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BC Injury Claims, Expert Evidence and The Duty to the Court

One of the Rules regarding the conduct of expert witnesses in the BC Supreme Court is that they owe a duty to the court to be ‘independent’ and ‘unbiased’ in their opinions.  If experts fail to discharge this duty their evidence can be given little weight or even held inadmissible.

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court demonstrating this principle of law.

In today’s case (Rizzolo v. Brett) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2005 motorcycle accident when a left turning driver proceeded in front of the Plaintiff in an intersection in Maple Ridge, BC.  The defendant was found fully liable for this collision (the case contains a good discussion of the duties of left turning motorists and is worth reviewing for anyone interested in this area of the law).

The Plaintiff suffered significant fractures of his tibia and fibula which required surgical intervention.  Damages of over $560,000 were awarded including $125,000 for non-pecuniary damages (pain and suffering) for the injuries which were summarized by Madam Justice Allan as follows:

[41] Mr. Rizzolo`s altered position, arising from the Accident caused by the defendant’s negligence, is characterized by continuing pain, changed mood, loss of ability to work effectively and happily, and a much-reduced capacity to engage in recreational sports.  He must take pain killers and anti-inflammatories although they upset his stomach, requiring him to take additional medication.

[42] At present, Mr. Rizzolo experiences constant pain in his left ankle, which is exacerbated by his work activities.  His left foot swells and he experiences occasional pain in his left knee.  He limps when he is tired or in severe pain.  He takes the following medication: Advil once or twice a week for pain management; Celebrex, an anti-inflammatory, daily; and amitriptylene, an antidepressant, twice a week to help him sleep.  He receives periodic cortisone injections from Dr. Dhawan.

[43] Mr. Rizzolo’s injuries are permanent and they affect his entire life – his job, his recreational and family life, and his sense of well-being.  I do not find that he exaggerated his symptoms and he is highly motivated to be as active as possible.

In advancing his claim the Plaintiff called evidence of an expert witness, an occupational therapist, who had conducted a functional capacity evaluation of the Plaintiff to assist the court in determining a fair award for cost of future care.  The expert employed a ‘unique motion capture system known as the Functional Assessment of Biomechanics System [FAB] to measure biomechanical forces.’  In cross examination evidence came out that this expert was ‘an inventor of FAB‘.  Having this fact revealed in cross examination (as opposed to being revealed up front) appaears to have caused the presiding judge to reject all the evidence of this expert.

In rejecting the evidence of this occupational therapist Madam Justice Allan summarized and applied the law of objectivity of expert witnesses as follows:

[104] In R. v. Mohan, [1994] 2 S.C.R. 9, the Court reiterated that expert witnesses have duties and responsibilities.  In particular, an expert witness is expected to provide an independent, unbiased opinion that is adequately researched and falls within his or her ambit of experience.

[105] I consider Mr. McNeil’s failure to disclose the fact that he is the principal of Biosyn and that he was an inventor of FAB to represent a shocking lack of candour.  As he has testified in the courts on numerous occasions, he is well aware that the duty of an expert is to assist the court with an independent and objective opinion on a particular issue.  To withhold such relevant information misleads the court and, as I have no choice but to reject all of his written and verbal evidence, constitutes a substantial waste of time.   It is impossible to parse out Mr. McNeil’s evidence as a qualified expert from that as an undisclosed salesman for Biosyn.

[106] I do not fault counsel for the plaintiff as I accept Mr. Kazimirski’s statement that he was unaware of Mr. McNeil’s association with Biosyn before Mr. Joudrey’s cross-examination.  While the plaintiff will be entitled to his costs in the result, he may not claim any costs relating to Mr. McNeil’s reports or attendance in court.  Counsel may address the issue of whether the defence is entitled to costs for two days of trial.

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