More on the New Rules of Court and Document Disclosure: The Proportionality Factor


As recently discussed, a developing area of law relates to the extent of parties document production obligations under the new Rules of Court.   The starting propisition is that parties need to disclose a narrower class of documents then was previously required.  A Court can, on application, order further disclosure more in line with the “Peruvian Guano” test that was in force under the former rules.  Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, making such an order.
In today’s case (Whitcombe v. Avec Insurance Managers Inc.) the Plaintiff was employed as an Insurance Underwriter with the Defendant.  The Plaintiff was let go and sued for wrongful dismissal.  The Defendant counterclaimed alleging they lawfully terminated the Plaintiff’s employment and further making allegations of misfeasance by the Plaintiff.
In the course of the lawsuit the parties were dis-satisfied with each others lists of documents.  They each applied for further disclosure.  Master Caldwell granted the orders sought finding that the concept of ‘proportionality‘ calls for greater disclosure in cases of “considerable importance“.  In granting the applications Master Caldwell provided the following reasons:

[10]         In short, both parties make serious allegations of actual misfeasance and in particular allegations which may well have a significant impact on the other’s reputation in the insurance industry and on the parties’ respective abilities to continue in business or to be employed in a professional capacity.  This is therefore a matter of considerable importance and significance to the parties regardless of the quantum of immediate monetary damage.

[11]         I find this to be important to my consideration of proportionality as directed in Rule 1-3(2) when interpreting and applying Rule 7-1.  In my view, where, as here, the issues go beyond negligence and involve opposing allegations of misfeasance, proportionality must be interpreted to allow the parties a wider, more Peruvian Guano type disclosure in order to defend and protect their respective professional reputations and abilities to carry on in the business community.

[12]         Here one or both sides have levelled allegations involving malice, bad faith, arbitrariness, lack of integrity/fidelity/loyalty and incompetence at the other.

[13]         In addressing Rule 7-1 in the case of Biehl v. Strang, 2010 BCSC 1391, Mr. Justice Punnett said at paragraph 29:

I am satisfied that, if otherwise admissible, the requested production is relevant and could prove or disprove a material fact. Rule 7-1 does not restrict production to documents that in themselves prove a material fact. It includes evidence that can assist in proving or disproving a material fact.

[14]         I am satisfied that in these circumstances the disclosure sought by both parties in their applications is appropriate in that it seeks evidence or documents that can or may well assist in proving or disproving a material fact.

Interestingly the Court implied that Peruvian Guano like disclosure likely will not be made in motor vehicle collision claims noting that “This is not a simple motor vehicle type case, arising in common context and involving straight forward negligence issues and quantification of physical injury compensation.”

Defence Medical Exams and Cancellation Fees

Reason for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, addressing cancellation fees charged by doctors when a Plaintiff fails to attend a previously agreed to independent medical exam.
In today’s case (Minhas v. Virk) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2007 BC motor vehicle collision.  The Plaintiff alleged brain injury.  The Plaintiff attended two independent examinations with specialists of the Defendant’s choosing and agreed to attend a third appointment.  As the third exam date approached the Plaintiff ultimately reneged on his agreement by adding a condition that the Defence was not prepared to agree to.
The doctor’s office had a policy to charge $1,650 unless he was given 2 months notice of cancellation.  The Plaintiff did not comply with this policy and instead gave just over 2 working days of notice.
The Defendant brought a motion seeking to have the Plaintiff assessed by the doctor and to pay the cancellation fee.  Master Caldwell ruled that it was inappropriate for the Plaintiff to “unilaterally rewrite” the previous agreement to see the doctor and ordered the Plaintiff undergo the independent medical exam.  The Court refused, however, to order that the Plaintiff pay the cancellation fee finding 2 days notice was sufficient.  Master Caldwell provided the following useful reasons:
[15] The request that the plaintiff be required to pay the cancellation fee for the December 21 appointment is dismissed.  There is no evidence before me which indicates what, if any, efforts the doctor made to fill that appointment slot or to otherwise mitigate his loss.  In addition, I find Dr. Wong’s requirement of 2 months notice to be unreasonable, particularly in the absence of any explanation.  In this case the cancellation occurred on either the 15th or 16th of December (if not earlier) thus providing at least 2 full working days notice and probably more.  The material before me which simply states the doctor’s cancellation policy and nothing more, simply does not support the order sought.
The Court was also asked to order a further medical exam with a different specialist.  This application was dismissed with the Court noting that one of the purposes of the New Rules of Court is to “move toward a focusing and limiting of experts and expert opinion“.

