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Quinn v. Carrigan: “No litigation outcome is inevitable”

by Rob Levesque, Published: November 15, 2014

It can be comforting to think of the law as an objective system that produces consistent, predictable results.  However, judges aren’t computers, and different judges can interpret the same facts and the same law in different ways, producing totally different outcomes.

It can be particularly difficult to predict the outcome of a dependant support application brought under Part V of the Succession Law Reform Act.  Determining what constitutes “adequate support” of a dependant spouse or child is not an exact science, and raises questions that don’t have easy answers.  How do you place a value on a spouse’s relationship with the deceased?   How can you treat the deceased’s dependants and other family members equitably, having regard to their legal and moral claims against the estate?  While judges have developed various rules and principles that apply to dependant support claims, the fact remains that different judges will reach different conclusions based on the same facts and law.

The recent case of Quinn v. Carrigan 2014 ONSC 5682 is a perfect example of this phenomenon.

The late Mr. Carrigan left assets with a total value of approximately $2.4 million to his wife and two children, and nothing to his common law spouse of eight years, Ms. Quinn.  Not surprisingly, Ms. Quinn retained a lawyer and made a claim against Mr. Carrigan’s estate for dependant support.  Ms. Quinn’s claim went to trial, and the Court concluded that she was entitled to receive the deceased’s pension death benefit, worth about $1.4 million.

The deceased’s wife appealed the Court’s judgment to the Court of Appeal.  The Court of Appeal found that the trial judge had erred in concluding that Ms. Quinn was entitled to the death benefit, and accordingly ordered a second trial of her dependant support claim.  At the end of the second trial, the Court concluded that Ms. Quinn was entitled to a lump sum payment of $350,000.00.

Ms. Quinn appealed the second judgment to the Divisional Court.  The Divisional Court held that the judge in the second trial had erred in calculating Ms. Quinn’s spousal support payment.  However, rather than ordering a third trial, the Divisional Court conducted its own analysis of the dependant support claim, ultimately concluding that Ms. Quinn was entitled to a lump sum payment of $750,000.00.

In the end, Ms. Quinn had three separate hearings to determine her entitlement to a share of the deceased’s estate, and got three very different results.  The lesson for potential litigants is clear.  As expressed by Justice Corbett, who delivered the reasons of the Divisional Court in this case:  “no litigation outcome is inevitable”.