Liddell v Middleton: CA 1996

The Court was concerned with a traditional road traffic accident in which a pedestrian was injured by a moving car. A question arose as to the admissibility of an expert.
Held: Stuart-Smith LJ stated of the test of admissibility laid down in the 1972 Act: ‘But that section in no way extends the principles upon which expert evidence is admissible. An expert is only qualified to give expert evidence on a relevant matter, if his knowledge and expertise relate to a matter which is outside the knowledge and experience of a layman. In the reference to an ‘issue in the proceedings in question’ relates to a factual issue and not to the conclusion of law based upon such fact’.
Trial in this jurisdiction was by Judge not expert and that there was a regrettable tendency in personal injury cases involving road traffic and industrial accidents for the parties to enlist the services of experts whether necessary or not. The Judge observed that this simply added to the already high cost of litigation and the length of trials.
Stuart-Smith LJ identified categories of case where expert evidence was both necessary and desirable in road traffic cases including: those where there are no witnesses capable of describing what happened, those where deductions may have to be made from circumstantial evidence or from the position of vehicles after the accident, marks on the road or damage to vehicles, the speed of a vehicle, or the relevant positions of the parties in the moments leading up to the impact. He then lay down the limits of expert evidence: ‘In such cases the function of the expert is to furnish the Judge with the necessary scientific criteria and assistance based upon his special skill and experience not possessed by ordinary laymen to enable the Judge to interpret the factual evidence of the marks on the road, the damage or whatever it may be. What he is not entitled to do is to say in effect ‘I have considered the statements and special evidence of the eyewitnesses in this case and I conclude from their evidence that the defendant was going at a certain speed, or that he could have seen the plaintiff at a certain point’. These are facts for the trial Judge to find based on the evidence that he accepts and such inferences as he draws from the primary facts found. Still less is the expert entitled to say that in his opinion the defendant should have sounded his horn, seen the plaintiff before he did or taken avoiding action and that in taking some action or failing to take some other action, a party was guilty of negligence. These are matters for the Court, on which the expert’s opinion is wholly irrelevant and therefore inadmissible’.

Stuart-Smith LJ
[1996] PIQR P36
Civil Evidence Act 1972&
England and Wales
Cited by:
CitedAllen v Cornwall Council QBD 20-May-2015
The claimant was injured riding his bicycle, and alleged failure by the respondent highway authority. The court now considered an application for leave to appeal against an order allowing the production of evidence of an expert in cycling skills and . .
CitedSinclair v Joyner QBD 23-Jun-2015
The claimant cyclist sought damages from the defendant motorist after a collision in which she was severely injured. They approached each other on a narrow lane. The claimant said that the defendant did not pull over as much as she should, and the . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Litigation Practice, Personal Injury, Evidence

Leading Case

Updated: 10 November 2021; Ref: scu.549434