Tag: Madam Justice Griffin

Preliminary Class Action Fee Approval Not Appropriate Absent "Exceptional Circumstances"

Section 38 of BC’s Class Proceedings Act requires judicial approval with respect to any class action fee agreement prior to it being enforceable .  Interesting reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, addressing the timing of such approval. In short the Court held that ‘preliminary’ approval prior to settlement/judgement is not appropriate absent “exceptional” circumstances.
In this week’s case (Plimmer v. Google, Inc.) the Plaintiff filed a proposed class action against Google. The Plaintiff’s lawyer sought a “preliminary but not final approval of the Plaintiff’s fee agreement“.  Madam Justice Griffin found that such approval was not warranted in the usual course and provided the following feedback:
[55]         I conclude that preliminary approval of fee arrangements in class proceedings in B.C. should only be sought in exceptional circumstances, such as where there is a novel and potentially controversial form of agreement of which the court should be apprised in its supervisory role, to address and avoid the potential that the agreement could later be seen as affecting the integrity of the legal process or the proper administration of justice.  Over time as case law develops and gives guidance to counsel and representative plaintiffs, there will be less occasion for these exceptional circumstances to arise. 
[56]         Those exceptional circumstances do not exist here with respect to the fairness and reasonableness of the fee agreement in general.  I consider it inappropriate to address the approval of the fee agreement in slices, and I conclude that it is premature to consider these general issues at this early stage.
[57]         The role of the court is not to give preliminary legal advice to the plaintiff or plaintiff’s counsel, and the court ought not to be put in the position of making what are essentially moot rulings without all of the facts before it.
[58]         For the most part, the court’s assessment of the fee agreement in this case should await another day when the court will have heard all of the relevant evidence including as to the risks, merits and complexities of the case, and when other class members will have received notice of the fee agreement. 
The Court went on to note that one issue did deserve preliminary comment, and that was an order with respect to fee splitting agreements amongst various lawyers.  The Court held that there was nothing wrong in principle with such agreements in a BC class action lawsuit and provided the following reasons:
[59]         I make the above general observations subject to one aspect of the fee agreement which warrants judicial consideration now.  That aspect concerns the plaintiff lawyers’ arrangements to fee-split with assisting lawyers who are based in the United States.
[60]         The case law regarding Canadian counsel cooperating in class proceedings with lawyers based in the United States is evolving.  I recognize that the plaintiff’s B.C. counsel are being prudent by advising the court of the fee-splitting arrangements they have entered into precisely because the case law is developing and such arrangements could affect the administration of justice. 
[61]         I have concluded that the novelty and potentially controversial nature of these types of arrangements are exceptional circumstances which justify the court embarking on the supervisory task of reviewing the fee agreement in respect of its arrangements to split the plaintiff’s counsel fees with lawyers based in the United States…
[78]         In conclusion, leaving aside the percentage split which is not for this Court to approve at this time, I declare as an interim order that this Court approves in principle of the fee-splitting arrangement between the plaintiff’s B.C. counsel of record, and the Assisting Lawyers, in substantially the terms as described to this Court.
[79]         I considered stating this declaration in the negative, namely, that this Court does not disapprove of the fee-splitting arrangement, to reinforce the limitations in the supervisory discretion I have exercised.  The point I wish to emphasize is that the application for final approval of the fee agreement should proceed as a hearing de novo when it comes to the end of the case. 

