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Tag: MacEachern v. Rennie

$5.2 Million Dollar Assessment For Cost of Future Care for Cyclist Struck by Tractor-Trailer

In what is one of the biggest personal injury trial awards in Canadian History, reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, assessing losses and damages of over $5.5 million dollars as a result of a BC motor vehicle collision.
In today’s case (MacEachern v. Rennie) the Plaintiff suffered a “severe brain injury when her head struck a passing tractor-trailer…in Surrey, BC.  She was 27 years old at the time. “.  The court found that as a result of her serious injuries “she will now require care for the rest of her life. ”
The trial was hotly contested and went on for many months starting back in March of 2009 (You can click here to read my archived posts documenting some of the contested interlocutory trial applications) Ultimately the driver of the tractor trailer was found 80% responsible for the crash for not keeping a proper lookout.  The Plaintiff herself was found 20% at fault for “making the careless decision to proceed (around a pickup truck) when she did, instead of waiting for traffic to clear“.
Given the Plaintiff’s catastrophic injuries she was found to require care for the rest of her life.   $5,275,000 was awarded to take care of these expenses.  The Plaintiff was also awarded the maximum Canadian law allows for negligently caused personal injuries for non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life).
The parties to the lawsuit agreed that this upper limit was an appropriate award.  In reaching this assessment Mr. Justice Ehrcke made the following comments:

[673] Following the accident, the plaintiff had a Glasgow Coma Score of 3. She was intubated and taken by ambulance to Royal Columbian Hospital, where she required emergency surgery upon admission. Dr. Lee, a neurosurgeon, performed a craniotomy to treat her depressed skull fracture and inserted a monitor for her intracranial pressure.

[674] Ms. MacEachern remained unconscious for weeks. She underwent further surgeries. When she eventually opened her eyes, she still did not recognize her family for months. Her coma slowly lifted, but she became severely agitated as a result of her brain injury.

[675] On June 20, 2006, she was transferred to the specialized Neuropsychiatric Program at UBC Hospital for three months, where she received one-on-one care, 24 hours per day. Through the care she received and through adjustments in her medications, she became stabilized and her behaviour dramatically improved. On September 15, 2006, she was discharged back to Royal Columbian Hospital, with a primary diagnosis of Disinhibited Frontal Lobe Syndrome. Although she remained severely disabled, she was now mobile and was able to speak and communicate.

[676] At Royal Columbian Hospital, her behaviour again deteriorated, and at times she required restraints and had to be locked in a padded room.

[677] In January 2007, Ms. MacEachern was transferred to Bear Creek Lodge. The upstairs part of this facility caters to geriatric patients, while the downstairs unit is a locked ward for persons with brain injuries. Ms. MacEachern currently lives there with 15-16 other persons ranging in age from 20-60 years. She has her own room. This facility has provided her with security, medications, and the basic necessities of life, but all parties are in agreement that Bear Creek Lodge is not suitable as a permanent placement for Ms. MacEachern.

[678] To summarize:  as a result of the accident, the plaintiff suffered a depressed and comminuted skull fracture of the right front and parietal bones, shear hemorrhages from diffuse axonal injury, and focal hemorrhage to the left frontal and left temporal lobes of her brain. These injuries will have profound implications for the rest of her life. She has little short-term memory, and her behaviour is disinhibited. Mentally and socially, she presents much like a young child, yet in a mature woman’s body. She clearly will require a significant level of care for the rest of her life. She will never be able to work or earn a living….

[680] As mentioned above, in three 1978 cases (the “Trilogy”), Thornton v. School District No. 57 (Prince George) et al., [1978] 2 S.C.R. 267, Andrews v. Grand & Toy Alberta Ltd., [1978] 2 S.C.R. 229, and Arnold v. Teno, [1978] 2 S.C.R. 287, the Supreme Court of Canada set a rough upper limit of $100,000 for non-pecuniary damages in cases of catastrophic injury.

[681] All parties in the present case agree that the plaintiff suffered the kind of catastrophic injury that should attract the rough upper limit set by the Supreme Court of Canada, adjusted for inflation. The evidence of Mr. Carson is that the present value of the rough upper limit, as of the beginning of this trial, is $324,800.

[682] There shall be an award for non-pecuniary damages in that amount.

Can You Call a Witness After You Close Your Case?

