ICBC Law

BC Injury Law and ICBC Claims Blog

Erik MagrakenThis Blog is authored by British Columbia ICBC injury claims lawyer Erik Magraken. Erik is a partner with the British Columbia personal injury law-firm MacIsaac & Company. He restricts his practice exclusively to plaintiff-only personal injury claims with a particular emphasis on ICBC injury claims involving orthopaedic injuries and complex soft tissue injuries. Please visit often for the latest developments in matters concerning BC personal injury claims and ICBC claims

Erik Magraken does not work for and is not affiliated in any way with the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC). Please note that this blog is for information only and is not claim-specific legal advice.  Erik can only provide legal advice to clients. Please click here to arrange a free consultation.

Posts Tagged ‘benchslap’

Defence Expert Opinion Rejected for "Compromised Objectivity"

May 24th, 2012

As previously discussed, the law in BC provides expert witnesses with immunity when they provide negligent opinions in the medico-legal context.  This gap in the law is unfortunate and has been done away with in the UK.  Unless BC follows suit, the only meaningful avenue in discouraging “advocate” expert evidence is judicial rebuke.

To this end I have been highlighting judicial criticism when it arises with respect to expert opinion evidence.  Adding to this collection are reasons for judgement released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, dismissing an expert’s opinion concluding it would be “unsafe for the Court to put any stock in his opinion“.

In this week’s case (Sooch v. Snell) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2006 collision in Kelowna, BC.   He sustained soft tissue injuries to his neck and shoulder and was awarded $45,000 for his non-pecuniary damages.  In the course of the lawsuit the Defendant had the Plaintiff examined by a retired orthopaedic surgeon.  This doctor testified at trial and provided an opinion that it was “unlikely that there was any direct injury to the cervical spine or shoulder at the time of the injury“.

After cross examination the Court was unimpressed with this experts opinion.  In rejecting this expert’s evidence Madam Justice Ballance provided the following criticism:

54] Dr. Christian retired from his practice as an orthopaedic surgeon in 2005.  Since then, he has focussed his practice on disability evaluation.

[55] Dr. Christian conducted an independent medical examination of Mr. Sooch on March 18, 2010.  He spent between 45 and 55 minutes assessing Mr. Sooch.  He did not keep detailed notes, preferring instead to occasionally jot down a point or two and then dictate his findings and opinion immediately after the examination…

[60] It is obvious on the face of Dr. Christian’s report that in reaching his conclusion on causation, he relied heavily on this misconception as to the timing of Mr. Sooch’s medical appointment on the day of the Accident.  Yet, after he became aware that Mr. Sooch had actually gone to the medical clinic some hours before the Accident had taken place, he denied placing any importance on his mistaken belief.  He insisted that it was not in his “consciousness”, and was of marginal importance, if any, and maintained that knowledge of the true state of affairs would not have changed his opinion one way or another.

[61] The unfolding of Dr. Christian’s cross-examination on that and related matters was uncomfortable to observe.  At times, his demeanour was combative and the entire exchange on the issue of causation called his impartiality into question.  Dr. Christian’s responses to other lines of questioning were also sometimes argumentative and displayed a compromised objectivity.

[62] I am not able to credit Dr. Christian’s assertion that his mistaken impression about the timing of Mr. Sooch’s appointment on the day of the Accident did not impact his opinion on causation.  It plainly did…

[73] Based on the criticisms I have already expressed about the lack of balance in Dr. Christian’s assessment of Mr. Sooch’s pre-Accident soft tissue complaints, and his refusal to concede that his opinion on causation was partially fastened to his misunderstanding about the timing of Mr. Sooch’s medical appointment on the day of the Accident and other troubling aspects of his testimony, I consider it unsafe for the Court to put any stock in his opinion…


$100,000 Non-Pecuniary Damage Assessment For Bilateral Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

April 18th, 2012

Reasons for judgement were released yesterday by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, assessing damages for bilateral thoracic outlet syndrome and other chronic soft tissue injuries.

In yesterday’s case (Olson v. Ironside) the Plaintiff was involved in a ‘signigicant collision’ in 2008.  ICBC admitted fault on behalf of the Defendant. The Court heard competing evidence with respect to the extent of the Plaintiff’s injuries and ultimately sided with the Plaintiff’s experts noting ICBC’s expert failed “to consider significant material facts“.

