The crucial role of an asbestos expert witness in legal cases
Although the importation and use of asbestos in the UK has been banned since 1999, the material remains widespread in public, domestic, and commercial buildings up and down the country. Sadly, then, there continues to be many asbestos-related legal cases in both the criminal and civil courts, in relation to a wide range of issues and incidents involving this once widely used substance.
An asbestos expert witness can play a crucial role in the conclusion of such legal cases, through the specialised knowhow and experience that they can provide to the court.
The term “expert witness” is applied to someone who has knowledge and/or experience of a particular discipline or subject matter, exceeding that which would be expected of a layperson. The main duty of an expert witness is to assist the court or tribunal in reaching an informed decision, by providing impartial expert opinion on the disputed matters.
But what else should you know about asbestos expert witnesses and what they do? Below, we have outlined the essentials.
What is an asbestos expert witness?
An asbestos expert witness is someone who may be called to give evidence in a court of law, tribunal, or arbitration, in the capacity of an impartial expert on asbestos.
The role of an asbestos expert witness is not to act as an advisor to any party in the proceedings. A court will expect the asbestos expert witness to provide technical analysis and opinion in relation to the matter of dispute, based on evidence of fact.
So, even if an asbestos expert witness has been instructed by one of the parties in the given case, and that party is responsible for paying the expert witness’s fee, it will not be their role to advocate a case for one of the parties.
Most witnesses in court or other proceedings are expected to provide evidence of what they know, and/or what they have actually seen. They normally serve as witnesses of fact, instead of giving their own opinions on the given case.
Expert witnesses differ from this, in that their role is to express their opinions on evidence that is within their field of expertise, such as asbestos. When they are in court, it is expected that such a witness will methodically put forward opinion evidence based on evidence of fact.
Given their role as an expert, an asbestos expert witness will naturally need to have the qualifications and knowledge reflecting this. When the asbestos expert witness who is chosen is suitably qualified, competent, and experienced, this will help ensure the provided evidence is credible, being delivered based on sound knowledge, and in a way that is easy to understand.
The legal landscape of asbestos cases
A naturally occurring fibrous silicate mineral, asbestos was hugely widely used in the UK – including in such industries as construction and shipbuilding – from around the 1950s to the 1980s. From the 1970s onwards, the very serious health risks of asbestos inhalation or ingestion were becoming increasingly well-known, eventually leading to the complete ban on asbestos in all its forms in 1999.
However, with asbestos continuing to be present in many UK buildings that were constructed or renovated prior to the year 2000, there is still scope for new incidents of asbestos exposure to occur. Asbestos being breathed in or ingested can heighten the chances of the exposed individual developing asbestos-related disease – such as mesothelioma or asbestos-related lung cancer – in later life.
It should not be a great surprise, then, that the UK today has extensive regulation in place that has implications for how asbestos is managed. This includes the likes of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 (CAR 2012), RIDDOR 2013, CDM 2015 in relation to duties around asbestos, and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.
There is a range of asbestos-related legal cases that may give rise to an asbestos expert witness being called, including the likes of mesothelioma claims and product liability cases. An expert witness may also be called in cases where a party has made a claim for the costs of an asbestos re-survey after the initial survey was declared to be inadequate, or criminal defence cases where there is an allegation of work contaminating a building, to give just a few examples.
Asbestos litigation is undoubtedly a complicated and challenging area. This underlines the importance of the asbestos expert witness in asbestos-related cases being someone who understands the intricacies of asbestos management and compliance.
What makes a good asbestos expert witness?
Given the faith that the court will place in the asbestos expert witness as a source of expert opinion evidence, it is crucial that the chosen individual for this role has an appropriate educational and professional background.
The ideal asbestos expert witness will be someone who possesses far-reaching and in-depth knowledge and experience in asbestos-related matters. This will enable them to provide genuinely impartial, but also evidence-based opinions in even the most challenging and complex asbestos-related legal cases.
How an asbestos expert witness supports legal cases
As aforementioned, the principal duty of the asbestos expert witness will be to help the court or tribunal to reach an informed decision – not by advocating for one of the parties in the given case, but by providing impartial and credible expert opinion.
There are various ways in which a capable asbestos expert witness will accomplish this. They will be able to draw upon a breadth and depth of scientific and technical knowledge in asbestos that other witnesses will not be able to provide.
The asbestos expert witness will be able to assess incidents of asbestos exposure and risk factors, and clearly explain to the court the causal relationship between asbestos and health issues that can arise from exposure to the substance.
Such expert witnesses will be able to help juries and judges to understand complex asbestos-related evidence. This will assist the efforts by the non-experts in asbestos to reach the most comprehensive and appropriate decision when bringing the case to a conclusion.
The pre-trial and trial phases
The work of an asbestos expert witness typically goes well beyond testifying in court. They are likely to be involved in a variety of tasks and processes in the run-up to this stage, encompassing consultation with legal teams, case review and evidence analysis, and preparation for testimony.
The evidence review stage, for example, can include examination of a wide range of applicable documents. These can encompass the likes of witness statements, plans of work, method statements, analytical reports, medical papers, insurance documentation, and any evidence of fraudulent activity.
These steps will enable the asbestos expert witness to develop their understanding of the facts, issues, intricacies of the matters in dispute.
The pre-trial phase is also crucial for allowing the asbestos expert witness to begin bridging the divide between technicality and accessibility, so that once they are in court, they can provide expert opinion evidence, based on fact, that is easy to understand.
This will help to ensure the asbestos expert witness provides evidence that is clearly communicated and credibly informed and impartial in the eyes of the judge or jury. And this, in turn, will help ensure an appropriate conclusion to the given legal case.
Conclusion: an asbestos expert witness can greatly impact on the outcome of legal cases
An asbestos expert witness plays a crucial role in guiding asbestos-related legal cases to a conclusion, by providing expert opinion evidence that draws upon their far-reaching knowledge of the asbestos field.
Whether you are reading this as a lawyer or client, here at Oracle Solutions, we would encourage you to leverage the knowhow and experience of a suitably qualified asbestos expert witness, given the profound impact that expert testimony can have on the outcome of asbestos-related legal cases.
As a highly accomplished and seasoned asbestos professional who is a vetted member of the UK Register of Expert Witnesses, our own CEO, Jess Scott, is able to provide the comprehensive asbestos expert witness service that could be invaluable for a wide range of clients.
To learn more about this service and our rates, please feel free to call us today, or to contact us via email.
Written by Jess Scott
Jess Scott has been an all-round asbestos consultant since 1996. That’s nearly 3 decades of asbestos knowledge. He spends his time sharing that knowledge with the team at Oracle and with their clients. Jess's goal is, and always has been, to use my expertise in helping people to comply with the law. This legal compliance ultimately helps to protect everyone from the harmful effects of asbestos. Jess has acted as an asbestos expert witness in legal cases and is involved in many asbestos educational activities throughout the UK.