SIMMONS v ROCKDALE CITY COUNCIL (NO. 2) [2014] NSWSC 1275

Alex Simmons sustained serious injuries as a result of an accident that occurred on 11 April 2007 whilst he was riding his bicycle through a car park adjacent to the St George Sailing Club.  He struck a boom gate that had been closed across a motor vehicle entrance to a car park.  The accident resulted in a below knee amputation of his left leg.

On 27 September 2013 Hall J delivered the principle judgment in the proceedings Simmons v Rockdale City Council [2013] NSWSC 1431.  An order was made that verdict and judgment be entered in favour of Alex Simmons against Rockdale Council in the sum of $928,000 and that judgment be in favour of the Club.

Mr Campbell SC and Mr Sheller appeared on behalf of Alex Simmons and Mr Watson SC appeared on behalf of the Council.  A dispute arose between the parties as to whether the Plaintiff was liable to pay the Club’s costs and if so should they be awarded on an indemnity basis from the date of the Club’s offer of compromise or whether Mr Simmons was entitled to a Bullock or Sanderson order in respect of his costs liability to the Club.

Liability to pay the Club’s cost on an indemnity basis

His Honour observed that an offer of compromise must be a real and genuine offer Regency Media Pty Ltd v AAV Australia Pty Ltd [2009] NSWCA 368.

On behalf of Mr Simmons it was submitted the Club’s offer was “an invitation to surrender” and His Honour particularised the basis of that submission.

Bullock or Sanderson Order

In the event that Mr Simmons was found liable to pay the costs of the Club he should be entitled to a Bullock or Sanderson Order from the Council.  The arguments of the Plaintiff were referred to by his Honour [para 16].

Council’s Submissions

The Council accepted that it is liable for the costs of both the Plaintiff and the Club.  It however opposed the Bullock or Sanderson Order and the basis of this was referred to by His Honour [para 21]

Reasonableness of not accepting the Offer of Compromise

Hall J observed that the reasonableness of the party refusing an offer amounts to an important feature in determining whether an order for indemnity costs should be made.  The reasonableness must be assessed as at the date of the offer and without the benefit of hindsight: Barakat v Bazdarova [20102] NSWCA 140.

His Honour made a finding that given the lack of clarity on the material available to the Plaintiff as to the arrangement between the Council and the Club, he did not consider the Plaintiff’s failure to accept the Offer of Compromise can be regarded as unreasonable [para 63].

Absence of Information to Support the Club’s offer requiring capitulation by the Plaintiff

His Honour found that he did not consider the Plaintiff had acted unreasonably in not accepting the Club’s Offer of Compromise.  See Leichhardt Municipal Council v Green [2004] NSWCA 341.

Whether a Bullock or Sanderson Order should be made

His Honour referred to Gould v Vaggelas (1985) 157 CLR 215.  His Honour made a finding that it was reasonable for the Plaintiff to have sued the Club [para 79].

The conduct of the unsuccessful defendant, the Council

His Honour referred to an Affidavit sworn by Greg Walsh on 21 November 2013 which relied upon his earlier Affidavit of 26 October 2010.  Walsh referred to evidentiary statements of James Garcia a cleaner that had been employed as a contractor by the Club and also a statement of the General Manager of the Club Keith Langelaar.  Mr Walsh stated that none of those statements mentioned what he refers to as “any rationale about when and why the gate was to be open.” [para 92].

His Honour noted that Mr Walsh stated in his Affidavit to his state of belief that it was possible that the Club was instructed in a manner that constituted a more formal delegation as to why the gates needed to be opened and closed at certain times and that it embraced that responsibility.    As such there was a real issue as to whether the Council had effectively delegated to the Club the opening and closing of the boom gate.  Mr Walsh referred to Mr Lay’s evidence.  [paras 91-98].

His Honour ultimately was not satisfied that in the circumstances and at his discretion a Bullock or Sanderson Order ought to be made against the Club.