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 ‘New BC Supreme Court Civil Rules’

Renewing a Lawsuit and the New BC Supreme Court Civil Rules

September 3rd, 2010

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, applying Rule 3-2(1) of the New BC Supreme Court Civil Rules.  This rule permits the Court to renew a Notice of Civil Claim before or after it expires.  Today’s case is the first I’m aware of applying this new rule.

In today’s case (Stuart v. Patterson) the Plaintiff was injured in two consecutive instances while engaging in exercises known as “dead-lifts”.  These exercises were apparently being supervised by the Defendant.  The Plaintiff started two separate lawsuits against the Defendant alleging that he was at fault for her injuries.  The Plaintiff’s lawyer failed to serve the Writ of Summons within the first year after filing.  The Plaintiff brought an application to renew the lawsuit relying on Rule 3-2(1) of the New Rules of Court.

Madam Justice Fitzpatrick found that the Plaintiff’s lawyer acted reasonably in taking steps to renew  the lawsuit after learning it expired and that there was little prejudice to the Defendant and accordingly renewed the filed documents for a further two months permitting them to be properly served on the Defendants.  In doing so the Court seemed to accept that Rule 3-2(1) reads almost identically to the old Rule 9(1) and that the precedents developed under the old rule remain in force.   Madam Justice Fitzpatrick summarized the applicable law as follows:

[10]         The leading case on the test to be applied on this application is Bearhead v. Moorhouse, [1977] B.C.J. No. 1324, (1977), 3 B.C.L.R. 81 (S.C.), upheld on appeal (1978), 5 B.C.L.R. 380. The test adopted by the Court of Appeal at that time requires the court to ask itself the basic question of “what is necessary to see that justice is done?”  In considering that question, the following factors are to be considered:

1.               Was the application to renew brought promptly?

2.               Did the defendants have notice of the claim before the writ expired?

3.               Did the defendant suffer prejudice?

4.               Was the failure to serve the writ attributable to the actions of the defendants?

5.               Was the failure to serve the writ attributable to the actions of the plaintiff?

[11]         Recent considerations of these factors are found in our Court of Appeal decisions of Seeliger v. Eagle Ridge Hospital, 2007 BCCA 582, and Fast Fuel Services Ltd. v. Michelin North America (Canada) Inc., 2008 BCCA 216.

[12]         It is clear from the authorities cited to me by both counsel that each case is to be decided on its particular facts.

[13]         Further, counsel for Ms. Stuart refers me to the statements from the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal in Simpson v. Saskatchewan Government Insurance Office (1967), 61 W.W.R. 741, at p. 750, 65 D.L.R. (2d) 324, to the effect that failure to renew a writ is an “irregularity” and that “if the refusal to renew the writ would do an obvious and substantial injustice to the plaintiff, while to permit it is not going to work any substantial injustice to the defendant or prejudice the defendant’s defence, then the writ should be renewed”: see Bearhead, BCCA at para. 8; Lowe v. Christensen (1984), 54 B.C.L.R. 88 (C.A.) at para. 13; Sutherland v. McLeod, 2004 BCCA 653, at paras. 28-29.

[14]         I accordingly consider the Bearhead factors:

New Rules of Court Get First Judicial Interpretation: The Transitional Rule

August 3rd, 2010

I have volunteered to keep an eye on the New BC Supreme Court Rules and write about decisions interpreting and applying these.  Today the first judgement considering the New Rules has come to my attention.  Today’s case dealt with Rule 24, the transitional rule.

In today’s case (Easton v. Cooper) the Plaintiff was involved in 3 motor vehicle collisions.  The Plaintiff sued for damages for each crash.  The lawsuits were started under the old Rules of Court but were set to proceed to trial in November, 2010 (some 5 months after the New Rules came into force).  The lawsuits were all started under Rule 68 of the old rules which required parties to exchange summaries of the evidence they expect their witnesses to give at trial.  The Plaintiff did not produce statements in compliance with this requirement.

