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Oates v Cootes Tanker Service Pty Ltd

 

[2005] QSC 213

Reported at [2006] 2 Qd R 42

 

SUPREME COURT OF QUEENSLAND

 

CIVIL JURISDICTION

 

FRYBERG J

 

No BS8241 of 2003

 

BRETT ANDREW OATES

Plaintiff

and

 

COOTES TANKER SERVICE PTY LTD

and

THE SHELL COMPANY OF AUSTRALIA LIMITED

First Defendant

 

Second Defendant

 

BRISBANE

DATE 27/07/2005

 

RULING

 

HIS HONOUR:  In this matter counsel for the defendants has objected to the tender of oral evidence by Dr McKay, the plaintiff's general practitioner.

 

The plaintiff is suing for damages for back injuries with psychiatric sequelae sustained, allegedly, in late 2001.  So far the evidence has disclosed that a few days after he had the fall which he alleges caused the injuries, his back was operated on by Dr Campbell and apparently that operation was successful.  The plaintiff now complains, not only of pain from the region  of that operation, but also of pain from a much higher part of his back.  It is unclear from the plaintiff's case at this point whether he asserts a definite orthopaedic injury in respect of that second source of pain or a psychiatric disability with that part of the back as a focal point.  It is, however, clear that the plaintiff now asserts that he suffers severe pain from his back, including the higher part of his back, and that the nature of the pain is severely disabling and that it has been so for at least two years.

 

The evidence called on the part of the plaintiff from medical practitioners relates to medical practitioners who examined him in periods leading up to 2003, at least in the main.  No particular attention has been focused by any medical practitioner on the plaintiff's condition in 2004 and, (perhaps a little surprisingly) none has been focused on his present condition.  He does not appear - I should add that his evidence is not yet complete - to be intending to lead evidence of up-to-date medical examinations showing his current position.  Presumably he intends to rely on some sort of presumption of continuity, reinforced by his own evidence as to the actual continuity of his condition for the last two or three years.

 

Among the doctors to be called on his behalf is Dr McKay. Dr McKay is his general practitioner and has provided three reports regarding the plaintiff, the most recent of which was in early 2004.  If the pattern followed by other witnesses were to be followed with Dr McKay his evidence in chief would be limited to those reports.  However, the plaintiff now wants to lead oral evidence from Dr McKay relating to his visits to the doctor in and around September 2004 and since that time and of the doctor's opinion of his condition and treatment at and since that time.

 

Objection has been taken by the defence to that evidence.  It is accepted that no report has been prepared and that the evidence does not exist in written form.  The reason advanced by the plaintiff for the absence of any report on this matter is that the plaintiff did not intend to address the issues now sought to be addressed in the proposed evidence until the defendant produced a videotape taken in secret of the plaintiff's conduct in September 2004.  That videotape was produced by the defendant for the first time late on the first day of the trial, today being the third day.  Copies of it were then made available and were given to the plaintiff's doctors who have testified in cross-examination regarding their views as influenced by that videotape.  Plainly the defence intends to contend that the plaintiff is not nearly as disabled as he makes out.  The videotape provides some significant support for that contention.

 

In response to that evidence those advising the plaintiff have formulated the intention to lead further evidence from Dr McKay regarding the plaintiff's condition at the time he was photographed and since.  No other medical practitioner has seen the plaintiff over the relevant period.

 

The objection is taken by the defendants, first, under rule 548(4).  That rule provides:  "At the trial the plaintiff may call or tender evidence not identified in the plaintiff's statement of loss and damage or not given to the defendant under this part, only if", and then (a) and (b) which are not relevant here, "(c) the Court for special reason gives leave."

 

The defendants oppose the grant of leave on the basis that the subject matter of the proposed evidence ought to have been reduced to writing and ought to have been provided to them by reason of the provisions of rule 548(3).  That rule provides:

 

"If the plaintiff intends to rely at the trial on evidence of the plaintiff's injury, loss (including economic loss) or treatment (including future    treatment) not in a report that, if it were in a report would be required to be identified under subrule 1, the plaintiff must, before the request for trial date is    filed, serve on the defendant the evidence in the form of   a report or a proof of the evidence."

 

It is not disputed that if Dr McKay's evidence were in a medical report it would have been required to have been identified under rule 548(1).  However, the plaintiff submits that rule 548(3) has no application in the circumstances of the present case because the intention to call this evidence was formulated only in the last day or two.  It is submitted that subrule (3) can apply only to an intention which exists at or before the date of the filing of the request for trial date.  Mr Myers, for the defendants, asserts that that submission would run contrary to the spirit of the Rules and to the practice of the Court under what he says were practice directions to like effect predating the Uniform Civil Procedure Rules.

 

No binding authority seems to exist on the interpretation of rule 548(3).  There are, however, dicta from a decision of the Court of Appeal in Campbell v. Jones [2003] 1 QdR 630 at page 645.  There, in the joint judgment of Justice Mullins and me, it was said, in relation to a document which had not been provided to the defence:

 

     "It is quite conceivable that it"

 

-that is the document -

 

"did not exist when the statement [of loss and damage] was served and that it did not come into existence between then and the setting of the trial date.  There is, therefore, no basis for concluding that its omission from the statement constituted a breach of the Uniform Civil Procedure Rules.  However, even if there were no such breach the respondent was in breach of rule 549(3).  That rule required the respondent to give any further documents mentioned in rule 548(1) to the appellant as soon as practicable."

