Tag: Anderson v. Dwyer

Expert Evidence: Fact vs. Opinion

When advancing a personal injury lawsuit in British Columbia expert evidence plays a key role.  Be it the diagnosis of injury, prognosis, future care needs, disability or other topics there are no shortage of areas that call for the assistance of expert evidence.
When preparing for trial notice of expert opinion evidence has to be given in compliance with Rule 40A (after July 1, Rule 40A will be replaced with the new Rule 11).
Just because a professional such as a doctor is giving evidence does not necessarily mean that the Rule regarding expert opinion evidence is triggered.  If an expert is giving purely factual evidence then Rule 40A does not apply.  However, if the evidence is not purely factual but also contains opinion then the notice period in Rule 40A is likely triggered.  So what exactly is an expert opinion?  Last week reasons for judgement were released discussing this distinction.
In last week’s case (Anderson v. Dwyer) the Court was asked whether a chiropractor interpreting an X-ray was factual evidence or opinion evidence.  Mr. Justice Schultes provided the following very useful analysis:

[13] In determining the admissibility of Dr. Wooden’s evidence, it is crucial to bear in mind the distinction between expert opinion and factual evidence that is given by potential expert witnesses.  As the learned author of Phippson on Evidence (16th ed.) helpfully observes at para. 33-10, p. 972:

There is an important if elusive distinction to be made in the categorization of expert evidence.  It is generally accepted that there is a difference between evidence of fact and evidence of opinion notwithstanding that it may be difficult to identify the line which divides the two.  It is also well understood that in practice a witness of fact may not be able entirely to disentangle his perceptions from the inferences he has drawn from them.  Although the courts often talk of “expert evidence” as if it were a single category representing in every case an exception to the rule against the reception of opinion evidence, it is suggested that a similar distinction exists in the evidence of experts and it is one which has considerable relevance both to the procedural aspects and to the assessment of the weight of expert evidence.  Expert witnesses have the advantage of a particular skill or training.  This not only enables them to form opinions and to draw inferences from observed facts but also to identify facts which may be obscure or invisible to the law witness.  The latter might simply be described as scientific evidence; the former as expert evidence of opinion.  A microbiologist who looks through a microscope and identifies a microbe is perceiving a fact, no less than the bank clerk who sees an armed robbery committed.  The only difference is that the former can use a particular instrument and can ascribe objective significance to the data he perceives.  The question of subjective assessment and interpretation which is the essence of opinion evidence hardly enters into the matter at all.  An example of the dichotomy can be seen in the case of a conflict between experts on handwriting as to the authenticity of a document.  By virtue of their training, such experts would be able to distinguish parts of letters or techniques of word formation which a layman would be unable to observe.  This is the scientific part of their work.  The question of which features are significant and the inferences to be drawn from them are questions of judgment, assessment, opinion.  This distinction which has now been accorded a measure of judicial recognition is thought to be of some practical utility in considering the weight of evidence given by experts both taken in isolation and when assessing the merits of two competing theories.

[14] This distinction is a very meaningful one in this case.  Any evidence by Dr. Wooden seeking to offer an opinion about the plaintiff’s injuries, such as the inferences to be drawn from the observations in the x-rays or with respect to the cause or mechanism of the injury, would be prohibited because of the plaintiff’s failure to comply with Rule 40A.  However, the witness’s factual narrative of the actions he took and the observations he made, including describing without interpretation, the anatomical features he observed in the x-rays does not amount to offering an opinion and does not offend the Rule.  The fact that he brings special training or experience to bear in having taken those actions and made those observations is not determinative.  It is whether he draws inferences or offers opinion beyond what the actual evidence itself is capable of revealing.

[15] In this regard, I consider this kind of factual evidence to be analogous to those matters described by Madam Justice Garson as being “more in the nature of observations” as opposed to inferences having complex interpretive or diagnostic components when she described how their inclusion in records sought to be admitted as business records did not offend Rule 40A in Egli v. Egli, 2003 BCSC 1716 at para. 25 which was relied on by the defendant in submissions.

