More on BC Injury Claims and Discovery – Balancing Document Disclosure with Privacy

As I’ve previously written, when a person sues for damages in the BC Supreme Court they give up certain privacy rights with respect to records (both theirs and those in the hands of third parties) to the extent necessary to ensure that relevant unprivileged documents are disclosed to have a fair trial.
In the context of personal injury litigation documents in the hands of third parties are often requested.  For example, where a Plaintiff is injured the Defendant often wishes to obtain the clinical records documenting the injuries.  Where a serious injury claim is made seeking damages for past and future wage loss often time employment records, tax records and pre-accident medical records demonstrating pre-existing disabilities are sought.
Once it’s determined that these ‘third party’ records are relevant how are they to be produced?  Often times if the records are clearly relevant the Plaintiff lawyer will obtain them and share a copy with the defence lawyer.  In cases where the parties can’t consent the party seeking the records can bring a court motion for production.
The BC Supreme Court has come up with two typical routes of disclosure; the “Jones” order and the “Halliday” order.  At the risk of over-simplification, a Jones order means ordering that the third party produce records relating to the Plaintiff directly to to the Defendant and a Halliday order means producing the records directly to the Plaintiff who then can vet clearly irrelevant entries before providing the defence lawyer with a copy.
With this introduction out of the way, reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court providing perhaps the most thorough analysis of when each format should be used and what is required to trigger the protection of the “Halliday” format.
In today’s case (Gorse v. Straker) both parties sought various third party records relating to the litigants.  In considering the applications Mr. Justice Macaulay provided the following detailed and useful overview of this area of the law:

[6]             My general conclusions are as follows. It is necessary to start with a review of the pleadings to determine the matters in issue. Some applications fail at this preliminary point because it is obvious from the specific nature of the documents sought that the party seeking production is engaged in a fishing expedition. There is, at law, no obligation on any third party to produce irrelevant documents. See Dufault.

[7]             Assuming the application survives the initial review for relevancy, the court must then consider the evidence that the parties rely on. It is, at this point, that some of the potential inconsistency appears in the chambers decisions. I discuss some of the cases below and list others that I have reviewed.

[8]             In short, I conclude that a Halliday order is not a default order for medical or other records in which the subject of the record has an obvious privacy interest. The court should grant a Halliday order if satisfied, on the evidence, that there is a likelihood that a Jones order will also result in the inappropriate production and disclosure of irrelevant or privileged documents.

[9]             The problem that frequently presents is that one party seeks access to records of a non-party respecting the other party that are of a type in which it is reasonable to expect that some will be relevant and others irrelevant. A similar problem often arises respecting litigation privilege. It is often reasonable to assume that counsel for the party, who is the subject of the records, will have communicated with the non-party concerning the litigation. Such communications, if in existence, are likely subject to litigation privilege. It is arguable that, inHalliday, Lambert J.A. anticipated that the mechanism he described would operate in all such cases without requiring an evidentiary base. As I set out later, I do not accept that contention.

[10]         The threshold for making a Halliday rather than a Jones order is low. Nonetheless, some admissible evidence is necessary to meet it.

[11]         This leads to another issue that has attracted attention in the case law: whether the party who alleges an adverse impact on his or her privacy interest arising from the production of irrelevant, private information must personally provide evidence. After all, the affected party is ordinarily in the best position to explain how his or her privacy interest would be adversely impacted.

[12]         In my view, the party alleging the adverse impact should ordinarily swear an affidavit setting out, at least in general terms, the nature of the privacy interest but that is not an absolute requirement so long as there is other admissible evidence on the point. These are not final orders so affidavits sworn on information and belief are admissible.

