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Clinical Records Admitted Without Authentication? – No Harm No Foul Says BC Court of Appeal

Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Court of Appeal addressing, among other topics, whether a new trial should be ordered after clinical records were introduced to a jury without proper authentication.
In last week’s case (Desharnais v. Parkhurst and Romanowski) the Plaintiff was injured in two motor vehicle collisions.  He sought substantial damages as a result but a jury rejected much of his claim awarding $31,000 in damages.  The Plaintiff appealed arguing multiple errors were made at the trial level with the most significant, presumably  being the introduction of various clinical records without proper authentication.  The BC Court of Appeal held that while this was a clear error no harm was done and dismissed the appeal.   The Court provided the following reasons:
[93]         Accordingly, the records could be admitted for the truth of the fact that the statements were made, if the records were kept as part of the counsellor’s ordinary course of business, and were recorded within a reasonable time of the conversation with the plaintiff.  Similar, though not identical, considerations would be made under Ares.
[94]         There was no clear evidence of these conditions having been met.  Normally, the preconditions would be dispensed with by using a document agreement or securing admissions through a Notice to Admit.  I have not been able to find anything in the record to suggest that formal proof was dispensed with.  Rather, in this case the plaintiff objected to their admission.
[95]         In those circumstances, it seems to me that counsel seeking to admit the records as business records under common law or statute would have to tender proof of the preconditions for admissibility:  Cunningham v. Slubowski, 2003 BCSC 1854.  This was not done here. 
[96]         Accordingly, I agree with the plaintiff that the trial judge erred in concluding that the records were admissible without first concluding that there was proof of the preconditions under common law or statute.  Plaintiff’s counsel disputed that the records qualified as business records.  Even if there were little or no substance to his position, the effect of his objection was to require the defence to lead the evidence to comply with the pre-conditions for admissibility.
[97]         Having reviewed the appeal record, however, I do not see this error as sufficient to warrant intervention from this Court.  Had the records not been admitted, the information contained in them would have nonetheless been placed before the jury, as the content of the records was summarized in the report of the plaintiff’s expert, Dr. Rami Nader.  Dr. Nader’s summary of the records included that the plaintiff complained about stress stemming from his relationship with two women and that he suffered a back injury following the accident in his driveway.  Plaintiff’s counsel had the report admitted and sought no limiting instruction on the use of the report.
[98]         Further, the trial judge’s instruction that the records were an example of a prior inconsistent statement was one of several prior inconsistent statements made by the plaintiff.  The trial judge also pointed out inconsistent statements made under oath.  The plaintiff’s own counsel referred to the plaintiff as “a poor historian” in his closing submissions.  On the whole, it seems unlikely that the assessment of the plaintiff’s credibility was significantly influenced by the statements in the records.
[99]         The jury was also unlikely, given the amount of medical evidence, to place much weight on the records suggestion that the plaintiff was symptomatic before the first and second accident.  Further, this information was before the jury by virtue of the plaintiff’s expert’s report.
[100]     Based on the above, I do not see this error as warranting intervention from this Court.

bc injury law, clinical records at trial, Desharnais v. Parkhurst and Romaowski