Vague Evidence Leads to Significant Rejection of Injury Claim

In a demonstration that detailed evidence is important when advancing a personal injury claim for damages at trial, reasons for judgemet were published last week by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, largely rejecting a claim due to “vague” plaintiff evidence.
In last week’s case (Kartouchine v. Coons) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2005 collision.  He suffered soft tissue injuries and sought approximately $70,000 in damages at trial.  Madam Justice Griffin rejected much of the Plaintiff’s claim and assessed modest non-pecuniary damages of $2,000.  In addressing the lack of detailed evidence the Court provided the following feedback:
[16]         Also starkly absent is what happened between the accident and the date of his affidavit of October 5, 2011.  Has he always had these periodic episodes of pain?  How often are they?  How is his lifestyle impacted?  How active is he day-to-day?  How do we know something else in his life or job has not occurred to cause these episodes? 
[17]         In short, the evidence of the plaintiff is so vague that it does not permit me to draw any conclusions in respect of the duration or severity of ongoing injuries.  He has not supplied sufficient detail to enable me to assess the probability that what he asserts is true.  His affidavit is an outline only which is not coloured in. 
[18]         Plaintiff’s counsel submits at para. 127 of the written submission:
127.     The medical expert reports document the plaintiff’s injuries showing several years of pain and stiffness which is intermittent but at times quite severe.  The affidavit of the plaintiff documents a continuing struggle over six-and-a-half years and his efforts at mitigation. 
[19]         I must take these submissions as rhetorical hyperbole rather than evidence?based. 
[20]         The medical evidence such as it is, does not support the plaintiff’s submissions.  The plaintiff does attach clinical records to his affidavit but these are largely illegible.  Nowhere in his affidavit does he say that the records accurately record his visits to doctors or his complaints made to the doctors.  There is no evidence that the clinical records accurately record observations made by the physicians either.  Simply appending them to his affidavit does not establish the truth of their contents.  I find them to be completely useless to support his case. ..
[42]         In conclusion, I do not find there to be sufficient medical evidence to persuade me that the collision caused the plaintiff to suffer long-term injuries causing him continued pain and suffering and the loss of enjoyment of life. 
[43]         Considering the factors influencing an award of non-pecuniary damages, I find that the evidence only supports the conclusion that the plaintiff suffered some minor inconvenience and discomfort as of the date of the accident when he felt it necessary to see his medical doctor.  I therefore award him $2,000 in non-pecuniary damages. 

ICBC "User Fees" and Receipted Special Damages

ICBC typically covers only a portion of physiotherapy expenses under an individuals own plan of insurance.  Treatment expenses over and above ICBC’s insured amounts typically are referred to as ‘user fees‘.  Provided that such therapies are reasonably incurred following a collision the fees associated with them are usually recoverable as ‘special damages‘ in a tort claim against the at-fault motorist.
As with most special damages, however, it is important to document these expenses.  Failure to do so can result in the claimed expenses being denied.  Such a result was demonstrated in reasons for judgement released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry.
In last week’s case (Daitol v. Chan) the Plaintiff was injured in a motor vehicle collision.  At trial the Plaintiff sought recovery of $1,500 of estimated user fees as special damages.  The Plaintiff unfortunately did not have receipts to prove she incurred these expenses.  Madam Justice Griffin denied this portion of the Plaintiff’s claim and in doing so provided the following reasons reminding Plaintiff’s the importance of documenting their damages:

[63] Ms. Daitol advances a claim for the user fees she was required to pay for her physiotherapy sessions.  She estimates that she paid in the range of $1,500-$1,900 in fees out of her own pocket.  She therefore advances a claim for special damages of $1,500.

[64] Unfortunately, Ms. Daitol, who was not represented by her current counsel at the time, did not keep track of her physiotherapy expenses and has no corroborating evidence regarding the number of treatments or the exact cost of them.  At best, her evidence as to her total out-of-pocket cost was a guess.  While I do not believe that Ms. Daitol would in any way attempt to mislead the court, nevertheless, her evidence as to her physiotherapy expenses is inherently unreliable due to the fact that she did not in any way keep track of her sessions or the cost of them.  As such, I do not award her any amount in respect of this claim.

$60,000 Non-Pecuniary Assessment for Medial Meniscal Tear and TMJ Injury

Reasons for judgement were released yesterday by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, assessing damages for a chronic knee and jaw injury sustained in a motor vehicle collision.
In this yesterday’s case (Daitol v. Chan) the Plaintiff was involved in a “serious” collision when the defendant dozed off and crashed into the Plaintiff’s vehicle.  Fault was admitted by the Defendant at the start of trial.
The Plaintiff suffered various injuries, the most serious of which was a meniscal tear in her left knee.  The Plaintiff’s family doctor summarized the following collision related injuries which the Court accepted:

[35] It was Dr. van Eeden’s opinion that the injuries sustained by Ms. Daitol during the motor vehicle accident were:

· New-onset neck-, mid-and-upper back, lower back, right shoulder and right hip area pain: soft tissue (muscular and connective tissue).  Pain in this area is largely resolved with some intermittent neck and back pain.

· Bilateral TMJ (jaw) pain, right side more than left.

· Pre-patellar bursitis of the left knee due to direct trauma to the knee.  This explained the initial swelling of the left knee patellar area, which resolved after a few months.

· Left knee PFS (patellofemoral syndrome) which is a condition of direct damage to the kneecap cartilage, causing pain with squatting, deep knee bending and climbing stairs.

