Keeping Damaging Evidence Out; Bias and Necessity


An imporant skill of a trial lawyer is being able to persuade the Court, in appropriate circumstances, to exclude expert opinion evidence that is damaging to your client’s case.  Two of the many objections that can be raised against opposing expert evidence are bias and lack of necessity.   Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, dealing with these areas of the law.
In today’s case (Beazley v. Suzuki Motor Corporation) the Plaintiff was injured in a 1994 roll-over car crash.  The Plaintiff claimed that the design of the vehicle involved was defective and sued various parties including GMC.  GMC argued that the vehicle was not negligently designed and further that the Plaintiff was the author of her own misfortune for failing to wear her seatbelt.
In support of their case the Defendants obtained two expert reports.  The first was a report from an engineer (who was an employee of the Defendant GMC) who provided opinions about the handling, stability and rollover characteristics of the vehicle in question and whether the vehicle was defective.  The second was the report of a statistician who addressed the injury risk to belted and unbelted occupants in rollover accidents.
The Plaintiff applied to exclude these reports from evidence.  They argued that the engineer’s employment relationship with the Defendant at the very least created a reasonable apprehension of bias that should disqualify him from acting as an expert.  With respect to the statistician’s report the Plaintiffs argued that this evidence was not helpful for the Court.
Mr. Justice Goepel rejected the Plaintiff’s submissions with respect to bias but did agree with the submissions with respect to the statistical evidence.  In coming to these conclusions Mr. Justice Goepel provided the following useful summaries of these areas of law:

  • BIAS

[20] Canadian courts appear to have taken different positions on the issue of whether an expert witness’ bias or perceived bias will disqualify him or her from giving evidence at trial. Some courts have held that for expert evidence to be admissible, the expert must be seen to be absolutely neutral and objective. Other courts have concluded that a lack of objectivity, neutrality and independence are matters that only impact the weight to be afforded that expert. Romilly J. in United City Properties Ltd. v. Tong, 2010 BCSC 111 at paras. 35-68, has exhaustively reviewed the jurisprudence.

[21] The cases are not easily reconciled. Where there is a personal relationship between the proposed expert and the party, where the expert has been personally involved in the subject matter of the litigation or where the expert has a personal interest in the outcome, the expert has not been allowed to testify. Examples of such cases are Fellowes, McNeil v. Kansa General International Insurance Co. (1998), 40 O.R. (3d) 456 (Gen. Div.); Royal Trust Corporation of Canada v. Fisherman (2000), 49 O.R. (3d) 187 (Sup. Ct. J.);  Bank of Montreal v. Citak, [2001] O.J. No. 1096 (Sup. Ct. J.); and Kirby Lowbed Services Ltd. v. Bank of Nova Scotia, 2003 BCSC 617. In cases where the relationship between the expert and the party is more institutional in nature, the evidence has been admitted subject to weight. Examples of such cases are R. v. Klassen, 2003 MBQB 253 and R. v. Inco Ltd.(2006), 80 O.R. (3d) 594 (Sup. Ct. J.).

  • NECESSITY

[28] Expert opinion evidence is admissible only where a judge or jury are unable, due to the technical nature of the facts, to draw appropriate inferences. The defendants seek to call Ms. Padmanapan’s statistical evidence in order to establish a causal connection between a failure to wear a seatbelt in the course of a rollover accident and increased injuries. In certain circumstances statistical evidence can be helpful in determining causation:  Laferrière v. Lawson, [1991] 1 S. C.R. 541.

[29] It has been long recognized in British Columbia that a party who fails to use an available seatbelt and sustains injuries more severe than if the seatbelt had been worn will be found to be contributory negligent: Yuan et al. v. Farstad (1967), 66 D.L.R. (2d) 295 (B.C.S.C.); Gagnon v. Beaulieu, [1977] 1 W.W.R. 702 (B.C.S.C.).

[30] While there appears to have been statistical evidence led in Yuan and in Gagnon, subsequent cases have held that such evidence is not necessary. In Lakhani (Guardian ad litem of) v. Samson, [1982] B.C.J. No. 397 (S.C.) McEachern C.J.S.C. (as he then was) noted at para. 3:

I reject the suggestion that engineering evidence is required in these cases. The court is not required to leave its common sense in the hall outside the courtroom, and the evidence is clear that upon impact in both cases the Plaintiff’s upper body was flung or thrown forward striking the dashboard or the steering wheel. And common sense tells me that the restraint of a shoulder harness would have prevented that, and therefore some of the injury from having occurred.

[31] To succeed on the seatbelt defence, the onus will be on the defendants to establish upon a balance of probabilities that the use of a functioning seatbelt would have avoided, or minimized Ms. Spehar’s injuries:  Harrison v. Brown, [1987] 1 W.W.R. 212 (B.C.S.C.); Terracciano (Guardian ad litem of) v. Etheridge (1997), 33 B.C.L.R. (3d) 328 (S.C.).

[32] The statistical evidence to be led from Ms. Padmanapan is, in my opinion, not necessary and will not assist me as trier of fact in determining the issue of contributory negligence. If the evidence is not necessary, it does not meet the test of admissibility.

Beazley v. Suzuki Motor Corporation, Bias, challenging expert reports, expert witnesses, liability, Mr. Justice Goepel, necessity, Reasonable Apprehension of Bias, seatbelt, seatbelts, Statistics

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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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