What is a fast track action?

The BC Supreme Court rules include certain "fast track action" procedures intended to create a quicker, more efficient litigation process for claims that are lower value or require shorter trials than the average lawsuit. This post takes a look at the fast track rules and how they can be used to benefit litigants.

The fast track rules will typically apply to BC Supreme Court claims that fall into one of two categories:

  • If the total value of the lawsuit is less than $100,000; or
  • If the trial can be completed in three days or less.

Less often, the fast track rules will also apply if all of the parties to the lawsuit consent or if the Court orders it.

The fast track rules modify the usual rules at BC Supreme Court in several important ways that commonly affect wrongful dismissal lawsuits.

First, in a fast track action, each party's examination for discovery is limited to two hours, instead of the usual seven hour time limit (an examination for discovery is an opportunity for each party to ask questions of the opposing party under oath prior to trial). Therefore, instead of requiring upwards of two or three days to complete both examinations for discovery, they can often be completed in a single day or two half-days in a fast track action. Not only does this significantly reduce the amount of time required to conduct examinations for discovery, it can also reduce the amount of time required to prepare. Occasionally these restrictions can be detrimental however, if the examination for discovery is complex and more time is desired by one of the parties.

Second, parties to a fast track action are prevented from filing applications (with several exceptions) at court unless there has first been a Case Planning Conference. A Case Planning Conference is an opportunity for the parties to discuss procedural issues in their case in front of a judge or master, who may then make orders regarding upcoming steps in the litigation. In some cases, the judge or master may be able to resolve all of the issues at the Case Planning Conference, avoiding the need for an application altogether and making the litigation process more efficient (as intended). In other cases, however, the issue may not be resolved and an application may still be needed even after attending the Case Planning Conference. In these cases the fast track rule can arguably be counter-productive, since it creates an added hurdle (and added time and cost) before a party can proceed with their application.

Third, in a fast track action either party can require the Court registrar to make a trial date available for them within four months from when the request is made (otherwise trial dates often need to be booked a year or more in advance, depending on the Court's availability). In order to take advantage of this shortcut to scheduling a trial, this request must be made within four months of when the lawsuit became a fast track action. In theory, this shortcut makes fast track actions far more efficient than ordinary actions, since they can get to trial so much faster. In practice, the results can be mixed. It is not uncommon for trials to get 'bumped' by the Court scheduling department due to a shortage of available judges. Trial dates scheduled using the fast track scheduling shortcut are particularly vulnerable to getting bumped, when the alternative is to bump someone else's trial that was scheduled months or years in advance using the ordinary scheduling process. Getting bumped can result in the parties showing up to court prepared for trial, but then finding out that their trial date has been cancelled and they will have to reschedule for a later date (meaning that their lawyers will have to prepare for trial a second time). While the fast track scheduling shortcut can result in an earlier trial, the risks of getting bumped also need to be taken into consideration.

Finally, the process for determining how much the losing party may owe to the winning party is generally more straightforward in a fast track action compared to an ordinary lawsuit. Where costs are awarded, the Court has a straightforward formula for calculating costs in fast track actions that is simply based on the number of trial days that were required. The process for calculating costs in ordinary actions is based on a more complex and subjective tariff system. The fast track system often saves the parties from having to argue over the precise calculation of costs.

Although some caution needs to be used when relying on the fast track rules to ensure they will not backfire, the BC Supreme Court's fast track rules generally help to create a quicker and more efficient litigation process for smaller lawsuits. The fast track rules can be an excellent tool in wrongful dismissal cases that are too valuable to go to BC Small Claims Court but not valuable enough to justify the more costly and complex rules that usually govern at BC Supreme Court.

Brendan Harvey - North Vancouver Employment LawyerAbout the Author

Brendan Harvey advises and represents employees and small businesses at all stages before, during, and after the employment relationship. His primary areas of practice include wrongful dismissal, employment standards, and human rights litigation. If you would like to schedule a meeting with Brendan Harvey or any other of our lawyers, give us a call at 604-988-1000.

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