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 ‘Inherent Jurisdiction of the Court’

Court Has “Inherent Jurisdiction” To Order Party To Produce Medical Report Addressing Their “Capability”

November 20th, 2015

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Court of Appeal confirming it is within the BC Supreme Court’s inherent jurisdiction for a judge to order a party to produce a medical report addressing whether that party is “capable or incapable of managing” their litigation.

Today’s case (Walker v. Manufacturers Life Insurance Company) the Plaintiff sued the Defendant alleging breach of contract.  The lawsuit had a complicated procedural history and in the course of an application a Chambers judge ordered that the lawsuit could not continue until the Plaintiff’s “doctor or psychiatrist write a report to the court and advise whether the Plaintiff is capable or incapable of managing this litigation”.

The Plaintiff appealed this order but the BC Court of Appeal upheld it finding it was in the inherent jurisdiction of the Judge to make such an order.  In reaching this conclusion the BC Court of Appeal provided the following reasons:

[34]        This, then, was the dilemma facing Weatherill J. when Ms. Walker argued that R. 20-2(14) applied to her as a “person under disability”. As I have said, he found that there was a real question as to whether she comes within this phrase. In my opinion, there is no doubt that this question had arisen and that it had to be answered before he could possibly accede to the contention made by Ms. Walker herself that a “step in default” could not have been taken against her. As Ms. Murray argued in her factum, it was entirely within the Court’s discretion to request the assistance of a current medical report addressing Ms. Walker’s capacity before the matter could proceed further. This step is required for the Court to protect its own process and thus comes within its inherent jurisdiction. Ms. Walker’s designation under the Act may be relevant, but is not determinative of the issue under Rule 20-2.

[35]        If it turns out that Ms. Walker is a “person under legal disability” within the meaning of the Rule, then a litigation guardian will have to be appointed under R. 20-2. The Rule is a “complete code” in the sense that it does not permit persons under legal disability to bring or defend proceedings in Supreme Court except through a litigation guardian.

[36]        It follows that I see no error in the chambers judge’s making the order he did.


8 Year Old Too Young To Be Examined for Discovery

March 13th, 2015

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, dismissing a defense application to examine an 8 year plaintiff.

In today’s case (Dann-Mills v. Tessier) the Plaintiff was involved in a ‘serious motor vehicle accident’ when he was 17 months old.  A lawsuit was brought on his behalf by his litigation guardian.  The Defendants sought to examine the Plaintiff for discovery.  The Court found that this would be inappropriate and dismissed the application.  In doing so Mr. Justice Voith provided the following reasons:

[38]        I question the possible utility or value of any examination for discovery of Jorin, particularly in light of some of the medical conclusions I have identified. It was this issue that I canvassed most fully with counsel for the applicant.

[39]        It is generally understood that the central objects of an examination for discovery are:

i)        to enable the examining party to know the case it must meet;

ii)        to enable a party to procure admissions which will dispense with other formal proof of its case; and

iii)       to procure admissions which will damage an adversary’s case.

See e.g. Frederick M. Irvine, ed., McLachlin & Taylor, British Columbia Practice, loose-leaf, 3rd ed. (Markham: LexisNexis, 2006) at 7-178.

[40]        The applicant and other defence counsel accepted that they had no desire to obtain any “admissions” from Jorin on discovery. Instead, the applicant said that the “primary reason” for Jorin’s intended discovery related to the first consideration I identified; that being, to enable the defence to know the case that it must meet.

[41]        Respectfully, I struggle to see how this can be so. This is not a case where the defendants may be surprised by Jorin’s evidence at trial. Jorin will not be present at the trial. Instead, the whole of Jorin’s case will be established by expert evidence, of which the defendants will have ample notice, and through other witnesses. The defendants can examine Jorin’s father and his grandmother (Jorin’s litigation guardian). They can interview his teachers and his special-needs assistants. In earlier applications, it became clear that Jorin, who requires full-time supervision, has had a series of caregivers. These sources are likely to be far more fruitful and reliable than the examination for discovery of an infant who, there is reason to believe, without deciding that it is so, struggles with comprehension, attention and language difficulties.

