Tag: document production

Pre Accident Medical Records Are Not Producible “as of right, or on demand” in Injury Claims

Reasons for judgement were published today by the BC Supreme Court, Victoria Registry, providing useful comments on disclosure obligations of personal injury litigants under the BC Supreme Court Civil Rules.

In today’s case (Holmberg v. McMullen) the Plaintiff suffered “significant injuries” as a result of two vehicle collisions and sued for damages.  In litigation the Defendants requested various pre accident medical records and pharmacological records arguing that when serious injuries are alleged such documents must be produced.  A Master disagreed and dismissed the application.  The Master’s decision was appealed which was also dismissed.

In noting that parties have no obligation to produce documents not in their possession or control in the first phase of document production and further that pre accident medical records are not producible on demand and as of right even in the face of serious injuries being disputed on the pleadings Mr. Justice Johnston provided the following reasons:

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Increased "Sexually Aberrant Behavior" Brain Injury Claim Leads to Police File Disclosure

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, addressing document relevancy issues in a disputed brain injury claim.
In today’s case (Mackinnon v. Rabeco Holdings (1989) Ltd.) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2010 vehicle collision.  He sued for damages alleging that “he sustained a brain injury…as a result of the accident which caused or contributed to an increase in the frequency and severity of his pre-accident sexually aberrant behaviour culminating ultimately in a criminal conviction“.
Prior to the collision “the plaintiff took clandestine photos of a woman. The incident was reported to police in Langley who investigated, but no charges were laid.”.  In a post collision incident, the Plaintiff plead guilty to “surreptitiously unlawfully observing or recording for a sexual purpose a person in circumstances that give rise to an expectation of privacy contrary to s.162(1)(c) of the Criminal Code”.
The Defendant sought production of police materials from these incidents arguing the documents were relevant given the allegations in the lawsuit.  Master Harper agreed and ordered production.  In doing so the Court provided the following reasons:
[17]         The plaintiff will attempt to prove at trial that the injuries sustained in the motor vehicle accident caused or contributed to the escalation of his sexual proclivities. That fact, if found by the trier of fact, is material. The defendants seek to obtain evidence as to the timeline of the escalation in the Plaintiff’s sexually aberrant behaviour and compare his behaviour pre- and post-accident…

[22]         Because the defendants are not seeking production of the videos and photographs themselves (sensibly, in my view because I would not have ordered their production), secondary documents which refer to the nature of the images and the dates on which they were made are a reasonable substitute for those original documents. I find that certain specific documents in the possession of the RCMP with respect to the 2009 incident should be produced. These are: the incident report; any statements made by the plaintiff to the RCMP and the investigating police officer’s notes, with identifying information of the victims to be redacted.

[23]         I find that certain specific documents in the possession of the RCMP with respect to the June 25, 2012 incident should be produced. These are: the Narrative Report to Crown Counsel; the notes of the investigating police officer or officers and any statements made by the plaintiff to the RCMP.

[24]         The video catalogue was referred to by Crown Counsel as being made by someone other than Crown Counsel. There is no evidence as to who that someone is. It is possible that the video catalogue was not made by the RCMP and is not in the possession of the RCMP. There is no evidence before me in this application that the video catalogue is in the possession of the RCMP and no evidence from which I can draw an inference that the video catalogue is probably in the possession of the RCMP. Therefore, I dismiss that part of the application.

[25]         As stated above, counsel for the Defendants is not seeking disclosure of the videos and photos themselves. Any identifying information of the victims will be redacted.

Counselling Record Production Request Denied as Irrelevant and Privileged


Concise reasons for judgement were recently released discussing the scope of document production limits under the New Rules of Court.  In today’s case (RCL v. SCF) the Plaintiff was seeking damages following a motor vehicle collision.  He had a history of emotional difficulties stemming in part from childhood abuse.  He received counselling regarding this from the Elizabeth Fry Society.  The Defendant requested a Court Order for production of these records.
Master Young refused the application as going beyond the narrower document production test under the New Rules of Court and further held that even if the documents were relevant they were privileged under the Wigmore criteria.  The Court provided the following reasons:

[1] The application is being brought under our new Rule 7-1(1). The relevancy test in the Supreme Court Rules has now narrowed to one of direct relevance, to use the words of the section, “to prove or disprove a material fact”, and it is no longer a chain of inquiry test related to any matter in question. I am not satisfied that these records will assist in proving any material fact.

[2] The defendant already knows that the plaintiff was abused as a child; that this event caused him emotional pain; that he attempted suicide; that he sought help from the Elizabeth Fry Society; that he missed work prior to the motor vehicle accident; and that he suffers from borderline personality disorder and depression. I also note a record that his brother passed away shortly before this accident. The defendant has obtained volumes of clinical records. I do not see how the detail of the counselling at Elizabeth Fry or the details of the abuse are going to add anything to the information they already have. It is clearly a request based on a chain of inquiry that there might be something relevant in those records.