· Left knee medial meniscus tear. This is consistent with the mechanism of injury of the MVA (direct knee impact), supported by direct pain upon palpation of the joint line, the MRI findings and the longstanding duration of symptoms.  This is still symptomatic today.

In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $60,000 Madam Justice Griffin provided the following reasons:

[53] In considering all of the medical evidence, and Ms. Daitol’s testimony, the evidence overwhelmingly supports a conclusion that Ms. Daitol is likely to have long-term continuing TMJ problems and left knee pain problems, as well as some right knee problems well into the future, and that these injuries were caused by the accident. ..

[67] I find as a fact that Ms. Daitol’s greatest discomfort in the years since the accident, and likely in the future, and greatest interference with her enjoyment of life, is due and will continue to be due to the pain in her left knee.  She continuously is required to use a left knee brace.  For a lengthy period of time, she was on crutches.  She limits her physical movements and hence her recreational activities due to the limits of her left knee as she does not want to set herself back…

[69] I find that she has suffered severe restrictions in walking and will continue to do so in the future and likely for the rest of her life.  I conclude that there is no readily apparent alternative exercise for Ms. Daitol at this stage of her life, other than walking.  As a 36 year old woman, the permanent impairment of her ability to walk any measurable distance or for any measureable period of time, without suffering extreme pain, is a significant loss.  While she still will have plenty of enjoyment in life, she will frequently suffer pain, both in her recreational pursuits and at work when she is required to move around to retrieve files or do other light tasks. ..

[74] In this case, I find it very significant that the one physical activity Ms. Daitol used to enjoy, walking, has essentially been lost to her.  While she can still walk somewhat, it is clear that she is no longer going to enjoy it, it is going to very limited in duration, and she is always going to fear and suffer the aftermath of increased pain.  Walking is essential to most of daily life, and is not a luxury that if lost, will not be missed.  For someone who has never had a natural inclination to pursue a range of physical activities, this is an even more significant loss as she is unlikely to have the natural athletic ability that will allow her to generate some other replacement activity.  While I find that the range suggested by the plaintiff may be high in these circumstances, I find the range suggested by the defendant to be far too low.

[75] I find that an appropriate award for general damages in the circumstances of this case, taking into account the left knee damage, the fact that it is causing some problems with the right knee, and the ongoing TMJ complaints, all caused by the accident, is $60,000.

$100,000 Non-Pecuniary Damage Assessment For Chronic Pain and Depression

(Update: June 11, 2012 – With the exception of a modest decrease in the damage award for Cost of Future Care, the below decision was upheld by the BC Court of Appeal in reasons for judgement released today)
Adding to this site’s chronic pain non-pecuniary damages archives, reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, assessing damages for chronic pain and depression.
In this week’s case (Tsalamandris v. MacDonald) the Plaintiff was involved in two collisions, the first in 2004 and the second in 2006.  The Defendants admitted fault in both claims.  The Plaintiff suffered from “chronic pain and a depressive disorder which is quite debilitating“.  The cause of the Plaintiff’s disability was the main focus of trial with the Plaintiff arguing the collisions were responsible while the Defendants pointed to other explanations.
Ultimately the Court found that the the collisions were responsible for the Plaintiff’s injuries.  These were expected to be largely disabling for the duration of the Plaintiff’s career.  In assessing non-pecuniary damages at $100,000 Madam Justice Griffin provided the following reasons:
[223] I therefore conclude that but for the Accidents, the plaintiff would not have suffered the chronic pain and depression she suffered following the Accidents and continuing to this day and into the future.  The plaintiff has proven that the Accidents caused her conditions of chronic pain syndrome and depression…

[332] The plaintiff had an active lifestyle prior to the Accidents, did many outdoors things with her husband and got along well with others.  The minor discomfort she experienced on occasion stemming from the 2001 accident did not interfere with her activities.

[333] The changes she has gone through since the 2004 and 2006 Accidents have been dramatic.  Her chronic pain and chronic depression mood have had a very negative impact.  She has said very hurtful things to her mother and her husband. She has not been able to properly take care of her children and she does not get the same joy out of life as she used to do…

[336] The plaintiff cites a number of cases that suggest that an award of damages for loss of enjoyment of life and pain and suffering (non-pecuniary damages) in similar circumstances should be in the range of $85,000.00 to $125,000.00:  Beaudry v. Kishigweb, 2010 BCSC 915; Eccleston v. Dresen, 2009 BCSC 332; Kasidoulis v. Russo, 2010 BCSC 978; Poirier v. Aubrey, 2010 BCCA 266; Zhang v. Law, 2009 BCSC 991; and, MacKenzie v. Rogalasky, 2011 BCSC 54 (the latter cited by the defendants for other reasons).

