Tag: Experts as Advocates

Defendant Punished With Costs Award for Relying on "Advocate" Expert Witness


Dr. Hymie Davis is a psychiatrist who has been frequently retained by ICBC to provide expert opinions as to the extent of Plaintiff’s accident related injuries.  (You can click here to access my previous posts setting out the billings of Dr. Davis and other experts often retained by ICBC).  In a judgement released last week, the BC Supreme Court harshly criticized Dr. Davis and took the unusual step of punishing the Defendant, (who was insured with ICBC), for relying on him at trial.
In last week’s case (Jayetileke v. Blake) the Plaintiff was injured in a BC motor vehicle collision.  She sued for damages.  Prior to trial ICBC made a formal settlement offer of $122,500.  The Plaintiff rejected this offer and went to trial.  She was ultimately awarded about $9,000 less than the settlement offer by the trial judge.
Normally, in these circumstances, ICBC would be entitled to their costs and possibly double costs from the time of their offer onward.  Mr. Justice Dley, however, refused to follow this usual course finding that not only should the Defendant not be awarded costs, but they should pay the Plaintiff costs.  The reason for this departure was a finding that Dr. Davis was “nothing more than an advocate thinly disguised in the cloak of an expert” and he should not have been relied on by the defence at trial.
Mr. Justice Dley provided the following damaging criticism of Dr. Davis as an expert witness and warning to lawyers who  intend to rely on experts who have a history of crossing the line into advocacy:

[35] Dr. Davis had a history before the courts where his evidence was rejected and his objectivity called into question: Grewal v. Brar et al, 2004 BCSC 1157, [2004] B.C.J. No. 1819; Gosal v. Singh, 2009 BCSC 1471, [2009] B.C.J. No. 2131; Kelly v. Sanmugathas, 2009 BCSC 958, [2009] B.C.J. No. 1413; and Smusz v. Wolfe Chevrolet, 2010 BCSC 82, [2010] B.C.J. No. 114.

[36] A witness may have a poor day in court – that does not mean the witness was dishonest or forever unreliable. However, Dr. Davis had displayed an alarming inability to appreciate his role as an expert and the accompanying privilege to provide opinion evidence.

[37] The defence was alive to his propensity to abuse the role of an expert. His reputation would have been known from the cited decisions. Plaintiff’s counsel succinctly set out the concerns about Dr. Davis in a letter dated January 29, 2010, which stated:

1.         Although he may have once been a qualified expert in psychiatry and able to give opinion evidence in court, we suggest he no longer is properly qualified to give opinion evidence. We will suggest that he is no longer aware of his duty to assist the court and in reality he is an advocate for ICBC. Additionally, we will submit that he has been so consistently discredited by the courts of this Province that he is incapable of being qualified as an expert;

2.         His report is replete with advocacy. The report is an attempt [to] neutralize any material/opinions which support the plaintiff’s claim rather than providing an objective medical opinion;

3.         His report contains many opinions and arguments that are beyond his expertise; and

4.         The information apparently gleaned from the plaintiff is inaccurate and incomplete and coloured to advance his position.

[38] In spite of the concerns that the Courts have expressed, the defence nonetheless proffered Dr. Davis as an expert in opposition to the plaintiff’s complaints of depression and anxiety. My assessment of Dr. Davis was as follows (oral reasons May 13, 2010):

[43]      Dr. Hymie Davis, a psychiatrist, examined Ms. Jayetileke on January 12, 2010 at the request of the defence. I find his evidence to be unreliable. I give it no weight for the following reasons.

[44]      Dr. Davis was an advocate. He was argumentative, defensive, non-responsive, and prone to rambling discourses that were not relevant to the questions posed in cross-examination.

[45]      Dr. Davis was asked to leave the courtroom so that counsel could argue about questions to be put to him. Dr. Davis was seen peeking into the courtroom and listening to the discussion. He was again asked to leave. In spite of these instructions given to him, Dr. Davis hovered within hearing distance and, on four occasions, stuck his head into the courtroom to hear what was occurring.

[46]      Dr. Davis conceded that without his notes, he would not be able to recall the discussion with Ms. Jayetileke. He relied on his notes to prepare his report.

[47] Dr. Davis had noted that Ms. Jayetileke awakened once or twice a week and that this was in some measure related to the accident-related symptoms. He was adamant Ms. Jayetileke had not said that she awakened once or twice a night. He said that his notes would reflect what Ms. Jayetileke had told him.

[48]      His notes referred to Ms. Jayetileke awakening once or twice but did not specify whether that was nightly or weekly. Nonetheless, Dr. Davis tried to point out other references in his notes that meant a weekly occurrence. Those references did not strengthen his evidence. They simply confirmed the unreliability of his testimony.

[49]      Dr. Smith had commented about how important it was for the history-taking to be done in a setting where the patient was comfortable and at ease with the interviewer. Dr. Davis’s demeanour would not lend itself to Ms. Jayetileke being at ease in his presence so that an effective and accurate history could have been taken. Ms. Jayetileke was under the impression that Dr. Davis did not take things seriously. I accept her view of the interview and prefer her evidence to that of Dr. Davis.