[3] Everyone agrees that the Wigmore criteria that is set out in the Slavutych v. Baker decision is the relevant test to determine if the records are privileged, and I am not going to repeat those four criteria, but criteria 1 to 3 were conceded to exist, and there was some debate in submissions about whether criteria 4 has been met, and that says that (as read in):

The injury that would inure to the relationship by the disclosure of the communications must be greater than the benefit thereby gained for the correct disposal of the litigation.

[4] I agree with Mr. Williams that the case of M. v. Martinson is directly on point. Paragraph 4 of the Wigmore criteria has been interpreted in the broad sense as one of a public policy issue. Would the public interest and the proper administration of justice outweigh in importance any public interest that may be protected by upholding the claim for privilege? As Master Joyce (as he then was) said at para. 18 (as read in):

I find there is great public interest in encouraging victims of abuse to seek counselling and to be assured of the confidentiality of that communication. The public interest is served if that confidentiality is fostered to the greatest possible degree.

[5] What of the interests of justice? Is the central issue in this case before me today in this lawsuit the same as might be contained in those records? I think not. There have already been several other sources outlining this plaintiff’s prior psychological problems. These records are at best peripherally related to the material issue. I am not convinced that in the interests of justice, I should breach that confidential relationship at all, not even to review those records myself and certainly not under this new narrow test for document production in our Rules of Court.

[6] So on that basis, I am denying the application.

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 Court of Appeal Weighs in on Litigation Privilege

Further to my previous posts on Litigation Privilege in British Columbia, reasons for judgement were released today adding further clarity to this area of the law.
In today’s case (Shooting Star Amusements Ltd. v. Prince George Agricultural and Historical Association) the Plaintiff brought an application for the production of certain documents which the Defendant refused to produce on the grounds of Litigation Privilege.   Madam Justice Bruce ordered that the documents be produced.  The Defendant appealed.  In dismissing the appeal the BC Court of Appeal made it clear that when asserting a claim for privilege the party must offer evidence in support of this claim.  Specifically the Court held that:
it is only common sense that where a claim of privilege is contested, a court would normally require something more than counsel’s opinion offered in the course of argument.  As Mr. Cassie argued on behalf of the plaintiff, it has been clear at least since this court decidedHamalainen (Committee of) v. Sippola (1991) 62 B.C.L.R. (2d) 254, 3 C.P.C. (3d) 297 that the party asserting privilege in respect of a document bears the onus of establishing the privilege.
The defendant argued that the order for production would cause irreparable harm because the materials ordered to be disclosed would provide details of settlement discussions and legal advice.  The Court noted that such evidence was not before the trial judge.  Interestingly, the court stated that just because a claim for litigation privilege fails in a document production application the party is free to raise the claim again at trial and the trial judge will need to consider whether the documents can stay out of evidence for grounds privilege.  Specifically Madam Justice Newbury stated
I note that although the defendant was ordered to disclose the minutes, unredacted, to the plaintiff, this does not mean they, or the information they contain, will be admissible at trial.  A claim of privilege can still be asserted by the defendants if and when the plaintiff seeks to introduce the minutes into evidence and it will be for the trial judge to determine whether any kind of privilege does indeed attach.

Personal Injury Claims and Privacy – Can ICBC access your Facebook Account?

If you pursue a personal injury claim in the BC Supreme Court you will be bound by the Rules of Court with respect to production of relevant documents.
With our ever-expanding use of technology, more and more documents may become relevant in Injury Litigation.  So, can computer records ever be relevant in personal injury claims?  
Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court (Bishop v. Minichiello) dealing with this issue.  In today’s case the Plaintiff allegedly suffered a brain injury as a result of the negligence of the defendants.  The Defendants wished to analyze the Plaintiff’s computer hard drive to ‘determine the period of time the plaintiff spends on Facebook between eleven at night and five in the morning‘.  The Plaintiff refused to produce his computer hard-drive and this resulted in a Court motion seeking an order compelling the Plaintiff to do so.
Mr. Justice Melnick granted the motion and ordered that ‘the parties agree on an independent expert to review the hard drive …to isolate and produce to counsel…the information sought or a report saying that the information sought is not retrievable.’.
In reaching this conclusion Mr. Justice Melnick engaged in the following analysis and application of the law:

IV. ANALYSIS

[46]            Electronic data stored on a computer’s hard drive or other magnetic storage device falls within the definition of “document” under R. 1(8) of the Rules of CourtIreland at para. 6. 

[47]            Rule 26(1) requires disclosure of documents relating to any matter in question in the action.  The decision of whether to grant an order requiring production under R. 26(10) is a discretionary one: Park at para. 15.  The court has used its discretion to deny an application for the production of documents in the following two circumstances: firstly, where thousands of documents of only possible relevance are in question; and secondly, where the documents sought do not have significant probative value and the value of production is outweighed by competing interests such as confidentiality and time and expense required for the party to produce the documents: Park at para. 15.  Additionally, privacy concerns should be considered in a determination under R. 26(10), where the order sought is so broad it has the potential to unnecessarily delve into private aspects of the opposing party’s life: Park at para. 21.

