Tag: Mr. Justice Goepel

Keeping Damaging Evidence Out; Bias and Necessity


An imporant skill of a trial lawyer is being able to persuade the Court, in appropriate circumstances, to exclude expert opinion evidence that is damaging to your client’s case.  Two of the many objections that can be raised against opposing expert evidence are bias and lack of necessity.   Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, dealing with these areas of the law.
In today’s case (Beazley v. Suzuki Motor Corporation) the Plaintiff was injured in a 1994 roll-over car crash.  The Plaintiff claimed that the design of the vehicle involved was defective and sued various parties including GMC.  GMC argued that the vehicle was not negligently designed and further that the Plaintiff was the author of her own misfortune for failing to wear her seatbelt.
In support of their case the Defendants obtained two expert reports.  The first was a report from an engineer (who was an employee of the Defendant GMC) who provided opinions about the handling, stability and rollover characteristics of the vehicle in question and whether the vehicle was defective.  The second was the report of a statistician who addressed the injury risk to belted and unbelted occupants in rollover accidents.
The Plaintiff applied to exclude these reports from evidence.  They argued that the engineer’s employment relationship with the Defendant at the very least created a reasonable apprehension of bias that should disqualify him from acting as an expert.  With respect to the statistician’s report the Plaintiffs argued that this evidence was not helpful for the Court.
Mr. Justice Goepel rejected the Plaintiff’s submissions with respect to bias but did agree with the submissions with respect to the statistical evidence.  In coming to these conclusions Mr. Justice Goepel provided the following useful summaries of these areas of law:

  • BIAS

[20] Canadian courts appear to have taken different positions on the issue of whether an expert witness’ bias or perceived bias will disqualify him or her from giving evidence at trial. Some courts have held that for expert evidence to be admissible, the expert must be seen to be absolutely neutral and objective. Other courts have concluded that a lack of objectivity, neutrality and independence are matters that only impact the weight to be afforded that expert. Romilly J. in United City Properties Ltd. v. Tong, 2010 BCSC 111 at paras. 35-68, has exhaustively reviewed the jurisprudence.

[21] The cases are not easily reconciled. Where there is a personal relationship between the proposed expert and the party, where the expert has been personally involved in the subject matter of the litigation or where the expert has a personal interest in the outcome, the expert has not been allowed to testify. Examples of such cases are Fellowes, McNeil v. Kansa General International Insurance Co. (1998), 40 O.R. (3d) 456 (Gen. Div.); Royal Trust Corporation of Canada v. Fisherman (2000), 49 O.R. (3d) 187 (Sup. Ct. J.);  Bank of Montreal v. Citak, [2001] O.J. No. 1096 (Sup. Ct. J.); and Kirby Lowbed Services Ltd. v. Bank of Nova Scotia, 2003 BCSC 617. In cases where the relationship between the expert and the party is more institutional in nature, the evidence has been admitted subject to weight. Examples of such cases are R. v. Klassen, 2003 MBQB 253 and R. v. Inco Ltd.(2006), 80 O.R. (3d) 594 (Sup. Ct. J.).

  • NECESSITY

[28] Expert opinion evidence is admissible only where a judge or jury are unable, due to the technical nature of the facts, to draw appropriate inferences. The defendants seek to call Ms. Padmanapan’s statistical evidence in order to establish a causal connection between a failure to wear a seatbelt in the course of a rollover accident and increased injuries. In certain circumstances statistical evidence can be helpful in determining causation:  Laferrière v. Lawson, [1991] 1 S. C.R. 541.

[29] It has been long recognized in British Columbia that a party who fails to use an available seatbelt and sustains injuries more severe than if the seatbelt had been worn will be found to be contributory negligent: Yuan et al. v. Farstad (1967), 66 D.L.R. (2d) 295 (B.C.S.C.); Gagnon v. Beaulieu, [1977] 1 W.W.R. 702 (B.C.S.C.).