The Defendant brought a motion to force  the Plaintiff to provide this evidence.  The Plaintiff opposed arguing that she no longer needs to exchange these statements because the trial will proceed under the new rules.  Mr. Justice Voith sided with the Defendants and ordered that the Plaintiff provide summaries of evidence as required under the old rules.  In reaching this conclusion the Court had the first opportunity that I’m aware of to consider section 24 of the New Rules of Court (the section dealing with parties obligations in lawsuits started under the old rules but that are ongoing aftger the New Rules came into force).  Mr. Justice Voith provided the following interpretation of this section:

[4]             Rule 24-1(14) of the New Rules provides:

(14)      If a step in a proceeding is taken before July 1, 2010, the former Supreme Court Rules apply to any right or obligation arising out of or relating to that step if and to the extent that that right or obligation is to have effect before September 1, 2010.

[5]             The interpretation of Rule 24-1(14) turns on both the meaning of “step in a proceeding” as well as the time period that is book-ended by the two dates within the provision…

[13]         Based on the foregoing authorities, within the “Rules context”, a “step” means a formal step expressly permitted or required by the Rules.

[14]         Rule 24-1(14) specifically focuses on a narrow window of time. It addresses instances where a step undertaken prior to July 1, 2010 gives rise to an obligation that is required to be satisfied prior to September 1, 2010. By way of example, the “step” of delivering a demand for discovery of documents created a right on the part of the initiating party and a concomitant obligation on the part of the recipient of the demand to comply with the time frames and substantive requirements of the former Rules. So long as the time frame for that obligation ends before September 1, 2010 the response or action is governed under the former Rules.

[15]         In this case Rule 24-1(14) is not engaged.

[16]         Rule 68(31) of the former Rules provided:


(31)      Within 90 days after the close of pleadings or within 90 days after the action becomes an expedited action, whichever is later, each party to an expedited action must deliver to each other party

(a)        a list, in Form 141, of the witnesses that the party delivering the list proposes to call at the trial of the expedited action, which list must

(i)    include the party delivering the list, if that party intends to give evidence at trial, and

(ii)    exclude any expert witnesses referred to in subrule (33), and

(b)        for each of the witnesses included in the list, a written summary of the evidence that the party believes that witness will give at trial.

[17]         In each of the three actions commence by Ms. Easton, the 90 day period provided for by the former Rule 68(31), as well as the obligation or formal step created by that Rule, had expired well before July 1, 2010. The application of Rule 24-1(14) simply does not come into play. The fact that the ultimate trial of these various actions will post-date September 1, 2010, is of no moment and does not detract from the obligation to adhere to the formal requirements established by the earlier Rules…

[21] The plaintiff is directed to provide proper witness statements to counsel for the defendants within 21 days of the date that these Reasons for Judgment are issued.

In addition to the usual variety of topics I cover on this blog I will continue to post about the new Rules of Court.  If anyone is aware of any recent cases worth noting here please don’t hesitate to contact me.

The New BC Supreme Court Practice Directions Released

July 6th, 2010

As readers of this blog know, the New BC Supreme Court Civil Rules are now in force.

Over the years a number of practice directions were released which addressed the BC Supreme Court rules.  These were abolished when the New Rules came into force and accordingly a new set of practice directions were needed.

The BC Government has now released new Administrative Notices and Practice Directions.  Substantively these are basically the same as the old Practice Directions and have simply been re-worded to recognize the new Rules of Court.

One improvement worth noting, however, is the numbering system.  Under the old Rules Practice Directions were referred to by date making them more cumbersome to access and refer to.  The new Practice Directions have been numbered chronologically (from PD-1 to PD-24) making them more user friendly.

Happy Canada Day – Bring on the New Rules…

July 1st, 2010

With Canada Day comes a big change in the British Columbia legal landscape.  The New BC Supreme Court Civil Rules are now officially in force.   You can click here to read the summary I posted several months ago highlighting some of the biggest changes under the New Rules.

For those of you still getting up to speed on the New Rules, you can access them here.

For those of you that are members of The Trial Lawyers Association of BC I suggest you log in to TLABC’s website and click on the “” link which can be found under the heading “Recent News“.

