Is expert evidence key in professional negligence claims?

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Professional negligence claims can be complicated, and expert evidence is usually required to be able to prove to the court the standard of care expected of a professional within their field. The recent case – Avondale Exhibitions Ltd v Arthur J Gallagher Insurance Brokers – demonstrates the importance of obtaining expert evidence.

What happened?

Avondale Exhibitions (“Avondale”), arranged insurance through its insurance brokers, Arthur J Gallagher Insurance Brokers (“the broker”).

A fire occurred at Avondale’s premises, which damaged its property and stock. Avondale sought to make a claim under its insurance policy, but, at the time of taking out the policy, hadn’t told its insurer about several criminal prosecutions against one of its Directors.

Avondale’s insurer declined to cover the damage, on the basis that Avondale’s policy was void for non-disclosure.

Had the broker been negligent?

Avondale brought a professional negligence claim against the broker, alleging that it had, in fact, disclosed the relevant convictions. It claimed that, as Arthur J hadn’t passed that information on, it had breached the duty of care owed to Avondale.

Arthur J denied any knowledge of the convictions.

Avondale claimed in the alternative that, regardless of whether Arthur J knew about the convictions or not, it’d breached its duty of care anyway – by not making clear how important it was to disclose them.

What did the Court say?

The court dismissed Avondale’s claim. It concluded that Arthur J had no notice of the convictions, and hadn’t breached its duty of care. In reaching its decision, the court looked at the scope of the duty of care owed by Arthur J’s – and whether it was obliged to ask Avondale about the convictions, or to explain the disclosure requirements.

To work out whether a professional has acted with ‘a reasonable standard of care and skill’ or not, their actions need to be compared to the standard of a ‘reasonably competent member of their profession’. The judge noted that the court would usually need expert evidence to explain the standards that professionals usually work to in their particular field, and therefore the scope of the duty of care owed– before it could make a finding of negligence.

The judge went on to say that, while expert evidence isn’t required under law, it’s a ‘matter of common sense’ for most cases of this kind. He called it ‘striking’ that Avondale had tried to bring a claim for professional negligence, without obtaining any expert advice about what it could’ve reasonably expected.

What does this mean?

This case goes to show how important it is to get expert advice detailing the standard of care that you should reasonably expect from your professional– before trying to claim that they’ve been negligent.

If you think you may have a claim against a professional, please contact a member of our Disputes team.