Tag: dominant purpose test

"The Continuum Between the Information-Gathering and Litigation Stages"

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Court of Appeal discussing “the continuum between the information-gathering and litigation stages” in the context of an application for production of privileged documents.
In today’s case (Raj v. Khosravi) the Plaintiff was involved in a motor vehicle collision.  Both he and the at fault motorist were insured with ICBC.  The Plaintiff met with an adjuster to advance his claim.  After the initial meeting the ICBC adjuster commissioned the services of a private investigator who produced a report.
In the course of his lawsuit the Plaintiff requested a copy of this report but ICBC refused to provide it arguing it was subject to litigation privilege.  The plaintiff argued that the report was commissioned in the ‘investigative stage’ following the collision and further that even if the report was in part prepared for the purpose of defending subsequent litigation, it was also commissioned in the context of his claim for Part 7 benefits.   The lower courts reached opposing conclusions on whether the report was subject to litigation privilege.  In finding that it was, the BC Court of Appeal provided the following reasons on the sometimes parallel roles ICBC plays while investigating claims:

[50]         In my respectful opinion, the judge erred in characterizing the Meeting as part of the information-gathering process, thereby foreclosing a finding that litigation was “in reasonable prospect” when the Report was commissioned. The master, correctly in my view, described the Meeting as “information gathering for the purposes of defending an anticipated claim for lost income” (para. 27). Litigation may be “in reasonable prospect” at any point along the continuum between the information-gathering and litigation stages of an inquiry if an evidentiary basis is established that a party has more than just suspicions about the legitimacy of litigation occurring. The two stages are not mutually exclusive for such a finding. Moreover, this aspect of the test, as noted in Hamalainen, will not be particularly difficult to establish. The evidence in this case established that by the date of the Meeting the information regarding the nature of the accident and the parties involved had been sufficiently established for ICBC to admit liability on behalf of Mr. Khosravi. In my view, an evidentiary basis was established for the master’s finding that litigation was “in reasonable prospect” when the Report was commissioned.

[51]         Similarly, the master found that the dominant purpose of the Report was to assist ICBC in the conduct of Mr. Raj’s anticipated tort claim. She did so by accepting Mr. Kalisch’s evidence that there was no other purpose for the Report other than Mr. Raj’s tort claim, as any potential Part 7 claim by Mr. Raj would only become a reality if and when Mr. Raj provided written confirmation that he had no WCB coverage. While the Report might be relevant to a potential claim for Part 7 benefits in the future, such a claim at the time of the Meeting was not a purpose for the Report’s production. The lack of confirmation that Mr. Raj did not have WCB coverage, and therefore could not make a Part 7 claim at that time, corroborated Mr. Kalisch’s evidence that he had no purpose other than the anticipated tort claim for ordering the Report. Again, in my view it was open to the master on this evidence to find that the dominant purpose of the Report was to defend Mr. Raj’s anticipated tort claim.

[52]         In my respectful view, the judge erred in finding that there was a dual purpose for the production of the Report. The evidence of Mr. Kalisch, as accepted by the master, was that the only purpose for the Report’s production was the anticipated tort claim. Even if a dual purpose could be found to have existed, in my view the judge erred in finding that the dominant purpose of the Report was not litigation because Mr. Khosravi had not eliminated the competing Part 7 claim (para. 49). Mr. Khosravi was not required to eliminate all potential purposes for the Report in order to establish that its dominant purpose was litigation.