[42]        The last basis for an examination of Jorin that was raised by counsel for the applicant was a desire, in a sense, to see Jorin and how he functions. There is significant disparity in the existing medical opinions on Jorin’s functionality. I have referred to some of these differences earlier in these reasons. Other differences are apparent in the letters of Drs. Purtzki and Joschko, respectively. Counsel considers that some opportunity to see and interact with Jorin would potentially be helpful for settlement and other purposes.

[43]        First, it would appear that a discovery of Jorin would only achieve this object for the single counsel who conducted the examination for discovery, and not for the teams of counsel who represent the various defendants in this action. I cannot imagine that the intention would be to conduct the examination in the presence of all counsel who are involved in these actions.

[44]        Second, though I do not question counsel’s expressed goal, I consider that this object can be otherwise achieved. I suggested to counsel that Jorin might be videotaped, or that counsel might possibly view Jorin, at a medical examination, through a glass mirror. Though counsel for Jorin indicated he would not be opposed to such endeavours, I was also told by counsel for the defendants that the examining independent medical practitioners might object. Nevertheless, I consider that with some ingenuity there are far better means available to get a sense of Jorin and his functionality than a brief examination for discovery would yield.

[45]        In all the circumstances, I do not consider that an examination for discovery of Jorin would be appropriate, and I am unprepared to allow that examination to take place.


ICBC Rate Hike Letter to PolicyHolders Does Not Taint Injury Claim Jury Pool

July 14th, 2014

Interesting reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, discussing whether ICBC should lose the right to trial by jury due to a letter they sent their policy holders blaming increased insurance rates on ‘rising injury costs’.

In today’s case (Yates v. Lee) the Plaintiff was injured in a 1998 collision.   He was 6 years old at the time.  His matter was set for trial in February, 2015 and ICBC, the insurer for the Defendant, elected to proceed via jury trial.  The Plaintiff argued that the Court should use its inherent jurisdiction to strip ICBC of their right to jury trial suggesting that the letter ICBC sent their policy holders “has tainted the jury pool by creating a real potential for bias against plaintiffs among jurors who are policy holders“.  Mr. Justice Pearlman disagreed finding there was no reason for the Court to use its inherent jurisdiction and the trial judge could deal with any suggestion of bias.  In reaching this decision the Court provided the following reasons:

[12]         Shortly after November 1, 2013, ICBC began including in the insurance renewal notices sent to each of its policy holders the following statement:

          ICBC Rate Changes:

Rising injury costs mean we’re asking the British Columbia Utilities Commission (BCUC) for 4.9% increase to Basic insurance rates. The BCUC has approved an interim rate increase of 4.9% effective November 1, 2013 and will make a final decision after a public hearing process. If a final approved rate differs from the interim rate, your Basic premiums will be adjusted for the difference, subject to the BCUC’s final Order. We are also able to reduce our optional rates to lessen the impact on you.

[13]         The renewal reminder also included a statement of the insured’s estimated total premium for the year…

[53]         Here, at best, the material filed by the plaintiff goes no further than establishing a possibility for bias on the part of some prospective jurors who are  ICBC policyholders. In addition to relying on the renewal notice itself, the plaintiff referred to Norsworthy v. Green, (30 May 2009), Victoria Registry 06 2644 (B.C.S.C.).  There, Macaulay J. commented, obiter, that every potential juror knows that ICBC funds damages awards, and that this creates the risk that prospective jurors may believe the higher an award in a given case, the greater the likelihood that their own insurance premiums may rise. Macaulay J. observed that such thinking is improper, and would, if disclosed, demonstrate bias. The plaintiff also filed newspaper and Internet articles referring to Shariatamadari v. Ahmadi (4 May 2009), Vancouver Registry S061583 (B.C.S.C.), where the trial judge’s investigation into complaints of juror misconduct revealed that one of the jurors, during deliberations, had expressed concern that a high damage award would drive up their own auto insurance rates. This material falls well short of establishing that a real potential exists in the circumstances of this case that some jurors may be incapable of setting aside any prejudice they may have as a result of the renewal notice, and deciding this case impartially, after receiving appropriate instructions from the trial judge.

