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Evidence of “Good Character” Inadmissible in Civil Case

In Abbasnejad v. Leifsson, 2018 BCSC 850, the Court confirmed the general rule that character evidence is inadmissible in civil cases, if tendered solely to prove or disprove whether a party is the sort of person who would commit the alleged act or to bolster credibility.

The plaintiff had sued the defendant alleging assault and battery in the course of a traffic dispute. After a verbal exchange outside their respective vehicles, the parties were involved in physical conflict. The plaintiff alleged that the defendant was the aggressor, and viciously assaulted the plaintiff without provocation which left him with serious injuries to his left eye.

The defendant sought to lead evidence of his general reputation in the community, and specific incidents of demonstrated good character during his employment as a fireman. He argued that the general rule disallowing character evidence should be relaxed and greater flexibility afforded because the conduct alleged by the plaintiff was criminal in nature.

Citing the general rule, Madam Justice DeWitt-Van Oosten refused to admit the proposed character evidence in this case, but noted that there may be a principled basis for admitting such evidence in some civil claims involving allegations of quasi-criminal conduct. That might include allegations of fraudulent or deceitful conduct, or alleged spread of untruths such as a claim in defamation. In this case, however, the character evidence proposed by the defendant was of minimal value, would unduly consume trial time, confuse the issues before the jury and would shed no real light on whether the defendant would or would not act as an aggressor in the circumstances of the case. As such, the defendant was prohibited from calling good character evidence as part of his defence.

Case summary by Caroline Alexander