Scope of Discovery Under the New Rules of Court


Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, addressing the scope of both discovery of documents and examinations for discovery under the new Rules of Court.
In today’s case (More Marine Ltd. v. Shearwater Marine Ltd) the Plaintiff companies sued the Defendant alleging the breach of marine insurance policies.  The Plaintiff was self represented.  He examined an insurance adjuster that worked for the Defendant.  At discovery the Defendant raised numerous objections including an objection to questions addressing “general practices in the insurance industry“.  A motion was brought seeking guidance addressing whether these questions were permissible.
Mr. Justice Smith held that this line of questioning was appropriate and ordered that a further discovery take place.  In doing so the Court provided perhaps the most extensive judicial feedback to date about the changes with respect to discovery obligations under the New Rules of Court.  Mr. Justice Smith gave the following useful reasons:

[3]             The scope of proper questioning on an examination for discovery is set out in Rule 7-2 (18) of the Supreme Court Civil Rules, B.C. Reg. 168/2009 [Rules]:

Unless the court otherwise orders, a person being examined for discovery

(a)        must answer any question within his or her knowledge or means of knowledge regarding any matter, not privileged, relating to a matter in question in the action, and

(b)        is compellable to give the names and addresses of all persons who reasonably might be expected to have knowledge relating to any matter in question in the action.

[4]             The new Rules came into effect on July 1, 2010, but the language in rule 7-2 (18) is identical to the former rule 27 (22).  As Griffin J. said in Kendall v. Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada, 2010 BCSC 1556 [Kendall] at para. 7 “the scope of examination for discovery has remained unchanged and is very broad.”  In Cominco Ltd. v. Westinghouse Can Ltd. (1979), 11 B.C.L.R. 142 (C.A.) [Cominco], an early and leading case under the former rule, the Court of Appeal said at 151 that “rigid limitations rigidly applied can destroy the right to a proper examination for discovery.”  The court in Cominco also adopted the following statement from Hopper v. Dunsmuir No. 2 (1903), 10 B.C.R. 23 (C.A.) at 29:

It is also obvious that useful or effective cross-examination would be impossible if counsel could only ask such questions as plainly revealed their purpose, and it is needless to labour the proposition that in many cases much preliminary skirmishing is necessary to make possible a successful assault upon the citadel, especially where the adversary is the chief repository of the information required.

[5]             In Day v. Hume, 2009 BCSC 587 this court said at para. 20:

The principles emerging from the authorities are clear. An examination for discovery is in the nature of cross-examination and counsel for the party being examined should not interfere except where it is clearly necessary to resolve ambiguity in a question or to prevent injustice.

[6]               While Rule 7-2 (18) is the same as its predecessor, the new Rules create a distinction that did not previously exist between oral examination for discovery and discovery of documents.  The former rule 26 (1) required a party to list all documents “relating to every matter in question in the action.”  Although disclosure in those terms may still be ordered by the court under Rule 7-1 (14), the initial disclosure obligation is set out more narrowly in Rule 7-1(1):

(1)        Unless all parties of record consent or the court otherwise orders, each party of record to an action must, within 35 days after the end of the pleading period,

(a)        prepare a list of documents in Form 22 that lists

(i)         all documents that are or have been in the party’s possession or control and that could, if available, be used by any party of record at trial to prove or disprove a material fact, and

(ii)        all other documents to which the party intends to refer at trial, and

(b)        serve the list on all parties of record.

[7]             Under the former rules, the duty to disclose documents and the duty to answer questions on oral examination were therefore controlled by the same test for relevance.  Under the newRules, different tests apply, with the duty to answer questions on discovery being apparently broader than the duty to disclose documents.

[8]             Although that may appear to be an anomaly, there are at least two good reasons for the difference.  One reason is that if the court is to be persuaded that the broader document discovery made possible by rule 7-1(14) is appropriate in a particular case, some evidence of the existence and potential relevance of those additional documents will be required.  The examination for discovery is the most likely source of such evidence.

[9]             The second reason relates to the introduction of proportionality as a governing concept in the new Rules.  Rule 1-3 (2) states:

(2)        Securing the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of a proceeding on its merits includes, so far as is practicable, conducting the proceeding in ways that are proportionate to

(a)        the amount involved in the proceeding,

(b)        the importance of the issues in dispute, and

(c)        the complexity of the proceeding.

[10]         The  former rule governing discovery of documents was interpreted according to the long-established test in Compagnie Financière du Pacifique v. Peruvian Guano Company (1882), 11 Q.B.D. 55 at 63 (C.A.):

It seems to me that every document relates to the matters in question in the action, which not only would be evidence upon any issue, but also which, it is reasonable to suppose, contains information which may — not which must — either directly or indirectly enable the party … either to advance his own case or to damage the case of his adversary. I have put in the words “either directly or indirectly,” because, as it seems to me, a document can properly be said to contain information which may enable the party … either to advance his own case or to damage the case of his adversary, if it is a document which may fairly lead him to a train of inquiry, which may have either of these two consequences…

[11]         The new Rules recognize that application of a 19th century test to the vast quantity of paper and electronic documents produced and stored by 21st century technology had made document discovery an unduly onerous and costly task in many cases.  Some reasonable limitations had become necessary and Rule 7-1 (1) is intended to provide them.

[12]         The new Rules also impose limitations on oral examination for discovery, but do so through a different mechanism.  Rule 7-2 (2) now limits an examination for discovery to seven hours or to any longer period to which the person being examined consents.  Although the test for relevance of a particular question or group of questions remains very broad, examining parties who ask too many questions about marginally relevant matters, who spend too much time pursuing unproductive trains of inquiry or who elicit too much evidence that will not be admissible at trial risk leaving themselves with insufficient time for obtaining more important evidence and admissions.