The 19 year old Plaintiff suffered multiple injuries, the most serious of which was bilateral thoracic outlet syndrome.  These were expected to cause a permanent partial disability limiting the Plaintiff for the balance of her working years.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $100,000 Mr. Justice Josephson provided the following reasons for judgement:

[60] The plaintiff has proved that, but for the accident, she would have continued her healthy, active and outgoing life style. I accept the plaintiff’s submission that the following injuries were caused by the accident:

1.       chronic soft tissue injuries with myofascial pain in her neck and upper back present on a daily basis;

2.       chronic soft tissue injuries with myofascial pain in her lower back present on an intermittent basis;

3.       chronic cervicogenic headaches present on a daily basis;

4.       exacerbation of her pre-existing migraines;

5.       post-traumatic thoracic outlet syndrome bilaterally;

6.       chronic sleep disruption;

7.       major depressive disorder, presently in remission;

8        post-traumatic stress disorder, presently in partial remission; and

9.       permanent right temporomandibular joint dysfunction.

[61] The accident had a dramatic effect on all aspects of this young plaintiff’s life because of the symptoms listed in the previous paragraph. She has learned to cope as best she can with those symptoms, but is unlikely to fully recover.

[62] Of the several case authorities cited by the plaintiff to assist the Court in determining non-pecuniary damages in the case at bar, the most helpful are Parfitt v. Mayes et al, 2006 BCSC 125; Houston v. Kine, 2010 BCSC 1289; Murphy v. Jagerhofer, 2009 BCSC 335;Prince-Wright v. Copeman, 2005 BCSC 1306; and Ashmore v. Banicevic, 2009 BCSC 211.  The non-pecuniary damages awards in these cases range from $80,000 to $120,000.

[63] After reviewing the authorities cited to me and considering the impact of the proven injuries on the plaintiff’s daily life, I award the plaintiff $100,000 for non-pecuniary damages, which I consider to be a mid-range award for the circumstances of this case.


ICBC Psychiatrist Criticized for Not Being "An Impartial Expert"

October 10th, 2011

In my continued efforts to archive judicial critisism of expert witnesses who cross the line into ‘advocacy’, reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Victoria Registry, finding a psychiatrist retained by ICBC failed to provided evidence with “the sufficient degree of objectivity“.

In this week’s case (Drodge v. Kozek) the Plaintiff was involved in 2006 collision.  He suffered chronic pain and cognitive dysfunction following the crash.   ICBC retained a psychiatrist who authored a report and provided opinion evidence to the court which, in contrast to the Plaintiff’s treating doctor, placed less emphasis on role of the collision with respect to the Plaintiff’s complaints.

The Court found that this psychiatrist was not sufficiently objective and placed ‘little weight‘ in his opinion.  Madam Justice Dardi provided the following criticism:

[49] Dr. Solomons is a qualified psychiatrist who at the request of ICBC examined Mr. Drodge on July 9, 2009, and prepared a report dated August 2, 2009. At trial I ordered that certain contents of his report be expurgated, on the basis that the statements were not properly admissible opinion evidence.

[50] Dr. Solomons opined that Mr. Drodge did not sustain any functional brain injury as a result of the accident; nor did he develop any psychiatric condition or disorder as a result of the accident. It is Dr. Solomans’ view that the pre-conditions for the diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder were not met in this case. Rather, in his opinion Mr. Drodge presented with non-specific stress symptoms that potentially related to a number of causes, including physical pain, unemployment, financial constraints, and boredom. Other than some stress associated with his financial difficulties, he opined that Mr. Drodge’s present psychological status is “essentially normal”. Insofar as a prognosis, Dr. Solomans opined that there are no cognitive or psychiatric concerns, and that Mr. Drodge has no psychiatric or neuro-cognitive impediments for any vocational activities.

[51] In cross-examination Dr. Solomans admitted that a person could suffer from cognitive symptoms as a consequence of severe headaches. He agreed that headaches of this nature could affect someone’s mood and their ability to work, and that the headaches could therefore be disabling.

