ICBC doctor criticized as “very unhelpful medical witness”.

On December 23, 2015, the BC Supreme Court criticized a defence expert witness for crossing the line into advocacy.

In Ferguson v. McLaughlin the plaintiff was injured in a 2009 collision caused by the defendant.  The defendant’s insurer hired a physician who presented evidence largely discounting the connection of the plaintiff’s complaints to the collision.  In rejecting this evidence Madam Justice Griffin made the following pointed comments:

[63]         The defendant called the evidence of Dr. Duncan McPherson, an orthopaedic surgeon, who performed a medical examination of the plaintiff at the request of the defendant.

[64]         Dr. McPherson was a very unhelpful medical witness.

[65]         Dr. McPherson has not practised medicine for years. He stopped his work as a surgeon in 1992 or 1994 and ceased practising medicine in 1997. It is difficult to assume that he is up to date on medical studies regarding soft tissue injuries and pain.

[66]         Dr. McPherson is wholly reliant on the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (“ICBC”) for his income and has been for years. He was clever, and I mean this not in a complimentary way, when questioned about his reliance on ICBC for his income in the last several years, hinting at the notion that he had other sources of income. He then agreed the other sources of income were simply his investment income.

[67]         Dr. McPherson’s approach to examining patients appeared to be dependent on a verbal test. He asks the patient to explain the patient’s complaint, and if the patient does not mention pain in his answer, he concludes that in his opinion the patient does not have pain and thus does not have a lasting injury. Dr. McPherson stated that when patients describe complaints in the activities they can do, rather than stating they have pain in a body part, that is because they are not sure where the pain “should” be, implying that the patient is not telling the truth if they do say they have pain.

[68]         Dr. McPherson was in my view overly confident that the question he poses to patients is a scientifically valid “truth-o-meter”, foolproof in discovering whether pain exists or not. He seemed completely close-minded to the possibility that some patients might not understand what he means by “complaint” or may not consider “pain” to be a complaint but a condition that they simply deal with on a day-to-day basis.

[69]         Dr. McPherson found it highly relevant that when he asked the plaintiff about his present complaints relating to the accident, the plaintiff did not say he has pain, but said he is limited to certain activities now, such as he cannot do heavy work, or has issues with his back hurting during sexual activities. Dr. McPherson appeared to conclude that because the plaintiff did not say “I have pain in my back” during the interview, he therefore did not have a chronic pain injury in his back.

[70]         I found Dr. McPherson’s logic to be at best simplistic and superficial. At worst it reveals that Dr. McPherson holds such a degree of cynicism regarding patients advancing claims against ICBC that he is not independent and his evidence is unreliable.

[71]         When it was suggested to Dr. McPherson he may not have written down exactly what the patient said he was absolutely confident that he was always a perfect recorder of what patients said to him. This is so despite the brevity of his report. A reasonable, educated person would allow for the possibility of mistakes being made in transcribing a patient’s comments, but Dr. McPherson did not do so, illustrating his close-minded disposition.

[72]         It seems obvious to me that when describing his limitations to Dr. McPherson, the plaintiff was intending to convey to Dr. McPherson that the accident caused these limitations because of the pain he suffers, as he explained in court. The fact that he might not have spelled out to Dr. McPherson in a more explanatory way that ”the accident caused me to have pain in my back which limits me from these activities” is not an admission that proves that his injuries do not cause him pain in his back.

[73]         Also, Dr. McPherson gave significant weight to the fact that the plaintiff exhibits a full range of motion. He seemed unwilling to accept that a person can have a full range of motion but also suffer from pain. Dr. Lepard, the plaintiff’s family doctor until she retired in 2011, said that it is not uncommon for a patient with an injury to have full range of motion but also to have pain. I prefer Dr. Lepard’s evidence on this point, as it is consistent with the plaintiff’s evidence that he has pain on prolonged activity on a recurring basis.

[74]         Dr. Lepard did agree that the plaintiff’s range of motion suggested that his whiplash injury was not as serious as Category 3 and 4, but was more in the Category 2 range, of being in the medium to low end of whiplash soft tissue injuries.

[75]         Dr. McPherson concluded that there was no “objective” evidence of a disability relating to the motor vehicle accident. This is not a helpful opinion in relation to the injuries in this case. Pain may not something that can be measured objectively with a scientific instrument, but it can still be disabling.

[76]         I note that even the defendant concedes on the whole of the evidence that the plaintiff has suffered a soft tissue injury which will cause some future loss of earning capacity.

[77]         I do not find Dr. McPherson’s evidence to be of any value in deciding the issues in this case.