Tag: bc injury law

ICBC Claims and Default Judgement – A Seldom Pursued Remedy

Default Judgement is a step under Rule 3-8 of the BC Supreme Court Rules which lets a Plaintiff win their lawsuit if a Defendant fails to file a response in the time-lines set out in Rule 3-3.
Default judgement, however, is not a remedy that’s typically used in ICBC claims.  The reason being that in addition to serving the Notice of Civil Claim on Defendants personally, Section 22 of the Insurance (Vehicle) Act requires that “Every person commencing an action for damages caused by a vehicle in BC must serve (ICBC) with a copy of the originating process….and file proof of the service in the court in which the action is pending…A further step in the action must not be taken until the expiration of 8 days after the filing“.
What this means is that if a Defendant fails to respond to a BC motor vehicle collision lawsuit in time you cannot successfully obtain default judgement unless you also served ICBC with the documents and they failed to respond.
Even if you’ve taken the above steps Default Judgement is not granted automatically and this was demonstrated in reasons for judgement published today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry.
In today’s case (Sandhu v. ICBC) the Plaintiff sued for injuries apparently sustained in a 2002 motor vehicle collision.  He filed and served the documents to start a lawsuit but ICBC did not file a defence in the time required by the Rules of Court.  The Plaintiff then brought an applicaiton for judgment.  Mr. Justice Voith refused to grant default judgement and noted that the Court had discretion with respect to these applicasitons.  Specifically the Court held as follows:

9]             I am advised by Mr. Schroeder, though there are no materials before me, that the plaintiff was injured in a car accident in the late 1990s and that his claim was settled in January of 2002. Furthermore and importantly, Mr. Schroeder confirms that because of the passage of time, his file has been destroyed, and that he has made inquiries with ICBC whose own file in relation to the matter has also, for the most part, been destroyed.

[10]         Mr. Schroeder requires these materials to properly respond to Mr. Sandhu’s claims.

[11]         I am not going to issue judgment. What I am going to do is adjourn the matter because of the following series of factors.

[12]         First, the primary focus of Mr. Sandhu’s application is one that deals with Mr. Schroeder’s lack of compliance with time requirements. I have some flexibility or discretion with respect to such issues and, under the circumstances where Mr. Schroeder was endeavouring to ascertain what had happened in the past and to retrieve relevant file materials, I would be hesitant to award judgment.

While delay is rarely welcome in Injury Lawsuits sometimes it is part of the process.  Very few ICBC claims are won by default judgment.  It is always preferable for claims to be dealt with by their merits.

As a courtesy most plaintiff lawyers grant ICBC defense lawyers a little extra time if necessary to put in their formal defense.  If you’re faced with this situation you’ll want to consider whether an application for default judgement has a meaningful chance of success prior to spending time and effort on a seldom used motion.

New Rules of Court Update – The Transition Rule

Reasons for judgement were released today interpreting and applying Rule 24 (the transition rule).
In today’s case (Willard v. Mitchell) the Plaintiff was injured in a motor vehicle collision.  The Defendant brought a motion to compel the Plaintiff to produce various medical and business records.  The lawsuit was commenced under the former rules of court.  The motion for production was also filed under the former rules but judgement was not delivered until October, 2010.
Mr. Justice Brooke ordered production of the documents the Defendant requested.  Prior to doing so the Court stated that the former Rules of Court applied to applications filed prior to July 1, 2010.  Specifically Mr. Justice Brooke held as follows:

[24]         Both the present action and application were filed before July 1, 2010, when the new Supreme Court Rules came into effect. Rule 24?1 of the new civil rules provides that a proceeding started before that date will proceed under the new rules, with this exception:

Step in ongoing proceeding

(14)  If a step in a proceeding is taken before July 1, 2010, the former Supreme Court Rules apply to any right or obligation arising out of or relating to that step if and to the extent that that right or obligation is to have effect before September 1, 2010.

