Tag: Computer Hard-drive

Social Media and Computer Hard Drive Requests "A fishing expedition…without the appropriate bait"


Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, dismissing a defendant application requesting the production of a Plaintiff’s Facebook postings, Twitter postings, Computer Hard Drive and Iphone.
Today’s case (Dosanjh v. Leblanc and St. Paul’s Hospital) involved allegations of medical malpractice.  The plaintiff said she suffered “cognitive impairment that has affected her thinking process“.  She sued for damages.  The Defendants brought an application seeking that the Plaintiff produce her private social media account information and computer hard-drive data arguing that this information would be relevant to the claimed damages.  Master Taylor dismissed the application finding such a broad application, even in the face of alleged cognitive injuries, was “a classic fishing expedition, but without the appropriate bait.“.  Master Taylor provided the following reasons:

[28] The defendant has not indicated the material fact or facts which it believes can be proved by searching the plaintiff’s personal computer and her social media sites.  Rather, the defendant merely says that health, enjoyment of life and employability are in issue.  Surely more is or should be required to meet the test of Rule 7-1(1)(a)(i) than just saying a particular matter is in issue in order to infringe on a litigant’s privacy.

[29] To be able to obtain a litigant’s private thoughts and feelings as expressed to friends or family members after the fact is, in my view, similar to a party intercepting private communications of another party.

[30] I am unable to envisage any rational justification for breaching the privacy rights of an individual in civil proceedings simply because it is alleged that the individual’s general health, enjoyment of life and employability are directly at issue.  Merely because a record may be made of the communication shouldn’t make it any different than a private telephone conversation.  If not, surely applications in civil proceedings for recordings of private communications can’t be far behind…

[33] I am satisfied that the defendant’s application is entirely too broad and lacks the focus required by Rule 7-1(1)(a)(i).  In fact, I am more inclined to call this application a classic fishing expedition, but without the appropriate bait.  I observe as well that the order made by the court in Bishop, supra, was focussed on the times the plaintiff spent on his Facebook account on his computer, and did not give the defendant cart blanche to troll through the plaintiff’s correspondence as is sought in the application before me.

More on Document Disclosure: Hard Drives, Phone and Banking Records


(Note: I’m informed that the case discussed in the below post is under appeal.  When the appellate decision comes to my attention I will update this post)
As previously discussed, one of the areas being worked out by the BC Supreme Court is the extent of document production obligations in personal injury lawsuits under the New Rules of Court.  Further reasons for judgement addressing this subject were recently brought to my attention.
In the recent (unreported) case of Shackelford v. Sweeney the Plaintiff was injured in a 2009 motor vehicle collision.  He alleged serious injuries including a head injury with resulting cognitive difficulties.  The Plaintiff was a successful self-employed recruiter and his claim included potentially significant damages for diminished earning capacity.
In the course of the lawsuit ICBC applied for various records supposedly to investigate the income loss claim including production of the Plaintiff’s computer hard-drive, phone records and banking records.  The application was partially successful with Master Taylor providing the following reasons addressing these requests:
[7]  In relation to the cellphone records, the plaintiff gave evidence at his examination for discovery that he conducted most of his business over the telephone or the Internet, and he rarely met with people, and therefore it is suggested that the cell phone records relating to his business are probative.  I agree that they can be probative, but I do not believe that the actual phone numbers themselves would be probative in any particular method or way.  What is probative is how much the plaintiff used his phone on a daily or weekly basis to conduct his business
[8]  Accordingly, I am going to order that the cellphone records that relate to his business, from January 1, 2007, to the present date, be produced, but in all circumstances every phone number but the area code is to be redacted….
[13]  The Defendants also seek an order that the plaintiff produce the hard drive from the laptop he was using when he was operating (his recruiting business)…
[17]  …As there is an ongoing obligation by the Plaintiff to produce all business records in relation to this claim, I say that the obligation continues with respect to the hard drive that exists, and that the plaintiff has the obligation to examine the hard drive himself and/or with counsel, and extract any of his business records from there and provide them to the defendants.
[18]  If the Plaintiff requires the services of a technician to assist in that regard, then the cost of that will be borne by the defendants.  Once the business records have been extracted and redacted for privacy concerns, those documents will be henceforth provided to the defendants within 14 days thereafter…
[21]  I think that only leaves bank statements relating to business income.  I think the plaintiff has a positive obligation to provide some information with respect to his income, showing his income being deposited into his bank account.  Where that in the bank statements shows, it should be left unredacted, but where it shows anything related to his wife or private unrelated business purchases , those may also be redacted.
This case is worth reviewing in full for other matters such as a declined request for production of the Plaintiff’s passport and client names.
At this time this case is unreported however, as always, I’m happy to e-mail a copy to anyone who contacts me and requests the reasons for judgement.

Privacy Rights – Personal Injury Claims and Your Computer Hard Drive


A developing area of law is electronic discovery.
In the personal injury context the BC Supreme Court Rules require relevant, non privileged documents to be disclosed to opposing counsel.  The definition of document includes “any information recorded or stored by any means of any device“.  So, if there is relevant information, be it printed, on a computer or even on a cell phone, discovery needs to be made in compliance with the Rules of Court.
In recent years electronic documents have been the subject of court applications and Insurance companies / Defendants have sometimes been successful in gaining access to a Plaintiff computer’s hard drive.  Reasons for judgement were released today by the Supreme Court of Canada discussing court orders for the seizure of computer hard drives.
Today’s case (R v. Morelli) dealt with a criminal law matter.  However the Canadian High Court’s reasons may be of some use in the personal injury context.
By way of background the Defendant was charged with a criminal code offence.  One of the reasons for the charges was evidence that was apparently obtained from the Defendant’s computer which was seized pursuant to a search warrant.
The Defendant was convicted at trial.  The Supreme Court of Canada, in a very close split decision (4-3) overturned the conviction on the basis that the search warrant never should have been ordered because there were no reasonable and probable grounds to issue it.
While this case strictly dealt with criminal search warrants and the necessary evidence to obtain one, the Canadian High Court made some very strong comments about the intrusive effects of computer searches and this reasoning very well may have persuasive value for Courts considering whether they should give insurance companies access to Plaintiffs computers.  Specifically the Supreme Court of Canada provided the following comments:

[1]   This case concerns the right of everyone in Canada, including the appellant, to be secure against unreasonable search and seizure.  And it relates, more particularly, to the search and seizure of personal computers.