More on BC Personal Injury Claims and Radiologists Evidence


(Please note the topic discussed in this post should be reviewed keeping a subsequent October 2010 BC  Court of Appeal in mind)
Further to my previoius article on this topic, if you are advancing a BC Injury Claim and intend to rely on X-Rays, MRI’s or other diagnostic studies which demonstrate injury in support of your case it is vital that you serve the opposing party appropriate Notice under the Rules of Court.  Failure to give proper notice can keep not only the actual studies out of Court but also the opinions of radiologists discussing what these studies show.  Excluding such evidence can be fatal to a claim.  2 judgements were released today demonstrating this principle.
In the first case (Anderson v. Dwyer) the Plaintiff was injured in 2004 BC Car Crash.  At trial her lawyer attempted to put X-rays into evidence and to have a chiropractor give ‘evidence with respect to the contents of the x-rays‘.  The Defendant objected arguing that appropriate Notice of the proposed exhibit and the expert opinion was not given.  Mr. Justice Schultes agreed and in doing so gave the following reasons:





[3] The stated relevance of this evidence is that the x-rays taken after the accident will allegedly show some abnormality in some of the plaintiff’s vertebrae that could have been caused by the accident.  This, it is said, will rebut the defendant’s position that the plaintiff’s pain is largely the result of a degenerative condition rather than of the accident.

[4] The basis for the objection to Dr. Wooden’s evidence is that he is an expert witness and no notice of his evidence has been given as required by Rule 40A of the Rules of Court.  In addition, the defendant has not been given an opportunity to inspect the x-rays as required by Rule 40(13). ..

…While on the evidence by Dr. Wooden seeking to offer an opinion about the plaintiff’s injuries such as the inferences to be drawn from the observations in the x-rays or with respect to the cause or mechanism of the injury would be prohibited because of the plaintiff’s failure to comply with Rule 40A.


[16] As to the lack of compliance with Rule 40(13) the cases make it clear that in such circumstances the court has a discretion to admit the evidence (see, for example, Golden Capital Securities Ltd. v. Holmes, 2002 BCSC 516), but that in exercising its discretion it should take into account the absence of any proper explanation for the failure to disclose…

[17] In this case, the explanation is that counsel for the plaintiff thought it sufficient to simply notify the defendant of the existence of the x-rays and invite counsel to contact Dr. Wooden directly to inspect them.

[18] I do not think such a passive approach was sufficient.  The requirement in the Rule that the parties be “given the opportunity to inspect” an item connotes some positive action on the part of the party in possession of it.  At the very minimum, efforts should have been made by counsel for the plaintiff to facilitate the viewing of the x-rays.  It was not appropriate for the defendant to be invited to seek out the treating chiropractor himself even if consent by the plaintiff was said to be readily forthcoming.

[19] The very importance to her case ascribed by the plaintiff to the x-rays speaks to the necessity of her having obtained and disclosed copies of the exhibits in a proactive manner.

[20] There being no satisfactory explanation of the failure to comply with Rule 40(13) I decline to exercise my discretion to allow copies of the X-rays themselves to be admitted in evidence.  Because a witness may refresh his memory from anything that will assist him that process, even if that source itself is inadmissible (see R. v. Fliss, 2002 SCC 16 at para. 45) Dr. Wooden may refresh his memory by reviewing the x-rays should the need arise during his evidence.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

In the second case released today, Gregory v. ICBC, the Plaintiff wished to put an expert report into evidence that gave an opinion based on the assumption that “there has been a partial tear of (the Plaintiff’s) subscapularis tendon.”  The doctor relied on a radiologist’s interpretation of an MRI as the source of this opinion.  The radiologists report was not put into evidence and the radiologist was not called as a witness.
The Defence lawyer argued that the opinion of the expert should be inadmissible in these circumstances.  The Court agreed.  In doing so Madam Justice Kloegman gave the following reasons:

[3] Dr. Chu’s second report discloses that his opinion is based on an assumption   that there has been a partial tear of the subscapularis tendon.  The defendant takes issue with that alleged fact.  The plaintiff has taken no steps to prove the truth of this assumption.  Originally, she did not intend to enter the radiologist reports interpreting the MRI scans.  Now counsel advises that she could lead them through Dr. Chu.  However, all this would do is show the source of Dr. Chu’s assumption.  It would not prove the truth of the radiologist’s interpretation, which in effect is just another expert opinion.

