How to brief an engineer

Information and guide for instructing an engineer

Always give clear instructions to the engineer, ideally in writing. Most engineers will discuss a case with the client first to determine whether the case is within their remit, that there would be no conflict of interest, and possibly whether the case is worth pursuing by the client, but this is a legal decision. If the case is not within his remit, the engineer may be able to suggest an alternative engineer or expert to contact.

The engineer's Professional Profile (CV) will usually be included with his report. However, the engineer should provide a copy on request, before being instructed.

The engineer will only report to his principal, the party who instructs him, unless he is told otherwise. If the engineer is appointed as a single joint expert, he will report to both parties.

The engineer works on the basis that the case will go to court. However, in the vast majority of cases this will not happen because court action is usually regarded as a last resort.

The duty of the engineer is to the court, and not to the client or principal. Therefore, the report will be unbiased and will not be influenced by the party paying the engineer's fee. The engineer has a duty to the court to provide his expert opinion. Therefore, the report would usually be addressed 'To the Court', even if proceedings have not been started. The engineer's report could result in supporting the opposing party's case.

Frequently, cases will involve the appointment of a 'single joint expert'. In these instances, the parties should to agree on the choice of a particular engineer. In the unusual event of the parties being unable to agree, the court can be asked to decide.

Wherever possible, the engineer's fee should be agreed in advance of any work carried out. This can be on the basis of a fixed fee or an hourly rate. Most cases will only require a single report; however, if additional reports or court appearances are necessary, additional fees are usually applicable. There is no recommended fee structure for engineers' services; it is for the engineer to determine his individual fees.

The engineer will not usually carry out any physical work on a vehicle. If physical work is required to facilitate the inspection, the services of a mechanic or technician and possibly workshop would normally be at an additional cost. The same would apply to other specialist services, such as oil analysis. The engineer does not take payments from any other party in the way of commissions or introductory fees. The engineer will also not make payments for business introductions.

Engineers are experts and are not allowed to work on a contingency fee basis. Contingency fees relate to an agreement for payment of a percentage of the final settlement of a claim going to an individual or organisation. If the expert did propose a contingency fee, his evidence could easily be discredited and almost certainly disregarded by a court.

In very rare circumstances, an engineer may change his opinion, but this would normally be in the light of new information becoming available.

The engineer will have a working knowledge of the law, but his field of expertise is as an engineer. If legal advice is required, the client will need to seek this from a solicitor or other legal expert. Many private clients may find that they have free legal advice available through their household or motor insurance policy.

Corporate clients providing volume work are advised to agree a contract which includes service level agreements, catchment areas, information required, format of reports, fee structure and payment arrangements.

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Jan/Feb 2020
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