A surveyor was first used as an expert witness in 1782 in the case of Folkes & Chadd. The case looked at whether farmers should be responsible for the silting of Wells Harbour. Since that time, surveyors have worked as expert witnesses on many occasions and on a wide variety of subjects.
What is an expert witness?
An expert witness is anyone who has specialist knowledge of a particular subject upon which he or she may give an opinion. This opinion is usually made available to the court and as chartered surveyors, Grumitt Wade Mason is often called upon as RICS expert witnesses to help in disputes which may involve litigation.
When are RICS expert witnesses needed?
RICS expert witnesses are required in all sorts of cases. However, we can naturally only get involved within our field of expertise. For example, I have been asked to be an expert witness on matters such as valuations, boundary disputes, defective building works, party wall issues and so on.
What does an RICS expert witness surveyor do?
Usually, we will visit the property at the centre of the dispute and try to gather all available information. We then put together a report which complies with Practice Direction 35 as set out in the Civil Procedure Rules.
When I started out as a surveyor, each side in an argument that went to court would choose its own surveyor and each surveyor would naturally favour the side that was paying them. However, Practice Direction 35 now requires all expert witnesses to be disinterested. In fact, a court will often ask for a single joint expert and when this happens, the appointment comes from the court. For example, I was recently appointed single joint expert on a boundary dispute case about where a neighbour had positioned a fence.
How much does an expert witness cost?
Using an expert witness is not cheap. This is mainly because we are often used in conjunction with a solicitor and, put simply, court cases are expensive.
What if the report doesn’t support my case?
From time to time, I am asked to report on an issue and I do not agree that my client has a case. For this reason, we always recommend that we carry out a brief report at the beginning which will give our initial findings. This means that if we don’t think the case has any legs, our client has a chance to pull out before things get more expensive.
Who is responsible for the surveyor’s fees?
Initially, our client is responsible for our fees. However, a solicitor will usually try to recover the fees of all professionals concerned, should the case go to court. In the end, it is the judge who decides who is responsible for the fees.
What are the legal obligations of the expert witness once the report has been finalised?
We always owe our clients a duty of care. You have a right to expect us to act in a professional manner and you should not suffer harm because of incompetence or negligence. We have a very strong legal obligation towards our client and the courts when we act as an expert witness; this is something we do not take lightly.
Instructing an expert witness
As a rule, we prefer our instruction to come from a solicitor. This is because the solicitor is able to direct our report to the matter in hand and ensure that it stays pertinent.
We will always give a quotation and before we arrive on site, we prefer to have read all relevant documents. We can usually write our initial report at this stage. If needed, we can later write a report for use in court, from the information we have gathered.
We will also be available to attend court but usually matters are settled before it gets this far.