During the COVID-19 pandemic, many in the legal profession began transitioning their practice online with the widespread use of Zoom for hearings, trials, examinations for discovery, etc. However, the courts may require plaintiffs to attend in-person medical examinations in personal injury cases despite public health concerns.
In Mierzejewski, the defendant brought a motion seeking an order compelling the plaintiff to attend a neuropsychology defence medical examination and a physiatry defence medical examination, both of which would be conducted in person. The plaintiff did not agree to attend a neuropsychological examination on the basis that she did not place any brain injury or head trauma at issue. While the plaintiff agreed to the physiatry examination, the main issue was the form that the examination will take. The plaintiff argued against attending an in-person medical examination, citing the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and her compromised health situation which included a heart attack and subsequent heart surgery in 2016, breast cancer in 2017, and a lumpectomy in 2018. The plaintiff does not leave her home unless necessary.
The Ontario Superior Court was asked to consider whether the plaintiff must attend the neuropsychological medical examination and if so, whether the plaintiff must attend both medical examinations in person.
The plaintiff argued that her numerous health conditions placed her in the high end risk category to contract COVID-19 and suffer serious health consequences. One of the plaintiff's doctors advised that physiatry examinations could not be completed virtually and it would be irresponsible for the plaintiff to attend an in-person medical examination given the plaintiff's numerous health concerns. He cited public health recommendations to those with chronic conditions to limit physical contact with others outside of their residence.
The Court noted that since the trial was scheduled for June 2021, the examination could not be postponed until the pandemic improved. Citing Severin v Barker, 2020 ONSC 7784, the Court stated that a plaintiff who is required to attend an in-person defence medical assessment during the pandemic does not pose undue hardship on the plaintiff where the examination is to be conducted with COVID-19 safety protocols in place. The plaintiff had attended numerous necessary medical and legal appointments in person during the pandemic. The Court further noted that the medical assessment centre had extensive COVID-19 protocols in place including COVID-19 screenings, temperature checks, socially distanced waiting rooms, and the use of PPE. Given the presence of extensive COVID-19 safety protocols at the assessment centre, the Court ordered that the plaintiff must attend the physiatry examination in person.
The plaintiff submitted that a neuropsychological examination would not be relevant as she did not put her neurocognitive state at issue on the basis that she did not complain of any head injuries, neurocognitive problems, post concussion symptoms, or psychological problems.
The Court referenced the plaintiff's statement of claim which stated that the plaintiff suffered serious and permanent impairment of important mental and psychological functions, including but not limited to headaches, dizziness, depression, and memory difficulties. The Court also noted several medical reports from the plaintiff's doctors which indicated that the plaintiff suffered from psychological problems, pain disorder with psychological factors, and chronic pain as a result of the accident. In assessing the plaintiff's pleadings, the Court concluded that the plaintiff had put her cognitive state in issue and ordered a neuropsychological examination. Citing Severin and the neuropsychologist's statement that he could not conduct a virtual neuropsychological assessment, the Court ordered the plaintiff to attend an in-person neuropsychological examination.
The Ontario Superior Court's decision is concerning given the significant health and safety concerns for at-risk individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic. Studies from the Guidelines for Best Practices in Psychological Remote Assessments from the OPA/CAPDA indicate that remote psychometric testing is just as effective as in-person testing. The reports also note that psychological services and assessments can be conducted effectively through online platforms with some modifications or alternatives for fully remote procedures. Plaintiffs should consider alternative assessment models when faced with an insistence that the plaintiff attends an in-person examination during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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