[30] While there appears to have been statistical evidence led in Yuan and in Gagnon, subsequent cases have held that such evidence is not necessary. In Lakhani (Guardian ad litem of) v. Samson, [1982] B.C.J. No. 397 (S.C.) McEachern C.J.S.C. (as he then was) noted at para. 3:

I reject the suggestion that engineering evidence is required in these cases. The court is not required to leave its common sense in the hall outside the courtroom, and the evidence is clear that upon impact in both cases the Plaintiff’s upper body was flung or thrown forward striking the dashboard or the steering wheel. And common sense tells me that the restraint of a shoulder harness would have prevented that, and therefore some of the injury from having occurred.

[31] To succeed on the seatbelt defence, the onus will be on the defendants to establish upon a balance of probabilities that the use of a functioning seatbelt would have avoided, or minimized Ms. Spehar’s injuries:  Harrison v. Brown, [1987] 1 W.W.R. 212 (B.C.S.C.); Terracciano (Guardian ad litem of) v. Etheridge (1997), 33 B.C.L.R. (3d) 328 (S.C.).

[32] The statistical evidence to be led from Ms. Padmanapan is, in my opinion, not necessary and will not assist me as trier of fact in determining the issue of contributory negligence. If the evidence is not necessary, it does not meet the test of admissibility.

More on the Scope of Examination For Discovery Evidence At Trial

When a Defendant is examined for discovery in a BC Injury Claim damaging answers can be read in at trial as evidence against that defendant. A limit to this, however, is that if there is more than one defendant in a lawsuit the evidence can generally only be used against the defendant who was examined (click here to read a previous post discussing this restriction).
Reasons for judgment were released today demonstrating an exception to this restriction.  In today’s case (Beazley v. Suzuki Motor Corporation) the Plaintiff was injured in a 1994 motor vehicle collision.   The Plaintiff claimed that the design of the vehicle involved was defective and sued various parties including GMC.
In the course of the lawsuit representatives of GMC were examined for discovery.  The Plaintiff obtained admissions which were useful in advancing their lawsuit.  Subsequent to this, GMC sought bankruptcy protection under Chapter 11 of the US Bankruptcy Code.  Because of the Bankruptcy the plaintiff’s could no longer compel the GMC representatives as adverse witnesses.   The case was set for trial and the Plaintiff wished to read in the discovery answers of these witnesses as against the other defendants.  The other defendants opposed this raising the limitation set out in Rule 40(27) of the BC Supreme Court Rules.
Mr. Justice Goepel agreed that the restriction in Rule 40(27) “does not allow exceptions and, accordingly, the discovery evidence would not be admissible pursuant to Rule 40(27) as against anyone other than GMC“.
However, the Court went on to hold that, despite this restriction, the Court could permit this evidence in as against the other defendants under Rule 40(4) of the rules of Court due to the circumstances of this case.    Below I set out Mr. Justice Goepel’s useful analysis:

[27] Rule 40(4) deals with the evidence of witnesses who are otherwise unavailable.  Rule 40(4) gives the court the discretion in certain defined circumstances to allow a transcript of prior evidence given by the witness to be put in evidence.  The Rule reads:

40(4)  Where a witness is dead, or is unable to attend and testify because of age, infirmity, sickness or imprisonment or is out of the jurisdiction or his or her attendance cannot be secured by subpoena, the court may permit a transcript of any evidence of that witness taken in any proceeding, hearing or inquiry at which the evidence was taken under oath, whether or not involving the same parties to be put in as evidence, but reasonable notice shall be given of the intention to give that evidence.

[28] Mr. Leffert and Mr. Uthe are both residents of the United States.  They are not subject to this Court’s subpoena powers and the plaintiffs cannot compel their evidence at trial.

[29] The Rule is discretionary in nature.  If the witness cannot attend for one of the stated reasons the court may, not must, allow a transcript of prior testimony to be put into evidence, subject only to the requirement of prior notice.  In determining whether or not to allow the evidence to be admitted, the court must consider matters of trial fairness and potential prejudice to the parties.