[337] The authorities can only serve as general guidelines.

[338] Given the plaintiff’s age, the stage of her life when she was injured, as a young mother, the ongoing and severe nature of her injuries which negatively affect every aspect of her daily life and her relationships with those around her, including with her children, her husband and her parents, I conclude that a fair and reasonable award for the loss of her enjoyment of life and her pain and suffering is $100,000.00.

ICBC Injury Claims and Structured Judgements: The "Best Interests" of the Plaintiff

When a BC motor vehicle accident tort claim goes to trial and a judge or jury awards pecuniary damages over $100,000 s. 99 of the Insurance (Vehicle) Act requires the award be paid periodically where it is “in the best interests of the plaintiff” to do so.  Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, addressing this area of law.
In last week’s case (Bransford v. Yilmazcan) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2003 collision.  She developed Thoracic Outlet Syndrome and experienced disability related to this.  Her claim went to trial where she was awarded just over $1.2 million by a Jury.  This award was reduced somewhat by the BC Court of Appeal.
Ultimately the Plaintiff was awarded $436,000 for loss of future earning capacity.  ICBC applied under section 99 of the Insurance (Vehicle) Act to pay this portion of the judgement in monthly installments at $1,357 per month arguing that this would be in the ‘best interests‘ of the Plaintiff.  Madam Justice Griffin disagreed and dismissed the applicaiton.  In doing so the Court provided the following useful reasons:

[51]         The defendants argued that since they were only seeking a partial structured judgment, rather than a structured judgment that applied to the whole of the future damages award, the plaintiff will be left with sufficient flexibility to meet any fluctuating needs.  I am not convinced this is an entirely fair approach.  The future care award is allocated for the plaintiff’s future care needs.  Normally a person uses income to pay for extraordinary living expenses or to make choices such as repayment of debt.  If the loss of future earning capacity award is structured, the plaintiff will lose this flexibility. Such a loss of flexibility is not cured merely because only a partial structured judgment is sought.

[52]         In this case, a factor that weighs heavily is the fact that the proposed structured judgment will run for 38 years.  That means, if a structured judgment is ordered, that for 38 years of this plaintiff’s life, she will not have the ability to make her own choices about her investments or her needs, beyond what she can do with receipt of the monthly periodic sum.  None of the evidence proffered by the defendants suggested that a fixed rate of return of 2.5% would be a safe investment over 38 years.  If the financial landscape changes drastically in 25 years, the plaintiff will not have the flexibility to adapt if she is subject to the structured judgment.  However, if the financial landscape changes drastically in the next 25 years, and she has been fiscally conservative in managing a lump sum award of damages, she will have the flexibility to deal with the change in circumstances.

[53]         I come back to the principle enunciated in Lomax, namely that a damage award is the plaintiff’s own property.  Underlying this point, in my view, is the common sense observation that a central aspect of one’s dignity and humanity is the ability to control one’s own destiny by the freedom to make one’s own choices.  Where a plaintiff has been injured through the negligence of defendants, such that she has suffered a significant loss of earning capacity, as here, she has already lost some personal dignity in that her future choices have been limited due to her injuries.  In this case the plaintiff would lose additional dignity and autonomy if her ability to make her own decisions about her damages award was taken away.

[54]         Having observed the plaintiff’s evidence at trial and on this hearing before me, I was impressed with her capabilities.  I observed that she was a person who was a “go-getter” before her injuries, and she remains someone with an independent and strong personality.  I have considered all of the factors referred to above, and weighed the risks and benefits of a structured judgment against the risks and benefits of a lump sum award.  I conclude that an order that the loss of future earning capacity award be structured would not be in the best interests of this plaintiff.

[55]         I therefore dismiss the defendants’ application.

