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August 28, 2013

Production of SIU Documents

When seeking production of documents from a non-party, it is important to remember that it is not sufficient to only show relevance; it must also be unfair to proceed to trial without the documents.

In Boucher (Litigation Guardian of) v. Charles, 2013 ONSC 3120 (S.C.J.), the plaintiffs brought a r. 30.10 motion to obtain documents from a non-party, the Special Investigations Unit (SIU).  The action arose out of an accident between a cyclist and a police motor vehicle.  The SIU conducted an investigation and concluded there were no grounds to lay criminal charges against the officer.

In a r. 30.10 motion for production of documents from a non-party, the moving party must satisfy a two-part test: 1) the document must be relevant to a material issue in the action and, 2) it would be unfair to proceed to trial without having discovery of the document.  The test sets a high bar and is permissive rather than mandatory (i.e. if it is met, the Court may order production).

The SIU conceded relevance of all of its documents except for statements from two civilian witnesses who did not witness the event.  Master McAfee held that the documents were relevant, but the plaintiffs were not able to meet the second part of the test.  The witnesses had not consented to release of their statements, and the statements of witnesses given to police officers had been produced in the police file.  Master McAfee also considered the public interest.  The efficacy of the SIU's investigative process and its ability to discharge its mandate depends on maintaining the confidence of witnesses. 

Master McAfee ordered production of a statement by a deceased witness as he would not be available to testify at trial or to provide consent to release the statement.  The plaintiffs were not able to show that they would be prejudiced by proceeding to trial without the remaining documents.

August 21, 2013

The Onus at Status Hearings

The decision of Master Hawkins in 1745361 Ontario Ltd. v. St. Paul's Investments, 2013 ONSC 4642 (S.C.J.) reminds us that the onus at a status hearing is on the plaintiff.

In this case, there was a delay of between 13 and 25 months, depending on whether or not the plaintiff had served an affidavit of documents (the parties disputed whether it had been served).  The plaintiff also failed to comply with the Master's Order that it deliver material for a status hearing.

Master Hawkins emphasized that Rule 48.14(13) places the onus on the plaintiff to persuade the court that the action should not be dismissed for delay.  The plaintiff must demonstrate that he, she or it has an acceptable explanation for the delay, and that if the action is allowed to proceed, the defendant will suffer no non-compensable prejudice.

The plaintiff's affidavit used at the status hearing provided no explanation for the delay and was silent on the issue of prejudice to the defendant.  On the contrary, the defendant delivered an affidavit setting out that two critical witnesses had disappeared.  Accordingly, the plaintiff had failed to discharge its onus under r. 48.14(13) and the action was dismissed.

Although the onus is on the plaintiff, one has to assume that the affidavit filed by the defendant setting out the prejudice it suffered as a result of the delay was helpful to the Court.

August 14, 2013

Excess Insurance

Excess insurers may be interested in the recently reported decision of ACE INA Insurance v. Associated Electric & Gas Insurance Services Ltd., [2012] O.J. No. 6500 (S.C.J.).

ACE insured Toronto Hydro, which was sued over an explosion that occurred in the underground parking of a high-rise apartment building.  AEGIS was the excess insurer.  Although there was no explicit duty to defend under the AEGIS policy, ACE brought an application that AEGIS had a duty to pay defence costs pursuant to the doctrine of equitable contribution.

The AEGIS policy was an "indemnity policy" rather than a "liability policy".  Under its policy, AEGIS limited its indemnity obligation where there is other insurance, and limited its duty to indemnify to defence costs incurred by the insured, not those incurred by a third-party such as ACE.  Defence counsel had been appointed by ACE rather than the insured.  AEGIS's obligation was only to indemnify defence costs at the end of the litigation, where the costs were not covered by other insurance.    

Justice C.J. Brown rejected the argument that AEGIS had an equitable duty to contribute to defence costs despite the clear wording of the policy.  There is no equitable obligation to defend where an excess policy precludes a duty to defend.  In addition, a relevant factor was that any defence costs paid by AEGIS would reduce the policy limits available to the insured so there was potential prejudice to Toronto Hydro. 

August 7, 2013

Expert Evidence at Trial

The Divisional Court has released an important decision with respect to expert evidence.  In Westerhof v. Gee (Estate), 2013 ONSC 2093 (Div. Ct.), a jury awarded the plaintiff $22,000 in general damages and $13,000 for loss of income.  The trial judge, however, dismissed the claim on the basis that it did not meet threshold.  The plaintiff appealed, arguing that the trial judge erred by restricting the plaintiff's expert witnesses.  A number of treating practitioners were not permitted to give evidence about diagnosis or prognosis, two accident benefits assessors were not permitted to give opinion evidence, a neurologist was not permitted to give evidence regarding psychiatric or psychological issues, and opinions contained in MRI reports were redacted.

The appeal was dismissed.  The Court discussed a number of cases dealing with r. 53.03 and r. 4.1.01, which provide a framework for the duties of experts.  The key distinction is whether the evidence is factual or opinion evidence; if it is opinion evidence, compliance with r. 53.03 is required.  As a result, it was correct for the trial judge to exclude the evidence.  A treating physician could offer evidence with respect to observations of the plaintiff or the treatment provided, but once such a witness seeks to offer opinions on the cause of the injury, its pathology or prognosis, the evidence enters into the realm of opinion evidence requiring compliance with r. 53.03.

Westerhof provides much-needed guidance regarding expert witnesses.  It will be interesting to see whether the number of treating practitioners testifying decreases as a result of the ruling.  The plaintiff's treating practitioners will now be held to a higher standard, and there may be an opening to argue that a practitioner is an advocate rather than impartial witness.