Tag: icbc jury trials

Another Rule 37B Case – Plaintiff Awarded Trial Costs Despite not Beating Defence Offer

(Please note the case discussed in this post was overturned on Appeal, you can click here for an updated post and click hear to read the BC Court of Appeal decision)
Reasons for judgement were released today dealing with costs consequences under Rule 37B.
Although Rule 37B has some flexibility to its outcomes, normally when a Plaintiff fails to beat a defence formal settlement offer after trial the Plaintiff is deprived of his/her costs and the Defendant is awarded theirs.  Today’s case had a result which departs from this norm.
In today’s case (Gehlen v. Rana) the Plaintiff was injured when she was a passenger involved in a rear-end car crash.  The Defendant admitted fault for the crash but denied liability to the Plaintiff claiming that the Plaintiff “was not present in the vehicle at the time of the accident“.  The Defendant made a formal offer to settle the Plaintiff’s claim for $22,000 plus disbursements.  The Plaintiff rejected this offer and went to trial.  After trial the Jury awarded the Plaintiff total damages of just over $13,000.
The Plaintiff brought a motion for her costs and the Defendant brought a counter motion for their costs from the time of the offer onward.  Mr. Justice Leask held that the Plaintiff should be awarded her full costs, even for steps taken after the formal settlement offer despite not beating the offer.  His reasoning was as follows:

[18]         As to s-s. (d), I consider two other factors to be relevant.  First, the defendant’s choice of trial by jury, which considerably increases the costs.  Second, the manner in which the defence was conducted – to accuse the plaintiff and her family of fraud – that accusation having been rejected by the jury.

[19]         Turning last to s-s. (a) – the most important question – whether the offer was one that ought reasonably to have been accepted.  On this issue, I agree with Goepel J.’s judgment in A.E. v. D.W.J., 2009 BCSC 505, at paragraph 55:

[55]      … this analysis is not one to be done based on hindsight once the final result is known.  The reasonableness of the plaintiff’s decision not to accept the offer to settle must be assessed without reference to the court’s decision.

[20]         I am satisfied that the defendant’s denial of liability, and the allegations of fraud that underlay that denial, dominated the plaintiff’s thinking at the time the offer to settle was made and, indeed, throughout the entire pre-trial period.  Knowing that her claim was not fraudulent and knowing the persuasive evidence she had to rebut the allegation of fraud, the plaintiff thought she had a good answer to the defendant’s “low ball” offer to settle.  With hindsight, it is obvious that her counsel did not anticipate the defendant’s vigorous attack on her credibility including the detailed attack on her employment resumé and the emphasis on her second accident.  Her counsel’s trial preparation did not include preparing her or her witnesses for these issues.  However, analyzing the plaintiff’s decision not to accept the defendant’s offer to settle without the benefit of hindsight, I am satisfied that it was not an offer that ought reasonably to have been accepted.

[21]         Analyzing all the Rule 37B(6) factors, I am satisfied that the plaintiff is entitled to a judgment under Rule 37B(5)(c) and is entitled “in respect of all … of the steps taken in the proceeding after the date of delivery … of the offer to settle, costs to which the party would have been entitled had the offer not been made” (emphasis added).

I turn now to the plaintiff’s submission for 1.5 times Scale B costs because of the allegation of fraud made by the defendant and the manner in which those allegations were pursued at trial.  Having taken that factor into account in my analysis of Rule 37B(6), I believe it would represent a form of “double counting” to award increased costs for this factor.  My conclusion is that the plaintiff is entitled to her costs and reasonable disbursements of the entire proceeding on Scale B.