[13]          As Griffin J. said in Kendall, the time limit imposes a “self-policing incentive” on the party conducting the examination: at para. 14.  At the same time, the existence of the time limit creates a greater obligation on counsel for the party being examined to avoid unduly objecting or interfering in a way that wastes the time available. This interplay was described in Kendall at para. 18:

A largely “hands off” approach to examinations for discovery, except in the clearest of circumstances, is in accord with the object of the Rules of Court, particularly the newly stated object of proportionality, effective July 1, 2010.  Allowing wide-ranging cross-examination on examination for discovery is far more cost-effective than a practice that encourages objections, which will undoubtedly result in subsequent chambers applications to require judges or masters to rule on the objections.  It is far more efficient for counsel for the examinee to raise objections to the admissibility of evidence at trial, rather than on examination for discovery.

Wage Loss Claims, Document Disclosure and Proportionality


As previously discussed, the new BC Civil Rules have changed the test of document production in the pre-trial discovery process.  The test has been narrowed from documents “relating to every matter in question in the action“ to “all documents that are or have been in a parties possession or control that could be used by any party to prove or disprove a material fact” and “all other documents to which a party intends to refer at trial“.  In addition to this the Court must take the concept of ‘proportionality‘ into account when considering an order to produce third party records.
Reasons for judgement were released considering this narrower obligation in the context of an ICBC claim.
In today’s case (Tai v. Lam) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2006 motor vehicle collision.  The Plaintiff was injured and claimed damages.  The Defendant asked that the Plaintiff produce his bank statements from the date of the accident onward in order to “defend against (the Plaintiff’s) claim for loss of earning capacity”  The Plaintiff refused to provide these and a motion was brought seeking production.    Master Baker dismissed the motion and made the following useful comments about document disclosure obligations under the new rules and the concept of proportionality:

[5]             I am not going to make the order sought.  I agree entirely with Mr. Bolda’s view of this, which is that it is essentially one production too far, that the information and details sought goes beyond what is reasonable, even on a redacted basis.  To ask that all the bank statements be produced is a broad, broad sweep.

[6]             Sitting here listening, it struck me, it is as if a party who commences proceedings and says, “look, I have been injured and I have suffered financial losses” is inviting some kind of a Full Monty disclosure, that they are expected to produce all financial information they might ever have out there.  Even if it is suggested or offered today that that be done on a redacted basis, it is still, in my respectful view, a requirement for production that is excessive.

[7]             It certainly raises big issues about privacy and if one says, “well, redaction would fix that”, what does it take for counsel to sit down and patiently, carefully redact their client’s bank records for four and a half years?  If that is not a question of confidentiality and privacy, it is a question of proportionality, which is just as concerning to me today as the other issues.

[8]             The banking records.  I am also persuaded by Mr. Bolda’s argument, and a  common position taken today, that the judgment will be one of assessment, not calculation, that the trial judge will have multiple facets to consider and amongst them the gross income.  And while it is for the defence to present and structure its case as it wishes, it seems to me that if it successfully attacks any of these claims for expenses it can only increase Mr. Tai’s income, and I cannot see the value in that perspective.

[9]             I know that until recently the standard in this province was Peruvian Guano and locally Dufault v. Stevens, but that standard has changed.  There has to be a greater nexus and justification for the production of the documents in a case, and I am satisfied that that standard has not been met here today, so that the application is dismissed.

More on the New Rules of Court and Proportionality: Withdrawing Deemed Admissions


As previously discussed, the BC Supreme Court Rules permit parties to a lawsuit to ask the opposing side to make binding admissions through a “Notice to Admit”.  If the opposing side fails to respond to the Notice in the time lines required they are deemed to have made the sought admissions.  Once the admission is made it cannot be withdrawn except by consent of the parties or with the Court’s permission.  Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, considering the Court’s discretion to withdraw deemed admissions.
In today’s case (Piso v. Thompson) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2003 collision.  She sued for damages alleging longstanding injuries as a result of this crash.  In the course of the lawsuit ICBC’s lawyer served the Plaintiff with a Notice to Admit claiming that the Plaintiff was fully recovered within two years, that there was no claim for past wage loss nor a claim for diminished earning capacity.  The Plaintiff’s lawyer neglected to respond to the Notice in the timelines required resulting in the admissions being inadvertently made.  ICBC then brought an application for summary judgement.
The Plaintiff brought an application asking for permission to withdraw the admissions.  ICBC opposed arguing there would be no prejudice to the Plaintiff if she was faced with these admissions as she could sue her own lawyer in negligence to make up for any damages the unwanted admissions caused.  Master Caldwell rejected this argument and permitted the Plaintiff to withdraw the admissions.  The Court cited the principle of ‘proportionality‘ in reaching judgement.  Master Caldwell provided the following useful reasons:

[20]         Rule 7-7 provides a mechanism to streamline and make more efficient the litigation process. It rewards efficiency and encourages a focus on issues which matter and which are truly in dispute. It provides penalties and disincentives for failure to admit that which should properly be admitted by way of cost sanctions. It certainly provides for much more extreme outcomes in appropriate circumstances but it also provides for judicial discretion in excusing or relieving from such extreme outcomes in appropriate circumstances.