[25]         In my view, the defendant’s application for discovery of documents constitutes a step in a proceeding that was taken before July 1, 2010, and the right or obligation will have effect before September 1, 2010. Accordingly, the former Supreme Court Rules, and specifically Rule 26 governing the discovery and inspection of documents, continue to apply to this application.

A Suggested Change at ICBC To Benefit British Columbians

Whether you are a plaintiff lawyer, a defence lawyer, an adjuster or someone insured with ICBC I think we can all agree that there is one ICBC practice that could change to better serve British Columbians.  I’m talking about the practice of assigning the same adjuster to deal with Tort and No-Fault Benefit claims.
As I’ve previously discussed, ICBC usually fulfills two roles in the context of injury claims.  The first is that they insure people for “no-fault” benefits.  If you are insured, whether or not you are at fault for a collision ICBC provides some basic coverage for medical/rehabilitation expenses and a modest wage loss benefit in the event of total disability.  If you are seeking coverage ICBC assigns an adjuster to process your claim no-fault benefits.
At the same time ICBC usually provides coverage to the at fault party for any claims made against them.  When a faultless party is injured and wishes to be compensated for the full extent of their damages they make a tort claim.  ICBC assigns an adjuster to process these tort claims.  The difficulty, however, is that ICBC typically assigns the same adjuster to deal with the faultless parties claims for no-fault benefits and to process the tort claim made against the at fault party.
As a business decision ICBC’s policy makes sense.  Why assign two people to look after various claims being advanced as a result of a single event?  It is more cost effective to get one adjuster to learn about the crash, the parties involved, the various injuries and the claims being advanced.  As a practical matter, however, one person cannot fulfill both these roles in a completely impartial way.
In reality adjusters processing a no-fault benefits claim have a very different duty compared to an adjuster processing a tort claim.  In a no-fault benefits claim the adjuster owes a duty to the injured party to provide them with their insurance benefits.  If therapies are required these should be covered.  If disability occurs wage loss benefits should be provided.
In tort claims, however, the adjuster owes a duty to the at fault party.  If claims are being advanced the at fault party will want those settled for as little as possible as the funds are paid from their coverage.  It is difficult to imagine how one adjuster can fulfill these competing duties fairly and impartially.  The conflicting duties create an inherent conflict of interest.  (You can click here to read an article providing a real world example of how this conflict can play out to harm the interests of a person injured through no fault of their own).
After reading this you may be asking yourself whether ICBC’s practice is lawful.  Unfortunately, the answer is yes.  This practice has been brought before the Courts and is tolerated.
However, just because a practice is accepted does not make it right.  Since the Courts are not able to correct this practice the ability to change is in the hands of ICBC.
The solution is simple.  ICBC can assign separate adjusters to deal with tort and no-fault claims.  Once done ICBC can set up internal ‘walls’ to prevent the adjusters from accessing each others files.  This would add more fairness to the application process for no-fault benefits.  This would also help ensure that information shared by a party with their insurer to receive medical treatment is not automatically disclosed to the agent of the person responsible for causing the injuries.  This is a proposed change, I hope, we could all agree on.
As always, feedback is welcome on this forum and I’d appreciate views from others about this topic, particularly views from people who feel these proposed changes would not be beneficial.