The TLABC Rules Committe has done a great job summarizing the New Rules and highlighting the key differences between the New Rules and the old ones along with making some useful suggestions and tips for anticipated issues that lawyers and clients may face under the New Rules.

Lastly, a table of concordance can be found at the Attorney General of BC’s website.

For my part I will continue to post about BC Supreme Court judgments interpreting and applying the New Rules with a particular focus on cases dealing with Fast Track Litigation, Expert Reports and the concept of Proportionality.  If anyone is aware of a case of particular interest that you’d like me to discuss on the BC Injury Law Blog feel free to contact me directly.

Who's the Expert? The Rule Against "Corporate Reports"

June 25th, 2010

When a party introduces an expert report at trial in the BC Supreme Court one of the requirements is that the report sets out “the name of the person primarily responsible for the content of the statement“.  If a party fails to do so they risk having the report excluded from evidence.  Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, demonstrating this.

In this week’s case (Jones v. Ma) the Plaintiff was involved in a motor vehicle accident.  She sued for damages.  Fault was at issue and in support of their case the Defendants hired an engineering firm who produced an accident reconstruction report.  The report was signed by a Forensic Engineer.

The Plaintiff objected to the admission of the report arguing that it was not the report of the expert who signed it, rather it was “a corporate report which embodies the observations and opinions of several individuals, without clearly distinguishing who made the various observations on which the opinions are based and who engaged in the process of forming the opinions that are expressed in the report.”

The Engineer was cross examined and it become evident that “the majority of the work on the report was not done by (the engineer that signed it), but rather by other persons in the firm he works for”.  The Court went on to exclude the report from evidence.  Mr. Justice Ehrcke provided the following useful summary and application of the law:

[11]         This is not simply a matter of form. The purpose of the rule is to ensure fairness to both parties by providing the party on whom the report is served with adequate notice to enable them to effectively cross-examine the expert and to properly instruct their own expert if they choose to retain one.

[12]         The relevant case law was reviewed by Burnyeat J. in Dhaliwal v. Bassi, 2007 BCSC 548, 73 B.C.L.R. (4th) 170. In that case, the Court was presented with an expert report of a Dr. Passey who, in forming his opinions, relied on psychological questionnaires administered by a Dr. Ross. Mr. Justice Burnyeat wrote…:

[4]        The purposes of Rule 40A are clear:  (a) neither side should be taken by surprise by expert evidence (Sterritt v. McLeod (2000), 74 B.C.L.R. (3d) 371 (B.C.C.A.) at para. 33) and neither side should be ambushed or surprised at trial; (b) to ensure fairness to the parties and to promote the orderly progression of the trial (C.A. v. Critchley(1996), 4 C.P.C. (4th) 269 (B.C.S.C.) at para. 15). The burden on Mr. Bassi to show that I should exercise my discretion to allow the report to be introduced has been described as a:  “… relatively heavy burden ….”:  McKay v. Passmore, [2005] B.C.J. (Q.L.) No. 1232 (B.C.S.C.), at para. 26. The question which arises is whether there is “… substantial and irremediable prejudice ….” so as to justify the exclusion of the report on the basis that the statement does not comply with Rule 40A(5)(c) of the Rules of Court:  C.A. v. Critchley,supra, at para. 12…

In my view, a document is not a written statement setting out the opinion of an expert unless it appears clearly from the face of that document that the opinions in it are those of the individual expert who prepared and signed the statement. Our rules make no provision for the entry in evidence of joint or corporate opinions. The opinion must be that of an individual expert and it must fall, of course, within the scope of her own expertise. The opinion cannot simply be a reporting of the opinions of others. The statement, to be admissible, must show clearly that this is the case.

I find some support for this view in the decision of my brother Judge Macdonald in Emil Anderson Construction Co. Ltd. … As that case points out, there is a real possibility of procedural prejudice to cross-examining counsel if he or she cannot tell from the report which of the opinions are truly those held by the witness giving evidence and which are simply opinions of other team members reported to her and asserted by her in the written report. (at paras. 11-12)

[10]      Unless the authors of all parts of an opinion are known, unless the qualifications of each person contributing to the opinion are known, and unless the facts upon which each of the persons contributing to an opinion are set out, the cross-examination of an expert witness regarding the opinion that had been provided would be impossible.

