Scope of Neuropsychological Evidence in BC Brain Injury Cases Discussed


Reasons for judgement were published today on the BC Supreme Court website dealing with the scope of permissible neuropsychological opinion evidence in BC Brain Injury Cases.
When ICBC or other BC brain injury cases go to trial a neuropsychologist is a common type of expert witness called by both Plaintiff and Defence Lawyers.  Neuropsychologists are extensively trained with respect to the cognitive and behavioural consequences of brain injuries and for this reason their evidence is often vital in the prosecution of brain injury claims.
In today’s case (Meghji v. Lee) the Plaintiff alleged she suffered a traumatic brain injury.  In support of her case the Plaintiff sought to have a neuropsychologist give opinion evidence with respect to the cognitive and behavioural sequelae of brain injuries and also with respect to whether the Plaintiff suffered from organic tissue to her brain.  The Defence lawyer objected claiming the latter opinion is outside of the scope of a neuropsycholgists permissible expert opinion.  Mr. Justice Johnston agreed with the defence objection and summarized and applied the law as follows:

[27] Counsel for the plaintiff wants Dr. Malcolm to be permitted to give an opinion on whether Ms. Meghji has had an injury to her brain. I looked briefly at Dr. Malcolm’s written reports, and in his first report, the one of February 1, 2007, Dr. Malcolm provides an overview of the place of psychometric testing in his overall task in this way. He says:

Once the test results are determined to reflect the person’s neuropsychological status with acceptable accuracy, the question remains as to whether clinically significant test results reflect organic damage, or stem from other factors, such as psychological causes. The neuropsychological process considers all of these possibilities in reaching diagnostic conclusions. The conclusions reached are based on a balance of probability, the strength of which is indicated where possible.

[28] At the risk of appearing to be overly semantic about this analysis, I take it that what counsel want Dr. Malcolm to be able to do is to testify by way of opinion about whether or not there has been some form of harm or damage to the tissues of the brain of Ms. Meghji as opposed to some form of harm or damage to the mind or emotions or personality of Ms. Meghji. Whether there is a distinction between the brain as an organ of the body, on the one hand, and the mind and personality of the person in whose body the brain is found, on the other, is a metaphysical question that I hope I never have to answer in a court of law. I am going to confine myself to what I think is in issue, and that is Dr. Malcolm’s qualifications as a neuropsychological and whether they permit him to provide the ready-made inference through opinion on whether there has been physical harm or damage to the brain as an organ of the body, and in my view, they do not.

[29] The statutory regime does not, in my view, go any further than to allow testing, assessment, diagnosis of, and therefore opinions on the abilities, aptitudes, interests, et cetera, or the behaviour, emotional, or mental disorders, that is, disorders of the mind. These conditions may arise with or without damage to the structure or tissues of the brain. They may be associated with or flow from injury or damage to the brain itself. They may arise from or flow from other causes. It does not necessarily follow that because Dr. Malcolm is permitted by statute to test, assess, or diagnose behavioural, emotional, or mental disorder that he must therefore be permitted to give in evidence his opinion that the cause of any of these conditions stems from an injury to the tissues or structures of the brain.

[30] In my view, Dr. Malcolm’s qualifications do not go so far as to permit that opinion.

[31] That does not say that Dr. Malcolm cannot give, in evidence, his opinion based upon the results of his testing, nor does it prevent Dr. Malcolm from giving an opinion on whether the test results as evaluated by him are of a nature, kind, or quality seen in people who have been diagnosed as having had organic brain injuries.

[32] In my view, the distinction drawn by Mr. Justice Clancy in Knight remains appropriate, and that is, Dr. Malcolm is qualified to give his opinion on the cognitive and behavioural sequelae of brain injuries and to indicate the relative likelihood of any cognitive and behavioural abnormalities being the consequence of a traumatic brain injury, but to paraphrase Mr. Justice Clancy, it does not permit him, that is, Dr. Malcolm, to diagnose physical injury and the manner in which it was incurred.

[33] It therefore follows that Dr. Malcolm will not be permitted to give his opinion on whether Ms. Meghji has had an injury to the tissues of her brain or, obviously, as to the cause of any such injury, but he will be permitted to testify as I have indicated.

bc injury claims, brain injury cases, expert evidence, icbc injury claims, Meghji v. Lee, Mr. Justice Johnston, Neuropsychologist Opinion Evidence, opinion evidence

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ERIK
MAGRAKEN

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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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