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Court Rejects “Particularly Problematic” ICBC Expert Witness

Adding to this site’s archived case summaries addressing advocacy by expert witnesses, reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, soundly criticizing an expert witness for a lack of objectivity.

In today’s case (La Porte v. Earl) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2010 collision that the Defendant admitted fault for.   She suffered physical and psychiatrist injuries as a result of the crash.  In the course of the crash the Defendant’s insurer sent her to a psychiatrist who marginalized any psychiatric injuries she had and their connection to the collision.

In rejecting this opinion Mr. Justice Sewell provided the following reasons:

[74]         After careful consideration I have concluded that I can give no weight to Dr. Levin’s report. There are a number of reasons why I have reached this conclusion. I begin by saying that I found that Dr. Levin’s report lacked objectivity. It seemed to me that Dr. Levin was marshalling evidence in favour of his conclusion, rather than attempting to communicate constructively with Ms. La Porte to determine her actual mental state.

[75]         Dr. Levin developed a number of themes that he repeated throughout his report. One such theme was to emphasize how resilient Ms. La Porte had been before the Accident, and to extrapolate that resilience into her reaction to the pain and anxiety that she experienced after the Accident.

[76]         At the outset of his opinion, Dr. Levin referred to Ms. La Porte’s pre-accident condition and began by emphasizing that Ms. La Porte did not present with any biological or psychological vulnerabilities that would have predisposed her to the development of any psychiatric illness.

[77]         In his report, Dr. Levin does not address the important question of the interrelationship of pain and anxiety. In fact, Dr. Levin mentioned Ms. La Porte’s reported pain only in passing. In addition, Dr. Levin does not appear to have elicited any details about what actually occurred on Ms. La Porte’s last day of work. The impression he portrays is that Ms. La Porte was managing her job without any difficulty up to the time she stopped working, and stopped working only in anticipation of having an increased workload in the fall of the year. The portion of his report dealing with this question at page 5 states as follows:

Ms. La Porte indicated that she went on a medical leave in anticipation (not yet experienced) of having an increased workload in the fall of this year that could affect her physical problems. Ms. La Porte stated that she would be upset when her dispatcher would give her a passenger with a heavy wheelchair or walker. Ms. La Porte, however, did not report an actual worsening of her reported pain or physical problems that could cause her any emotional suffering. In fact, while off work Ms. La Porte reportedly improved and was able to relax at home, at times baby-sitting her grandchildren. While discussing her current activities of daily living Ms. La Porte did not report any ongoing psychological or emotional disturbances of clinical significance that would affect her ability to return to her previous workplace or any other employment for which she is suited by her education and experience. When asked about her mood while baby-sitting for her grandchildren she said, “It’s good but I get tired faster…”. [Underline emphasis added.]

[78]         The foregoing summary is at marked variance to Ms. La Porte’s evidence in court that she struggled with the heavier physical demands of her job and the physical exertions of her job significantly worsened her pain. In addition, given Ms. La Porte’s evidence in court, which I have accepted, about the circumstances of her last day of work, I can only conclude that Dr. Levin did not inquire about those circumstances.

[79]         There were two portions of Dr. Levin’s evidence that I found particularly problematic. The first relates to this sentence at page 5 of the report: “Ms. La Porte indicated that she went on a medical leave in anticipation (not yet experienced) of having an increased workload in the fall of this year that could affect her physical problems.” When Dr. Levin was asked in cross-examination whether he had italicized the word “could” in this portion of his report to emphasize that there was no actual effect on Ms. La Porte’s physical problems, he denied that intent and stated that the italics were a clerical error. I find this answer to be lacking in credibility. In the context of the rest of that portion of his report, it is obvious that Dr. Levin was emphasizing that Ms. La Porte had not yet experienced any difficulty in coping with her work at the time she stopped working.

[80]         In addition, Dr. Levin implies in this passage that Ms. La Porte had not reported any effect that her job had on her physical problems. It is unclear whether he is suggesting she denied any negative effects or whether he based this statement on Ms. La Porte not volunteering any such information. If she told him that her job had no negative effects on her physical problems, it would have been contrary to what she told the other doctors who examined and treated her, as well as to her evidence before me, which I have accepted as credible. I therefore think it is highly unlikely that she denied any negative effects. I note that Dr. Levin did not indicate that he asked any questions about this subject in his interview of Ms. La Porte.

[81]         The second troubling evidence from Dr. Levin is found in his second report dated June 9, 2014. In that report Dr. Levin comments on the reports of the other physicians that have been put in evidence. At page 5, Dr. Levin begins his comments on Dr. Oluyede’s consultation report of November 15, 2012, which he describes as a “clinical record”. He purports to paraphrase a part of Dr. Oluyede’s report commenting on Ms. La Porte’s mood as follows at page 5:

The clinical records dated November 15, 2012, state, “[…] she describes being in a state of shock…three days later, she noticed an increasing pain…following this, she has had subsequent issues with pain…presently, she is going through legal proceedings to get some compensation…”

[82]         Dr. Levin goes on to comment on this passage from Dr. Oluyede’s report, concluding with the following sentence at page 6:

It seems one of the major issues identified in Ms. La Porte’s case is reportedly, “Legal proceedings to get some compensation as she was the injured party…” However, Dr. Oluyede does not discuss any specific psychiatric or psychological injury sustained in the subject MVA that would require any compensation.

[83]         What Dr. Oluyede actually said in her consultation report at page 1 is as follows:

Three days later she noticed an increasing pain in her right leg and her right arm. She described the pain as spasmodic. On the day of the accident she was seen in emergency and had been medically cleared.

Following this she has had subsequent issues with pain and has seen a chiropractor for a while. Both car insurance companies have been involved and her car has been fixed. She took four days off of work at that time.

Presently she is going through legal proceedings to get some compensation as she was the injured party and has been incapacitated since the accident.

She describes not feeling good most of the time, feeling easily stressed out and overwhelmed. She has had to cut down her hours of work from forty hours previously per week to thirty-five hours.

She has noticed a continuous decline in both her physical and mental health. With regards to her mental health she describes easy fatigability, worry and anxiety about her future and with regards to finances. She describes feeling drained most of the time and has noticed that on certain occasions she does have what she describes as overwhelming anxiety.

[84]         In my view, Dr. Levin did not accurately or fairly paraphrase Dr. Oluyede’s consultation report. Even more problematically, when Dr. Levin was cross-examined on the above passage from his report, he again said this was either a typographical error or he misspoke himself in his dictation and meant to say “assistance” not compensation. Again, given the context of the passage, in which Dr. Levin seems to be at pains to show that Ms. La Porte is seeking compensation, I cannot accept this explanation from him.

[85]         In addition, I found Dr. Levin to be argumentative and somewhat non-responsive in the answers he gave in cross-examination. Finally, I am concerned that Dr. Levin had some animus towards Ms. La Porte. At the outset of his notes on his interview with Ms. La Porte he recorded that he felt she was being unreasonable and uncooperative with him. None of the other doctors who conducted independent medical examinations at the request of the defendants made any such comment.

[86]         I therefore give no weight to Dr. Levin’s opinion in this matter.

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