I Want a Jury Trial, Wait a Minute, No I Don't

Reasons for judgement were transcribed yesterday and released on the BC Court’s website dealing with an interesting issue, specifically can a party who elected trial by jury change their mind once the trial starts.
In this case (Chapelski v. Bhatt) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2004 BC Car Crash.  In the course of the lawsuit the defence lawyer filed a Jury Notice and paid the Jury Fees.  On the first day of Trial the Jury was empaneled and the Plaintiff’s lawyer made his opening statement.  The next day the Defence Lawyer advised the Court that he intended to proceed with the trial without the Jury.
Mr. Justice Hinkson ruled that once the Jury was empanelled it was too late for the Defendant to re-elect the mode of trial to that of Judge alone and that the Defendant would have to continue to pay the Jury Fees for the duration of the trial.
Mr. Justice Hinkson’s reasoning was set out in paragraphs 17-20 which I reproduce below:

[17] The reference by Williams J. to Rule 39(26) is significant.  Based upon his reasoning, a party who has served a Notice Requiring Trial by Jury can elect not to proceed with that mode of trial at least until the required jury fees are paid.  But that reasoning does not address a point in time past the point of payment of the required fees.  The reasoning implies that once the point has been passed “the issue of whether a trial is going to be heard by a jury would be conclusively settled”.

[18] I do not take the reference by Williams J., to “late in the day”, to extend past the empanelment of the jury nor the commencement of trial, nor do I accept that it should.  Once empanelled, a civil jury are the triers of fact.

[19] I conclude that absent misconduct of a party, a witness, or a juror once a civil trial has begun without the consent of the opposing party, it is not open to a party who has filed a Notice Requiring Trial by Jury pay the required fees pursuant thereto and participate in the selection of the jury to opt out thereafter for trial by judge alone.

[20] To permit such a re-election smacks a forum shopping and cannot be permitted.  I need not and I do not decide if a jury on a civil trial can be discharged absent misconduct of a party, a witness, or a juror once a civil trial has begun even with the consent of all parties.

Striking a Jury and Timing in a BC Personal Injury Lawsuit

When personal injury claims, including ICBC claims, are prosecuted in the BC Supreme Court either side has the right to elect trial by jury.  (The exception to this rule is when the claim is prosecuted under BC’s fast track Rules 66 or 68).
For a party to elect trial by Jury they simply need to give notice in accordance with Rule 39(26).
If an opposing party wishes to challenge the election for a jury trial they can oppose it pursuant to Rule 39(27) which holds in part that:

(27) Except in cases of defamation, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution, a party to whom a notice under subrule (26) has been delivered may apply

(a)  within 7 days for an order that the trial or part of it be heard by the court without a jury on the ground that

(i)  the issues require prolonged examination of documents or accounts or a scientific or local investigation which cannot be made conveniently with a jury, or

(ii)  the issues are of an intricate or complex character […]

What if a party opposes trial by jury but fails to challenge the jury election within the 7 day limitation period set out in Rule 39(27)?  Are they out of luck?  Not necessarily and reasons for judgment were released yesterday by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, dealing with this are of the law.

In yesterday’s case (Gulamani v. Chandra) the Plaintiff was involved in 2 motor vehicle accidents 10 years apart.  One of the Defendant’s chose to have the case heard by judge and jury.  The Jury notice was filed in 2003.  The Plaintiff brought an application to dismiss the jury notice years after it was filed.

One way to challenge a jury notice outside of the 7 days required by Rule 39(27) is to do so at a pre-trial conference.  This is so because s. 35(4)(a) of the current Supreme Court Rules permits a judge or a master at a pre-trial conference to order that a “trial…be heard by the court without a jury, on any of the grounds set ouyt in Rule 39(27)“.  Yesterday’s case, however, was not heard at a pre-trial conference and this subrule did not assist the Plaintiff.

Rule 3(2) was of assistance which states that:

The court may extend or shorten any period of time provided for in these rules or in an order of the court, notwithstanding that the application for the extension or the order granting the extension is made after the period of time has expired.

