Sometimes You Lose, Even When you Win: The Impact of Costs
King Pyrrhus of Epirus defeated the Romans at the Battle of Heraclea in 280 BC and the Battle of Asculum in 279 BC. He went on to lose the Pyrric War. Of the battles won by Pyrrus, Plutarch has quoted Pyrrhus as saying “If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined.”
The same observation can be made of some civil litigation.
VB was injured while running on an indoor track at McMaster University. He sued the other runner, the running club, the running coach and the university. He and his family members claimed damages of $1.1m, plus interest and costs.
After a 13 day trial, the jury found that VB and his family suffered damages totalling $104,885. The runner and the university were not found liable. The coach and the running club were found 60% liable, and VB was found 40% contributorily negligent. Thus, VB and family were to recover approximately $60,000.
Then came the decision on costs.
Offers to settle were made before trial. Collectively from the defendants, the offer totalled $180,000. The plaintiffs’ offer was said to be for $1,216,550.
The judge in his costs reasons noted that as the trial was a jury trial, he could have “blithely sat back and let the costs clock tick away”. The judge didn’t do this. Rather, the judge twice suggested that the parties agree to a midtrial pretrial with another judge, to see if the matter could be settled. The plaintiff refused. “That kind of opportunity can be fruitful as counsel have seen how the case has evolved and with a lot of things in life, how its evolution was different from that which was expected. … The continuation of the trial did not make economic sense in terms of what could be gained by the plaintiff in the face of mounting costs for all parties. By continuing the trial, the likelihood, if any, amount being awarded being a ‘Pyrrhic’ victory loomed large.”
And Pyrrhic was the victory.
The plaintiffs received a judgment of $60,000. They were awarded costs against the running club and coach of $43,108. The plaintiffs were ordered to pay costs to the university of $95,000, and to the running club and coach of $69,156.
In addition, the plaintiffs may have had to pay their own lawyers.
Costs of a proceeding must always be front of mind. Further, the impact of reasonable offers to settle must be considered: both when making offers and when considering offers from the other side.
Thank you for reading.