[21]         In my respectful view Rule 7-7 does not, nor was it intended to, create a trap or add an inescapable obstacle to ensnare or trip up sloppy or inattentive counsel to the detriment of the parties to the litigation.

[22]         The current Rule 1-3(a) continues the long-standing object of the rules:

The object of these Supreme Court Civil Rules is to secure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every proceeding on its merits.

[23]         There is no question in my mind that the failure in this case was a sloppy, inadvertent and possibly even negligent failure on the part of former counsel for the plaintiff. I am satisfied that the plaintiff himself cannot be faulted in any way for the oversight; he had neither actual notice of the document in question from his lawyer nor an opportunity to provide a reasoned and considered response.

[24]         The refusal of leave to withdraw these admissions will deny the plaintiff his opportunity to have his claim heard on the merits. The argument that the plaintiff can have his relief by way of a professional negligence claim against his former counsel fails to recognize the further delay and expense of such a claim. In the context of proportionality such an option does not seem appropriate from a financial or court resource prospective.

[25]         In my view this is precisely the type of situation which warrants an order allowing the withdrawal of a deemed admission while providing for the other party in costs and other accommodations.

[26]         The plaintiff is granted leave to withdraw the admissions.

Lump Sum Costs and the New BC Supreme Court Rules


Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Kamloops Registry, finding that the new Civil Rules give the BC Supreme Court the power to award lump sum costs without the need for taxation.  Madam Justice Adair held that this power was not available under the former rules absent party consent.
In today’s case (Madock v. Grauer) the Plaintiffs sued the Defendants for damages.  At trial one of the Defendant’s was ordered to pay $5,000 in damages.  The parties could not agree on the cost consequences that followed and applied to the trial judge to address this issue.   Madam Justice Adair ultimately held that the Plaintiff was entitled to costs and fixed these at $11,000.  In doing so the Court provided the following reasons about the ability of trial judges to award lump sum costs:

[47]         Under Rule 14-1(15), “The court may award costs (a) of a proceeding . . . and in awarding those costs the court may fix the amount of costs, including the amount of disbursements.”  This Rule is to be contrasted with its counterpart in the old Rules, Rule 57(13), which provided, and I am going to emphasize the first few words:

With the consent of the parties, the court may fix a lump sum as the costs of the whole proceeding, either inclusive or exclusive of disbursements and expenses.

A key change in the new Rule is that consent of the parties is no longer necessary, before the court can fix lump sum costs.

The Court went on to use the new concept of ‘proportionality‘ and found that this was an appropriate case to order lump sum costs.  Madam Justice Adair provided the following reasons:

[49]         I have concluded that these siblings and Mr. Grauer would not be well-served by having a forum – namely, taxation of costs – in which they can continue to litigate over the late Mr. McKenzie’s estate.  Moreover, prolonging litigation among these parties is, in my opinion, out of all proportion to the amount involved, the importance of the issues in dispute and the complexity of the proceeding.  Rather, it is now time for finality.  The costs consequent on my judgment following the trial must also be in some rational proportion to the amount ultimately recovered, which was $5,000.  The costs – indeed the double costs – that the plaintiffs suggest in their submissions they should be awarded are out of all proportion to what would be reasonable.

[50]         I have therefore concluded that, in this case, orders should be made for lump sum costs under Rule 14-1(15)

ICBC Unidentified Motorist Claims and Post Accident Advertising

(IPDATE:  The case discussed in the below post was upheld on Appeal on October 26, 2011)

As previously discussed, victims of injuries sustained in collisions caused by “unidentified motorists” can seek compensation directly from ICBC under section 24 of the Insurance (Vehicle) Act provided that they comply with this section.  One of the requirements of s. 24 is for the claimant to make “all reasonable efforts” to ascertain the identity of the at fault motorist.  One reasonable effort a Plaintiff can take is to advertise for witnesses.  Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, discussing post accident advertisements and explaining that these are not always necessary to bring a successful s. 24 claim.
In today’s case (Nicholls v. Anderson) the Plaintiff was involved in a single vehicle motorcycle accident in 2005.  He lost control of his motorcycle when he “encountered a diesel fuel spill on the highway“.  He alleged an unknown motorist was at fault for leaving this spill on the road and sued ICBC directly for his damages.  ICBC applied to dismiss the lawsuit arguing the Plaintiff failed to make reasonable efforts to determine who was responsible for the diesel spill.  Mr. Justice Saunders disagreed and dismissed ICBC’s application.  In doing so the Court provided the following useful reasons about advertisements and s. 24 claims:

[13]         The last step contended by ICBC is one in which the claimant ought reasonably to have taken is the placing of a newspaper advertisement or advertisements. This aspect of ICBC’s argument has been of the greatest concern to me on this application because it is a step that could have been taken at relatively modest cost, and because in this particular case the claimant took absolutely no positive steps aimed at ascertaining the identity of the persons responsible.

