Tag: More v. Bauer

More on BC Injury Claims and Biomechanical Engineering Evidence

Further to my recent post on this topic, the evidence of biomechanical engineers is becoming more common in BC injury lawsuits.
Biomechanics is the study of forces applied to biological tissue and the injuries that can result from such forces.  In litigation it is easy to imagine the use such expert opinion evidence can be put to in proving causation of injuries.
Biomechanics is a relatively new scientific field.  Courts are generally conservative and can be slow to accept ‘novel‘ scientific evidence.  Despite judicial conservatism, biomechanical evidence does appear to be gaining acceptance by BC Courts as demonstrated in reasons for judgment released today.
In today’s case (More v. Bauer) the Plaintiff suffered a severe brain injury while playing hockey.  The Plaintiff claimed his helmet was negligently designed and sued the manufacturers of the helmet.  In support of his claim he called a biomechanical engineer who gave evidence in the field of biomechanics and the biomechanics of safety standards.
The Defendants did not challenge his qualifications to give this evidence, however, at the conclusion of the expert’s testimony the Defendants brought a motion to rule the testimony inadmissible arguing that the expert’s “underlying methodology and science are so flawed that the evidence (does not meet the legal test for admissibility)” and that the expert was “biased and purposely misled the court to assist the plaintiff“.
Mr. Justice Macaulay rejected the motion and concluded that the evidence was in fact admissible.  In doing so the Court recognized biomechanics as an “accepted area of scientific and academic expertise“.  The Court reasoned as follows:
[1] Dr. Stalnaker has a Ph.D. in theoretical and applied mechanics. Through much of his lengthy career, he has worked in the branch field of biomechanics. He also has practical experience in standards development for certification purposes although not specifically with regard to hockey helmet standards. Biomechanics involves the study of body kinematics ? the forces applied to biological tissue and the injuries that can result. The plaintiffs sought to qualify Dr. Stalnaker as an expert in biomechanics and the biomechanics of safety standards…

[12] Mohan sets out the current approach to the admissibility of expert evidence. Mr. Justice Sopinka outlines the following criteria for the admissibility of opinion evidence:

(1)      the evidence must be relevant to some issue in the case;

(2)      the evidence must be necessary to assist the trier of fact;

(3)      the evidence must not contravene an exclusionary rule; and

(4)      the witness must be a properly qualified expert.

[15] Assessing reliability includes determining whether the science or technique the witness uses to reach a conclusion is “novel”. Novel science will be subject to a stricter level of scrutiny than theories or techniques that are more generally accepted…

[23] To conclude, in assessing reliability when exercising my gatekeeper role, I must determine whether the approach the impugned expert takes is novel. If Dr. Stalnaker is relying on a novel theory or technique, I should exercise a higher level of scrutiny when examining reliability, in order to prevent the trial becoming “a medical or scientific convention with an exchange of highly speculative points of view” (R. v. J.E.T. at para. 77).

[24] In assessing reliability, I may find the Daubert factors helpful, but need not apply them too strictly. The purpose of applying the factors is to determine the degree of uncertainty present in the impugned expert’s analysis. The question is whether “the degree of uncertainty is unacceptable given the likely effect upon the trial process and the trier of fact. The level of acceptable uncertainty may depend upon the purpose for which the evidence is tendered and the use made of the evidence by other experts” (Wolfin at para. 20). Both the mode of trial and the importance of the evidence to making a final determination of the matter are factors to consider. If a theory or technique is implausible it will not be admitted.

[25] I remain persuaded that biomechanics is a recognized and accepted area of scientific and academic expertise. I am satisfied that Dr. Stalnaker is qualified to give opinion evidence in the area of biomechanics including in relation to safety standards. Opinion evidence is necessary to assist me in drawing appropriate inferences of fact.

More on Trials and Examinations For Discovery – Keeping Evidence Out For Lack of Relevance

As I’ve previously written, evidence given by a party at examination for discovery can be damaging.  The opposing side can read in portions of the transcript to the trial judge in an effort to advance their case or hurt yours.
A limit on this is relevance.  If the proposed discovery questions and answers are not relevant (even if no objection to relevance was made at the examination for discovery) a trial judge can keep the evidence from going in.  Reasons for judgement were released yesterday by the BC Supreme Court, Victoria Registry, dealing with this practice point.
In yesterday’s case (More v. Bauer) the Plaintiff suffered a severe brain injury while playing hockey.  The Plaintiff claimed his helmet was negligently designed and sued the manufacturers of the helmet.   At trial the Plaintiff’s lawyer attempted to read in portions of the examination for discovery evidence obtained in pre-trial investigations.  Mr. Justice Macaulay refused to let certain portions of the proposed evidence in on the basis that it was not relevant.  While the result reached in this case is very fact specific the Court provided the following useful summary of the law of relevance and discovery evidence:

[4] The subrule, as applicable here, reads:

(27)      (a)        If otherwise admissible, the evidence given on an examination for discovery by a party or by a person examined under Rule 27(4) to (12) may be given in evidence at trial, unless the court otherwise orders, but the evidence is admissible only against

(i)         the adverse party who was examined,

(ii)        the adverse party whose status as a party entitled the examining party to conduct the examination under Rule 27(4) to (12), or                      …

[5] A plain reading of Rule 40(27)(a) strongly suggests that the evidence an examining party seeks to read in must be admissible in the usual sense; that is, the evidence must be relevant and not subject to any exclusionary rule. Even if the evidence is admissible, the wording further suggests that the court has a residual discretion to exclude it. In my view, the latter requires me to consider whether admitting the evidence at this stage of the trial would result in unfairness…

[11] I must determine questions of relevance having regard to the issues framed in the pleadings. Throughout, I have applied the description of relevance that Cory J. set out in R. v. Arp, [1998] 3 S.C.R. 339, 166 D.L.R. (4th) 296 at para. 38:

38        … To be logically relevant, an item of evidence does not have to firmly establish, on any standard, the truth or falsity of a fact in issue. The evidence must simply tend to “increase or diminish the probability of the existence of a fact in issue”. [Citation omitted.] As a consequence, there is no minimum probative value required for evidence to be relevant. [Citation omitted.]

As is well known, questions of relevance are largely determined by applying common sense and experience within the above framework.

[12] I also take into account the more recent statement of the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Blackman, 2008 SCC 37, [2008] 2 S.C.R. 298 at para. 30:

[30]      Relevance can only be fully assessed in the context of the other evidence at trial. However, as a threshold for admissibility, the assessment of relevance is an ongoing and dynamic process that cannot wait for the conclusion of the trial for resolution. Depending on the stage of the trial, the “context” within which an item of evidence is assessed for relevance may well be embryonic. Often, for pragmatic reasons, relevance must be determined on the basis of the submissions of counsel. The reality that establishing threshold relevance cannot be an exacting standard is explained by Professors D. M. Paciocco and L. Stuesser in The Law of Evidence (4th ed. 2005), at p. 29, and, as the authors point out, is well captured in the following statement of Cory J. in R. v. Arp, [1998] 3 S.C.R. 339, at para. 38 …

As readers of this blog know the BC Supreme Court Rules are being overhauled effective July 1, 2010.   The Rule discussed in this post is reproduced in almost identical form and can be found at Rule 12-5(46) so this case ought to retain its value as a precedent moving forward.


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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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