Plaintiff’s Medical Malpractice Case Dismissed Due To Lack Of Expert Evidence On The Applicable Standard Of Care

In the recent case of Rybakov v Fraser Health Authority, 2023 BCSC 680, Justice Giaschi dismissed the plaintiff’s case due to the lack of expert evidence on the standard of care.

The plaintiff had suffered from mental health issues from a young age. After trying different treatment for his mental health issues, he agreed to undergo electro-convulsive therapy (“ECT”) treatment. ECT treatments involve the transmission of electric shocks to the brain to induce a controlled seizure. In August 2016, the defendant psychiatrists administered six ECT treatments to the plaintiff.

The plaintiff alleged that the ECT treatments caused significant personal injury. His claim was based in negligence. However, the plaintiff did not provide any expert reports or present any expert evidence.

At the close of the plaintiff’s case, the defendants brought a no-evidence motion on the basis there was no evidence to support the plaintiff’s case. The defendants submitted that the plaintiff was required to prove four elements to establish a claim in negligence:

  1. That the defendants owed a duty of care to the plaintiff;
  2. That each of the defendants breached that duty of care in that they failed to meet the standard of a reasonably prudent psychiatrist in the same circumstances;
  3. That the plaintiff suffered damages; and
  4. That the defendants’ breaches caused the plaintiff’s damage.

The defendants conceded that they owed a duty of care to the plaintiff. However, they argued that the plaintiff failed to prove that the defendants breached the standard of care because the plaintiff did not provide any expert evidence with respect to the standard of care applicable to a psychiatrist in the circumstances. The plaintiff argued that expert evidence was not necessary and that the jurors could determine the standard of care by applying ordinary common sense.

The court concluded that ECT treatments are complex, technical and specialized and that laypersons lack the knowledge and experience necessary to determine the applicable standard of care regarding administering ECT treatments. As a result, expert evidence was required to prove the standard of care. The court dismissed the plaintiff’s case on the basis that the plaintiff was unable to prove that the defendants breached the applicable standard of care.

This decision highlights that expert evidence is generally required to prove negligence in matters involving technical or specialized knowledge or experience that is beyond the knowledge or experience of laypersons