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 ‘Mr. Justice Joyce’

$100,000 Non-Pecuniary Assessment for Chronic Back and Neck Pain

November 26th, 2015

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, assessing damages for chronic neck and back pain caused by a vehicle collision.

In today’s case (Tourand v. Charette) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2009 rear end collision that the Defendant accepted responsibility for.

The Plaintiff suffered chronic neck and back pain as a result with symptoms lingering at the time of trial and expected to continue into the future.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $100,000 Mr. Justice Joyce provided the following reasons:

[119]     It is true that there were occasions in the past when the plaintiff experienced episodes of neck, shoulder and back pain, for which she received chiropractic treatments. Some of these episodes were associated with prior motor vehicle accidents and others appear to have been brought on by the physical activities in which she engaged, including her participation in karate. However, I am satisfied, on the whole of the evidence, that prior to the Accident the plaintiff was not experiencing the kind of chronic pain and symptomology in her neck and low back that she has experienced since the Accident in question. I am satisfied that the causal connection between her present symptomology neck and low back and the Accident has been established. In short, but for the Accident the plaintiff would not be in the physical condition that she now finds herself.

[120]     Ms. Tourand plaintiff had some pre-existing degenerative changes in her neck and low back, but I am satisfied that her current symptoms are not due simply to the progression of that degeneration. Rather they are due to either an aggravation of a pre-existing condition or to trauma that has made symptomatic that which was not previously symptomatic.

[121]     I accept that in the years before the Accident, the plaintiff was a physically active, social person, who enjoyed life and was enjoyable to live with and be around. I find on the basis of the evidence of her husband and friends that she is now a very different person. The Accident has negatively impacted her ability to enjoy physical activity and perform former household management tasks to the same extent as before. It has led to difficulty sleeping, depression and has affected her marital relationship.

[122]     On the other hand, I also find that the other life events that the plaintiff has endured since the Accident, in particular, the difficulties that her children experienced and with which she has been integrally involved, have probably contributed to the severity and prolongation of her symptoms.

[123]     Ms. Tourand is not, however, incapacitated. She can still manage most of her household chores, with moderation and careful sequencing of the tasks. There seems to be consensus among the experts that Ms. Tourand is capable of some employment, provided it does not involve heavy physical tasks and provided she is not required to either sit or stand in one position for a prolonged period of time.

[124]     I am also of the view that it is probable that the plaintiff’s physical capacity and general well-being will improve if she becomes more active, including: engaging in a program involving further physiotherapy under the direction of a kinesiologist or physiotherapist, swimming and psychotherapy to deal with the emotional affects of her symptoms. In my view, based upon a consideration of all of the evidence, it is still open to the plaintiff to accept that advice and follow that treatment path; and that, if she does so, she can expect to achieve some further reduction in her symptomology and improvement in her functioning and enjoyment of life…

[128]     Considering the nature of the chronic pain caused by the motor vehicle Accident; the poor prognosis for anything like a full recovery; the relatively young age of the plaintiff; and the effects that the symptoms have had and will likely continue to have on the quality of her life in the future, I assess non-pecuniary damages at $100,000.


Defence Doctor’s “Bald Proposition” Minimizing Collision Related Injuries Rejected

February 5th, 2015

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Chilliwack Registry, rejecting defense expert evidence minimizing the connection of chronic pain issues to a motor vehicle collision.

In today’s case (Worobetz v. Fooks) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2010 collision and continued to experience symptoms at the time of trial.  The defendant admitted fault but denied the extent of the Plaintiff’s injuries.  In support of his case the Defendant retained a physician who gave evidence that the Plaintiff’s lingering symptoms were likely related to deconditioning and being overweight. In rejecting this evidence Mr. Justice Joyce provided the following critical comments:

[91]         Dr. Grypma’s opinion appears to be based substantially on two things: first, the lack of evidence of any structural injury; and second, her lack of conditioning and mild obesity. Dr. Grypma suggests that if Ms. Worobetz had suffered an injury other than a mild soft tissue injury, she would have experienced immediate pain of such intensity that she would have sought out immediate attention at an emergency room. I am not persuaded, however, that a person need sustain a serious structural injury in order to develop serious and chronic pain following a trauma such as an Accident. There are simply too many cases where persons have been found to have developed chronic back pain following a motor vehicle accident in the absence of objective evidence of structural damage to accept Dr. Grypma’s bald proposition.