[52] Although Dr. Solomons maintained that Mr. Drodge did not exhibit any cognitive difficulties during his interview, the evidence supports a finding to the contrary. In cross-examination he acknowledged that his notes from the interview indicate as follows:

Not had cognitive tests. Then he says did. Query name. Not remember when. About 18 months to two years ago. Not remember the feedback about the test results.

Not recall anything about it at all, not even why he was treated.

Moreover, Mr. Drodge had mistakenly told him he had sustained his back injury in 1986; his back injury occurred in 1996.

[53] In my view, Dr. Solomons was not an impartial expert providing a balanced discussion on Mr. Drodge’s condition. Overall, I found his evidence lacking the sufficient degree of objectivity to be of any real assistance. In the result I have accorded his opinion little weight.


Expert Report Excluded For "Advocacy" and Other Short-Comings

August 30th, 2011

Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Victoria Registry, excluding an expert report from evidence for multiple short-comings.  The Court’s criticism included the fact that the report failed to properly set out the expert’s qualifications, offended the ‘ultimate issue‘ rule, failed to list documents relied on in forming the expert’s opinion and lastly for being ‘advocacy‘ in the guise of opinion.

In this week’s case (Turpin v. Manufacturers Life Insurance Company) the Plaintiff purchased travel insurance with the Defendant.  While on a trip to California she fell ill and required medical treatment.  Her expenses quickly grew and exceeded $27,000.  The Defendant refused to pay relying on a pre-existing condition exclusion in the policy.  The Plaintiff sued and succeeded.

In the course of the trial the Defendant tried to introduced a report from a doctor of internal medicine to “provide an opinion as to whether (the Plaintiff’s) medical treatment between October 5, 2007 and October 9, 2007 was the result of a pre-existing condition as defined in the Travel Insurance Policy“.

Mr. Justice Wilson ruled that the report was inadmissible for multiple reasons.  The case is worth reviewing for the Court’s full discussion of the shortcomings of the report.  In my continued effort to highlight expert reports being rejected for ‘advocacy’ I reproduce Mr. Justice Wilson’s comments on the frowned upon practice of experts using bold font to highlight portions of their opinion:

[29] Finally, the plaintiffs object that the report is advocacy on behalf of the defendants.

[30] This objection is based, in part, upon the author’s use of bold font and italicized portions of the report.

[31] In Warkentin v. Riggs, this court was faced with an expert’s report which adopted “… a particular format”:

He uses bold font to highlight words and phrases which benefit the plaintiff’s claim and support his diagnosis. This is apparent in his review of Ms. Warkentin’s history and medical reports. That which is contrary to the plaintiff’s claim or does not support his diagnosis is either omitted or presented in non-bolded font. This emphasis in support of the plaintiff’s claim and the exclusion of contrary matters is advocacy.

I adopt those comments as applicable in this case.

[32] This use of emphasis is not a practise to be encouraged. In this case, it may have been introduced by counsel’s letter of instructions, which suggested that the author may “indicate the relative degree of importance of any particular fact or assumption”.

[33] If the author of the report regards a factor as a major premise leading to the conclusion, then it should be so stated. Not left to unexplained emphasis in the body of the report.

[34] It was for those foregoing reasons that I ruled the report inadmissible.


Defence Expert's Evidence Rejected in Fibromyalgia Trial Based on "Advocacy"

July 6th, 2011

As previously discussedexpert witnesses have a duty to be objective when giving their evidence and opinions in a BC Supreme Court trial.  Rule 11-2 specifically sets out that “In giving an opinion to the court, an expert appointed under this Part by one or more parties or by the court has a duty to assist the court and is not to be an advocate for any party.”

If experts fail to abide by this requirement they risk having their opinions rejected and further being criticized by the Court.  Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vernon Registry, highlighting such a result.

In last week’s case (Marchand v. Pederson) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2007 motor vehicle collision.  It was a rear-end collision and fault was admitted.  The trial focused on the value of the Plaintiff’s claim.

The Court heard competing expert witnesses with the Plaintiff’s physiatrist (Dr. Apel) providing evidence that the collision caused various injuries including fibromyalgia.