[54]         Even if this court had the inherent jurisdiction to strike a jury notice for juror partiality, I would decline to exercise that jurisdiction in the circumstances of this case for the following reasons:

(a) the court is asked to find that ICBC’s communication to its policy holders through the renewal notices constitutes prejudicial pre-trial misconduct in the absence of an adequate evidentiary foundation;

(b) to grant the relief sought would skirt the challenge for cause process by having the court make a determination of juror partiality without requiring the plaintiff to satisfy both branches of the well-established test for juror partiality, and without any inquiry to determine whether particular members of the juror pool selected for this case could not serve impartially; and

(c) another decision-maker, the trial judge, has all the powers necessary to ensure trial fairness…

[59]         Chester provides further support for my conclusion that the plaintiff’s assertion of juror partiality is a matter which, if pursued, must be raised before the trial judge for determination through the challenge for cause process, rather than before a chambers judge who has neither the inherent jurisdiction to grant the relief sought, nor an adequate evidentiary foundation on which to do so.


Want Your Day In Court? Mortgage Your Property First!

February 25th, 2013

In a very rare display of the BC Supreme Court’s powers pursuant to its inherent jurisdiction, and a strong reminder of the potentially high financial consequences of BC’s loser pays legal system, Mr. Justice Burnyeat released reasons for judgement ordering a Plaintiff to mortgage her properties to the amount of $100,000 as security for costs prior to allowing her claim to proceed to trial.

In today’s decision (IJ v. JAM) the Plaintiff sued the Defendants alleging sexual harassment   The Plaintiff had other costs orders made against her and the Court found she had “a pattern of ignoring orders for costs that have been made“:  The current Defendants applied for an order requiring $100,000 to be paid into court as security for costs.  Mr. Justice Burnyeat agreed security was appropriate and provided the following reasons:

[18]         I am satisfied that “very special circumstances” are present so that an order for security for costs should be made.

[19]         First, the Plaintiff has a pattern of ignoring orders for costs that have been made:  in the Petition for judicial review of the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal decision where costs were awarded in favour of J.A.M. and, in these proceedings where an order for costs was made against the Plaintiff arising out of the dismissal of the civil claim against the G.S. and J.S.

[20]         Second, I take into account the merits of the claim of the Plaintiff.  As I will be the trial judge for the lengthy trial that is scheduled for June 2013, I do not express any final opinion about the merits of the claim other than to observe that, as presently drafted, the claim against J.A.M. and J.M. is expressed in an often confusing, emotional and vitriolic manner, with many allegations not relating directly to the very serious claim that the Plaintiff makes against J.A.M.  and J.M.  It is not appropriate at this stage to make a fine assessment of the relative merits of the claim of the Plaintiff but only to observe that the claims are not so weak that they are bound to fail.  However, regarding the claim, I take into account the agreement that was executed by the Plaintiff releasing the Company and officers, including J.A.M. for previous acts which occurred.  It is a fair assessment at this point that the case of the Plaintiff has many problems…

[25]         The Defendants request the payment into Court of the sum of $100,000.  It is clearly the case that such a sum is not available and that to require that sum to be paid would effectively deny the Plaintiff access to the Court.  However, the affidavit of the Plaintiff is that the two Whistler properties have a value of approximately $729,000 and have charges against them of approximately $550,000 so that her equity is in the neighbourhood of $279,000.  The Plaintiff also states that her property in Ontario has an approximate value of $560,000 with a mortgage of approximately $164,000 against it so that the approximate equity is $396,000.

[26]         Taking into account all of the circumstances surrounding the claim of the Plaintiff, I am satisfied that there is good reason and very special circumstances why an order for security for costs should be made.  Accordingly, a mortgage in the amount of $100,000 without interest will be granted by the Plaintiff against her two properties in Whistler with the mortgagee being the Registrar of the Supreme Court of British Columbia.  The mortgage is not to be discharged or enforced without the further order of the Court.

[27]         The Plaintiff will be required to sign that mortgage within ten days of it being tendered on her for her signature.


