The assessment of an injured claimant’s credibility and the reliability of his/her evidence is pivotal in any personal injury claim. An injured claimant who accurately describes his/her symptoms and circumstances before and after an accident without minimizing or embellishing them can reasonably anticipate that the court will find his/her evidence to be credible and reliable. This is especially true as it relates to expert evidence as medical experts must rely, either entirely or partially, on the history provided by the injured claimant during the medical assessment. If information provided is unreliable, then questions will be raised over the accuracy of the expert opinions which could significantly undermine the claim.
An injured claimant’s credibility and reliability were integral issues in the recent case of Eaton v. Riddell 2020 BCSC 734.
In this case, the male plaintiff suffered injuries in a motor vehicle accident. The parties agreed that as a result of the collision he suffered from physical injuries but there was disagreement about whether he suffered a cognitive impairment that could be attributed to the motor vehicle accident.
The trial judge found that there was an overarching problem with the injured claimant’s credibility because there were “several troubling aspects” to his testimony which raised questions about its reliability. His testimony surrounding his alcohol consumption was illustrative of this problem as the trial judge found that he was deliberately vague when answering questions about his alcohol use and when providing information to the medical experts. The unreliability of his evidence was found to have significantly undermined the expert opinions in relation to diagnosis and prognosis because the question of how much he was drinking was relevant to the very issues many of the experts were seeking to assess. This was particularly damning as various experts were of the view that alcohol consumption could affect issues including sleep, fatigue, cognitive performance and recovery from a concussion or psychological injury.
The trial judge acknowledged that the experts overall were highly qualified and helpful witnesses. Their expert evidence, however, was considered problematic because of the unreliable information provided by the injured claimant. In this regard, the trial judge stated:
“It is trite law […] that in order for an expert to give an opinion the facts upon which he gives that opinion must be proven by the person who has personal knowledge of them”. If the credibility or reliability of that information is in question, then it may affect the weight to be given to the expert’s opinion.”
The unreliability of the injured claimant’s testimony made it challenging for the trial judge to assess the precise nature of the impact of his injuries on his past employment and future employability. This also impacted the weight given to the prognosis from some of the experts given the unreliable foundation of their opinions. As a result, the trial judge awarded him far less for wage loss than what was claimed.
If you are interested in reading more about how the lack of credibility can impact an injury claim, check out a previous post on the issue.
If you are interested in reading more about a trial judge’s criticism of ICBC’s attack on an injured claimant’s credibility, check out a previous post on this issue.