 

In that passage we were referring to rule 547 and rule 548 when we wrote of the omission not constituting a breach of the Uniform Civil Procedure Rules.  That is apparent from the immediate reference to a breach of rule 549(3).  That is important because although the passage is obiter it indicates that there is no breach of rule 548 subrule (3) if the omission to serve the document up to the time of the filing of the request for trial date was not accompanied by an intention to rely on the evidence at trial.

 

The defendants respond by submitting that such a construction is one which would open up the rules to abuse.  Parties would be able, it was submitted, to refrain from getting reports from experts until after the request for trial date was filed.

 

That is not a realistic scenario.  Quite apart from the extreme risks which such course would pose for the success of a party's case, it does not reflect the hoops through which personal injuries plaintiffs and defendants must now jump prior to action, and it does not reflect rule 549 which provides by subrule (3) that the plaintiff must give any further documents mentioned in 548(1) as soon as practicable, or must identify them.

 

It is, I think, unlikely that a serious defendant would refrain from getting anything in writing from an expert at all in order to avoid giving the expert's opinion to the plaintiff before trial.  There is no risk of abuse of the type referred to in the in terrorem argument advanced on behalf of the defendants.

 

In my judgment the plaintiff has not breached rule 548(3). That, however, does not mean that he does not need leave under rule 548(4).  The case to which I have referred is, I think, authority for the proposition that he does.

 

The full extent of the obligation under r 548(4) has been questioned by the Chief Justice in Curry v. Aughey [2003] QSC 172, but no point has been raised on that basis in this case.  The plaintiff has accepted that leave is needed, submitting that the special reason here is that the need for the evidence arose only during the course of the trial in response to a videotape which the defendant had not only not disclosed but which it had deliberately kept secret pursuant to an order obtained ex parte from the Court.

 

It seems to me that the plaintiff could not have been expected to have led this evidence as part of its case in the ordinary course.

 

Mr Myers submitted that the plaintiff's condition down to the date of trial is in issue and that the plaintiff should have come prepared to lead all such evidence.  However the plaintiff had no reason to think that September 2004, and since, had any particular significance, nor to address that period in any detail, until the videotape was produced.

 

It seems to me that in those circumstances a special reason for giving leave does exist and I therefore propose to grant leave under rule 548(4)(c) for the adduction of such evidence. 

 

That does not dispose of the problem of rule 427.  That rule provides that an expert may give evidence in a proceeding by a report.  It also provides that oral evidence in chief may be given by the expert only in response to the report of another expert, or if directed to issues that first emerged in the course of trial, or if the Court gives leave.

 

Mr Myers submitted that rule 427(1), the wording of which is, "An expert may give evidence in a proceeding by a report",was to be read as if it were worded, "Subject to this rule an expert may give evidence in a proceeding only by a report".

 

For the plaintiff no issue was taken with that construction of the rule.  I therefore need not determine the matter.  It is, however, not clear to me beyond a peradventure that it is the correct construction.  If it had been the intention that this be the only way in which an expert give evidence why would the rule not have said so?  The reality of the situation may well be that a party is unable to get a report from an expert.  Why would the prima facie position be created that such evidence could be advanced only if the Court gives leave?

 

There is a further problem with Mr Myers' submission.  If it is correct that "only" is to be implied as he submits, a further implication is necessary in order to avoid absurdity.  It would also be necessary to read the rule as if "as an expert" were inserted after "give evidence" in r 427(1) or "opinion" were inserted between those words.  The fact that "as an expert" is used in r 426 and not in r 427 mitigates against the implication of the phrase in the latter.  However unless some such implication is made, an expert whose evidence is limited to matters of fact would (if "only" is implied in the sub-rule) be required to give that evidence in a report.   "Evidence" is not defined.  "Report" is defined to mean a document giving an expert's opinion on an issue arising in the proceeding (r 425).  If the expert were not venturing an opinion, he could not give a report as defined.  Hence the absurdity.

 

It is unnecessary to decide in the present case whether twisting the natural meaning of the words of the rule in the manner suggested is justified.  Perhaps it is a question which should be considered by the Rules Committee.

 

Accepting the common assumption of the parties Mr McMeekin submitted that this was a case which fell within rule 427(4)(b), that is, the evidence is directed to issues that first emerged in the course of the trial.  The correctness of that submission depends upon how widely one wants to define the issues.

 

I have not had argument on the meaning of the word "issue", and it is of such a theoretical and jurisprudential nature that I have not invited counsel to take up any further time in the midst of the trial in dealing with it. It seems to me that it should not be given a wide meaning. Issues of fact, as well as issues of opinion, arise in the course of the trial as steps in the resolution of the ultimate issues which have to be determined.  It is the smaller and narrower form of issue to which, in my judgment, the sentence is directed.

 

The issues to which the proposed evidence relates answer that description.  For that reason I think that the oral evidence in chief is covered by rule 427(4)(b) and may be given.

 

Leave having been granted under rule 548(4)(c) I overrule the objection.

Close

Editorial Notes

  • Published Case Name:

    Oates v Cootes Tanker Service Pty Ltd & Anor

  • Shortened Case Name:

    Oates v Cootes Tanker Service Pty Ltd

  • Reported Citation:

    [2006] 2 Qd R 42

  • MNC:

    [2005] QSC 213

  • Court:

    QSC

  • Judge(s):

    Fryberg J

  • Date:

    27 Jul 2005

Litigation History

Event Citation or File Date Notes
Primary Judgment [2006] 2 Qd R 42 27 Jul 2005 -

Appeal Status

No Status