Tag: Expert Witness Fees

BC Court of Appeal – Expert "Fact" Witnesses Entitled to Only $20 Fee for Trial Attendance

Useful reasons for judgement were published today by the BC Court of Appeal confirming that when a professional is summoned to testify at trial about facts they have knowledge of (as opposed to privately retained expert witnesses to give opinion evidence) they are entitled to no more than the $20 fee that must accompany a subpoena.
In today’s case (Luis v. Marchiori) the Plaintiff was injured in two vehicle collisions and sued for damages.  At trial her family doctor testified but not as an expert opinion witness, but rather as a witness of fact.  The Plaintiff paid $2,651 to the doctor for this service and tried to recover this as a disbursement.  In refusing to allow this the BC Court of Appeal noted that when a professional testifies as to facts they are entitled to nothing more than any other fact witness.  The BC Court of Appeal provided the following reasons:

[5]             It is useful to begin by distinguishing between expert fact evidence and expert opinion evidence. Witnesses who become involved in litigation due to their profession—such as a treating doctor or an engineer overseeing a construction project—may be called to testify about their observations. Although the observations may be beyond the knowledge of a layperson, that testimony is not opinion evidence. Examples include a witness describing radiological images, identifying a microbe seen under a microscope, or identifying the pathological process seen on surgery or autopsy. Such evidence is sometimes described as “non-opinion expert evidence”: Robert B. White, The Art of Using Expert Evidence (Toronto: Canada Law Book, 1997), ch. 2 at 16‒21.

[6]             Justice Schultes addressed this distinction in Anderson v. Dwyer, 2009 BCSC 1872 at para. 14 in the context of the Rule requiring notice of opinion evidence:

… However, the witness’s factual narrative of the actions he took and the observations he made, including describing without interpretation, the anatomical features he observed in the x-rays does not amount to offering an opinion and does not offend the Rule. The fact that he brings special training or experience to bear in having taken those actions and made those observations is not determinative. It is whether he draws inferences or offers opinion beyond what the actual evidence itself is capable of revealing.

[Emphasis added.]…

[46]         Although I agree that some professions are more regularly called upon to testify in court than others, it is not readily apparent that a particular individual will be called upon more often. Further, these appeals have focused on the potential financial hardship to professionals such as physicians, engineers and lawyers called to testify as fact witnesses, but as Justice Park observed in Lonergan v. The Royal Exchange Assurance, (1831), 131 E.R. 280 at 283, “time to a poor man is of as much importance as to an attorney.” Indeed, the loss of a day’s work at minimum wage may be a greater relative hardship to a lay witness than the loss of a professional person’s earnings. In addition, to focus on monetary losses alone may be too narrow. Although some witnesses make a sacrifice of time and labour and thus of profits and wages, others sacrifice privacy, and experience the “disagreeable consequence of disclosure”: Wigmore on Evidence, vol. 8 at 72.

[47]         In my view, the interpretation Ms. Luis advances is of no small significance, departing as it would from the longstanding tradition that attendance at trial is “an inherent burden of citizenship”. As John Henry Wigmore put it so eloquently:

That the ordinary witness should be paid more than the nominal dollar — i.e., should be fully indemnified for sacrificing his day’s livelihood in order to perform his testimonial duty — is a plausible assertion. The argument against it, that the total cost of reimbursing highly paid citizens would be prohibitive, gives no real answer, for the state is bound to supply the necessities of justice however expensive. The best answer is that the testimonial duty, like other civic duties, is to be performed without pay, the sacrifice being an inherent burden of citizenship. Neither for military service nor for public office can the citizen claim that he shall be paid on a scale which will bear any equable proportion to the loss of his livelihood’s income. Any other principle would be worthy only of a purely mercenary community. If the sacrifice made is a real one, the dignity of the service rendered should ennoble it. The sense of civic duty done must be the consolation.

Wigmore on Evidence, vol. 8 at 136. [Emphasis added.]

[48]         If there are sound policy reasons for departing from that tradition and the present regime, it is in my view for the legislature and not the judiciary to effect that change.

[49]         In summary, I am of the view that the payment of an attendance fee to expert fact witnesses beyond the fee prescribed in Schedule 3 is not a disbursement recoverable from the opposing party. I would therefore dismiss the appeals, with thanks to all counsel for their able and thorough submissions.

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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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