In yesterday’s case Madam Justice Arnold-Bailey held it was appropriate to extend the time permitted to challenge the Jury Notice under Rule 3(2) and ultimately ordered that the trial proceed by judge alone.  (the judgement is worth reviewing in full for anyone interested in the factors courts consider when considering whether the trial will require a ‘prolonged examination’ or is too “intricate or complex” to be tried by a jury).  In so ordering the Court summarized and applied the law with respect to late jury strike applications as follows:

[19] In Reischer v. Love & ICBC, 2005 BCSC 1352, the court was faced with similar issues in relation to an application to strike a jury notice in the context of two actions that were going to be heard together.  Well after the original jury notice for the first action was filed, but shortly after the court set a new trial for both actions to be heard together, the plaintiff brought an application to have the jury notice struck.  Drost J. first cited the settled law, explaining that the mode of trial selected for the first action is what determines the mode of trial for the several actions to be heard together.  From this principle flows the further settled point that it is the original jury notice that must be considered with regard to Rule 39(27).  In that case, as well as the case at bar, the seven day time limit had clearly passed.

[20] Drost J. then addressed Rule 35(4)(a) and held that since the application occurred outside the scope of a pre-trial conference, he could not rely upon that section to strike the jury notice either.  These circumstances also parallel the case at bar.

[21] Finally, Drost J. turned to the general judicial discretion to extend time limits afforded in Rule 3(2) and stated (at paras. 37-38) that there are two questions to consider in the circumstances: 1) whether, at an early stage of the proceedings, the plaintiff formed an intention to strike the jury notice, and 2) whether there has been such a change in circumstances as to materially alter the character of the proceedings and render them clearly inappropriate for a trial by judge and jury.  The court answered both questions in the negative, finding in particular that all of the circumstances of the combined actions were known to the plaintiff even when the initial jury notice was filed.

[22] Despite this, the court in Reischer still allowed the time extension for the application to strike the jury notice under Rule 3(2) by relying on the authority of Harder v. Nikolov, [2001] B.C.J. No. 1528 (S.C.), where the court held at para. 17 that lack of timeliness does not necessarily preclude an application to strike a jury notice.  Rather, the time restrictions set out in Rule 39(27) may be overcome if consideration of trial fairness so requires.  In Reischer, at para. 41, Drost J. stated that but for the application of this principle from Harder, the court would have dismissed the plaintiff’s application.

[23] With these decisions in mind, I note firstly that unlike the plaintiff in Reischer, the plaintiff in this matter could not have been aware of all the circumstances in relation to the combined actions dealing with her motor vehicle accidents at the time the original jury notice was filed.  Whereas the accidents in Reischer occurred a relatively short time apart, the accidents in this case occurred a decade apart and the court proceedings in relation to the first accident were essentially at the point of trial before the plaintiff could have possibly been aware of the circumstances arising from the second accident.  I also note that the plaintiff advised of her intention to strike the jury notice within five days of the Court adjourning the first trial and filed her notice of application to strike the jury notice before the Court reset the trial of the two actions.

[24] As to the second question set out in Reischer, and unlike the court’s finding in that case, I do find that a significant change in circumstances has occurred here.  The trial will now be significantly longer and will involve complex legal issues related to causation, including the defence of novus actus, in the context of two accidents that occurred a decade apart.  I find that this is a sufficient change to the character of the proceedings such that a consideration, at least, of the plaintiff’s application to strike the jury notice is necessary and just.

[25] Alternatively, like the court in Reischer, I would in any event also apply Harder and find that the lack of timeliness in the plaintiff’s application is overcome by considerations of trial fairness.

[26] In short, I do not give effect to the Chandra and Doorandish defendants’ initial objections to this application, and I will now turn to consider its merits.

More on Car Accident Claims, Complexity and Jury Trials

When car accident cases are prosecuted in the usual course (not using Rule 66 or 68) in the BC Supreme Court either side can elect to have trial by jury.
In certain circumstances, however, a jury trial is inappropriate and a court and strike a jury notice.  One of the reasons a court can strike a jury notice is complexity.  Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Victoria Registry, dealing with this issue.
In today’s case (McIntosh v. Carr) the Plaintiff was involved in 3 car accidents and the parties agreed that all 3 cases were to be heard at the same time.  Fault was not at issue in any of the cases but the alleged injuries were serious and included ‘pain and suffering, shock, brain injury, concussion, physical injuries to the head, neck, back, shoulders and knee, headaches, cuts, loss of sensation in the scalp, depression, anxiety, insomnia, sleep disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder‘.  The case was expected to be complex, take 25 days to hear with over 30 witnesses including 17 professionals testifying.
The Defendants elected trial by Jury.  The Plaintiff’s lawyer brought a motion to dismiss the jury notice claiming that it was too complex.  Mr. Justice Macaulay of the BC Supreme Court granted the Plaintiff”s motion and in doing so summarized and applied the area of the law as follows:

[6]           A 25 day trial requires a significant commitment by jurors. Experience tells us that juries are capable of understanding the expert medical evidence typically heard in cases involving an alleged brain injury but experience also indicates that juries have more difficulty retaining that understanding throughout longer trials. This affects my consideration whether it is convenient for a jury to undertake the medical, or “scientific” investigation required in this case.

[7]           A 25 day trial involving intricate medical, psychological and behavioural issues involving a young person who was not yet fully developed at the material time, presents such a risk. That risk is compounded by a number of complications that the evidence must address. Taken together, these factors also render the issues too complex for a jury.

[8]           It is now about ten years post-accidents. Over that period, the plaintiff has undergone extensive treatment and a variety of testing including cognitive or psychological testing. The outcome of testing as it relates to the diagnosis or proof otherwise of the alleged brain injury is complicated by factors such as the identification and effect of a pre-existing learning disability as well as other social, scholastic and family stressors already present in the plaintiff’s life before the accidents. There are live issues as to whether these factors explain or at least materially contributed to the plaintiff’s ongoing difficulties. The factors also impact the application of any expert evidence respecting future pecuniary losses.

[9]           The defendants contend that the evidence is not too complicated for a jury. They point out that the court refused to strike the jury notice in Forde v. Interior Health Authority (c.o.b. Royal Inland Hospital), 2009 BCSC 254, a medical negligence claim involving 19 experts and 26 detailed expert reports and summaries of evidence. The medical evidence covered some of the same areas as in the case at bar as well as others, including neurosurgery, radiology, neuroradiology and kinesiology. The trial in that case was scheduled for 15 days. In another case, Furukawa v. Allan, 2007 BCSC 283, the court also declined to strike the jury notice. The plaintiff claimed a brain injury in that case and the trial, as here, was scheduled for 25 days.

[10]        Each case is necessarily fact dependent but the results in Forde and Furukawa may be taken as confirmation that factors such as the length of trial, the extensive number of medical experts and complex medical issues do not automatically remove the right of a party to a trial with a jury.

[11]        For convenience, Rule 39(27) in its entirety reads:

Court may refuse jury trial

(27)      Except in cases of defamation, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution, a party to whom a notice under subrule (26) has been delivered may apply

(a)        within 7 days for an order that the trial or part of it be heard by the court without a jury on the ground that

(i)         the issues require prolonged examination of documents or accounts or a scientific or local investigation which cannot be made conveniently with a jury, or

(ii)        the issues are of an intricate or complex character, or

(b)        at any time for an order that the trial be heard by the court without a jury on the ground that it relates to one of the matters referred to in subrule (25).

[12]        In Furukawa, commencing at para. 10, Dorgan J. summarized the authorities respecting the analysis required under the rule. The court must first determine, as a question of fact, whether the matters at issue at trial will require either a prolonged examination of documents or accounts or a scientific or local investigation. If either answer is yes, the court must consider whether a jury can conveniently make the examination or investigation. Convenience in this sense refers to the ability of the jury to both understand the evidence and retain that understanding throughout the trial. The length of trial may be a factor, albeit not determinative, in addressing the issue of convenience. The court also has discretion to strike the jury notice if the issues are too intricate or complex.

[13]        It is likely in the present case that the plaintiff’s entire life, at least from the start of school through to the time of trial, a period of about 20 years, will be subjected to microscopic expert analysis and comment. That will require the trier of fact to absorb and retain a vast amount of information, some of which is likely to be, at least, nuanced if not complex, with a view to later deciding the issues.

