Tag: FAB

"Functional Assessment Biomechanical System" Permitted for First Time in BC Injury Trial


The Functional Assessment Biomechanical System (“FAB”) is a motion capture system that tracks and measures body movements and biomechanical forces.  It has been used in recent years during work capacity evaluations.
Last year the inventor of the FAB attempted to have the system’s measurements introduced in two separate personal injury trials (you can click here and here to read my summaries of those cases).  Both times the trial Judges refused to let the evidence in finding that the inventor was not candid about his financial interests associated with system and further that the system did not meet the judicially required threshold of reliability.
More recently, in the trial of Carr v. Simpson the FAB’s inventor took a third kick at the can and attempted to have his system’s measurements introduced at trial.  This time he was forthright about his financial interest in the product.  This change in candour seemed to make all the difference with Mr. Justice Bernard allowing the FAB’s measurements to be introduced at trial.  Mr. Justice Bernard gave the following reasons permitting FAB measurements into evidence:

[11]         In the case at bar, Mr. McNeil testified with knowledge of the rulings in Rizzolo and Forstved, and the plaintiff has endeavoured to have Mr. McNeil address the evidentiary problems and shortcomings which were identified in these earlier cases. I am satisfied that in his present testimony Mr. McNeil has been more forthright about his role as inventor of FAB and of his financial interest in it. It seems that in both Rizzolo and Forstved it was Mr. McNeil’s lack of candour, rather than his inventor/owner status per se, which was particularly troubling to the court. I am not persuaded that the now more candid Mr. McNeil should be precluded from giving expert testimony merely because he has a financial interest in FAB, in the absence of other evidence which might call into question his independence.

[12]         In relation to the reliability of FAB and proof thereof, the evidence establishes that it is a measuring tool, albeit a technologically-advanced one, rather than a diagnostic instrument per se. The distinction is, in my view, important.

[13]         The science about which Mr. McNeil testified is the assessment of the human body’s functional capacity. This science is well-recognized by the courts, and its application generates findings which may be of assistance to the court and which could not likely be made without such evidence. It is not a novel science. The introduction of a novel measuring instrument in the application of a science does not make the science, itself, novel. For example, the advent of MRIs did not make orthopaedic medicine a novel science; accordingly, I am not persuaded that the cautious approach to admissibility (as suggested in R. v. J.-L.J. [R. v. J.J.], 2000 SCC 51, [2000] 2 S.C.R. 600, and adopted in Forstved), including the threshold burden imposed upon the tendering party, obtains. This is particularly so in non-jury trials in which the judge’s “gate-keeper” function has much reduced significance.

[14]         I do not mean to suggest by any of the foregoing that the reliability of the tools employed by experts may not be challenged in an attempt to undermine the factual underpinnings of a diagnosis or assessment; however, unless the undermining renders the opinion virtually valueless, it will go to the weight of the opinion and not to its admissibility. In the instant case, I am not satisfied that the evidence elicited from Mr. McNeil in cross-examination so weakened his opinion as to render it of no value and, therefore, inadmissible. As already noted, only Mr. McNeil testified in the voir dire, and the defendant elected to call no evidence on the issue of the reliability of FAB.

[15]         In summary, I am satisfied that the evidence tendered in this case relating to: (a) the reliability of FAB, and (b) Mr. McNeil’s financial interest in FAB, falls far short of establishing a reasonable basis for excluding the opinion evidence of Mr. McNeil. It remains open to the defendant to argue that these factors, to the extent that they are established by the evidence, affect the weight to be attached to Mr. McNeil’s opinion.

Functional Assessment Biomechanical System (FAB) Deemed Inadmissible in Injury Claim

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court considering the admissibility of the “Functional Assessment Biomechanical System” (known as FAB for short) in a personal injury claim.
In today’s case (Forstved v. Penner) the Plaintiff was suing as a result of personal injuries.  In presenting her case she hired an occupational therapist to write a report summarizing her physical limitations and giving an estimate of her future care needs.  In preparing this report the occupational therapist used the FAB system.
Mr. Justice summarize the FAB System as follows:

[5] The development of the FAB started in 2004 and Mr. McNeil has been using the FAB results since 2006 or 2007 in the preparation and formulation of his opinions.