[92]         Dr. Grypma’s opinion that Ms. Worobetz suffered only a mild injury that would have healed completely within a few months is contradicted by the evidence of Ms. Worobetz concerning her symptoms and how they affected her functioning, which is supported by the evidence of a number of other specialists who have treated Ms. Worobetz and followed her progress over a long period of time.

[93]         In my opinion, it is a relevant factor that Ms. Worobetz developed her pain complaints very soon after the Accident and that they progressed, with little change, until the present time. I accept that a mere temporal connection between an accident and the development of pain is not determinative by itself that the Accident caused the pain, but it is, nonetheless, a relevant factor. I also accept that the court must be cautious in relying on the subjective complaints of a patient, where there is no other objective evidence to support those complaints.

[94]         However, in this case, there is more evidence than simply subjective complaints and a temporal connection between those complaints and the Accident. I accept that Ms. Worobetz’s symptoms of pain are real and honestly felt. The manner in which they have impacted her functioning is supported by evidence of her husband, mother, co-worker and the woman for whom Ms. Worobetz acts as a support teacher. There is a strong body of expert opinion evidence in this case from specialists in a number of fields to support a finding that Ms. Worobetz’s ongoing pain was caused by the Accident. Those specialists have spent a great deal of time examining Ms. Worobetz, investigating her complaints and providing treatment. In my respectful view, their evidence is to be preferred over that of Dr. Grypma, who conducted a single, rather brief examination and a review of her medical records.

[95]         Dr. MacInnes, in particular, puts forward an explanation as to how Ms. Worobetz could have developed the pain at various sites in her body as a result of a rather modest soft tissue injury that one would ordinarily think would resolve quite quickly: central sensitization. Dr. Grypma admits that he is not qualified to comment on that topic, so he is not able to agree or disagree that it is a reasonable explanation for Ms. Worobetz’s continuing symptoms.

[96]         In summary, I find that but for the Accident, Ms. Worobetz would not be suffering the ongoing symptoms that she feels and her daily activities of life and ability to work would not be affected the way they are. She is less able to enjoy the social and recreational pursuits that she used to enjoy. She is less able to carry out the functions of a mother and wife, compared to her life before the Accident. She no longer has the same ability to work at her chosen career as a teacher because of the Accident.


$13,500 Assessment For Soft Tissue Injury Aggravation Of “a Number of Months”

September 30th, 2014

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, assessing damages for an aggravation of a pre-existing soft tissue injury.

In today’s case (Bains v. Park) the Plaintiff was involved in a relatively modest collision caused by the Defendant.  The Plaintiff had pre-existing injuries and the  Court found that these were aggravated for ‘a number of months’ following the collision.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $13,500 Mr. Justice Joyce provided the following reasons:

[35]         It is Dr. Choo’s opinion that Ms. Bains suffered an aggravation of pre-existing injuries and that her pre-existing condition likely made her recovery from this collision slower than it would otherwise have been.

[36]         It is my opinion that there was a real risk that even if she had not been involved in the collision on May 18, 2010, Ms. Bains would have experienced some neck and pain discomfort from time to time. I am satisfied that the collision aggravated her condition and resulted in persistent pain and discomfort for a number of months, beyond the period of time that one might normally expect given the circumstances of the collision.

[37]         As a result of the injuries, Ms. Bains’ ability to perform her usual household chores was curtailed for a few months and her ability to fully enjoy time with her children and other leisure activities was curtailed for five or six months. She was off work until about mid-June 2010, then was able to return on a graduated return to work program that was supported by her employer.

[38]         I am satisfied that Ms. Bains had likely recovered to her pre-accident state by the fall 2010 or by February 2011, at the latest…

[41]         As the plaintiff recognizes, each case must be decided on its own particular facts and other cases can, at best, provide general assistance in determining what is just and fair compensation for this plaintiff, given her injuries and the manner in which they have affected her enjoyment of life. It appears to me that each of the cases cited by the plaintiff involve somewhat more serious injury and loss than the present case.

[42]         In addition, as I have found, the plaintiff’s pre-accident condition was such that there was a risk that she would have experienced some neck and back pain, on-and-off, even if she had not been involved in the collision on May 18, 2010, in the same way she had experienced on-and-off pain prior to that collision.

[43]         Having read and considered the cases referred to by counsel and having regard to the nature of the injuries, their duration and their effect on the plaintiff’s day-to-day activities, I am of the opinion that an award of $15,000 would be appropriate, but for her pre-existing condition and the risk that she would have experienced on-and-off symptoms even without the aggravating injuries. I will reduce that amount by10% on account of the plaintiff’s pre-existing condition.

