BC Court of Appeal: No Litigation Privilege During Investigative Stage


As I’ve previously written, litigation privilege is a principle which allows parties in a law suit to keep evidence from the other side.  In order to successfully take advantage of litigation privilege the document not only has to have been created in the reasonable contemplation of a lawsuit but also for the ‘dominant purpose‘ of use in such a lawsuit.
If a document was made for multiple reasons (ie – investigating a potential claim and defending against a potential claim) the law will likely require disclosure.  Today the BC Court of Appeal released useful reasons summarizing this area of law.
In today’s case (Mathew v. Delta School District #37) the Plaintiff ‘slipped and fell on some ice at a school’.  Shortly after the incident the school’s principal, a teaching assistant and a custodian made notes documenting what occurred.  The Plaintiff started a lawsuit and asked for these.  The Defendant refused to produce these claiming they were privileged.  The dispute made it all the way to the BC Court of Appeal who found that the documents were not privileged as they were made during the ‘investigatory stage‘.  The BC High Court provided the following very useful reasons:

[11] The investigatory stage to which the master referred is well recognized in the authorities. In Hamalainen at para. 24, the following was quoted from a speech in Waugh v. British Railways Board, [1980] A.C. 521 at 541, attributing it to what Lord Denning had said in that case:

If material comes into being for a dual purpose – one to find out the cause of the accident – the other to furnish information to the solicitor – it should be disclosed, because it is not then “wholly or mainly” for litigation. On this basis all the reports and inquiries into accidents – which are made shortly after the accident – should be disclosed on discovery and made available in evidence at the trial.

[12]         The investigatory stage was discussed in Hamalainen as follows:

[26]      Even in cases where litigation is in reasonable prospect from the time a claim first arises, there is bound to be a preliminary period during which the parties are attempting to discover the cause of the accident on which it is based. At some point in the information gathering process the focus of such an inquiry will shift such that its dominant purpose will become that of preparing the party for whom it was conducted for the anticipated litigation. In other words, there is a continuum which begins with the incident giving rise to the claim and during which the focus of the inquiry changes. At what point the dominant purpose becomes that of furthering the course of litigation will necessarily fall to be determined by the facts peculiar to each case.

[13]         It was, on the evidence, open to the master to regard the notes as being made in the investigatory stage as opposed to the later litigation stage. They were made directly following Mr. Mathew’s accident. I recognize it may be argued that, in the circumstances, there was little in the way of an investigatory stage here. But that is a matter to be determined on the peculiar facts of each case and I am unable to accept that the evidence foreclosed the significance the master appears to have attached to the notes being made as quickly as they were in relation to the incident.

bc injury law, dominant purpose test, dual purpose, investigative stage, litigation privilege, Mathew v. Delta School District #37, privilege

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ERIK
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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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