BC Injury Claims and the Rule Against "Case Splitting"


When an ICBC or other injury claim goes to trial the Plaintiff needs to prove their case.   In the most basic terms this means that in a tort claim fault needs to be established along with the nature and extent of the accident related injuries and the losses that these have caused.  The Plaintiff normally does this in what’s called the Plaintiff’s ‘case in chief‘.  If the Plaintiff fails to call evidence on any of these points the case can be dismissed on a ‘no-evidence‘ motion.
Once the Plaintiff finishes calling his/her case the defence has the opportunity to call evidence to contradict the Plaintiff’s case or in support of theirs.  A Plaintiff can then call ‘rebuttal evidence‘ and this is something that often occurs in injury litigation when the Defence calls medical experts with conflicting opinions about the cause of the Plaintiff’s injuries.
There are limits on rebuttal evidence, however, and one such limit is that the evidence called in rebuttal must be truly responsive to the other sides case as opposed to addressing the points that needed to be proven in the ‘case in chief‘.  If a court concludes that rebuttal evidence is not truly responsive a court can keep it from going in.  Reasons for judgement were released today discussing this point of civil procedure.
In today’s case (Bransford v. Yilmazcan) the Plaintiff was injured in a motor vehicle collision.  In her case in chief she called evidence discussing her accident related injuries which apparently included Thoracic Outlet Syndrome and Headaches.  The Defendants then called their expert (Dr. Makin) who addressed the cause and prognosis of the Plaintiff’s injuries.
The Plaintiff then wished to call Drs. Prout and Caillier to give rebuttal evidence.   The Defendants objected arguing that the evidence was not truly responsive and the Plaintiff was attempting to ‘split her case‘.  Madam Justice Griffin agreed that some of the evidence was indeed not true rebuttal evidence and did not allow portions of the proposed evidence in.  Specifically she found that the proposed evidence diagnosing accident related Thoracic Outlet Syndrome and Headaches could have been called in the Plaintiff’s case in chief.  Madam Justice Griffin held as follows:

[6] First, Dr. Makin was asked a number of questions in his direct evidence regarding definitions of thoracic outlet syndrome, including the question “What are two types of thoracic outlet syndrome that involve nerves?”  His evidence was that one, the type that involves nerves, is true neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome, and that is the only type that involves the nerves.  He said a different type, disputed thoracic outlet syndrome, is a type diagnosed by vascular surgeons, and that neurologists do not agree with that classification.

[7] The implication of his evidence, including other questions he was asked in direct about how he conducted his tests, was that neurologists as a group are of the view that provocative testing reveals no clinically helpful information in diagnosing thoracic outlet syndrome and that they are opposed to vascular surgeons reaching this diagnosis.

[8] In my view this is a proper basis for rebuttal evidence on this narrow point; i.e., is a neurologist of the opinion that there can be a diagnosis of thoracic outlet syndrome in the absence of positive signs and a nerve conduction study?  And, is a neurologist of the opinion that provocative testing can be helpful in diagnosing this?

[9] The plaintiff cannot have been in a position to respond to the suggestion that neurologists do not hold that opinion as a group until the defence witness was heard on that point.  Indeed, arguably this point could not have been anticipated as it was not specifically identified in Dr. Makin’s report.

[10] I therefore conclude that it would be appropriate for the plaintiff to call rebuttal evidence of Dr. Prout to respond to this point, since Dr. Prout is a neurologist.

[11] However, Dr. Prout goes beyond this in his report and does his own evaluation and diagnosis of Hanna Bransford for thoracic outlet syndrome.  I am of the view that this goes further than proper rebuttal and runs the risk of splitting the plaintiff’s case, and so it is not appropriate.

[12] Second, Dr. Makin performed what were referred to as inching studies as part of his nerve conduction studies and reached a different diagnosis than the plaintiff’s physicians and experts, namely he diagnosed a problem with Ms. Bransford’s ulnar nerve.  I am of the view this is an appropriate matter for rebuttal evidence, namely an analysis of Dr. Makin’s nerve conduction studies and any comment disputing his findings and any contrary inching studies regarding the ulnar nerve.  This evidence would not be splitting the plaintiff’s case because the plaintiff does not assert that her diagnosis has anything to do with her ulnar nerve.

[13] I also note that the oral evidence of Dr. Makin reporting on these studies is not significantly narrowed from the point he makes in his written report and the defendants had agreed earlier that this was the proper subject of the rebuttal reports of Dr. Caillier and Dr. Prout.

[14] Further, the plaintiff could not properly have anticipated this evidence in its entirety until it was called from Dr. Makin.

[15] As for Dr. Makin’s evidence on headaches, I am of the view this is not the proper subject of rebuttal evidence, at least insofar as revealed in Dr. Prout’s report.  Headaches have always been part of Ms. Bransford’s symptoms and we have heard one plaintiff’s witness, Dr. O’Connor, describe them as cervicogenic.  Dr. Makin disagrees and describes them as migraine.  Dr. Prout does not point out any flaw in Dr. Makin’s science from a neurologist’s perspective, but really just gives an opposite opinion, an opinion that could have been given in the plaintiff’s main case.  The plaintiff was in a position to respond to the labelling of Ms. Bransford’s headaches as cervicogenic or migraine prior to the close of its case as it had notice of Dr. Makin’s description of the headache as migraine.

bc civil procedure, bc injury claims, Bransford v. Yilmazcan, Case Splitting, Madam Justice Griffin, rebuttal evidence, responsive evidence, Splitting your case

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If you would like further information or require assistance, please get in touch.

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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