Don’t go it alone: A cautionary tale of self-representation at the BC Supreme Court in motor vehicle cases
In Mather v. MacDonald 2016 BCSC 948, Mr. M, a 53 year old man, was injured in two car accidents 1 day apart. As a result of the accident, Mr. M alleges that the accident caused a number of soft tissue injuries to his neck, shoulders and back. Prior to the accident, he was employed seasonally in a cannery and relied on welfare during the rest of the year. Mr. M claimed for damages for pain and suffering, past wage loss, future wage loss and future care costs in the amount of approximately $1,000,000 based on a similar case he read about in a newspaper. He alleged that his current injuries and inability to work stem solely from the accidents.
At trial, the defendants admitted negligence for the accidents. At issue was whether Mr. M had proved his claim for damages.
The only evidence Mr. M lead at trial was his own testimony, and the testimony of his brother, who was also a co-worker. Additionally, the only medical evidence Mr. M produced was from his former chiropractor. He tendered no expert reports and no tax records for his claim. Justice Punnett, in his judgement, notes that the evidence of Mr. Mather was “generally uncorroborated and is unsupported by either documentary or expert evidence and does not meet in many respects the test of cogent or convincing evidence”. In finding Mr. M less than credible, Justice Punnet noted Mr. M’s past history of fraudulent welfare claims required him to approach Mr. M’s evidence with “great skepticism”.
More unfortunately, although Mr. M sought to use his former chiropractor to provide an expert medical opinion, he failed to comply with the Supreme Court Civil rules with respect to the admission of expert evidence. The rules set out certain requirements for the production of expert reports and require that expert reports to be served on the opposing party at least 84 days before trial. Additionally, the rules also require that expert opinion evidence cannot be tendered at trial without being properly prepared and served. Because of this, Mr. M’s chiropractor was not qualified to give a medical opinion to the court and could only provide evidence of his treatment, Mr. M’s physical complaints and any objective signs of injury.
Despite these shortcomings, the chiropractor was able to provide some objective evidence to the court supporting his claim for soft tissue injuries. Justice Punnet did find that the plaintiff had suffered injuries as a result of the accident and awarded Mr. M $15,000.
In terms of the plaintiffs claim for past wage loss, future income loss and diminished earning capacity, and special damages, Justice Punnett noted the lack of evidence to support any claims. Mr. M did not produce any tax returns or assessments to support his claim for loss of past income. Additionally, he tendered no expert reports for future income loss, vocational assessments or any receipts for his claim for special damages. He did however, produce evidence that he paid for his chiropractic treatment and the court awarded him $3,788.
In total, Mr. M sought damages of almost $1,000,000 and was awarded a paltry $18,788. Normally a successful litigant is awarded costs on a win, however, if a litigant brings a case in Supreme Court and is awarded less than $25,000, they are not entitled to costs under the Supreme Court Civil Rules. The issue of costs was not decided at trial.
This case illustrates why it is important to retain a lawyer to assist in your personal injury case. Although the facts of the accident may be simple enough, an experienced personal injury lawyer understands the rules of evidence and the strategy behind obtaining the right evidence from the right experts in order to prove your claim at trial. Mr. M’s trial may have gone very differently for him had he obtained expert evidence in support of his claims.