[30] Rule 40(4) has been the subject of several recent decisions.  Most have concerned applications to introduce a deceased plaintiff’s examination for discovery transcript.  The authorities were reviewed and considered in Malik Estate v. State Petroleum Corp., 2007 BCSC 934, 74 B.C.L.R. (4th) 330.  In Malik, the plaintiff sought to admit into evidence the transcript of the examination for discovery of Mr. Malik that had been conducted by the defendant.  Mr. Malik had since died. After reviewing previous decisions dealing with Rule 40(4) and considering at some length the restated rules concerning the admission of hearsay evidence, Burnyeat J. concluded that the transcript of Mr. Malik’s discovery was admissible.

[31] The arguments in favour of admissibility are much stronger in this case than in Malik.  In Malik, the plaintiff was seeking the admission of discoveries conducted by the defendant.  Such discoveries often present an incomplete version of the case as an examiner may choose to refrain from examining on some aspect of the case in order to avoid revealing trial tactics.  The potential for prejudice in such cases is great, particularly when the witness is deceased and the transcript is the only evidence of that witness that will be before the court.

[32] That is not the situation in the case at bar.  Here the examination was conducted by the plaintiffs.  It was conducted with the intent that the evidence would be read in at trial.  Absent the bankruptcy, Leffert and Uthe could have been called as adverse witnesses and their evidence would have been admissible against all defendants.

[33] There is minimal prejudice to the remaining defendants if the evidence is admitted.  Mr. Leffert and Mr. Uthe are clearly allied with the GM defendants.  There is no reason to believe that they would not voluntarily attend at the trial if the GM defendants requested their attendance.  If the evidence is admitted the remaining GM defendants can call Mr. Leffert or Mr. Uthe to explain any admissions that they may have made.

[34] It may well be pursuant to the Letters of Request that the plaintiffs could again obtain the evidence of Mr. Leffert and Mr. Uthe and then lead that evidence at trial.  Rule 1(5) seeks to secure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every proceeding on its merits.  To put the plaintiffs to the cost and expense of again examining these witnesses would be contrary to and the antithesis of Rule 1(5).

[35] Rule 40(4) refers to transcripts of other evidence.  The plaintiffs in this case wish only to put into evidence those parts of the transcripts which assist their case.  While admission of only a portion of the evidence may be objectionable in other circumstances, such as when the witness is deceased, I will allow the plaintiffs in this case to submit only portions of the transcript, subject to the defendants’ right to request that other parts of the discovery that are reasonably connected to those portions already introduced be also put into evidence:Foote v. Royal Columbian Hospital, (1982) 38 B.C.L.R. 222 (S.C.).

[36] Accordingly, the plaintiffs can read into evidence, pursuant to Rule 40(4), portions of the examinations of Mr. Leffert and Mr. Uthe.  That evidence will become evidence at large and will be admissible for and against all parties. The plaintiffs must 14 days prior to trial specify the part of the discovery evidence that they intend to be given at trial.  The remaining GM defendants will have the right to request that other parts of the discovery that are reasonably connected to those parts given in evidence also be put into evidence.

Now to continue my effort to cross reference civil procedure cases that I write about with the soon to be in force New BC Supreme Court Civil Rules.

Rule 40(27) will be replaced with the new Civil Rule 12-5(46).  With respect to the restriction of who the discovery evidence can be used against, the new rule seems to be in line with the current rule.

Rule 40(4) is replaced with Rule 12-5(54) with identical language.  Accordingly, this case should retain its value as a precedent once the new BC Supreme Court Civil Rules come into force.

BC Supreme Court Confrims Strict Adherence Necessary to Trigger Rule 37B

Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court confirming that strict adherence to the requirements of Rule 37B are necessary for a pre-trial settlement offer to trigger costs consequences. In this week’s case (Wormell v. Hagen) the Third Party to the lawsuit made a pre trial offer stating “the Third Party offers to settle the Defendant’s claim(s) for any contribution or relief from the Third Party in this proceeding on the following terms: Dismissal of the Third Party Notice; and costs in accordance with Rule 37(22) and (37)”

After trial the Defendant’s claims against the third party were dismissed.  The Third Party brought an application for double costs under Rule 37B as they beat their pre-trial settlement offer.  Mr. Justice Goepel refused to order double costs holding that the pre-trial settlement offer did not comply with the strict requirements of Rule 37B thereby giving the Court no authority under the Rule.

