A Different Kind of “Dog” Dispute
In the past we have reported on several cases involving pets. These usually ended with the Family Court having to make a determination over which of two former spouses was entitled to the possession of a beloved dog or cat, post-split.
But a recent Family-related case also involves a dispute about a dog – but it’s not of the typical variety. And it includes a broader lesson on the potential costliness of failing to participate and cooperate fully in the legal process when required.
In Buttar v. Cheema, a woman sued her uncle and aunt, the Cheemas, in connection with the injuries she suffered from a dog when she was visiting their home. Apparently the identity of the dog’s true owner was in dispute, and the Cheemas denied responsibility for it. The woman’s mother, father, and siblings also advanced related claims against the Cheemas for damages under the Family Law Act, as dependants who could sue in tort for their own pecuniary losses arising from the woman’s injuries (for things like providing her with nursing and housekeeping services, and amounts for the loss of her guidance, care and companionship, etc.).
In addition to damages stemming from the dog-related injuries, the plaintiffs collectively sought myriad relief from the court. This was now compounded and exacerbated by the Cheemas’ admitted failure to attend at multiple scheduled examinations for discovery and mandatory mediations, and to answer undertakings, all of which was required in the litigation process they were now part of.
The court listened to the Cheemas’ thin excuses for their failure to fulfill these obligations around undertakings; it noted they offered no explanation at all for failing to attend discoveries or mediation. The court concluded there was an established pattern to suggest the Cheemas would only comply if faced with a court order obliging them to. The court readily granted an order accordingly.
Next, the court considered the woman’s $14,500 claim against the Cheemas for “costs thrown away”, meaning the amount of money she needlessly had to spend to compel the Cheemas to fulfil their legal duties around undertakings, discoveries, and mediation in the first place.
In light of the Cheemas’ overall uncooperativeness, the court found that it would be well within their reasonable expectation that the woman would be claiming against them for costs thrown away. Moreover, it rejected the Cheemas’ assertion that $4,000 rather than the full $14,000 would be an appropriate amount; instead, substantial indemnity costs were warranted, to reflect the court’s disapproval of this kind of conduct. As the court put it:
[The] evidence supports deliberate disregard of the [Cheemas’ own] obligation to produce themselves for examinations and participate in mandatory mediation, including an unexplained breach of a court order for mediation to which they consented. In my view, it would be inequitable to award only partial indemnity costs in circumstances where I am satisfied the [woman and her family] have no fault and were forced to incur what should have been unnecessary costs.
The court reviewed the woman’s list of costs thrown away in connection with the aborted mediations and unattended examinations. It fixed them at $7,000, payable by the Cheemas within 14 days.
For the full text of the decision, see:
Buttar v. Cheema, 2021 ONSC 5504