ICBC Law

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Defence Expert Witness Found Biased After Presenting “a Distorted Recording of his Interview” With Plaintiff

Adding to this site’s archived cases criticizing expert witnesses for advocacy, reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, criticizing the evidence of a defense hired psychiatrist.

In today’s case (Yang v. Engen) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2011 intersection collision.  Fault was admitted by the Defendant.

The Plaintiff suffered moderate soft tissue injuries but her recovery was complicated by “ever-increasing emotional difficulties and mood disorders“.

The Defendant retained a psychiatrist who minimized the connection between the collision and these psychological difficulties.  In finding the expert witness crossed the line into advocacy Mr. Justice Davies provided the following comments:

[53]         After hearing those submissions and reviewing Dr. Levin’s original and rebuttal reports, I concluded that it was necessary to excise as inadmissible the following parts of his reports:

1)    The observation in the body of his opinion that:

It should be mentioned at the beginning of this summary that Ms. Yang’s diagnostic formulation should be viewed in the context of her interview in my office that revealed numerous discrepancies and inconsistencies between her subjectively-reported complaints of anxiety and her virtually-unimpaired social, occupational and interpersonal functioning. Ms. Yang initially omitted and under-reported her pre-existent history of psychological/emotional disturbances, attributing her current subjectively-presented complaints of “generalized” anxiety specifically and selectively to the subject MVA.

2)    The observation in Appendix C of his opinion that:

From a diagnostic perspective, however, the above-reviewed psychological clinical notes do not identify any specific PTSD symptomatology or reports of any type of generalized anxiety described by Ms. Yang during the interview in my office. It seems that Ms. Yang’s “generalized anxiety” disturbances had a somewhat rapid onset following her reported psychiatric consultation with Dr. Lu (organized by her lawyer).

[54]         I excised those paragraphs because:

1)    The excised observations in the body of his opinion not only crossed the line into an improper assessment of credibility but also constituted advocacy in the guise of expertise; and

2)    The excised observations in Appendix C demonstrated an unwarranted and unsubstantiated personal attack not only on the credibility of the plaintiff but also upon a well-qualified psychiatrist and upon plaintiff’s counsel.

[55]         I did not, however, rule that the totality of Dr. Levin’s reports should be determined to be inadmissible at that stage of the proceeding because I was satisfied that fairness to the impugned expert and to the defendant who had relied upon his evidence required that such a ruling should not be made without the benefit of hearing Dr. Levin’s evidence in chief and in cross-examination

[56]         I reached that conclusion also because of the complexities of the subject matter on which Dr. Levin was seeking to opine and in the context of the breadth of the attack by counsel for Ms. Yang upon not only his substantive opinion but also the methodology employed by Dr. Levin in rendering it.

[57]         After hearing his evidence at trial and having the opportunity to consider the totality of his evidence, including both written opinions and the entirety of his testimony at trial, I have concluded that Dr. Levin’s opinion presents a distorted recording of his interview with Ms. Yang by failing to identify with preciseness the questions which he asked of her and by his interspersed editorializing as to what answers he would have expected, all of which constituted his assessment of her lack of credibility which he then used as the basis for his diagnosis. That in turn resulted in a resort to advocacy on behalf of the defendant in relation to issues of causation and, in my view, demonstrated a personal investment in the litigation sufficient to constitute bias.

[58]         Those concerns were even more dramatically highlighted by a highly personalized, and, in my view, entirely unwarranted attack upon Dr. Lu’s opinion and professionalism in Dr. Levin’s rebuttal report delivered in response to Dr. Lu’s critique of Dr. Levin’s analysis.

[59]         In result, I have concluded that Dr. Levin’s opinions suffer so greatly from overstepping the proper bounds of opinion evidence into the assessment of credibility (a function for the trier of fact), advocacy and bias, that they are inadmissible.

[60]         I must also observe that even if I had concluded that some part or parts of his opinions could be determined to be admissible, I would in any event have been required to give such opinions little or no weight because of the many shortcomings to which I have adverted.

[61]         That conclusion is also mandated because while Dr. Levin improperly questioned the veracity of many of Ms. Yang’s responses to his questions and offered his versions of what responses he would have “expected,” counsel for the defendants did not confront Ms. Yang with the alleged “inconsistencies” and “discrepancies” relied upon by Dr. Levin in rendering his opinions.

[62]         What is left is simply an array of unfounded and untested allegations of dishonesty and exaggeration that do not accord with my own assessment of Ms. Yang as a witness.

[63]         Notwithstanding that English is Ms. Yang’s second language she is fluent in it and well able to express herself. She impressed me as a stoical, careful and honest witness who listened carefully to the questions asked of her and responded without exaggeration.

[64]         Although the anxiety she testified about now suffering related to seemingly common everyday life situations may seem wholly disproportionate to the circumstances she related in her evidence which manifest in those reactions, the totality of the evidence, including most importantly the psychological evidence of Dr. Lu to which I have referred in detail, convinces me that the anxiety she expresses is genuine.

[65]         In summary, I find that I can safely rely on the veracity of Ms. Yang’s testimony concerning the injuries she suffered in the collision, the progress of those injuries and the extent to which they have impacted her life both on a physical and emotional level.

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