Court Prohibits Lawyer From All 'Current or Future Representation of Claimants in the IAP'

June 7th, 2012

In a rare judicial intervention into a lawyer’s practice, reasons for judgement were released yesterday by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, stripping a lawyer from all of his cases relating to the residential school Independent Assessment Process class action settlement.  The Court determined it had jurisdiction to make such an order pursuant to section 12 of BC’s Class Proceedings Act.

In yesterday’s case (Fontaine v. Canada (Attorney General)) lawyer David Blott was on record ‘for approximately 2,900 (IAP) claimants‘.  ‘Concerns‘ were raised with respect to this lawyer’s practice.  These led to an investigation of the lawyers practice resulting in a final report with various troubling findings (these are highlighted at paragraphs 17 and 18 of the reasons for judgement).

An application was made seeking significant judicial intervention including an order stripping the lawyer of all of his IAP files.  In granting this extraordinary relief, Madam Justice Brown provided, amongst other criticism, the following comments:

[167] The conclusion of the LSA panel regarding Mr. Blott’s conduct bears repeating:

But after considering all of the evidence in this matter and hearing Mr. Blott, we continue to be concerned that Mr. Blott does not appear to understand what it means to be a lawyer.  We are concerned that Mr. Blott appears not to recognize that his primary role is as a fiduciary and everything else is secondary.

[168] I share the LSA’s concern that Mr. Blott does not understand what it means to be a lawyer.  Further, while I also understand the desire to avoid additional victimization of the members of an already-vulnerable class, a more lasting remedy than the interim measure implemented by the LSA is required.  The process approved by the LSA, and advanced by Mr. Blott on this application, would see at least 1,500 clients moved from the Blott firm to other lawyers in any event.  Viewed in that light, the issue is not whether disruption will be experienced by Blott clients, but rather the number of clients who will experience it.

[169] It would be far better to have this client transfer process conducted under the supervision of the court and it is necessary for the integrity of the process and the protection of the clients that it be a complete transfer.  Therefore, I will accept and implement the Monitor’s recommendation in respect of the removal of David Blott, David Blott Professional Corporation, Blott & Company, and any associated entity from the current or future representation of claimants in the IAP or any other process embodied in the settlement.


Plaintiff Expert Witness Allowed to Attend Defendant Examination for Discovery

November 25th, 2011

The law in BC generally permits only parties and their lawyers to attend examinations for discovery.  In limited circumstances, however, the Court can permit others to attend a discovery relying on the BC Supreme Court’s ‘inherent jurisdiction‘.  Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, demonstrating this.

In this week’s case (Burgess v. Buell Distribution Corporation) the Plaintiff suffered “very serious personal injury” in a motorcycle accident.  He sued the manufacturer and scheduled an examination for discovery of an engineer employed with the Defendant.  The Plaintiff argued that his expert should be allowed to attend as the claim includes “matters requiring an understanding of technical concepts relating to the design, manufacture, and testing of motorcycles and sidecars“.

The Defendant opposed arguing this would add unnecessary time and expense to the Court Proceedings.  Mr. Justice Grauer disagreed with the Defendant and allowed the expert to attend.  In doing so the Court provided the following reasons:

[6] The Rules do not specifically address this issue, but it has certainly been the practice in this province that only the parties and their legal representatives may attend examinations for discovery in the absence of consent or an order of the court.

[7] In Ian Macdonald Library Services Ltd. v. P.Z. Resort Systems Inc. (1985), 67 B.C.L.R. 269, Madam Justice Southin, then of this Court, considered a similar application and said this:

[6]        I think the simple and sensible answer to this question is that counsel should be able to do so whenever the nature of the case is such that counsel cannot reasonably be expected to conduct a full and proper cross-examination of the witness being discovered without expert assistance.

[7]        Whether in any given case such expert assistance is necessary will depend, among other things, on:

1.         The issues in the action;

2.         The level of technical and scientific knowledge which can reasonably be expected of counsel generally at any given time;

3.         The extent of inconvenience to which the parties may be put if counsel must conduct part of an examination then adjourn it, consult with an expert and conduct the rest of it perhaps on some other occasion.

