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Allegations of Personal Liability of Employees

The Court of Appeal’s decision in Burns v. RBC Life Insurance Company, 2020 ONCA 347, dealt with a motion decision to strike a statement of claim against two employees of the defendant insurer for disclosing no reasonable cause of action.

The plaintiff sued RBC Life in a disability benefits claim. She also sued two RBC Life employees who were involved in terminating her benefits.

The Court of Appeal agreed with the motion judge that, where an employee is sued for his or her acts, the material facts giving rise to personal liability must be specifically pleaded.

The Court of Appeal stated that each defendant named in a statement of claim should be able to look at the pleading and find an answer to a simple question:  what do you say I did that has caused you, the plaintiff, harm, and when did I do it?

The statement of claim in issue did not specify what the RBC Life employees did individually that constitutes actionable wrongs against the plaintiff and when they did it. Instead, the statement of claim lumped the defendants together.

Since the statement of claim failed to plead specific acts of bad faith by the employees, the Court of Appeal held that the motion judge did not err in concluding that the plaintiff has not pleaded a claim against the individual employees that complied with the jurisprudence governing personal liability in tort for the acts of an employee done in the course of employment.

However, the Court of Appeal stated that the motion judge erred in dismissing the action against the employees, without granting the plaintiff leave to amend the statement of claim to cure the deficiencies. Leave to amend should only be denied in the clearest of cases.

As a result, the Court of Appeal granted the plaintiff leave to amend the statement of claim.

The Court of Appeal stated that it is premature to resolve the dispute between the parties as to whether alleged bad faith conduct by the employees of an insurance company constitutes a distinct actionable legal wrong that can be pleaded against the employees in their personal capacities.