The Importance of Drafting Proper and Accurate Pleadings
The Ontario Court of Appeal decision, Burns v RBC Life Insurance Company et al. 2020 ONCA 347, provides insight into the adequacy of claims that could give rise to personal liability for torts committed in the course of employment.
In 2012, plaintiff, stopped working due to pain. Shortly thereafter, RBC Life Insurance Company (“RBC Life”), one of the defendants, approved long-term disability (“LTD”) benefits payments. In 2017, RBC Life terminated the plaintiff’s LTD benefits.
The plaintiff brought an action seeking the reinstatement of LTD benefits. Further, the plaintiff sought special damages against the disability insurer, RBC Life, as well as two of its employees involved in the termination process.
Subsequently, the employees, successfully brought a motion to have the statement of claim struck out as it did not disclose a reasonable cause of action against them. The plaintiff appealed on the grounds that the motion judge erred not following well-established jurisprudence that a cause of action in tort can lie against the employee of a corporate employer for conduct carried out in the course of usual employment.
The Court of Appeal found the motion judge had not erred in finding that the plaintiff had not properly pleaded the material facts to support the claims against the individual defendants. Notably, the Court provided a “simple question”, a touchstone, that each defendant named in a statement of claim should be able to find the answer to in a pleading:
“What do you say I did that caused you, the plaintiff, harm, and when did I do it?”
The statement of claim did not provide either individual named defendant with an individualized answer to that question. Moreover, his pleadings failed to differentiate between any of the defendants nor did he provide the necessary material facts required to support a claim against each of them respectively, as required in r. 25.06(1) of the Rules of Civil Procedure.
The Court of Appeal agreed with the motion’s judge in finding that the plaintiff had not pleaded a viable cause of action against the employees that would attach liability to them in their personal capacities because the allegations advanced against them did not manifest an identity or interest separate from RBC Life.
However, where the Court disagreed with the motion judge’s denial of the plaintiff leave to amend the deficiencies in his pleadings. Leave to amend should only be denied in the clearest of cases. In this case, where the deficiencies could be easily cured by an amendment and the other party would not suffer any prejudice if leave to amend was granted, it should have been granted.
Further, the Court determined that it was too early for the motion judge to reach the conclusion that the plaintiff cannot plead such a claim against the employees.
Given the deficiencies in the statement of claim, the Court of Appeal found that they could not reach a determination as to whether the alleged conduct by the employees of an insurance company constitutes a “distinct actionable legal wrong”, which could be pleaded against the employees in their personal capacities. The Court left that question for another day to be addressed once the amended statement of claim included properly plead individualized claims.