Not all disputes deserve to end up in court and a recent property dispute ended up in front of Mr. Justice Wetherill at the Supreme Court of British Columbia. The case of Greenwood v. Hoffer, 2017 BCSC 884, is a cautionary tale about a bitter property dispute in which neither side was victorious considering the significant legal fees incurred.
This particular property dispute begins in 2010, when the Greeenwood family purchased a lot in Maple Ridge which bordered the Hoffer family. All was not as well as it seemed, and Ms. Hoffer learned that the Greenwood’s fence encroached onto their property. Subsequently, the Greenwood’s discovered that that a small 4 square meter portion of the Hoffer’s driveway was in fact encroaching on their lot due to an error by the original developer. The Hoffer’s insisted the fence be moved and the Greenwoods sought to exchange the encroachment of the fence for the encroachment of the driveway. No agreement was reached and the Greenwoods persisted in trying to have the offending 4 square meter of driveway removed. The Greenwoods claimed that the Hoffer’s continued use of the offending driveway portion amounted to trespass. The Hoffers sought, by way of summary trial in front of Mr. Justice Weatherill, an order declaring that they were not guilty of trespassing and a dismissal of the Greenwood’s claim.
Mr. Justice Weatherill, found that the Hoffers did use the offending portion of the driveway when accessing their own driveway and did so knowing full well that that particular area of driveway was not theirs and that doing so would antagonize the Greenwoods. He also held that those actions, while technically trespass, were trivial in the extreme, that no loss or damage in respect of that continuous trespass has been either pleaded or proven.
However, Mr. Justice Wetherill did find it appropriate to award, “nominal damages”, which is a technical term for compensation where there has not been any real damage, but an infraction of a legal right. He awarded the Greenwoods nominal damages of $1.
Even though the Greenwoods were technically successful in their claim, they had refused an offer to settle for $3,000, and Mr. Justice Wetherill ordered the Greenwood’s to pay the Hoffer’s cost from the date the offer was served.