We recently wrote about an Ontario case in which the court addressed the continuing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in delaying civil jury trials.

The Ontario Court of Appeal also addressed this issue earlier in the year, calling on courts to use more creative solutions in response to the delays created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jury Trial Struck in Response to COVID-19 Pandemic

The plaintiffs had been involved in a motor vehicle collision in Ottawa in 2013. Two actions resulted: a tort action and an accident benefits action. Jury notices were filed by the defendants in each proceeding, which were ordered tried together in a 10-week jury trial commencing April 20, 2020.

However, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the trial date was lost.

Thus, in July 2020, the plaintiffs moved for an order striking the jury notices in both actions, which the motion judge granted. At that time, civil jury trials were not being scheduled in Ottawa, but judge-alone trials of three weeks or less were available within the following six months. Consequently, the motion judge ordered the trials to proceed in three-week tranches, beginning in February 2021.

The motion judge’s order was appealed to the Divisional Court by the defendant insurer. The court allowed the appeal and reinstated the jury notices in both actions, concluding that the motion judge’s decision to strike the jury notices was arbitrary as it had been attributed solely to the presence of delay but lacked sufficient evidence of actual prejudice to the parties. In allowing the appeal, the Divisional Court stated:

“The decision of the motion judge to strike the jury notice was attributed, by him, solely to the presence of delay without any reliance on evidence that explained the anticipated length of the delay, the circumstances that might cause it to be extended or ameliorated or its impact on the administration of justice. There was nothing to which he referred that considered the particular circumstances. In the absence of such information, the decision was arbitrary. The recognition of the presence of delay, without more, is not enough.”

The plaintiffs appealed the decision to the Ontario Court of Appeal.

Ontario Court of Appeal Endorses Creative Response to Court Delays

In its introductory remarks, the Court of Appeal observed of the delays occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic:

“The civil justice system in Ontario faces an unprecedented crisis. Among other challenges, the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly reduced the availability of courtrooms. Trial courts have necessarily had to prioritize criminal and family law cases to the detriment of civil cases’ timely resolution. Consequently, civil justice reform has shot to the forefront as a public policy imperative. Procedural reforms have been implemented to respond to the challenge, including increasing the use of electronic filing and electronic hearings. In addition, more fundamental changes in the operation of the civil justice system are being contemplated, such as the potential elimination of civil jury trials. Whether these reforms will come to pass remains to be seen. In the meantime, our courts are charged with the management of a civil justice system that is being overwhelmed.”

The court then endorsed the motion judge’s creative response to the issues raised by the instant case, stating:

“Judges of the Superior Court work tirelessly to keep the civil justice system afloat. This sometimes means that they must find creative ways to ensure that parties get their day in court in a timely manner… In the cases at bar, the motion judge made such a creative order.”

Ultimately, the court held that the Divisional Court had erred in overturning the motion judge’s order and offered the following critique:

“[F]undamentally, the Divisional Court’s approach is at odds with the current reality faced by our courts. Superior Court judges are acutely aware of local conditions, and it is counterproductive for intermediate appeal courts to interfere unnecessarily. It is only in rare situations that an appellate court should overrule discretionary case management decisions.  This was not such a rare case. On the contrary, this was a situation where the motion judge’s creativity should have been the subject of approbation, not condemnation.”

Finally, the Court of Appeal encouraged other courts to follow suit with the motion judge’s creative approach to delays within the justice system, stating:

“There is no single province wide answer to the problems we face in delivering timely civil justice; local conditions will necessarily impact the choice of effective solutions. However, what must remain consistent across the province is that motion and trial judges have the discretion to respond to local conditions to ensure the timely delivery of justice.”

As a result, the court allowed the appeal and restored the motion judge’s order.

Get Advice

In the event of serious injury following a car crash, retaining a lawyer can help you to get the long-term support you need from your insurance company and the compensation that ought to be paid by the parties at fault for your accident.

At Petker Campbell Postnikoff, we investigate your claims arising from a car accident, and we seek the compensation you need to recover from your injuries. In the event you have sustained a catastrophic physical impairment or any permanent, serious impairment of any important physical, psychological or mental function, we will help obtain your insurance benefits and fair compensation from those at fault for the motor vehicle accident. We are experienced in handling cases for the most severely injured. We understand the challenges and worries faced on a day-to-day basis by those dealing with newfound hardships.

Legal advice can help you make sure you have what you need following a car accident. To speak with the Waterloo car accidents lawyers at our firm, call us at 519-886-1204 or contact us online. We offer prospective accident clients a free initial consultation.