Joint conferences of experts: Dispute as to format

Porter v Le; Porter v Western Sydney Local Health District [2014] NSWSC 883 is a decision focusing on a dispute between parties in a medical negligence claim as to the format of joint expert conferences.

The court noted at [1]:

The parties in these matters are unable to agree upon the question of whether one joint conference of experts should take place or whether there should be a series of expert conferences. The parties have also not agreed upon who should be permitted to attend whatever conferences are ordered or whether they should be organised upon the basis of identified legal and medical issues or by reference to particular medical specialties. A similar dispute exists with respect to the issues of both breach of duty and causation. The disputes are said not simply to be argumentative, but apparently have potentially significant procedural and cost ramifications.

The court found that there should be three joint conferences (at [26]), being a conference addressing breach of duty of each of the two defendants and a conference addressing causation. The court at [33] expressed a preference for concurrent evidence to follow at the trial.

Addressing what might be called the challenges of “mixing” of different specialists at [29], the court said:

Any expert conforming to the code of conduct that binds him or her will be expected confidently to refrain from embarking upon the expression of opinions beyond the relevant field of study or acquired experience and expertise. The fact that all experts at a joint conference are neither similarly qualified nor similarly specialised is a fact of life in all litigation that depends on the assessment of technical issues. I am not convinced that an epidemiologist will fail to appreciate that he or she will be of limited value in solving an isolated orthopaedic or neurological question. I am not convinced, however, that his or her attendance at a conference designed to solve a problem raising combined and connected issues in all three specialties is problematic.