The answer is yes and reasons for judgement were published today on the BC Supreme Court website discussing this area of the law.
In today’s case (MacEachern v. Rennie) the plaintiff suffered a severe brain injury when her head came into contact with a tractor trailer unit while she was walking or riding a bicycle along a highway in Surrey, BC.
The Plaintiff presented her case in court and called over 35 witnesses to discuss the crash and the extent of her accident related injuries.  After the Defendants opened their case the Plaintiff’s lawyers re-established contact with a witness that they had lost contact with.  The Plaintiff wished to re-open her case to call the witness before the end of trial.  The Defendants would not consent to this.  Mr. Justice Ehrcke ruled that it would be appropriate to permit the Plaintiff to call this witness.  In ordering so he summarized and applied the law as follows:
[8] I have not been referred to any authorities that are directly on point, that is, dealing with an application by the plaintiff in a civil case to re-open for the purpose of calling a missing witness during the course of the defence case. There are, however, numerous cases dealing with applications to re-open to call further evidence after the defence has concluded its case. Those cases make it clear that the court has a discretion to allow a party to re-open to adduce new evidence, even after judgment has been rendered, but before the order has been entered…

[10] The present case is neither an appeal nor is it a criminal matter. In British Columbia the leading case on re-opening a civil trial before the entry of the formal order is Clayton v. British American Securities Ltd., [1934] 49 B.C.R. 28 (C.A.). A majority of the five justice division who sat in that case rejected the dissenting view that the due diligence requirement must be applied as a strict rule. In support of the majority position Macdonald J.A. wrote at pp. 66 to 67:

My view has always been that the trial judge might resume the hearing of an action apart from rules until entry of judgment, but as it was vigorously combatted I have given it careful consideration. The point, as far as I know, has not been squarely decided; at least by any cases binding upon us. It is, I think, a salutary rule to leave unfettered discretion to the trial judge. He would of course discourage unwarranted attempts to bring forward new evidence available at the trial to disturb the basis of a judgment delivered or to permit a litigant after discovering the effect of a judgment to re-establish a broken-down case with the aid of further proof. If the power is not exercised sparingly and with the greatest care fraud and abuse of the Court’s processes would likely result. Without that power however injustice might occur. If, e.g., a document should be discovered after pronouncement of judgment, but before entry, showing that the judgment was wrong and the trial judge was convinced of its authenticity no lack of diligence by a solicitor in not producing it earlier should serve to perpetuate an injustice. The prudent course is to permit the trial judge to exercise untrammelled discretion relying upon trained experience to prevent abuse, the fundamental consideration being that a miscarriage of justice does not occur.

There are reasons for rules governing the admission of evidence by an Appellate Court, not applicable to a trial judge. Hearing new evidence is a departure from its usual procedure and it is fitting that departures in ordinary practice should be limited by rules to prevent abuse. Entry of judgment may be merely a formality but it is necessary, that at some arbitrary point the jurisdiction of the trial judge should end. A vested right to a judgment is then obtained subject to a right to appeal and should not be lightly jeopardized. Before the gate is closed by entry a trial judge is in a better position to exercise discretion apart from rules than an Appellate Court. He knows the factors in the case that influenced his decision and can more readily determine the weight that should be given to new evidence offered. I may add that he might well be guided, although not bound by the rules referred to.

[11] On the material before me in the present case I am satisfied that the proposed new witness, Mr. Salter, has evidence to give that is clearly relevant to important issues and could affect the result. There is little, if any, prejudice to the defendants in allowing the plaintiff to re-open to call his evidence, because the application comes so early in the defence case. There is no suggestion that the defendants would have differently examined any of the witnesses they have so far called had Mr. Salter been called on May 14, prior to the close of the plaintiff’s case. In any event, the CN defendants must have known what evidence Mr. Salter might give, since unlike counsel for the plaintiff, they spoke to him months ago.

[12] I reject the defendants’ submission that the present application should be dismissed on the basis that plaintiff’s counsel failed to exercise due diligence in locating Mr. Salter. The standard of due diligence requires that serious efforts be made, but the standard is not one of perfection   Mr. Salter is a person of no fixed address who at the time of the accident was, like the plaintiff, living in a tent city. The difficulty this posed in finding him must be obvious. I am satisfied that plaintiff’s counsel took all reasonable steps to locate Mr. Salter, and they are not to be faulted for the fact that their efforts did not bear fruit prior to the close of the plaintiff’s case.