This opinion was contradicted by a physiatrist retained by the Defendant (Dr. Nowak) who provided an opinion that the collision played a lesser role in the Plaintiff’s symptoms.

Dr. Nowak’s opinion was largely rejected with the court placing little weight on it.  Non-pecuniary damages of $65,000 were awarded with the Court providing the following reasons in assessing damages and criticizing the defence expert:

[44] I find Dr. Nowak’s evidence to be problematic. He initially refuses to answer a question based on assumptions. It is clear that he is wrong in his reading of the intake report of Dr. Kinakin where he assumed that the pain was remaining constant. He is not accurate in the date of the last chiropractic treatment. I am of the view that Dr. Nowak is more of an advocate than an expert and I give very little weight to his evidence. I prefer the evidence of Dr. Apel when it comes to the diagnosis of fibromyalgia and the other conclusions reached by Dr. Apel. I am satisfied that the plaintiff may have improved somewhat from her last visit with Dr. Apel but I am satisfied that she continues to suffer a long term disability in respect to the fibromyalgia in the lower and upper back. I accept Ms. Phillips’ functional capacity evaluation and the limitations that the plaintiff has in respect to job opportunities because of her physical restrictions. I am also satisfied that the report of Dr. Wallace is fair and balanced and should be given a great deal of weight. I accept the plaintiff’s evidence that she stopped seeing her chiropractor, Dr. Kinakin, because she no longer had pain, but the chiropractor asked her to continue to see him because he was of the view that she had subluxation, which is poor posture so he was giving her treatment for that. She confirmed that she did not have any pain when she stopped seeing Dr. Kinakin. I accept her evidence….

[46] The function of non-pecuniary damages is to compensate the plaintiff for pain, suffering and loss of enjoyment of life and loss of amenities. Taking into account the relatively young age of the plaintiff (she is now 24 years old), the chronic nature of her injuries, the severity and duration of her pain, her disabilities, her emotional suffering and loss of her social and marital life, I am of the view that a proper award would be in the amount of $65,000.


Expert Witness Criticized by BC Supreme Court for "Advocacy"

December 3rd, 2010

Further to my previous posts on this topic, expert witnesses have a duty to be objective when giving their evidence and opinions in a BC Supreme Court trial.  Rule 11-2 specifically sets out that “In giving an opinion to the court, an expert appointed under this Part by one or more parties or by the court has a duty to assist the court and is not to be an advocate for any party.”

In addition to the above, the BC College of Physicians and Surgeons (the governing body for BC doctors) has provided the following feedback to its members:  “ Additionally, whether physicians are acting as experts in the capacity of treating physicians or independent medical experts, they still must provide balanced and objective reports.   The College does recommend that, when asked to provide an expert opinion, treating physicians discuss with their patients the physician’s duty to assist the court and not be an advocate for any party.”

If experts fail to give objective evidence their opinions can be excluded from trial and they open themselves to criticism from the trial judge.  Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court demonstrating this.

In today’s case (Warkentin v. Riggs) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2005 motor vehicle collision.  The Defendant admitted fault for the crash.  The Plaintiff sustained various injuries including an alleged post traumatic Fibromyalgia Syndrome.  In support of her case the Plaintiff filed several medical reports.  The Defendant objected to one of these being introduced on the basis that the expert ignored his duty to the Court and presented his evidence not as a neutral expert but rather as an ‘advocate‘.  Madam Justice Gropper agreed and excluded the expert’s evidence.  In doing so the Court provided the following harsh criticism:

[58] Dr. Hunt’s report adopts a particular format. He uses bold font to highlight words and phrases which benefit the plaintiff’s claim and support his diagnosis. This is apparent in his review of Ms. Warkentin’s history and medical reports. That which is contrary to the plaintiff’s claim or does not support his diagnosis is either omitted or presented in non-bolded font. This emphasis in support of the plaintiff’s claim and the exclusion of contrary matters is advocacy…

[81]        I find that Dr. Hunt is not a neutral and impartial expert providing assistance to the court, but rather an advocate on behalf of the plaintiff. The report is argument, not opinion. He did not provide a balanced discussion of fibromyalgia and its possible application to the plaintiff’s case. His discussion of the medical principles and their application to the plaintiff’s case is biased, argumentative and contrary to the requirements for the admissibility of an expert report.

