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Injury Claim With 30 Expert Reports Deemed "Too Complex" For Jury Trial

Reasons for judgement were recently published by the BC Supreme Court, Victoria Registry  striking a jury notice in a complex personal injury claim.
In the recent case (Campbell v. McDougall) the Plaintiff was involved in two collisions, the first in 2006, the second in 2008.  The trials were set to be heard together with ICBC seeking trial by jury.  The Plaintiff brought an application to strike the jury notices arguing the claims were too complex for a jury.  Mr. Justice Gaul agreed and provided the following reasons:
[14]         The plaintiff has served approximately 20 expert reports authored by 16 different experts. In reply, the defendants have served 10 expert reports prepared by seven experts. Combined, these reports amount to approximately 700 pages. The jury is therefore facing the prospect of examining, considering, digesting, and retaining information from approximately 30 reports authored by 23 experts. The range of expert evidence is as broad as it is long, and it includes: general medicine, physiatry, psychiatry, neuropsychology, psychology, anaesthesiology, neurology, plastic surgery, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, forensic engineering and economic actuarial analysis.
[15]         In addition to these expert reports, there are also over 1,200 pages of clinical records relating to the plaintiff’s condition and treatment. Many of these records will be used in cross-examination of the plaintiff and consequently the jury will need to be instructed on the proper use of such records…
[32]         In my opinion, the number of expert reports involved in this litigation, the varying opinions contained in those reports, the medical terms and principles referenced in the reports, and the plaintiff’s unique educational and professional background combine to make this case a significantly complex one…
[37]         I find that the issues that will be addressed at the joint trial of these matters will require the trier of fact to engage in a prolonged examination of documents, as well as a scientific investigation. I also find that the issues in dispute between the parties are of an intricate or complex nature.
[38]         I have reviewed and considered the authorities Ms. Stevens has submitted where juries have addressed complex issues in personal injury cases, as well as other types of claims, over the course of long trials. Having done so and having regard to the principles articulated in Nichols, it is my considered opinion that the examination and investigation in the present case cannot be made conveniently with a jury. Moreover, given the intricate and complex nature of the issues in dispute, in my view this case is not one that is suitable for trial with a jury.
[39]         The plaintiff’s applications are granted. The jury notices in both cases are struck out. The joint trial of these matters will therefore take place before a Supreme Court justice sitting without a jury.

Parties Cannot Rely on Opposing Litigant's Jury Notice Under The New Rules of Court

Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Cranbrook Registry, concluding that under the New Rules a Plaintiff “is not entitled to have a jury trial by paying the jury fees associated with the jury notice filed by the Defendant“.
In this week’s case (Moll v. Parmar) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2006 collision.  The case had a complex pre-trial history that cannot easily be summarized but in short the matter was set for trial with only one live jury notice in place which was filed by the Defendant.  As trial neared the Defendant elected not to rely on the Jury Notice.  The Plaintiff brought an application allowing him to piggy-back on the Defendant’s Jury Notice.  Mr. Justice Abrioux held that this was not allowed and dismissed the application.  The court did, however, grant the Plaintiff leave to file a jury notice of their own.
In concluding that one party cannot rely on another’s Jury Notice under the New Rules the Court provided the following reasons:
 [1]             The plaintiff seeks to have the trial of this action heard by the court with a jury. The application was heard on July 12, 2012. It raises the issue as to whether under the Supreme Court Civil Rules, which came into effect on July 1, 2010, a party which did not file a jury notice may, nonetheless, rely on a jury notice filed by another party and secure a trial by jury by paying the required fees. In light of the pending trial date being August 13, 2012, I am delivering these oral reasons for judgment today. I reserve the right to edit these reasons although that process will not involve a change in the decision or in the reasoning…
[19]         The plaintiff’s submission is predicated on the word “and” at the conclusion of Rule 39(26)(a) not being present at the end of Rule 12-6(3)(a)(ii). The plaintiff submits the inclusion of “and” at the end of Rule 39(26)(a) formed the basis of William J.’s conclusion in Folk. It was only the party that issued the jury notice who was entitled to pay the jury fees associated with that notice.
[20]         I agree with the plaintiff that the word “and” at the end of Rule 39(26)(a) was an important factor in Folk. I do not agree, however, that its omission in Rule 12-6(3)(a)(ii) changes the state of the law. Rule 12-6(3) states, “a party may require that the trial of an action be heard by the court with a jury by doing the following”. Although “and” is not present, the words “by doing the following” were added in the introductory wording of the present subrule.
[21]         In accordance with Bell ExpressVu Limited Partnership v. Rex, 2002 SCC 42, I read the subrule in its entire context “in its grammatical and ordinary sense harmoniously” with the Supreme Court Civil Rules. In doing so, I am of the view the words “by doing the following” had the effect of replacing the word “and” which appeared in Rule 39(26)(a).
[22]         Accordingly, as would have been the case under Rule 39(26), the plaintiff in this case is not entitled to have a jury trial by paying the jury fees associated with the jury notice filed by the defendant.