[13]         In my view, the report tendered by the defendant in the present case does not comply with the requirements of Rule 40A(5), and it would cause irreparable prejudice to the plaintiff if the report were admitted.

[14]         The report is excluded from evidence.

I should point out that this case was decided relying on the current BC Supreme Court Rule 40A(5)(c).  As readers of this blog know the BC Supreme Court Rules are being overhauled on July 1, 2010 and some of the biggest changes relate to the rule concerning expert opinion evidence.

Rule 40A(5)(c) reads that “The statement shall set out or be accompanied by a supplementary statement setting out…the name of the person primarily responsible for the content of the statement.”

The new rule dealing with the content of expert reports is Rule 11-6 which states

An expert’s report that is to be tendered as evidence at the trial must be signed by the expert, must include the certification required under Rule 11-2 (2) and must set out the following:

(a) the expert’s name, address and area of expertise;…”

While the language has changed somewhat the underlying purpose of the requirement appears the same and that is to not prejudice the opposing party’s ability to cross examine the opinion.  It seems this case will retain its value as a precedent under the New BC Supreme Court Rules but time will tell.

The "New" New BC Supreme Court Civil Rules

May 15th, 2010

Regular visitors to this site undoubtedly know that the New BC Supreme Court Civil Rules come into force on July 1, 2010.  These will effect every ICBC and other Personal Injury Claim prosecuted in the BC Supreme Court.

The rules are being tinkered with before they come into force and earlier this month the Lieutenant Governor in Council approved Order No. 243 which makes some changes to the New Rules of Court.  On quick review these appear to be very minor.  Kristina Oldenburg of the Courthouse libraries of BC was kind enough to provide me with a link to a PDF document containing the actual amendments.

It is rumoured that there may be a further transitional provision addressing expert witness reports commissioned under the current rules for cases that will go to trial under the new rules.  This would be a welcome development because many expert reports that comply with the current rules will not comly with the new rule addressing expert opinion evidence.  It is not an understatement to say that it will cost tens of millions of dollars to update all of these reports.  This seems like an unnecessary and fixable expense.

I will continue to address this topic as further changes are made to the New Rules.

More on Court Costs and "Sufficient Reason" For Suing in the BC Supreme Court

May 15th, 2010

Further to my previous posts on this topic, if a Plaintiff successfully sues in the BC Supreme Court but receives damages below $25,000 they may be deprived of their court ‘costs’ unless they had ‘sufficient reason’ for choosing the Supreme Court over small claims court.

Two judgements were released this week by the BC Supreme Court discussing this area of law.  In this weeks cases (Spencer v. Popham and Spencer v. Horton) the Plaintiff was involved in 2 separate  BC car crashes.  She started separate lawsuits in the BC Supreme Court but settled her cases before they went to trial.  Both claims settled form amounts below $25,000 (the current financial limit of BC’s small claims court).  The Plaintiff and ICBC could not agree on the issue of costs.

ICBC argued that since both cases were in the small claims courts jurisdiction the Plaintiff did not have sufficient reason for suing in the Supreme Court.  Mr. Justice Punnett disagreed and awarded the Plaintiff costs in both claims.  In doing so he provided the following useful and through summary of this area of the law:

[8] Rule 57(10) of the Rules of Court states:

A plaintiff who recovers a sum within the jurisdiction of the Provincial Court under the Small Claims Act is not entitled to costs, other than disbursements, unless the court finds that there was sufficient reason for bringing the proceeding in the Supreme Court and so orders.

[9] This rule encourages persons to bring actions in Small Claims Court when a claim falls within that court’s monetary jurisdiction. It is an example of “proportionality”; the judicial process should match the amount in dispute. However, the court must also respect a party’s “legitimate choice” of forum: Reimann v. Aziz, 2007 BCCA 448, 286 D.L.R. (4th) 330 at para. 35.

