EWHC 1478Issue
Relevance of Expert Evidence to Limitation
This was a claim between a GNER and its insurance broker (JLT) for a failure by the latter to obtain cover of a particular type. The claim in negligence was admitted by the insurance broker but it asserted that either the claim to damages was time barred under the Limitation Act 1980 or was extinguished by a previous payment in related legal proceedings. The damages being claimed amounted to about £3 million for uninsured losses arising from the derailment of a train due to an engineering/manufacturing defect to the wheel of one of the coaches.
The issue of relevant to experts was when the time bar argument should be determine – i.e. pre-trial or at trial.
The limitation issue in this case was to be disposed of at trial and not before. This was because “expert evidence as to the relevant practice of insurance brokers was likely to inform and assist the court as to the extent and nature of any continuing duties of JLT in relation ….to the need to obtain an agreed policy wording and provide it to the claimant.” The Court recognised that expert evidence as to the general practice of insurance brokers would be taken into account in appropriate cases. The issue in this case was whether the Defendant owed a continuing duty to the Claimant from the time of renewal of the contract of insurance in March 1998 up to the time of the derailment in June 1998 – plainly expert evidence might assist in relation to that issue by showing the general practice of insurance brokers at the relevant time.
An unsurprising decision given the desirability of expert evidence on the issue. However it should be noted that in many cases limitation issues focus on matters of law without significant dispute as to the surrounding facts or the necessity for expert evidence - and hence can be dealt with pre-trial. That can often save substantial costs of preparation of the case if the matter can be disposed of at an early stage – and that will generally only apply where there is not a dispute of factual evidence on matters pertinent to the issue of limitation or where expert evidence would be required or helpful to resolve that issue. However where, as in the current case, expert evidence was desirable, it would sometimes be appropriate to await trial for the limitation issue to be resolved.