As a personal injury lawyer in British Columbia since 1995 I am often asked to prosecute injury claims resulting indirectly from an event. For example, a car swerves to avoid a truck going through a red light and the car goes off the road, hits into a fence, which releases a dog and the dog viciously attacks a pedestrian. Can the pedestrian sue and get compensation from the truck driver that ran the red light? Are the pedestrian’s injuries “too remote” from the negligent driving of the truck driver?
In this personal injury defamation claim (Stuart v. Hugh, 2011 BCSC 426) The claimant was an English teacher in Surrey, British Columbia and was on medical disability leave as a result of a mental illness, diagnosed as a bipolar disorder. During his disability he attended the school near to the time of the final bell and created a disturbance at the school. He was charged with creating a disturbance and pleaded guilty.
The claimant was agitated, aggressive, and uncooperative with the police constable that arrived at the school. The constable attempted to handcuff the claimant with the intention of removing him from the school premises. There was an altercation between them. There was a physical fight. The constable suffered a concussion for which he was subsequently treated. During the course of the altercation the constable deployed his Taser once or twice upon the claimant. Other officers arrived as back-up and the claimant was arrested and held overnight in custody before being released.
The claimant sues in this lawsuit for damages for slander. The claimant alleged that in the conversation between a Vice-Principal of the school and the constable Singh, the Vice-Principal made slanderous comments about the claimant which caused the constable to apply force in order to remove him from the property.
The trial was heard with a jury and the jury dismissed the claim, finding no defamation. During the course of the trial the school brought an application to limit the damage claims the jury would be called upon to decide. The school argued that the claims for damages arising out of an altercation with a police officer is too remote, as a question of law, to be left with the jury to decide, as a question of fact.
The claimant argued that the constable’s notebook entry concerning his conversation with the Vice-Principal upon arrival reflects accurately what the Vice-Principal stated to the constable. The notebook entry is as follows:
15:03 [i.e. 3:03 p.m.] MBR [Member] 1023 at PMS [Princess Margaret Secondary] — spoke with vice principal – he advises that ex-teacher-has been suspended due to misconduct with student – has been at school and he is not suppose to be on premises – he has something in his hand and u/k [unknown] what it is – wants him off the premises.
The Claimant alleged that the words , “Spoke with Vice-Principal – he advises that ex-teacher – has been suspended due to misconduct with student – has been at school and he is not suppose to be on premises,” were defamatory.
Important to the issue of remoteness, the claimant alleged that the defamatory words spoken led to the constable’s forcible restraint of the claimant and the claimant’s bodily injury that resulted. The claimant plead this injury this way, “As a result of the statements of the defendant, Hugh, the plaintiff was forcibly restrained by Constable Singh and suffered serious bodily harm.”
With respect to the remoteness issue the judge pointed out:
“ In my view, the test of “natural and probable result” as a legal test for remoteness of damage sets the bar too high. That test is very similar to the test for factual causation, which is for the jury. I adopt the test set out in Mustapha, arising from The Wagon Mound (No. 2). The degree of reasonable foreseeability required in order to satisfy the test for remoteness is that of “real risk” or, in other words, “one which would occur to the mind of a reasonable man in the position of the defendant and which he would not brush aside as farfetched.”…
 There was no testimony from Constable Singh that these additional words made any difference whatsoever to what ensued, and in particular, to his decision, ultimately, to attempt to apply force to Mr. Stuart by attempting to handcuff him. It is in my view far-fetched and unreasonable to suggest that the additional defamatory words would make any material difference to Constable Singh’s decision-making, his conduct, or the events that ensued. It would have been unreasonable for the defendant to so consider. It is not at all reasonably foreseeable that the allegedly defamatory words could make such a difference that violence might ensue, where it otherwise would not have, in the circumstances of this case.
 I conclude, therefore, that the claim for damages in respect of the use of force by Constable Singh is too remote as a matter of law, and ought not to have been left with the jury for decision. As I have indicated, the jury did not find it necessary to decide the issue, in any event.”