Expert Opinion Evidence in Damages Claims

The Supreme Court of NSW decision of Menz v Wagga Wagga Show Society Inc (No. 1) [2018] NSWSC1446 emphasised that the admissibility of expert opinion evidence depends on whether or not it falls within the perimeters of expert specialised knowledge.

Ms Menz sued the Wagga Wagga Show Society for damages she sustained in an incident on 28 September 2012 when she was crushed by a horse that she was riding at the Wagga Wagga Agricultural Show.  Ms Menz alleged that her horse was "spooked" by a loud noise created by children in the near vicinity, which caused her horse to fall.  Ms Menz suffered significant injuries in the fall.

In the Court proceedings, Ms Menz relied upon a report from Mrs Debbie Smyth, a retired horse trainer and riding instructor, as an expert.  An issue in the Court proceedings was whether Mrs Smyth was appropriately and properly qualified to express the opinions contained within her report.  The lawyers for the Wagga Wagga Show Society Inc argued that Mrs Smyth was not properly qualified to express an opinion in respect of the organisation and staffing of agricultural shows, and the behaviour of children.

The Supreme Court agreed with the objections made.  The Court ruled that Mrs Smyth's opinions went beyond her area of expertise to a substantial degree.  The Court referred to section 79 of the Evidence Act 1995 (NSW) to determine the admissibility of Mrs Smyth's report.

This case is an important reminder to all parties in litigation that if expert evidence is to be relied upon, the expert in question needs to be appropriately qualified, briefed properly and limits his or her opinion to the matters within that expert's field of expertise.