Snell v. Farrell, (1990) 107 N.B.R.(2d) 94 (SCC)

JudgeDickson, C.J.C., Wilson, La Forest, L'Heureux-Dubé, Sopinka, Cory and McLachlin, JJ.
CourtSupreme Court of Canada
Case DateAugust 16, 1990
JurisdictionCanada (Federal)
Citations(1990), 107 N.B.R.(2d) 94 (SCC);[1990] 2 SCR 311;31 CPR (3d) 394;[1990] SCJ No 78 (QL);72 DLR (4th) 97;[1990] ACS no 78;1990 CanLII 75 (SCC);[1990] 2 SCR 467;1990 CanLII 70 (SCC);107 NBR (2d) 94;72 DLR (4th) 289;110 NR 200;4 CCLT (2d) 229;[1990] CarswellNB 82;AZ-90111066;JE 90-1175;[1990] SCJ No 73 (QL);110 Man R (2d) 200;[1990] ACS no 73;[1990] RR

Snell v. Farrell (1990), 107 N.B.R.(2d) 94 (SCC);

    107 R.N.-B.(2e) 94; 267 A.P.R. 94

MLB headnote and full text

[French language version follows English language version]

[La version française vient à la suite de la version anglaise]

....................

Dr. D.H. Farrell (appellant) v. Margaret Snell (respondent)

(No. 20873)

Indexed As: Snell v. Farrell

Supreme Court of Canada

Dickson, C.J.C., Wilson, La Forest, L'Heureux-Dubé, Sopinka, Cory and McLachlin, JJ.

August 16, 1990.

Summary:

A 70 year old woman lost the sight in her right eye following surgery to remove a cataract and implant a lens. The woman brought a negligence action for damages against the doctor.

The New Brunswick Court of Queen's Bench, Trial Division, in a judgment reported 77 N.B.R.(2d) 222; 195 A.P.R. 222, found the doctor negligent and awarded $25,000.00 general damages. The doctor appealed.

The New Brunswick Court of Appeal, in a judgment reported 84 N.B.R.(2d) 401; 214 A.P.R. 401, dismissed the appeal. The doctor again appealed.

The Supreme Court of Canada dismissed the appeal.

Medicine - Topic 4245

Liability of practitioners - Negligence - Surgical operations by doctors - A doctor removed a 70 year old woman's cataract and implanted a lens - The doctor negligently failed to abort the operation when a retrobulbar haemorrhage occurred - The woman lost the sight in the eye when the optic nerve atrophied due to loss of its blood supply - Experts were unable to conclusively state that continuing the operation caused the blindness, but agreed that it was a reasonable cause and that there was no indication of external causes - The Supreme Court of Canada held that it was open for the trial judge to infer that the blindness was caused by the retrobulbar bleeding, absent evidence to rebut this inference.

Medicine - Topic 4257

Liability of practitioners - Negligence - Burden of proof - [See Torts - Topic 65].

Medicine - Topic 4258

Liability of practitioners - Negligence - Res ipsa loquitur - A doctor removed a 70 year old woman's cataract and implanted a lens - The doctor negligently failed to abort the operation when a retrobulbar haemorrhage occurred - The woman lost the sight in the eye when the optic nerve atrophied due to loss of its blood supply - Experts were unable to conclusively state that continuing the operation caused the blindness, but agreed that it was a reasonable cause and that there was no indication of external causes - The Supreme Court of Canada noted that res ipsa loquitur did not apply, where the doctor could provide an explanation equally consistent with there being no negligence.

Torts - Topic 65

Negligence - Causation - Evidence - The Supreme Court of Canada rejected the theory that once the plaintiff proved the defendant created a risk of harm and injury occurred within the area of the risk, then the burden shifted to the defendant to disprove causation - The court stated that the burden remained with the plaintiff, but evidence adduced by the plaintiff may result in an adverse inference drawn against the defendant (i.e., provisional or tactical burden) - In the absence of evidence to the contrary adduced by the defendant, causation may be inferred, even though positive or scientific proof of causation was not adduced.

Cases Noticed:

Finlay v. Auld, [1975] 1 S.C.R. 338; 1 N.R. 1, refd to. [para. 11].

McGhee v. National Coal Board, [1973] 1 W.L.R. 1, not folld. [para. 12].

Wilsher v. Essex Area Health Authority, [1987] 2 W.L.R. 425 (C.A.), refd to. [para. 13].

Sindell v. Abbott Laboratories (1980), 607 P.2d 924 (Cal.), refd to. [para. 15].

National Trust Co. v. Wong Aviation Ltd., [1969] S.C.R. 481, refd to. [para. 17].

Cook v. Lewis, [1951] S.C.R. 830, refd to. [para. 17].

Summers v. Tice (1948), 5 A.L.R.(2d) 91, refd to. [para. 17].