Mr. Justice Goepel reasoned as follows:

[5] Rule 37 was repealed by B.C. Reg. 130/2008, effective July 1, 2008.  At that time Rule 37 was replaced by Rule 37(b) which provides that:

37B(1) In this rule, “offer to settle” means

(a)      an offer to settle made and delivered before July 2, 2008 under Rule 37, as that rule read on the date of the offer to settle, and in relation to which no order was made under that rule,

(b)      an offer of settlement made and delivered before July 2, 2008 under Rule 37A, as that rule read on the date of the offer of settlement, and in relation to which no order was made under that rule, or

(c)      an offer to settle, made after July 1, 2008, that

(i)         is made in writing by a party to a proceeding,

(ii)        has been delivered to all parties of record, and

(iii)       contains that following sentence: “The … [name of the party making the offer]… reserves the right to bring this offer to the attention of the court for consideration in relation to costs after the court has rendered judgment on all other issues in this proceeding.” [B.C. Reg. 130/2008, s. 1]

[6] The offer served by Mr. Moses on the defendant does not contain the wording required in Rule 37B(1)(c)(iii)…

[7] In Lau v. Rai, 2009 BCSC 696, Powers J. considered the effect of a non-compliant offer and held that a non-compliant offer did not constitute an “offer to settle” as defined under Rule 37B.

[8] I agree with Powers J.’s conclusion.  “Offer to settle” is a defined term.  A proposal concerning costs made subsequent to July 1, 2008 that does not comply with the provisions of Rule 37B(1)(c) is not an “offer to settle” as defined in the Rules and does not trigger the cost options set out in Rule 37B(5).

[9] In the result, therefore, the third party’s application for double costs is dismissed.  I confirm the cost order set out in para. 144 of my initial reasons.  The defendant is entitled to the cost of this application to be set off against the costs otherwise awarded to the third parties.  As the third parties were both represented by the same counsel at trial and took the same positions with respect to defending the third party claim the third parties are collectively only entitled to one set of costs:  Malik v. State Petroleum Corp., 2009 BCSC 115.

Another LVI Case, Another Award for Damages

I’ve blogged many times about ICBC’s LVI program.  This program is not unique to ICBC.  Many auto insurers have a similar program where they deny compensible injury in tort claims where little vehicle damage occurs in the collision.
The difficulty with the LVI defence, however, is that to successfully run it the defence lawyer is basically inviting the court to find that the Plaintiff is lying about or exaggerating their injuries.  There have been many LVI cases that have gone to trial recently and the overwhelming judicial response to these was to find that compensible injury in fact did occur. Reasons for judgment were released today dealing with 2 LVI cases and such a finding was made again.
In today’s case (Loik v. Hannah) the Plaintiff was involved in 2 collisions in 2006.  Fault was admitted in each case leaving the Court to deal with the issue of quantum of damages (value of the claims).  The cases were defended on the LVI basis where the defence lawyer denied that the Plaintiff was injured in either of the accidents.
Mr. Justice Goepel rejected this argument and found that, notwithstanding the minor nature of these collisions, the Plaintiff was indeed injured.  The court’s useful analysis is set out at paragraphs 34-36 which I set out below:

[34] Ms. Loik claims damages arising from injuries she alleges to have suffered in what were two admittedly low velocity conditions. If the plaintiff was injured in the accidents, the injuries have persisted much longer than one would normally expect. In determining this case, the comments of Chief Justice McEachern, as he then was, in Price v. Kostryba (1982), 70 B.C.L.R. 397 at 398-99 (S.C.), must be kept in mind:

Perhaps no injury has been the subject of so much judicial consideration as the whiplash. Human experience tells us that these injuries normally resolve themselves within six months to a year or so. Yet every physician knows some patients whose complaint continues for years, and some apparently never recover. For this reason, it is necessary for a court to exercise caution and to examine all the evidence carefully so as to arrive at fair and reasonable compensation. …

In Butler v. Blaylock, decided 7th October 1981, Vancouver No. B781505 (unreported), I referred to counsel’s argument that a defendant is often at the mercy of a plaintiff in actions for damages for personal injuries because complaints of pain cannot easily be disproved. I then said:

I am not stating any new principle when I say that the court should be exceedingly careful when there is little or no objective evidence of continuing injury and when complaints of pain persist for long periods extending beyond the normal or usual recovery.