No Income Tax Deductions for Depleted Sick Bank Damages

As previously discussed, when a person becomes disabled from work due to injuries and uses up banked sick time they can claim damages to be reimbursed for this loss in a tort claim.
If the tort claim arises from a BC motor vehicle accident the Insurance (Vehicle) Act requires awards for past wage loss to be reduced to take income tax consequences into account resulting in damages only for “net income loss”.  So, when damages are paid for use of banked sick time does the award need to be reduced to take income tax into account?   The answer is no and reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, addressing this issue.
In last week’s case (Chalmers v. Russell) the Plaintiff was a school teacher who was involved in two motor vehicle collisions.  The Plaintiff was not at fault for either of these crashes.  As a consequence of injuries sustained the Plaintiff had to use up several thousand dollars of banked sick time available to her through her employment.  Madam Justice Griffin awarded the Plaintiff damages for this loss and in doing so provided the following useful reasons explaining that these awards are not to be reduced to take income tax consequences into account:

[85]         I accept Ms. Chalmers’ evidence that following the first accident, she was so sore and painful that she felt it necessary to take time off work prior to the birth of her child in order to expedite her recovery.  I am mindful that she did not obtain any medical evidence in support of her decision to take time from work.  Regardless, given her advanced state of pregnancy, the trauma of the accident and the pain she was in after the first accident, I consider her decision not to return to work to be reasonable and due to her injuries.  The cost to reimburse the sick bank during this time period is $342.45 per day, totalling $3,766.95.

[86]         As noted in Bjarnason v. Parks, 2009 BCSC 48, depletion of a sick bank is a compensable loss: at para. 56.  However, it is not an income loss so there should be no deduction for income tax in accordance with ss. 95 and 98 of the Insurance (Vehicle) Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 231: Bjarnason at para. 66.

In addition to the above, today’s case is worth reviewing for the Court’s discussion of non-pecuniary damages for mothers whose injuries affect their ability to look after their young children.  In today’s case the Plaintiff sustained various soft tissue injuries which, while not disabling, continued to affect the Plaintiff and interfered with her ability to look after her infant children.  Madam Justice Griffin assessed non-pecuniary damages at $50,000 and in doing so provided the following reasons:

[123] Importantly, Ms. Chalmers has lost the experience of being a relatively pain-free, physically active mother of her infant children during an important period in their young lives.  This is clearly a huge loss for Ms. Chalmers.

[124] I conclude that a reasonable award of non pecuniary damages, that is fair to all parties, is $50,000.

This is not the first time that pain interfering with parenting has been considered a relevant matter by the BC Supreme Court in addressing non-pecuniary damages and you can click here to read a previous post further discussing this topic.

The New Rules of Court and Examinations for Discovery

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, discussing the scope of permissible questions at examinations for discovery under the new Civil Rules.  In short, the Court noted that although the New Rules contain some changes with respect to the time permitted for discovery, precedents developed under the former rules remain good law with respect to permissible questions.  The court also addressed the factors that can be considered in extending an examination for discovery.
In today’s case (Kendall v. Sun Life Assurance Company) the Plaintiff had disability insurance with the Defendant.  The Plaintiff sued claiming the Defendant improperly denied her insurance benefits.  In the course of the lawsuit the Plaintiff examined a representative of Sun Life for discovery.  During the course of discovery Sun Life’s lawyer caused “so much disruption” with interfering objections that Plaintiff’s counsel terminated the examination prematurely and walked out.
The Plaintiff brought a motion compelling the representative to attend discovery again to complete the examination, to answer the questions that were objected to and to extend the time of discovery beyond the permitted 7 hours.  Madam Justice Griffin granted the motion and in doing so made the following comments about the scope of permissible discovery questions under the new rules:

[6]             Rule 7-2(18)(a) of the Supreme Court Civil Rules, B.C. Reg. 168/2009 [Rules of Court] sets out the scope of examination as follows:

(18)      Unless the court otherwise orders, a person being examined for discovery

(a)        must answer any question within his or her knowledge or means of knowledge regarding any matter, not privileged, relating to a matter in question in the action, …

[7]             Despite a variety of substantive changes to the Rules of Court enacted effective July 1, 2010, the scope of examination for discovery has remained unchanged and is very broad….

[13]         While the scope of examination for discovery has not changed with the new Rules of Court brought into force on July 1, 2010, the length of examination for discovery is now limited to seven hours or any greater period to which the person to be examined consents: Rule 7-2(2).

[14]          The newly imposed time limit on discovery makes it all the more important that the courts enforce the principle that counsel for the examined party must not unduly interfere or intervene during the examination for discovery.  The time limit imposes a self-policing incentive on the examining counsel to be focused and to not waste time on questions that will not advance the purpose of investigating the case or obtaining admissions for use at trial.

[15]         While the time limit on examination for discovery creates an incentive on the examining party to be efficient, it unfortunately also creates a risk that counsel for the examinee will be inefficient by unduly objecting and interfering on the discovery, for the purpose of wasting the limited time available.  If that party is economically stronger than the examining party, it also can strategically increase the costs of litigation this way, by burdening the financially disadvantaged party with having to bring a court application to obtain a proper discovery.