[9] I find that the issues in this case raise a level of technical and scientific knowledge beyond what can reasonably be expected of counsel generally.  While counsel normally are very adept at quickly, if temporarily, acquiring specialized knowledge relevant to their cases, it would be unwise I think for the court to second-guess the judgment of counsel as to what is required for the full and fair examination of an opposite party who possesses specialized expertise in this type of case.  Given the nature of the issues, I see nothing that strikes me as unreasonable about the request.

[10] What must be considered however is whether accommodating the request of examining counsel would result in prejudice to the party being examined.  If so, then the court must attempt to weigh that prejudice against the prejudice to the examining party of being deprived of expert assistance.

[11] In this case, no prejudice has been put forward by Harley-Davidson other than the concerns of disruption, increased expense, and extended time.  As to disruption, both counsel are experienced and I see no reason to suppose that this concern is likely to materialize in any meaningful way.  As to increased expense, the evidence does not satisfy me that such a result is likely.  Similarly, the time is at least as likely to be shortened as it is to be extended.

[12] Counsel for the defendant suggests that this will lead us down a slippery slope to a result where counsel will always request expert assistance at examinations for discovery in technical cases.  I very much doubt that that will follow, but in any event each case will be dealt with on its individual circumstances.  Where the examining party can establish the need, and the party being examined cannot establish prejudice, there is no reason to worry.  It did not worry Madam Justice Southin.

[13] As to the concept of proportionality, it seems to me that granting the relief requested is more likely to promote than inhibit the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of this proceeding on its merits taking into account the amount involved, the complexity of the issues and the importance of conducting a full, fair and informed examination for discovery.  Accordingly, leave is granted as requested.


Access to Justice and Security for Costs

November 22nd, 2011

As discussed many times, the BC Supreme Court operates on a “loser pays” system generally requiring a losing litigant to pay the winner’s costs and disbursements.  These costs awards can quickly add up to tens of thousands of dollars and can easily exceed a litigant’s ability to pay.

Although the BC Supreme Court has the ability to require a Plaintiff to pay security for costs ahead of trial, for the obvious reason of ensuring access to justice this discretion is rarely exercised.  This was demonstrated in reasons for judgement released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry.

In this week’s case (Hughes v. Hughes) the Plaintiff sued her parents for various harm she claims she suffered due to their actions many years ago.  The Defendant brought a motion to dismiss the lawsuit arguing that it was an abuse of process.  The Court dismissed this motion finding that while the allegations may have been somewhat unique they “essentially amount to battery, breach of trust and fraud, all of which are well-recognized causes of action“.

The Defendant further argued that the case was bound to fail due to limitation issues and requested Security for Costs.  The Court agreed that while the case may be limitation barred that was an issue for trial.  In dismissing the application for costs security Mr. Justice Smith provided the following reasons:

[18] The defendants seek, in the alternative, an order that the plaintiff post security for costs. They say she has no history of steady employment and would not likely be able to pay costs if the action is dismissed. The plaintiff says in an affidavit that she is employed as a pre-school teacher, but gives no particulars of that employment.

[19] The law governing security for costs was summarized by Goepel J. in Bronson v. Hewitt, 2007 BCSC 1751. Although the court has inherent jurisdiction to order an individual resident in the jurisdiction to post security for costs, that jurisdiction should be exercised cautiously, sparingly and only under very special or egregious circumstances.

[41] …For good reason, individual and corporate plaintiffs have always been treated differently. Absent special circumstances, corporate shareholders are entitled to avail themselves of the protection of a limited liability company to avoid personal exposure for costs: P.G. Restaurant Ltd.  v. Northern Interior Regional Health Board et al., 2006 BCSC 1680. An order for security for costs prevents the principals of a corporate plaintiff from hiding behind the corporate veil and, as noted by McGarry V.C. in Pearson, protects “the community against litigious abuses by artificial persons manipulated by natural persons.”