Litigation Privilege Claim Fails Due to the 'Two Hats' of ICBC

(Update February 12, 2015the below decision was overturned in reasons for judgement released today by the BC Court of Appeal)
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I previously discussed the Two Hats of ICBC and suggested fixing the conflict of interest this creates.  Reasons for judgement were released earlier this year by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, demonstrating this conflict of interest in action in the context of a litigation privilege claim.
In the recent case (Raj v. Khosravi) the Plaintiff was involved in a motor vehicle collision.  He was insured with ICBC and met with an adjuster to advance his claim.  After the initial meeting the ICBC adjuster commissioned the services of a private investigator who produced a report.
In the course of his lawsuit the Plaintiff requested a copy of this report but ICBC refused to provide it arguing it was subject to litigation privilege.  The plaintiff argued that the report was commissioned in the ‘investigative stage’ following the collision and further that even if the report was in part prepared for the purpose of defending subsequent litigation, it was also commissioned in the context of his claim for Part 7 benefits.  Mr. Justice Groves agreed and ordered the report to be disclosed.  The Court provided the following reasons:
[29] It is clear there were two distinct purposes for this investigative report.  That is conceded by the Defendant.  The question then becomes, was the dominant purpose litigation?  And has the defendant met the onus of satisfying the court that in fact the dominant purpose was litigation?…
[49]  I am also of the view that the defendant’s claim for privilege must fail, in regards to a dominant purpose analysis.  Again, assuming that we’ve gotten over the litigation privilege hurdle, here this investigation, by the adjuster’s own admission, had more than one purpose.  As such, the onus of claiming and eliminating the competing purpose rests on the defendant.
[50]  I agree with the submission of the plaintiff that, during the entirety of the evidence of the adjuster, both in affidavit and during his cross-examination on his affidavit, there is a strong suggestion, a clear suggestion, that the purpsoe of this investigative report was a true dual purpose report.
[51]  Again, the information obtained by the adjuster, at his interview with the plaintiff on November 14, 2006 was information necessary to potentially adjudicate a tort claim, and potentially adjudicate a Part 7 claim.  In discovery, the adjuster confirmed that he had retained the investigator during the meeting with the plaintiff, that “the intention is to get information that is going to contradict what I was told in the initial appointment”.
[52]  What he was told in his initial appointment related to both Part 7 claims as well as tort claims.  The adjuster seemed to draw no distinction in the investigation, as to which of those two claims is to be covered or emphasized.  As such, the onus of showing that the dominant purpose of the report was litigation cannot be met, on the evidence.
[53]  Based on what I have said, I will allow the appeal of the master in regards to the report of the investigator, dated December 15, 2006 and order that it be disclosed.
To my understanding this decision is not publicly available but, as always, I’m happy to provide a copy to anyone who contacts me and requests one.

BC Court of Appeal: No Litigation Privilege During Investigative Stage


As I’ve previously written, litigation privilege is a principle which allows parties in a law suit to keep evidence from the other side.  In order to successfully take advantage of litigation privilege the document not only has to have been created in the reasonable contemplation of a lawsuit but also for the ‘dominant purpose‘ of use in such a lawsuit.
If a document was made for multiple reasons (ie – investigating a potential claim and defending against a potential claim) the law will likely require disclosure.  Today the BC Court of Appeal released useful reasons summarizing this area of law.
In today’s case (Mathew v. Delta School District #37) the Plaintiff ‘slipped and fell on some ice at a school’.  Shortly after the incident the school’s principal, a teaching assistant and a custodian made notes documenting what occurred.  The Plaintiff started a lawsuit and asked for these.  The Defendant refused to produce these claiming they were privileged.  The dispute made it all the way to the BC Court of Appeal who found that the documents were not privileged as they were made during the ‘investigatory stage‘.  The BC High Court provided the following very useful reasons:

[11] The investigatory stage to which the master referred is well recognized in the authorities. In Hamalainen at para. 24, the following was quoted from a speech in Waugh v. British Railways Board, [1980] A.C. 521 at 541, attributing it to what Lord Denning had said in that case:

If material comes into being for a dual purpose – one to find out the cause of the accident – the other to furnish information to the solicitor – it should be disclosed, because it is not then “wholly or mainly” for litigation. On this basis all the reports and inquiries into accidents – which are made shortly after the accident – should be disclosed on discovery and made available in evidence at the trial.

[12]         The investigatory stage was discussed in Hamalainen as follows:

[26]      Even in cases where litigation is in reasonable prospect from the time a claim first arises, there is bound to be a preliminary period during which the parties are attempting to discover the cause of the accident on which it is based. At some point in the information gathering process the focus of such an inquiry will shift such that its dominant purpose will become that of preparing the party for whom it was conducted for the anticipated litigation. In other words, there is a continuum which begins with the incident giving rise to the claim and during which the focus of the inquiry changes. At what point the dominant purpose becomes that of furthering the course of litigation will necessarily fall to be determined by the facts peculiar to each case.

