Case Summary by Erik Magrakan
http://bc-injury-law.com/blog

Re: Rule 11-3
Case: Benedetti v. Breker

Joint Experts and the New Rules of Court

Can the BC Supreme Court order that parties use a joint expert in a personal injury trial against the wishes of one of the parties?  Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, addressing this question.

In today’s case (Benedetti v. Breker) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2005 collision.  He was 17 at the time and allegedly sustained a brain injury with psychiatric consequences.  The Plaintiff brought an application asking that the Court order that Dr. O’Shaugnessy be appointed as a joint expert in the lawsuit.  The Defendant objected to having a joint expert.  Master Baker dismissed the motion and in doing so found that the Rules of Court do not permit a joint expert to be appointed over the objection of a party unless its done at a Case Planning Conference.  The Court provided the following reasons:

[11] Jointly appointed experts are not new to litigation in British Columbia.  In the family law context section 15 of the Family Relations Act has, for over 30 years, provided for the appointment of experts to investigate and prepare custody and access reports.  Realty appraisers are also often jointly appointed and instructed in family proceedings.  It is not all that unusual to encounter jointly-instructed experts in construction disputes.  But the new Rules clearly have brought greater focus and emphasis to the appointment of joint experts and invite the wider application of that process.

[12] Having said that, I agree with Mr. Nugent that this application does not follow the correct procedure for such an appointment.  He is correct in his analysis and that the only provision in the new Rules for the appointment of a joint expert over the wishes of one or both of the parties is in Rule 5-3(1)(k)(i), authorizing the presiding Judge or Master to order

that the expert evidence on any one or more issues be given by one jointly-instructed expert

Rule 11-3, he correctly argues, only permits the court to direct who that expert will be, or other terms ancillary to the appointment.  Rule 11-3 assumes that either the parties have agreed to the concept of a joint expert, or that the court has already ordered one in a CPC.  Neither of those assumptions apply in this case.

[13] It is not for me to theorize the reasons behind Rule 11-3’s current form, or why the only provision for the court, of its own volition, to appoint a joint expert is found in the CPC rule.  Suffice it to say and conclude that the Attorney General’s Rules Revision Committee’s purpose and the legislative intent was to separate the aspects of the appointment accordingly and to leave the court appointment process in the less formal CPC procedure.

[14] Even if the authority did lie in Rule 11-3, however, I agree further with Mr. Nugent that it would not be an appropriate order in this case.  This jurisdiction is blessed with a choice of numerous medical legal experts who could function as a joint expert in this matter.  By no means is Dr. O’Shaughnessy the only suitable choice as joint expert.  To appoint him, however, is to deprive the defence of a significant or potentially significant trial stratagem.  Wilson, C.J.S.C. in Milburn et al v. Phillips long ago described the purpose of an IME: “…to put the parties on a basis of equality” or, as it is commonly offered in chambers, to level the playing field.  The plaintiff has received treatment from at least two psychiatrists and has seen a neuropsychologist (par. 3, above).  The former were, to be sure, treating physicians, but it is not clear whether the latter was for treatment or for medical-legal consultation.  Given these facts, the defence should not be deprived of unilateral access to the one psychiatric expert that it chose and notified some 15 months before this application.

[15] The accompanying argument also has merit: should Dr. O’Shaughnessy’s conclusions not assist the defence, counsel can instruct him to not prepare a report.  In such an instance Dr. O’Shaughnessy’s objective observations, test results, or the like may well be discoverable but he would not be obliged to give or disclose his opinion to the plaintiff.  This is an important tool in the defence toolkit and should not be casually ignored.

[16] Finally, while proportionality is a laudable goal and should factor into all decisions under the Rules, in this case I doubt its applicability.  With five medical reports (privileged to date, recall) with the plaintiff, it seems unlikely that proportionality will be served by directing that a sixth, that of Dr. O’Shaughnessy, be a joint report.

[17] For these reasons the application is dismissed.