White Coat Syndrome: Myth or Reality?

Posted on 10/11/2013 · Posted in Expert Information

The expert’s role in litigation has four major parts:

  1. To write up a report on his understanding of the case;
  2. To show the court what are the major issues and where their judgment is required;
  3. Explain the more complicated aspects to the case; and
  4. To be able to stand up to cross examination in court to show the validity of his position.

The role of an expert witness is not to articulate their clients’ position; it is to assist the decision maker (a civil or criminal court, tribunal of other similar body) with the information about the specialist area, which is necessary before a final judgment can be made by the judge or jury.

Information’s pretty thin stuff unless mixed with experience.”
Clarence Day

At the same time the expert must be able to discuss the intricacies of the case with another expert and resolve where and why they may disagree (at the experts’ meeting prior to trial).

Expert Evidence specialises in financial litigation which easily can become highly complex. It is only necessary to read the general press to see that Currency Options, Maturity of loans, Options, Investment Objectives, Warrants, Credit Default Swaps, and Interest Rate Swap Agreements are often quoted as being behind many disputes. This is where Expert Evidence is able to help.

One of the major issues was identified in the 1990s by Dr Vidmar, when legal professionals blamed the “white coat syndrome” for having an impact on juries that was strikingly similar to the CSI effect. “White coat syndrome” is the term used to describe a phenomenon where “jurors mechanistically defer to certain experts because of their field of expertise” (see reference below).

Here, Dr Vidmar has shown that “jurors are far more skeptical and demanding in their assessments [of expert testimony]” and that “[they] attempt to evaluate the testimony on its merits rather than deferring to an expert’s credentials, likeability, or other peripheral factors.” It is therefore vital that the expert engages with the jury and can articulate their views in a clear and simple way.

This whole matter was discussed further in a paper delivered to 44th Annual David Vaughan QC Lecture, Clifford Chance, London by The Hon Mr Justice Green in 2016. We attach the paper below for information.

The duty of the expert witness is to furnish the Judge or jury with the necessary logical criteria (backed up with experience) for testing the accuracy of their conclusions, so as to enable the Judge or jury to form their own independent judgment by the application of these criteria to the facts proved in evidence. The scientific opinion evidence, if intelligible, convincing and tested, becomes a factor for consideration along with the whole other evidence in the case, but the decision is for the Judge or jury.

Articles of note:

Link: Neil Vidmar, Expert Evidence, the Adversary System, and the Jury, 95 AM. J. PUB. HEALTH S-37-S143, S138 (July 2005)

Link: Lecture by The Hon Mr Justice Green, the 4th Annual David Vaughan QC Lecture, Clifford Chance, London, 17th November 2016 “People in this country have had enough of experts (… some universal truths about experts)”

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Disclaimer – Please confirm any of the above views with your solicitor. Expert Evidence takes no responsibility or provides any guarantee that the views above are correct for your particular case or jurisdiction.