Expert qualifications in an alleged arson case
Insurers avoided the policy issued to the claimant on the basis that the claimant had deliberately set fire to its insured premises. The case is essentially a factual one, but one comment by Mackie HHJ might be of more general interest to property insurers.
In the case, there was a dispute about, broadly, the presence of diesel at the premises. The insurer’s expert was, by academic training, a microbiologist (a discipline which, the judge recognised, was irrelevant to this fire). However he had immense experience of investigating fires (more than 1100 in total). The claimant criticised the expert’s lack of relevant academic qualifications, but the judge said that criticism was “misplaced”. The expert was not relying on his scientific training but instead on his great experience to establish his position as an expert: “Fire investigators are to some extent a sub category of expert in that they tend to arrive on the scene well before conventional expert witnesses and form views which cause insurers to take decisions which may lead to litigation. Necessarily fire investigators apply a range of disciplines and it is not possible for them to be experts on all these”.
The judge accepted the expert’s evidence about the facts which he observed and discounted speculation by the expert (recognising that it was part of his job to express conclusory views to the insurers which, in litigation, are matters for the judge). The insurer proved its case on the facts.