Judge urges caution in hiring of experts

Judge urges caution in hiring of experts

A judge has urged parties in road accident cases to think carefully before hiring experts to shore up their cases, and save on costs.

Noting that there is an increasing reliance on such "reconstructionist experts", Justice Choo Han Teck said lawyers must "appreciate the kind of evidence and advice that experts provide" so that legal costs can be saved.

His remarks came when he dismissed a taxi driver's bid to pin some blame on an accident victim.

Justice Choo ruled that taxi driver Asnah Rahman was 100 per cent to blame for the accident which seriously injured then national serviceman Li Jianlin, 21, at a pedestrian crossing.

Mr Li was walking along the crossing in Bukit Batok West Avenue 5 on June 11 at about 10pm with the crossing lights in his favour when he was knocked down by the taxi driven by the defendant.

For dangerous driving, Madam Asnah, 58, was fined $2,400 and disqualified from driving for six months by a district court in 2012.

At issue in the High Court was whether Mr Li should be apportioned any blame before damages payable for the accident could be assessed.

His lawyer, Mr Eric Liew, argued that Mr Li did not contribute in any way to the accident.

The cab insurer's lawyer, Mr Anthony Wee, had produced an expert's report which said Madam Asnah's view of the incoming pedestrian was blocked by the railings on the road divider and that the curve of the road created a "stroboscopic effect" on her vision at the time of the accident.

Justice Choo said "even if these were true, they are red herrings".

"She cannot beat the red light even if no pedestrian was crossing," he added, noting the lights were against her for a long time.

Justice Choo said photographs and sketch plans can be obtained from police and, if a party disagrees, he is entitled to produce evidence of his version. But this kind of evidence is evidence of fact and may not require an "expensive 'reconstructionist' expert to produce", he said.

He noted that the opinion of an "expert" is also sought as to how the accident happened and who was at fault. "With respect, this is precisely the issue for the court to determine, and, unlike specialist medical cases, the court in traffic accident cases will be relying on the same evidence the expert relies on in determining how the accident occurred."

The judge also dismissed the suggestion that the victim's clothing might have made him poorly visible at the time of the accident.

The judge noted that Highway Code rules suggested that pedestrians should wear white or at least carry items that make them more visible in unlit roads at night.

But to insist that the victim wear high-visibility clothing did not make sense and is not the law, he said. "The courts cannot direct what pedestrians must wear," he added in judgment grounds released last week.

Justice Choo noted that times have changed and pedestrians these days often cross the road with heads down, looking at electronic devices. "Times and practices have changed, but road etiquette is not mere social etiquette. Proper observance of safety precautions can make a difference between safety and injury, or even life or death," he said.

Justice Choo added that the taxi driver as a professional driver should "lead the way in safe and courteous driving". "There is no reason why they cannot be the role models for other drivers."

Justice Choo Han Teck said photographs and sketch plans can be obtained from police and, if a party disagrees, he is entitled to produce evidence of his version. But this kind of evidence is evidence of fact and may not require an "expensive 'reconstructionist' expert to produce".

vijayan@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on October 15, 2014.
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