[16]         The proper conduct of an examination for discovery within the spirit of the Rules thus relies on the professionalism of counsel for the party being examined.

[17]         As held by the Ontario Superior Court in Iroquois Falls Power Corp. v. Jacobs Canada Inc. (2006), 83 O.R. (3d) 438 at para. 4:

Improper interference by counsel in the other party’s discovery undermines the purposes of discovery, prolongs it, fosters professional mistrust and generally offends the overall purpose of the Rules….

[18]         A largely “hands off” approach to examinations for discovery, except in the clearest of circumstances, is in accord with the object of the Rules of Court, particularly the newly stated object of proportionality, effective July 1, 2010.  Allowing wide-ranging cross-examination on examination for discovery is far more cost-effective than a practice that encourages objections, which will undoubtedly result in subsequent chambers applications to require judges or masters to rule on the objections.  It is far more efficient for counsel for the examinee to raise objections to the admissibility of evidence at trial, rather than on examination for discovery. ..

[52] In summary, the majority of objections made were not valid. The objections were undue interference in the flow of the examination for discovery.  It may or may not be the case that some of the questions were worded awkwardly and may have been seeking evidence of marginal relevance.  The examining party who frames questions badly runs the risk that the evidence obtained will end up being of no value.  Nevertheless, considerable respect ought to be shown for the professional judgment of counsel for the examining party on how to best approach an examination for discovery.  It is not up to counsel for the party being examined to dictate the opposing side’s decisions on which relevant areas of questioning should be the focus of the discovery.  It is also not in accord with the object of proportionality to make it the function of the court to become involved in micro-managing examination for discovery questions.

In addition to the above this case is worth reviewing in full for the Court’s discussion of the many specific objections that were raised.  In particular, the Court held that it is permissible in lawsuits for denied insurance benefits to ask the insurer’s representative about their general practices.

BC Sexual Assault Civil Claims Legal Update

Two judgements were released this week by the BC Supreme Court dealing with issues relating to civil claims arising in the context of alleged sexual assaults.  The first case dealt with improper statements during closing arguments to a jury, the second with disclosure of records relating to a criminal prosecution.
In the first case (RK v. BR) the 17 year old Plaintiff became intoxicated at a party.   The Plaintiff “stopped at his best friend’s home to see if he could spend the night“:.    His friend was not home but his friend’s father let him spend the night.  The defendant (the father) “sexually assaulted the plaintiff later that night.”
The Plaintiff sued for damages and selected trial by Jury.   The Defendant admitted to the assault and during the course of the trial conceded that the Plaintiff was entitled to some damages.  The question was what amount was appropriate.
During closing arguments the Plaintiff’s lawyer made statements to the Jury that the Defendant objected to.  Particularly the Plaintiff’s lawyer  “questioned the defendant’s decision to stay in the courtroom while the plaintiff testified. He suggested the jury could infer the defendant had remained in court to intimidate the plaintiff, or to draw pleasure from seeing his victim again. He also suggested the jury could infer that the defendant had been grooming the plaintiff for a sexual encounter. Plaintiff’s counsel also suggested to the jury that the plaintiff would see the defendant’s face whenever he made love.”
The Defendant argued that these comments were inappropriate and inflammatory and asked that the judge dismiss the Jury.    Mr. Justice Brown reluctantly granted the motion.  In doing so he provided the following reasons:

[25]         Considering all the circumstances and applying the above framework to the case at bar, I find that the impugned portions of counsel’s submissions were highly prejudicial. First of all, the submission that the plaintiff will see the defendant’s face every time he makes love for the rest of his life has no foundation in the evidence. It was a highly speculative statement, with the sole purpose of inflaming the jury against the defendant. Counsel for the plaintiff says the statement did have a basis in the evidence because the plaintiff testified that he remembered the assault a couple of times a week, sometimes upon waking. He says Dr. Pulleyblank’s evidence that similar situations could trigger painful memories is a further factual basis for his argument.

[26]         This argument is unconvincing. The evidence counsel relies on does not support the inference he asked the jury to draw; especially given evidence from the plaintiff that directly contradicts this statement. The plaintiff testified that since the assault he has had a positive sexual experience. There was also evidence that the plaintiff’s symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder have diminished over time. To suggest the plaintiff would see the defendant’s face every time he made love for the rest of his life was more than mere rhetoric verging on the extravagant; it was a highly inflammatory statement that had no basis in the evidence.

