This article originally appeared in Issue 2 (July 2019).
The court refused a Defendant’s application at a CMC to admit evidence from an expert specifically in the field of life-expectancy statistics and calculations. It provided guidance as the types of cases where: (a) expert evidence on life expectancy was required at all; and (b) where it would be appropriate for that evidence to come from a bespoke life-expectancy expert.
The substantive claim related to a car accident in which the Claimant had suffered a serious head injury, leaving her in a condition in which she required substantial assistance and support. Her legal representatives submitted expert evidence from a neurologist and a geriatrician. The neurologist commented in his report that, unless the claimant developed epilepsy, the injury was unlikely to impact on her life expectancy significantly. It was implied, however, that if epilepsy did develop, the impact could be significant. The Defendant’s proposed expert report considered the impact of the Claimant’s high blood pressure and raised cholesterol. In conjunction with the impact of the accident, it was suggested that there should be a reduction to the normal life expectancy of around 5 years.
Master Davison’s decision
The application was refused.
First, Master Davison explained that expert evidence on life expectancy was required whenever it was genuinely in issue in a personal injury case. That could be because the injury itself impacted on life expectancy, or because the Claimant was “atypical” and likely to live for a measurably shorter or longer period than those set out in the Ogden tables (which apply to a general population cohort). In the latter regard, the court made reference to Edwards v Martin  EWHC 570, a decision which demonstrates that the courts should not take an overly broad approach to the factors which can render someone “atypical”. For example, someone being very fit, or someone being a smoker, would not, in and of itself, require expert evidence, since such common conditions were adequately accounted for in the Ogden Tables.
Where expert evidence on life expectancy is needed, the normal route for adducing it will be via the expert clinicians instructed in the case, who can be asked to expand on the issue in more detail through Part 35 questions or the joint meeting process if required. Master Davison explained that life expectancy tended to be more of a medical issue rather than a matter for strict statistical analysis (although reference to statistics by those clinicians might be useful and appropriate). Furthermore, it is much more efficient and cost effective for clinicians to deal with this issue.
He went on to confirm that the court would only be likely to grant permission to adduce evidence from a specific life expectancy expert if:
- the other experts could not offer an opinion at all;
- the clinicians provided a specific reason why such evidence was required; or
- the clinician experts were relying on statistical data but there was a significant disagreement as to how to approach that data.
It is worth comparing this decision to Mays (by his litigation friend, the Official Solicitor) v Drive Force (UK) Ltd  EWHC 5 (QB) which was covered in Issue 1 of QMLR. Arguably, Dodds adopts a more restrictive approach, in contrast with the approach in Mays which appears to place more emphasis on the discretion of the courts based on specific factors arising in each case. However, Dodds is useful in that it poses a clear list of questions, the answers to which should give a good indication to litigating parties as to whether or not it is appropriate to seek a life expectancy report in any particular case.