[44]         In conclusion with regard to this head of damages, I am of the opinion that an award of $13,500 will provide Ms. Bains with fair and reasonable compensation for her pain, suffering and loss of amenities, as a result of the collision of May 18, 2010.


History of Violence Not Necessary For Dog Injury Claim To Succeed

August 20th, 2014

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Chilliwack Registry, addressing liability when a dog leaves its owners property and causes harm to others.

In today’s case (Gallant v. Slootweg) “the defendants’ dog, “Rocky”, ran from their property, apparently unimpeded by the electronic fence that was intended to keep it within the property, towards the plaintiff and knocked him from his bicycle“.  The Plaintiff suffered orthopeaddic injuries and sued for damages.

The dog did not have a history of violence but did have “a propensity to chase cyclists”.  The Defendant’s argued that this was not sufficient to establish liability as the dog did not have a history “of a vicious or dangerous nature” and that installing an electronic fence was a sufficient step to prevent a finding of negligence.  Mr. Justice Joyce disagreed and found the defendants  liable in both negligence and under the principles of scienter.  In reaching this conclusion the Court provided the following reasons:

[24]         It is not necessary, however, for the plaintiff to show that the dog has actually caused the particular harm in the past; what is required is to show that the defendant knew or ought to have known that the dog had a propensity or manifested a trait to do that kind of harm. ..

[32]         I am satisfied that Rocky had a propensity to chase cyclists while barking and get as close to them as he could within the electronic restrain to which he was ordinarily subject, and to follow them as they traversed in front of the defendants’ yard. I am satisfied that Rocky’s actions constituted a propensity to cause harm to cyclists by knocking them from their bicycles if he was not restrained within the yard. I am further satisfied that the defendants knew, or ought to have known, that if not restrained, Rocky would run right up to a cyclist, barking at the cyclist and creating a very real risk that he would impede the travel of the bicycle. The defendants had watched Rocky run the length of the front yard getting as close to cyclists as he could within the boundaries of the electronic fence, which was the only method that they employed to restrain Rocky from going right up to the cyclists. The harm the Rocky caused on this occasion was the very kind of harm that, in my view, Rocky had demonstrated a propensity to inflict.

[33]         I conclude, therefore, that the defendants are liable on the basis of scienter.

[34]         I am also satisfied that the defendants are liable on the basis of negligence. In my opinion, they knew that the only thing that was keeping Rocky from running up to cyclists using the road in front of their property, and likely knocking them from their bicycles, was the electronic fence. It is my view, that a reasonable person would not place reliance solely on such a device to secure their dog and prevent it from causing harm to users of the road, when they were aware of the risk of harm if Rocky got free from the confines of the electronic fence. Unlike a physical fence or a large pen, it is not possible to readily observe that the electronic fence is in good repair.

[35]         Further, the operating manual that the defendants received when they purchased the fence warned them that the fence was a deterrent, not a barrier and advised that there was no guarantee that a pet could be trained to avoid crossing the boundary.

[36]         In order to meet a reasonable standard of care to ensure Rocky was kept within the property would not have required the defendants to incur the expense of fencing the whole of the property. They could have built a large “dog run” that would have provided Rocky with ample exercise room when not on leash, in the company of someone able to restrain him. Alternatively, they could have used a chain for Rocky that would not physically permit him to go beyond the property and onto the roadway.

[37]         Further, I find that having adopted the electronic fence as the only means of preventing their dog from escaping onto the road and charging passers-by, they were negligent in not ensuring that it was working properly by testing it on a frequent basis. While it is not known precisely when the receiver failed to operate, they had not tested it for months. They only checked the transmitter on a daily basis. Even when the defendants replaced the batteries and tested the receiver after the incident they found that did not operate consistently. If they had tested it regularly, it is likely that they would have discovered that it was not safe to rely on the electronic fence system to retrain Rocky.

 


Prior Consistent Statements Considered in Vicarious Liability Impaired Driving Case

May 7th, 2013

Reasons for judgement were released this week by by BC Supreme Court, Chilliwack Registry, addressing the issue of implied or express owner consent following a motor vehicle collision involving an impaired driver.

In this week’s case  (Gibbs v. Carpenter) the Defendant Carpenter was driving a vehicle owned by the Defendant Kusch.  She denied giving him permission to drive the vehicle.  He was “impaired by alcohol” when he “crossed the centre line and collided head on” with the Plaintiff vehicle.