[13] Counsel for the CN defendants suggested that the plaintiff should have asked for an adjournment to locate Mr. Salter. I find that suggestion quite unrealistic given that plaintiff’s counsel had no reason to believe that their efforts would be successful if they only had a little more time.

[14] I am satisfied that the interests of justice require that the plaintiff be permitted to re-open her case to call Mr. Salter as a witness.

BC Supreme Court Addresses Scope of Expert Witness Cross Examination

Reasons for judgement were released today addressing the permissible scope of Cross Examination of an expert witness in a BC Injury Claim.
In today’s case (MacEachern v. Rennie) the Defendants called a physician to give expert opinion evidence.  This physician happened to be a treating doctor of the Plaintiff’s prior to her injuries.  While testifying the doctor was taken through his clinical records by defence counsel on an entry by entry basis.  The doctor was asked what happened on each of those clinic visits and in canvassing this the doctor gave evidence about the prognosis and treatment of Hepatitis C (which is an area the doctor apparently was not called to address).
The Plaintiff then wished to cross examine the doctor about treatments and the prognosis for Hepatitis C.  The Defence lawyer objected to this on the basis that such a cross examination would “call for new opinion that are not admissible since the Plaintiff has not served the defendants with notice of those opinion“.
Mr. Justice Ehrcke swiftly rejected the Defendant’s objections noting that they could not restrict the cross examination on a topic which they chose to ask the doctor about in direct.  Specifically Mr. Justice Ehrcke noted as follows:

[11]         With respect to the first point, the CN Defendants argue that the notice which they served on the plaintiff in connection with Dr. Glynn-Morris contains only treatment opinions and does not touch on the area of the plaintiff’s Hepatitis C. This argument misses the mark. The plaintiff is entitled to respond to all the opinion evidence led by the CN Defendants, not just that which was contained in the written statement of Dr. Glynn-Morris’ opinion. It was counsel for the CN Defendants who chose in direct-examination to ask Dr. Glynn-Morris about testing of the plaintiff for Hepatitis C. It was in direct-examination that Dr. Glynn-Morris opined that in 30 percent of people, Hepatitis C cures itself and disappears, and that he ordered a test to see if that is what had happened in Ms. MacEachern’s case. Having opened up that area in examination-in-chief, the CN Defendants cannot now restrict the plaintiff’s cross-examination about it simply on the ground that it was not covered in the written statement that they had delivered to the plaintiff.

[12]         In any event, the proposed evidence is also truly responsive as a rebuttal to the opinion of another expert witness called by the CN defendants, Dr. Baker, whose report entered at Tab 1 of Exhibit 61 states:

I note Ms. MacEachern had already contracted hepatitis C which with her ongoing ingestion of multiple drugs would likely have progressed with liver damage and possible cirrhosis and eventual liver failure.

[13] Nevertheless, the CN Defendants argue that even if the proposed line of questioning did not require notice pursuant to the provisions of Rule 40A, notice was still required because of the case management order made in respect of this trial on February 6, 2009, which provided, among other things, that the plaintiff’s reply or rebuttal reports were to be delivered by January 29, 2009. The CN Defendants point out that Dr. Baker’s report was delivered to the plaintiff on December 1, 2008. They submit therefore that any opinion evidence in reply to Dr. Baker’s report should have been delivered to them by January 29, 2009.

[14]         The short answer to this argument is that the deadlines set out in the case management order relate to expert witnesses that each party proposed to call as witnesses in their own case. The order does not, by its terms, require a party to give notice of the questions it proposes to ask in cross-examination of another party’s witnesses, even if those questions in cross-examination have the effect of eliciting an expert rebuttal or reply opinion.

[15] The case of Canadian National Railway Company v. Canada, 2002 BCSC 1669, 8 B.C.L.R. (4th) 323 cited by the CN Defendants is distinguishable, because that case did not deal with the effect of a case management order on questions asked of an opposing witness in cross-examination.

[16] To summarize:  the questions that the plaintiff proposes to ask in cross-examination of Dr. Glynn-Morris are proper, and to the extent that they elicit expert opinions, those opinions are proper reply or rebuttal. Such reply or rebuttal opinions elicited in cross-examination are not subject to the notice requirements of Rule 40A, or of the case management orders that were made in this case.