[4] Although the radiologist reports are expert opinions, the plaintiff has not served them pursuant to Rule 40, nor has she given notice of any intention to call the radiologists.  Therefore, it is obvious that she does not intend to prove as a fact this assumption about the partial tear.  Dr. Chu’s second report is based solely on this assumption of a partial tear.  There will not be any evidence proving the truth of this assumption, therefore, any opinions that are based on the partial tear as the primary assumption must be considered irrelevant and inadmissible.

These cases illustrate that if you wish to prove an injury through diagnostic imaging care should be taken to ensure that appropriate witnesses are available to get the evidence before the Court and further that appropriate notice is given to opposing counsel.

ICBC Medical Exams and Secret Tape Recordings


Further to my previous post discussing the topic of taping independent medical exams, reasons for judgement were released today demonstrating that BC Courts are not very receptive to such evidence if secretly obtained.
In the 2006 case of Wong v. Wong the BC Court of Appeal made it clear that permission for a Plaintiff to record a defence medical exam will rarely be granted.  Sometimes Plaintiff’s have recorded such exams without seeking the court’s permission first.  While the secret audio recording of an independent medical exam by a participant is not necessarily a criminal offence in Canada, it is frowned upon.   One remedy a Court can exercise when presented with such evidence is to simply exclude it from trial.  Today’s case used exactly this remedy.
In today’s case (Anderson v. Dwyer) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2004 rear end crash.   ICBC, on behalf of the Defendant, admitted fault for the accident but disputed the extent of the Plaintiff’s injuries.  In the course of the lawsuit the Plaintiff attended a medical exam with Dr. Locht, an orthopaedic surgeon selected by ICBC.  The Plaintiff surreptitiously recorded this exam and then her lawyer tried to make use of this recording at trial.  Mr. Justice Schultes was not receptive to this and disallowed the use of this recording for cross examination purposes.  While the reasons for judgement did not have an analysis of why the Court used this remedy the following was highlighted:

[12] The plaintiff also admitted surreptitiously recording her examination by Dr. Locht, the orthopaedic surgeon who conducted an independent medical examination of her on behalf of the defendant. ( This came to light as a result of an objection by the defendant’s counsel during the cross-examination of Dr. Locht. The plaintiff’s counsel did not use the transcript any further after the objection and nothing in my analysis of Dr. Locht’s evidence turns on its use.)

[13] Her explanation for this action was that she wanted an accurate record of everything that was said during the examination and was concerned that she would not be able to recall it herself without assistance. She felt she had been treated disrespectfully by representatives of the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia during a previous meeting about this litigation and, I gather, that as a result she was suspicious of how the examination would be conducted.

[14] She maintained that she did not originally intend to use the recording in the litigation but that a friend had typed it up for her shortly before the trial so that she could refresh her memory and at that point she found discrepancies between the transcript and Dr. Locht’s report. She intended it to be used during cross-examination only if “the truth wasn’t coming out” in his evidence…

[43] It was suggested to Dr. Locht that his report presented some of the plaintiff’s symptoms in a misleading way. For example, he described her as having “no sleep disorder”, although she told him that her neck pain woke her several times throughout the night. His explanation was that because she was still getting six hours of sleep per night, in total, he did not consider that she had a sleep disorder. Similarly, he described the plaintiff as being “physically capable” of continuing all work, household, and recreational activities that she could do before the accident, despite her descriptions of experiencing severe pain (and in one case nausea) after engaging in them. He explained that his determination that a person is physically able to perform an activity does not depend on whether she in fact avoids that activity because it causes her pain…

[49] With respect to the plaintiff’s general credibility, I did not find her recording of the examination by Dr. Locht, her failure to disclose potentially relevant documents, or her “hands on” involvement in this litigation to be as significant as the defendant suggested. However improper surreptitious recording of medical interviews may be, it appeared to me that this recording was a reflection of the plaintiff’s suspicious and hostile view of ICBC and of her desire to protect herself from the unfair treatment that she expected to receive from its representative, rather than of any desire to manipulate the evidence.

Given the very important role expert witnesses play in injury litigation it is fair to debate whether tape recordings should routinely be used to add greater objectivity to the IME process.  Unless and until this comes about our Court’s will continue to struggle with the use this evidence will be put to when parties choose to obtain evidence through surreptitious recording.

Contact

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.

“Work hard, be kind and enjoy the ride!”
Erik’s Philosophy

    Disclaimer