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Do I Have to Let a Jury Hear My Ontario Personal Injury Case?

Under Ontario law, the judge has the discretion to decide “issues of fact” or “damages assessed” without a jury. The Ontario Court of Appeal has explained, however, that all parties — plaintiffs and defendants alike — have a “substantive” right to a jury trial that “should not be interfered with without just cause.” Therefore, a judge will not normally strike a jury notice unless the party making the request can demonstrate there are certain legal or factual errors that are too complex for a jury to resolve.

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MacLeod v. Canadian Road Management Company: Munchausen’s Complicates Already Tragic Accident Case

So, how does a judge go about deciding when to hear a personal injury claim without a jury? Here is an example taken from a recent decision by an Ontario Superior Court of Justice. This still-pending litigation arises from a 2010 car accident that involves a victim who was 12 years old at the time.

The victim is the child of an indigenous mother. Due to his mother’s mental health problems, as well as what the judge described as the victim’s own “complex medical and psychological history,” the victim was living in a group home. While under the home’s care, the victim was struck and seriously injured by a truck.

The victim filed two personal injury lawsuits — the first against the people who owned the truck, and the second against the group home for failing to properly supervise him on the day of the accident. The defendants served notice that they wished to proceed with a jury trial. The victim moved to strike the jury notice and have the case heard solely by the judge, Justice Frederick L. Myers of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.

In support of his motion to strike, the victim pointed to his substantial and complex medical record. As mentioned above, the victim was residing in the co-defendant’s group home due to his medical history. This presents a substantial complication with respect to his personal injury claim, as the defendants may only be held liable for any physical or mental injuries arising from the accident itself. The defendants deny the victim suffered any such injuries, and that any “material deterioration” in his condition is the result of his preexisting conditions.

Those conditions are quite significant. According to Justice Myers, the victim has been diagnosed in the past with “seizure disorder, tic disorder, autism disorder, Tourette’s syndrome, ADHD, rage disorder, intermittent explosive disorder, articulation disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder,” as well as learning disabilities and developmental delays. Some of these conditions, the judge noted, appear to be the result of the victim’s mother, who may have suffered from Munchausen syndrome by proxy — a mental condition that causes a parent to make their child “sick or appear sick in order for the [parent] to be seen as heroic or to garner sympathy and approval.”

On top of all this, the victim suffered a catastrophic brain injury in the truck accident. Given all this, the victim argued that the court must make highly “specific findings” about his pre- and post-accident medical state, which is simply too much for a lay jury to sort out.

In response, the defence argued that Ontario juries commonly handle cases involving catastrophic and traumatic brain injuries without difficulty. Justice Myers asked defence counsel how the potential Munchausen’s complication — which is certainly atypical of personal injury claims — would affect a jury’s ability to determine causation. None of the lawyers provided a satisfactory answer, according to the judge, who noted, “If counsel cannot even articulate a principled approach to assessing an issue, how is the jury supposed to assess it?”

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Addressing the Systemic Issues in Ontario Trial Courts

That said, Justice Myers still denied the victim’s motion to strike the jury–at least at this stage of the litigation. Instead, the court said it would adopt a “wait and see” approach. Justice Myers pointed to the continuing uncertainty over whether or not the victim would actually present evidence at trial regarding his mother’s condition and its effect on him. “Without the overlay of Munchausen syndrome by proxy the case remains complex to be sure,” Justice Myers said, “but in a more straightforward paradigm. Without the additional factor of the mother’s Munchausen syndrome by proxy the but for assessment will not be made impenetrably complex.”

The judge also explained that deciding to strike a jury is not just a matter of assessing the potential factual complexity of a case. Ultimately, it comes down to whether dispensing with a jury will make justice more “efficient, affordable, and proportional.” Put another way, a judge should only strike a jury notice when there is reason to believe that the excessive cost or potential delay in adjudicating the case so warrants. While acknowledging there are “systemic issues” that affect the ability of Ontario courts “to provide long civil trials” in a cost-effective manner to the parties, here Justice Myers said he felt it was still possible this case could be successfully tried before a jury.

Speak with Our Ontario Personal Injury Lawyers Today

The question of whether to seek or strike a jury trial is often critical to the success of an Ontario personal injury claim. If you have sustained serious, life-altering injuries due to someone else’s negligence, the Preszler Injury Lawyers can assist you in seeking compensation. Call us or contact us online to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation today.

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