BC Injury Claims and "Responsive" Expert Opinion Evidence

Currently the law relating to the disclosure of expert opinion evidence is governed by Rule 40A of the BC Supreme Court Rules.   (click here to read my previous posts about the upcoming changes to the Rules of Expert Opinion Evidence).
If a party wishes to introduce expert opinion evidence at trial Rule 40A requires that “a copy of the statement is furnished to every party of record at least 60 days before the statement is tendered in evidence.”
One noteworthy exception to this is the rule of “responsive” opinion  evidence.  If the defence in a personal injury trial obtains a report that does not offer a fresh opinion but rather is an opinion that is ‘truly responsive to evidence introduced by the opposing party”  the 60 day notice period does not apply.
Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court dealing with this area of law.  In today’s case (MacEachern v. Rennie) “the plaintiff suffered traumatic brain injury when her head struck the side of a large tractor-trailer as she was walking or riding a bicycle along the side of King George Highway” in 2005.  One of the Defendants in the Plainitiff’s injury claim sought to introduce the report of a toxicologist which concluded that “the plaintiff was cognitively impaired from the ingestion of drugs at the time of the accident, and that she had permanent brain damage from drug abuse prior to the accident.”
This report was served outside of the requirements of Rule 40A.  The defendant tried to rely on the ‘responsive‘ evidence exception to Rule 40-A and have the report introduced into evidence despite its late disclosure (the report in fact was exchanged after the Plaintiff concluded her portion of the trial).
In refusing to enter the report into evidence Mr. Justice Ehrcke gave the following consice and handy definition of the law of rebuttal opinion evidence in the BC Supreme Court:
The right to introduce opinion evidence without notice is limited to rebuttal evidence that is truly responsive to evidence introduced by the opposing party, and cannot be used as a masquerade for introducing a fresh opinion: Sterritt v. McLeod (2000), 74 B.C.L.R. (3d) 371 (C.A.); Stainer v. Plaza (2001), 87 B.C.L.R. (3d) 182 (C.A.). Where a defendant elicits opinions in cross-examination of a plaintiff’s witness that were not in that witness’s report, the defendant cannot use his own elicitation to justify calling a defence expert to give an opinion on the topic without notice.

Can a Plaintiff's Treating Doctor Give Expert Opinion Evidence for the Defence in an Injury Claim?

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court dealing with this interesting issue.
In today’s case (MacEachern v. Rennie) the Plaintiff ‘suffered traumatic brain injury when her head came into contact with a tractor trailer while she was walking or riding her bicycle along King George Highway in Surrey, BC
In the years before the collision the Plaintiff was treated by a physician, Dr. Dowey, who apparently “prescribed methadone (to the plaintiff) as part of her treatment for heroin addiction“.
In the months leading up to the trial the Defence lawyers had a pre-trial interview with the doctor which was not consented to by the Plaintiff’s lawyers.  After speaking with this doctor the defendants decided to rely on him as a witness in their case.
The Defendants called the doctor to give evidence and sought to have the doctor qualified as an expert to give medical opinions about the Plaintiff’s pre-accident condition and prognosis.  The Plaintiff opposed this for several reasons and argued that “it was improper for Dr. Dowey to have pre-trial meetings with counsel for the defendants in the absence of plaintiff’s counsel“.
In permitting the doctor to testify as an expert witness for the defence Mr. Justice Ehrcke of the BC Supreme Court summarized and applied the law as follows:
[22] Plaintiff’s counsel submits that as a treating physician, Dr. Dowey owed the plaintiff a duty of confidentiality not to divulge her personal information without her consent, and that Dr. Dowey breached his duty of confidence when he spoke with counsel for the CN Defendants in the their absence. The submission is that as a result, the CN Defendants should not be permitted to lead evidence of Dr. Dowey’s expert opinions….

[29]         The only question before me, then, is whether Dr. Dowey should be prohibited from giving opinion evidence. He has been subpoenaed by the CN Defendants. As a witness under subpoena, he must answer the questions asked of him unless there is a basis in law for excluding his evidence. The plaintiff does not make a claim of privilege, but rather submits that to permit Dr. Dowey to give expert opinion evidence would conflict with his duty of confidentiality.