[39] For a trial to be fair, the Court must allow each party to put its best case forward. Where a party seeks to advance its position with reckless abandon seeking only the ultimate goal of victory and using questionable evidence along the way, that party risks sanctions in the form of costs penalties. Where the conduct is reprehensible and deserving of reproof and rebuke, the penalty is special costs. “Costs considerations are meant to guide counsel and litigants in the choices and strategies they pursue in litigation”: Karpodinis v. Kantas, 2006 BCCA 400, [2006] B.C.J. No. 2074 at para. 4.

[40] In this case and against the backdrop of previous judicial comment, the defence tendered Dr. Davis. He was nothing more than an advocate thinly disguised in the cloak of an expert. That is conduct deserving of rebuke and from which the Court disassociates itself.

[41] Dr. Davis attempted to inject levity to the proceedings when he was introduced to the Court – his reference to scotch can only be taken as an attempt to be humorous. However, these are serious and solemn proceedings and should be treated as such. His opening comments were unnecessary and unhelpful.

[42] Dr. Davis’ refusal to remove himself from earshot of the Court proceedings despite repeated requests was reprehensible. His conduct simply confirmed a lack of respect for Court proceedings.

[43] Under these circumstances, special costs are to be awarded against the defendant.

[44] The special costs will be the equivalent of the costs of the entire trial. The defendant will be deprived of any costs that it might otherwise have been entitled to as result of the offer to settle.

[45] The plaintiff is awarded costs as if there had been no offer to settle made. The defendant shall receive no costs.

[46] The plaintiff shall receive costs of this application.

ICBC Injury Claims, Dueling Experts and the Danger of "Advocacy"


A common theme when ICBC or other personal injury claims go to trial is that of dueling expert witnesses.  Often times the Plaintiff’s treating physicians provide an opinion to the Court that is contradicted by experts hired by defendants or insurance companies.  In deciding how much the claim is worth a Court must navigate through these competing opinions and decide who to believe.
Treating doctors, due in part to their long term relationship with their patients, sometimes provide their opinion in an argumentative way.  While well intentioned such opinions can do more harm than good.  The reason being is that the Rules of Court require expert witnesses to be neutral when presenting their opinion to the Court.  When experts advocate for one side or another they risk having their opinion discounted or even being excluded from evidence altogether.  The potential harm caused by expert advocacy was demonstrated in reasons for judgement released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vernon Registry.
In today’s case (Gendron v. Moffat) the Plaintiff was involved in a motor vehicle collision in 2008.  Fault for the crash was admitted by the opposing motorist focusing the trial on the value of the Plaintiff’s ICBC claim.  The Plaintiff sustained various injuries.  The Court heard different opinions as to the extent of these from the Plaintiff’s treating doctor and from the expert hired by ICBC.
The Plaintiff’s GP provided the opinion that the Plaintiff suffered from chronic injuries as a result of the Crash.  The doctor hired by ICBC disagreed and gave evidence that the accident related injuries largely ran their course and the Plaintiff’s symptoms were better explained by unrelated arthritis.  Ultimately Mr. Justice Cole preferred the evidence of ICBC’s doctor.  In coming to this conclusion the Court found that the Plaintiff’s doctor acted as an advocate and excluded portions of her evidence and discounted other parts.  Mr. Justice Cole provided the following useful comments:

[15] The doctor summarized her condition as follows:

Ms. Gendron sustained grade 2 strains to her cervical, thoracic and lumbar spines and a grade 2 strain to her right shoulder when she was T-boned in an intersection by a vehicle that had run through a red light. The impact imparted both forward and rotational acceleration forces through Ms. Gendron, and the subsequent symptom pattern and chronology of injury were consistent with the mechanism and severity of injury. Ms. Gendron has consistently demonstrated a high level of motivation to recover from her injuries, and has remained at work since her MVA , albeit in a reduced capacity. [Emphasis added.]

[16] The last two sentences of that summary I had removed, as in my view, the first sentence dealing with the impact of the accident and acceleration forces were not within the expertise of the doctor and the comment about her high level of motivation demonstrated that the doctor was acting more as an advocate than as an independent professional.

[17] The doctor was also critical of Dr. T. O’Farell, an orthopaedic surgeon who filed a report and gave evidence at trial. He was of the view that Dr. O’Farell’s report was “below the currently accepted standard for a specialist’s medical legal report.”  Again, that sentence was removed on the basis that the family doctor was more of an advocate than an independent professional and lacked the expertise to make such a statement…

[22] I am of the view that the plaintiff’s family physician, while a highly qualified doctor, is more of an advocate than an independent medical specialist and that it is almost impossible to be objective and an advocate at the same time. I therefore prefer the evidence of Dr. O’Farell that her neck pain is due to arthritis in her spine…

[27] In conclusion, I find that the injuries sustained by the plaintiff in the motor vehicle accident for which the defendant is liable, have substantially resolved.