Mr. Justice Joyce had to decide whether there was consent for him to drive.  There was conflicting evidence on this point and the Court ultimately made the call that there was no express or implied consent letting the owner off the hook.  Prior to deciding this issue the Court grappled with whether a written statement the owner gave the police was admissible.

In the aftermath of the collision the owner provided the police with a verbal statement indicating that consent for the trip was not given or if it had been the owner expected someone else to drive.  This statement was admitted into evidence   The owner provided a more fullsome written statement to the police following this.  The owner attempted to get the written statement into evidence arguing it formed part of the original statement or in the alternative that it was needed to rebut an allegation of recent fabrication. Mr. Justice Joyce disagreed and excluded the statement. In doing so the following useful summary of the law was provided:

[61]         I am unable to agree that the written statement forms part of one continuous statement, given the intervening events. It is not as though the statement was given at the scene mere minutes after the first conversation. Ms. Kusch went home, slept, spoke to her father about what had happened and it was upon his suggestion that she prepared a written statement. Ms. Kusch had the opportunity to reflect and consider what information she would include in her statement. In my view, it cannot be considered a mere continuation of the earlier oral statement.

[62]         As for the submission that the written statement should be admitted to clarify the equivocal oral statement, the trial was the opportunity to testify whether the oral statement was made or not, whether it was accurate or not, whether Constable Wright’s version of what Ms. Kusch said was complete, or whether his recall and recording of the statement were incomplete. I, therefore, do not accede to Mr. Harris’ first ground.

[63]         I am also of the opinion that the statement is not admissible as a prior consistent statement rebutting an allegation of recent fabrication.

[64]         In R. v. Stirling, 2008 SCC 10 [Stirling], Mr. Justice Bastarache reviewed the principles applicable in determining when prior consistent statements can be led to rebut an allegation of recent fabrication and how such statements, if admitted, are to be used. The context in which the issue arose in Stirling is set out in paras. 1 – 2:..

[68]         Thus, the purpose of the prior consistent statement is to remove a potential motive to fabricate and a trial judge may consider the removal of this motive when assessing the witness’s credibility.

[69]         In the recent decision delivered from the Ontario Court of Appeal, R. v. Kailayapillai, 2013 ONCA 248 at para. 41, I note that Mr. Justice Doherty adopted the phrase “motive or reason” to fabricate and discussed the importance of the timing of the statement in relation to when the motive or reason arose:

[41]      … The value of the prior consistent statement does not rest exclusively in its consistency with the evidence given by the witness at trial. It is the consistency combined with the timing of that prior statement. As the statement was made before the alleged motive or reason to fabricate arose, the statement is capable of rebutting the suggestion made by the cross-examiner that the witness’s evidence is untrue because it was fabricated for the reason or motive advanced in cross-examination. The witness’s evidence is made more credible to the extent that the asserted motive or reason advanced for fabrication has been negated by the evidence of the prior consistent statement: see R. v. Stirling, 2008 SCC 10, [2008] 1 S.C.R. 272, at paras. 5-7.

[Emphasis added.]

[70]         Once admitted, the trial judge may not use the prior consistent statement for the truth of its contents. At para. 11 of Stirling, Bastarache J. said:

[11]      Courts and scholars in this country have used a variety of language to describe the way prior consistent statements may impact on a witness’s credibility where they refute suggestion of an improper motive. …. What is clear from all of these sources is that credibility is necessarily impacted ? in a positive way ? where admission of prior consistent statements removes a motive for fabrication. Although it would clearly be flawed reasoning to conclude that removal of this motive leads to a conclusion that the witness is telling the truth, it is permissible for this factor to be taken into account as part of the larger assessment of credibility.

[71]         In the present case, any reason that Ms. Kusch may have to fabricate a story was clearly present at the time she prepared her type-written statement. She faced having to explain to her father, a police officer, how an inebriated young man with a learner’s permit came into possession of her car and came to be involved in a serious car accident. She may very well have appreciated that there might be insurance implications arising out of who was driving. She may also have been influenced by the advice of her father in forming her statement. The statement was not prepared prior to the existence of a reason to fabricate; it was formed afterward. In my view, it does not have any probative value and does not fall within the exception to the general rule that excludes prior self-serving statements. It is not admissible.


$65,000 Non-Pecuniary Assessment For TFC Tear and Mechanical Back Pain

February 8th, 2012

Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, assessing damages for a wrist and back injury sustained in a collision.

In last week’s case (Rutter v. Allen) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2006 collision.  The Defendants were found at fault for the rear-end crash which caused about $18,000 in damage to the Plaintiff’s vehicle.

