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Personal Injury Claimant Should be Called First at Trial, According to Judge

 
In this Langley car accident injury claim( Charles v. Dudley, 2012 BCSC 1301)  the Supreme Court Judge was critical of the injury claimant putting forward all her medical experts before she took the stand.This decision may prove somewhat controversial in civil trial advocacy circles because this approach has come to be used by some personal injury lawyers in British Columbia.
Essentially, in British Columbia when a lawyer brings a personal injury case to the court the lawyer can choose the order the witnesses will appear. Unfortunately for the injury claimant it sometimes comes down to scheduling and often the expensive experts take precedence over the smooth running of a trial.
Judge McEwan, of the BC Supreme Court, in this case, was really criticising the lawyer’s decision to put the claimant on as the last witness. Here are the Judges comments,

[2]   The trial proceeded in a fashion I would have described as unorthodox until recently, with the medical evidence called before the plaintiff testified. Counsel advised that they understand this to be the preferred way to run a personal injury case. I do not know where they get this idea. If persuasion of the trier of fact is the objective, the practice of leading medical opinion unattached to any factual foundation is the most awkward way to go about it. I have observed elsewhere that doctors do not subject their patients to a forensic examination. They generally assume that what the patient tells them is true and attempt to treat their symptoms. Their observations are of assistance to the trier of fact to the degree to which they reasonably conform to the facts that have been established after the plaintiff’s assertions have been tested. It is very difficult to assimilate medical evidence provisionally, that is, with no means of sorting what matters from what does not. A trier of fact obliged to hear a trial this way must go back over such evidence to put it in context. This Court is not alone in making this point. In Yeung v. Dowbiggin, 2012 BCSC 206, Humphries J. said:

[27]     Since the plaintiff was one of the last witnesses called and was in the courtroom very rarely prior to her testimony, it was difficult to assess the evidence about the effects of the accidents as I listened to the various witnesses. I had no idea who the plaintiff was, had no sense of her, and had heard no evidence about the accidents as I listened to all these witnesses. I do not know if this was a tactical decision or whether it was necessitated by schedules, but it meant the evidence I heard was all without context.

[3]  In any event, owing to gaps in the scheduling of the opinion witnesses, I persuaded counsel to call the plaintiff after the first medical witness had testified to fill out the court day. The case then proceeded with interruptions of the plaintiff’s evidence to accommodate the scheduled witnesses. While occasional scheduling issues may dictate such a course, plaintiffs in personal injury cases should generally be called first, if the point is to put across a coherent case.

Issue: Should personal injury claimants be forced to take the stand first in their own cases?
Posted by Mr. Renn A. Holness, B.A. LL.B.

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