Tag: Advocacy in the Guise of Opinion

Expert Witness Criticized by BC Supreme Court for "Advocacy"


Further to my previous posts on this topic, expert witnesses have a duty to be objective when giving their evidence and opinions in a BC Supreme Court trial.  Rule 11-2 specifically sets out that “In giving an opinion to the court, an expert appointed under this Part by one or more parties or by the court has a duty to assist the court and is not to be an advocate for any party.”
In addition to the above, the BC College of Physicians and Surgeons (the governing body for BC doctors) has provided the following feedback to its members:  “ Additionally, whether physicians are acting as experts in the capacity of treating physicians or independent medical experts, they still must provide balanced and objective reports.   The College does recommend that, when asked to provide an expert opinion, treating physicians discuss with their patients the physician’s duty to assist the court and not be an advocate for any party.”
If experts fail to give objective evidence their opinions can be excluded from trial and they open themselves to criticism from the trial judge.  Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court demonstrating this.
In today’s case (Warkentin v. Riggs) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2005 motor vehicle collision.  The Defendant admitted fault for the crash.  The Plaintiff sustained various injuries including an alleged post traumatic Fibromyalgia Syndrome.  In support of her case the Plaintiff filed several medical reports.  The Defendant objected to one of these being introduced on the basis that the expert ignored his duty to the Court and presented his evidence not as a neutral expert but rather as an ‘advocate‘.  Madam Justice Gropper agreed and excluded the expert’s evidence.  In doing so the Court provided the following harsh criticism:
[58] Dr. Hunt’s report adopts a particular format. He uses bold font to highlight words and phrases which benefit the plaintiff’s claim and support his diagnosis. This is apparent in his review of Ms. Warkentin’s history and medical reports. That which is contrary to the plaintiff’s claim or does not support his diagnosis is either omitted or presented in non-bolded font. This emphasis in support of the plaintiff’s claim and the exclusion of contrary matters is advocacy…

[81]        I find that Dr. Hunt is not a neutral and impartial expert providing assistance to the court, but rather an advocate on behalf of the plaintiff. The report is argument, not opinion. He did not provide a balanced discussion of fibromyalgia and its possible application to the plaintiff’s case. His discussion of the medical principles and their application to the plaintiff’s case is biased, argumentative and contrary to the requirements for the admissibility of an expert report.

[82]        Dr. Hunt’s own description of his role as an “Expert Medical Legal Consultant providing opinions on behalf of patients with chronic pain who are seeking legal remedies with respect to their condition” indicates that he does not consider his role as an expert to be that of an objective advisor to the court.

[83]        Dr. Hunt’s perceived role is amply demonstrated in his report. The format he uses is designed to emphasize matters which support the plaintiff’s claim and his diagnosis.

[84]        Dr. Hunt presents the medical literature in a manner that suggests that there is consensus about the causal connection between motor vehicle accidents and the onset of fibromyalgia. He attempted to mislead the court regarding the medical literature upon which he relies by referring only to portions which support his diagnosis and prognosis and omitting portions which do not. He does not refer to the cautions and qualifications in the medical literature. He is not current with the medical literature, notably the 2006 prospective longitudinal study by Tischler, which was conducted specifically in order to test the conclusions of the Buskila study.

[85]        Dr. Hunt’s testimony, particularly in cross-examination, supports my conclusions about his report; he acted as the plaintiff’s advocate rather than as an independent expert.

[86]        Dr. Hunt’s report of March 27, 2009 is likely to distort the fact-finding function of the trier of fact, and therefore its prejudicial effect far outweighs its probative value. I find that it is inadmissible. Because the rebuttal report is a reiteration, it is also inadmissible. I specifically reject Dr. Hunt’s diagnoses as expressed in the report and his medical opinion that they were caused by the accident. I reject Dr. Hunt’s diagnosis and prognosis of fibromyalgia and his opinions about the plaintiff’s functional limitations associated with fibromyalgia.

Ultimately the Court accepted that the Plaintiff did suffer from fibromyalgia but that this was not related to the motor vehicle collision.  Madam Justice Gropper found that the Plaintiff did sustain soft tissue injuries to her neck and shoulder along with headaches as  a result of the crash.  $50,000 was awarded for the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages.

In addition to the discussion of ‘advocacy‘ this decision is worth reviewing in full for the Court’s discussion of the relationship between fibromyalgia and trauma.