An injured person is entitled to be fully and properly compensated for any injury or disability caused by a wrongdoer. But no one can expect his fellow citizen or citizens to compensate him in the absence of convincing evidence – which could be just his own evidence if the surrounding circumstances are consistent – that his complaints of pain are true reflections of a continuing injury.

[35] In this case, as in most soft tissue injury cases, the case largely turns on the plaintiff’s credibility. The evidence of her injuries is based almost entirely on her subjective reporting to her doctors and to the Court. In such circumstances, it is important to consider whether the evidence of the witness accords with the circumstances that are proven on a balance of probabilities:  Faryna v. Chorny (1951), [1952] 2 D.L.R. 354, 4 W.W.R. (N.S.) 171 (B.C.C.A.).

[36] I find the plaintiff to be a credible witness. Her evidence accords with the surrounding circumstances. Prior to the accident, she was living a healthy active life, participating in many activities. She no longer is able to do so. I find that the reason she cannot do so is the ongoing pain she continues to suffer as a result of the motor vehicle accidents.

Mr. Justice Goepel found that the Plaintiff suffered soft tissue injuries in these collisions “which have caused her ongoing problems with her neck, back and shoulders.”  He went on to value the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages at $25,000.

In addition to a useful discussion about LVI Accidents, the court went on to discuss a topic that I wrote about yesterday, namely the connection between the value of a claim and the numnber of medical appointments attended.

The Defendant argued that since the Plaintiff did not seek medical treatment between November 2006 and April 2008 her injuries had fully recovered.  Mr. Justice Goepel rejected this argument finding that “She thought she was getting better and continued to do the exercises that had been prescribed for her. When, over the next 18 months, her condition did not improve, she sought further medical treatment. In the circumstances of this case, I find that the failure to seek medical treatment does not establish that the plaintiff had recovered from her injuries by November 2006.”

Crushed Ankle and Torn ACL Valued at $95,000; "Agony of the Moment" Explained

Reasons for judgement were released today (Wormell v. Hagel) by the BC Supreme Court, Kamloops Registry, awarding a Plaintiff just over $570,000 in total damages as a result of a 2003 injury.
The facts behind the injury are a little unusual.  The Plaintiff was standing on top of cargo on a flat bed truck.  At the same time, the Defendant was operating a crane and intended to lift the cargo.  The cargo shifted while the Plaintiff was still standing on it and in the “agony of the moment” the Plaintiff jumped off the truck to the ground which was some 12 feet below.  In jumping on the ground the Plaintiff suffered various injuries including a “crush fracture to the left ankle and a tear to the anterior cruciate ligament of his right knee“.
The Defendant was found at fault for this incident for operating the crane at a time when it was unsafe to do so.  The Plaintiff was found faultless for jumping to the ground in the “agony of the moment” and Mr. Justice Goepel did a good job summarizing this principle of law at paragraphs 35-37 stating as follows:

[35] A party who acts negligently and creates a danger carries a heavy onus if he then seeks to cast any blame for the accident on the injured party:  Haase v. Pedro (1970), 21 B.C.L.R. (2d) 273 (C.A.) at para. 16, aff’d [1971] S.C.R. 669.

