Skip to main content

Tag: Cliff v. Dahl

The "Investigative Stage" Bar to Privilege: Plaintiffs vs. Insurers

As recently discussed, claims for litigation privilege can fail when a defendant’s insurer collects statements and information shortly after a collision in what is deemed to be the ‘investigative stage‘.  The simple reason being that such documents typically are not created for the dominant purpose of litigation.
This analysis, however, does not necessarily translate easily to statements obtained by Plaintiffs following a crash because Plaintiffs do not share the same investigatvie responsibilites that insurers do.   This reality was highlighted in reasons for judgement published earlier this year by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry.
In the recent case (Cliff v. Dahl) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2007 collision.  She hired a lawyer to assist her with her claim.   The lawyer hired an investigator who obtained statements from multiple witnesses to the collision.
ICBC brought an unsuccessful application to force the Plaintiff’s lawyer to produce these documents.  The Plaintiff refused stating these statements were privileged.  ICBC appealed arguing these documents were obtained during the ‘investigative stage‘ and should be produced.  In dismissing the appeal Mr. Justice Smith provided the following reasons highlighting the ‘investigative stage’ and the different duties of Plaintiffs versus insurers:

[22] The Master had before him an affidavit of plaintiff’s counsel which, sketchy as it is, did say that the information was gathered and the statements were gathered for the purpose of preparing for the plaintiff’s case in this action, as opposed to investigating the plaintiff’s case, and the Master apparently inferred from that that litigation was the dominant purpose. Sketchy as that evidence was, I cannot say that the Master was clearly wrong in drawing that conclusion.

[23] Defence counsel refers to a statement of the Master in which he says in effect that it is very hard to see how statements gathered by plaintiff’s counsel once retained would not meet the dominant purpose test. That is probably too broad a statement and certainly if the Master said that it was a general rule of law, that would be a question of law to be reviewable but in my view that is not the basis of the Master’s decision. He made a finding on the evidence before him.

[24] In that regard, I note that while the evidence from plaintiff’s counsel is sketchy, plaintiff’s counsel in this situation is in a somewhat different position from the insurance adjusters whose determination of dominant purpose is often at issue in other cases such as Hamalainen, supra.

[25] The point at which a plaintiff’s counsel moves from the stage of investigating and considering the possibilities of litigation to a firm decision to proceed and the subsequent efforts that have a dominant purpose of litigation depends of course on the information in counsel’s possession. Much of that information must necessarily come directly from the plaintiff and the plaintiff’s counsel must balance the need to show the dominant purpose of the document or the witness statement with the restrictions placed upon him or her by solicitor/client privilege.

[26] I infer from the material before me that the Master reviewed the evidence and found it sufficient to establish a dominant purpose. Whatever decision I might have made had the matter come before me, I cannot say that the Master was clearly wrong.

[27] Those are my reasons for judgment and so the appeal is dismissed.

Of note, this result was revisited after the witness subsequently became a party to the litigation.

Privileged Witness Statement Ordered Produced When Witness Becomes Party

Interesting reasons for judgement were released last month by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, addressing whether an otherwise privileged statement can be ordered to be produced in litigation where the statement was given by the opposing party.
In last month’s case (Cliff v. Dahl) the Plaintiff was injured in a collision when he was struck by a vehicle driven by the Defendant.  Shortly after the collision the Plaintiff’s lawyer obtained witness statements from a Mr. Weaver and Mr. Jones.
In the course of the lawsuit the Defendant Dahl requested production of these statements but the application was dismissed finding the statements were privileged.  Later Mr. Jones and Mr. Weaver were added as Defendants in the lawsuit.  They brought their own application for production.  Ultimately this was successful with the Court finding a different analysis is required when a party is seeking production of their own statement.   In compelling production Madam Justice Bruce provided the following reasons:

[35] Based on these authorities, I am satisfied that Mr. Weaver and Mr. Jones are entitled to a copy of the statement they provided to Mr. Cliff’s investigator. While their statements as witnesses would not be compellable due to litigation privilege, the change in their status to parties adverse in interest to Mr. Cliff place them on a different footing. Disclosure of these statements is necessary to ensure fairness in the litigation process, to enable these parties to properly defend themselves against allegations of negligence, and to support the truth seeking function of the court. Production of these statements is neither counter-productive to the adversary process nor to the confidential relationship between solicitor and client.

