Car insurer seeks thousands in court costs against NS pewter artist

Court of Appeal to weigh latest twists in legal saga

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Halifax lawyers working on behalf of a big car insurance company are going after Nova Scotia pewter artist May Ocean for thousands of dollars in court costs. It's the latest turn in a legal marathon that began in December 2000 when Ocean was involved in a serious collision with an uninsured driver near her home in White's Lake, about 25 kilometres south of Halifax. The Coast first reported on the case in 2009 and has been following the courtroom battles ever since.

On May 31, NS Supreme Court Justice Deborah Smith finally ruled, after the first of three scheduled trials, that Ocean was 20 percent responsible for the crash. That decision came after about 25-days of Supreme Court hearings last fall. Ocean responded on June 28, by appealing the ruling claiming that the judge showed bias against her.

On July 11, the Economical Mutual Insurance Company filed its own appeal arguing that the judge should have required Ocean to pay thousands of dollars in court costs to cover the company's heavy legal expenses. In its notice of appeal, Economical claims Ocean, who is representing herself in court, unnecessarily prolonged last fall's hearings. Among other things, the company accuses her of repeatedly attempting to introduce irrelevant evidence; trying to embarrass and harass company representatives; seeking to cross-examine her own witnesses despite warnings from the judge not to do so and unjustly trying to categorize Economical as being "part of a vast corporate insurance industry-based conspiracy against her."

Judge concerned about trial length

In her May 31 decision, Judge Smith blamed Ocean for prolonging the trial.

"A trial which, in my view, would have taken no more than 5 days to hear with experienced counsel ended up being heard over approximately 25 days," the judge wrote. She added that although Ocean could not be expected to conduct her case as effectively as an experienced lawyer, her courtroom conduct went far beyond inexperience.

"Ms. Ocean appeared to be unable or unwilling to focus effectively on the matters that were in issue and seemed intent on subpoenaing witnesses and introducing evidence that was not relevant to this proceeding." The judge also noted that Ocean "made serious allegations" against both the insurance company and the other driver "that were not supported by the evidence."

However, the judge decided that the issue of court costs should be decided after the two remaining trials in which Ocean is seeking damages from Economical for what she claims was its bad faith and negligence in handling her case.

Judge's earlier warning

Last September, Judge Smith warned Ocean that she could have to pay thousands of dollars in court costs if the company showed that she was unnecessarily prolonging the trial.

"Every day that we're here is amazingly expensive," the judge said adding that someone found to have unnecessarily extended the trial could face a penalty of $2,000 a day plus regular court costs.

"I'm not trying to stop you or shut you down," she added. "Two thousand dollars a day is a lot of money."