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Supreme Court ends experts immunity

30 March 2011

In a decision handed down today (30 March 2011) the Supreme Court has swept away blanket immunity for expert witnesses.

As a result expert witnesses are no longer immune from suit from liability for negligence in the performance of their duties when giving evidence in court or for views they express in anticipation of court proceedings.

In Jones v Kaney Mr Jones claimed damages alleging post-traumatic stress disorder following a car accident in March 2001. He engaged Dr Kaney, a clinical psychologist, as his expert witness in his claim. Initially Dr Kaney supported Mr Jones allegations but later signed a joint statement with the defendants expert, stating that Mr Jones had been "deceptive and deceitful" in reporting his injuries.

Mr Jones case was seriously compromised and as a result he had to settle his claim for a considerably lesser sum. It later emerged that Dr Kaneys true view was that although Mr Jones had been evasive he had been suffering from PTSD. Mr Jones launched negligence proceedings. However, Dr Kaney pleaded expert immunity and applied to have the claim struck out.

Alison Siniver, a professional indemnity expert at law firm Browne Jacobson commented:

"There will clearly be concern that this decision will lead to an increase in claims against professionals who act as expert witnesses. Claims which would previously have been struck out at an early stage will now need to be looked at more carefully. The value or truth of the evidence will need to be analysed all over again.

"On a more positive note insurers who are also exposed to the underlying claims which are the subject matter of experts reports, might be able to look forward to dealing with them against the backcloth of better quality evidence."

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Lakhbir Rakar

Lakhbir Rakar

PR Manager