Tag: Chow-Hidasi v. Hidasi

Law of Spoliation of Evidence Discussed by BC Court of Appeal


Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Court of Appeal discussing the consequences that can flow when evidence is destroyed in the context of an ICBC Claim.
In this week’s case (Chow-Hidasi v. Hidasi) the Plaintiff was injured when involved in a single vehicle collision.  The claim was dismissed at trial with the Court finding there was no negligence on the part of the driver and instead a mechanical failure may have contributed to the collision.  The Plaintiff argued that the vehicle was prematurely destroyed and an adverse inference should be drawn that no mechanical failure took place.  The BC Court Appeal upheld the trial result and in doing so provided the following summary of the law relating to spoliation of evidence:
[27]         Finally, I turn to the plaintiff’s argument that ICBC’s (apparent) destruction of the Jeep “effectively destroyed” her ability to challenge the theory of mechanical failure, and that the court below should therefore have inferred that an examination of the vehicle would have shown no mechanical failure. The plaintiff makes this argument on the basis of the Court’s inherent jurisdiction to ensure the fairness of the trial process. She also says the trial judge erred in failing to recognize that ICBC, rather than the plaintiff personally, was the “real party in interest”, such that the vehicle was destroyed by a person who was in effect the defendant in this litigation.
[28]         I have considerable sympathy for the plaintiff’s position, but in my view the presumption she seeks may not be drawn in the circumstances of this case. First, the evidence as to the conditions under which the Jeep was destroyed is negligible: there is only the defendant’s hearsay evidence that he was told that it had been destroyed. Most importantly, there is no evidence as to whether ICBC was aware the plaintiff would be making a claim or if she made any effort to advise them or have the vehicle examined before it was destroyed. (It was Mr. Hidasi who requested that the vehicle not be destroyed.)
[29]         On the present state of the law, it is clear that spoliation requires intentional conduct: see St. Louis v. Canada (1896), 25 S.C.R. 649; McDougall v. Black & Decker Canada Inc., 2008 ABCA 353 at para. 29; Endean v. Canadian Red Cross Society (1998) 157 D.L.R. (4th) 465 (B.C.C.A.); Dawes v. Jajcaj, 1999 BCCA 237 at para. 68; and the discussion in Holland v. Marshall, 2008 BCCA 468 at paras. 70-2. (I understand ‘intentional’ to mean ‘with the knowledge that the evidence would be required for litigation purposes’.)  As stated in McDougall v. Black & Decker, “When the destruction is not intentional, it is not possible to draw the inference that the evidence would tell against the person who has destroyed it.”  (Para. 24).
[30]         The Court observed in McDougall that where evidence has been destroyed unintentionally, a court of law may fashion a civil remedy to assist in ensuring the fairness of a trial. A costs award may be made, or evidence may be excluded. We were not referred to any case binding on us, however, that would indicate that such remedies would include the drawing of an adverse inference such as that sought in this case by Ms. Chow-Hidasi. (See McDougall, para. 25, British Columbia Law Institute, Report on Spoliation of Evidence (2004), at 10-20.)
[31]         In my view, neither the state of the law nor the evidence as presented in this case could support the drawing of an adverse inference that an examination would have shown no mechanical failure in the brakes or steering wheel of the Jeep. Like all litigants, the plaintiff was required to prove her case on the evidence available to her at the time of trial. I would therefore dismiss this ground of appeal.

Affidavits and Exhibits: Take Care To Review the Whole of the Evidence


Once evidence is introduced at trial it is fair game for the finder of fact to rely on it even if the party that introduced it opposes this result.  Useful reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Kelowna Registry, illustrating this fact.
In this week’s case (Chow-Hidasi v. Hidasi) the Plaintiff was injured in a single vehicle accident.  She was a passenger and sued the driver claiming he was at fault for losing control for “overdriving the road conditions“.  The Defendant argued that he lost control because he experienced a sudden and unexpected mechanical failure and could not avoid the collision.  Ultimately this explanation was accepted and the Plaintiff’s lawsuit was dismissed.  Prior to reaching this conclusion the Court ruled on an interesting evidentiary issue.
The trial was a “summary trial” under Rule 9-7 in which the evidence is introduced through affidavits.  The Plaintiff’s lawyer’s legal assistant attached portions of the Defendant’s examination for discovery transcript as an exhibit to her affidavit.
The Plaintiff wished to only rely on portions of the reproduced transcript.  The Defendant decided to take advantage of other portions of his discovery evidence which was included in the affidavit.  The Plaintiff objected arguing that he introduced the evidence and only wished to rely on limited portions of it.  Mr. Justice Barrow rejected this argument finding once the evidence was introduced through the affidavit it was fair game for the defendant to rely on it.  The Court provided the following insightful reasons:

[6] The plaintiff objected to the admissibility of some of the examination for discovery evidence of Mr. Hidasi, evidence that Mr. Hidasi points to in support of his position. All of the impugned discovery evidence is exhibited to an affidavit of the plaintiff’s counsel’s legal assistant. As I understand the objection, it is that the questions in dispute were reproduced and exhibited to the legal assistant’s affidavit because they appear on pages of the transcript that contain other questions and answers which the plaintiff wishes to rely on. I pause to note that while that may be so, the affidavit itself does not contain a statement to that effect. On the first day of the hearing the plaintiff’s counsel provided the defendant with a list of specific discovery questions that he wished to rely on. The questions and answers to which objection is taken are not on that list.

[7] I am satisfied that the questions and answers are admissible, and that no prejudice inures to the plaintiff as a result. They are admissible because the plaintiff put them in evidence. As to the notice of the specific questions and answers the plaintiff wished to rely on, it does not alter of the foregoing. If it was intended to be a notice as contemplated by Rule 9-7(9), it was not filed within the time limited under Rule 8-1(8). It is therefore of no moment. As to the question of prejudice, the only reasonable inference to be drawn from the plaintiff’s notice of application is that the impugned evidence formed part of the plaintiff’s case. The defendant could have addressed the matters about which he gave evidence on discovery in his affidavit evidence. He may not have, I infer, because he concluded it was unnecessary given that the plaintiff had already put those matters into evidence. In any event, if the discovery evidence is excluded, fairness would require an adjournment to allow the defendant to supplement the evidence given the changed face of the evidentiary record he had reasonably thought would form the basis for the hearing. All that would have been accomplished in the result is that the evidence that is contained in the discovery answers would be before the court in the form of an affidavit.

This case is also worth reviewing for the Court’s discussion of the legal principle of ‘spoiliation’ at paragraphs 30-33 of the reasons for judgement.

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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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