[6] The FAB in short is comprised of hardware, the most critical part being some 13 wireless inertial sensors that are attached to a subject or patient’s body while they undertake various physical tasks; and software, that translates the signals from the sensors into measurements of the movements of the body on a real-time basis. Embedded in the software are functions such as the analysis of the data as requested by the operator as the test subject is conducting the instructed activities. It also includes a timer function, graphing and other report templates.

[7] Mr. McNeil is present while the subject performs the tests and says that he observes the actions of the subject. He also states that the FAB is not a diagnostic tool but rather augments his findings. He says he applies standardized tests which are set out in his report and that the FAB system provides additional measures that would otherwise only be guessed at by an evaluator.

The Defence lawyer argued that the expert report should not be admitted into evidence because the FAB System was “novel as a science or technique“.  Mr. Justice Masuhara agreed that the report was not admissible as the FAB System does not meet the judicially required “threshold level of reliability“.

Specifically Mr. Justice Masuhara held as follows:

[12] As I have mentioned, the report itself reflects the measurements from the FAB. The report is lengthy, being 82 pages, again which I say is largely comprised of the information derived from the FAB.

[13] The report says that there are checks and balances within the tests when cross correlating and with cross correlating tests in order to establish the level of effort put forth by the individual. As I have said, he states that it is not a test protocol and that standard tests are used throughout the assessment and that motion capture system augments the evaluator’s observation and allows for accurate measurement, mobility and measurements of biomechanical forces that could otherwise not be performed by the evaluator and that tests are performed to identified the reliability of the individual’s pain reports including distraction tests and Waddell signs.

[14] On the other hand, the defence in following the factors in R. v. J.?L.J. points to the following.

[15] That the technique which includes both the hardware and the software has not been tested except by Biosign or someone under its direction. Mr. McNeil’s own words stated that the testing was still in the “beta phase” which I took to mean that it was not yet ready commercially. The software itself is proprietary and Mr. McNeil being an occupational therapist is not able to speak to the coding as he did not develop it, nor could he speak to the hardware but relied upon his own team of engineers who have developed these things. From that perspective there are some difficulties with respect to the ability to test and to query the software and the hardware embedded and integrated within the FAB.

[16] That the technique while Mr. McNeil indicated was under some form of peer review, nothing has been published and Mr. McNeil was not able to indicate when such a review or the results of such a review would be produced. He also agreed that the motion capture technique is a relatively new technique. Though I note that he stated it was not “cutting edge”.

[17] There are no published standards for the techniques nor is there any rate of error known though Mr. McNeil did say that the device had met CSA, Health Canada, FDA and FCC standards. However, on cross-examination it was revealed that these standards largely deal with safety issues with respect to the device being used upon a subject and could not be taken to speak to the accuracy or reliability of the FAB.

[18] In regard to the technique being generally accepted, Mr. McNeil is the only occupational therapist in British Columbia using the motion capture software. There is no consensus on any technology being the best for the type of work that is the subject of this ruling. No one has yet purchased his technology and the vast majority of occupational therapists do not use motion capture techniques.

[19] Complicating the entirety of the circumstances is the fact that Mr. McNeil is the inventor and a marketer of the FAB. He has a financial interest in the acceptance and success of the FAB. Mr. McNeil’s testimony revealed a lack of appreciation regarding the role of a court expert and the need for open and candid disclosure of a financial interest in the very tools that he refers to in validating or verifying the reliability of the information supporting his opinions. His view that such information was irrelevant was troubling. This problem with respect to his non-disclosure was also referred to by Madam Justice Allan recently in the Rizzolo v. Brett, 2009 BCSC 732 at para. 105. I wish to add that Mr. Mussio was not aware of these issues and that Mr. Chan for the defence only came upon Mr. McNeil’s testimony before Allan J. on the weekend before this trial started.