[30]         The plaintiff relies on a decision of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, Burgess v. Wu (2003), 68 O.R. (3d) 710 (Sup. Ct. of Justice). In that case, Ferguson J. emphasized the distinction between pre-trial disclosure and the admissibility of evidence at trial, as well as the distinction between a claim of privilege and the duty of confidentiality. He wrote at para. 55-57:

[55]      It is important at the outset to distinguish between access at trial and access before trial. Once a physician takes the witness stand, and regardless of whether he or she is called by the patient or subpoenaed by the defence, the physician must answer all relevant questions subject to a ruling in unusual circumstances that some subjects are privileged (see the discussion below re M. (A.) v. Ryan, infra). It is irrelevant whether or not the patient consents. The physician cannot refuse to answer on the ground of a duty of confidentiality:  Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. v. Frenette, [1992] 1 S.C.R. 647, 89 D.L.R. (4th) 653, at p. 687 S.C.R., p. 681 D.L.R., per L’Heureux-Dubé J.

[56]      This rule is consistent with the rules of ethics promulgated by the profession and by regulation which specifically state that the duty does not apply to situations where disclosure is “required by law”.

[57]      The issue of concern in the present case is access before trial. The general question is:  what is required by law outside the witness stand? In this context the primary restraint is the duty and right of confidentiality, and not the evidentiary issue of legal privilege.

[31]         Counsel for the plaintiff points out that Ferguson J. went on to hold that the doctor who had treated the plaintiff in that case would be prohibited from testifying as an expert for the defence. Counsel urges me to make a similar ruling here.

[32]         There are, however, two important distinctions between that case and this. First, Ferguson J. made a finding that there had been improper pre-trial contact between the witness and counsel for the defence, and that finding was instrumental in his decision that the witness should not be permitted to testify as an expert for the defence. He wrote at para. 134: “The party at fault should not benefit from the fruits of the impropriety.”  On the facts of the present case, I have found that there was no impropriety in the meeting between Dr. Dowey and counsel for the CN Defendants.

[33]         The second distinction is in the nature of the opinion evidence that is being sought. In Burgess v. Wu, the tenor of the opinion sought was expressed in a letter quoted at para. 21:

We are interested in your views, as a forensic psychiatrist, as to the likelihood that Mr. Burgess would have committed suicide (regardless of the prescription of Seconal), his prognosis otherwise, and the probability of him returning to a functioning lifestyle.

[34]         That is, the opinion sought in Wu related to the patient’s prognosis after the period of time when the witness had treated him. In the present case, counsel for the CN Defendants have stated that they do not seek any opinion from Dr. Dowey about Ms. MacEachern’s prognosis after the last date he saw her, November 29, 2004. More specifically, they do not seek from him an opinion about whether she likely would have continued using drugs after September 2005 had it not been for the accident. They might attempt to elicit such an opinion from another expert who did not treat the plaintiff, but they will not seek such an opinion from her treating physicians.

[35]         Counsel for the plaintiff has referred to the Personal Information Protection Act, S.B.C. 2003, c. 63, but its provisions do not support the plaintiff’s position since s. 3(4) of thatAct provides:

3(4) This Act does not limit the information available by law to a party in a proceeding.

[36]         In the circumstances of this case, I do not find that the duty of confidentiality would prevent Dr. Dowey from giving relevant opinion evidence as a medical doctor in relation to the period of time that she was his patient.

Damaging Your Opponents Case at Trial Through Examinations for Discovery

Examinations for Discovery in ICBC Claims are conducted for 2 primary reasons.  The first is to learn about your opponents claim, the second, and perhaps equally important reason is to get admissions which can be used against your opponent should the claim proceed to trial.
When a damaging answer from an examination for discovery is read into evidence at trial it can have the same impact as if the damaging fact was testified to live in court.  If a discovery answer contradicts evidence given at trial this can have an impact on credibility and can significanty effect the outcome of trial.
Rule 40(27) of the BC Supreme Court Rules addresses the use of discovery evidence at trial.  This Rule, however, imposes certain limits on the abilities of opponents to use transcripts at trial.  Specifically one limitation contained in the Rule states that the evidence is ‘admissible only against the adverse party who was examined…’

This limit should be kept in mind when suing multiple defendants and reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, demonstrating this evidentiary limitation in an injury claim trial.

