Law of Spoliation of Evidence Discussed by BC Court of Appeal
Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Court of Appeal discussing the consequences that can flow when evidence is destroyed in the context of an ICBC Claim.
In this week’s case (Chow-Hidasi v. Hidasi) the Plaintiff was injured when involved in a single vehicle collision. ¬†The claim was dismissed at trial with the Court finding there was no negligence on the part of the driver and instead a mechanical failure may have contributed to the collision. ¬†The Plaintiff argued that the vehicle was¬†prematurely¬†destroyed and an adverse inference should be drawn that no mechanical failure took place. ¬†The BC Court Appeal upheld the trial result and in doing so provided the following summary of the law relating to spoliation of evidence:
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Finally, I turn to the plaintiff‚Äôs argument that ICBC‚Äôs (apparent) destruction of the Jeep ‚Äúeffectively destroyed‚ÄĚ her ability to challenge the theory of mechanical failure, and that the court below should therefore have inferred that an examination of the vehicle would have shown no mechanical failure. The plaintiff makes this argument on the basis of the Court‚Äôs inherent jurisdiction to ensure the fairness of the trial process. She also says the trial judge erred in failing to recognize that ICBC, rather than the plaintiff personally, was the ‚Äúreal party in interest‚ÄĚ, such that the vehicle was destroyed by a person who was¬†in effect¬†the defendant in this litigation.
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†I have considerable sympathy for the plaintiff‚Äôs position, but in my view the presumption she seeks may not be drawn in the circumstances of this case. First, the evidence as to the conditions under which the Jeep was destroyed is negligible: there is only the defendant‚Äôs hearsay evidence that he was told that it had been destroyed. Most importantly, there is no evidence as to whether ICBC was aware the plaintiff would be making a claim or if she made any effort to advise them or have the vehicle examined before it was destroyed. (It was Mr.¬†Hidasi who requested that the vehicle not be destroyed.)
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†On the present state of the law, it is clear that spoliation requires¬†intentional¬†conduct: see¬†St.¬†Louis v. Canada¬†(1896), 25 S.C.R. 649;¬†McDougall v. Black &¬†Decker Canada Inc., 2008 ABCA 353 at para.¬†29;¬†Endean v. Canadian Red Cross Society¬†(1998) 157 D.L.R. (4th) 465 (B.C.C.A.);¬†Dawes v. Jajcaj, 1999 BCCA 237 at para.¬†68; and the discussion in¬†Holland v. Marshall, 2008 BCCA 468 at paras.¬†70-2. (I understand ‚Äėintentional‚Äô to mean ‚Äėwith the knowledge that the evidence would be required for litigation purposes‚Äô.)¬† As stated in¬†McDougall v. Black & Decker, ‚ÄúWhen the destruction is not intentional, it is not possible to draw the inference that the evidence would tell against the person who has destroyed it.‚ÄĚ¬† (Para.¬†24).
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†The Court observed in¬†McDougall¬†that where evidence has been destroyed unintentionally, a court of law may fashion a civil remedy to assist in ensuring the fairness of a trial. A costs award may be made, or evidence may be excluded. We were not referred to any case binding on us, however, that would indicate that such remedies would include the drawing of an adverse inference such as that sought in this case by Ms.¬†Chow-Hidasi. (See¬†McDougall, para.¬†25, British Columbia Law Institute,¬†Report on Spoliation of Evidence¬†(2004), at 10-20.)
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†In my view, neither the state of the law nor the evidence as presented in this case could support the drawing of an adverse inference that an examination would have shown no mechanical failure in the brakes or steering wheel of the Jeep. Like all litigants, the plaintiff was required to prove her case on the evidence available to her at the time of trial. I would therefore dismiss this ground of appeal.