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BC Injury Trials and Adequate Reasons for Judgement

As previously discussed, Judges presiding over Civil Trials in BC have a duty to provide adequate reasons for judgement explaining why they arrived at their decision.  Failure to do so could result in a new trial.  Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Court of Appeal further discussing this area of law.
In today’s case (Bjornson v. Shaw) the Plaintiff was injured in a BC collision.  She sued for damages and was awarded over just over $565,000 in total damages by Mr. Justice Scarth.
The Defendant appealed this award arguing that the Trial Judge failed to provide adequate reasons for judgment.  The BC Court of Appeal agreed an ordered a new trial.  In doing so the Court provided the following reasons addressing the need for sufficient reasons for judgement:

[18]         In Law Society of Upper Canada v. Neinstein, 2010 ONCA 193, 317 D.L.R. (4th) 419 para. 62, Doherty J.A., writing for the Court, affirmed that a determination of whether reasons properly fulfill their objectives must be examined in the context of the proceedings from which they emanate, including the issues raised, the evidence adduced, and the submissions of counsel. As well, he provided this guidance in assessing the adequacy of reasons:

[61]      Reasons for a decision serve several salutary purposes. Where there is a right of appeal from that decision, reasons must provide a sufficient window into the decision to allow meaningful appellate review to the extent contemplated by the permitted scope of the appeal. Reasons for a decision that describe both what is decided and why that decision was made are susceptible to effective appellate review. Whatever other shortcomings may exist in reasons that adequately explain the “what” and the “why”, those shortcomings will not render the reasons so inadequate as to justify appellate intervention on that basis: R. v. Sheppard, [2002] 1 S.C.R. 869, at paras. 25-26; R. v. Braich, [2002] 1 S.C.R. 903, at para. 31; R. v. R.E.M., [2008] 3 S.C.R. 3, at paras. 15-18, 52-53.

[19]         Applying those principles here, the only issue at trial was quantification of damages. The gap between the parties’ positions was substantial. While the trial judge found the respondent a credible witness, she was still obliged to prove her damages under each head, and there was conflicting evidence from other sources on important issues that had to be resolved. Various inferences were open to the trial judge, depending on the facts he found and the weight he gave to them…

[26]         The respondent is correct in saying a trial judge need not address each detail of the evidence, or set out every aspect of his analysis. I also accept that judges commonly quantify damages in an amount that falls between the positions taken by the parties. I am nevertheless persuaded the reasons in this case fail to fulfill the objectives established in F.H. v. McDougall. They do not sufficiently explain or justify the awards made. They do not let the appellant know why she did not succeed in limiting the damages. They preclude meaningful appellate review in that the absence of critical factual findings and analysis limits the parties’ ability to identify reviewable errors.

[27]         Deficient reasons constitute an error of law: Law Society of Upper Canada v. Neinstein at para. 94. The appropriate remedy must be a new trial. It is thus unnecessary to consider the second ground of appeal.

[28]         I would accordingly allow the appeal and direct a new trial.

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