[42]  With individuals, the fundamental concern has always been access to the courts. Access to justice is as important today as it was in 1885 when Lord Bowen declared in Cowell that “the general rule is that poverty is no bar to a litigant”. Individuals, no matter how poor, have always been granted access to our courts regardless of their ability to pay a successful defendant’s costs. Only in egregious circumstances have individuals been ordered to post security for costs.

[20] Examples of such special or egregious circumstances include situations where the plaintiff is or has been a party in multiple other actions (Louie v. Louie, [1998] B.C.J. No. 2097), or where the plaintiff has been unable to produce any evidence in support of his claim many years after commencing the action (Rotvold v. Rocky Mountain Diesel Ltd., [1997] B.C.J. No. 1758). No comparable special circumstances have been shown to exist here and the evidence as to the plaintiff’s alleged impecuniosity is entirely speculative.

[21] The application for security for costs must therefore be dismissed.

[22] The plaintiff seeks an order striking out the statement of defence because the defendants failed to attend an examination for discovery. At the time, the defendants were requesting production of certain documents. Those documents had not been received and, until shortly before the scheduled examination for discovery, counsel for the defendants understood that the former counsel for the plaintiff was still assembling them.


Why Tort "Reform" Is Not Needed To Keep Frivolous Lawsuits Out of Court

September 15th, 2011

Every so often a sensational case makes headlines that gets dismissed after trial. Pundits and the press pick up on these stories.  Such cases can receive disproportionate media attention and are sighted as key examples for the need to have tort “reform“.  The other catchphrase that’s thrown around is “lawsuit abuse”.

Reform“, however, is not necessary.  The BC Supreme Court already has tools built in to discourage litigation.  We have a “loser pays” system which exposes losing litigants to significant costs consequences.  Additionally, if a litigant continues to pursue actions without merit they can be locked out of the Court process entirely.  Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Court of Appeal demonstrating this tool in action.

In this week’s case (Keremelevski v. ICBC) the Plaintiff brought an application which the Court described as having “no sensible basis in law or fact” and had “absolutely no chance of success“.  The Plaintiff’s application was dismissed but the Court noted that “The current proceedings, wholly devoid of merit and lacking any possibility of success, are simply another chapter in a long series of proceedings launched by the applicant in this Court

The Court went on to make a so-called vexatious litigant order and in doing so provided the following reasons:

[12] Mr. Keremelevski has clearly demonstrated that he has no real comprehension of the court process and he persistently files applications in this Court that are completely unmeritorious. As Mr. Justice Frankel observed in the above excerpt from the Houweling case, judicial resources are not infinite, and the filing of what could justly be described as a blizzard of applications does take up valuable court time that ought to be used to hear other matters that have substance. As Frankel J.A. also observed, while persons are entitled to have their day in court, they are not entitled to be always in court “day after day in the futile pursuit of remedies to which [they are] not entitled”. As I observed, Mr. Keremelevski has initiated a significant number of proceedings in this Court that have had no possibility of success. He has also sought unsuccessfully leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada in some of the proceedings. As is the case with the instant proceedings, it appears these matters have been devoid of merit with no possibility of success. In these circumstances, it seems apparent to me that it is now requisite for this Court to take action to prevent the misuse of its process. It is time, and indeed probably past time, to make an order in the case of Mr. Keremelevski in the terms made in the earlier cases referred to that Mr. Keremelevski will be precluded from filing any further documents in this Court without leave first obtained from a justice of the Court in chambers. As I observed in the Booty case, such an order is requisite to prevent misuse of the litigation process.


More on Re-Opening an Injury Claim After Close of Trial

January 24th, 2011

As I’ve previously discussed, BC Supreme Court Judges have discretion to re-open a trial after all parties closed their case.  This is so even after judgement is given (so long as a final order has not been entered).  Judges must exercise this discretion with caution but there is flexibility in doing so as was demonstrated in reasons for judgement released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry.

In last week’s case (McIlvenna v. Viebig) the Plaintiff was injured in a 1995 incident when the bicycle he was riding collided with a motor vehicle driven by the defendant.  The Plaintiff was 7 years old at the time.  One of the matters at issue at trial was the Defendant’s ability to operate his vehicle safely.  In pre-trial discovery the Defendant gave evidence that his health was “like a grizzly bear” at the time of the crash.  When asked about having difficulty with sight he did not mention having any eye problems.

