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The End of "Fishing Expeditions" in Civil Litigation

Victor Lewin - Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Civil litigation can be costly and time consuming. These costs can make civil justice unaffordable to many victims injured in car accidents, medical malpractice, slips and falls, etc. Parties to civil litigation are obligated to disclose all relevant documents. The more that a party is required to produce, the more costly and time consuming the litigation will be. Insurance companies understand this and it is not uncommon for them to demand production of large volumes of materials with the effect of increasing costs to injured victims (and making access to justice inaccessible). Courts in Nova Scotia have routinely allowed this to take place. Insurance companies were allowed to go on "fishing expeditions". Production would be ordered so long as the materials produced may be helpful. Often times, injured victims - at their own cost - would have to produce materials that ultimately had no relevance. This approach drove up the cost of litigation and mainly benefited insurance companies.

Thankfully, change is coming. A judge in a recent slip and fall case ordered that the injured victim produce materials that would allow the defendant to go on a 'fishing expedition" in hopes of finding something that may be relevant. The lawyers at Wagners appealed this decision to the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal and were successful.

In a seminal decision released early April 2011, the Court of Appeal reined in the disclosure obligations of parties in civil litigation. No longer do injured victims - at their own cost - have to disclose things that may ultimately be irrelevant. From now on, only absolutely relevant materials have to be produced. "Fishing expeditions" are no longer permitted. The Court of Appeal accepted Wagners' argument and found that the restricted disclosure requirements will save parties time and expense.

The importance of a judicial system that fosters access to justice cannot be overstated. The lawyers at Wagners are proud to be at the forefront of a change in the law; a change that will result in victims, injured as a result of someone's negligence, receiving justice and compensation quicker and at less cost to themselves.

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