The New Rules of Court and Examinations for Discovery


Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, discussing the scope of permissible questions at examinations for discovery under the new Civil Rules.  In short, the Court noted that although the New Rules contain some changes with respect to the time permitted for discovery, precedents developed under the former rules remain good law with respect to permissible questions.  The court also addressed the factors that can be considered in extending an examination for discovery.
In today’s case (Kendall v. Sun Life Assurance Company) the Plaintiff had disability insurance with the Defendant.  The Plaintiff sued claiming the Defendant improperly denied her insurance benefits.  In the course of the lawsuit the Plaintiff examined a representative of Sun Life for discovery.  During the course of discovery Sun Life’s lawyer caused “so much disruption” with interfering objections that Plaintiff’s counsel terminated the examination prematurely and walked out.
The Plaintiff brought a motion compelling the representative to attend discovery again to complete the examination, to answer the questions that were objected to and to extend the time of discovery beyond the permitted 7 hours.  Madam Justice Griffin granted the motion and in doing so made the following comments about the scope of permissible discovery questions under the new rules:

[6]             Rule 7-2(18)(a) of the Supreme Court Civil Rules, B.C. Reg. 168/2009 [Rules of Court] sets out the scope of examination as follows:

(18)      Unless the court otherwise orders, a person being examined for discovery

(a)        must answer any question within his or her knowledge or means of knowledge regarding any matter, not privileged, relating to a matter in question in the action, …

[7]             Despite a variety of substantive changes to the Rules of Court enacted effective July 1, 2010, the scope of examination for discovery has remained unchanged and is very broad….

[13]         While the scope of examination for discovery has not changed with the new Rules of Court brought into force on July 1, 2010, the length of examination for discovery is now limited to seven hours or any greater period to which the person to be examined consents: Rule 7-2(2).

[14]          The newly imposed time limit on discovery makes it all the more important that the courts enforce the principle that counsel for the examined party must not unduly interfere or intervene during the examination for discovery.  The time limit imposes a self-policing incentive on the examining counsel to be focused and to not waste time on questions that will not advance the purpose of investigating the case or obtaining admissions for use at trial.

[15]         While the time limit on examination for discovery creates an incentive on the examining party to be efficient, it unfortunately also creates a risk that counsel for the examinee will be inefficient by unduly objecting and interfering on the discovery, for the purpose of wasting the limited time available.  If that party is economically stronger than the examining party, it also can strategically increase the costs of litigation this way, by burdening the financially disadvantaged party with having to bring a court application to obtain a proper discovery.

[16]         The proper conduct of an examination for discovery within the spirit of the Rules thus relies on the professionalism of counsel for the party being examined.

[17]         As held by the Ontario Superior Court in Iroquois Falls Power Corp. v. Jacobs Canada Inc. (2006), 83 O.R. (3d) 438 at para. 4:

Improper interference by counsel in the other party’s discovery undermines the purposes of discovery, prolongs it, fosters professional mistrust and generally offends the overall purpose of the Rules….

[18]         A largely “hands off” approach to examinations for discovery, except in the clearest of circumstances, is in accord with the object of the Rules of Court, particularly the newly stated object of proportionality, effective July 1, 2010.  Allowing wide-ranging cross-examination on examination for discovery is far more cost-effective than a practice that encourages objections, which will undoubtedly result in subsequent chambers applications to require judges or masters to rule on the objections.  It is far more efficient for counsel for the examinee to raise objections to the admissibility of evidence at trial, rather than on examination for discovery. ..

[52] In summary, the majority of objections made were not valid. The objections were undue interference in the flow of the examination for discovery.  It may or may not be the case that some of the questions were worded awkwardly and may have been seeking evidence of marginal relevance.  The examining party who frames questions badly runs the risk that the evidence obtained will end up being of no value.  Nevertheless, considerable respect ought to be shown for the professional judgment of counsel for the examining party on how to best approach an examination for discovery.  It is not up to counsel for the party being examined to dictate the opposing side’s decisions on which relevant areas of questioning should be the focus of the discovery.  It is also not in accord with the object of proportionality to make it the function of the court to become involved in micro-managing examination for discovery questions.

In addition to the above this case is worth reviewing in full for the Court’s discussion of the many specific objections that were raised.  In particular, the Court held that it is permissible in lawsuits for denied insurance benefits to ask the insurer’s representative about their general practices.

bc injury law, examination for discovery, examinations for discovery, Madam Justice Griffin, objections, Rule 7, Rule 7-2, Rule 7-2(18), Rule 7-2(18)(a), Rule 7-2(25), Rule 7-2(3), Scope of Discovery

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ERIK
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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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