Interlake Tissue Mills Co. v. Salmon and Beckett, [1949] 1 D.L.R. 207 (Ont. C.A.), refd to. [para. 18].

Cudney v. Clements Motor Sales Ltd., [1969] 2 O.R. 209 (C.A.), refd to. [para. 18].

Kirk v. McLaughlin Coal & Supplies Ltd., [1968] 1 O.R. 311 (C.A.), refd to. [para. 18].

Jackson v. Millar (1972), 31 D.L.R.(3d) 263 (Ont. C.A.), refd to. [para. 18].

Wilsher v. Essex Area Health Authority, [1988] 2 W.L.R. 557; 87 N.R. 140 (H.L.), consd. [para. 22].

Powell v. Guttman (1978), 89 D.L.R.(3d) 180 (Man. C.A.), refd to. [para. 23].

Letnick v. Toronto (City), [1988] 2 F.C. 399; 82 N.R. 261 (F.C.A.), refd to. [para. 23].

Dalpe v. City of Edmundston (1979), 25 N.B.R.(2d) 102; 51 A.P.R. 102 (C.A.), refd to. [para. 23].

Nowsco Well Service Ltd. v. Canadian Propane Gas & Oil Ltd. (1981), 7 Sask.R. 291; 122 D.L.R.(3d) 228 (C.A.), refd to. [para. 23].

Rendall v. Ewert (1989), 38 B.C.L.R.(2d) 1 (C.A.), refd to. [para. 24].

Kitchen v. McMullen (1989), 100 N.B.R.(2d) 91; 252 A.P.R. 91 (C.A.), refd to. [para. 24].

Westco Storage Ltd. et al. v. Inter-City Gas Utilities Ltd. et al., [1989] 4 W.W.R. 289; 59 Man.R.(2d) 37 (C.A.), refd to. [para. 24].

Haag v. Marshall, [1990] 1 W.W.R. 361 (B.C.C.A.), refd to. [para. 24].

Alphacell Ltd. v. Woodward, [1972] 2 All E.R. 475, refd to. [para. 29].

Blatch v. Archer (1774), 1 Cowp. 63; 98 E.R. 969, refd to. [para. 29].

Cummings v. City of Vancouver (1911), 1 W.W.R. 31 (B.C.C.A.), refd to. [para. 30].

Dunlop Holdings Ltd.'s Application, Re, [1979] R.P.C. 523 (C.A.), refd to. [para. 31].

Diamond v. British Columbia Thoroughbred Breeders' Society (1965), 52 D.L.R.(2d) 146 (B.C.S.C.), refd to. [para. 31].

Pleet v. Canadian Northern Quebec R. Co. (1921), 64 D.L.R. 316 (Ont. C.A), refd to. [para. 31].

Guaranty Trust Co. of Canada v. Mall Medical Group, [1969] S.C.R. 541, refd to. [para. 31].

Sentilles v. Inter-Caribbean Shipping Corp. (1959), 361 U.S. 107, refd to. [para. 36].

Authors and Works Noticed:

Cross on Evidence (6th Ed. 1985), p. 129 [para. 32].

Fleming, John G., Probalistic Causation in Tort Law (1989), 68 Can. Bar Rev. 661, generally [para. 15].

Great Britain, Royal Commission on Civil Liability and Compensation for Personal Injury (1978), vol. 1, p. 285 [para. 28].

Harvey, David M., Medical Malpractice (1973), p. 169 [para. 35].

Louisell, David W., Medical Malpractice, vol. 3, pp. 25-57 [para. 34].

Pearson Report - see Great Britain, Royal Commission on Civil Liability and Compensation for Personal Injury.

Posner, James R., Trends in Medical Malpractice Insurance 1970-85 (1986), 49 Law & Contemporary Problems 37, p. 38 [para. 27].

Robinson, Glen O., The Medical Malpractice Crisis of the 1970's: A Retrospective (1986), 49 Law & Contemporary Problems 5, p. 18 [para. 27].

Wigmore, J.H., Evidence in Trials at Common Law (4th Ed. 1981), vol. 9, s. 2486, p. 292 [para. 16].

Counsel:

B.A. Crane, Q.C., and Margaret Ross, for the appellant;

E. Neil McKelvey, Q.C., and Kenneth B. McCullogh, for the respondent.

Solicitors of Record:

Gilbert, McGloan, Gillis, Saint John, New Brunswick, for the appellant;

McKelvey, Macaulay, Machum, Saint John, New Brunswick, for the respondent.

This appeal was heard on December 6, 1989, before Dickson, C.J.C., Wilson, La Forest, L'Heureux-Dubé, Sopinka, Cory and McLachlin, JJ., of the Supreme Court of Canada.

On August 16, 1990, the judgment of the Supreme Court of Canada was delivered in both official languages by Sopinka, J.

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