BC Supreme Court Addresses Scope of Expert Witness Cross Examination

Reasons for judgement were released today addressing the permissible scope of Cross Examination of an expert witness in a BC Injury Claim.
In today’s case (MacEachern v. Rennie) the Defendants called a physician to give expert opinion evidence.  This physician happened to be a treating doctor of the Plaintiff’s prior to her injuries.  While testifying the doctor was taken through his clinical records by defence counsel on an entry by entry basis.  The doctor was asked what happened on each of those clinic visits and in canvassing this the doctor gave evidence about the prognosis and treatment of Hepatitis C (which is an area the doctor apparently was not called to address).
The Plaintiff then wished to cross examine the doctor about treatments and the prognosis for Hepatitis C.  The Defence lawyer objected to this on the basis that such a cross examination would “call for new opinion that are not admissible since the Plaintiff has not served the defendants with notice of those opinion“.
Mr. Justice Ehrcke swiftly rejected the Defendant’s objections noting that they could not restrict the cross examination on a topic which they chose to ask the doctor about in direct.  Specifically Mr. Justice Ehrcke noted as follows:

[11]         With respect to the first point, the CN Defendants argue that the notice which they served on the plaintiff in connection with Dr. Glynn-Morris contains only treatment opinions and does not touch on the area of the plaintiff’s Hepatitis C. This argument misses the mark. The plaintiff is entitled to respond to all the opinion evidence led by the CN Defendants, not just that which was contained in the written statement of Dr. Glynn-Morris’ opinion. It was counsel for the CN Defendants who chose in direct-examination to ask Dr. Glynn-Morris about testing of the plaintiff for Hepatitis C. It was in direct-examination that Dr. Glynn-Morris opined that in 30 percent of people, Hepatitis C cures itself and disappears, and that he ordered a test to see if that is what had happened in Ms. MacEachern’s case. Having opened up that area in examination-in-chief, the CN Defendants cannot now restrict the plaintiff’s cross-examination about it simply on the ground that it was not covered in the written statement that they had delivered to the plaintiff.

[12]         In any event, the proposed evidence is also truly responsive as a rebuttal to the opinion of another expert witness called by the CN defendants, Dr. Baker, whose report entered at Tab 1 of Exhibit 61 states:

I note Ms. MacEachern had already contracted hepatitis C which with her ongoing ingestion of multiple drugs would likely have progressed with liver damage and possible cirrhosis and eventual liver failure.

[13] Nevertheless, the CN Defendants argue that even if the proposed line of questioning did not require notice pursuant to the provisions of Rule 40A, notice was still required because of the case management order made in respect of this trial on February 6, 2009, which provided, among other things, that the plaintiff’s reply or rebuttal reports were to be delivered by January 29, 2009. The CN Defendants point out that Dr. Baker’s report was delivered to the plaintiff on December 1, 2008. They submit therefore that any opinion evidence in reply to Dr. Baker’s report should have been delivered to them by January 29, 2009.

[14]         The short answer to this argument is that the deadlines set out in the case management order relate to expert witnesses that each party proposed to call as witnesses in their own case. The order does not, by its terms, require a party to give notice of the questions it proposes to ask in cross-examination of another party’s witnesses, even if those questions in cross-examination have the effect of eliciting an expert rebuttal or reply opinion.

[15] The case of Canadian National Railway Company v. Canada, 2002 BCSC 1669, 8 B.C.L.R. (4th) 323 cited by the CN Defendants is distinguishable, because that case did not deal with the effect of a case management order on questions asked of an opposing witness in cross-examination.

[16] To summarize:  the questions that the plaintiff proposes to ask in cross-examination of Dr. Glynn-Morris are proper, and to the extent that they elicit expert opinions, those opinions are proper reply or rebuttal. Such reply or rebuttal opinions elicited in cross-examination are not subject to the notice requirements of Rule 40A, or of the case management orders that were made in this case.

bc injury claims, cross examination, expert evidence, MacEachern v. Rennie, Mr. Justice Ehrcke, opinion evidence, rebuttal evidence, responsive evidence, scope of cross examination

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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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