[14]         I do not think that this argument can be answered solely by the claimant pointing — as was done in argument — to the fact that the accident did not happen in a well-defined geographic area or one where there was a specific readership of a specific newspaper likely identifiable. In my view, if there was an obligation to place a newspaper advertisement or advertisements, they could have been placed in community newspapers serving the north side of the Fraser in the areas of Mission and Hope and perhaps Maple Ridge, or alternatively, as ICBC argued today, in one or both of our Vancouver daily newspapers which enjoy a readership outside the greater Vancouver area.

[15]         Mr. Nicholls perceived himself in the statement that he gave within days of the accident as having sustained more than a trivial injury. If his only recourse legally were to pursue the tortfeasor, the person responsible for the spill, what steps would he have taken if acting rationally in pursuit of his own interests?  Would he have gone to the extent of placing such newspaper ads?

[16]         In my view, the reality is that there would have been only an extremely remote chance of such a line of enquiry being successful. If there ever was a time when the citizens of this province had a habit of scamming the legal notices printed in the daily or weekly newspapers’ classified sections, that day has long passed. The presumed target for any such advertisement would have been someone who would happen to have been following the truck in question in daylight in the vicinity of the accident scene, who would have seen the diesel oil splashing, would have made mental note of it as something significant, and then would have been able to make note of the truck’s appearance with sufficient particularity to identify the driver. That person, if one existed, would then have to read the advertisement in question. The possibility of all of this is so remote that in my view for the claimant in his position to have undertaken even the modest cost of taking out such an advertisement would have been absurd.

[17]         That is not to say that it would be inappropriate in any case for a claimant injured in a motor vehicle accident to take that step. As I say, the reasonableness of a person’s conduct depends in part on the benefit to be gained if they undertake  a course of action. I would not say, certainly not on this application today, that a person who had suffered a catastrophic injury involving quadriplegia or brain injury or the like could feel free not to take a positive step such as taking out a newspaper advertisement or posting an internet classified advertisement in an attempt to locate a tortfeasor, no matter how remote the chances of that being successful might seem; but in this case, given the claimant’s relatively modest injuries as alleged and as attested to in his statement, I do not think that would have been a reasonable requirement on his part.

This case is interesting because the Court went further and struck the paragraphs of ICBC’s Statement of Defence alleging that the identity of the offending motorist was ascertainable.  The Court cited the New BC Supreme Court principle of “proportionality” in arriving at this decision.   Mr. Justice Saunders provided the following reasons:

[18] So the application is dismissed, and in my view it is appropriate in this case to go further than that and to dispose of the defence. In my view in all likelihood I know as much about the reasonableness of the claimant’s actions, given the evidence that has been presented, as a trial judge would, and so I am able to rule conclusively on that issue. I also acknowledge the points made by counsel for ICBC and counsel for the claimant as to the need to under the new Rules to have regard to proportionality. So, in conjunction with dismissing the application, I rule that paras. 2 and 4 of the statement of defence of ICBC be struck. Those are the paragraphs in which it is alleged that the identity of the driver/owner was ascertainable and that the claimant has not complied with the Act in failing to make all reasonable efforts to ascertain the identity of the unknown driver.

Rules of Court Update: Video-Conference Evidence and "Proportionality"


As I’ve previously written, the BC Evidence Act permits, in certain circumstances, witnesses to give evidence via video-conference instead of appearing live in Court.  This can result in great savings of time and money to parties involved in a lawsuit.  Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vernon Registry, demonstrating that orders allowing video-conference evidence at trial may become more common place given the New BC Supreme Court Rules focus on “proportionality”.
In today’s case (Slaughter v. Sluys) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2004 motor vehicle collision in Vernon, BC.  The case was set for trial for April, 2011.  Many of the Plaintiff’s witnesses were from Ontario and the Plaintiff wished to have them testify via video-conference.  If the Plaintiff was granted this order he estimated the savings at $50,000.   The Defendant objected arguing that the video-conference rule “is intended to apply in relatively rare circumstances, and to individual or a limited number of witnesses. He says that there is no authority for what the plaintiff proposes, namely to call 11 of his 28 witnesses via videoconference, over an estimated 22 hours…It is the defendant’s position that the cost of having the witnesses attend in Vernon for the trial pales in comparison to the multi?million dollar claim being advanced by the plaintiff. It is his position that it would be fundamentally unfair to limit the defendant’s counsel’s ability to have a full and complete cross-examination of the witnesses, which he says can only occur if the witnesses are physically present in the courtroom.”
Madam Justice Beames rejected these arguments and largely granted the Plaintiff’s motion.  In doing so the BC Supreme Court gave the following reasons explaining the vital role of the ‘proportionality‘ principle in having cost effective trials:

