Webasto (Hagedorn) v. Shasta Equities Ltd. (The Helios)

In Admiralty Practice, Discovery on (Updated )

Précis: The Federal Court of Appeal held that preliminary investigation reports were not privileged even though counsel had been retained.

Facts: A fire broke out on board the defendants’ ship “Helios” and spread to other nearby vessels. The broker of the “Helios” appointed a surveyor and fire expert to attend the scene and investigate the fire on behalf of underwriters. The surveyor and fire expert were told they were being retained by counsel and would report directly to counsel. The broker next retained counsel who in turn retained a claims service to interview one of the owners of the “Helios”. The moving party brought an application to compel production of various documents over which privilege was claimed including survey reports, the report of the fire expert and reports from the claims service which attached an interview and pre-fire survey reports. At first instance the Prothonotary was not convinced the documents were created “wholly or mainly” with litigation in mind and held they were not privileged. The “Helios” defendants appealed.

On appeal (reported as Hagedorn v Helios I (Ship), 2013 FC 101), the appeal Judge held that the order of the Prothonotary was not discretionary and the correct standard of review was one of correctness. The appeal Judge further held that, with the exception of some pre-fire survey reports, the documents were privileged as the parties were in an adversarial position from the outset. A further appeal was taken to the Federal Court of Appeal.

Decision: Appeal allowed, in part.

Held: Litigation privilege requires both that litigation be ongoing or reasonably contemplated at the time of the creation of the document and that the dominant purpose of creating the document is for that litigation. Relevant considerations include: the author and the authority upon whose direction a report is prepared; the date of the report; when counsel was appointed; the person to whom the report was addressed; and, the content of the report. The initial report of the surveyor and the report of the fire investigator were prepared at a time when, although there was the possibility of litigation, neither party was in a position to assess the incident. The parties were in the preliminary stage of investigation. Litigation had not commenced and was not reasonably contemplated. These reports are not privileged as was held by the Prothonotary. The report from the claims service, on the other hand, is protected by privilege. The investigator was directly retained by counsel, the report was prepared when litigation was more clearly contemplated and the attached interview is detailed and extensive and in the nature of what one would expect of an interview of a possible witness. The balance of the documents were prepared when litigation was in reasonable contemplation and are privileged.