The British Columbia Court of Appeal in Andraws v. Anslow found that a trial judge’s reasons for judgment were inadequate, as they did not allow for meaningful appellate review. The plaintiff’s appeal from the dismissal of her action for damages was correspondingly granted. The decision provides guidance and illustrates the necessity of having reasons that are adequate for grounding a proper appellate review.

Background

The plaintiff launched an action for damages arising from injuries allegedly suffered in a motor vehicle accident in which she was rear-ended. The trial judge concluded that, on a balance of probabilities, “no injuries were occasioned by the accident”. However, the Court of Appeal found that the reasons were unclear as to whether the trial judge found that the plaintiff was not injured at all, or whether he found that the plaintiff was injured but not as a result of the accident.

The plaintiff advanced two grounds of appeal: (i) the inadequacy of the trial judge’s reasons; and (ii) the trial judge’s failure to consider the relevant evidence tending to corroborate her allegations that she had been injured in the accident. The Court of Appeal found that the appeal did not turn on the misapprehension of evidence issue, but on the question whether the reasons for judgment were adequate.

Law Governing the Adequacy of Reasons

The Court of Appeal summarized the law regarding adequacy of reasons:

[8] The law governing adequacy of reasons is well settled. As Mr. Justice Tysoe, in dissent but not on this point, said in Bedwell v. McGill, 2008 BCCA 6 (CanLII):

[21] The question of whether a trial judge’s reasons are adequate is a threshold issue. If the reasons are not adequate to permit proper appellate review, the appeal must be allowed and a new trial ordered. Inadequate reasons do not enable the appellate court to make its own findings of fact and conclusions of law based on those findings. In addition, the issue of adequacy of reasons is different than the issue of whether the failure of the trial judge to address critical evidence constitutes a palpable and overriding error.

[9] Adequate reasons for judgment fulfil certain functions. As the Supreme Court of Canada stated in F.H. v. McDougall, 2008 SCC 53 (CanLII) at para. 98, they justify and explain the result, particularly to the losing party, provide a basis for appellate review, and satisfy the public interest in demonstrating that justice has been done. Reasons may be sufficient if they are responsive to the live issues in the case and the parties’ key arguments. A judge is not obliged to discuss all of the evidence, but it is necessary for the reasons to disclose that he or she has grappled with the substance of the live issues at trial. As Madam Justice Smith noted in Shannon at para. 9, even where reasons may be objectively inadequate, appellate interference will not be justified if the reasons, read in light of the record as a whole permit meaningful appellate review.

Conclusion

The plaintiff’s injuries were an important issue in this case, and aside from her own testimony, she provided corroborative evidence from her doctor and her husband. The Court of Appeal noted that, while it was open for the trial judge to reject this corroborative evidence, he did not provide any reasons for doing so:

[16] The judge’s failure to offer any explanation of his reasons for rejecting important corrobative evidence makes it impossible to engage in any meaningful appellate review. Reading the reasons in light of the record as a whole only underscores the point. Whether the accident caused any injury was a central and vital live issue at trial. There was evidence bearing on this point. The corrobative evidence was subject to cross-examination and was the focus of submissions. But the reasons offer nothing to explain why, in light of the evidence and argument, the judge decided as he did. I cannot discern whether the judge accepted that Ms. Andraws was injured (at least to some extent), but those injuries were not caused by the accident or whether the judge concluded that the plaintiff was not injured at all. I cannot discern whether the trial judge rejected the husband’s evidence only in so far as it laid the basis for an inference that the injuries were attributable to the accident or whether he entirely rejected his evidence of his wife’s condition. I do not know if the judge accepted that the doctor detected muscle spasm (but attributed it to some other cause) or whether he rejected the evidence of the existence of muscle spasm. Attempting to discern the “why” of the result would require this Court to engage in pure speculation, not appellate review.

The Court of Appeal noted as well that there was an “inferential gap” in the trial judge’s reasoning, whereby his finding that the plaintiff had exaggerated the force of the collision led to his conclusion that she was a generally unreliable witness. It did not necessarily follow that the plaintiff exaggerating the impact of the collision meant that her evidence should be wholly disregarded, and the trial judge’s failure to explain this conclusion reinforced the Court of Appeal’s finding that the reasons were inadequate.