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WCM Successful In Appeal As To Whether A Court-Appointed Expert’s Work Is Protected By The NJ Litigation Privilege

September 8, 2023

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WCM recently achieved a significant appellate victory in <em>Satz v. Siragusa</em>, a New Jersey professional negligence case involving a client who served as a court-appointed expert. The expert conducted an evaluation of a party in a family court action and provided the Court with certain recommendations. The party disputed the expert’s methodology and findings, focusing on an inadvertent and insignificant factual error in his report, and sued him for allegedly failing to adhere to the “standards of his profession.” WCM moved to dismiss on several grounds, including that the expert was protected by New Jersey’s judicial/litigation privilege. The trial court agreed and dismissed the case.

The Appellate Division affirmed, holding that the litigation privilege applied, despite plaintiff’s complaints regarding the expert’s report and methodology, because the expert was assisting the family court in rendering a decision and satisfied the elements for the privilege to apply. In so holding, the Appellate Division recognized the important reasons for the privilege, which WCM had stressed at oral argument, including that experts and witnesses should have the freedom "to speak and write freely" without fear of liability. The Appellate Division rejected plaintiff’s other arguments in the case.

The decision is noteworthy in that the Appellate Division preserved a privilege which is critically important to the litigation process and refused to adopt a rule that could allow unhappy or unsuccessful litigants to sue court-appointed experts for any perceived errors in their methodology or findings. The Court correctly focused on the expert’s role in assisting the family court and found that the privilege applied to shield the expert from liability.

Partner Andrew Gibbs argued the case in the Appellate Division while Associate Brendan Gilmartin was successful in obtaining the dismissal in the trial court.

Please contact <a href="agibbs@wcmlaw.com">Andrew Gibbs</a> with any questions about the case or the firm’s professional liability practice.

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