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Getting to Trial Faster – Bifurcation Considered

In personal injury lawsuits, getting to Trial often takes years.  This is usually a result of a combination of the litigation process and also a queue for Court time once parties consider themselves ready for Trial. *

A common problem in car accident lawsuit is that several cars can involved in an accident.  Examples include: several cars rear-ending each other on a highway or at a red traffic light or cars losing control and colliding with several cars.

Who is responsible when several cars are involved in a car accident?

The argument over liability for the car accident (i.e. is Car #1 responsible for 20% of the accident?  Is Car #2 responsible for 80% of the accident?) can be very difficult to resolve informally and as a result, usually delays serious discussion about the plaintiff’s damages suffered as a result of the accident.

One solution that is available is to seek an Order from the Court allowing the lawsuit to be bifurcated or split in terms of a Trial on liability separate from a Trial on damages.

The rationale for bifurcation is that once liability is resolved (i.e. all the defendants know what their liability responsibility is) then serious discussion can take place on the issue of the plaintiff’s damages.

This is a not a common solution because it is difficult, in many cases, to successfully obtain an Order to bifurcate.  The presumption is that a lawsuit will proceed to Trial once and determine all issues at that time.  Special circumstances must be shown to be allowed to bifurcate.

In the recent case of Noon v. City of Greater Sudbury (2010 Ontario Superior Court of Justice), a contested motion sought to bifurcate the lawsuit which arose from a car accident.  The damages for the case appeared to be significant and the defendants involved (being the driver of the vehicle as well as the City of Sudbury) advised the motions Judge that regardless of the liability decision at Trial, they had or fully expected to receive instructions from their client to appeal any liability result if their client bore any negligence for this accident.

The Court went through the factors in Noon and declined against bifurcating the issues of liability and damages, given that some parties did not wish for a bifurcation and that the remedy sought would not, on the face of it, shorten litigation overall – which had been ongoing for 7 years at this point.

* The new and significant amendments to Rules of Civil Procedure in Ontario are designed to speed up the litigation process for civil litigation.

Gregory Chang
Toronto Insurance Litigation Lawyer