BC Injury Law and ICBC Claims Blog

Miscarriage Reference Results in Jury Discharge

Adding to this site’s archives of judicial commentary on the boundaries of opening statements, reasons for judgement were released earlier this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, finding that comments addressing the Plaintiff by his first name and further discussing his wife’s miscarriage crossed the line.

In the recent case (Demello v. Chaput) the  Plaintiff was involved in a series of collisions.  During his opening statement he was referred to by his first name and further a miscarriage his wife had was referenced with the following statement being made:

His wife is pregnant during this period of time. She’d like a little bit more support. He’s not able to give that to her. In July, Michael was supposed to do a number of things in anticipation of having some friends over, July of 2012, and at that point his wife was pregnant with her third child. He didn’t get around to doing it. Out of frustration, she did it herself. She did all the work he was supposed to do that day in addition to getting the house ready for a party that they were having. They were having some friends over. She started bleeding and two weeks later she has a miscarriage. Now, whether or not or what caused the miscarriage is not the point here. The point is that she blamed Michael for that, so you can see that’s an obvious point of tension.

Madam Justice Maisonville found these comments crossed the line and discharged the jury.  In doing so the Court provided the following reasons:

[30] I find that in the circumstances of the comments as they were made yesterday, it would be impossible to dispel the chain of reasoning that the accident ultimately led to the miscarriage. To make a further comment would underscore that, and, as noted in the above cases, it would be impossible to effect a correction without drawing attention to the problem and refer to what is not going to be led in evidence.

[31] I do not find that this is the same as the circumstances in the cases Zhong v. Ao and Holman v. Martin, which were not jury trials. I do not find that the remarks are appropriate for an opening, and rather that they are inappropriate and inflammatory and appear designed to have evoked sympathy, and that it would be impossible to craft an instruction to the jury that would be able to dispel that possible sympathy to the jury. As noted, as well, that there were similar objections to references to the position of the defendant respecting liability which cause concern.

[32] The remarks in relation to the miscarriage were sufficient to cause this court grave concerns such that I am going to direct that the jury be discharged. While I find that those remarks are questionable, I am not going to comment on them in these reasons as it is not necessary for me to do so. I do note that the reference to the plaintiff by his first name is considered inappropriate and has been considered so by both the Ontario courts and by the Court of Appeal.

[33] In all of the circumstances, I order that the jury in this matter be discharged.

[34] I note that, pursuant to the provisions of Rule 12, that counsel for the defendant submits that the matter can proceed judge alone. In the circumstances, I am going to order that the matter carry on as a judge alone trial.

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