Defendant Punished With Costs Award for Relying on "Advocate" Expert Witness


Dr. Hymie Davis is a psychiatrist who has been frequently retained by ICBC to provide expert opinions as to the extent of Plaintiff’s accident related injuries.  (You can click here to access my previous posts setting out the billings of Dr. Davis and other experts often retained by ICBC).  In a judgement released last week, the BC Supreme Court harshly criticized Dr. Davis and took the unusual step of punishing the Defendant, (who was insured with ICBC), for relying on him at trial.
In last week’s case (Jayetileke v. Blake) the Plaintiff was injured in a BC motor vehicle collision.  She sued for damages.  Prior to trial ICBC made a formal settlement offer of $122,500.  The Plaintiff rejected this offer and went to trial.  She was ultimately awarded about $9,000 less than the settlement offer by the trial judge.
Normally, in these circumstances, ICBC would be entitled to their costs and possibly double costs from the time of their offer onward.  Mr. Justice Dley, however, refused to follow this usual course finding that not only should the Defendant not be awarded costs, but they should pay the Plaintiff costs.  The reason for this departure was a finding that Dr. Davis was “nothing more than an advocate thinly disguised in the cloak of an expert” and he should not have been relied on by the defence at trial.
Mr. Justice Dley provided the following damaging criticism of Dr. Davis as an expert witness and warning to lawyers who  intend to rely on experts who have a history of crossing the line into advocacy:

[35] Dr. Davis had a history before the courts where his evidence was rejected and his objectivity called into question: Grewal v. Brar et al, 2004 BCSC 1157, [2004] B.C.J. No. 1819; Gosal v. Singh, 2009 BCSC 1471, [2009] B.C.J. No. 2131; Kelly v. Sanmugathas, 2009 BCSC 958, [2009] B.C.J. No. 1413; and Smusz v. Wolfe Chevrolet, 2010 BCSC 82, [2010] B.C.J. No. 114.

[36] A witness may have a poor day in court – that does not mean the witness was dishonest or forever unreliable. However, Dr. Davis had displayed an alarming inability to appreciate his role as an expert and the accompanying privilege to provide opinion evidence.

[37] The defence was alive to his propensity to abuse the role of an expert. His reputation would have been known from the cited decisions. Plaintiff’s counsel succinctly set out the concerns about Dr. Davis in a letter dated January 29, 2010, which stated:

1.         Although he may have once been a qualified expert in psychiatry and able to give opinion evidence in court, we suggest he no longer is properly qualified to give opinion evidence. We will suggest that he is no longer aware of his duty to assist the court and in reality he is an advocate for ICBC. Additionally, we will submit that he has been so consistently discredited by the courts of this Province that he is incapable of being qualified as an expert;

2.         His report is replete with advocacy. The report is an attempt [to] neutralize any material/opinions which support the plaintiff’s claim rather than providing an objective medical opinion;

3.         His report contains many opinions and arguments that are beyond his expertise; and

4.         The information apparently gleaned from the plaintiff is inaccurate and incomplete and coloured to advance his position.

[38] In spite of the concerns that the Courts have expressed, the defence nonetheless proffered Dr. Davis as an expert in opposition to the plaintiff’s complaints of depression and anxiety. My assessment of Dr. Davis was as follows (oral reasons May 13, 2010):

[43]      Dr. Hymie Davis, a psychiatrist, examined Ms. Jayetileke on January 12, 2010 at the request of the defence. I find his evidence to be unreliable. I give it no weight for the following reasons.

[44]      Dr. Davis was an advocate. He was argumentative, defensive, non-responsive, and prone to rambling discourses that were not relevant to the questions posed in cross-examination.

[45]      Dr. Davis was asked to leave the courtroom so that counsel could argue about questions to be put to him. Dr. Davis was seen peeking into the courtroom and listening to the discussion. He was again asked to leave. In spite of these instructions given to him, Dr. Davis hovered within hearing distance and, on four occasions, stuck his head into the courtroom to hear what was occurring.

[46]      Dr. Davis conceded that without his notes, he would not be able to recall the discussion with Ms. Jayetileke. He relied on his notes to prepare his report.

[47] Dr. Davis had noted that Ms. Jayetileke awakened once or twice a week and that this was in some measure related to the accident-related symptoms. He was adamant Ms. Jayetileke had not said that she awakened once or twice a night. He said that his notes would reflect what Ms. Jayetileke had told him.