[2]  It is difficult to imagine a search more intrusive, extensive, or invasive of one’s privacy than the search and seizure of a personal computer.

3]  First, police officers enter your home, take possession of your computer, and carry it off for examination in a place unknown and inaccessible to you.  There, without supervision or constraint, they scour the entire contents of your hard drive: your emails sent and received; accompanying attachments; your personal notes and correspondence; your meetings and appointments; your medical and financial records; and all other saved documents that you have downloaded, copied, scanned, or created.  The police scrutinize as well the electronic roadmap of your cybernetic peregrinations, where you have been and what you appear to have seen on the Internet — generally by design, but sometimes by accident.

[4]  That is precisely the kind of search that was authorized in this case.  And it was authorized on the strength of an Information to Obtain a Search Warrant (“ITO”) that was carelessly drafted, materially misleading, and factually incomplete.  The ITO invoked an unsupported stereotype of an ill-defined “type of offender” and imputed that stereotype to the appellant.  In addition, it presented a distorted portrait of the appellant and of his surroundings and conduct in his own home at the relevant time…

[105] As I mentioned at the outset, it is difficult to imagine a more intrusive invasion of privacy than the search of one’s home and personal computer.  Computers often contain our most intimate correspondence.  They contain the details of our financial, medical, and personal situations.  They even reveal our specific interests, likes, and propensities, recording in the browsing history and cache files the information we seek out and read, watch, or listen to on the Internet. ..

[111] The public must have confidence that invasions of privacy are justified, in advance, by a genuine showing of probable cause.  To admit the evidence in this case and similar cases in the future would undermine that confidence in the long term.

When considering whether a Defendant should be allowed access to a Plaintiff’s computer in a personal injury lawsuit I should point out that the New BC Supreme Court Civil Rules will change the scope of documents that need to be disclosed.  Specifically, the test for what documents are discoverable will be altered.

Under the current system parties must 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 current one.  Time will tell how this new test will change disclosure requirements in the prosecution of personal injury actions however, given the fact that this new test will be applied alongside principles of proportionality there very well may be narrower disclosure requirements in smaller personal injury claims and greater obligations in the prosecution of more serious claims.
I will continue to write about this area of British Columbia personal injury law as it develops in the coming months.

Leave For Appeal Denied in Computer Hard-drive Disclosure Case


In April of this year the BC Supreme Court ordered that a Plaintiff involved in a Brain Injury Claim from a BC Car Crash “produce for inspection by an independent expert a duplicate copy of his computer hard-drive and that the expert prepare a report identifying the number, nature, and time for all files relating to the use of the plaintiff’s Facebook account between the hours of 11:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m., dating from July 23, 2005 to the present.” (Click here to read my post summarizing the trial decision).
The Defendant in this case sought greater disclosure including “production of information (from the Plaintiff’s computer hard drive) regarding the number, nature and time of the information files that related to the Plaintiff’s Hotmail account and all other computer activity occurring between the hours of 11:00 pm and 5:00 am.”  This application was dismissed by the Chambers Judge.
The Defendant asked the BC Court of Appeal permission to appeal this order arguing that such information would have been relevant in assessing the Plaintiff’s brain injury claim and that the Judge failed to turn his mind to the application properly.
The Court of Appeal refused to hear the appeal holding that the sought order was not supported by the evidence, specifically the Court of Appeal held as follows:

[22] At the plaintiff’s examination for discovery, he testified that he communicated with a friend on Facebook at night.  He also testified that he does have a Hotmail account but he had not “checked it forever”.  His mother testified that if anyone used the computer after 11:00 p.m. on weekdays, it would be the plaintiff (as opposed to other family members), and that he would probably be on the computer most nights.

[23] In the psychiatric assessment dated March 10, 2008, the plaintiff had apparently reported to his psychiatrist as follows:

[H]is sleep varies with the time one of his friends goes to bed.  This is because he spends a lot of time on Facebook chatting with this friend.

[24] I conclude that this appeal is prima facie without merit.  It is true that the chambers judge did not explain his reasons for dismissing that part of the application that is the subject of the appeal, but having reviewed the evidence that was before the chamber judge, it does not appear to me there was an evidentiary foundation for the request for the electronic records of his computer usage beyond Facebook.  Any other usage, such as was suggested in the argument before me (that the plaintiff may be using gaming websites or other such websites late into the night), appears to be somewhat speculative.

[25] I dismiss the application for leave to appeal.

You can read the full judgement by clicking here (Bishop v. Minichiello)

Unfortunately the Court of Appeal did not highlight any factors which will be of use in considering when applications for computer hard drives will be meritorious in personal injury claims.  With more and more information being stored on computers these days, however, such applications will become more frequent and it will only be a matter of time before the Court of Appeal has a chance to weigh in on this important issue.

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.

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