Visual Aids Permitted In Trial Closing to "Assist the Jury"

Reasons for judgement were published this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, addressing the admissibility of non-exhibit visual aids during closing submissions in a Jury trial.
In the recent case (Walker v. Doe) the Plaintiff sued for damages following a motorcycle collision.  During closing submissions the Plaintiff canvassed his claimed damages for wage loss and future care with the help of non-exhibit visual aids.  In finding such aids were appropriate Mr. Justice Voith provided the following reasons:
[19] Counsel for the plaintiff proposes, in his closing submissions, to: (a) develop a bar graph or time line that explains the period of time that each of past wage loss, future wage loss, and the other heads of damage being claimed cover; and (b) visually depict how a future wage loss claim or future care claim should be calculated from the relevant tables that are found in the Civil Jury Instructions.

[32] In line with MacKenzie A.C.J.S.C.’s reasons in Basi, I have reviewed both Watt’s Manual of Criminal Jury Instructions and the CJC’s model jury instructions. Both seem to confirm that charts or summaries can be used during a closing to help illustrate or explain the evidence, even if they are not made exhibits at trial.

[33] The purport of the decisions in Bengert, Fimognairi and Basi, moreover, is that trial judges have a wide discretion to permit what aids to the jury they consider are helpful or appropriate.

[34] Support for this wider discretion is also found in Jones A. Olah, The Art and Science of Advocacy, loose leaf, (Toronto: Carswell, 1990). At 18.8, he writes, unfortunately with no citation other than to another secondary source that I was unable to access:

The use of demonstrative aids that are not part of the trial record, such as blackboards, charts, models, and summaries, is in the trial judge’s discretion. If the evidence provides reasonable foundation for these summaries or charts, then their use should be permitted.

[35] In this case, subject to the comments I am about to make, I am satisfied that counsel for the plaintiff can proceed as he wishes. The intended use of the “demonstrative aids” that he has described is modest, finite, and would assist the jury in understanding the issues that are before them. This is also consistent with the guidance provided in each of Bengert, Fimognairi and Basi. Still further, my instructions will contain a caution confirming that neither the time line nor the calculations constitute “evidence” before the jury.

I am advised this case is currently under appeal for unrelated reasons.  If the BC Court of Appeal addresses this topic I will provide an updated post.

Vancouver Jury Awards Canadian National Boxing Champion $1,023,000 In ICBC Claim

While an injured hand would effect most individuals in a negative fashion the consequences can be far more severe depending on the nature of your occupation.  Illustrating that an injury’s valuation largely depends on the unique circumstances of a Plaintiff, a recent Vancouver Jury verdict valued a Boxer’s ICBC claim involving a right hand injury at just over $1,000,000.

In the recent case (Albert v. Politano) the Plaintiff Jegbefumere ‘Bone’ Albert was involved in a 2008 collision.  He was a professional cruiser weight boxer at the time with a 4-0 professional record and a 251-3 amateur record.  The collision caused a chronic right hand injury.  This injury flared with training/fighting.  The Plaintiff had 3 more professional contests post crash and despite his hand injury he won all these contests.  The chronic nature of the injury, however, interfered with his abilities and required the Plaintiff to take early retirement in 2009 at the age of 29.

After a 5 day trial before Mr. Justice Greyell the Vancouver Jury awarded the Plaintiff just over $1 million for his losses including the following damages:

Non-Pecuniary Damages: $125,000

Past Diminished Earning Capacity: $60,000

Future Diminished Earning Capacity: $868,000

As with all Jury verdicts, there are no ‘reasons for judgement’ to publish.  I would like to thank Vancouver lawyer John Cameron for sharing this result with me for publication on this blog.

Is Comparing an Expert Witness to a "Wizard Buffoon" Fair Game in an Injury Trial?

