Failure to comply with legislation and HSE guidance, on controlling Legionella bacteria within water systems, can lead to prosecution. To date, the majority of cases have resulted in hefty fines, however there has also been a case taken to court for involuntary manslaughter, which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Whatever the outcome of the court proceedings, failure to control the risks associated with legionella is taken very seriously. No-one appreciates this more than Pam Simpson, freelance expert witness in legionella control.
Pam Simpson on life as an expert witness…
When you’re approached to be an expert witness, it is critical to be confident that you know the subject well. You need clear evidence of your expertise within the subject of legionella control, often through a combination of academic qualifications and hands-on experience. Your client, and indeed the court, needs to have confidence in your judgment and knowledge as a witness.
Time is an essential element to understanding the requirements of the case. You will find yourself requesting meetings with clients, solicitors and indeed, other experts to really get a good handle on the incident in question. It is critical to ask the right questions to the client and solicitors, as very often there are files packed full of information and you will only get the information you need by asking the right questions.
Whilst time is important for getting a good understanding of the case, it is often in short supply. More often than not you only have a couple of days to meet with individuals and to compile your report. As an expert witness you must therefore be prepared to work long hours. Personally I have worked throughout the night to complete reports for very short deadlines. Documents and reports are often only released to expert witnesses and clients at the very last minute, which means you have very little time to prepare your response.
Sometimes your expert witness report is all that is required. On other occasions there may be an arbitration or mediation which are designed to find a satisfactory outcome for both parties outside of court. If these mediation sessions are not successful then a court date is set, often within six months and all experts are expected to attend, which often means not taking on additional work during that time. During the period prior to the court hearing, the solicitors and barristers will be working hard to secure a settlement, as court hearings can be very costly.
After what can be a very long and tiring process, an agreement is reached and the expert is duly notified. However, despite your personal involvement with the case very often you do not get to know what the outcome was! Being an expert witness is not for the faint-hearted!
There are many prosecutions every year associated with lack of Legionella control. Do not be a statistic; take action today to understand your legal responsibilities through a one day course in Legionella Awareness.