Court strikes jury notice for expeditious determination of action on its merits amid COVID-19

Justice to parties will be best served by case being tried without jury, court says

Court strikes jury notice for expeditious determination of action on its merits amid COVID-19
Case highlights how pandemic is disrupting Ontario civil jury trials

In a case in which the plaintiffs sought the striking of a jury notice, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice has said that, because of the factual context, it would not be appropriate to adopt a “wait and see” approach.

The case of Sauve v. Steele, 2021 ONSC 1557 arose due to a January 2014 motor vehicle accident when the blade of the defendants’ snow plough allegedly caught in overhanging hydro wires. The wires, torn from the hydro pole, fell into the path of the plaintiffs’ vehicle, which ran into or over the wiring.

The plaintiffs’ statement of claim sought damages for injuries. In May 2016, the defendants delivered a statement of defence and a jury notice. An August 2019 pre-trial conference placed the action on the Mar. 22, 2021 trial list at the Milton courthouse.

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the court suspended regular operations in March 2020, including civil jury selection and civil jury trials. This suspension was later extended, with a Jan. 13 notice extending the suspension of jury trials in Ontario until May 3 at the earliest. Thus, the civil jury trial, previously set for the Mar. 22 trial sitting, could not move forward.

The Superior Court of Justice of Ontario, considering the pandemic’s unpredictable nature and its impacts including the public health measures and the crisis of the civil justice system, granted leave for the plaintiffs to bring this motion to strike the defendants’ jury notice and struck the jury notice accordingly so that the action could proceed to a judge-alone trial at the Mar. 22 trial sitting in Milton.

The court ruled that justice to the parties would be best served by the case being tried without a jury and that permitting further delay would go against the raison d’être of the civil justice system, which is to allow for the timely and expeditious adjudication and determination of civil proceedings on their merits.

The court held that the right to a jury trial is not absolute and may yield to the overriding interests of the administration of justice and issues of practicality. Here, the need for an expeditious determination of the action on its merits justified the striking of the jury notice, the court found.

The court noted that the action was aging, with the accident occurring more than seven years ago, and that the parties were largely ready for trial. The court was advised that civil jury trials in Milton courthouse would not recommence until the Oct. 4 trial blitz at the earliest, subject to the prevailing public health measures. Moreover, there was additional uncertainty due to the necessity of prioritizing criminal and family matters and the renovations of the Milton courthouse.

The court added that deferring adjudication would erode the plaintiffs’ loss of income claim and would result in non-compensable and unrecoverable loss, given the statutory limit on income loss damages under the Insurance Act. Although the parties had yet to complete certain steps in preparation for trial, such matters were not insurmountable barriers, the court reasoned.

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