The ADMISSIBILITY OF EXPERT EVIDENCE
The case of White Burgess Langille Inman v. Abbott and Haliburton Co. is a landmark legal case that clarified the admissibility of expert evidence in civil cases in Canada.
In 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada heard the case of White Burgess Langille Inman v. Abbott and Haliburton Co. The case involved a construction project in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where the plaintiff, Abbott and Haliburton Co., claimed that the defendant, White Burgess Langille Inman, had provided negligent legal advice that had caused the plaintiff to suffer financial losses.
At the trial, the plaintiff had called an expert witness, a lawyer specializing in construction law, to testify on its behalf. However, the defendant challenged the admissibility of the expert evidence, arguing that the expert witness was not qualified to give the opinion and that the opinion was not necessary to assist the trier of fact. The trial judge agreed with the defendant and excluded the expert evidence.
The plaintiff appealed the decision, and the appeal court allowed the expert evidence to be admitted. The defendant then appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, arguing that the appeal court had erred in allowing the expert evidence to be admitted.
The Supreme Court of Canada’s decision focused on the admissibility of expert evidence in civil cases. The Court’s decision in r. V. Mohan (1994) established a four-part test that should be used to evaluate the reliability of expert evidence in a given case.
- The proposed expert must be qualified to give the opinion. The court noted that the qualification of an expert witness is a matter of substance, not form, and that the expert must have the necessary knowledge, skill, and experience to provide an opinion on the matter at issue.
- The proposed opinion must be relevant to the case. The court noted that relevance means that the proposed opinion must address a matter that is in issue in the case.
- The proposed opinion must be necessary to assist the trier of fact in understanding the evidence or determining a fact at issue. The court noted that the test for necessity is whether the opinion is of such value to the trier of fact that it would be unfair to exclude it.
- The proposed opinion must meet a threshold of reliability. The court noted that reliability means that the proposed opinion must be based on a sound methodology that is grounded in the knowledge and practice of the relevant field.
The court emphasized the importance of ensuring that expert evidence is reliable and relevant to the issues in dispute. It noted that the admissibility of expert evidence should be determined by the court on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the specific facts and circumstances of each case. The court also noted that the four-part test is a flexible tool that can be adapted to different types of cases and different types of expert evidence.
In its decision, the Supreme Court of Canada noted that the trial judge had erred in excluding the expert evidence. The court found that the expert witness was qualified to give the opinion and that the opinion was relevant and necessary to assist the trier of fact. The court also found that the expert evidence met the threshold of reliability.
The White Burgess Langille Inman v. Abbott and Haliburton Co. case clarified the legal framework for the admission of expert evidence in Canada. The decision emphasized the importance of ensuring that such evidence is reliable and relevant to the issues for the evidence to be admissible.
Read the full case here.
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From the Supreme Court of Canada