The case of General Motors UK Ltd v The Manchester Ship Canal Company Ltd concerned a licence agreement which allowed General Motors to discharge surface water into the canal for a modest annual fee of £50.
Expert witness knocked senseless
The Court has recently issued one of the most damning criticisms of an expert witness that has been seen for quite some time (Van Oord UK Ltd v Allseas UK Ltd). Any expert witnesses of a nervous disposition, look away now.
The case in question concerned the laying of a gas export pipeline relating to the Shetland Gas Project in Scotland. There were delays with the project which resulted in two of the contractors swinging handbags at each other and then having a full blown legal dust up.
The Claimant instructed an expert to quantify its losses and the expert came back with a report that put those losses at £10 million.
Proceedings were issued and the claim ended up at trial. This was where it all started to go horribly wrong for the Claimant’s expert.
As expected, the expert was subjected to cross examination by the Defendant’s counsel. But as nobody expected, during that cross examination, the expert, without warning, left the witness box, walked out of the court, and never returned.
Cue awkward moment for the Claimant. Cue panic. Cue a host of other sentiments that could be described in more colourful terms elsewhere.
The Judge was not massively impressed. In his judgment, he stated with brutal understatement that: “I regret to say that I came to the conclusion that his evidence was entirely worthless”.
He went on to justify that criticism (as if any were really needed) by observing that:-
- The expert had admitted under cross examination that he was unhappy with his report.
- The expert had not read in detail, or at all, the documents appended to his report.
- The expert had not prepared documents that he claimed to have prepared.
- The expert had admitted under cross examination that his reports were confusing and misleading.
The Judge stated, with a slick twist of the knife, that the expert had made a complete mockery of the oath which he had taken at the outset of his evidence. To add further crushing humiliation to an already shredded reputation, the Claimant’s own QC accepted that the expert had fallen below the required standards.
Unsurprisingly, the Claimant’s expert’s evidence was disregarded entirely and the Court found that the only expert evidence it could reasonably rely upon was the Defendant’s expert evidence. Game, set, and match.
The general consensus of opinion is that it is doubtful whether the expert in this case will ever be able to appear as a credible expert witness again. The lawyers themselves however did not escape criticism in this case. In any case involving expert evidence, it is up to the legal team to ensure that the correct expert is selected and that the team tests the credibility of the expert and tests the ability of the expert’s report to stand up under aggressive examination.
It may be an unusual horror story but it is worth keeping in mind. A sequel to this tale may be inevitable but get the basics right and it won’t be you playing a starring role.
For any advice in relation to issues raised in this article, please contact Andrew Turner on 01242 586 841 or firstname.lastname@example.org.