeely. The trial judge correctly commented that it would have been preferable for the jury questions to have reflected the statutory scheme, and the Court reasoned that, in the context of this case, she committed no error. Instead, she reasonably gave effect to the policy objective of full compensation while respecting the policy objective of not overcompensating. Finally, the Court found that the trial judge reasonably apprehended that if she did not make the reductions sought by the defence, the appellant would have been overcompensated.

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