Conflicting Duties? Treating Doctors Duties to Their Patients and to the Court

As previously discussed, one of the biggest changes in the New BC Supreme Court Civil Rules is an overhaul to the requirements for admissibility of expert opinions.  These changes have created some tension in personal injury claims.
In no area of law are expert opinions used more frequently than in personal injury lawsuits.   The opinions of treating physicians are often crucial in the success of a personal injury claim.  In fact, if a plaintiff fails to call their own doctor in support of their case the Court could draw an ‘adverse inference‘ and assume the doctor will say something negative.
One of the changes imposed by the New Rules is a requirement that experts certify that their duty is to “assist the court and not to be an advocate for any party“.  In reality, this requirement always existed although it was not specifically spelled out in the former rules.   Despite this, some treating physicians have been concerned with this new explicit requirement and refuse to provide expert opinions on the basis that they feel they are ethically required to be advocates for their patients.
Fortunately, the BC College of Physicians and Surgeons has squarely addressed this concern and informed their members that the New Rules of Court are not inconsistent with doctors duties to their patients.  Specifically, in the September 2010 issue of the College’s quarterly publication physicians were advised as follows:
The College does not view the New BC Supreme Court Civil Rules to be in conflict with the Canadian Medical Association Code of Ethics, including the fundamental responsibility to consider first the well being of the patient.  With respect to the duty imposed under Rule 11-2 the College has always expected physicians providing expert reports to be fair, objective, and provide opinions that are supported by available information.
This expectation applies equally to physicians whether they are appointed by the plaintiff, defence, jointly or by the Court.  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.
The truth of the matter is that treating doctors should be advocates for their patients health.  They should not be advocates for their patients personal injury claims or other legal matters.  The above clarification will hopefully assist physicians who have felt conflicted from providing opinions under the New Rules of Court.

Who to Sue? ICBC Claims, Fault and Increased Insurance Premiums

When collisions occur in BC typically ICBC is the insurer for all involved.  After the collision ICBC internally decides who to blame and apportions the parties respective degree of fault.  Depending on the decision some of the motorists insurance premiums may rise.  If this happens to you and you disagree with ICBC who do you sue?
The conventional route is to sue the motorist alleged to be at fault for the crash.  The theory being that if another motorist is found at fault in a negligence claim they will be ordered to pay the faultless party’s accident related expenses including increased insurance premiums.  When an injury lawsuit is started its easy to add this additional damage to the claim.  In practice ICBC will honour a court decision respecting fault and overturn their internal decision if its inconsistent with the Court finding.
What if you are not making an injury claim and your only dispute is with ICBC and their apportionment of fault?  Is the offending motorist the only party you can sue to address ICBC’s decision?  The answer, apparently, is no and this was recently discussed by the BC Court of Appeal in reasons for judgement released earlier this year.
In the recent case of Innes v. Bui the Plaintiff sued the Defendant for injuries.  The case made it’s way to the BC Court of Appeal.  The appeal did not focus on increased insurance fees rather it concentrated on the legal doctrine of ‘res judicata’ (You can click here to read my previous article discussing this issue and giving more background on the case).   Despite the alternate focus of the case, Mr. Justice Low provided the following commentary about the proper parties to a lawsuit over increased ICBC insurance premiums:
[6] In her hand-written Notice of Claim, Ms. Bui, with the assistance of a translator, described the collision from her point of view and added, in understandably inexact English, “later ICBC had decided that my fault but they didn’t let me know until I renew my insurance, I think ICBC was unfair when they state that I at fault and I want to [contest against?] this decision”.  The claim was stated to be for “Extra money I had to pay for ICBC” and “return my 40% discount from my insurance – $1095”.  Ms. Bui later amended the Notice and pleaded that “… ICBC put the fault on me, as the result my insurance was up.  I wish to recover the money which ICBC made me pay”.  In completing the portion of the form which requires quantification of the claim, she wrote “Money I paid for ICBC – $1095”….

[31]         The reasons of the Small Claims judge fell well short of deciding the negligence question.  That issue remains alive in the Supreme Court action.  The res judicata arguments of both parties fail.

[32]         The above is enough to allow this appeal.  However, I would like to add a few more observations.

[33] In the Small Claims action, Ms. Innes was the wrong defendant.  She certainly was not a necessary defendant.  That action was not based in tort.  It was either in contract or under statute, or both, and the only issue raised by the pleadings was whether ICBC acted properly or reasonably in administratively assigning responsibility for the collision to Ms. Bui alone.  That was an issue only between Ms. Bui and ICBC.