[10] The burden is on claimants to evaluate their claims prior to commencement and to justify their decision if they recover less than the Small Claims Court limit, currently $25,000:Reimann at para. 38. If plaintiffs fail to sufficiently investigate and assess their claims prior to commencement, they risk not recovering costs. In a personal injury action this may require plaintiffs to obtain medical records and medical reports, to gather evidence to support claims for loss of earnings and earning capacity, and to assess the evidence in support of the claims being advanced before commencing the action.

[11] However, as noted by Justice Savage in Gradek v. DaimlerChrysler Financial Services Canada Inc, 2010 BCSC 356 at para. 19, R. 57(10) contemplates the possibility that factors other than quantum must be considered:

[19]      The proviso in Rule 57(10) is “unless the court finds that there was sufficient reason for bringing the proceeding in Supreme Court and so orders”. The Rule does not define “sufficient reason”. There is nothing in the Rule that limits the extension of the term “sufficient reason” to matters relating to the quantum of the claim.

[12] Factors that can give rise to “sufficient reason” were set out in Kuehne v. Probstl, 2004 BCSC 865 at para. 22, and accepted in Icecorp International Cargo Express Corp. v. Nicolaus, 2007 BCCA 97, 38 C.P.C. (6th) 26 at para. 27. They include:

i. the legal or factual complexity of the case;

ii. the need for discovery of documents and examinations for discovery;

iii. the need for a judgment enforceable outside of British Columbia;

iv. a bona fide preference for a jury trial; and

v. access to the summary trial procedure available in Supreme Court.

Other factors can be the need for the plaintiff to have legal counsel (Faedo v. Dowell, 2007 BCSC 1985 at para. 36; Ostovic v. Foggin, 2009 BCSC 58 at para. 42; Gradek at para. 43), and the defendant’s denial of liability, causation, and injury or loss and allegations of contributory negligence, pre-existing conditions, previous causes and a failure to mitigate (Ostovic at paras. 39-40; Gradek at para. 35).

[13] Therefore, a plaintiff’s evaluation of his or her claim, can also involve an assessment of these factors. Even if the plaintiff assesses the claim to be within the jurisdiction of the Small Claims Court, the plaintiff can rely on these other reasons to commence the action in Supreme Court: Johannson v. National Car Rental (Canada) Inc., 2009 BCSC 1284 at para. 5.

[14] In my opinion, a plaintiff’s simple desire to retain counsel is not in and of itself a sufficient reason for commencing the action in Supreme Court. Other factors, such as those noted above, determine whether retaining counsel is justified.

[15] In Faedo, the plaintiff was in a low impact collision and suffered a soft tissue injury to her neck and back. Justice Vickers found that the case was not that complex and plaintiff’s counsel could not have considered ICBC’s original dispute of liability a serious threat to recovery. However, Justice Vickers concluded that it was reasonable for the plaintiff to have brought her claim in Supreme Court for two reasons: (1) when the action was commenced, the plaintiff believed she was suffering from the accident and her pleadings included a claim for loss of earning capacity and disruption of the ability to earn income; and (2) ICBC put her credibility seriously in issue when it took the position that she had not suffered from any injury or any significant injury. Justice Vickers continued at para. 36:

[36]      … I observed this plaintiff to be very nervous in court. She had no previous experience in court and in my opinion when she was confronted with a case where the defendant represented by counsel was suggesting that she hadn’t been injured at all and this was a low impact accident in which it was suggested she wouldn’t be injured, that the plaintiff reasonably required counsel to represent her and reasonably started an action in the Supreme Court where she could hope to recover some of the cost of retaining that counsel which was necessary for her to properly put her case to get the compensation I have found her entitled to. Furthermore, an offer to settle such as the plaintiff made in this case puts very little pressure upon a defendant to settle where there is no exposure to costs.

[16] In Ostovic, another case arising out of a low impact accident, Justice Savage noted that because the defendant denied liability, causation and special damages, the plaintiff had to prove these issues in court. Because of this, the plaintiff needed to avail himself of pre-trial discovery, which provided important evidence of the speed of impact, the consequences of impact and concern over the plaintiff’s condition. In addition, Justice Savage found at para. 42:

[42]      There is the additional factor that, as in Faedo and Kanani [v. Misiurna, 2008 BCSC 1274], the Plaintiff faced an institutional defendant which, in the ordinary course, has counsel. To obtain any recovery the Plaintiff is forced to go to court, where he is facing counsel and counsel is reasonably required, but in Provincial Court there is no way of recovering the costs of counsel.

