Court experts are financially liable for damage caused by issuing false opinions in legal proceedings. This is the conclusion of a recently published justification of a Supreme Court judgment.
The judgment confirms that business entities that have lost a case due to a false opinion issued by a court expert will be able to seek compensation not only from the State Treasury for an unlawful judgment, but also from the expert. This should improve the quality of opinions issued in court proceedings, and also increase experts’ interest in securing themselves against the consequences of issuing defective opinions by, for example, taking out civil liability insurance.
This judgment follows a dispute between an investor and a contractor concerning payment for construction works. The investor had refused to pay, claiming that the works were performeddefectively. The court-appointed expert stated in her opinion that the works were performedcorrectly and in accordance with the design. Based on this opinion, the court awarded the contractor remuneration for the works. The investor, however, was not satisfied with the veracity of the expert opinion, and, after the dispute, filed a suit against the expert, demanding compensation for damage caused by the issue of a false opinion. The case went to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court first of all stressed that an expert may be liable for damage caused by the issue of a false (unreliable) opinion in legal proceedings. According to the Court, an opinion is falseif the assessment expressed in it is in clear contradiction with the true state of things, with the current state of knowledge in the area with which the opinion is concerned, or was based on aclearly incorrect method of research. An opinion is also false if the expert gives false information,draws conclusions from facts that are clearly incompatible with criteria considered to beunquestionable in the subject area of the opinion, or does not include significant conclusions resulting from the research.
Holding an expert liable for a false opinion requires a prior assessment by the court hearing the case on whether the opinion was indeed flawed. Establishing the circumstances requires specialist knowledge, which is why a court in a case against an expert should consult another expert on the circumstances of the defectiveness of the contested opinion. Such evidence cannot be replaced byother evidence (e.g. witness testimonies).
The Supreme Court also stressed that the liability of an expert is independent of the State Treasury’s liability for damage caused by a final judgment issued on the basis of the opinion,which was then regarded as unlawful. This issue has already been prejudged by the Constitutional Court, which found that an expert is independent and therefore personally responsible for his actions, even though he was commissioned by the court. An expert’s liability fora defective opinion cannot be precluded by the fact that the opinion was assessed by the court in the case for which it was produced. It also cannot be precluded by the correctness of the judgment issued on the basis of the opinion.
Supreme Court Ruling of 29 May 2015 ref. Act V CSK 479/14