[48]            Disclosure in the civil litigation context is largely informed by an inquiry into relevance and probative value.  Relevance should be granted a broad scope: Peruvian Guano at 62.  Relevancy is to be determined upon a description of the nature of the documents sought and a reasonable interpretation of the pleadings: Boxer at 359. 

[49]            Relevant to this particular application are the values enshrined in s. 8 of the Charter – the right to be secure against unreasonable search and seizure.  Rule 26(10) confers no power to make an order that is really authorization for a search: Privest Properties Ltd. at para. 38.

[50]            Metadata is information recorded or stored by means of a device and is thus a document under R. 1(8): Desgagne at para. 29.  Metadata is a report of recorded data that is generated by computer software.  It is not something created by the user; rather, it is based on what the user does with their computer.  In both Park and Desgagne, it was held the threshold of relevance had not been met to order production of records of the frequency and duration of computer use.  However, Mr. Justice Myers in Park stated at para. 42 that he did not mean to say that hard drives and other electronic documents need never be produced under R. 26.  Thus, in the appropriate case if the threshold of relevance is met, a hard drive may require production.

[51]            This threshold was found to be met in Chadwick.  Despite agreeing with the plaintiffs that this was a case in which the hard drive was to be regarded as a file repository and not a document itself, Mr. Justice Myers held that such a distinction was not to be determinative of the application. 

[52]            Mr. Justice Bauman, for the Court of Appeal, held that leave to appeal the order should not be granted and the application was dismissed.  The Court of Appeal stated that while an appropriate case may give rise to important issues such as privacy, solicitor-client privilege, expense, and time, this was not that case as Mr. Justice Myers’ order was of narrow scope.

[53]            Similarly, the application at hand is of narrow scope.  The defence wishes to have the plaintiff’s hard drive of his family computer produced and analyzed to determine the periods of time the plaintiff spent on Facebook between eleven at night and five in the morning, each day.

[54]            Examination for discovery evidence of the plaintiff’s mother confirms that the plaintiff is the only person in the family using the family computer between those hours.  The plaintiff suggests that, at times, friends may use the computer once he logs onto Facebook.  But that is an evidentiary issue for trial.  The issues of privacy and solicitor-client privilege are basically resolved as only the plaintiff has the password to his Facebook account and he has not used this account to converse with his counsel.

[55]            It is true the Bishop family computer is more akin to a filing cabinet than a document; however, it is a filing cabinet from which the plaintiff is obligated to produce relevant documents.  This sentiment was approved in Chadwick.  Simply because the hard drive contains irrelevant information to the lawsuit does not alter a plaintiff’s duty to disclose that which is relevant.  If there are relevant documents in existence they should be listed and produced (or simply listed if they are privileged). 

[56]            The defence argues that this case is distinguishable from Baldwin and that the information sought is relevant.  The plaintiff advised Dr. Zoffman that his sleep varies with the time one of his friends goes to bed.  This is because he spends a substantial amount of time on Facebook chatting with this friend.  The plaintiff alleges that ongoing fatigue is preventing him from maintaining employment and thus his late-night computer usage is relevant to matters at issue in this lawsuit.

V. CONCLUSION

[57]            The information sought by the defence in this case may have significant probative value in relation to the plaintiff’s past and future wage loss, and the value of production is not outweighed by competing interests such as confidentiality and the time and expense required for the party to produce the documents.  Additionally, privacy concerns are not at issue because the order sought is so narrow that it does not have the potential to unnecessarily delve into private aspects of the plaintiff’s life.  In saying that, I recognize the concern of the plaintiff that to isolate the information the defence does seek, its expert may well have consequent access to irrelevant information or that over which other family members may claim privilege.  For that reason, I direct that the parties agree on an independent expert to review the hard drive of the plaintiff’s family computer and isolate and produce to counsel for the defendant and counsel for the plaintiff the information sought or a report saying that the information sought is not retrievable, in whole or in part, if that is the case.  I grant liberty to apply if counsel cannot agree on such an independent expert or if other terms of this order cannot be agreed. 

[58]            At the conclusion of the hearing on March 5, having been made aware that the passage of time was critical because of the potential for the memory of the plaintiff’s family computer to be “overwritten” with ongoing use, I directed that within two weeks of that date, an expert engaged by the plaintiff’s counsel, at the expense of the defence, produce two copies of the hard drive to be deposited with the court pending this ruling.  One of those copies should be used for the analysis I have now ordered.  The other copy should remain with the court as a backup to be accessed only with further order of the court. 

This case should serve as a reminder that technology is rapidly changing the potential scope of document production in Injury Litigation.  Lawyers and Plaintiff’s advancing BC Injury Claims need to be aware of the scope of documents that may be relevant and when doing so should not be so quick to overlook the potential relevance of electronically stored documents not only on a computer hard drive but also those that can be found on social networking sites such as Twitter, MySpace and Facebook.

 

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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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