The Supreme Court of Canada recently upheld a $1-million civil fraud judgment against Toronto businessman Robert Hyrniak. Summary judgments are used in court by one party against another in order to get a final decision instead of going to a full trial.
This latest case broadens the ability of lower court judges to decide civil lawsuits using summary judgment motions instead of full-blown trials. Proponents of summary judgments see this decision as a good one, arguing that summary judgments lessen the expense of a costly trial and provide better access to justice. But from the personal injury law point of view, some members of the bar, including myself, have concerns.
By widening the scope to make final decisions more often through summary judgments, defendants could deliberately add this expensive step in order to drag out a case. This could cause delays, reduce access to justice and ultimately add to the cost of legal services. When Justice Karakatsanis presented her reasons behalf of the Supreme Court, she stated that, “unnecessary pre-trial procedures can be used tactically as a way of increasing cost for the opposing party. And a failed or even partially successful summary judgment motion can add, “sometimes astronomically”, to additional cost and delay.”
In personal injury litigation, where one of the parties has significantly more resources, e.g. a large insurance company, the advantage would go to the insurance company, particularly as a case is dragged out. Apart from the cost implications, delays in the process can be particularly stressful for an individual injured in an accident, their family and caregivers.
For those of us prosecuting cases on behalf of accident victims, we will be watching how the summary judgment process is applied going forward. As always, we will be looking out for the best interest of our clients.