Scope of Pre-Trial Document Production Under the New BC Supreme Court Rules Discussed

As I’ve previously discussed, one of the biggest changes under the New BC Supreme Court Civil Rules is the test relating to pre-trial document production.  Under the former rules parties had to disclose documents “relating to every matter in question in the action“.  Under the new rules this test has been changed to “all documents that are or have been in a parties possession or control that could be used by any party to prove or disprove a material fact” and “all other documents to which a party intends to refer at trial“.
This new test is supposed to be narrower in scope than the old one.  Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, interpreting the new test for the first time.
In last week’s case (Biehl v. Strang) the Plaintiff sued the Defendants claiming damages for breach of contract.  The alleged contract between the parties was based in part on an a verbal agreement and partly based on the parties actions over the years.   The events in dispute occurred over a 4 year period.  The Plaintiff was alleged to have a history of illicit drug use during part of this period.  The Defendants challenged the reliability of the Plaintiff’s recollection and argued that this was hampered due to drug use.
The Defendants wished to further explore this issue and brought an application to force production of the Plaintiff’s personal diary as this apparently made reference to some of the Plaintiff’s illicit drug use.  The Defendant argued that this was material evidence because the reliability of the Plaintiff’s memory is a central issue in the lawsuit.  The Plaintiff opposed arguing that his diary is not material in the action.  Mr. Justice Punnett ultimately granted the motion for production.  In doing so the Court defined what “Material Fact” means under the new Rules of Court.  Mr. Justice Punnett provided the following reasons:

What is a Material Fact?

[16]        In Alan W. Bryant, Sidney N. Lederman & Michelle K. Fuerst, The Law of Evidence in Canada, 3d ed. (Markham: LexisNexis Canada, 2009) at para. 2.50, relevance is distinguished from materiality:

§2.50   A distinction has also been drawn between relevance and materiality.  Evidence is material in this sense if it is offered to prove or disprove a fact in issue.  For example, evidence offered by a plaintiff in a conversion action to prove a loss of profit is not material since loss of profits cannot be recovered in such an action, and evidence that an accused charged with forcible entry is the owner of the land is immaterial since the offence can be committed by an owner.  This evidence may very well be immaterial, but it is also simply irrelevant.  This excluded evidence is no more required to make out the case than is evidence that the accused owns three other properties or owns a black dog for that matter.  There is no probative connection between the fact to be proved and the facts in issue as determined by the substantive law.  Little is added to the analysis by adding a concept of materiality, as different results do not depend on the distinction. The concept of materiality, however, requires the court to focus on the material issues in dispute in order to determine if the proffered evidence advances the party’s case.[Footnotes omitted.  Emphasis added.]

In other words, the requirement that the disclosure relate to a material fact limits the breadth of what is relevant.

[17]        The authors of The Law of Evidence in Canada define relevance at para 2.35:

§2.35   A traditionally accepted definition of relevance is that in Sir J.F. Stephen’s A Digest of the Law of Evidence, where it is defined to mean:

… any two facts to which it is applied are so related to each other that according to the common course of events one either taken by itself or in connection with other facts proves or renders probable the past, present, or future existence or non-existence of the other.

Pratte J. in R. v. Cloutier accepted a definition from an early edition of Cross on Evidence:

For one fact to be relevant to another, there must be a connection or nexus between the two which makes it possible to infer the existence of one from the existence of the other.  One fact is not relevant to another if it does not have real probative value with respect to the latter.

[18]        In January 2009, Rule 14.01(1)(a) of the Nova Scotia Civil Procedure Rules changed document production in Nova Scotia by requiring a judge to determine relevancy “by assessing whether a judge presiding at the trial or hearing of the proceeding would find the document … relevant or irrelevant”.