The Plaintiff sustained a left wrist Triangular Fibrocartilage Tear (a tear to the cartilage at the base of the wrist joint) and soft tissue injuries to the low back.  The TFC tear required surgical correction.

The low back pain became chronic and continued to cause discomfort at the time of trial.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $65,000 Mr. Justice Joyce provided the following reasons:

[26] Mr. Rutter alleges that he sustained an injury to his wrist as a result of the accident, specifically an “ulnar carpal impaction with a tear of the triangular fibrocartilage”. In January 2010, Dr. Perey, an orthopaedic surgeon, operated on Mr. Rutter’s wrist to shorten the ulnar bone, which largely resolved the problem with the wrist, although Mr. Rutter testified that he still had occasional sharp pains in his wrist…

[40] In my view, there is a body of evidence, which I accept that supports the opinions of the medical experts. The evidence as a whole supports a finding, on balance, that the accident was the underlying cause of the problem and that but for this accident, Mr. Rutter would not have developed the wrist problem that was eventually corrected by surgery…

[52] Mr. Rutter has an underlying spondylolisthesis, which is a condition in which the vertebrae are out of proper position, but this was largely asymptomatic prior to the motor vehicle accident.

[53] I find that Mr. Rutter’s suffers chronic back pain that was caused by the accident of December 15, 2006. I find further that it is unlikely that he will return to his pre-accident level of activity, although it is likely that he can achieve some improvement with regular exercise, including core muscle strength training…

[65] Mr. Rutter led a very active life before the accident and was involved in a number of sports, particularly golf and running. His injuries, particularly the back injury, have led to a significant change in lifestyle for Mr. Rutter. Since the accident, Mr. Rutter has had to reduce his sporting activities substantially. He is also curtailed somewhat in his day-to-day activities, including assisting with housework and household maintenance. He has difficulty sleeping and, at times, is more irritable than he was before the accident. Fortunately, Mr. Rutter has been able to maintain his full-time employment despite his symptoms. I am satisfied that Mr. Rutter finds his life today more frustrating and less enjoyable than previously. Mr. Rutter suffers chronic back pain that is likely to continue well into the future, although Dr. le Nobel is of the opinion that if Mr. Rutter engages in an exercise regime that is developed and maintained with the assistance of a physiotherapist and kinesiologist some improvement in his symptoms is probable…

[77] In my view, the chronic low back pain which Mr. Rutter experiences has a more significant impact on his life and the prognosis for significant improvement is not as good as was the case inMawji and Perez. In my view, the authorities cited by Mr. Rutter are more representative of an appropriate range of non-pecuniary damages considering the nature and effect of his injuries. I assess non-pecuniary damages at $65,000.00.


ICBC Injury Claims and Witness Statements; Getting Proper Disclosure

June 1st, 2010

Further to my recent post on this topic, often after serious motor vehicle collisions ICBC sends adjusters out to collect statements from the parties and known witnesses to the event.

When a lawsuit for compensation is brought by an injured party ICBC sometimes does not disclose the witness statements to the Plaintiff on the basis of ‘litigation privilege‘.   Being a monopoly insurer, ICBC investigates claims and our Courts have consistently held that if the statements were obtained during the ‘investigation‘ stage ICBC’s claim of ‘litigation privilege‘ will fail and the documents will have to be disclosed.  Reasons for judgement were released this week with helpful comments addressing this area of the law.

In this week’s case (Sauve v. ICBC) the Plaintiff was injured in 2008 motor vehicle collision.   After the collision ICBC hired an independent adjuster who obtained witness statements and also provided ICBC a report in which she sized up the various witnesses.  In describing the report the adjuster deposed that she “used my expertise and experience as an Insurance Adjuster to describe each of the Witnesses, including their physical appearance, demeanor and presentation. I also provided an analysis as to the likely performance of each witness in court. I further provided analysis of the commonalities between various witness accounts for the purpose of assessing credibility and preparing the case of the Defendant, ICBC should litigation occur”

ICBC provided the Plaintiff with the witness statements but refused to provide the report claiming the protection of litigation privilege.  The Plaintiff brought a motion to force disclosure.  Ultimately Mr. Justice Joyce held that the reports were privileged and ICBC did not have to disclose them to the Plaintiff.  Before reaching this conclusion the Court provided helpful reasons addressing the difficulty ICBC may face in claiming privilege over witness statements obtained in the immediate aftermath of a collision.  Mr. Justice Joyce reasoned as follows:

[34] I turn to the second part of the test: were the documents created for the dominant purpose of assisting the defendant in the conduct of the anticipated litigation by Ms. Sauvé?