[14]        I am persuaded that this is not an appropriate case for a jury. It would not be convenient, as defined by the authorities, for a jury to undertake the scientific examination required in this case. In any event, the issues are too intricate given their intertwined nature and, in some instances, likely too complex as well.

BC Jury Discharched for Bringing Wikipedia Article to Court During ICBC Trial

Everything that seemingly could go wrong in an ICBC Jury Trial went wrong when an injured Plaintiff brought her claim to court in early May 2009 (Sharamandari v. Ahmadi).  ICBC, the insurer on the case, insisted on a jury trial.  Certain concerns about the jurors behaviour came to the trial judge’s attention which ultimately caused him to discharge the Jury.
One of the many interesting developments (click here to read Vancouver Reporter Ian Mulgrew’s recent story shedding light on some of the other notable developments) in this trial was the jury’s reference to outside legal research in the course of the trial.
During the case mention was made of the legal principle volenti non fit injuria.  One of the jurors took it upon himself to research this via wikipedia and apparently brought this outside legal research back into the jury room.  This of course was improper and contradicted the presiding judges instructions as it had not yet been determined whether this principle of law was to be considered by this jury (and if volenti was to go to the jury Wikipedia fails to explain how this principle of law has developed in British Columbia car crash cases).
Upon learning of this transgression the following exchange took place between the trial judge and the juror:
THE COURT Its come to my attention that you may have brought outside legal research into the jury room what part of my instructions telling you not to do that did you think that you could do it
JUROR  I didnt think this was this is a term that I I was looking for a definition of the term
THE COURT Yes And isnt that within the purview of outside or doesnt that come within the definition of doing outside research
JUROR  I didnt think so at the time
THE COURT I see And what were your grounds for not thinking so
JUROR I dont have an answer for that question
THE COURT okay why did you think if it was research for your benefit that you thought it was appropriate to bring it into the jury room and start to discuss it
JUROR  I thought that everybody would want to know because it was a definition
THE COURT A definition of a legal term
JUROR well yes yes and no It was it was from wikipedia It was just like its not a legal its not something that I go to for legal terms Its just something that was on the internet
Ultimately the judge discharged the jury for this and other transgressions.  In discharging the jury Mr. Justice Burnyeat made the following comments which give insight into just how much went wrong in this ICBC Jury Trial:
THE COURT I have been a judge for 13 years and what Im about to say I havent had to say before so I say it with considerable regret.
You were told by me not to do outside research and yet one of you has decided to ignore that and bring a wikipedia article which has absolutely no relevancy in Canada or in the jury deliberations and may well be based on us cases which are of no relevance in Canada and on an issue which may or may not go to you as jurors.
You were told not to consider the evidence until all evidence was before you and you have decided to start in anyway.
You were told to put the question of whether awards do or do not result in higher insurance premiums out of your minds and yet someone has decided to mention that it probably and speculate that it probably results in higher  insurance premiums for all of us if in fact an award is made by you and the amount of award.
You  were told to deal with the evidence alone and not views that you might have that would interfere with that And I am advised that comments were made about the heritage of the party and some of the  witnesses.
You were told to weigh the evidence of all experts equally but assume that those who testify for one party are being paid for their opinions as hired guns and not for opinions that are professionally arrived.  You were told to each consider all of the evidence but then divide up the evidence so that not everyone will necessarily look at everything thats before them. You were told that it may be necessary to sit  this week and next but ignored that advice I have  given in order that you can save time by adopting  a procedure which is totally inappropriate.
You  were told to spend Friday afternoon reviewing the  evidence but decide that your own schedules are more important than my instructions.
You have failed collectively and in some cases individually to discharge your duties as jurors and I have no alternative but to discharge you as a jury . Your actions have resulted in considerable hardship to both the plaintiff and to ICBC and the defendant.  As a result an answer  will not be available to them.  All parties must have a consideration of matters delayed for what may be a further six to 12 months.
The cost of  having expert witnesses appear for the plaintiff will be thrown away The cost of having to cancel the appearances of expert witnesses who would be appearing for ICBC will be considerable All witnesses will have to go through the anxiety of appearing in court a second time And you have caused a blow to the system a blow to the parties from which there can be no particular recovery You are discharged as a jury and you can now leave and I will not thank you for your attendance