Reasons for judgement were recently shared with me addressing the scope of permissible closing arguments criticizing an opposing expert witness in an injury claim before a jury.  In short the Court held that comparing an opposing expert to Johnny Carson’s Carnac The Magnificent crossed the line.
In the recent case (Walker v. ICBC) the Plaintiff sued for damages for serious injuries sustained in a motor vehicle incident.  In defending the case ICBC called a professional engineer who provided evidence which contradicted the Plaintiff’s expert.  The expert was vigorously cross examined.  In closing arguments to the Jury the expert was compared to Carnac the Magnificent.  In finding this comment beyond the permissible scope Mr. Justice Voith provided the following reasons:
[24]  The Submission addressed Dr. Toor and his evidence at paras. 78-87 and elsewhere.  The attack made on Dr. Toor had at least two components or aspects, each of which was repeated in different ways and each of which was inappropriate.  The first was that Dr. Toor, a professional person, was knowingly and intentionally made an object of derision and ridicule.  Counsel for the Plaintiff accepted this and did not resile from it.  If Dr. Toor’s evidence was ridiculous, he argued, Dr. Toor deserved to be ridiculed…
[26]  The second statement, “although Johnny Carson is dead, the Amazing Karnak lives on”, is inappropriate.  The defendant in argument described the Karnac figure as a “wizard buffoon”.  Counsel for the Plaintiff agreed.  He went on to accept that the Karnac figure was a “ridiculous, turbanned and bejewelled caricature”.
[27]  Earlier during the trial, counsel for the plaintiff had held up a sealed envelope in his hand and began to ask Dr. Toor what was in it.  I prevented counsel from proceeding.  I did not appreciate at the time, however, that this bit of theatre was intended to presage things to come and to lay the groundwork for counsel’s subsequent submissions.  I accept that counsel can be vigorous in its attack on the evidence and qualificaitons of an expert.  That attack may well use some “drama and pathos”:  Cahoon at para. 18.  I do not consider or accept that it should extend to ridicule based on counsel’s belief that a witness’s evidence is ridiculous.  It should not depict or describe a professional person, qualified to give expert evidence, as a fool or buffoon based on counsel’s perception of that witness.  In this case, the indirect assertion that Dr. Toor was a buffoon was reinforced by the sarcastic tone, again often independently acceptable, which counsel for the plaintiff used in these submissions.
A mistrial was eventually declared.  The reasons for judgement are not publicly available but, as always, I’m happy to provide a copy to anyone who contacts me and requests one.
I am advised this matter is under appeal and will post further on this topic after the BC Court of Appeal weighs in on this issue.  Whatever the final judicial outcome addressing the scope of fair criticism, its a safe bet BC won’t mirror New Mexico’s satirical 1995 proposal requiring expert witnesses to dress like wizards while testifying.

Jury Election Must Be Made With First Notice of Trial Under New BCSC Rules

Unreported reasons for judgement recently came to my attention addressing, for what I believe is the first time since the New Rules came into force, the issue of whether a party can elect trial by jury when a new Notice of Trial is issued if they failed to so elect in the fist instance.  In short the Court held this is not permitted.
In the recent case (Hung v. Sellars, BC Supreme Court Duncan Registry) the Plaintiff was injured in a motor vehicle collision.  The case was set for trial and neither party filed a notice requiring trial by jury.  The trial was adjourned by consent.   The Plaintiff filed a new notice of trial (as is required by BC Supreme Court Practice Direction 25).  The Defendant then filed a notice requiring trial by jury.
The Plaintiff brought an application to strike the Jury Notice.  Mr. Justice Bracken granted the application noting that the Rules only allow a jury notice to by filed with the initial notice of trial.  In doing so the Court provided the following reasons:
[13]  As noted, the authorities have held the election whether the trial be by judge alone or by judge sitting with a jury contemplates that the election will be made promptly after the first notice of trial.  Some latitude is possible where a party seeks to make an election outside the tie limited by the rules in certain restricted circumstances.
[14]  In some cases, such as removal from the fast track process where there is no right of jury trial, the parties can make the eelction upon a new notice of tiral being filed…
[15] In this case, a jury notice, in accordance with the principle in Hoare v. Firestone and Pelech v. Pelech, could have been filed and served after the first notice of trial that was issued in this action.  The jury notice should have been filed and delivered within the rules after the date of the first notice of trial…Therefore the notice requiring trial by jury in this case…is struck as being filed outside the tine allowed by Rule 12-6.
As of today’s date this decision is not publicly available but, as always, I’m happy to provide a copy to anyone who contacts me and requests one.