While the doctor’s advocacy was not the sole reason for the Plaintiff’s lack of success at trial (The Court also found that the Plaintiff was not a credible witness) it goes to show that an overzealous treating physician can do more harm than good when providing an opinion to the Court.  It is important for treating doctors to give their evidence in a fair and balanced manner to maximize the chance of having their opinions accepted at trial.

$95,000 Non-Pecuniary Damages for Chronic Pain From 2 MVA's

Reasons for judgement were released yesterday dealing with an appropriate award of damages for soft tissue injuries and chronic pain lasting for over 6 years.
In yesterday’s case (Gosal v. Singh) the Plaintiff was involved in 2 BC Car Crashes.  The first in 2003, the second in 2005. The first crash was a rear end collision.  Fault was admitted.  As the Plaintiff was recovering from her injuries from the first collision she was involved in the second collision.
The second crash happened when the Defendant, who was parked, pulled out in front of the Plaintiff’s lane of travel.  Fault was not admitted but Madam Justice Loo held that the defendant was 100% at fault finding that he “moved his vehicle from a parked position without first determining that he could do so safely, and that (the Plaintiff) had no opportunity to avoid the collision.”
The Plaintiff suffered from various soft tissue injuries and chronic pain which lasted for over 6 years and still bothered the Plaintiff by the time of trial.  In valuing the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages (pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) at $95,000 Madam Justice Loo made the following findings:

[49] Ms. Gosal suffered mild to moderate soft tissue injuries to her neck, upper back, shoulders, and mid and lower back, which caused severe headaches. She was treated with physiotherapy, massage, and chiropractic treatments, but her recovery took longer because of her depression and anxiety. She was recovering when the second accident exacerbated her injuries, including her depression and anxiety.

[50] Dr. Khunkhun states that Ms. Gosal’s long-term prognosis is guarded because her symptoms have not resolved after such a long period of time since the accidents. She does not consider Ms. Gosal to be at an increased risk of any long-term sequelae such as osteoarthritis. She believes Ms. Gosal would continue to benefit from body conditioning and strengthening exercises. She observed that in the past Ms. Gosal benefitted from regular exercise and when she stops exercising regularly, her mood deteriorates and her pain increases.

[51] Dr. Manchanda last saw Ms. Gosal on September 24, 2008. She told him that she had pain on about four or five days a week, and no pain on about two days a week. She was still looking for employment in counselling. At that time, Dr. Manchanda felt that Ms. Gosal could work in a job that was sedentary or involved light physical duties. He also felt that Ms. Gosal could complete the majority of her household chores, but that she might require a break or assistance with the heavier chores, such as vacuuming or carrying heavy laundry.

[52] Dr. Manchanda’s prognosis has thus far proved to be accurate. Ms. Gosal has worked full-time since October 6, 2008 in a job that is fairly sedentary and involves only light physical duties. There is no evidence that she has taken time off work because of symptoms arising from the accidents…

[67] I prefer Dr. Sandhu’s opinion that Ms. Gosal is not seeking secondary gains. She was looking after the household and her children’s needs as best she could, and doing her best to continue with her studies. Having observed Ms. Gosal, and on all the evidence, I conclude that she is not malingering and that her complaints of pain and depression are genuine.

[68] She continues to improve, albeit slowly. I find that there are two to three days a week when she is not in pain. Full-time employment has assisted her both physically and emotionally. Though it is now more than six years since the first accident, and more than four years since the second accident, she still suffers from depression and pain. I anticipate that over the next few years, with a regular daily exercise program, her physical pain and depression will continue to improve but may not resolve completely.

[71] I find that circumstances of Ms. Gosal’s injuries are similar to those in Foran v. Nguyen, 2006 BCSC 605, 149 A.C.W.S. (3d) 419, where the award for non-pecuniary damages was $90,000, and Jackson v. Lai, 2007 BCSC 1023, 160 A.C.W.S. (3d) 276, where the award was $100,000.

[72] I consider an award of $95,000 for non-pecuniary damages to be appropriate.

In addition to this case’s value as a precedent for valuing non-pecuniary damages for chronic pain, this case is worth reviewing for the Court’s criticism of the expert witness called by the defense.

I’ve previously written about the duty of experts to the court and highlighted judicial criticism when experts ignore this duty.  In today’s case the court made critical findings with respect to Dr. Hymie Davis, a psychiatrist who billed over $290,000 to ICBC in 2008.  Specifically Madam Justice Loo found that Dr. Davis “was presenting a case for the defence rather than providing an impartial expert opinion.  Dr. Davis’ argument that (the Plaintiff’s) injuries should have healed and that she is seeking secondary gains or malingering, is at odds with his article “The Whiplash Injury“.

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.

“Work hard, be kind and enjoy the ride!”
Erik’s Philosophy

Disclaimer