Jury Trials and Your ICBC Injury Claim

Personal Injury Trials carry a certain element of risk with them.  Typically there are 2 competing medical theories with respect to the extent of injury and connection to trauma.  Additionally there is often disagreement as the value of damages for these injuries by the lawyers involved regardless of which sides medical evidence is accepted.  Furthermore a certain injury can be valued differently by different judges but varying results may be acceptable provided the compensation rests within the conventional range of damages for similar injuries.  All of this adds to the risk of trial and the difficulty of attaching a specific value to any given ICBC claim for pain and suffering.
Injuries can best be valued in ranges and the best one can do to determine the likely range of an ICBC pain and suffering claim is to look to previous court judgements for guidance.   Judges have to give reasons for their verdict, summarize the evidence they accept and award a specific figure for non-pecuniary loss.  If you look up enough similar cases you may be able to come up with a range of potential damages for pain and suffering for categories of injuries.  (click here for a previous discussion of some of the factors that go into valuing pain and suffering in BC tort claims)
Jury trials carry an additional element of risk in BC Personal Injury Claims.   One of the main reasons why jury trials are less predictable than judge alone trials is because jurors are not permitted to be given a range of damages for non-pecuniary loss by the lawyers arguing the case.  The BC Court of Appeal imposed this restriction on lawyers and this remains the law in BC.
In your typical ICBC claim that heads to trial with a jury 8 members of the public with little or no experience attaching a dollar figure to pain and suffering will be asked to value a Plaintiff’s injury.  These 8 members of the public will not be given guidance from the Court or from the lawyers involved as to what an appropriate range of damages is.  This may sound strange but its true.  Without referencing precedent its easy to understand how different juries can have wild swings in the amount of money they award a plaintiff for pain and suffering in an ICBC injury claim.
Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court illustrating the type of low award juries can award in ICBC Claims.
In today’s case (Cairns v. Gill) the Plaintiff sued for damages as a result of a 2005 BC Car Crash.  Madam Justice Gill, the presiding trial judge, summarized the evidence led by the Plaintiff at trial as follows:

[3]           The injuries sustained by the plaintiff were, in a relative sense, of a minor nature.  Ms. Cairns testified that her neck was sore immediately after the accident and she developed a headache.  By the next day, she also had pain in her shoulders.  She went to a drop-in clinic and was given a referral to massage therapy, but she did not attend because such therapy had not assisted in the past.  Some time after the accident, she began to feel pain in her low back.  It was Ms. Cairns’ evidence that her headaches lasted for several months and her neck and shoulder pain persisted for approximately one year.  Her low back pain resolved approximately a year and a half after the accident.  As to the frequency of her pain over the periods in question, she testified that she had pain on a daily basis for one or two weeks and thereafter, it came and went.

[4]           Ms. Cairns testified that her injuries precluded her from engaging in certain activities such as walking, running and attending aqua fit classes and affected her ability to lift and carry.  Her inability to engage in pre-accident activities also led to weight gain.  At the time of the accident she was employed at The Brick and was attending university.  It was her evidence that she missed two days from work, one immediately after the accident and the second, some time later. 

 In today’s case the jury awarded a mere $500 for the Plaintiff’s pain and suffering.  Granted it is unknown whether the jury accepted or rejected the Plaintiff’s evidence of injury, however, assuming it was accepted one would be hard pressed to find a judgement this low by a BC Supreme Court judge for similar injuries.

Perhaps if the jury was given a range of damages for similar injuries the Plaintiff would have received a better result.  Perhaps if the jurors knew what was typically awarded for such injuries their award would have been in the more conventional range.   Maybe none of this would have made a difference in the Plaintiff’s case but it just seems to make good sense to let juries have the same information judges have when it comes to valuing pain and suffering.  What are your thoughts?