The Flexibility of the 7 Day Rule for Jury Strike Applications

Rule 12-6(5) imposes a 7 day deadline in which to dispute a jury notice. As previously discussed, the former rules of Court permitted parties to get away from this time limit by applying to strike a jury at a pre-trial conference.  With the overhaul of the civil rules does this exception still apply?  Reasons for judgement were released yesterday by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, finding that it does.
In yesterday’s case (Cliff v. Dahl) the Plaintiff was ‘severely injured‘ in a 2007 collision.   The Plaintiff’s claim was set for trial and the Plaintiff filed a jury notice.  The Defendant brought an application to strike the jury notice but failed to do so within the timelines required by Rule 12-6(5).
The Defendant’s application was ultimately dismissed on the merits but prior to doing so Madam Justice Bruce provided the following reasons confirming the 7 day jury strike deadline is not strictly applied under the current rules:
[12] Under the old Rule 35(4)(a), a pre-trial conference judge, the trial judge or a master could make an order that a trial be heard without a jury. The court interpreted this provision broadly; it permitted the application to be made outside the seven day time limit imposed in old Rule 39(27), which is for the most part identical to the new Rule 12-6(5). While the old Rule 35(4)(a) does not appear to have found its way into the new rules, the rationale behind permitting applications outside the strict seven day time limit remains consistent with the intent and purpose of the new rules. The ability to apply to strike the jury notice outside the strict time limit was necessary to ensure a fair trial and the court’s ability to respond to a change in circumstances surrounding the conduct of a trial. Further, it is apparent that a trial management judge has authority to grant the relief claimed by Ms. Dahl without any reference to the seven day time limit: Rule 12-2(9)(b). Lastly, the court has a discretion to extend time limits in appropriate circumstances without the necessity of a separate application: Rule 22-4(2).

From Trial To Judgement: How Long Does It Take in an ICBC Claim?

Unless you work in the civil justice system or have recently accessed the Courts to resolve a civil dispute it may come as a surprise to learn that usually a verdict is not rendered by a trial judge until some time after the close of the case.  So how long does it take?  Other than giving the unsatisfactory answer of “it varies” I’ve never had any concrete data to point to in addressing this question until now.
The latest issue of the Trial Lawyer’s Association of BC’s magazine “the Verdict” (Issue # 130) sheds some light on this topic with hard data.
Two BC lawyers (Thomas Harding and Derek Miura) spent some time analyzing information obtained from ICBC through Freedom of Information requests.  With this information in hand they authored an article addressing the commonly held belief that judge alone trials are less costly and time consuming than trial by jury.  Interestingly their study concludes that the opposite of this appears to be true when factoring in the time and cost associated with reserved reasons for judgement.
Their statistical analysis shows how long it takes judgement to be delivered after the average Judge alone ICBC trial in BC Supreme Court.  The answer is a ratio of 29 days for every day of hearing.  In other words, on average a one day trial would have judgement pronounced 29 days after trial.  A 5 day trial would take 5 times longer (145 days) and the average 10 day trial would take 290 days for judgement.
In addition to shedding light on this topic, the recent installment of the Verdict is worth reviewing in full for its in-depth analysis of the current state of the law relating to civil jury trials in BC.  It is available free on-line for TLABC members and can be subscribed to by the public at large for a fee.

"Almost Derisory" Pain and Suffering Award Overturned by BC Court of Appeal

Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Court of Appeal setting aside a jury verdict and ordering a new trial in a motor vehicle collision injury claim.  The Court found that the Jury’s award for non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) was “almost derisory” and not compatible with the other awards made.
In last week’s case (Evans v. Metcalfe) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2006 collision.  The Plaintiff sought substantial damages.  A jury was not receptive to much of the Plaintiff’s claim and awarded a fraction of the sought damages.  The awards included $6,000 in special damages, $10,300 for past loss of income and $1,000 for non-pecuniary damages.  The trial judge found these awards to be “shockingly unreasonable”.
The Plaintiff appealed arguing the non-pecuniary damage award could not be reconciled with the other awards.  The BC Court of Appeal agreed stating that the other awards were consistent with a finding of a 9 month injury and a $1,000 pain and suffering award is not compatible with such a finding.  In ordering a new trial the BC Court of Appeal provided the following reasons:

[9] In the present case, there was a body of medical evidence that did not depend on the veracity or reliability of the appellant plaintiff or her primary treating physician that was supportive of the thesis that she continued to suffer from the sequelae of the April 2006 accident throughout 2006 into the early months of 2007. As I earlier noted, the quantum of the awards made by the jury under the heads of past income loss and special damages are reasonably susceptible of the interpretation that the jury made a factual decision that the effects of the accident did persist for about nine months post-accident.