The trial ended and while both parties were waiting for the Court’s reasons the Plaintiff obtained the Defendant’s MSP printout.   This documented some health care visits with billings relating to “disorders of the optic nerve and visual pathways” as well as “retinal disorders or eye tests” not long before the collision.  On the strength of this the Plaintiff applied to re-open the trial so further evidence could be called addressing these issues.  The Defendant opposed arguing that the Plaintiff was not diligent enough in exploring these issues pre-trial.

Mr. Justice Sigurdson took a more practical approach and adjourned the application ordering that the defendant obtain and produce further medical records relating to these health care visits.  In demonstrating the flexibility trial judges have to ensure a fair trial occurs Mr. Justice Sigurdson provided the following useful reasons:

[14]         Mr. Battista in reply suggested an alternative approach to his motion, which I think is the just manner in which to deal with the application.  I have decided to adjourn the application of the plaintiff to re-open its case pending production of the records sought if they are available.  I think that it is relevant to the question of whether to adjourn the application pending such production that the plaintiff sought production of the MSP records prior to trial but they were unable to be produced until after the trial was heard.  Accordingly, I direct that the records of the doctors that I have described be produced to counsel for the defendant, Ms. Wright.  I direct that they produce the records for what appears to be the relevant period, 1994 to 1997, if they are available.  Once produced, Ms Wright will review them for relevancy and, if relevant, produce them to counsel for the plaintiff.  The plaintiff will pay forthwith the reasonable costs incurred in the production of these records by the doctors.  Given Mr. Viebig’s apparent mental condition at the present time, I make the order requiring production by the doctors without an authorization signed by him.  As this order for is made without prior service on the doctors involved, they will have liberty to apply on two days’ notice to the parties’ counsel to set aside the order.

[15]         For clarity, the doctors whose records are to be produced that relate to the defendant are for the doctors that I have referred to above that I listed from the MSP printout as well as those of Dr. Shier, the general practitioner for the defendant during that period of time.

[16]         Once the documents are produced to the defendant’s counsel and then to the plaintiff’s counsel, counsel for the plaintiff will forthwith advise counsel for the defendant if he intends to set down the adjourned application to re-open the case.  If not, I will then complete and issue my reasons for judgment after trial.  Because of the age of this matter and to ensure there is no further unnecessary delay, I ask the parties to fix a case management conference with me within the next six to eight weeks to report on the status of this matter.


Can A Litigation Guardian Be Ordered to Attend an Independent Medical Exam?

October 26th, 2010

(UPDATE:  Please note Leave to Appeal the Below Decision was granted by the BCCA on January 25, 2011)

When a mentally incompetent person brings a lawsuit in BC they must do so through a litigation guardian or a committee.  Generally, when personal injuries are the subject of a lawsuit, the Defendant is entitled to have the Plaintiff attend an ‘independent’ medical exam.  What about the litigation guardian?  Can they be ordered to attend an independent medical exam?  The BC Supreme Court Civil Rules are silent on this point however, reasons for judgement were released today considering this question using the Court’s ‘inherent jurisdiction’.

In today’s case (Bishop v. Minichiello) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2005 motor vehicle collision.  He was an infant at the time and brought the lawsuit by way of litigation guardian.  The Plaintiff became an adult prior to the lawsuit resolving.  Normally, when this occurs, the Plaintiff files an affidavit and overtakes the lawsuit without the litigation guardian.  In today’s case the Plaintiff did not do this apparently because his injuries may have rendered him “unable to appreciate the extent of his own injuries and unable to effectively conduct the litigation on his own behalf.”.