[9]             There is no question that the Rules of this province, enacted in 2010, have a new or at least renewed, emphasis on the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of a proceeding on its merits, which involves a consideration of proportionality. There is also no question that various forms of technology have been employed on a more frequent basis recently, in all court proceedings, including trials. Advances have been made in the quality of communication via videoconferencing, which has all but eliminated the problems often associated with videoconferencing in the early days of its use, which involved time delays in the transmission and which in turn frequently resulted in counsel and witnesses talking over each other and which made for a less than satisfactory method of conducting both direct or cross examination. I have, in the recent past, found videoconferencing to be an acceptable and satisfactory method of receiving evidence from a witness, which has not inhibited assessment of credibility or the finding of facts. Although at first blush 22 hours worth of evidence via videoconference seems to be a significant amount of time, it must be borne in mind that this trial is scheduled to last for six weeks, and the proposed videoconferencing would consume but four days of the trial.

[10]         I am not convinced, as submitted, that it would be “fundamentally unfair to the defendant to deprive him of the opportunity to have witnesses properly cross examined” in person in the courtroom. Proper and full cross examination can take place even when witnesses are appearing via videoconferencing. In my view, this is particularly so where the witnesses are experts and where credibility per se is not in issue and it is also the case where the evidence a witness may give is not overly contentious. On the other hand, the plaintiff cannot, alone, determine which witnesses are “important” and therefore should attend in person, and which witnesses are “not so important” and therefore should be permitted to testify via videoconferencing.

[11]         I am also mindful of the submission that cross examination of the experts will be difficult if conducted via videoconferencing, as a result of the number of documents each witness may be asked to review. However, videoconferencing can be accompanied by equipment at each end of the transmission that allows both the expert and the examiner to view the same document. Further, the experts’ files are required, under the new Rules, to be produced for review by opposing parties, on request, at least 14 days before trial. File contents may be organized and numbered in such a way as to minimize any concerns with respect to the use of documents during direct or cross-examination via videoconferencing. I am satisfied that any need to refer experts to documents can be satisfactorily accommodated and does not mean that experts should not be permitted to testify via videoconferencing.

[12]         Bearing all of the evidence and submissions of counsel in mind, and attempting to balance the interests of the parties, I have concluded that the following witnesses should be permitted to testify by videoconference: Mike Willems, Frank Durant, Dr. Marshall, Dr. Stimac, Dr. Berry, Dr. Scher, and Dr. Travlos. With respect to the remaining witnesses, each, as I understand the submissions, has something to say about the plaintiff’s most significant claim, his loss of opportunity to earn income, in that each either works with or supervises the plaintiff in his current employment. Given their relationships to the plaintiff, the possibility that their evidence will be very contentious, and that none of them have provided the court with any indication that they will be personally inconvenienced or suffer hardship as a result of testifying in person in Vernon, they will be required to testify in person if the plaintiff does indeed call their evidence at trial.

Can A Litigation Guardian Be Ordered to Attend an Independent Medical Exam?


(UPDATE:  Please note Leave to Appeal the Below Decision was granted by the BCCA on January 25, 2011)
When a mentally incompetent person brings a lawsuit in BC they must do so through a litigation guardian or a committee.  Generally, when personal injuries are the subject of a lawsuit, the Defendant is entitled to have the Plaintiff attend an ‘independent’ medical exam.  What about the litigation guardian?  Can they be ordered to attend an independent medical exam?  The BC Supreme Court Civil Rules are silent on this point however, reasons for judgement were released today considering this question using the Court’s ‘inherent jurisdiction’.
In today’s case (Bishop v. Minichiello) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2005 motor vehicle collision.  He was an infant at the time and brought the lawsuit by way of litigation guardian.  The Plaintiff became an adult prior to the lawsuit resolving.  Normally, when this occurs, the Plaintiff files an affidavit and overtakes the lawsuit without the litigation guardian.  In today’s case the Plaintiff did not do this apparently because his injuries may have rendered him “unable to appreciate the extent of his own injuries and unable to effectively conduct the litigation on his own behalf.”.
The Defendant brought a motion that both the Plaintiff and his litigation guardian attend a series of medical exams.  The Plaintiff opposed arguing that the Rule authorizing the Court to compel a Plaintiff to attend an Independent Medical Exam does not empower a Court to extend the order to a litigation guardian.  Mr. Justice McEwan noted that while this was true it could be remedied by resorting to the Court’s inherent jurisdiction.  In granting the application the Court noted as follows:
[12] The defendant submits that although Rule 7-6 (1)-(3) makes no specific provision for a person other than the party to be examined to attend and answer questions, Wong (guardian ad litem) v. Wong [2006] B.C.J. No. 3123 (C.A.) established that the court may, in the interests of justice make ancillary orders to give effect to the purpose of the Rules, found in Rule 1(5) [now Rule 1-3]. In Wong, the question was whether the court could order a plaintiff to video tape an examination…

[13]         Rule 20-2 reads:

(3)        Unless a rule otherwise provides, anything that is required or authorized by these Supreme Court Civil Rules to be done by or invoked against a party under disability must:

(b)        be invoked against the party by invoking the same against the party’s litigation guardian.