[82]        Dr. Hunt’s own description of his role as an “Expert Medical Legal Consultant providing opinions on behalf of patients with chronic pain who are seeking legal remedies with respect to their condition” indicates that he does not consider his role as an expert to be that of an objective advisor to the court.

[83]        Dr. Hunt’s perceived role is amply demonstrated in his report. The format he uses is designed to emphasize matters which support the plaintiff’s claim and his diagnosis.

[84]        Dr. Hunt presents the medical literature in a manner that suggests that there is consensus about the causal connection between motor vehicle accidents and the onset of fibromyalgia. He attempted to mislead the court regarding the medical literature upon which he relies by referring only to portions which support his diagnosis and prognosis and omitting portions which do not. He does not refer to the cautions and qualifications in the medical literature. He is not current with the medical literature, notably the 2006 prospective longitudinal study by Tischler, which was conducted specifically in order to test the conclusions of the Buskila study.

[85]        Dr. Hunt’s testimony, particularly in cross-examination, supports my conclusions about his report; he acted as the plaintiff’s advocate rather than as an independent expert.

[86]        Dr. Hunt’s report of March 27, 2009 is likely to distort the fact-finding function of the trier of fact, and therefore its prejudicial effect far outweighs its probative value. I find that it is inadmissible. Because the rebuttal report is a reiteration, it is also inadmissible. I specifically reject Dr. Hunt’s diagnoses as expressed in the report and his medical opinion that they were caused by the accident. I reject Dr. Hunt’s diagnosis and prognosis of fibromyalgia and his opinions about the plaintiff’s functional limitations associated with fibromyalgia.

Ultimately the Court accepted that the Plaintiff did suffer from fibromyalgia but that this was not related to the motor vehicle collision.  Madam Justice Gropper found that the Plaintiff did sustain soft tissue injuries to her neck and shoulder along with headaches as  a result of the crash.  $50,000 was awarded for the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages.

In addition to the discussion of ‘advocacy‘ this decision is worth reviewing in full for the Court’s discussion of the relationship between fibromyalgia and trauma.


Defendant Punished With Costs Award for Relying on "Advocate" Expert Witness

October 25th, 2010

Dr. Hymie Davis is a psychiatrist who has been frequently retained by ICBC to provide expert opinions as to the extent of Plaintiff’s accident related injuries.  (You can click here to access my previous posts setting out the billings of Dr. Davis and other experts often retained by ICBC).  In a judgement released last week, the BC Supreme Court harshly criticized Dr. Davis and took the unusual step of punishing the Defendant, (who was insured with ICBC), for relying on him at trial.

In last week’s case (Jayetileke v. Blake) the Plaintiff was injured in a BC motor vehicle collision.  She sued for damages.  Prior to trial ICBC made a formal settlement offer of $122,500.  The Plaintiff rejected this offer and went to trial.  She was ultimately awarded about $9,000 less than the settlement offer by the trial judge.

Normally, in these circumstances, ICBC would be entitled to their costs and possibly double costs from the time of their offer onward.  Mr. Justice Dley, however, refused to follow this usual course finding that not only should the Defendant not be awarded costs, but they should pay the Plaintiff costs.  The reason for this departure was a finding that Dr. Davis was “nothing more than an advocate thinly disguised in the cloak of an expert” and he should not have been relied on by the defence at trial.

Mr. Justice Dley provided the following damaging criticism of Dr. Davis as an expert witness and warning to lawyers who  intend to rely on experts who have a history of crossing the line into advocacy:

[35] Dr. Davis had a history before the courts where his evidence was rejected and his objectivity called into question: Grewal v. Brar et al, 2004 BCSC 1157, [2004] B.C.J. No. 1819; Gosal v. Singh, 2009 BCSC 1471, [2009] B.C.J. No. 2131; Kelly v. Sanmugathas, 2009 BCSC 958, [2009] B.C.J. No. 1413; and Smusz v. Wolfe Chevrolet, 2010 BCSC 82, [2010] B.C.J. No. 114.

[36] A witness may have a poor day in court – that does not mean the witness was dishonest or forever unreliable. However, Dr. Davis had displayed an alarming inability to appreciate his role as an expert and the accompanying privilege to provide opinion evidence.