[36] The standard of care applied to individuals in emergency situations is not one of perfection. The law in such circumstances was explained in Walls v. Mussens Ltd. et al(1969), 11 D.L.R. (3d) 245 at 247-48 (N.B.C.A):

… I think the plaintiff is entitled to invoke the “agony of the moment” rule as an answer to the allegation of contributory negligence made against him. The rule is stated by Mr. Glanville Williams in his work Joint Torts and Contributory Negligence at p. 360-1:

It is well settled that where a sudden emergency arises through the fault of the defendant, the plaintiff who acts reasonably in an attempt to extricate himself is not guilty of contributory negligence merely because he unintentionally aggravates the situation. Also, where the plaintiff is compelled to make a quick decision in the ‘agony of the moment’ he is not expected to take into account all the considerations that a calmer appraisal of the situation might present to the mind. Perfect foresight and presence of mind are not required. This rule, sometimes called the ‘agony of the moment’ rule, is merely a particular application of the rule that the standard of care required of both plaintiff and defendant is that of a reasonable man.

The Law of Torts, 3rd ed., by J.G. Fleming contains the following statement at p. 247:

On the other hand, a person’s conduct in the face of a sudden emergency, cannot be judged from the standpoint of what would have been reasonable behaviour in the light of hind-knowledge and in a calmer atmosphere conducive to a nice evaluation of alternatives. A certain latitude is allowed when in the agony of the moment he seeks to extricate himself from an emergency not created by his own antecedent negligence. The degree of judgment and presence of mind expected of the plaintiff is what would have been reasonable conduct in such a situation, and he will not be adjudged guilty of contributory negligence merely because, as it turns out, he unwittingly took the wrong course.

The rule although applied originally in Admiralty cases, now has general application where danger to life and limb or to property is brought about by the negligence of the defendant: see The “Bywell Castle” (1879), L.R. 4 P.D. 219 per Brett, L.J., at p. 226, and Cotton, L.J., at p. 228; Rowan v. Toronto Ry. Co. (1899) 29 S.C.R. 717, and Tatisich v. Edwards,[1931] 2 D.L.R. 521, [1931] S.C.R. 167.

The test to be applied in circumstances such as those as in the case at bar is, in my opinion, not whether the plaintiff exercised a careful and prudent judgment in doing what he did, but whether what he did was something an ordinarily prudent man might reasonably have done under the stress of the emergency.

[37] In this case, Mr. Hagen’s negligent act caused the emergency situation. Mr. Wormell did not have time to determine with any certainty whether the load was going to fall or stay. He had to make a quick decision in the “agony of the moment”. He chose to jump clear. As it turned out, that was the wrong decision because the load itself did not come off the truck. Matters, however, could have turned out otherwise. In deciding to jump away from the load Mr. Wormell did something an ordinary prudent man might reasonably have done under the stress of the emergency.

In assessing the Plaintiff’s non-pecuniary damages (money for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life) at $95,000 Mr. Justice Goepel noted the following about his injuries and their effect on his life:

[96] Mr. Wormell’s injuries are permanent and will impact him for the rest of his life. He has undergone one surgery and will have to undergo at least one more for an ankle fusion. He also possibly faces surgery to reconstruct his ACL.

[97] In the months immediately following the accident, he was in significant pain. The March 2004 surgery reduced his pain and made his injuries more manageable. He now works steadily but seldom can do more than three or four hours of physical work. As his ankle worsens during the day, more of his weight bears on his right leg which aggravates his knee problems.

[98] If the fusion surgery is successful, he will have less pain in his ankle and will be more functional at work. The fusion will, however, cause some permanent limitations.

[99] Prior to his injuries, he was active in sports but he has not been able to return to sports in any meaningful way. This will not improve…

[105] I accept Mr. Wormell’s evidence as to why he has not undergone the fusion surgery. That surgery will leave him incapacitated for six months to a year. Given his ongoing financial obligations, he has not been able to afford to take the necessary time off to have the surgery.

[106] As is often the case, none of the cited cases involve the identical combination of injuries as that suffered by Mr. Wormell. That said, the cases cited by the defendant are closer to the mark. In particular, in this regard, I refer to the Graham and Nicoll cases which both involved serious leg injuries to men of an age similar to Mr. Wormell. I award $95,000 in non-pecuniary damages.

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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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