[14]         Rule 13-1 reads:

(19)      When making an order under these Supreme Court Civil Rules, the court may impose terms and conditions and give directions it considers will further the object of these Supreme Court Civil Rules.

[15]         On the question of inherent jurisdiction I think the characterization found in R & J Siever Holdings Ltd. v. Moldenhauer 2008 BCCA 59, is most apt:

In addition to the powers conferred by the Rules of Court, the Supreme Court of British Columbia, as a superior court of record, has inherent jurisdiction to regulate its practice and procedures so as to prevent abuses of process and miscarriages of justice: see I.H. Jacob, “The Inherent Jurisdiction of the Court” (1970) 23 Current Leg. Prob. 23 at 23-25. As the author said, at 25,

The inherent jurisdiction of the court may be exercised in any given case, notwithstanding that there are Rules of Court governing the circumstances of such case. The powers conferred by the Rules of Court are, generally speaking, additional to, and not in substitution of, powers arising out of the inherent jurisdiction of the court. The two heads of powers are generally cumulative, and not mutually exclusive, so that in any given case, the court is able to proceed under either or both heads of jurisdiction.

[16]         The Rules do not, properly speaking, confer jurisdiction. To the extent that they reflect a consensus of the Judiciary (and the Bar) as to the presumptions, or expectations, or shifts in onus that will contribute to the just and expedient conduct of litigation, they are useful in bringing predictability and stability to civil procedure. To the extent that they do not reflect such a consensus, they cannot be regarded as mandatory impediments to doing the right thing in any particular case.

[17]         The silence of Rule 7-6 on the question of ordering the litigation guardian to attend an independent medical examination, does not, in and of itself, preclude the making of such an order, if it otherwise makes sense to do so in order to advance the speedy, just and inexpensive determination of the proceeding on its merits.

[18]         Whether such an order is appropriate requires the court to weigh the plaintiff’s objection against the defendant’s rationale for the request…

[20]         The plaintiff’s objection to the attendance of the litigation guardian is primarily that a conversation between the litigation guardian and the examining physician creates a form of statement that is not controlled within the process and that might well lead to conflict or confusion later, if the guardian and the Doctor do not agree as to what was said.

[21]         The defendant’s point is, primarily, that in a case where the defence is guessing as to the mental status of the plaintiff, it would be prudent to have the person who knows him best, and who is also the litigation guardian, available to answer questions about his condition, especially where it is suggested that, among the effects of the injuries suffered in the accident, is a lack of insight or appreciation on Brandon Bishop’s part of the harm that has occurred.

[22]         In Tsantilas (Litigation Guardian) v. Johnson, Cranbrook Registry #18128 (20100211) Melnick, J. made a similar order in a case involving both counsel who appear in this proceeding. In what I gather to be a case of an under-age person, the court ordered the attendance of the litigation guardian at an assessment…

[23]         I think that as long as the case continues to be conducted by Charlotte Bishop as litigation guardian, the implication that, for reasons related to his injuries Brandon Bishop is unable to conduct the litigation will remain, along with the implication that talking to him will not yield the whole story. The plaintiff’s concerns about possible confusion do not outweigh the defendant’s interest in the appointed examiners getting accurate and complete information. Accordingly, Charlotte Bishop, as litigation guardian, must attend and answer the questions posed by the examiners as they require.

Scope of Pre-Trial Document Production Under the New BC Supreme Court Rules Discussed


As I’ve previously discussed, one of the biggest changes under the New BC Supreme Court Civil Rules is the test relating to pre-trial document production.  Under the former rules parties had to disclose documents “relating to every matter in question in the action“.  Under the new rules this test has been changed to “all documents that are or have been in a parties possession or control that could be used by any party to prove or disprove a material fact” and “all other documents to which a party intends to refer at trial“.
This new test is supposed to be narrower in scope than the old one.  Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, interpreting the new test for the first time.
In last week’s case (Biehl v. Strang) the Plaintiff sued the Defendants claiming damages for breach of contract.  The alleged contract between the parties was based in part on an a verbal agreement and partly based on the parties actions over the years.   The events in dispute occurred over a 4 year period.  The Plaintiff was alleged to have a history of illicit drug use during part of this period.  The Defendants challenged the reliability of the Plaintiff’s recollection and argued that this was hampered due to drug use.
The Defendants wished to further explore this issue and brought an application to force production of the Plaintiff’s personal diary as this apparently made reference to some of the Plaintiff’s illicit drug use.  The Defendant argued that this was material evidence because the reliability of the Plaintiff’s memory is a central issue in the lawsuit.  The Plaintiff opposed arguing that his diary is not material in the action.  Mr. Justice Punnett ultimately granted the motion for production.  In doing so the Court defined what “Material Fact” means under the new Rules of Court.  Mr. Justice Punnett provided the following reasons:

What is a Material Fact?

