Here is the Law on Admitting Facts
From the standpoint of legal procedure, formal “admissions” are simply a litigant’s statement that acknowledges a particular fact as being true. For example, a Family litigant can provide an admission to the court that, for the purposes of the divorce proceedings with his or her spouse, the date of separation was on a specified date.
In a recent Ontario civil case, some of the general principles about tendering and withdrawing admissions were the focus of the Court of Appeal’s analysis, and they have equal relevance to Family law matters.
The simple moral of the story is this: Be careful what you admit to!
The case of Champoux v. Jefremova involved a patient’s claim against an emergency room doctor for medical malpractice. The key issue for the trial judge was whether the doctor breached the standard of care expected of her when she provided the patient with an on-the-spot medical diagnosis and emergency treatment.
The trial judge was asked to consider a document called “Admissions Made by the Defendant [Doctor]”. In advance of the trial, it had been inadvertently released by the doctor’s own lawyer to the patient’s lawyer, who refused to consent to its withdrawal.
From the standpoint of proving malpractice, the document contained certain damning admissions by the doctor about her assessment of the patient’s medical issue. Although it was a formal admission of fact, the trial judge ultimately discounted it as untrue, and went on to dismiss the patient’s claim entirely after concluding the doctor did indeed meet the requisite standard of care.
The patient appealed, successfully.
Although a trial judge has the freedom to interpret what an admission means, the Appeal Court cautioned that the “interpretive exercise cannot morph into an analysis of the veracity of the admission…. A formal admission is conclusive of the matter admitted”. Moreover, the judge was bound to act on any formal admissions that were presented, even if other evidence contradicted them.
Here, the trial judge had expressly found that in the context of this medical malpractice action, the doctor’s unfavourable admissions related to “pure facts”. Nonetheless, the judge had gone on to essentially weigh those admitted pure facts against the other evidence led at trial. He then “proceeded to effectively permit the withdrawal of the admission on the basis that it was not accurate.” This was a contradictory and irregular approach.
Having concluded that the manner in which the judge treated the doctor’s admissions resulted in an unfair hearing for the plaintiff, the Ontario Court of Appeal ordered a new trial.
(One added point to note: In drawing its conclusions in Champoux v. Jefremova, the Appeal Court adverted to its own prior ruling in the 2009 Family law case called Serra v. Serra, which clarified that a court bound to accept the veracity of admissions of pure fact, but is not bound to give effect to an admission of law, or of mixed fact and law, if in all the circumstances the interests of justice dictate that the issue should be determined at a trial, rather than by way of an admission).
For the full text of the decision, see:
Champoux v. Jefremova, 2021 ONCA 92
Serra v. Serra, 2009 ONCA 105