[36] The facts here present a particularly compelling case for production of the statements. The applicants permitted Mr. Cliff’s investigator to take their statements at a time when they were not represented. They were not offered copies of their statements nor advised to seek legal advice about this matter. In addition, Mr. Cliff interfered with the insurer’s investigation of the claim by counselling the applicants not to give a statement unless they first contacted his lawyer. By taking these steps Mr. Cliff’s actions may have prevented a timely statement from the applicants that could have formed a substitute for the statements taken by his investigator. Now that five years have elapsed since the date of the accident, it is apparent that the applicants’ memory of the events has faded. While there is nothing improper about Mr. Cliff’s conduct, it has imbued the applicants’ case with more of a sense of urgency and necessity. There is simply no other means by which the applicants could refresh their memories of the events surrounding the accident.

[37] For these reasons I order production of the signed statements of Mr. Weaver and Mr. Jones in possession of Mr. Cliff’s counsel and the audio recording of the statement. It is not appropriate that I order production of the transcript of the audio recording. This is an aid to follow along with the audio recording and commissioned by Mr. Cliff’s counsel. There is no principle of law that would require Mr. Cliff to share this work product with the applicants. They are free to commission their own transcripts of the audio recording. The applicants have not sought copies of the notes taken by Mr. Cliff’s counsel during his interviews with them. I do not regard these as statements made by the applicants; they are notes to refresh counsel’s recollection of the interview and nothing more. Accordingly, these notes should not be made the subject of a production order.

[38] Mr. Cliff shall produce the audio recordings and signed statements to the applicants within 14 days of this order and upon payment of the reasonable costs for production of copies thereof.

The Flexibility of the 7 Day Rule for Jury Strike Applications

Rule 12-6(5) imposes a 7 day deadline in which to dispute a jury notice. As previously discussed, the former rules of Court permitted parties to get away from this time limit by applying to strike a jury at a pre-trial conference.  With the overhaul of the civil rules does this exception still apply?  Reasons for judgement were released yesterday by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, finding that it does.
In yesterday’s case (Cliff v. Dahl) the Plaintiff was ‘severely injured‘ in a 2007 collision.   The Plaintiff’s claim was set for trial and the Plaintiff filed a jury notice.  The Defendant brought an application to strike the jury notice but failed to do so within the timelines required by Rule 12-6(5).
The Defendant’s application was ultimately dismissed on the merits but prior to doing so Madam Justice Bruce provided the following reasons confirming the 7 day jury strike deadline is not strictly applied under the current rules:
[12] Under the old Rule 35(4)(a), a pre-trial conference judge, the trial judge or a master could make an order that a trial be heard without a jury. The court interpreted this provision broadly; it permitted the application to be made outside the seven day time limit imposed in old Rule 39(27), which is for the most part identical to the new Rule 12-6(5). While the old Rule 35(4)(a) does not appear to have found its way into the new rules, the rationale behind permitting applications outside the strict seven day time limit remains consistent with the intent and purpose of the new rules. The ability to apply to strike the jury notice outside the strict time limit was necessary to ensure a fair trial and the court’s ability to respond to a change in circumstances surrounding the conduct of a trial. Further, it is apparent that a trial management judge has authority to grant the relief claimed by Ms. Dahl without any reference to the seven day time limit: Rule 12-2(9)(b). Lastly, the court has a discretion to extend time limits in appropriate circumstances without the necessity of a separate application: Rule 22-4(2).