ICBC Injury Claims, Video Surveillance and Mistrials

Reasons for judgment were released today by the BC Supreme Court ordering a mistrial following a trial by jury.
In today’s case (Oberreiter v. Akmali) the Plaintiff sued for injuries after she was struck by a vehicle while riding her bicycle in North Vancouver in 2004.  Fault was not at issue, rather the trial focused solely on quantum of damages (value of the ICBC Injury Claim).  Following trial the jury awarded the Plaintiff approximately $118,000 in damages.  Prior to having the judgement entered the Plaintiff applied for a mistrial.  
The key facts giving rise to the application for a mistrial are as follows:

              After the trial was completed and the jury had been discharged, the plaintiff’s counsel discovered that the DVD contained approximately ten minutes of video which had not been shown to the jury.  Through an unintentional error in editing, the DVD which was marked as an exhibit contained images which had not been shown to the jury; had not been seen by counsel or myself; and had not been admitted into evidence. 

[7]                The issue is whether the plaintiff is entitled to a mistrial because material not admitted into evidence was inadvertently included in an exhibit available to they jury during its deliberations.

In granting the mistrial, Mr. Justice Kelleher of the BC Supreme Court gave the following reasons:

 

[10]            Where an irregularity such as the inadvertent inclusion of non-admitted material in exhibits left with the jury occurs, it is usually identified during the course of the trial.  When that occurs, the court must consider all possible actions to remedy potential prejudice before ordering a mistrial.  It may be that such an irregularity could be corrected with an instruction to the jury: seeGemmell v. Reddicopp, 2005 BCCA 628, 48 B.C.L.R. (4th) 349.

[11]            Where the irregularity cannot be cured and the trial judge is satisfied that it may have a prejudicial effect impacting the result of the trial, a mistrial is the appropriate remedy: see de Araujo v. Read, 2004 BCCA 267, 29 B.C.L.R. (4th) 84.  In that case, Mr. Justice Thackray observed at para. 68:  “…a new trial may be ordered where trial irregularities may have influenced the verdict or award of the jury… “.

[12]            Here, of course, there was no opportunity to correct the irregularity.  Neither of the parties was aware of the inadvertent inclusion of material not admitted as evidence in the exhibit until the trial had ended and the jury had been discharged. 

[13]            It may be that the irregularity and any resulting prejudice could have been corrected easily if it had been noticed before the jury’s deliberations had come to an end.  Perhaps the jury could have been instructed not to have regard to the footage. 

[14]            It is not known what the jury viewed.  What is certain is that the jury was provided with material relevant to the case that was not evidence and was not led in court.  This raises concerns about trial fairness and potential prejudice to the plaintiff.  An important factual issue in the trial was the extent and severity of the plaintiff’s injuries.  Thus, the video surveillance footage is highly relevant and potentially prejudicial.

[15]            Notwithstanding the general principles of respect for jury secrecy, there is jurisdiction to make some inquiries of a jury: see R. v. Pan, 2001 SCC 42, [2001], 2 S.C.R. 344.  However, I am not persuaded that asking the foreperson to appear in court and to advise the court whether the jury viewed the DVD is appropriate.  Many weeks have passed since the trial.  Recall of a juror for these purposes is impractical and of questionable reliability.

[16]            It is clear that a trial judge has the power to order a mistrial if the judge concludes there is no other option to remedy an irregularity.  After the jury has been discharged, I am satisfied there is nothing further that can be done by the court.

[17]            Both parties are entitled to have the jury decide the case solely on the evidence properly admitted during the trial.  That is fundamental to a fair trial.  It is my duty as a trial judge to ensure that this is safeguarded.  Here, it is accepted by both parties that there was extraneous material made available to the jury that was not evidence admitted during the trial.  This material is relevant to the issues in the trial and is potentially prejudicial.  Since this irregularity cannot be corrected I conclude it would be unjust and unfair to let the verdict stand. 

[18]            A mistrial is appropriate where necessary to ensure that justice is done between the parties: see de Araujo v. Read.  The plaintiff’s application for a mistrial is allowed.

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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.

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