Trial Bifurcation

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Seeking compensation when you are hurt can be a long and strenuous period filled with deadlines, application forms and bills. Most individuals would favor a speedy and amicable resolution but that is not always the case.

Of notable concern to personal injury lawyers and their clients is the subject of trial bifurcation. Simply put, bifurcation when concerned with civil law in Canada, describes a judge's capability to split the trial process into two parts, resolving them separately.

When concerned with personal injury/civil trials, these cases are often bifurcated into liability proceedings and damages proceedings. This is done for numerous reasons, some of which include avoiding prejudice, accelerating the trial process, and minimizing court costs.

If, for example, you get hurt in an accident and decide to make a claim, the Judge can address the issue of liability, and based on that finding, the amount of damages that may or may not be awarded can then be decided.

Case example

The case of Woodbury v. Woodbury, 2013 ONSC 7736 (CanLII), is based on a serious boating accident that occurred in 2007.

Mr. R. Woodbury (the defendant) was operating a boat which was towing his son (the plaintiff) by inner tube when it ran into another boat which was slow moving, almost stationery, and being operated by Mr. Hamilton (co-defendant) who was towing three children. This caused the plaintiff to be thrown from the tube and into the side of the boat, which rendered him unconscious in the water with severe injuries.

He was rescued by Mr. Hamilton and another person present on his boat at the time. The plaintiff is now requesting twenty million dollars in damages. Charges were brought against Mr. Woodbury for carelessness in the operation of the boat but were later dropped because it could not be proven who was handling the boat at the time.

Mr. Hamilton sought a motion for summary judgement, but it was denied by the Judge who ruled that a trial would need to take place to fairly ascertain who was at fault in this tragedy. 

Mr. Hamilton believes that his case warrants grounds for bifurcation as the liability part of the case is very simple to conclude as opposed to the damages which would require an extensive amount of time, evidence and testimony to calculate a true cost. He maintains that his boat was barely moving if at all and that the plaintiff's father bears full responsibility for not seeing his vessel in time, which caused him to take a last minute turn which slammed his son into the basically stationery boat. (It is important to note that bifurcation is not a request to try the two defendants separately).

The plaintiff disagrees with the request for bifurcation, seeing it as prejudicial, costly and a delay tactic by the defence. They cite that it is their legal right to have the entire claim concluded with one trial. In order for bifurcation to be granted, there must be a strong purpose of aiding in justice and clear benefits concerned with time and expense to all those involved. 

Where it is not a unanimous decision between the two sides, a Judge has the power to make a decision. Specific factors taken into consideration include but are not limited to:

  • The simplicity of the issues in terms of finding resolve.
  • Finding whether or not the issues between liability and damages are linked
  • Studying how costs will be affected, if there will be significant savings

Weighing all the necessary factors, the presiding Master granted the bifurcation request by Mr. Hamilton, citing that all necessary criteria was met in this specific case.

He did not agree that this would further significantly delay the case as it is a lengthy one to begin with (due to all the medical information that has been complied and will continue to gather with time). This is the only way to totally assess the care and extent of the injuries that goes with a twenty million dollar case. The question of liability can be addressed within the time and not be affected. In addition, if Mr. Hamilton is successful, it will nullify the claim for damages against him, again saving time and cost.

There are some notable disadvantages of bifurcation for a plaintiff. Assessing liability without the aid of the damages incurred can easily slant the jury's empathetic and sympathetic views. Not being able to know the severity of a plaintiff's injuries can impact the amount of liability for which a defendant is held responsible. Also, if a defendant is found to be liable, when the trial for damages follow, a separate jury may need to be called, costing more time and money.

At Gluckstein Lawyers, we are here to help you through the entire process with our strength, experience and compassion leading the way.

Call us today for your free initial consultation.


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