Back to Basics – BC Injury Trials and "Relevant" Evidence

If evidence is not relevant it is not admissible at trial.  So what exactly is relevant evidence in a personal injury lawsuit?  Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, providing a concise and useful definition.
In today’s case (Beazley v. Suzuki Motor Corporation) the Plaintiff was injured while involved in a single vehicle accident involving a Geo Tracker.  The lawsuit focused on whether the Tracker was safely designed.   In support of her case the Plaintiff wished to put hundreds of documents into evidence.  The Defendants objected to some of these arguing that they were not relevant.
Mr. Justice Goepel went through the objections one by one and ruled that some of the documents were relevant and some were not.  Before reaching his decisions Mr. Justice Goepel provided the following useful definition of relevant evidence:

[15] To be admissible, evidence must be relevant to the facts in issue and not subject to exclusion under any other rule of law or policy.  Evidence is relevant “where it has some tendency as a matter of logic and human experience to make the proposition for which it is advanced more likely than the proposition would appear to be in the absence of that evidence” ( D.M. Paciocco & L. Stuesser, The Law of Evidence (Toronto: Irwin Law,1996) at 19).

[16] In a civil case, the facts in issue are established by the pleadings.  Evidence unrelated to the issues as disclosed in the pleadings is not admissible.

[17] Not all relevant evidence is admissible.  The court must also balance the cost to the trial the process of admitting the evidence.  The judge’s task was described by Sopinka J. in R. v. Mohan, [1994] 2 S.C.R. 9 at 20-21:

Relevance is a matter to be decided by a judge as question of law. Although prima facie admissible if so related to a fact in issue that it tends to establish it, that does not end the inquiry. This merely determines the logical relevance of the evidence. Other considerations enter into the decision as to admissibility. This further inquiry may be described as a cost benefit analysis, that is “whether its value is worth what it costs.” See McCormick on Evidence (3rd ed. 1984), at p. 544. Cost in this context is not used in its traditional economic sense but rather in terms of its impact on the trial process. Evidence that is otherwise logically relevant may be excluded on this basis, if its probative value is overborne by its prejudicial effect, if it involves an inordinate amount of time which is not commensurate with its value or if it is misleading in the sense that its effect on the trier of fact, particularly a jury, is out of proportion to its reliability. While frequently considered as an aspect of legal relevance, the exclusion of logically relevant evidence on these grounds is more properly regarded as a general exclusionary rule (see Morris v. The Queen, [1983] 2 S.C.R. 190). Whether it is treated as an aspect of relevance or an exclusionary rule, the effect is the same.

[18] While the above passage was written in the context of the admissibility of expert evidence, the same principles must be considered in determining the admissibility of any form of evidence.

bc injury law, Beazley v. Suzuki Motor Corporation, Mr. Justice Goepel, Relevance, Relevant, Relevant Evidence

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ERIK
MAGRAKEN

Personal Injury Lawyer

When not writing the BC Injury Law Blog, Erik is the managing partner at MacIsaac & Company, based in Victoria, B.C. He is also involved with combative sports regulatory issues and authors the Combat Sports Law Blog.

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