Consultation reports are not “expert reports”.

On February 3, 2015, the BC Court of Appeal released Reasons criticizing and restricting the practice of shoehorning physicians consultation reports into evidence as expert opinion.

In Healey v. Chung the plaintiff was injured in a 2005 pedestrian/vehicle collision.  At trial the plaintiff claimed it was a ‘catastrophic accident’ and sought damages between $485,000 and $1,037,000.  The trial judge rejected much of the plaintiff’s evidence and awarded damages of just over $50,000.

In the course of the trial the defendant introduced consultation reports of treating medical practitioners into evidence.  These did not meet the strict requirements of Rule 11-6.  The plaintiff objected but the trial judge allowed the reports to be entered.  In finding this was improper, and ordering a new trial, the BC Court of Appeal provided the following reasons:

[19]         It is well established that clinical consulting reports, without more, may not be admitted for the validity of opinions expressed in them…

[21]         It is true, as the respondent contends, that Seaman and F.(K.E.) are cases in which the opinion sought to be adduced was found in clinical records that were voluminous, but I do not consider that circumstance detracts from the principle that a clinical record containing an opinion, such as these consulting reports, must substantially comply with the requirements of the Rules in order to attract the exception to the usual rule for examination of witnesses spoken of by Mr. Justice Hutcheon.

[22]         The respondent contends that she gave notice to Mr. Healey of her intention to use the letters, that Dr. Kuo knew of the qualifications of the two doctors, and that other deficiencies were “minor”. She says Mr. Healey was obliged to express his objections as required by R. 11-6(10) and (11).

[23]         Forthrightness between counsel is favoured and is to be expected in litigation. Yet I cannot say there was anything to which we have been referred that put the positive legal duty on Mr. Healey to object under those Rules for the reason that the consulting reports sent to Dr. Kuo and disclosed as part of her clinical records were simply not ‘expert reports’ as regulated by the Rules. While they may be professional opinions from one doctor to another in the course of treatment, the impugned documents do not comply with R. 11-2; I do not consider they carry the basic hallmark of an ‘expert report’, being an opinion intended by the author, at some point, to be presented for the assistance of the court. Significantly, they contain none of the information that is essential to qualification of the author as an expert, nor the information reviewed by the author by which the court may assess the cogency of the opinion.

[24]         As I do not consider that these clinical records can be considered to be ‘expert reports’ as that term is used in the Rules, entitled to the privileged treatment for receipt of hearsay evidence discussed by Mr. Justice Hutcheon, I conclude that R. 11-6(10) and (11) did not require a notice of objection.

[25]         In the alternative to the two documents coming within R. 11-6, Ms. Chung says the judge could have exercised his discretion and admitted the documents as opinions under R. 11-7. Rule 11-7 provides latitude to a judge to receive opinion evidence that is not included in an expert report:

(1)   Unless the court otherwise orders, opinion evidence of an expert, other than an expert appointed by the court under Rule 11-5, must not be tendered at trial unless

(a) that evidence is included in a report of that expert that has been prepared and served in accordance with Rule 11-6, and

(b) any supplementary reports required under Rule 11-5 (11) or 11-6 (5) or (6) have been prepared and served in accordance with Rule 11-6 (5) to (7).

(6)   At trial, the court may allow an expert to provide evidence, on terms and conditions, if any, even though one or more of the requirements of this Part have not been complied with, if

(a) facts have come to the knowledge of one or more of the parties and those facts could not, with due diligence, have been learned in time to be included in a report or supplementary report and served within the time required by this Part,

(b) the non-compliance is unlikely to cause prejudice

(i)    by reason of an inability to prepare for cross-examination, or

(ii)   by depriving the party against whom the evidence is tendered of a reasonable opportunity to tender evidence in response, or

(c) the interests of justice require it.

                                                                        [Emphasis added.]

[26]         Ms. Chung does not contend the judge exercised his discretion under R. 11-7(1). Her approach is consistent with the record that shows the judge was not asked to exercise his discretion, and it is consistent with Ms. Chung’s submission at trial which approached the question as one of compliance with R. 11-6. We are invited, however, to approach these documents as admissible in the exercise of discretion.

[27]         I do not consider that this is an appropriate case for us to engage for the first time in a full analysis of discretion, so as to draw our own conclusions. At trial the judge did not consider his R. 11-7 discretion and accordingly the possibility of exercising discretion is without his expansion. In XY, LLC v. Zhu, 2013 BCCA 352, 366 D.L.R. (4th) 443, Madam Justice Newbury for the Court adopted this description from Perry v. Vargas, 2012 BCSC 1537 at para. 22:

In my view the discretion provided for in R.11-7(6)(c) must be exercised sparingly, with appropriate caution, and in a disciplined way given the express requirements contained in Rules 11-6 and 11-7. That is, the “interests of justice” are not a reason to simply excuse or ignore the requirements of the other Rules. There must be some compelling analysis why the interests of justice require in a particular case the extraordinary step of abrogating the other requirements of the Supreme Court Civil Rules. None was provided.

[28]         Adopting that approach, in my view this is not a case for us to exercise the discretion that was available to the judge under R. 11-7.  There was ample medical evidence before the court, absent the opinions from these documents, to guide the trial judge in findings of fact. Further, it was open to the defendant to develop her own body of medical opinion and to advance it in proper form, including as to the required description of qualifications and experience and listing of opinion sought and matters considered. I see no compelling reason to derogate from the requirements of either R. 11-2 or R. 11-6 in this case. To do so, in my view, would admit into evidence opinions that were not crafted for that purpose and that are without the necessary information to permit consideration of their substance and effect in the context of the issues before the court.

[29]         Last, Ms. Chung contends that the two documents, in any event, were inconsequential in the judge’s reasons, and thus the admission of these documents had little impact on the outcome of the case.

[30]         One of the issues at trial was the assertion by Mr. Healey that he suffered from depression caused by the accident. This allegation bore upon the assessment of damages. To support this allegation was an expert report from Dr. O’Shaughnessy. Based upon the medical records and his interview with Mr. Healey, Dr. O’Shaughnessy diagnosed Mr. Healey as having an Adjustment Disorder with anxiety and an Adjustment Disorder with depressed mood. Yet the judge rejected all allegations of depression and instead relied upon the two consulting reports, saying:

[58]      Mr. Healey stated that he suffered from depression because of the accident. Depression was not reported in his post-accident symptomatology until 2008. Dr. Kuo’s records do show that in 2003 she concluded that Mr. Healey had symptoms consistent with depression. This reporting, however, preceded the accident, and according to the psychiatric specialists Dr. Kuo referred Mr. Healey to in 2009 and 2010, no evidence supported any Axis 1 diagnosis in the DSM-IV, and no symptoms met the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder.

[31]         I would first observe that Dr. Truong’s report cryptically states “Axis 1: Adjustment d/o with depressive symptoms – in remission” and by so saying Dr. Truong’s report appears to be inconsistent with the judge’s statement: “according to the psychiatric specialists [Dr. To and Dr. Truong] no evidence supported any Axis 1 diagnosis”. Perhaps this exemplifies the effect of non-compliance with the requirements for expert reports, as the judge drew from the report a categorical absence of any Axis 1 diagnosis which appears to be inconsistent with Dr. Truong’s report. Setting that discrepancy between the judge’s assertion and the notation in Dr. Truong’s report aside, it is clear from the judge’s para. 58 that he put weight on the consulting reports and drew conclusions from them adverse to Mr. Healey. In other words, they were consequential in the judge’s reasoning; one cannot say the reports had little bearing on the outcome, in my view.