[48]      His notes referred to Ms. Jayetileke awakening once or twice but did not specify whether that was nightly or weekly. Nonetheless, Dr. Davis tried to point out other references in his notes that meant a weekly occurrence. Those references did not strengthen his evidence. They simply confirmed the unreliability of his testimony.

[49]      Dr. Smith had commented about how important it was for the history-taking to be done in a setting where the patient was comfortable and at ease with the interviewer. Dr. Davis’s demeanour would not lend itself to Ms. Jayetileke being at ease in his presence so that an effective and accurate history could have been taken. Ms. Jayetileke was under the impression that Dr. Davis did not take things seriously. I accept her view of the interview and prefer her evidence to that of Dr. Davis.

[39] For a trial to be fair, the Court must allow each party to put its best case forward. Where a party seeks to advance its position with reckless abandon seeking only the ultimate goal of victory and using questionable evidence along the way, that party risks sanctions in the form of costs penalties. Where the conduct is reprehensible and deserving of reproof and rebuke, the penalty is special costs. “Costs considerations are meant to guide counsel and litigants in the choices and strategies they pursue in litigation”: Karpodinis v. Kantas, 2006 BCCA 400, [2006] B.C.J. No. 2074 at para. 4.

[40] In this case and against the backdrop of previous judicial comment, the defence tendered Dr. Davis. He was nothing more than an advocate thinly disguised in the cloak of an expert. That is conduct deserving of rebuke and from which the Court disassociates itself.

[41] Dr. Davis attempted to inject levity to the proceedings when he was introduced to the Court – his reference to scotch can only be taken as an attempt to be humorous. However, these are serious and solemn proceedings and should be treated as such. His opening comments were unnecessary and unhelpful.

[42] Dr. Davis’ refusal to remove himself from earshot of the Court proceedings despite repeated requests was reprehensible. His conduct simply confirmed a lack of respect for Court proceedings.

[43] Under these circumstances, special costs are to be awarded against the defendant.

[44] The special costs will be the equivalent of the costs of the entire trial. The defendant will be deprived of any costs that it might otherwise have been entitled to as result of the offer to settle.

[45] The plaintiff is awarded costs as if there had been no offer to settle made. The defendant shall receive no costs.

[46] The plaintiff shall receive costs of this application.

ICBC Injury Claims, Dueling Experts and the Danger of "Advocacy"


A common theme when ICBC or other personal injury claims go to trial is that of dueling expert witnesses.  Often times the Plaintiff’s treating physicians provide an opinion to the Court that is contradicted by experts hired by defendants or insurance companies.  In deciding how much the claim is worth a Court must navigate through these competing opinions and decide who to believe.
Treating doctors, due in part to their long term relationship with their patients, sometimes provide their opinion in an argumentative way.  While well intentioned such opinions can do more harm than good.  The reason being is that the Rules of Court require expert witnesses to be neutral when presenting their opinion to the Court.  When experts advocate for one side or another they risk having their opinion discounted or even being excluded from evidence altogether.  The potential harm caused by expert advocacy was demonstrated in reasons for judgement released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vernon Registry.
In today’s case (Gendron v. Moffat) the Plaintiff was involved in a motor vehicle collision in 2008.  Fault for the crash was admitted by the opposing motorist focusing the trial on the value of the Plaintiff’s ICBC claim.  The Plaintiff sustained various injuries.  The Court heard different opinions as to the extent of these from the Plaintiff’s treating doctor and from the expert hired by ICBC.
The Plaintiff’s GP provided the opinion that the Plaintiff suffered from chronic injuries as a result of the Crash.  The doctor hired by ICBC disagreed and gave evidence that the accident related injuries largely ran their course and the Plaintiff’s symptoms were better explained by unrelated arthritis.  Ultimately Mr. Justice Cole preferred the evidence of ICBC’s doctor.  In coming to this conclusion the Court found that the Plaintiff’s doctor acted as an advocate and excluded portions of her evidence and discounted other parts.  Mr. Justice Cole provided the following useful comments:

[15] The doctor summarized her condition as follows:

Ms. Gendron sustained grade 2 strains to her cervical, thoracic and lumbar spines and a grade 2 strain to her right shoulder when she was T-boned in an intersection by a vehicle that had run through a red light. The impact imparted both forward and rotational acceleration forces through Ms. Gendron, and the subsequent symptom pattern and chronology of injury were consistent with the mechanism and severity of injury. Ms. Gendron has consistently demonstrated a high level of motivation to recover from her injuries, and has remained at work since her MVA , albeit in a reduced capacity. [Emphasis added.]

