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Armstrong v First York, Court of Appeal, 17 January 2005

28 January 2005
The issues

Road Traffic – Expert Evidence – whether expert evidence should be preferred to the evidence of Claimant – Low Impact Collision.

The facts

A bus collided with a car. The collision was a minor collision and the car was not seriously damaged. The Claimants alleged that they had suffered neck and spinal injuries. The liability issue depended upon the question of whether or not the force generated by the impact was strong enough to have jolted the Claimants from their seats and in that way cause the injuries which they claimed they have suffered.

An expert forensic motor vehicle engineer was instructed as a joint expert to deal with that issue. He found that there was insufficient movement caused to the car by the collision to have caused “vehicle occupancy displacement” sufficient to cause the injuries. The Defendant in the light of that evidence argued that the Claimants made up their injuries.

The Trial Judge found the Claimants to be credible and honest witnesses but found that the expert evidence was logical and could not be flawed. The Judge therefore found that he either had to decide that the Claimants were lying or that there was an error in the expert evidence. However, he could identify no such evidence. He decided that by failing to find any fraud on the part of the Claimants, that therefore there had to be a flaw in the expert’s evidence and found the Defendant liable.

The Defendant appealed arguing the Judge was wrong to reject the expert evidence without a credibly reasoned rebuttal of it.

The decision

The Judge had found the Claimants to be impressive and honest witnesses and that their reliability had been supported by the medical evidence. There was no principal of law that an expert in a field such as accident reconstruction should be preferred to the honest evidence of witnesses. There was a possibility that an expert particularly in the developing field could have been wrong even if the Trial Judge could not identify in what way particularly if the result was that the Judge had to find that the Claimants were lying. The grounds for the rejection of the expert evidence were the credibility and honesty of the Claimants.

Appeal dismissed.

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