[17] In Gradek, before the issuance of the writ, the defendants’ insurers had informed the plaintiffs that their position was the accident did not result in any compensable injury. In their pleadings, the defendants denied liability and injury or loss and alleged contributory negligence, the existence of a pre-existing injury and previous causes, and a failure to mitigate. There was a broad range of findings possible respecting liability. The plaintiff, Henryk Gradek, was a Polish immigrant who spoke halting English. Justice Savage found at para. 42 that “he would have had extraordinary difficulty presenting a case on his own” and would have been “out-matched” by either a lawyer or an ICBC adjustor. The plaintiff needed counsel to obtain a just result and, therefore, had sufficient reason to begin the action in Supreme Court.

[18] Plaintiffs do not have an ongoing duty to reassess their claims as the matter proceeds: Reimann at para. 44. Thus, the court must assess whether a plaintiff had “sufficient reason” to bring the action in Supreme Court when the plaintiff started the action: Ostovic at para. 35. This analysis is necessarily done with the benefit of hindsight since it only occurs after trial or settlement, but the court must be careful not to use that hindsight in deciding what was reasonable: Faedo at para. 28.

[19] It also must be remembered R. 57(10) “does not involve an exercise of discretion.” Rather, “the court must make a finding that there was sufficient reason for bringing the action in the Supreme Court” (emphasis added): Reimann at para. 13.

In my continued effort to cross reference the current Supreme Court rules with the new Rules of Court that come into force on July 1, 2010 I will note that the Current Rule 57(10) will become Rule 14-1(10) and it reads identical to the current rule so the precedents developed under Rule 57(10) regarding costs should continue to assist litigants under our new rules.

More on ICBC Injury Claims and Late Defence Motions For Medical Exams

April 2nd, 2010

Further to my recent post on this topic, reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, demonstrating that ICBC may face an uphill battle when they apply for a Defence medical exam when the trial of the action is imminent.

In this week’s case (Agesen v. ICBC) the Plaintiff was injured in 2 separate motor vehicle accidents.  The Plaintiff sued and both cases where scheduled to be heard at the same time.  In support of his case the Plaintiff served medico-legal reports from a psychiatrist, a psychologist, an occupational therapist, his GP and a vocational assessment.  The Plaintiff attended a defence medical exam with a neurosurgeon and a report was served by the Defendants.

The Defendants then requested that the Plaintiff be assessed by an orthopaedic surgeon.  The Plaintiff would not consent and a court motion was brought.  The Master who presided granted the motion and ordered the Plaintiff to be assessed by the orthopaedic surgeon.  This appointment was to take place less than one month before trial.  The Plaintiff appealed and succeeded.  In overturning the Master’s decision Madam Justice Morrison reasoned that the late application would be prejudicial to the Plaintiff.  Specifically, on the topic of timing of defence applications for medical exams the Court stated as follows:

[38]        In Benner v. Vancouver (City), Mr. Justice N. Smith refused an application for a medical examination that came three weeks before trial.  The application was three weeks before trial and the examination itself would have been less than two weeks before trial.  In paragraph 19 of his judgment, Smith J. confirmed that the purpose of Rule 30 was “to place the parties on an equal footing in their ability to obtain medical evidence in a case where injuries are alleged.”  He also referred to Rule 40A which requires service of expert opinions 60 days before trial, where a report delivered less than 60 days before trial is inadmissible unless the court were to order otherwise.  In that case, the court found that the plaintiff’s physical condition was clearly put in issue by the pleadings.  The defendants had full advantage and protection of routine production of medical records.  I find that decision is applicable to this appeal.

[39]        In dismissing the application for a medical examination at that late stage, at paragraph 35, Smith J. stated, “… the Rules of Court are intended to level the playing field as between the plaintiff and the defendant, a defendant who takes no timely steps to exercise its rights under the rules does so at its peril.”..