[16] The last two sentences of that summary I had removed, as in my view, the first sentence dealing with the impact of the accident and acceleration forces were not within the expertise of the doctor and the comment about her high level of motivation demonstrated that the doctor was acting more as an advocate than as an independent professional.

[17] The doctor was also critical of Dr. T. O’Farell, an orthopaedic surgeon who filed a report and gave evidence at trial. He was of the view that Dr. O’Farell’s report was “below the currently accepted standard for a specialist’s medical legal report.”  Again, that sentence was removed on the basis that the family doctor was more of an advocate than an independent professional and lacked the expertise to make such a statement…

[22] I am of the view that the plaintiff’s family physician, while a highly qualified doctor, is more of an advocate than an independent medical specialist and that it is almost impossible to be objective and an advocate at the same time. I therefore prefer the evidence of Dr. O’Farell that her neck pain is due to arthritis in her spine…

[27] In conclusion, I find that the injuries sustained by the plaintiff in the motor vehicle accident for which the defendant is liable, have substantially resolved.

While the doctor’s advocacy was not the sole reason for the Plaintiff’s lack of success at trial (The Court also found that the Plaintiff was not a credible witness) it goes to show that an overzealous treating physician can do more harm than good when providing an opinion to the Court.  It is important for treating doctors to give their evidence in a fair and balanced manner to maximize the chance of having their opinions accepted at trial.

BC Injury Lawsuits and Expert Witnesses; Hired Guns Need Not Apply

I’ve written many times about the role expert witnesses play in injury claims.  From diagnosing injury, commenting on causation, prognosis, future care needs and disability expert witnesses play a crucial role in ICBC and other injury lawsuits.
In addition to experts called by the Plaintiff, the Rules of Court also permit the Defendant to retain their own experts in order to ‘level the playing field‘.
Expert witnesses owe a duty to the Court to present their opinions impartially and not to act as advocates for the side that hired them.  Sometimes, regrettably, experts forget this and stray into the field of advocacy.  When this happens the expert’s opinion can be rejected entirely or even be kept from entering into evidence in the first place.  Today reasons for judgement were released by the BC Supreme Court, Nanaimo Registry, discussing this area of the law.
In today’s case (Hodgkins v. Street) the Plaintiff was involved in a BC Car Crash and was awarded damages of just over $650,000.  (You can click here to read my post summarizing the trial judgement)  The parties could not agree on what damages should be awarded for  a tax gross-up award and management fees and a Court application was brought.
Both the Plaintiff and Defendant produced expert reports from economists.  The Plaintiff argued that the Defence report ought to be rejected in its entirety because the defence expert was a “partisan advocate“.  Mr. Justice Kelleher disagreed with this submission but before reaching this conclusion gave the following useful summary on the role of expert witnesses in BC litigation:

[6] In Tsilhqot’in Nation v. Canada (Attorney General), 2005 BCSC 131 at para. 32, the court referred to the duties and responsibilities of expert witnesses discussed in National Justice Compania Naviesa S.A. v. Prudential Assurance Co. Ltd. (“The Ikarian Reefer”), [1993] 2 Lloyd’s Rep. 68:

1.         Expert evidence presented to the court should be and should seen to be, the independent product of the expert uninfluenced as to form or content by the exigencies of litigation.

2.         An expert should provide independent assistance to the court by objective unbiased opinion in relation to matters within his or her expertise.  An expert witness should never assume a role of advocate.

3.         An expert should state the facts or assumptions on which the opinion is based and should not omit to consider material facts which detract from that opinion.

4.         An expert should make it clear when a particular question or issue falls outside of the expert’s expertise.

5.         If an expert’s opinion is not properly researched because insufficient date is available, this must be stated with an indication that the opinion is no more than a provisional one.

[10] I am in respectful agreement with the guidelines put forward in the Ikarian Reefer.  As trial judges, we must be wary of advocacy dressed up in the guise of an expert’s report.

If you are involved in an injury lawsuit and are served with an expert report by opposing counsel that you think is not objective the above passage should be kept handy.  You can challenge the opposing party’s experts if they contain “advocacy presented in the guise of opinion evidence” and such objections should be raised to keep reports that cross the line out of Court.

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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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