Tag: ICBC v. Titanich

More on ICBC Injury Claims and the "Implied Undertaking of Confidentiality"


As I’ve previously written, when a lawsuit for damages is brought in the BC Supreme Court, the parties are required to make disclosure of certain relevant documents even if such disclosure is harmful to their interests.
In order to strike a balance between fulsome disclosure and privacy rights, the Courts have developed a law known as the “implied undertaking of confidentiality” which prohibits a party who receives this forced disclosure from making use of the documents/information outside of the lawsuit without consent of the other parties or a court order.  Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Kelowna Registry, dealing with this area of the law.
In today’s case (ICBC v. Titanich) the Defendant was involved in a motor vehicle accident and apparently injured another party named Swan.  Swan sued the Defendant.  ICBC apparently held that the Defendant was in breach of his policy of insurance and defended the lawsuit as a ‘statutory third party‘.  ICBC obtained a Court Order for disclosure of the RCMP records relating to the accident and then settled the Plaintiff’s personal injury lawsuit for some $346,000.  ICBC then sued the Defendant to recover the $346,000 on the basis that they alleged he was in breach of his insurance.
ICBC apparently relied on some of the information obtained in the RCMP files to base their decision to pursue the Defendant for repayment of the $346,000.  The Defendant brought a motion to dismiss the lawsuit arguing that ICBC “breached its implied undertaking of confidentiality in relation to the documents it obtained from the RCMP“:.
The Court ultimately dismissed the motion holding that while ICBC did indeed breach their implied undertaking, no remedy was necessary since ICBC would be granted judicial permission to use the RCMP records in the current lawsuit had they brought a motion seeking such an order.  In reaching this conclusion Mr. Justice Barrow summarized and applied the law of the “implied undertaking” as follows:

[13]        In Juman v. Doucette, [2008] 1 S.C.R. 157, 2008 SCC 8, Binnie J. addressed the scope of the implied undertaking and its underlying rationale. At para. 4, he wrote:

[4]        Thus the rule is that both documentary and oral information obtained on discovery, including information thought by one of the parties to disclose some sort of criminal conduct, is subject to the implied undertaking. It is not to be used by the other parties except for the purpose of that litigation, unless and until the scope of the undertaking is varied by a court order or other judicial order or a situation of immediate and serious danger emerges.

[Emphasis in the original]

[14]        The rationale for the rule is, in part, to promote complete and candid oral and documentary discovery which, in turn, advances the orderly and effective administration of justice. It does that by providing the litigant making discovery with some confidence that the material produced will be used only for the purpose of securing justice in that proceeding.

[15]        Given this rationale, it is worthy of note that the discovery in issue in the matter at hand did not emanate from a party to the litigation. It does not consist of either oral or documentary discovery produced by Mr. Spinks. It is, rather, information gathered by the police in a process entirely independent of this litigation. I note this not because it necessarily follows that documents produced by third parties are not subject to the implied undertaking but rather because it is a factor that may be taken into account in determining whether a remedy ought to be granted…

[17]        The next issue is whether the plaintiff has used the discovery. The “use” that the plaintiff has made of the information is limited to listing those documents in a list of documents. That constitutes “use” within the meaning of the rule (Chonn v. DCFS Canada Corp. dba Mercedez-Benz Credit Canada, 2009 BCSC 1474 at paras. 47?52).

[18]        Assuming that the undertaking extends to documents produced by third parties to earlier litigation but relating to the conduct or affairs of a party to that litigation, I am satisfied that the plaintiff breached the implied undertaking.

[19]        In Juman, Binnie J. wrote this about the range of available remedies for breach of the implied undertaking:

[29]      Breach of the undertaking may be remedied by a variety of means including a stay or dismissal of the proceeding, or striking a defence, or, in the absence of a less drastic remedy, contempt proceedings for breach of the undertaking owed to the court…

Further, it may be that the breach can be remedied by precluding the party in breach from using the evidence in question. That was the remedy applied in Edgeworth Construction Ltd. v. Thurber Consultants Ltd., 2000 BCCA 453, 78 B.C.L.R. (3d) 200.

[20]        Another possible remedy, and the one sought in Chonn is removal of counsel of record for the party in breach…Voith J. concluded that the defendant was in breach of the implied undertaking but declined to grant a remedy. In doing so, he made four points. First, he noted that the documents were relevant. Second, he observed that had the defendant applied to obtain the court’s leave to make use of the documents, leave would have been granted. Third, he noted that although counsel ought to have made an application, his error was not, in all the circumstances, serious. Finally, and largely as a result of the above, there was no prejudice to the plaintiff. As a result, he ordered that the plaintiff produce the documents and that the defendants were at liberty to use them.

[21]        The same four observations apply in the case at bar. The documents are relevant. The outcome of an application to be relieved of the implied undertaking, had it been made, is predictable. Binnie J. commented on the manner in which a court’s discretion might be exercised when faced with such an application. At para. 35, he wrote:

[35]      The case law provides some guidance to the exercise of the court’s discretion. For example, where discovery material in one action is sought to be used in another action with the same or similar parties and the same or similar issues, the prejudice to the examinee is virtually non-existent and leave will generally be granted…

The example posited is this case. Next counsel’s conduct in this case is, if anything, less serious than that in Chonn. As in Chonn, plaintiff’s counsel in the present case raised the issue of the implied undertaking in his first conversation with Mr. Titanich’s lawyer. In doing so, he noted that he was of the view that he required the consent of the plaintiff in the previous action before disclosing the documents. He did not suggest that he needed Mr. Titanich’s consent presumably because Mr. Titanich was not a party of record in the earlier action. Mr. Titanich’s counsel did not suggest otherwise. She simply asked that the documents be forwarded to her. The understanding that Mr. Spinks had from the conversation with Ms. Roy was that they would each list the documents and that all he needed to do was obtain the consent of the plaintiff in the previous action. He obtained that consent and listed the documents.

[22]        Although for the reasons indicated, I think Mr. Spinks was required to obtain the consent of Mr. Titanich, in concluding otherwise, he was not acting in a cavalier manner but was rather proceeding carefully and on the basis of an analysis that appeared to have been shared Mr. Titanich’s own lawyer.

[23]        In all of these circumstances, there is, in my judgment, no need for any remedy.

While ICBC was not penalized for breaching the implied undertaking this case serves as a reminder that lawyers must respect the limits the law imposes on the use of documents which come within their possession through the compelled disclosure of the BC Rules of Court.  Failing to heed these restrictions can result in severe consequences as outlined in today’s case including removal from the case, exclusion of evidence or even dismissal of a lawsuit or a defence

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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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