Exclusion of Witnesses Results in New Trial in Chronic Pain Case
This week the BC Court of Appeal released reasons for judgement ordering a new trial following a chronic pain case which resulted in a $525,000 damage assessment.
In this week’s case (Houston v. Kine) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2006 collision. She allegedly suffered from PTSD and a chronic pain disorder as a result of the crash. The matter went to trial although did not conclude in the time initially allotted.
There was a 5 month gap before the trial recommenced. During this break ICBC undertook surveillance of the Plaintiff over two periods of time. The Defence lawyers, however, failed to disclose this evidence in compliance with the Rules of Court. As a result the trial judge refused to let the evidence in. The Court went further, however, and held that the witnesses who made the videos could not testify as to their observations of the Plaintiff as doing so would undermine the decision to exclude the video evidence.
The Defendants appealed arguing that the witnesses were wrongly excluded. The BC Court of Appeal agreed and found that while “the defendants’ choice at trial to withhold the existence of the videotapes….was inappropriate” and that this evidence was rightly excluded it was improper to exclude the witnesses themselves to testify. In ordering a new trial the BC Court of Appeal provided the following reasons:
 The obvious difficulty with the viva voce evidence was that the observers were unknown to the defendants prior to the hiatus in the trial. The earliest that they could have been identified was in November of 2009. By then, the plaintiff’s preparation for trial was all but over. To constrain the defendants’ ability to react to the plaintiff’s evidence to “prevent surprise or ambush” in my view unfairly restricted their ability to have the proceeding determined on its merits. As the trial judge accepted that there was no restriction on calling lay witnesses, she erred in imposing that restriction respecting witnesses who could comment on the plaintiff’s activities during the hiatus in the trial.
 The trial judge’s second reason for refusing to allow the observation witnesses to testify was that:
It would be inconsistent with my previous order and with the objects of the Rules, expressed in R. 1(5), “to secure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every proceeding on its merits,” to allow the defendants to, in effect, ambush the plaintiff with this evidence, which has been disclosed only recently.
 In my view the trial judge here misapplied Rule 1(5), focussing on speed in the completion of the proceedings at the expense of their merits. The Rule and the third factor in Stoneemphasize the importance of the determination of a proceeding on its merits. In order to determine a proceeding on its merits, the admissible evidence that is tendered by a party and is relevant to matters in issue should be considered.
 In addition, given that the original trial estimate was exceeded by the plaintiff’s case, necessitating the adjournment of the trial that caused the hiatus that brought about the acquisition of new evidence by the defendants, I am unable to accept that the delay resulting from the proposed evidence should have been treated any differently from the delay that was occasioned by the initial inadequate trial time estimate. The failure to do so prevented the determination of these proceedings on their merits. I conclude that the trial judge erred in law in refusing to permit the witnesses to give viva voce evidence at the trial…
 Here, the credibility of the plaintiff was a critical factor in the trial judge’s assessment of quantum, and the evidence of the observers was intended to directly address the plaintiff’s credibility. In my view, the refusal of the trial judge to permit the defendants to adduce evidence to challenge the plaintiff’s physical abilities at the date of the trial was unfair, and given the importance of this evidence to the ultimate award of damages for future diminished earning capacity and future cost of care, I see no alternative but to order a new trial on damages. I would thus allow the appeal and order a new trial.