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Firm History

The firm was founded in 1974 by one of Toronto's leading insurance litigators, John J. Fitzpatrick Q.C., and his junior associate, Harvey Poss. Known as Fitzpatrick & Poss, this four-lawyer firm quickly developed a reputation for quality and effectiveness in the representation of insurers, particularly in larger, more complex cases. In 1977, Jamieson Halfnight joined the firm upon his call to the bar and has remained with the firm throughout his career. The team evolved further in 1981 when Sheila McKinlay became a junior associate upon her call to the bar.

   

Almost completely devoted to insurance practice, the firm's lawyers handled the then-typical full range of insurance cases including motor vehicle personal injury, professional malpractice, commercial liability, all types of property coverages, fidelity and surety and accident and health. Involvement in such prominent cases as Buda v. Pacific Ins Co. (successful arson defence), Fenn v. Peterborough (negligence and contribution, in the Supreme Court of Canada), Kolesar v. Jos. Brant Hospital (medical malpractice) and CIBC v. Canada Life (S.C.C., bills of exchange, fidelity) cemented the firm's credentials as a leading defence firm, despite its youth.


The 1980's - A Period of Change

In 1982, after John Fitzpatrick's appointment as a judge of the elite Ontario High Court of Justice, the firm reconstituted itself when Harvey Poss and Jamieson Halfnight became partners and formed Poss & Halfnight. Continuing the same practice of advising and representing many of Canada's largest insurers, the firm grew slowly by hiring and merger; of significance was a 1986 merger with a firm headed up by the late Charles F. McKeon Q.C., a well-known and respected Toronto insurance counsel. Upon Charles McKeon's retirement in 1990, Harvey Poss (by now a Q.C.) resumed his role as senior partner and firm mentor, a role which continued until his retirement in 2008.


Starting in the mid-1980's and under Jamieson Halfnight’s guidance, the firm began to adopt technological tools to gain the benefits of modern, efficient firm organization and litigation support, including early institution of networked financial and database software to assist in firm and file management. This started a tradition of technological innovation in the small-firm context.


Typical of the leading cases handled by the firm in this era were Chatham Motors v. Hartford (insurance case procedure), All Nations Trading v. Lumbermens (successful arson defence at trial and appeal), Pelky v. Royal Ins. (liability defence issues, including bad faith and liability of defence counsel), and Keller v. Hartford, Reed Stenhouse (insurer’s responsibility for broker’s role).


The 1990's - A Platform for Future Growth

The ‘90's opened with a period of chaos in the insurance field due to the Ontario government’s legislative changes to motor vehicle insurance. Fortunately, Poss & Halfnight had, a few years earlier, started a shift in the firm’s practice away from personal injury work and towards an even heavier emphasis on commercial insurance work - primarily in the CGL, property and fidelity fields. This shift, which continued through the 1990's, had the effect of insulating the firm from the unsettling effects that washed over much of the insurance bar in these years.


The ‘90's also saw increasing awareness of the significance of insurance fraud and the need for active measures to combat it. This lead to the growth of the firm’s role as specialized advisor to a number of companies on fraud issues, including those of particular significance to the claims investigators that insurers have turned to for the handling of these problems. Arson advice and defences, litigating cases involving fraudulent property claims and providing legal guidance during sensitive investigations all became a central feature of our practice.


Always strong in CGL and commercial property insurance litigation, the firm’s fidelity insurance practice grew to an equal status, as Poss & Halfnight developed the reputation as leading counsel in this highly specialized and complex area.


The firm’s focus and range through these years was best demonstrated by its involvement in such prominent insurance cases as Kingscourt v. General Accident (early and successful bad faith defence), Madison v. Plan Electric (the leading case on builders’ risk coverage), Canadian Newspapers v. Kansa (issues of conduct in defence of a claim under liability coverage), Guarantee Company v. Gordon Capital ( the most important modern Canadian fidelity and insurance contract case), Stelco v. Royal (leading case on property vs. boiler and machinery insurance) and Alie v. Bertrand (the most significant CGL coverage litigation in recent years).


The 2000’s – Specialized Focus

The Poss & Halfnight practice continued to grow and succeed, based principally on the firm’s commercial-lines practice. After a brief period as part of a large international law firm and then reorganization as a professional corporation, we re-established our independent, Canadian practice, with a renewed commitment to specialized insurance work. As Halfnight & McKinlay Professional Corporation, Jamieson Halfnight and Sheila McKinlay have continued developing the practice with increased emphasis on specialized insurance lines. The advent of the active Ponzi-scheme era further spurred our fidelity insurance practice, to the point where it has become the largest single component of the firm’s caseload. Our credit union practice strengthened in the fidelity, D&O and E&O fields, including litigating the most significant series of cases in Canada against the deposit insurer. Broader activity in the CGL, D&O and professional liability fields has also increased.


Our long-time senior partner and counsel, Harvey Poss, retired in 2008, to plaudits and a fond farewell from his partners, friends and colleagues across the Canadian insurance industry and the Ontario bar. Harvey’s wise guidance, strong legal talents and consistent professionalism have been and will be missed by all of us.


In this era, the firm has handled a series of high-level cases, consistent with its preeminent practice in the commercial and general insurance area: Torchia v. Royal (successful arson defence); Alavie v. Chubb (successful property insurance fraud defence); WCB v. Lettroy (fidelity subrogation recovery action); Royal Bank v. Société Générale (largest fidelity coverage case litigated in Canada); Radvar v. AG (Canada) (successful bad-faith defence); PCL v. Lumbermens and PCL v. Encon (successful duty-to-defend CGL cases); Iroquois Falls v. Co-operators (successful appeal and most significant fidelity coverage case); Liquidator Portuguese Credit Union v. CUMIS and Liquidator Ajax Autoworkers Credit Union v. CUMIS (significant and successful fidelity coverage and procedural disputes).


The Present and Future

In recent years, cutting-edge issues such as financial institution exposures, liability of insurers for punitive damages based on bad faith, trigger of CGL coverage and the scope of a liability insurer’s duty to defend have moved to the fore in the insurance industry and in the Halfnight & McKinlay practice, continuing the firm’s tradition of excelling at handling the issues of prime concern to its clients.


The firm’s position as a leading commercial insurance defence firm has been recognized annually through the selection of its senior partners for prestigous professional listings, such as the Lexpert roster of the Leading 500 Lawyers in Canada, (amongst a total of only 25 lawyers in the commercial insurance category) and The International Who’s Who of Insurance & Reinsurance Lawyers.


We are proud of our past tradition of integrity, quality work, cost effectiveness, legal innovation and a highly professional - but still approachable - manner of dealing. These are the foundation of our reputation and qualities that we are committed to maintaining in the years ahead.







   

 

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