The Defendant brought a motion that both the Plaintiff and his litigation guardian attend a series of medical exams.  The Plaintiff opposed arguing that the Rule authorizing the Court to compel a Plaintiff to attend an Independent Medical Exam does not empower a Court to extend the order to a litigation guardian.  Mr. Justice McEwan noted that while this was true it could be remedied by resorting to the Court’s inherent jurisdiction.  In granting the application the Court noted as follows:

[12] The defendant submits that although Rule 7-6 (1)-(3) makes no specific provision for a person other than the party to be examined to attend and answer questions, Wong (guardian ad litem) v. Wong [2006] B.C.J. No. 3123 (C.A.) established that the court may, in the interests of justice make ancillary orders to give effect to the purpose of the Rules, found in Rule 1(5) [now Rule 1-3]. In Wong, the question was whether the court could order a plaintiff to video tape an examination…

[13]         Rule 20-2 reads:

(3)        Unless a rule otherwise provides, anything that is required or authorized by these Supreme Court Civil Rules to be done by or invoked against a party under disability must:

(b)        be invoked against the party by invoking the same against the party’s litigation guardian.

[14]         Rule 13-1 reads:

(19)      When making an order under these Supreme Court Civil Rules, the court may impose terms and conditions and give directions it considers will further the object of these Supreme Court Civil Rules.

[15]         On the question of inherent jurisdiction I think the characterization found in R & J Siever Holdings Ltd. v. Moldenhauer 2008 BCCA 59, is most apt:

In addition to the powers conferred by the Rules of Court, the Supreme Court of British Columbia, as a superior court of record, has inherent jurisdiction to regulate its practice and procedures so as to prevent abuses of process and miscarriages of justice: see I.H. Jacob, “The Inherent Jurisdiction of the Court” (1970) 23 Current Leg. Prob. 23 at 23-25. As the author said, at 25,

The inherent jurisdiction of the court may be exercised in any given case, notwithstanding that there are Rules of Court governing the circumstances of such case. The powers conferred by the Rules of Court are, generally speaking, additional to, and not in substitution of, powers arising out of the inherent jurisdiction of the court. The two heads of powers are generally cumulative, and not mutually exclusive, so that in any given case, the court is able to proceed under either or both heads of jurisdiction.

[16]         The Rules do not, properly speaking, confer jurisdiction. To the extent that they reflect a consensus of the Judiciary (and the Bar) as to the presumptions, or expectations, or shifts in onus that will contribute to the just and expedient conduct of litigation, they are useful in bringing predictability and stability to civil procedure. To the extent that they do not reflect such a consensus, they cannot be regarded as mandatory impediments to doing the right thing in any particular case.

[17]         The silence of Rule 7-6 on the question of ordering the litigation guardian to attend an independent medical examination, does not, in and of itself, preclude the making of such an order, if it otherwise makes sense to do so in order to advance the speedy, just and inexpensive determination of the proceeding on its merits.

[18]         Whether such an order is appropriate requires the court to weigh the plaintiff’s objection against the defendant’s rationale for the request…

[20]         The plaintiff’s objection to the attendance of the litigation guardian is primarily that a conversation between the litigation guardian and the examining physician creates a form of statement that is not controlled within the process and that might well lead to conflict or confusion later, if the guardian and the Doctor do not agree as to what was said.

[21]         The defendant’s point is, primarily, that in a case where the defence is guessing as to the mental status of the plaintiff, it would be prudent to have the person who knows him best, and who is also the litigation guardian, available to answer questions about his condition, especially where it is suggested that, among the effects of the injuries suffered in the accident, is a lack of insight or appreciation on Brandon Bishop’s part of the harm that has occurred.

[22]         In Tsantilas (Litigation Guardian) v. Johnson, Cranbrook Registry #18128 (20100211) Melnick, J. made a similar order in a case involving both counsel who appear in this proceeding. In what I gather to be a case of an under-age person, the court ordered the attendance of the litigation guardian at an assessment…

[23]         I think that as long as the case continues to be conducted by Charlotte Bishop as litigation guardian, the implication that, for reasons related to his injuries Brandon Bishop is unable to conduct the litigation will remain, along with the implication that talking to him will not yield the whole story. The plaintiff’s concerns about possible confusion do not outweigh the defendant’s interest in the appointed examiners getting accurate and complete information. Accordingly, Charlotte Bishop, as litigation guardian, must attend and answer the questions posed by the examiners as they require.