BC Supreme Court Discusses When Short Leave Applications Should Be Granted
Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, providing a general overview of when a short-leave applications should be granted and criticizing the frequency with which such applications are brought by defence lawyers in personal injury lawsuits.
In today’s case (O’Callaghan v. Hengsbach) the plaintiff claimed physical and psychiatric injuries from a collision and sued for damages. The Defendant had the plaintiff assessed by a neurologist. After the time limit for delivery of expert reports the Defendant brought sought to have the Plaintiff examined by a psychiatrist and requested short leave to bring the application. The Court dismissed the request and in doing so Master Baker provided the following reasons of the protocol that should be followed when seeking short leave –
 The Masters in chambers, almost daily, are asked to give short leave under Rule 8-5(1). I have heard three of these applications in 1 ½ days of chambers; in one application, plaintiff’s counsel told the court that it was the third short leave application by the defence in that case since October 17. Interestingly, on a quick search I found no authorities to guide the court in granting or refusing applications for short leave. The rule itself offers little guidance, other than an application may be made in circumstances of “urgency”.
 Such applications should be restricted to emergent circumstances and should not reward inefficiency, inattention to a particular case, or a lack of oversight. To abridge the time limits imposed by the Supreme Court Civil Rules is, presumably, to prejudice the other party who is, naturally, entitled to rely on timelines imposed by the Rules and to expect the opposing party to do likewise.
 In the absence of guiding authorities, I suggest the following considerations, non-exclusive, should guide the parties and the court in considering short leave applications:
- a) The application, of course, is to be made by Requisition, usually without affidavits, and may be made before a Registrar, Master, or Judge.
- b) While undue formality in the application is discouraged, the application should be made in court, on the record (even if by video or telephone) and not online as an e-filed application.
- c) Applicant’s counsel should notify the opposing counsel or party of an intention to apply for short leave so that counsel can appear. At the very least applicant’s counsel should canvass with his or her friend their availability on the proposed chambers date and whether he or she is opposed to the short leave.
- d) The applicant should be prepared to give a full accounting of the facts, circumstances, context, and chronology leading to the application for short leave, all of which should establish that the applicant has been affected or surprised by events or developments not reasonably foreseeable.
- e) If opposing counsel is not present should, as in the case of without notice applications, be prepared to give both favourable and unfavourable details.
- f) If any important or pivotal fact or element is disputed by opposing counsel the applicant should be prepared to offer affidavit evidence on the point and, as always, counsel should not speak to his or her own affidavit if the matter is contested.
- g) Busy schedules for the applicant counsel will usually not be sufficient reason for short leave; in that case counsel should arrange for a colleague or agent to speak to the chambers application on the usual notice required by the rules.
 Ultimately, taking these points into consideration, the court will balance the prejudice both to the other party by potentially disrupting their schedules and trial preparations as well as service to other clients and to the applicant by virtue of reasonably unforeseen facts, circumstances, or developments that have inhibited the applicant’s preparation in the normal chronology that the rules contemplate and mandate.
 Some areas of the law tend to offer more emergencies or crises than others; family law would likely fall in this category. Despite this, however, of late more applications for short leave seem to arise from personal injury/motor vehicle accident cases than in any other. And most of those applications for short leave seem to be on behalf of the defence, seeking short leave to bring an application for an IME close to trial. In that respect, this case is completely typical of that growing practise.
 In many cases, the applicant can point to genuine circumstances giving rise to surprise or the advent of claims or circumstances the applicant could not have reasonably anticipated. This, and many similar applications, is not in that category. In too many cases, in my view, the defence, either assuming that settlement is likely or simply by applying triage or prioritizing in busy offices with large caseloads, have not given due attention and focus in a timely way to the possible claims and damages of the plaintiff. Lawyers are extremely busy professionals. They have many cases other than the one specifically before the court. Every master and judge knows that. Still, that cannot be permitted to affect the other party’s right to due process and adherence to the rules unless clearly justified; it is the court’s function to prevent that.
 I have opined often, from the bench, about the template nature of pleadings in personal injury cases. Often, it seems, the only change to pleadings are the names of the parties and the date and location of the accident. The damages claimed and particulars of alleged negligence are almost rote. Still, when a party specifies concussion, cognitive impairment, nightmares, sleep disruption, and driving related anxiety (which, to be fair, not all plaintiffs claim), it should be an obvious announcement to the defence that psychiatric enquiry is justified.
 With the advent of standardized pleadings, an obvious problem for the defence arises: what really are the damages (if any) to this particular plaintiff? It is my conclusion that very often the true issues in the claim are not established until expert medical (and sometimes economic) reports are delivered. And, yes, very often these reports are delivered at or very near the 84-day deadline. I do understand the defence dilemma in that, but even when faced with standardized pleadings, nothing prevents the defence from, as here, conducting the usual steps for disclosure and discovery. The chronology or timing of that is very much for the defence to decide and control.
 In this particular case, Ms. Stewart is right; there were multiple indications to the defence that Ms. O’Callaghan was not only making a claim for psychiatric injuries, but that she was firm in her allegation and that in her view the damages were significant and long-lasting. Both the clinical records and her discovery evidence should have reinforced that assertion. Her denial of the facts contained in the defence notice to admit was a further obvious sign. But preceding all of those indicators was the NOCC which, despite my complaints of template pleadings in general, was clear in alleging specific psychiatric or psychological injuries and consequences of the accident.