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Courthouse delays hurt Plaintiffs and helps Defendants in Personal Injury Cases

If you have been following the new of late, you may have heard of how the justice system is failing Canadians.

There is a serious shortage of money being allocated to our justice system, which is resulting in excessive delays and cases being thrown out as a cause of delay.

Recently, personal injury lawyer Brian Goldfinger was interviewed by CBC News to speak about the delays which happened to one his his clients. The case is an important one. It’s one of the first cases of sexual assault involving the the Canadian Military to be transferred from military Court to civilian Court. Mr. Goldfinger’s client made the strategic decision to have the case transferred out of military Court into civilian court so that she could get a fair shake at justice. Retired Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbour recommended transferring all cases of sexual offences alleged to have been perpetrated by military members — including historical cases — to civilian authorities. It only made sense that Mr. Goldfinger’s client follow the recommendation of a retired justice of the Supreme Court of Canada.

It was after the transfer from military court, into civilian court that the case fell apart. The case has been transferred to two different crown attorneys. There was excessive delay in getting the case to trial. As a result, the accused got off on a technicality. An 11(b) defence whereby the trial did not take place in a reasonable time. And just like that, the case was stayed (or dismissed), such that the claim was NEVER heard on its merits. The accused got off without ever having needed to testify in Court, and the victim of abuse never had an opportunity to have spoken her truth. Her day in Court was taken away from her, through no fault of her own. This comes down, in part, due to lack of resources in our judicial system to have cases heard in a reasonable period of time. This case was a prime example of justice delayed being justice denied. And that’s not right. That’s not how the court system of a developed G7 nation, which has consistently been ranked as one of the best countries to live in, should work.

But it gets worse.

In Toronto, staffing shortages at a new, billion-dollar courthouse downtown are so severe and chronic that each morning a court official meets with a senior judge to decide how many courts will need to close that day. As many as 18 courtrooms have closed on some days. High-priority cases bump other cases; the bumped cases are rescheduled and kick others down the road.

Meanwhile, in Milton this week, judges of the Superior Court of Justice pulled out from the courthouse because of mould problems, following the late August example of judges from the Ontario Court of Justice. Three cases, including a human trafficking case, had to be adjourned on Monday as a result. The Superior Court is now seeking hearing space in courthouses in locations such as Oakville, Brampton and Guelph.

It was no secret to the personal injury bar that the court system was falling apart.

One of the worst stories I know of was a civil jury trial in a car accident case commenced in Brampton. The Plaintiff and Defendant both lived in Peel Region. All of the doctors were in Peel Region as well. All of the jurors were residents of Peel Region. It would make sense that the trial take place in Peel Region, especially when the case was commenced at the Courthouse in Peel Region.

But, the case was NOT heard in Peel Region at the Brampton Courthouse. Why not? Because there was a shortage of judges and courtroom staff!

So, instead, of having the case heard in Peel, the trial took place in Kitchener!linkedin-2-300x300

That meant that all of the parties, lawyers and witnesses had to drive to Kitchener, which is not what they bargained for.

Worse yet was the impact this had on the jurors. The jurors are members of the community in which they reside. They  are residents of Peel Region, there to hear a case that was commenced in Peel Region. Their will and decision reflects the decision of their community. Yet, when they attended at the Courthouse in Peel Region, they were then packed onto a bus and sent off the the Courthouse in Kitchener to hear the case. It’s just over an hour, depending on traffic, from the Brampton Courthouse to the Kitchener Courthouse.  So, these jurors had to tack on an extra 2 hours + of commuting per day (10 hours on a 5 day work week), to hear serve the public on a car accident case. You can imagine how upset these jurors must have been. Few jurors are excited for jury duty on car accident cases. That’s the cold hard truth. Most jurors want to hear a high profile murder case, or another sort of high profile criminal case. Very few imagined their jury duty on a car accident case. But even fewer would even fathom having to be dragged from their backyard, a hundred + kilometres away, in a completely different Municipality to sit on a jury for a car accident case! This was unheard of years ago. But this sort of thing is happening across Ontario and it’s simply not acceptable.

How does this impact a Plaintiff’s personal injury case? The maxim that justice delayed is justice denied rings true. Defendant insurers love all of these sort of delays and mix ups. Cases don’t get heard. Insurers get to hold on to their money and keep accumulating interest. Jurors get upset that they are getting shifted around? Upset jurors are less likely to be generous in awarding damages for personal injury cases. That’s just the way that things work, and insurers know this. They are perfectly fine taking advantage of all of the delays which have been built into the system so that the Plaintiff messes up or gives up. Let’s be clear. Litigation is not a pleasant experience. It’s not easy to go years and years fighting an insurance company. The insurer wants you to give up. Or better yet, perhaps the Plaintiff is involved in another accident after their first accident claim has been commenced. Even better, the Plaintiff moves out of province or out of country. Even better yet, the Plaintiff dies while litigation is on going. All of these things which are attributable to delay have a very negative impact on a Plaintiff’s personal injury case.

Is any of that fair? Nope. But who ever told you that life, or the legal system were fair. Both aren’t. Plaintiffs just have to navigate the system as best they can because the laws, and the litigation system are not built for injured accident victims. Instead, those laws and the litigation system rewards wealthy defendants who have the ability and resources to wait out on a result. Even if it takes many years.

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