[19]        The Nova Scotia Supreme Court in considering the new rule in Halifax Dartmouth Bridge Commission v. Walter Construction Corporation, 2009 NSSC 403, 286 N.S.R. (2d) 179 at para. 18, stated:

[18]      … As to what is meant by relevancy, in Sydney Steel v. Mannesmann Pipe (1985), 69 N.S.R. (2d) 389 (S.C.T.D.), Hallett, J. (as he then was) stated, at paras. 14-18:

[17] In the Law of Evidence in Civil Cases by Sopinka and Lederman, at p. 14 the authors also make reference to the quotation from Stephen’s Digest as to the meaning of relevance and make the following statement that is applicable and worthy of consideration when assessing the relevancy of the documents that are before me on this application:

“The facts in issue are those facts which the plaintiff must establish in order to succeed together with any fact that the defendant must prove in order to make out his defence. It is seldom possible to prove a case or establish a defence solely by direct evidence as to the facts in issue and, therefore, the law admits evidence of facts, which, although not themselves in issue, are relevant in the sense that they prove or render probable the past, present or future existence (or non-existence) of any fact in issue.

“The facts in issue are controlled by the date of the commencement of the action. All facts essential to the accrual of a cause of action must have occurred prior to commencement of the action but evidence may be tendered as to facts occurring after the commencement of the action if they merely tend to prove or disprove the existence of the facts in issue. On the other hand any fact giving rise to a defence need not have occurred before the commencement of the action. An admission after the issue of the writ by one of the parties is admissible and conduct which is tantamount to an admission is equally admissible.

The state of mind of a party may be proved as a fact in issue or as tending to prove or disprove a fact in issue. Thus the knowledge of a party may be directly in issue or relate to a matter directly in issue.” [emphasis by Hallett J.]

Is the Reliability of the Plaintiff’s Memory a Material Fact?

[25]        The defendants argue that the reliability of the plaintiff’s evidence, given the potential memory loss from drug use, is at issue in this case. The plaintiff asserts that reliability includes credibility and a line cannot be drawn between reliability and credibility. Therefore the information relates only to credibility and as such is a non-material collateral fact.

[26]        “Reliable” is defined in the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 11th ed., as the “able to be relied on.” Credibility relates to whether or not the court accepts or believes the evidence. In assessing credibility, the court may consider how reliable the evidence is.

[27]        In my view, the error in the plaintiff’s position is conflating reliability and credibility when the former is but part of the latter. The ability of the plaintiff to remember is, in my opinion, relevant to proof of a material fact, namely the existence of a contract based on oral terms.

[28]        Frequently courts take into account factual considerations, such as the ability of a witness to see or hear what occurred, in determining whether evidence is reliable and should be accepted. Surely, if an individual has suffered damage to his cognitive or memory functions, that is equally a relevant fact.

[29]        I am satisfied that, if otherwise admissible, the requested production is relevant and could prove or disprove a material fact. Rule 7-1 does not restrict production to documents that in themselves prove a material fact. It includes evidence that can assist in proving or disproving a material fact.

BC Supreme Court Finds Liability Can Follow Unreasonably Low Certification Standards

(UPDATE October 27, 2011:  An appeal of the below decision was dismissed by the BC Court of Appeal on October 27, 2011. Despite upholding the trial result the BC Court of Appeal provided comments on the Duty of Care of CSA at paragraphs 58-61 differing from the below analysis.  The Court of Appeal concluded that “For policy reasons, CSA does not have a duty of care in negligence to hockey players who are injured while wearing certified hockey helmets“)

Earlier this week the BC Supreme Court, Victoria Registry, released reasons for judgement dismissing a lawsuit for compensation as a result of a traumatic brain injury sustained during a hockey game (More v. Bauer Nike Hockey Inc).
The incident occurred in 2004 when the Plaintiff was 17 years old.  He was playing an organized game of hockey.  He was wearing a helmet which was certified by the Canadian Standards Association (the “CSA”) and met all CSA standards.   During the game the Plaintiff fell into the boards and suffered a subdural hematoma.  This was apparently the only reported incident of a helmeted player sustaining a subdural hematoma while playing organized hockey in Canadian history.
The effects of the injury caused severe and profound disability in the Plaintiff.  The Plaintiff sued various Defendants including the manufacturer of the helmet and the CSA.  The Plaintiff alleged that the helmet was negligently manufactured and that the CSA was negligent in failing to adopt proper standards for helmet certification.  The Plaintiff’s claims were ultimately dismissed with the Court finding that the helmet was not defectively manufactured and that the standards set by the CSA were appropriate.
This case has received considerable press in Canada and abroad even gaining mention in the New York Times sports blog.  What interests me most about this case is not the ultimate result rather it was the Court’s discussion of the potential liability of institutions which set inadequate safety standards.
In the course of the lawsuit the CSA argued that even if their standards were unreasonably low they could not be sued because they did not owe the Plaintiff a duty of care.  Mr. Justice Macaulay disagreed and held that institutions that set certification standards for safety equipment can be sued in negligence if they set their standards too low.  Specifically the court held as follows:

212] I am satisfied that it was reasonably foreseeable that a hockey player and wearer of a mandatory certified hockey helmet might suffer harm if the CSA set the certification standard unreasonably low in the circumstances. On the question of proximity, I extrapolate from Cooper at paras. 32–34. Is the player, who must obtain and wear a certified helmet in order to participate in organized hockey, so closely and directly affected by the CSA decision respecting the adequacy of the certification standard that the latter ought reasonably to have the player’s legitimate interest in safety in mind? In my respectful view, the answer must be yes.

[213] By legislative definition, any hockey helmet that is not certified is a hazardous product and cannot be sold in Canada. No matter how well designed the helmet may, in fact, be, no manufacturer can offer it for sale unless it is certified. The consumer hockey player has no choice and buys, or otherwise obtains, the helmet for the purpose of self-protection in a game that has inherent dangers. Nonetheless, there is some reliance by the consumer on the fact of certification and an expectation that the risk of at least some injuries is reasonably reduced. Otherwise, there would be no need for any helmet at all.

[214] With the greatest of deference to the possibility that Hughes stands for a different outcome, I am satisfied that there is sufficient proximity in the present case for a prima facie duty of care.

In short, this decision means that if an institution sets certification standards for products to be sold in British Columbia that institution may be liable if their standards are set at an unreasonably low level.

Firing a Personal Injury Lawyer Part 2 – What Happens When There is no Contract?

Earlier this year I discussed some matters clients should consider prior to firing a personal injury lawyer who was hired on a contingency fee basis.  What if you’ve hired a lawyer but never signed a fee agreement?  What, if anything, would you owe your lawyer if you fire them in these circumstances?  Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Kamloops Registry, discussing this topic.
In this week’s case (Baxter v. Mary Fus Law Corporation) the Plaintiff was injured in a motor vehicle collision.  He hired the Defendant law firm to represent him but never signed a fee agreement.   The lawyer started a BC Supreme Court lawsuit.  Prior to trial the client decided to switch lawyers.  The original lawyer issued two bills asking the client to pay just over $13,000 for services rendered.  The client took issue with these accounts and asked the Court to review them.
The Court ultimately reduced the bills by approximately 25%.  Prior to doing so Master Shaw made the following useful comments about fee obligations when a lawyer is hired and fired without a fee agreement being signed:

[20]         The issues in this review are:

1)    what is a fair fee for the work provided to the client by the lawyer?

2)    what are the disbursements that can be charged by the lawyer to the client?

[21]         In Nathanson, Schachter & Thompson v. Inmet Mining Corp., 2009 BCCA 385, the court for the majority of the Court of Appeal, at para. 46, state:

In the absence of an express agreement concerning payment, it is obviously an implied term of a retainer that the solicitor will be remunerated for his or her work. In this province, the contractual gap created by a failure of the parties to agree specifically on the terms of payment is filled by s. 71(4) of the Act, which stipulates that in the absence of an express agreement, the solicitor’s fee will be assessed on the basis of the factors enumerated therein, i.e., on what has come to be called a “fair fee” basis.

[22]         That statement applies to this case. The lawyer and client never reached an express agreement concerning payment. The lawyer’s fee is to be assessed on the basis of a “fair fee” by consideration of the factors set out in s. 71(4) of the LPA.