In today’s case (MacEachern v. Rennie) the Plaintiff sued multiple parties for damages as a result of serious injuries.  At trial the Plaintiff sought to read in portions of the Defendants examinations for discovery.   The Plaintiff sought to have some of this evidence ‘used not only against the party who was examined, but also against all the other defendants‘.  Mr. Justice Ehrcke rejected this argument and folowed the strict reading of Rule 40(27) limiting the use of the answers only against the defendants who gave them.  The Court summarized and applied the law as follows:

[13]         In any event it must be noted that the Rules of Court were amended in 1985 and again in 1992. The current form of Rule 40(27) is not the same as the rule upon which McEachern C.J.B.C. was commenting in Foote v. Royal Columbia Hospital. In 1982 there was nothing equivalent to the current Rule 40(27)(a).

[14] I find that the current law is correctly stated in Fraser and Horn, The Conduct of Civil Litigation in British Columbia, Vol. 1 looseleaf (Markham:  LexisNexis Canada Inc., 2006) at paragraph 18.10:

An amendment to Rule 40(27)(a) in 1992 re-affirmed the long-standing jurisprudence that the testimony of a party on discovery was not admissible against his co-party. In 1986 the traditional rule had been held to have been superceded as a result of a rule amendment in 1985. Because of the 1992 amendment, it is once again the law that the evidence of one person on an examination for discovery is not ordinarily admissible against a co-party.

[15] Accordingly, the questions and answers from the examination for discovery of Mr. Rennie requested by the plaintiff and the additional questions 396 and 397, along with their answers, shall be read into evidence at trial, but they do not constitute direct evidence against any of the defendants except Mr. Rennie.

This decision serves as a good reminder that when ICBC Injury Claims are prepared for trial care should be taken to ensure there is admissible evidence against all of the Defendants for all matters in issue.

BC Health Care Costs Recovery Act Gets Its First Judicial Consideration

As of April 1, 2009 the BC Health Care Costs Recovery Act came into force.  This legislation applies to almost all non-ICBC personal injury claims in this Province.  (click here for some background on this act).
The first judgement that I’m aware of dealing with this legislation was released today by the BC Supreme Court.
In today’s case (MacEachern v. Rennie), the Plaintiff was seriously injured when her head came in contact with a tractor trailer driven by the defendant Rennie.   The Plaintiff’s personal injury trial started in March, 2009 (before the Health Care Costs Recovery Act came into force) and proceeded well beyond April 1 (when the Act came into force).  On April 21, well into the trial, the Plaintiff’s lawyer brought a motion to amend the claim to include $699,195 in hospitalization costs paid by the BC Government.
Mr. Justice Ehrcke concluded that it would be prejudicial to permit the Plaintiff to amend her claim to include these significant costs so late in the trial.  In dismissing the motion he reasoned as follows:

[30] Counsel for the plaintiff and counsel for the intervenor submit that it might not be necessary for the defendants to call evidence if the claim were limited to a claim for hospital costs.  The suggestion is that these costs are calculated on a simple per diem basis, and there would be no realistic basis on which the defendants could contest hospital costs.

[31] I cannot accept that submission.  During argument on this motion, counsel for the defendants advised that they still have not seen a copy of the Minister’s certificate.  Since counsel have not seen what would actually be in the certificate, it is speculative to hypothesize that the defendants would have no factual basis to challenge it.  The salient point is that in law, the defendants are at liberty to lead evidence to challenge the facts asserted in a s. 16(1) certificate.  Their opportunity to lead such evidence has been irreparably compromised by the fact that the application to amend the statement of claim, to add the claim for past health care costs was brought so late in the trial.

[32] Because of the prejudice that the proposed amendments would cause to the defendants, and in light of the fact that the plaintiff would not enjoy any personal benefit from the addition of a claim for past health care costs, the application for leave to amend the statement of claim is dismissed.

As the first precedent dealing with this Act today’s case is worth reviewing for all BC personal injury lawyers. Mr. Justice Erhcke goes through the Act in detail and analyzes the Act’s application to personal injury claims filed, but not resolved, prior to the Act coming into force.

