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Lawsuit Against Expert Witness Dismissed on Grounds of Witness Immunity

In British Columbia expert witnesses in litigation are granted a broad immunity in cases where they are alleged to be negligent or otherwise provide less than adequate services when testifying.  Reasons for judgement were published today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, applying this principle in dismissing a lawsuit against an expert witness.

In today’s case (Owimar v. Warnett) the Plaintiff was involved in several collisions and sued for damages.  In the course of the lawsuits the Defendants retained a physician who “examined the plaintiff three times, provided five medical reports from 2003 to 2013 and testified in court“.

The Plaintiff sued the Doctor and the defence counsel that retained him alleging “various kinds of fraud and negligence in their respective capacities as defence counsel and expert witness and claims that they substituted his lumbar spine x-ray taken in November 1996 with an x-ray that would disprove his claims of being injured in the MVAs.“.

The lawsuits were dismissed for various grounds with the Court noting that “the allegations advanced by the plaintiff are nothing more than wild speculation.“.  Additionally, one of the reasons dismissing the claim against the expert witness was the principle of witness immunity.  In triggering and applying this doctrine Madam Justice Murray provided the following comments:

[34]         With regard to Dr. McGraw I am satisfied that the doctrine of witness immunity applies. Under that doctrine witnesses are immune from civil liability. In addition as for expert witnesses the doctrine applies to anything they say in court as well as pre-trial activities including assessments and reports: P.(J.) v. Eirikson, 2015 BCSC 847 at paras. 21 and 25.

[35]         Our Court of Appeal recently confirmed that a professional witness who gives evidence in court is protected from civil action in 311165 BC Ltd v. Canada (A.G.), 2017 BCCA 196:

[50] It must be kept in mind that the immunities from suit that prevent claims based on evidence given in court and on bringing litigation are broad in order to protect the justice system. Witnesses should not be dissuaded from giving evidence or fettered in what they tell a court by the fear that an aggrieved person will sue them. Prosecutorial decisions must be allowed to be made in an atmosphere that is free from the chilling effects of potential civil liability. Access to the courts must not be impeded by leaving litigants in fear of being open to lawsuits brought in retaliation.

[36]         As a result of the witness immunity defence I am satisfied that the plaintiff’s allegations against Dr. McGraw will fail. Accordingly there is no genuine issue to be tried and the claim must be dismissed under Rule 9-6(5)(a).

[37]         In conclusion, having considered all of the evidence and all of the submissions I am satisfied that the action against the defendants must be dismissed as it offends Rule 9-5(1). In the alternative I am satisfied for the reasons above that the action against the defendants must be dismissed under Rule 9-6.

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