[23]         Section 71(4) of the LPA states:

(4) At a review of a lawyer’s bill, the registrar must consider all of the circumstances, including

(a) the complexity, difficulty or novelty of the issues involved,

(b) the skill, specialized knowledge and responsibility required of the lawyer,

(c) the lawyer’s character and standing in the profession,

(d) the amount involved,

(e) the time reasonably spent,

(f) if there has been an agreement that sets a fee rate that is based on an amount per unit of time spent by the lawyer, whether the rate was reasonable,

(g) the importance of the matter to the client whose bill is being reviewed, and

(h) the result obtained.

Indivisible Injuries in Action

As I recently discussed, the law in British Columbia requires a Defendant to compensate a Plaintiff for any indivisible injury caused by their wrongdoing.  If a subsequent event contributes to or aggravates the injury a defendant cannot reduce the amount of compensation the Plaintiff is entitled to.  Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, demonstrating this principle of law.
In this week’s case (Fillmore v. McKay) the Plaintiff was involved in 2005 motor vehicle collision.  The Plaintiff was riding his bicycle when he was struck by the Defendant’s vehicle.  The Defendant initially denied being at fault but during trial admitted that the collision was indeed a result of her negligence.  The Plaintiff suffered various soft tissue injuries and a traumatic brain injury.
At trial the Defendant argued that some of the Plaintiff’s injuries were made worse during a subsequent fall and that this should reduce the compensation the Plaintiff should receive.  Mr. Justice Truscott rejected this argument and provided the following useful comments demonstrating the law relating to indivisible injuries in BC:

[145]     The plaintiff took a fall at work on July 9, 2005 when he says in his note that he aggravated his neck and shoulder. The defendant submits that this was a new incident not caused by him that should serve to reduce the plaintiff’s personal injuries for which he has liability from the motor vehicle accident. The defendant even submits that it may have been this incident of July 9, 2005 that caused the plaintiff’s back injury because his first complaint to Dr. Buie was not until after that.

[146]     I have already concluded that the plaintiff’s back injury occurred in the motor vehicle accident and not subsequently by this bike accident. The plaintiff does not say in his note that he aggravated his back on July 9, 2005, but only his neck and shoulder.

[147]     As to the possible aggravation of his neck and shoulder injuries, Athey v. Leonati, [1996] 3 S.C.R. 458, makes it clear that the defendant remains liable where his negligence caused or contributed to the injuries and that liability is not reduced by any non-tortious contributing causes.

[148]     Accordingly, even if the plaintiff’s neck and shoulder injuries were aggravated by this non-tortious incident, the defendant is still fully responsible for the full extent of those injuries because his negligence caused them in the first place and thereby contributed to the extent of the injuries.

BC Rules of Court Update: The Adverse Witness Rule

The Rules of Court permit parties to a lawsuit to force opposing parties to take the stand during the course of a lawsuit.  Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, discussing this power under the New BC Supreme Court Civil Rules.
In today’s case (Dawson v. Tolko) the Plaintiffs were current and former employees of Tolko Industries.   Tolko Industries amended a pension plan it offered it’s employees.  During the course of this occurring another Defendant in the lawsuit, Mr. Mercier, assisted and advised Tolko Industries on issues relating to the offer made to the employees to change from a defined benefit pension plan to a defined contribution plan.
The Plaintiff’s sued Tolko and Mercier alleging that they did not act in good faith during this period.  Prior to trial the Plaintiffs lawyer examined Mr. Mercier extensively.  During the course of the trial the Plaintiffs wished to put Mr. Mercier on the stand.
The Defendant objected arguing that this was not necessary as he would take the stand in the defence and could be cross-examined at that time and further that the Plaintiff could read his discovery evidence in at trial.
Mr. Justice Butler rejected the Defendant’s argument and ordered that he take the stand.  In doing so the Court canvassed the power of litigants to put adverse parties on the stand in the BC Supreme Court.  In doing so the Court found that authorities developed under the former Rules remain helpful.  Specifically Mr. Justice Butler held as follows:

[6]             The Rules provide that the plaintiff may call an adverse party as a witness for cross-examination as part of the plaintiff’s case.  This may be done either by delivering the notice (as was done in this case), issuing a subpoena, or calling the adverse party as a witness if he or she is in the courtroom.

