No adverse inference when clinical records disclosed to the defence and provided to experts

by | Jan 26, 2015 | Medical Negligence | 0 comments

During the usual course of a personal injury action an injured plaintiff may be treated by one or more medical professionals. Those professionals typically maintain clinical notes of each visit. If a matter proceeds to trial and the plaintiff elects not to call the treating physician, for example, the lawyer hired by ICBC may ask the court to draw what is termed an “adverse inference”, meaning they ask the court to make a finding that the plaintiff elected not to call that treating physician because had that doctor actually attended court to testify, they would have likely given unhelpful information. Such an unfavourable finding of the court would likely hurt one’s case at trial, to some degree.

This issue arose in the recent decision Beggs v. Stone, 2014 BCSC 2120. Ms. Beggs was a plaintiff who suffered various soft tissue and psychological injuries following a 2009 motor vehicle collision. At trial the plaintiff did not call as witnesses some treating professionals. The plaintiff did however advance various other expert medical opinion evidence. The defence lawyer asked the trial judge to correspondingly draw an adverse inference because of this. Mr. Justice N. Smith declined to do so placing particular emphasis on the fact that the plaintiff had disclosed to the defence her clinical records from the relevant treating professionals and these records were subsumed into the experts’ analyses.

The Court stated as follows:

[22]         Counsel for the defence seeks an adverse inference from the plaintiff’s failure to call the family physician who treated her before and in the year following the accident and more particularly the psychologists who treated her both here and in Winnipeg after the accident. The factors for drawing an adverse inference are set out in Buksh v. Miles, 2008 BCCA 318, at para. 35. These include the evidence before the court, the explanations for not calling the witness, the nature of the evidence that could be provided, the extent of disclosure of the witness’s clinical notes and the circumstances of the trial. [23]         In declining to draw an adverse inference, I place particular emphasis on the fact that the clinical records of all of these professionals were disclosed to defence counsel and were reviewed by all the experts who gave their opinions in part based upon those records. The plaintiff’s pre-accident condition and post-accident progress are well documented, and there is nothing to suggest that there is anything in those records that contradicts anything that the doctors who have testified have stated.

All said, the proper disclosure of relevant clinical records has the potential to hinder a defence plea that the court draw an adverse inference should a treating professional not be called as a witness at trial.