Motor Vehicle Cases and Expert Reports Addressing Fault

I have written about the role expert witnesses play in ICBC Injury Claims on several occasions.  These past posts have largely dealt with expert medical witness who typically address the nature and extent of injuries caused by motor vehicle collisions.  What about experts addressing the issue of fault, can they play a role in BC personal injury claims?
The answer is yes but for a variety of reasons such witnesses typically are not involved in claims arising from car crashes.  This is so because in most car crash cases addressing fault expert evidence is not needed because judges and juries are able to use their common sense and collective life experience to determine who is at fault.  However, sometimes more unusual circumstances outside of most people’s typical life experience cause a collision such that expert evidence may be necessary.  Reasons for judgement were released yesterday by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, addressing this issue.
In yesterday’s case (MacEachern v. Rennie) the Plaintiff was severely injured while “walking or riding her bicycle along the King George Highway…when her head struck the side of a large tractor-trailer“.
The Plaintiff’s lawyer tried to introduce an expert witness to give opinion evidence on the standard of care of professional drivers of tractor-trailers, whether the driver in this case met that standard and lastly with respect to evidence regarding the characteristics of large tractor trailers.
The defence lawyers objected to this witness claiming expert evidence was not necessary to assist the court in making findings of fault.  Mr. Justice Ehrcke of the BC Supreme Court disagreed and permitted this evidence in and in doing so engaged in a useful discussion about the role that expert witnesses play generally in BC cases addressing the issue of fault.  For your convenience I reproduce the highlights of this discussion below:

[10]            In Burbank v. R.T.B., 2007 BCCA 215 our Court of Appeal observed that while expert evidence on the standard of care is not usually required in negligence actions, it may be capable of assisting the trier of fact and admissible as necessary in certain cases, particularly where the subject matter is beyond the common understanding of the judge or jury.

[11]            In the present case, while most adults in British Columbia may have some experience in driving motor vehicles, few have experience in driving large commercial tractor-trailers.  Few would know from their common experience what the handling characteristics of such vehicles are, or what the visibility is from the perspective of a driver in the cab, or what the common driving practices are of professional drivers of such rigs.

[12]            Not only have most persons never had the experience of driving such vehicles, most persons would not even be legally permitted to drive them, since to do so one must first satisfy the requirements to obtain a special class of driver’s licence…


[15]            In Tucker (Public Trustee of) v. Asleson (1993), 78 B.C.L.R. (2d) 173 (C.A.), Southin, J.A. specifically addressed the issue of expert evidence in motor vehicle negligence actions and observed that a distinction ought to be made between cases involving motor cars and those involving large transport vehicles.  She wrote at pp.194-195:

To my mind, motor car negligence cases differ significantly from all other actions in which one person alleges that the acts or omissions of another in breach of a duty of care have done him injury.

First, the Legislature has laid down for motorists many rules of the road and many requirements concerning the equipping of vehicles, all of which the motorist is expected to obey and which he expects others to obey.  The only other aspect of ordinary life so governed is that of the movement of vessels upon certain navigable waters.  But I do not say that obedience to these rules relieves the motorist from all other obligations.  See British Columbia Electric Railway v. Farrer, [1955] S.C.R. 757.

Secondly, experts are not called to prove the standard of care which is appropriate. Each judge brings into court his or her own notions of what constitutes driving with reasonable care.  As I said in McLuskie v. Sakai in a passage quoted in the appeal from my judgment (1987), 12 B.C.L.R. (2d) 372 at 378 (C.A.):

The difficulty with these motor car cases and matters of negligence is that whatever we may be saying, what we are doing as judges is, in fact, applying our own knowledge of driving to the facts in the absence of any other evidence.  That is what a judge does every time he says that the defendant should have avoided an obvious obstruction.  I, on the balance of probabilities, am not satisfied that a competent driver coming upon that ice on that bridge on that morning with both hands on the wheel could have done other than Mr. Sakai did.  Therefore, it follows that I do not think he was negligent.

To put it another way, in motor car cases the judge is his or her own expert.  That is not to say that there could not be expert evidence on the proper way, for instance, for the driver of a mammoth transport vehicle to drive.  If, on such an issue, the plaintiff called an expert to say that such a vehicle should not be driven under certain circumstances at more than 40 miles per hour and the defendant called another expert who said the contrary, the learned trial judge could and usually would be obliged to choose one expert over the other.

[16]            Expert evidence on the standard of care has been considered in a number of negligence cases involving the operation of heavy vehicles.  See for example Millott Estate v. Reinhard, [2002] 2 W.W.R. 678 (Alta. Q.B.) and Fuller v. Schaff, 2009 YKSC 10.

[17]            I am satisfied that Mr. Eckert should be qualified as an expert witness and permitted to give opinion evidence in the areas outlined above.  I find that he has the necessary qualifications and that the evidence is necessary in the sense explained by the Supreme Court of Canada in Mohan.  What weight should be attached to his evidence is, of course, a matter that can only be determined at the end of trial.