[35] Once again in answering that question, it is important to focus on when the reports were created and to consider them separate from any consideration of whether the witness statements and photographs would meet the dominant purpose test. I can certainly accept that the witness statements and photographs may well have come into existence for two purposes:

(1)       to investigate the circumstances of the accident, and

(2)       to assist in the conduct of litigation.

[36] Therefore, whether those documents would satisfy the second part of the test might have been a difficult question to answer. The defendant might not have been able to meet the test for the first group of documents on a balance of probabilities, but that is not the question that I have to decide.

[37] In my view, when deciding whether the reports were prepared for the dominant purpose of litigation I have to consider not only what was known by Mr. Taylor and communicated to Ms. Webber; I also have to consider what Ms. Webber knew when she prepared the reports, as well as the nature of the reports. Ms. Webber has deposed that when she prepared the reports, she believed that the dominant purpose for their creation was litigation. She came to that conclusion being aware of the information that the witnesses could give with respect to the circumstances of the accident. According to Ms. Webber, the reports consist of her descriptions of the witness, her impressions or opinions concerning their credibility and her own analysis of how the evidence of the various witnesses matched or conflicted. While it might be possible that such information might assist ICBC at the investigation stage, I am of the view that any such use of the documents would clearly be secondary to their use in assisting counsel in the conduct of the action. I am, therefore, satisfied that the reports were created for the dominant purpose of litigation and attracted litigation privilege.

In addition to the above this case contains a useful analysis of the law of waiver of privilege and ‘common interest’ privilege and is worth reviewing in full for anyone interested in these topics.


Hearsay Evidence: BC Injury Trials and Missing/Deceased Witnesses

April 24th, 2010

Hearsay evidence is an out of Court statement introduced at trial for the truth of its contents.  In British Columbia hearsay evidence is admissible in certain circumstances.  BC Courts apply a ‘principled exception‘ to the general rule against hearsay evidence in circumstances where there is sufficient ‘necessity and reliability‘.

What happens if a key witness dies before a personal injury claim in BC heads to trial?  Can previously recorded evidence from that witness be introduced under this ‘principled exception‘?  Reasons for judgement were published this week on the BC Supreme Court website dealing with this issue.

In this week’s case (Simon v. Portsmith) the Plaintiff suffered very serious injuries when he was struck by a vehicle as he was walking along a highway in Salmon Arm, British Columbia.

A key question at trial was weather the owner of the vehicle consented to the driver operating the car.  Another important issue was where the Defendant driver lived at the time of the accident.  The owner of the vehicle could have been ‘vicariously liable‘ for the driver’s actions depending on the answers to these questions.

A witness by the name of Mr. Stushnov was expected to give evidence on where the alleged driver was living at the time of the crash.  Prior to trial Mr. Stushnov swore an affidavit setting out his evidence on this point.  The witness died unexpectedly prior to trial.  The Defendant tried to introduce the affidavit as evidence.  The Plaintiff objected.  Mr. Justice Boyce let the evidence in providing the following useful analysis:

[13] In the case at bar, the plaintiff concedes that the evidence is necessary. Mr. Stushnov is no longer available to testify. The issue is whether the evidence meets the threshold reliability test.

[14] The evidence was taken under oath before a lawyer. Mr. Stushnov was not involved with the events giving rise to this claim in any way. There is no suggestion that he had any personal relationship with Mr. Portsmith other than by providing him a place to live for a period of time. There is no suggestion of any reason that he might have to not tell the truth. He had no interest in the outcome of this proceeding. He was an independent witness.

[15] It is of course true that the plaintiff would now have no way to test Mr. Stushnov’s credibility through cross-examination. However, as counsel for the plaintiff on this motion frankly stated, when the matter was before the court on the Rule 18A application, the credibility of Mr. Stushnov was not in issue and was not raised. What was in issue was the credibility of Mrs. Bostock.

[16] Further, as noted by counsel for the defendant, plaintiff’s counsel has known since 2005 what evidence Mr. Stushnov was expected to give. They chose not to interview the witness to test his credibility.

[17] This evidence is clearly important to the defence. In my view, despite the fact that the plaintiff does not have the ability to cross-examine the deponent, which is something that is often the case when resort has to be made to hearsay evidence, the circumstances surrounding the making of the statement provide sufficient safeguards of reliability to justify its admissibility. The affidavit will therefore be received in evidence.