[7]             In my decision in Canadian Bedding Company Ltd. v. Western Sleep Products Ltd., 2008 BCSC 1444, I considered an application to set aside a notice delivered under the provisions in the former Rules in circumstances that were very similar to the circumstances in this case.  I dismissed the defendant’s application to set aside the notice.  In doing so, I examined the three different ways in which an adverse party could be called as a witness in the plaintiff’s case and the differences in the provisions for setting aside the notice or subpoena.  The provisions in the current Rules are, with one exception, the same and so my analysis is relevant to the current Rules…

[16]         I agree that the natural unfolding of the narrative can be impacted by use of the adverse party witness rule and that the use of the rule may unnecessarily prolong the trial.  However, I do not agree that the adverse party witness rule was intended to be limited to situations where the evidence sought to be elicited cannot be satisfactorily tendered in any other way.  The use of an adverse party witness may, in certain circumstances, be an effective way to prove a party’s case.  Counsel should not be deprived of that option when the language in the adverse party witness rule does not contain that limitation.

[17]         I have arrived at this conclusion on the basis of my analysis of the former Rules set out in Canadian Bedding.  In my view, the differences in the discretion given to a trial judge depending on how the adverse party witness is called to be a witness are important and cannot be ignored.

[18]         The Rules establish a hierarchy of discretionary considerations depending on how the adverse party witness is compelled to testify.  When a notice has been properly served pursuant to Rule 12-5(21), the witness and counsel have ample time to prepare for the cross-examination and design a trial strategy to deal with the fact that the defendant will be an adverse party witness.  Accordingly, the court is given a limited jurisdiction to set aside the notice.  It is only where the “evidence of the person is unnecessary” that the court can set aside the notice.  I cannot read Rule 12-5(23)(b) as equivalent to Rule 12-5(39), which states that a subpoena may be set aside where “compliance with it is unnecessary.”  The wording of Rule 12-5(39) must encompass a broader range of considerations including a consideration of the steps already taken in the case and whether compliance with the subpoena is necessary for the proper conduct of the trial.

[19]         Further, as I noted in Canadian Bedding, the discretion granted to the court must be exercised with restraint.  In De Sousa v. Kuntz (1988), 24 B.C.L.R. (2d) 206 (C.A.), Wallace J.A. cautioned that it was only in a clear case that a judge should exercise his discretion to set aside a subpoena on the ground of necessity.  He emphasized, at 214, the need for a judge to be acutely aware that if he sets aside a subpoena:

… he is substituting his view for that of counsel as to the need to subpoena a certain witness and that he will seldom have as complete an appreciation as counsel does of the benefits – both tactical and substantive – that a litigant may derive from calling a certain witness.

That caution applies with equal force in relation to the adverse party witness rules.  If plaintiff’s counsel decides to utilize the adverse party witness rule in order to satisfy the onus of proof borne by the plaintiff, the court should be reluctant to interfere.

[20]         In arriving at his conclusion in Strother, I also note that Lowry J.A. specifically stated at para. 43 that he intended “no imposition of any procedural limitation.”  If I were to accede to Mr. Mercier’s interpretation of the adverse party witness rule, it would add a gloss that does not appear in the current Rules.  It would impose a procedural limitation which does not appear in the adverse party witness rule.

[21]         Mr. Mercier cannot show that his evidence is “unnecessary”.  Mr. Poulus’s undertaking to call him as a witness and the fact of the extensive examination for discovery is not relevant to that consideration.  Accordingly, I decline to set aside the notice pursuant to Rule 12-5(23)(b).


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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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