The Uniform Civil Procedure Rules 2005 (NSW) authorise the referral of certain matters in litigated proceedings to an independent referee. The referee’s determination of the referred matters can then be adopted or rejected by the court. The importance of expert evidence and, in particular, the joint report prepared by the experts for the referee, is paramount. So what happens when your expert’s evidence changes dramatically? The recent case of The Owners – Strata Plan No. 72381 –v- Meriton Apartments Pty Limited  NSWSC 442 examines this situation.
The experts of the owners corporation and Meriton both prepared separate reports, which were vastly different in quantum for the amounts estimated to fix the building defects. In a joint report, however, both experts agreed to the quantum. The joint report was adopted by the Referee.
Meriton sought orders that parts of the Referee’s report (being the parts that relied on the joint report) be rejected and these matters be re-heard, on the basis that Meriton claimed its expert had “misunderstood” his role as an expert. In particular, Meriton submitted that its expert was under a misapprehension that the experts had to reach agreement about the substance of the issues in the joint report, rather than merely having to reach agreement about the manner in which agreed and disagreed issues were set out in the report. As a result, Meriton argued, it would not be in the interests of justice for the Court to adopt the referee’s report.
The Court’s Decision
The Court rejected Meriton’s claim. It found that there was no issue with an expert compromising with another to reach agreement, provided the compromise genuinely reflected the expert’s views. On the evidence before the Court, including multiple signed acknowledgements to be bound by the Expert Code of Conduct, the Court did not find that the expert had misunderstood his role. The Court noted that Meriton should not be allowed to re-agitate the issue with its expert, as this should have been done before the referee, not before the Court. The Court identified the following principles of relevance:
- Finality of litigation;
- Issue of estoppel arising from judgments;
- A party on appeal should be bound by the way it handled its case in the first instance; and
- The interests of justice.This case emphasises the importance of engaging clearly with your experts and of effective case management. For more information or for assistance please contact our office.
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