[16]        In Alan W. Bryant, Sidney N. Lederman & Michelle K. Fuerst, The Law of Evidence in Canada, 3d ed. (Markham: LexisNexis Canada, 2009) at para. 2.50, relevance is distinguished from materiality:

§2.50   A distinction has also been drawn between relevance and materiality.  Evidence is material in this sense if it is offered to prove or disprove a fact in issue.  For example, evidence offered by a plaintiff in a conversion action to prove a loss of profit is not material since loss of profits cannot be recovered in such an action, and evidence that an accused charged with forcible entry is the owner of the land is immaterial since the offence can be committed by an owner.  This evidence may very well be immaterial, but it is also simply irrelevant.  This excluded evidence is no more required to make out the case than is evidence that the accused owns three other properties or owns a black dog for that matter.  There is no probative connection between the fact to be proved and the facts in issue as determined by the substantive law.  Little is added to the analysis by adding a concept of materiality, as different results do not depend on the distinction. The concept of materiality, however, requires the court to focus on the material issues in dispute in order to determine if the proffered evidence advances the party’s case.[Footnotes omitted.  Emphasis added.]

In other words, the requirement that the disclosure relate to a material fact limits the breadth of what is relevant.

[17]        The authors of The Law of Evidence in Canada define relevance at para 2.35:

§2.35   A traditionally accepted definition of relevance is that in Sir J.F. Stephen’s A Digest of the Law of Evidence, where it is defined to mean:

… any two facts to which it is applied are so related to each other that according to the common course of events one either taken by itself or in connection with other facts proves or renders probable the past, present, or future existence or non-existence of the other.

Pratte J. in R. v. Cloutier accepted a definition from an early edition of Cross on Evidence:

For one fact to be relevant to another, there must be a connection or nexus between the two which makes it possible to infer the existence of one from the existence of the other.  One fact is not relevant to another if it does not have real probative value with respect to the latter.

[18]        In January 2009, Rule 14.01(1)(a) of the Nova Scotia Civil Procedure Rules changed document production in Nova Scotia by requiring a judge to determine relevancy “by assessing whether a judge presiding at the trial or hearing of the proceeding would find the document … relevant or irrelevant”.

[19]        The Nova Scotia Supreme Court in considering the new rule in Halifax Dartmouth Bridge Commission v. Walter Construction Corporation, 2009 NSSC 403, 286 N.S.R. (2d) 179 at para. 18, stated:

[18]      … As to what is meant by relevancy, in Sydney Steel v. Mannesmann Pipe (1985), 69 N.S.R. (2d) 389 (S.C.T.D.), Hallett, J. (as he then was) stated, at paras. 14-18:

[17] In the Law of Evidence in Civil Cases by Sopinka and Lederman, at p. 14 the authors also make reference to the quotation from Stephen’s Digest as to the meaning of relevance and make the following statement that is applicable and worthy of consideration when assessing the relevancy of the documents that are before me on this application:

“The facts in issue are those facts which the plaintiff must establish in order to succeed together with any fact that the defendant must prove in order to make out his defence. It is seldom possible to prove a case or establish a defence solely by direct evidence as to the facts in issue and, therefore, the law admits evidence of facts, which, although not themselves in issue, are relevant in the sense that they prove or render probable the past, present or future existence (or non-existence) of any fact in issue.

“The facts in issue are controlled by the date of the commencement of the action. All facts essential to the accrual of a cause of action must have occurred prior to commencement of the action but evidence may be tendered as to facts occurring after the commencement of the action if they merely tend to prove or disprove the existence of the facts in issue. On the other hand any fact giving rise to a defence need not have occurred before the commencement of the action. An admission after the issue of the writ by one of the parties is admissible and conduct which is tantamount to an admission is equally admissible.

The state of mind of a party may be proved as a fact in issue or as tending to prove or disprove a fact in issue. Thus the knowledge of a party may be directly in issue or relate to a matter directly in issue.” [emphasis by Hallett J.]

Is the Reliability of the Plaintiff’s Memory a Material Fact?

[25]        The defendants argue that the reliability of the plaintiff’s evidence, given the potential memory loss from drug use, is at issue in this case. The plaintiff asserts that reliability includes credibility and a line cannot be drawn between reliability and credibility. Therefore the information relates only to credibility and as such is a non-material collateral fact.

[26]        “Reliable” is defined in the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 11th ed., as the “able to be relied on.” Credibility relates to whether or not the court accepts or believes the evidence. In assessing credibility, the court may consider how reliable the evidence is.

[27]        In my view, the error in the plaintiff’s position is conflating reliability and credibility when the former is but part of the latter. The ability of the plaintiff to remember is, in my opinion, relevant to proof of a material fact, namely the existence of a contract based on oral terms.

[28]        Frequently courts take into account factual considerations, such as the ability of a witness to see or hear what occurred, in determining whether evidence is reliable and should be accepted. Surely, if an individual has suffered damage to his cognitive or memory functions, that is equally a relevant fact.

[29]        I am satisfied that, if otherwise admissible, the requested production is relevant and could prove or disprove a material fact. Rule 7-1 does not restrict production to documents that in themselves prove a material fact. It includes evidence that can assist in proving or disproving a material fact.

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If you would like further information or require assistance, please get in touch.

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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