Court Criticizes Doctor As Being "An Advocate For ICBC"

Adding to this site’s archives of judicial criticism of ‘advocate’ expert witnesses, reasons for judgement were released today  by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry rejecting the evidence of a defence expert on the basis of advocacy.
In today’s case (Davidge v. Fairholm) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2009 rear end collision.  Fault was admitted.  The Plaintiff suffered a chronic back injury which interfered with both his vocational and recreational abilities.  ICBC had the Plaintiff assessed by an orthopaedic surgeon who largely discounted the crash as playing a role in the Plaintiff’s chronic symptoms.  In criticizing this evidence as ‘advocacy’ Madam Justice Griffin provided the following reasons:

[124]     ICBC called expert evidence from Dr. Olie Sovio, an orthopaedic surgeon, who at ICBC’s request conducted an independent medical examination of the plaintiff on June 27, 2013 and produced a report dated July 2, 2013, admitted at trial.  Dr. Sovio’s opinion seemed to accept that the plaintiff had low back pain and neck stiffness when he saw him.  He characterized the symptoms as subjective but did not offer a reason to believe they were not real.  He recommended that the plaintiff undertake a regular activity, or exercise, program.

[125]     Dr. Sovio’s opinion did not address what caused the plaintiff’s low back pain.

[126]     However, in cross-examination Dr. Sovio made an effort to state his opinion that because there was no abnormality in the plaintiff’s low back for seven months, it did not make sense to attribute that pain to the car accident.  This opinion was offered even though it was not responsive to the question being asked, and was not in his report.  I got the sense from his eagerness to state this that he was being an advocate for ICBC rather than a neutral expert.

[127]     Dr. Sovio’s off-hand opinion in relation to causation was not well explained.  From the context of his evidence, it appeared to be based on his view that the patient had new onset of low back pain that was not there before, seven months after the accident (i.e. it was new when first noted in Dr. Rebeyka’s April 9, 2010 clinical record).  This was despite the plaintiff telling Dr. Sovio that he had low back pain almost immediately after the accident. In other words, Dr. Sovio chose to not believe the plaintiff because Dr. Sovio did not see low back pain documented in the clinical records until later. 

[128]     Just as with the other experts, it is up to this Court to determine whether or not the plaintiff can be believed when he says he had low back problems after the accident that grew in intensity over time. 

[129]     Dr. Sovio did not provide any explanation as to what was the cause of the plaintiff’s low back pain.  According to his evidence, the degenerative changes in the plaintiff’s back should not have prevented him from returning to work in the oil fields.  If that is so, his opinion does not support any conclusion that the degenerative changes limited the plaintiff’s ability to do heavy work and led to the low back pain after the return to work.    

[130]     In the last paragraph of p. 6 of Dr. Sovio’s report, he acknowledged that he was unclear on why the plaintiff took time off work from the oil fields and ultimately attended retraining even though after the WHP he was considered fit to return to work.  Dr. Sovio concluded that the patient chose to retrain rather than return to his drilling occupation, “but this does not seem to be on a physical basis, at least, judging from the medical records”.  In stating this, Dr. Sovio either ignored the plaintiff’s history or did not ask him questions about his experiences after returning to work.

[131]     Dr. Sovio’s report leads me to conclude that he did not understand the plaintiff’s medical history leading up to his attendance at BCIT, including the fact that the plaintiff found work in the oilfields to be too painful and thus too physically difficult after the accident.  It seems somewhat careless for Dr. Sovio to opine that retraining was simply a personal choice and not due to the patient experiencing physical limitations at his work.  

[132]     Dr. Sovio performs many assessments for the Workers’ Compensation Board, and he made it clear in his evidence that he thinks many workers injured at work simply would prefer not to return to work even though they do not have a good reason for not returning.  He offered this as his explanation for discounting the opinion of the plaintiff’s general physician. Unfortunately I felt that Dr. Sovio was unduly cynical and had a bias in this regard and so viewed the plaintiff’s own reports of back pain as not worthy of any weight, which is not an objective approach.

[133]     Dr. Sovio’s approach as to the plaintiff’s ability to work also seemed very superficial.  He did not apparently know the exact nature of the physical tasks the plaintiff must perform in his work and other physical stresses of his job.  When questioned what the job involved, he rather arrogantly said, “I think I know what it’s all about”, when clearly he had little idea and had not asked the plaintiff sufficient questions to gain an understanding. 

[134]     In short, I did not find Dr. Sovio’s evidence to be helpful on the issues of causation or the plaintiff’s ability to work.  

Advocacy in the Guise of Opinion, bc injury law, Davidge v. Fairholm, Madam Justice Griffin

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ERIK
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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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