[45] In my view, it would be prejudicial to the plaintiff at this date to order an IME four weeks before a ten day jury trial.  That the plaintiff has serious injuries is not a surprise to the defence.  That his claim is substantial should certainly not have been a surprise.  Any advantage to the defence at this point in time would be outweighed by prejudice to the plaintiff, not only because of his problems in dealing with examinations, depositions and preparation for trial, but also because of the very real possibility that a late medical opinion could well result in plaintiff’s counsel having to seek an adjournment of this trial, in order to meet unexpected or opinion evidence that may be prejudicial to the plaintiff.  In this case, the balancing of prejudice must be in favour of the plaintiff, given the chronology of events.

As readers of this blog know the BC Supreme Court Civil Rules are being overhauled in July 2010.  Some of the biggest changes in the new Rules relate to expert evidence and you can click here to read my article discussing these changes.  The Court will continue to have the power to order multiple medical exams in particular circumstances but one thing that will change is that the concept of ‘proportionality’ will be introduced into the analysis.  I will continue to post about these decisions as the new Rules is developed in its application by the BC Supreme Court.

The Debate Goes On – Rule 37B and the Relevance of Insurance

April 1st, 2010

Further to my numerous posts discussing the development of Rule 37B, reasons for judgement were released today demonstrating that this Rule’s application is still being shaped by the BC Supreme Court.

The one factor that has yet to receive judicial agreement is whether the defendant being insured is a factor the Court can consider when exercising its discretion to award costs under the rule.  There are cases going both ways and today’s case shows that the debate goes on.

In today’s case (Wittich v. Bob) the Plaintiff was injured in a car crash.  Her husband was the at fault driver.  She sued for damages.  Before the trial the Defendant (through his insurer ICBC) made a formal offer to settle the case for $40,100.  Later the Defendant withdrew this offer and made a second formal under Rule 37B to settle the case for $65,000.  The Plaintiff rejected this offer, made her own formal offer of $196,000 and proceeded to trial.

At trial the Plaintiff sought damages of $847,000.  The claim was largely unsuccessful with the Court awarding just over $31,000 in damages.  (You can click here to read my summary of the trial judgement).

The Defence then brought a motion to be awarded costs and disbursements.  This application was partially successful with the Defendant being awarded their costs and disbursements from 6 weeks before trial through trial.  Before coming to this decision, however, Madam Justice Bruce was asked to consider whether the fact that the Defendant was insured with ICBC was a factor the court can consider when weighing the financial positions of the parties.  The Court ruled that this indeed is a relevant factor holding as follows:

[23]        Turning to the financial circumstances of the parties, it is clear that, as a married couple, the plaintiff and the defendant have the same economic position.  The authorities are divided as to whether the circumstances of the insurer should be considered as a relevant factor in an order for costs. In the particular circumstances of this case, I find it is appropriate to consider the insurer’s resources in comparison to the plaintiff’s. The defendant Mr. Wittich supported his wife’s claim and testified that her pain and suffering after the accident was considerable and prolonged; however, counsel for the defendant took an entirely different position in argument. Thus it must be inferred that counsel was taking instructions from the insurer and not the litigant.

[24]        The plaintiff is not a wealthy person. She has not worked for a considerable period of time. The defendant has an income of less than $70,000 per year. I thus find that their economic circumstances are far less substantial when compared to that of the insurer. It is also apparent that an award of costs may deprive the plaintiff of the judgment awarded at trial. These are factors in her favour.

Rule 37B has been on the books now for almost two years.  The Court is clearly conflicted about whether the availability of insurance is a relevant factor under the rule.  When the New BC Supreme Court Rules come into force on July 1, 2010 Rule 37B will be replaced with Rule 9.  Rule 9 uses language that is almost identical to Rule 37B so the lack of clarity will likely continue.  In light of the on-going conflicting authorities it will be useful if the BC Court of Appeal addresses this issue.

Privacy Rights – Personal Injury Claims and Your Computer Hard Drive

March 19th, 2010

A developing area of law is electronic discovery.