[37] The defence was alive to his propensity to abuse the role of an expert. His reputation would have been known from the cited decisions. Plaintiff’s counsel succinctly set out the concerns about Dr. Davis in a letter dated January 29, 2010, which stated:

1.         Although he may have once been a qualified expert in psychiatry and able to give opinion evidence in court, we suggest he no longer is properly qualified to give opinion evidence. We will suggest that he is no longer aware of his duty to assist the court and in reality he is an advocate for ICBC. Additionally, we will submit that he has been so consistently discredited by the courts of this Province that he is incapable of being qualified as an expert;

2.         His report is replete with advocacy. The report is an attempt [to] neutralize any material/opinions which support the plaintiff’s claim rather than providing an objective medical opinion;

3.         His report contains many opinions and arguments that are beyond his expertise; and

4.         The information apparently gleaned from the plaintiff is inaccurate and incomplete and coloured to advance his position.

[38] In spite of the concerns that the Courts have expressed, the defence nonetheless proffered Dr. Davis as an expert in opposition to the plaintiff’s complaints of depression and anxiety. My assessment of Dr. Davis was as follows (oral reasons May 13, 2010):

[43]      Dr. Hymie Davis, a psychiatrist, examined Ms. Jayetileke on January 12, 2010 at the request of the defence. I find his evidence to be unreliable. I give it no weight for the following reasons.

[44]      Dr. Davis was an advocate. He was argumentative, defensive, non-responsive, and prone to rambling discourses that were not relevant to the questions posed in cross-examination.

[45]      Dr. Davis was asked to leave the courtroom so that counsel could argue about questions to be put to him. Dr. Davis was seen peeking into the courtroom and listening to the discussion. He was again asked to leave. In spite of these instructions given to him, Dr. Davis hovered within hearing distance and, on four occasions, stuck his head into the courtroom to hear what was occurring.

[46]      Dr. Davis conceded that without his notes, he would not be able to recall the discussion with Ms. Jayetileke. He relied on his notes to prepare his report.

[47] Dr. Davis had noted that Ms. Jayetileke awakened once or twice a week and that this was in some measure related to the accident-related symptoms. He was adamant Ms. Jayetileke had not said that she awakened once or twice a night. He said that his notes would reflect what Ms. Jayetileke had told him.

[48]      His notes referred to Ms. Jayetileke awakening once or twice but did not specify whether that was nightly or weekly. Nonetheless, Dr. Davis tried to point out other references in his notes that meant a weekly occurrence. Those references did not strengthen his evidence. They simply confirmed the unreliability of his testimony.

[49]      Dr. Smith had commented about how important it was for the history-taking to be done in a setting where the patient was comfortable and at ease with the interviewer. Dr. Davis’s demeanour would not lend itself to Ms. Jayetileke being at ease in his presence so that an effective and accurate history could have been taken. Ms. Jayetileke was under the impression that Dr. Davis did not take things seriously. I accept her view of the interview and prefer her evidence to that of Dr. Davis.

[39] For a trial to be fair, the Court must allow each party to put its best case forward. Where a party seeks to advance its position with reckless abandon seeking only the ultimate goal of victory and using questionable evidence along the way, that party risks sanctions in the form of costs penalties. Where the conduct is reprehensible and deserving of reproof and rebuke, the penalty is special costs. “Costs considerations are meant to guide counsel and litigants in the choices and strategies they pursue in litigation”: Karpodinis v. Kantas, 2006 BCCA 400, [2006] B.C.J. No. 2074 at para. 4.

[40] In this case and against the backdrop of previous judicial comment, the defence tendered Dr. Davis. He was nothing more than an advocate thinly disguised in the cloak of an expert. That is conduct deserving of rebuke and from which the Court disassociates itself.

[41] Dr. Davis attempted to inject levity to the proceedings when he was introduced to the Court – his reference to scotch can only be taken as an attempt to be humorous. However, these are serious and solemn proceedings and should be treated as such. His opening comments were unnecessary and unhelpful.