[13]         Keeping in mind that the evidentiary threshold is relatively low, the evidence does not necessarily need to disclose all the details of the privacy interest but must be sufficient to reasonably identify the nature of the interest and why it appears to be unrelated to any material issue in the litigation…

[24]         When a Halliday order is made, so long as counsel fulfills his or her obligations, there is, apart from the minimal delay associated with the two-step process, no prejudice to the opposing party’s discovery rights. If the opposing party feels that relevant information may not have been disclosed, he or she can still apply to the court to make a determination, as with other disclosure concerns. Further, as suggested in Halliday, at 200, any abuse of the order by overextending claims of privilege or unduly restricting relevance can be dealt with in a costs order.

[25]         In my view, privacy considerations add to the justification for making Halliday orders for the production of medical and some other types of records. The reasoning in this regard may be followed through various decisions since Halliday, up to and including the Supreme Court decision in Keller v. Poulin (16 September 2009), Nanaimo S41497 (S.C.)…

[37]         In the result, I am satisfied that, when the record sought is likely to contain not only relevant, producible information but also irrelevant, private information, the order for production should be in Halliday format. This is very often the case with medical records and may also be applicable to MSP, disability, workers’ compensation, employment or educational records.

[38]         When the records at issue relate to medical or psychological assessment or treatment of the plaintiff after a motor vehicle accident, they may well include relevant, producible documents; irrelevant, private, non-producible documents; and documents properly subject to litigation privilege. Counsel for the plaintiff should take care to present evidence to demonstrate that there is, in fact, some irrelevant, private information or documents, properly subject to litigation privilege. It is not enough to identify the mere possibility because the court cannot properly draw an inference from a possibility.

[39]         It follows that I accept the contention of counsel for the defendants that the decision whether to make an order in Halliday format must be evidence based. In his written submissions, counsel asserts, relying on the Supreme Court decision in Grewal at para. 17, that:

A bare assertion of privacy or confidentiality over the records to be produced in the absence of any evidence regarding irrelevant or privileged information does not meet the requisite threshold for a Halliday type order.

The passage in Grewal summarizes authority for the proposition that a bare assertion of privacy or confidentiality, “in the absence of any evidence regarding irrelevant or privileged information,” is an insufficient basis for a Halliday order. In the same paragraph, the judge also referred to authority that an “expression of mere concern” that the records might contain irrelevant or privileged information is not sufficient.

[40]         I agree with those statements. It is not enough for a party or, as is often the case, a paralegal assisting the party’s lawyer to swear an affidavit raising a mere possibility of privileged or irrelevant, private information. In reaching this conclusion, I also considered and followed the reasoning in the following chambers decisions: Wieler v. Bercier, 2004 BCSC 752; Sullivan v. Lockhart, 2002 BCSC 1891; Bhandari v. Waddington, 2003 BCSC 498, 13 B.C.L.R. (4th) 373; and finally, Ross (Committee of) v. Lai, 2002 BCSC 1864.

[41]         The evidentiary burden is not an onerous one. The evidence necessary to support a conclusion that the particular records sought are irrelevant will vary according to the content of the pleadings and the nature of the record. In some cases, it may be possible to conclude, on an analysis of the pleadings, that they are irrelevant and, accordingly, not required to be produced at all. When it is apparent that some, but not necessarily all, of the records should be produced, there must be some evidence respecting the content of the records said to require the review by counsel contemplated by a Halliday order.

[42]         When the documents at issue are said to be private and irrelevant, it is usually the party who provides the evidence. For example, in Grewal, the plaintiff deposed that the consultation with her gynaecologist related to the delivery of her two children and that, in her view, the records were not relevant to the claims that she had advanced. If the question relates to litigation privilege, an appropriate agent or employee of the party’s lawyer should swear to the fact of the communications said to give rise to the privilege without disclosing actual content…

[88] I return to my suggestion that counsel should, wherever possible, work through the questions of non-party document production in a manner that recognizes and balances the often competing interests. The present applications would likely have been unnecessary if counsel had done that. In the circumstances, neither succeeded in their primary positions in any meaningful fashion. Both sides will bear their own costs as a result.

BC Personal Injury Claims and document production, document disclosure, Gorse v. Straker, Halliday orders, Jones orders, Mr. Justice Macaulay, Privacy concerns

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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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