Defence Doctor Opinion Rejected for Not Physically Examining Plaintiff


Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, providing comments critical of the practice of obtaining medical opinion evidence without accompanying physical examination of a Plaintiff.
In this week’s case (Ruscheinski v. Biln) the Plaintiff was involved in three collisions.  She sustained soft tissue injuries to her her neck and shoulder in the initial crash.  The following crashes had a ‘cascading effect‘ on these injuries resulting in chronic pain with partial disability.  Non-Pecuniary Damages of $85,000 were assessed.
In the course of the trial the Court heard from competing expert witnesses.  The Defendant’s expert never examined the Plaintiff.  For this reason the Court preferred the evidence of the Plaintiff’s experts and provided the following critical comments:

[82] Dr. Turnbull, a neurosurgeon, provided expert evidence on behalf of the defendants. He was the only medical expert whose opinion was adduced as part of the defendants’ case. His assessment is set out in his report dated April 26, 2011.  In his report, Dr. Turnbull opined:

Ms. Ruscheinski evidently suffered soft tissue injuries in the MVA of February 24, 2006 which may have been aggravated by the MVAs of September 9 and September 17, 2006.

[83] In my opinion, Dr. Turnbull’s choice of the word “evidently” results from the fact that he did not conduct an examination of Ms. Ruscheinski. Dr. Turnbull has not met, nor has he ever examined Ms. Ruscheinski. His opinions are based solely on his review of medical records.

[84] Dr. Turnbull also expressed in an opinion, in his report, that although Ms. Ruscheinski’s “soft tissue injuries have had ample time to heal”, her “symptoms may persist for some time.” He does not recommend any further treatment because, he explained, “passive treatments conducted more than two years after soft tissue injury are recognized as having little value.”

[85] I prefer the evidence of Drs. Feldman and Wasti over the defence expert, Dr. Turnbull. I accept Dr. Feldman’s opinion (supported by Dr. Wasti) that meeting a patient, obtaining their history directly, and conducting a thorough examination are essential to provide an accurate diagnosis of a patient’s injuries and to determine an appropriate prognosis.

[86] In my opinion, when dealing with cases where chronic pain is suggested or suspected, an examination of a patient that is designed to look for objective evidence of injury, such as muscle spasm, as opposed to feigned pain behaviour, coupled with an appropriate and thoughtful approach to taking a patient’s history, will lead to a diagnosis and prognosis that is much more reliable than a records review. I accept Dr. Feldman’s evidence that without a physical examination of Ms. Ruscheinski, it would not have been possible to detect the winging of her scapula.

[87] Dr. Turnbull agreed in cross-examination that muscle spasm and tenderness provide an objective basis for a diagnosis and prognosis. Those objective findings were found by Drs. Feldman and Wasti. Dr. Turnbull is not in a position to contradict the findings of Drs. Wasti and Feldman because he did not examine Ms. Ruscheinski. Further, Dr. Turnbull did not address Dr. Feldman’s findings, the findings from the flexion/extension x-rays, nor the focused treatment recommended by Dr. Feldman that consists of active and passive treatments. Finally, I wish to note that Dr. Turnbull acknowledged that most of his patients with neck and back pain do not have a history of being involved in motor vehicle accidents.

[88] My view of the matter is also supported by the remarks of Burnyeat J. in Dhaliwal v. Bassi, 2007 BCSC 549, 73 B.C.L.R. (4th) 177, where he wrote at paras. 2-3:

[2]        The role of an expert is to assist the Court. I am not assisted by receiving the “opinion” from a psychiatrist who has not seen a person and who bases his opinion only on documentation made available to him where much of that documentation will ultimately not be in evidence. Ordinarily, counsel will provide the factual assumptions to the expert that counsel will then proceed to prove in evidence. Those factual assumptions should be clearly stated in the statement of the expert. It is not for an expert to merely review a number of documents, many of which will not be in evidence and make certain findings of fact. …

[3]        As well, the Court has commented a number of times on it being inadvisable to rely on the opinion of a medical advisor who has not seen a plaintiff: see for instance Parish v. Scott, [1966] B.C.J. (Q.L.) No. 2839 (B.C.S.C.) at paras. 5 and 29. …

bc injury law, Dr. Turnbull, Mr. Justice Walker, Ruscheinski v. Biln

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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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