[10] In my respectful opinion, these findings of the jury as reflected in their pecuniary awards make the award for non-pecuniary damages very anomalous. It is not impossible that the jury may have taken a quite censorious view of the appellant because of her economic circumstances or because of her conduct in importuning the physician to give her a note in aid of possible financial advantage. These would not be judicious reasons for denying her an appropriate award of non-pecuniary damages. As I observed, there was a body of credible evidence that would support an award under this head significantly greater than the amount awarded at trial. While there can be considerable variance in awards made under this head as the cases cited to us demonstrate, this award seems almost derisory.

[11] Generally this Court must be very restrained in any interference with a jury disposition as a consistent body of precedent makes plain. However, I have been persuaded that this is one of those rare cases where the interests of justice make intervention appropriate. The degree of anomaly in the respective awards, coupled with a very real possibility of the triers of fact taking an unduly severe view of the appellant’s conduct unrelated to her physical condition persuade me that the award made by the jury for non-pecuniary damages cannot stand.

[12] We were invited by counsel for the appellant to either fix awards under various heads ourselves, or refer the matter to the trial judge for assessment. The latter course does not commend itself to me for two reasons:  the judge has previously expressed certain fairly strong preliminary views and it is of course the right of the defendant respondent to choose the forum of a jury if so minded. As to the possible remedy of this Court adjusting upward awards made by the jury, this is very much dependent on factual issues, including particularly issues of credibility. Historically this Court has been properly reluctant to engage in factual determinations in this class of matter. In my view, the only appropriate resolution of this case is to set aside the order made at trial and order a new trial and I would so order.

BC Court of Appeal Discusses Jury Instructions in Trip and Fall Lawsuits

(Update March 22, 2012The case discussed below was subsequently dismissed at the new trial ordered by the Court of Appeal.  You can access the reasons for judgement here)
Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Court of Appeal ordering a new trial following the dismissal of a trip and fall lawsuit.
In today’s case (Lennox v. New Westminster (City)) the Plaintiff was seriously injured while walking on a municipal sidewalk.   She alleged that she tripped because of “a discrepancy in the elevation between two panels of the sidewalk that had apparently shifted due to the roots of a large tree“.  She claimed the City was negligent and sued for damages.  A jury dismissed her case.  The Plaintiff appealed arguing the verdict was not reasonable and that the jury was misdirected by the trial judge.
The BC Court of Appeal found that while there evidence to justify the Jury’s verdict, a new trial was warranted because of the presiding judges directions to the Jury.  Specifically the judge charged the jury that “The plaintiff must prove that the city’s employees negligently carried out their responsibilities under the city’s written and unwritten inspection and maintenance policies.
The BC Court of Appeal found this to be a fatal error as either a breach of the City’s written or unwritten policies could have constituted negligence.  In a 2-1 split the BC Court of Appeal ordered a new trial with the majority providing the following reasons:
[27] The question chosen by the trial judge in this case referred to the respondent’s written and unwritten policies in a conjunctive manner, leaving the potential for members of the jury to believe that the plaintiff’s case would have to fail, unless she proved a breach of both as opposed to either policy.  It was unnecessary for the appellant to establish a breach of both the written and the unwritten policies in order to succeed in her claim in negligence, and a misdirection amounting to an error in law results, if that is what the jury question required…
[34] While it is true that the trial judge instructed the jury on more than one occasion that the appellant’s case was argued in the alternative; that she asserted a breach of both the written and the unwritten policies, I do not consider that his summary of the appellant’s alternate theories of her case overcomes the potential that the single question asked of the jury may have caused them to conclude that the appellant had to establish breaches of both the written and the unwritten City policies in order to succeed…

As was the case in Laidlaw, the trial judge’s charge did not mirror the wording in the single question asked of the jury, and again, as in Laidlaw, the charge was inconsistent, here, as to whether the plaintiff needed to prove a breach of one or both of the respondent’s policies.  By the time the jury was completing its deliberations, their focus must have been on the question, which is clear in its terms but, unfortunately, had the potential to mislead them as to what the plaintiff needed to prove in order to succeed.  It is impossible to determine with confidence that the jury had understood its task in deciding if the respondent’s employees were negligent in carrying out their operational responsibilities in accordance with either, as opposed to both of the respondent’s written and unwritten policies.

[40] I would therefore accede to the first ground of appeal, and order a new trial.

Madam Justice Smith, in dissenting reasons, stated the charge was nothing more than a “latent ambiguity” and that a new trial was not warranted.