Tag: Expert

16 Jul

Retrospective Capacity Assessments: Yay or Nay?

Kira Domratchev Capacity, Estate & Trust, Estate Litigation Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , 0 Comments

The Ontario Superior Court of Justice recently made an important ruling on a voir dire in respect of Dr. Kenneth Shulman’s proposed expert testimony.

This ruling will be of particular interest to estate litigators as it addresses the inherent admissibility of retrospective capacity assessments, amongst other things.

The Court in this instance implemented a form of blended voir dire, wherein Dr. Shulman’s evidence would be received in its entirety and submissions would be made on the issue of admissibility of the expert testimony. In the event that the Court ruled that Dr. Shulman’s evidence was admissible, the evidence obtained during the voir dire would be incorporated as part of the trial record.

The Defendant, amongst other objections, took issue with Dr. Shulman’s testimony on the basis that his testimony was based on a retrospective capacity assessment which was problematic for the following reasons:

  • The proposed opinion was based on hearsay evidence and must therefore be excluded; and
  • Expert opinion evidence on retrospective testamentary capacity assessments constitutes novel or contested science and is therefore not reliable.

The Court did not accept that Dr. Shulman’s use of certain evidence that has not been proven, and has not been relied upon him for the truth of its contents, prevents the Court from admitting his expert opinion evidence at the threshold admissibility stage. In other words, any such issues could be addressed in reference to the weight of the proposed evidence.

Most interestingly, however, the Court noted that many of the types of medical and psychiatric opinions offered at trial are retrospective in nature and did not agree that retrospective capacity assessments are novel in Ontario courts. The Court specifically noted that the Defendant was unable to identify a single case, since retrospective testamentary capacity assessments were first considered by the courts, in which psychiatric expert opinion of retrospective testamentary capacity assessment has been ruled inadmissible.

In applying the admissibility test established in R v Abbey 2017 ONCA 640, the Court held that Dr. Shulman’s expert opinion satisfied the threshold requirement in the first step. In weighing the cost versus benefit of admitting Dr. Shulman’s report, the Court found that the evidence favoured the admission of Dr. Shulman’s evidence.

The Court made a ruling admitting Dr. Shulman as an expert geriatric psychiatrist to provide expert opinion evidence in the areas of geriatric psychiatry and retrospective testamentary capacity assessment.

This is an important ruling in the context of estate litigation given that in most instances, the capacity assessments that are usually relied on in the course of litigation are of a retrospective nature, since the subject of the assessment is most often deceased.

Thanks for reading!

Kira Domratchev

Find this blog interesting? Please consider these other related posts:

Expert “Hot-tubbing” and Its Use in Will Challenges

Psychological Autopsies and Testamentary Capacity

The Search for Contemporary Values: A Moving Target

 

17 Aug

Trial Judge = Gatekeeper: Bruff-Murpy v. Gunawardena

Doreen So Continuing Legal Education, Estate & Trust, General Interest, In the News, Litigation Tags: , , , , , 0 Comments

As part two of my earlier blog on the issue of expert witnesses at trial, Bruff-Murphy v. Gunawardena, 2017 ONCA 502, is a great read for the Court of Appeal’s view on the role of the trial judge during expert testimony.

In the introduction alone, Justice Hourigan was clear that “gone are the days when an expert served as a hired gun or advocate” (para. 1) and that it is the trial judge’s role to act as a gatekeeper so that the expert opinion evidence before the court is “fair, objective and non-partisan” (para. 2).

While my earlier blog focused on the legal test during the qualification stage, Justice Hourigan was also clear that the trial judge does not become functus the moment an expert witness is permitted to give expert opinion evidence.  Rather,

“The trial judge must continue to exercise her gatekeeper function. After all, the concerns about the impact of a non-independent expert witness on the jury have not been eliminated. To the contrary, they have come to fruition. At that stage, when the trial judge recognizes the acute risk to trial fairness, she must take action” (para. 63).”

In this case, Justice Hourigan commented that there were various options available to the trial judge after the qualification stage, which trial counsel should also be aware of as suggestions in their toolkit.  To quote Justice Hourigan at paragraphs 67 and 68 of this decision,

[67]      Given this ongoing gatekeeper discretion, the question remains of what, as a practical matter, the trial judge could or should have done in this case. His first option would have been to advise counsel that he was going to give either a mid-trial or final instruction that Dr. Bail’s testimony would be excluded in whole or in part from the evidence. Had he taken that route, he would have received submissions from counsel in the absence of the jury and proceeded as he saw fit. Alternately, he could have asked for submissions from counsel on a mistrial, again in the absence of the jury, and ruled accordingly. In the event that he had to interrupt Dr. Bail’s testimony mid-trial, he would have had to consider carefully how best to minimize the potential prejudicial effect of the interruption from the respondent’s perspective.

[68]      The point is that the trial judge was not powerless and should have taken action. The dangers of admitting expert evidence suggest a need for a trial judge to exercise prudence in excluding the testimony of an expert who lacks impartiality before those dangers manifest.

Thanks for reading this week!

Doreen So

SUBSCRIBE TO OUR BLOG

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.
 

CONNECT WITH US

TRY HULL E-STATE PLANNER SOFTWARE

Hull e-State Planner is a comprehensive estate planning software designed to make the estate planning process simple, efficient and client friendly.

Try it here!

CATEGORIES

ARCHIVES

TWITTER WIDGET

  • Costs in SDA Proceedings: A Lesson from Rudin-Brown Today's article delves into the costs decision of Rudin-Brown… https://t.co/xoakfVgo4n
  • The Intersection of Family and Estate Issues – Does an estate have to pay retroactive child support? Last Monday's… https://t.co/Q1gCHnS6xY
  • Hundreds affected by IVF doctor’s alleged improper actions. Read today's article here: https://t.co/dDxepM30Ci… https://t.co/D0il5nbkuI
  • Today's article highlights some key take aways from the paper: “The Annotated Guardianship Application – The View F… https://t.co/WaEM4anqQv
  • Today's review of session 2 of the @Advocates_Soc's Examinations for Discovery: Building Block Series, highlights s… https://t.co/VzZiNUHQuI
  • Changes to Probate Coming January 1, 2022 Today's article outlines the upcoming changes to estate law in Ontario.… https://t.co/PPFNrLSI2H