"Investigative Stage" Trumps Claim to Litigation Privilege Regarding Quantum of Damages Investigation

I’ve previously discussed the difficulty ICBC has trying to withhold documents in a personal injury lawsuit based on their ‘investigative’ responsibilities.  Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, further addressing this topic.
In this week’s case (Spenst v. Reemeyer) the Plaintiff alleged injury s a result of a motor vehicle/pedestrian incident which occurred in 2010.  In the course of the lawsuit ICBC denied liability on behalf of the motorist.  ICBC refused to produce two ‘investigative reports’ they commissioned arguing these were protected by litigation privilege.  Master Caldwell found the evidence ICBC produced in support of their claim fell short of the mark to obtain the protection of privilege and ordered production of the documents.  After summarizing the legal principles involved Master Caldwell provided the following reasons:
[12]         In short, the determination as to whether litigation is contemplated as a reasonable prospect is not merely subjective and arbitrary but rather must be objective and based upon reasonable information obtained by appropriate investigation.
[13]         What does the evidence before me reveal when viewed in the light of the above tests?
[14]         First, I have absolutely no evidence from that adjuster who apparently had conduct of the file for the first 18 months.  I am not told whether or not any investigations were undertaken during that time as to either the issue of liability or the extent of damages.  Plaintiff’s counsel submitted, and defence counsel did not dispute, that no denial of liability was ever communicated to the plaintiff prior to the delivery of the Response to Civil Claim.
[15]         Second, Ms. Roach notes that the plaintiff retained counsel.  Plaintiffs have a right to obtain legal advice, including legal advice regarding their rights and responsibilities arising out of motor vehicle or personal injury matters. Consultation with counsel is not a direct or even reasonable guarantee that one is on the road to active litigation; the involvement of counsel may well enhance the possibility of resolution short of trial.
[16]         Third, Ms. Roach says that she only handles claims that are being litigated or are likely to be litigated and thus she determined that since the file was transferred to her it would be litigated.  Strangely however, Ms. Roach, in her own correspondence of May 8, 2012 (the day she commissioned the investigations/reports) wrote to plaintiff’s counsel:
To minimize costs, I will work with you to conclude this matter as quickly as possible.  If it is determined that your client is entitled to compensation, I will be prepared to release settlement funds only when the entire claim, including taxable costs and disbursements, has been resolved and the necessary release documentation completed.  I look forward to working with you on this matter.
[17]         At the time Ms. Roach wrote this conciliatory letter referencing concluding the matter, entitlement to compensation and settlement funds in response to a similarly conciliatory letter of introduction from plaintiff’s counsel, action had not yet been commenced, no position on liability had been taken and there is no evidence that any substantive investigation or even basic inquiry had been undertaken regarding any aspect of the plaintiff’s claim.  The mere arbitrary assertion that this file is likely to go to litigation because this adjuster handles only litigation files and she had decided it would go to litigation is not objectively defensible on the evidence before me.
[18]         Fourth, Ms. Roach says that the end of the limitation period was approaching and, by implication, litigation would have to be commenced.  What this assertion fails to recognize is that there is a significant difference between the commencement of an action in order to protect against the expiry of a limitation period and the active conduct of litigation.  In her May 8 correspondence, Ms. Roach expressly confirmed that her letter was not “a waiver or extension of any applicable limitation”.  In order for any legitimate, even-handed settlement discussions to take place, as invited by her letter, it was necessary for plaintiff’s counsel to preserve the plaintiff’s right to claim at law for her alleged injuries in the event that negotiations failed.
[19]         Counsel for the defendant advised in submissions that the investigative reports were obtained not on the issue of liability but rather on the issue of quantum of damages.  There was no evidence in the material to support that submission and counsel failed to indicate why that distinction would make a material difference in regard to the investigation/dominant purpose assessment.
[20]         The evidence before me fails to objectively establish to any certainty that the reports which were commissioned and which are sought by the plaintiff were commissioned for any purpose other than for basic investigation of the plaintiff’s claim.  There is no evidence to indicate that the adjusters had undertaken any type of earlier investigation to determine whether there was a reasonable, objective basis upon which liability should be denied or quantum questioned.  The reports are ordered produced forthwith.

bc injury law, Dominant Purpose, investigative stage, litigation privilege, Master Caldwell, reasonable contemplation of litigation, Rule 7, Rule 7-1, Rule 7-1(1), Rule 7-1(10), Rule 7-1(11), Rule 7-1(12), Rule 7-1(13), Rule 7-1(14), Spenst v. Reemeyer

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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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