[27]         Likewise, counsel’s statement that the defendant groomed the plaintiff for a sexual encounter by inviting him to sleep over and providing him with alcohol has no basis in the evidence. Counsel says the basis for it lies in several statements made during trial. He relies on the statement of the plaintiff’s mother that two or three months earlier the defendant had phoned to ask if the plaintiff could sleep over. Counsel for the plaintiff also points to the plaintiff’s testimony that the defendant sometimes bought beer for his son and his friends. He also relies on the defendant’s testimony that in his youth he arranged consensual sexual acts with other males by asking them to ‘sleep over’. He says these statements, taken together, provide a basis for the jury to draw an inference that the defendant was grooming the plaintiff for a sexual encounter.

[28]         The evidence does not provide a foundation for the statement that the defendant was grooming the plaintiff. There is no evidence the assault was premeditated. The defendant admitted he had called the plaintiff’s mother at an earlier time, but this was at his son’s request and to let the plaintiff’s mother know it was all right for the plaintiff to sleep over. The plaintiff’s arrival on the defendant’s doorstep that evening was clearly unplanned. Again, the sole purpose of this statement was to inflame the minds of the jury against the defendant. It was improper and amounts to misconduct.

[29]         Counsel’s comments on the defendant’s presence in the courtroom were also inflammatory and prejudicial, and amount to misconduct, especially in light of the exchange of letters between the parties prior to trial. A party has a right to be in a courtroom. To suggest otherwise is improper. Even more improper is the suggestion that the defendant remained in court to intimidate or leer at the plaintiff. The defendant expressed a willingness to absent himself from the courtroom to spare the plaintiff’s feelings. Casting aspersions on a party for exercising his right to be present is misconduct. Suggesting a lack of empathy for remaining in court when counsel knew he had received a letter from the counsel for the defendant specifically offering to absent himself if doing so would make the plaintiff feel more comfortable is also misconduct.

[30]         Counsel’s submission significantly prejudiced the defendant. The submission was relatively short. Taking all of Mr. McLeod’s inflammatory and improper statements together, I concluded that if I were to try to disabuse the jury of these matters I would simply re-emphasize them in the jurors’ minds. If I instructed the jury to disregard these portions of counsel’s brief submission entirely, my comments would likely rebound against anything he had said and against the plaintiff’s case. I concluded that I could not right the scales of the resulting prejudices with instructions anywhere close to neutral again. I must ensure there is no prejudice to either side. I do not see how any corrective judicial comments could do anything but suggest that counsel had misled the jury, intentionally or not.

[31]         A judge discharges a jury with great reluctance. In this case, the jury was well constituted. They were attentive. At the beginning of the trial, I carefully explained their important role in the judicial system in British Columbia and the confidence placed in them. Discharging a jury in these circumstances embarrasses the court and, more importantly, tends to undermine public confidence in the justice system.

[32]         However, given the circumstances, and considering the potential prejudice, no less to the plaintiff’s case then to the defendant’s, it would be unfair to continue with the jury in the circumstances. The only appropriate response was to discharge the jury with the regrets and thanks of the court.

[33]         The defendant’s application to dismiss the jury and continue by judge alone is granted.


The second case released this week addressed the ability of a party to have the BC Supreme Court order production of materials relating to criminal charges arising from allegations of sexual abuse.

In this case (The British Columbia College of Teachers v. British Columbia (Attorney General) ) a former teacher was “criminally charged with sexually offending against a child.“.  In the course of the prosecution a preliminary inquiry was held and the alleged victim testified.   The Attorney General stayed the prosecution before trial.

The BC College of Teachers wanted to access a copy of the transcript of the preliminary inquiry evidence to use against the former teacher in “disciplinary proceedings“.   The former teacher opposed this.

Madam Justice Griffin ordered that the records be produced and provided the following reasons:

[41]         In an analogous context of considering an ongoing publication ban, the Court of Appeal of this province considered that a trial judge’s analysis should not be based on whether a benefit to the administration of justice could be gained by the publication of redacted information, but rather, should be based on whether a serious danger could be avoided by declining to provide the information: Global BC, A Division of Canwest Media Inc. v. British Columbia, 2010 BCCA 169 at para. 72.

[42]         Here, so long as the information is provided in a way that protects the identity of the complainant and thereby maintains the publication ban, there is no danger to be avoided by declining to allow the sought-after information to be provided.  To put it another way, I do not consider that the administration of justice will be harmed if the preliminary inquiry transcript is produced to the College in a way that continues to protect the identity of the complainant.

