After Plaintiff’s Claim Dismissed, Court Of Appeal Orders New Trial Due To Inadequate Reasons in Trial Judgment

In Andraws v. Anslow, the Plaintiff was injured in a low speed, rear end motor vehicle accident, and consequently brought an ICBC claim for damages for pain and suffering, as well as various other types of damages. At trial, the Plaintiff’s claim was dismissed, as the trial judge did not find the Plaintiff had proven that she was injured in the motor vehicle accident in question, ruling that she was not a credible or reliable witness, despite the fact there was corroborating evidence of her injuries from her family doctor and her husband.

 

Counsel for the Plaintiff appealed, arguing that the trial judge provided inadequate reasons for judgment, and that the trial judge misapprehended relevant, corroborating evidence of the Plaintiff’s injuries. The Court of Appeal stated that the appeal would turn on whether or not the reasons for judgement were adequate. ICBC’S lawyer argued that that the reasons for judgment at trial, when read in conjunction with the actual record, did in fact allow for a meaningful appellate review of the live issues at trial.

 

The Court ruled that the evidence at trial that was capable, if accepted, of corroborating the Plaintiff’s injuries, included evidence of the Plaintiff’s family doctor, whose testimony included objective signs of injury, which was not challenged in cross-examination. Further, there was evidence given by the Plaintiff’s husband as to his observations about the Plaintiff not being able to sit for long periods of time, about her difficulty sleeping, about her being more irritable since the accident, and about how the Plaintiff could no longer perform certain leisure activities.

 

The Court of Appeal placed great emphasis on the evidence of the family doctor and husband, particularly that this evidence was not, if at all, adequately discussed in the reasons for judgment. In allowing the appeal, and ordering a new trial, the Court of Appeal ruled that the reasons for the judgement at trial were inadequate, as they did not provide a basis for appellate review. The Court of Appeal noted that the trial judge did not offer any explanation as to why he was of the opinion that the Plaintiff was unreliable, considering that there was independent and corroborative evidence of her injuries that she sustained in the motor vehicle accident. Further, the Court of Appeal noted that the failure in the reasons for judgment to explain why the trial judge concluded that exaggerating the low speed nature of the collision justified a rejection of the plaintiff’s evidence, if that was in fact what he concluded, only highlighted the fact that the reasons for judgment were inadequate.

 

[9]           Adequate reasons for judgment fulfil certain functions. As the Supreme Court of Canada stated in F.H. v. McDougall, 2008 SCC 53 at para. 98, they justify and explain the result, particularly to the losing party, provide a basis for appellate review, and satisfy the public interest in demonstrating that justice has been done. Reasons may be sufficient if they are responsive to the live issues in the case and the parties’ key arguments. A judge is not obliged to discuss all of the evidence, but it is necessary for the reasons to disclose that he or she has grappled with the substance of the live issues at trial. As Madam Justice Smith noted in Shannon at para. 9, even where reasons may be objectively inadequate, appellate interference will not be justified if the reasons, read in light of the record as a whole permit meaningful appellate review.

 

[14]        Given the central importance of whether the accident caused any injury, it was incumbent on the judge to demonstrate some basis in his reasons for rejecting Ms. Andraws’ evidence that she suffered injuries in and after the collision when there was some evidence tending to corroborate it. The evidence of muscle spasm shortly after the accident was objective evidence of injury. Its reliability did not depend on Ms. Andraws’ credibility. The trial judge could only have found as a fact that the accident did not cause her any injury if he either rejected the evidence that there was muscle spasm or concluded that the muscle spasm was not caused by the accident but by some other cause (of which there was no evidence). While it was open to the judge to reject the evidence of the objective symptoms of injury, there is nothing in the reasons to explain why he did so. In my view, grappling with this issue was critical to explain the result and to lay a foundation for appellate review. But there is nothing in the reasons that touches on this central question.

 

[15]        The husband’s evidence is of some importance as well …… Again, it tended to corroborate the allegation that the accident had caused her some injury. The judge’s finding must mean that he rejected the husband’s evidence, at least to the extent that his observations were probative of the claim that Ms. Andraws had been injured in the accident. But there is no reference to the husband’s evidence in the reasons and nothing that even hints at explaining why the judge found his evidence to be unreliable

 

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