[20] In the circumstances, I am of the view that the results from the FAB do not meet the threshold level of reliability. As the subject report is comprised to a large degree with the data from the FAB, which creates an unwarranted perception of precision, and which is integrated into the recommendations I rule that the report is not admissible in its present form. Having said that, I think it would be in order for the court to receive submissions from Mr. Mussio and of course reply by Mr. Chan as to Mr. McNeil being called to provide evidence and his opinions based on his observations or some other form in which his testimony can be received by the court. That concludes my ruling.

BC Injury Claims, Expert Evidence and The Duty to the Court

One of the Rules regarding the conduct of expert witnesses in the BC Supreme Court is that they owe a duty to the court to be ‘independent’ and ‘unbiased’ in their opinions.  If experts fail to discharge this duty their evidence can be given little weight or even held inadmissible.
Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court demonstrating this principle of law.
In today’s case (Rizzolo v. Brett) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2005 motorcycle accident when a left turning driver proceeded in front of the Plaintiff in an intersection in Maple Ridge, BC.  The defendant was found fully liable for this collision (the case contains a good discussion of the duties of left turning motorists and is worth reviewing for anyone interested in this area of the law).
The Plaintiff suffered significant fractures of his tibia and fibula which required surgical intervention.  Damages of over $560,000 were awarded including $125,000 for non-pecuniary damages (pain and suffering) for the injuries which were summarized by Madam Justice Allan as follows:

[41] Mr. Rizzolo`s altered position, arising from the Accident caused by the defendant’s negligence, is characterized by continuing pain, changed mood, loss of ability to work effectively and happily, and a much-reduced capacity to engage in recreational sports.  He must take pain killers and anti-inflammatories although they upset his stomach, requiring him to take additional medication.

[42] At present, Mr. Rizzolo experiences constant pain in his left ankle, which is exacerbated by his work activities.  His left foot swells and he experiences occasional pain in his left knee.  He limps when he is tired or in severe pain.  He takes the following medication: Advil once or twice a week for pain management; Celebrex, an anti-inflammatory, daily; and amitriptylene, an antidepressant, twice a week to help him sleep.  He receives periodic cortisone injections from Dr. Dhawan.

[43] Mr. Rizzolo’s injuries are permanent and they affect his entire life – his job, his recreational and family life, and his sense of well-being.  I do not find that he exaggerated his symptoms and he is highly motivated to be as active as possible.

In advancing his claim the Plaintiff called evidence of an expert witness, an occupational therapist, who had conducted a functional capacity evaluation of the Plaintiff to assist the court in determining a fair award for cost of future care.  The expert employed a ‘unique motion capture system known as the Functional Assessment of Biomechanics System [FAB] to measure biomechanical forces.’  In cross examination evidence came out that this expert was ‘an inventor of FAB‘.  Having this fact revealed in cross examination (as opposed to being revealed up front) appaears to have caused the presiding judge to reject all the evidence of this expert.

In rejecting the evidence of this occupational therapist Madam Justice Allan summarized and applied the law of objectivity of expert witnesses as follows:

[104] In R. v. Mohan, [1994] 2 S.C.R. 9, the Court reiterated that expert witnesses have duties and responsibilities.  In particular, an expert witness is expected to provide an independent, unbiased opinion that is adequately researched and falls within his or her ambit of experience.

[105] I consider Mr. McNeil’s failure to disclose the fact that he is the principal of Biosyn and that he was an inventor of FAB to represent a shocking lack of candour.  As he has testified in the courts on numerous occasions, he is well aware that the duty of an expert is to assist the court with an independent and objective opinion on a particular issue.  To withhold such relevant information misleads the court and, as I have no choice but to reject all of his written and verbal evidence, constitutes a substantial waste of time.   It is impossible to parse out Mr. McNeil’s evidence as a qualified expert from that as an undisclosed salesman for Biosyn.

[106] I do not fault counsel for the plaintiff as I accept Mr. Kazimirski’s statement that he was unaware of Mr. McNeil’s association with Biosyn before Mr. Joudrey’s cross-examination.  While the plaintiff will be entitled to his costs in the result, he may not claim any costs relating to Mr. McNeil’s reports or attendance in court.  Counsel may address the issue of whether the defence is entitled to costs for two days of trial.

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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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