[43]         I am therefore persuaded that this is a case where I ought to exercise my inherent jurisdiction to allow for production of a transcript of the preliminary inquiry to the College, in such a way as to continue to maintain the publication ban pursuant to s. 486.4(2).

[44]         In the circumstances of this case, I grant the following declaratory relief:

(a)      the publication ban imposed under s. 539(1) of the Code in relation to Abbotsford Provincial Court Registry file No. 60526, no longer applies, and thus does not apply to any request by the College for a copy of the transcript of the evidence that was taken at the preliminary inquiry; and

(b)      the continuing publication ban imposed under s. 486.4(2) of the Code will not be violated if the Crown redacts all information that could identify the child complainant from the transcript of the evidence that was taken at the preliminary inquiry in Abbotsford Provincial Court Registry file No. 60256 and produces the redacted transcript to the College for its use in disciplinary proceedings against Mr. Sidhu.

More on Privacy Rights, Compelled Disclosure and the Implied Undertaking of Confidentiality

Further to my previous posts on this topic, when people sue (or are sued) in the BC Supreme Court the Rules force disclosure of certain facts and documents.  To balance the parties privacy interests the Courts have developed an “implied undertaking of confidentiality” which is basically a judge made rule that “requires a party to civil litigation to keep confidential all information disclosed by adverse parties in the litigation under the compulsion of discovery procedures.  The receiving party is only to use the disclosed information in the litigation in which it was produced
The implied undertaking can be lifted by an order of the Court or by consent of the party that disclosed the information.  Another way the implied undertaking can come to an end is if the case goes to “open court”.   The question is when is the open court exception triggered.  As most lawyers know most cases don’t go to trial but it is common to have pre-trial applications held in open court.  In such a case is the exception triggered?  Reasons for judgement were released today dealing with this novel issue.
In today’s case (Bodnar v. The Cash Store inc.) the Plaintiff’s were involved in a lawsuit.  During the course of that claim a pre-trial motion was brought which relied, in part, on documents produced by the Defendant by the compulsion of the forced disclosure under the Rules of Court.  The case ultimately settled and a different class of Plaintiff’s brought a “virtually identical” lawsuit.
The Plaintiff’s wished to use the materials obtained in the first lawsuit in the second claim.  The Defendant’s would not consent arguing that the implied undertaking of confidentiality prohibited this use.  The Court was asked whether having the documents used in a pre-trial chambers application triggered the open court exception.  Madam Justice Griffin provided the following useful analysis:

[45] I conclude that a proper balancing of the public interest involved in the implied undertaking rule and in the open court principle, in respect of information filed in court as part of an interim application, can best be achieved by applying the following principles:

(a) the implied undertaking does not end when information, produced by an adverse party under compulsion of discovery (the “Producing Party”), is filed in court by the receiving party (the “Receiving Party”) in support of an interim application;

(b) in considering a Receiving Party’s application for leave to be relieved from the implied undertaking, the court may consider, as one factor in support of leave, the fact that the information was filed in court for a legitimate purpose and became part of the court record; and

(c) the implied undertaking of a Receiving Party ends, with respect to information produced by the Producing Party, when that information is filed in court by the Producing Party itself.

[46] The above principles would seek to avoid the mischief of a party with ulterior motives filing the adverse party’s information in court simply to get around the implied undertaking.  Upholding the implied undertaking and placing the onus on the Receiving Party to seek the court’s leave before using the information for another purpose, would encourage parties to fulfill their discovery obligations knowing that the implied undertaking cannot easily be avoided.   At the same time, the fact that the documents are now part of the court record, available to all other persons, will be one important factor to be considered by the court on a Receiving Party’s subsequent application for leave to use the documents for other purposes.

[47] It makes sense however, that the implied undertaking is lost when the Producing Party files its own information in open court.  There can be no concern about abuse of process or a deliberate attempt to circumvent the implied undertaking rule in such a situation, given that the Producing Party is not under any undertaking with respect to its own information and was not compelled to produce it in court.

The Court went on to hold that, despite the implied undertaking not coming to an end by virtue of the documents use in court, it would be appropriate to permit the Plaintiff’s to use the information in the subsequent lawsuit.  This case is worth reviewing in full for anyone interested in the developing principles of privacy law in BC as the judgement contains a lengthy discussion of the principles at play and the relevant precedents addressing the “implied undertaking of confidentiality”.


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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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