[13]         It was, on the evidence, open to the master to regard the notes as being made in the investigatory stage as opposed to the later litigation stage. They were made directly following Mr. Mathew’s accident. I recognize it may be argued that, in the circumstances, there was little in the way of an investigatory stage here. But that is a matter to be determined on the peculiar facts of each case and I am unable to accept that the evidence foreclosed the significance the master appears to have attached to the notes being made as quickly as they were in relation to the incident.

Getting the Insurance Company's Documents; Litigation Privilege and the Trend of Increased Disclsoure


As I’ve previously written, litigation privilege is a principle which allows parties not to share relevant documents with the other side in a lawsuit in limited circumstances.  Despite this principle, the BC Courts seem to be favouring the trend of disclosure making it more difficult for parties not to disclose documents after lawsuits get underway.  Reasons for judgement were released last week demonstrating this trend.
In last week’s case (Beer v. Nickerson) the Plaintiff was injured in 2008 as a result of a slip and fall incident at a Pharmasave in Victoria, BC.  The Plaintiff alleged the fall occurred as a result of the Defendant’s “negligent operation of her scooter in the store“.
The Defendant contacted her insurance company after the incident.  The insurance company conducted an investigation and in the process of this obtained a statement from the Defendant, a drawing of the store prepared by the Defendants daughter, and photographs of the location of the incident.
After the lawsuit started the Defendant’s lawyer refused to provide these documents arguing they were protected by “litigation privilege“.   Master Bouck of the BC Supreme Court disagreed and ordered that these documents be produced.  In reaching this conclusion the Court reasoned that the documents were not privileged because a lawsuit was not a ‘reasonable prospect‘ when these documents were created and further that they were not created for the ‘dominant purpose‘ of use in a lawsuit.  Before reaching her verdict Master Bouck provided the following useful summary of the law:

[17] The legal principles to be applied on this application are well-settled and set out in Hamalainen (Committee of) v. Sippola (1991), 62 B.C.L.R. (2d) 254, and Stevanovic v. Petrovic, supra. Those principles are as follows:

1.  The party withholding disclosure bears the onus of establishing a claim for privilege over a document.

2.  The test for considering whether litigation privilege is established is two-fold:

(a)  Was litigation a reasonable prospect at the time the document in dispute was created?

(b)  If so, was the dominant purpose of the document’s creation for use in litigation? (commonly known as the “dominant purpose” test.)

3.  Litigation can properly be said to be in reasonable prospect when a reasonable person, possessed of all the pertinent information including that particular to one party or the other, would conclude that it is unlikely that the claim for loss will be resolved without it.

4.  However, the prospect of litigation alone is not sufficient to meet the claim of privilege. Nor does the denial of liability alone mean that all documents produced thereafter are subject to a claim for privilege. As stated by the court in Hamalainen v. Sippola:

Even in cases where litigation is in reasonable prospect from the time a claim first arises, there is bound to be a preliminary period during which the parties are attempting to discover the cause of the accident on which it is based. At some point in the information gathering process the focus of such an inquiry will shift such that its dominant purpose will become that of preparing the party for whom it was conducted for the anticipated litigation. In other words, there is a continuum which begins with the incident giving rise to the claim and during which the focus of the inquiry changes. At what point the dominant purpose becomes that of furthering the course of litigation will necessarily fall to be determined by the facts peculiar to each case.

6.  It is not incumbent upon the court to accept without question the opinion of either deponent on one of the very issues that is to be decided. Whether or not litigation was a reasonable prospect is a matter for the court to decide on all the evidence.

[18] To these principles I would add that the dominant purpose test is consistent with “the more contemporary trend favouring increased disclosure”: Blank v. Canada (Department of Justice), 2006 SCC 39 at paras. 60-61.

This case is helpful in permitting Plaintiffs to obtain more fulsome disclosure early in a lawsuit.  Our Courts have made it clear that if documents are gathered by an insurance company for the purpose of investigating a claim (as opposed to defending a potential lawsuit) then these documents will have to be disclosed under the BC Supreme Court Rules.

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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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