Cross examination key to success in architectural professional negligence claims


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In claims of architectural professional negligence, architects who are deemed to be expert witnesses will be instructed to provide independent and impartial evidence to courts. All parties to the claim have the right to consider the views and findings of these expert witnesses.Most often, judges, as well as both legal teams, will have read these reports before hearing a case. However, although such written expert witness analysis is likely to be exhaustive, there is still plenty of value to be gained from having expert witnesses cross examined, even if it is to only clarify or expand on certain aspects of the report.Both defendant and claimant legal teams will have the opportunity to put questions to the expert witness, and both sides will attempt to emphasise those points which support their case.Cross examination is one of the most vaunted of all legal skills. It is the place where the litigator cannot help but show some style and personality, and where it is done with intelligence and practice, it can be decisive to the outcome of a claim.

What information should the expert witness provide?

Despite the varied cross examination personality styles of professional negligence lawyers, it is safe to say that all require the presentation of certain key facts from the expert witness. These include the following:

  • Who the expert his and what her/his qualification and experience is
  • What instructions were given when she/he was asked to compile the report
  • The manner in which the report was compiled. For example, in the case of a claim of professional negligence made against architects, the expert witness might state that the report was made following an examination of drawings as well as a visit to the building or project in question
  • The expert's opinion on the key questions and disputes
  • The basis for the expert's opinion
  • Why her/his opinion is correct over any opinions that contradict it

The outcome of the case

Although the opinion of expert witnesses is invaluable to informing the reason of judges, witnesses themselves have no power to decide outcomes."Expert witnesses, however skilled or eminent, can give no more than evidence. They cannot usurp the functions of the jury or Judge sitting as a jury, any more than a technical assessor can substitute his advice for the judgment of the court."Their duty is to furnish the Judge or jury with the necessary [scientific] criteria for testing the accuracy of their conclusions, so as to enable the Judge or jury to form their own independent judgment by the application of these criteria to the facts proved in evidence."The scientific opinion evidence, if intelligible, convincing and tested, becomes a factor (and often an important factor) for consideration along with the whole other evidence in the case, but the decision is for the Judge or jury." [Davie v Edinburgh Corporation 1953]

Let us carry your claim for professional negligence

Professional negligence is a core area of practise at Healys LLP. We regularly act for clients making claims of professional negligence against architects, accountants, barristers, financial advisors, solicitors, surveyors, and valuers.For further information about how we can advance your interests contact us today by clicking here.

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