In the personal injury context the BC Supreme Court Rules require relevant, non privileged documents to be disclosed to opposing counsel.  The definition of document includes “any information recorded or stored by any means of any device“.  So, if there is relevant information, be it printed, on a computer or even on a cell phone, discovery needs to be made in compliance with the Rules of Court.

In recent years electronic documents have been the subject of court applications and Insurance companies / Defendants have sometimes been successful in gaining access to a Plaintiff computer’s hard drive.  Reasons for judgement were released today by the Supreme Court of Canada discussing court orders for the seizure of computer hard drives.

Today’s case (R v. Morelli) dealt with a criminal law matter.  However the Canadian High Court’s reasons may be of some use in the personal injury context.

By way of background the Defendant was charged with a criminal code offence.  One of the reasons for the charges was evidence that was apparently obtained from the Defendant’s computer which was seized pursuant to a search warrant.

The Defendant was convicted at trial.  The Supreme Court of Canada, in a very close split decision (4-3) overturned the conviction on the basis that the search warrant never should have been ordered because there were no reasonable and probable grounds to issue it.

While this case strictly dealt with criminal search warrants and the necessary evidence to obtain one, the Canadian High Court made some very strong comments about the intrusive effects of computer searches and this reasoning very well may have persuasive value for Courts considering whether they should give insurance companies access to Plaintiffs computers.  Specifically the Supreme Court of Canada provided the following comments:

[1]   This case concerns the right of everyone in Canada, including the appellant, to be secure against unreasonable search and seizure.  And it relates, more particularly, to the search and seizure of personal computers.

[2]  It is difficult to imagine a search more intrusive, extensive, or invasive of one’s privacy than the search and seizure of a personal computer.

3]  First, police officers enter your home, take possession of your computer, and carry it off for examination in a place unknown and inaccessible to you.  There, without supervision or constraint, they scour the entire contents of your hard drive: your emails sent and received; accompanying attachments; your personal notes and correspondence; your meetings and appointments; your medical and financial records; and all other saved documents that you have downloaded, copied, scanned, or created.  The police scrutinize as well the electronic roadmap of your cybernetic peregrinations, where you have been and what you appear to have seen on the Internet — generally by design, but sometimes by accident.

[4]  That is precisely the kind of search that was authorized in this case.  And it was authorized on the strength of an Information to Obtain a Search Warrant (“ITO”) that was carelessly drafted, materially misleading, and factually incomplete.  The ITO invoked an unsupported stereotype of an ill-defined “type of offender” and imputed that stereotype to the appellant.  In addition, it presented a distorted portrait of the appellant and of his surroundings and conduct in his own home at the relevant time…

[105] As I mentioned at the outset, it is difficult to imagine a more intrusive invasion of privacy than the search of one’s home and personal computer.  Computers often contain our most intimate correspondence.  They contain the details of our financial, medical, and personal situations.  They even reveal our specific interests, likes, and propensities, recording in the browsing history and cache files the information we seek out and read, watch, or listen to on the Internet. ..

[111] The public must have confidence that invasions of privacy are justified, in advance, by a genuine showing of probable cause.  To admit the evidence in this case and similar cases in the future would undermine that confidence in the long term.

When considering whether a Defendant should be allowed access to a Plaintiff’s computer in a personal injury lawsuit I should point out that the New BC Supreme Court Civil Rules will change the scope of documents that need to be disclosed.  Specifically, the test for what documents are discoverable will be altered.

Under the current system parties must disclose documents “relating to every matter in question in the action“.  Under the new rules this test has been changed to “all documents that are or have been in a parties possession or control that could be used by any party to prove or disprove a material fact” and “all other documents to which a party intends to refer at trial“.

This new test is supposed to be narrower in scope than the current one.  Time will tell how this new test will change disclosure requirements in the prosecution of personal injury actions however, given the fact that this new test will be applied alongside principles of proportionality there very well may be narrower disclosure requirements in smaller personal injury claims and greater obligations in the prosecution of more serious claims.

I will continue to write about this area of British Columbia personal injury law as it develops in the coming months.