[42] Dr. Davis’ refusal to remove himself from earshot of the Court proceedings despite repeated requests was reprehensible. His conduct simply confirmed a lack of respect for Court proceedings.

[43] Under these circumstances, special costs are to be awarded against the defendant.

[44] The special costs will be the equivalent of the costs of the entire trial. The defendant will be deprived of any costs that it might otherwise have been entitled to as result of the offer to settle.

[45] The plaintiff is awarded costs as if there had been no offer to settle made. The defendant shall receive no costs.

[46] The plaintiff shall receive costs of this application.


ICBC Injury Claims, Dueling Experts and the Danger of "Advocacy"

September 2nd, 2010

A common theme when ICBC or other personal injury claims go to trial is that of dueling expert witnesses.  Often times the Plaintiff’s treating physicians provide an opinion to the Court that is contradicted by experts hired by defendants or insurance companies.  In deciding how much the claim is worth a Court must navigate through these competing opinions and decide who to believe.

Treating doctors, due in part to their long term relationship with their patients, sometimes provide their opinion in an argumentative way.  While well intentioned such opinions can do more harm than good.  The reason being is that the Rules of Court require expert witnesses to be neutral when presenting their opinion to the Court.  When experts advocate for one side or another they risk having their opinion discounted or even being excluded from evidence altogether.  The potential harm caused by expert advocacy was demonstrated in reasons for judgement released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vernon Registry.

In today’s case (Gendron v. Moffat) the Plaintiff was involved in a motor vehicle collision in 2008.  Fault for the crash was admitted by the opposing motorist focusing the trial on the value of the Plaintiff’s ICBC claim.  The Plaintiff sustained various injuries.  The Court heard different opinions as to the extent of these from the Plaintiff’s treating doctor and from the expert hired by ICBC.

The Plaintiff’s GP provided the opinion that the Plaintiff suffered from chronic injuries as a result of the Crash.  The doctor hired by ICBC disagreed and gave evidence that the accident related injuries largely ran their course and the Plaintiff’s symptoms were better explained by unrelated arthritis.  Ultimately Mr. Justice Cole preferred the evidence of ICBC’s doctor.  In coming to this conclusion the Court found that the Plaintiff’s doctor acted as an advocate and excluded portions of her evidence and discounted other parts.  Mr. Justice Cole provided the following useful comments:

[15] The doctor summarized her condition as follows:

Ms. Gendron sustained grade 2 strains to her cervical, thoracic and lumbar spines and a grade 2 strain to her right shoulder when she was T-boned in an intersection by a vehicle that had run through a red light. The impact imparted both forward and rotational acceleration forces through Ms. Gendron, and the subsequent symptom pattern and chronology of injury were consistent with the mechanism and severity of injury. Ms. Gendron has consistently demonstrated a high level of motivation to recover from her injuries, and has remained at work since her MVA , albeit in a reduced capacity. [Emphasis added.]

[16] The last two sentences of that summary I had removed, as in my view, the first sentence dealing with the impact of the accident and acceleration forces were not within the expertise of the doctor and the comment about her high level of motivation demonstrated that the doctor was acting more as an advocate than as an independent professional.

[17] The doctor was also critical of Dr. T. O’Farell, an orthopaedic surgeon who filed a report and gave evidence at trial. He was of the view that Dr. O’Farell’s report was “below the currently accepted standard for a specialist’s medical legal report.”  Again, that sentence was removed on the basis that the family doctor was more of an advocate than an independent professional and lacked the expertise to make such a statement…

[22] I am of the view that the plaintiff’s family physician, while a highly qualified doctor, is more of an advocate than an independent medical specialist and that it is almost impossible to be objective and an advocate at the same time. I therefore prefer the evidence of Dr. O’Farell that her neck pain is due to arthritis in her spine…

[27] In conclusion, I find that the injuries sustained by the plaintiff in the motor vehicle accident for which the defendant is liable, have substantially resolved.

While the doctor’s advocacy was not the sole reason for the Plaintiff’s lack of success at trial (The Court also found that the Plaintiff was not a credible witness) it goes to show that an overzealous treating physician can do more harm than good when providing an opinion to the Court.  It is important for treating doctors to give their evidence in a fair and balanced manner to maximize the chance of having their opinions accepted at trial.