ICBC Law

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Jury Notice Struck in Complex "Shaken Baby" Case

Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Victoria Registry, striking a Jury Notice in a complex “shaken baby” case.

In this week’s case (Sivertson (Guardian ad litem of) v. Dutrisac) the Plaintiff claimed damages “for a brain injury suffered on June 11, 2001 while in the care of the defendant Dutrisac who was the owner and operator of a licensed daycare… The plaintiffs allege that the defendant Dutrisac was negligent in her care of the infant plaintiff, resulting in his fall to the floor where he struck his head and suffered a brain injury.  They claim that following the initial injury, Dutrisac further exacerbated that injury when she allegedly shook or jostled the infant so as to have him remain conscious.  The plaintiffs’ claim against the CHR is that it was negligent in its ongoing inspections of the daycare facility and in continuing to license that facility notwithstanding a number of complaints made by various parents over the weeks and months preceding the infant plaintiff’s injury.”

The Defendants brought an application pursuant to Rule 12-6(5) to strike the Plaintiff’s Jury Notice.  Madam Justice Boyd agreed that the case was not appropriate for a Jury to preside over and granted the application.  In doing so the Court provided the following reasons:

[16] Having considered the submissions of counsel and having reviewed the many expert reports which have been filed, I find that there are a plethora of elements in this case which raise issues of both complexity and intricacy.  The trial will be long.  It will involve two sets of defendants, each involving different standards of care.  The CHR defendants’ duty of care will be particularly complex to determine, given the statutory scheme and whether or not that scheme negates any private duty of care.

[17] However most complex of all will be the issues concerning the causation of the infant plaintiff’s brain injury, whether there was any pre-existing brain injury, and what damages may be attributed to the pre-existing brain injury, if any.  The determination of these issues will require that the jury consider and weigh the conflicting and highly complex evidence of a number of different medical experts from a number of different specialties.

[18] At the heart of this debate will be the central theme of the “shaken baby syndrome”, since, even on the basis of the plaintiffs’ expert’s amended opinion, the acceleration/deceleration theory of injury is advanced regarding the jostling of the child, following the initial fall.  As Mr. Lindsay has pointed out, the Shaken Baby Syndrome or the acceleration/deceleration mechanism of injury remains one of the most highly debated areas in the field of forensic pathology.  The debate continues to rage in the medical and scientific community concerning these types of injuries in infant children.  In this regard, I take particular note of the comments of Chief Judge Crabtree of the British Columbia Provincial Court in British Columbia (Director of Child, Family and Community Service v. Z.B., 2011 BCPC 0072.

[19] I must note that while I have treated this application to strike the jury notice as a joint defence application, in fact, in my companion ruling I have already dismissed the action against the CHR.  In my view this does not result in any different ruling regarding the striking of the jury notice.

[20] On a consideration of all of these issues, but most particularly the medical and scientific evidence to be weighed, I find it is completely unrealistic to believe that even a well instructed, intelligent jury would be able to cope with the determination of all the issues here.  Thus I exercise my discretion under the rule and order that the jury notice be struck in this case.

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