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Courts Must Balance Right to a Jury Trial with Obligation to Deliver Justice Fairly and Efficiently

Boyce v. Waterloo Insurance Company, 2024 NSSC 54 

Reading Time: 3.5 minutes (approx.) 

By: Jadrien Hong & J. Charles Foster, K.C. 

In 2016, Charles Boyce, the Plaintiff representing himself in this matter, filed a lawsuit claiming that he suffered lung and cognitive injuries from fumes leaking into the interior of his vehicle due to the clutch being improperly installed. He brought action against vehicle manufacturer, Volkswagen (the Defendant VW), and Waterloo Insurance Company (better known as Economical Insurance; the Defendant Economical) for denial of Section B accident benefits under his automobile insurance policy. On November 2, 2023, the Plaintiff filed materials which noted his selection for the trial to be by jury. The Defendant Economical brought a motion seeking an Order to set this selection aside and require the trial to be heard by judge only. This motion was heard on February 7, 2024. 

In his decision on this motion, Justice Norton reviewed the relevant sections of the Judicature Act, RSNS 1989, c. 240 and Nova Scotia’s Civil Procedure Rules regarding jury trials. He ultimately struck the Plaintiff’s selection for a trial by jury, identifying several factors which must be considered when determining whether a trial by jury, as requested, or a trial by judge alone is more appropriate. 

In coming to his decision, Justice Norton considered the complexity of the issues, not only related to the technical information which would have to be presented to a jury, but also – in this case – the additional challenges posed by the Plaintiff’s poor health and the fact that he was representing himself. The Court identified expert reports and evidence which would be required to ensure the Plaintiff’s case was presented effectively. “I believe that Mr. Boyce will need considerable assistance from the Court when presenting that evidence,” Justice Norton wrote at paragraph 31, and he expressed concern that this could prejudice a jury against the Defendant Economical by giving it the impression that the Court favoured the Plaintiff.  

In addition, proceedings had been delayed several times between the filing of the action and the motion hearing due to the Plaintiff’s unfamiliarity with the legal process and to his physical and mental health, which was put under significant strain during the discovery process. At paragraph 33, Justice Norton wrote, “By his own admission, [Mr. Boyce’s] medical condition is such that he cannot deal with the stress of litigation. And this is supported by his physician. A jury trial cannot be adjourned for lengthy periods of time in the event that Mr. Boyce requires time away from trial for health reasons.” 

Justice Norton explained that although there is a prima facie right to a civil trial by jury, the Court is obligated to balance this right with its duty to see justice done. In this case, the circumstances are such that a trial by judge is the appropriate option to accommodate the Plaintiff’s limitations and to facilitate an efficient and just process, despite the Plaintiff’s preference for a jury trial. 

Link: https://www.canlii.org/en/ns/nssc/doc/2024/2024nssc54/2024nssc54.html  

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