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Judge denies waste firm over fire costs claim

A waste company has failed in a legal bid to prevent an expert giving evidence as part of its attempt to get insurers to pay £1.5m over a fire claim.

The blaze at Wheeldon Brothers’ Ramsbottom facility in June 2014 resulted in the claim to Millennium Insurance. The next day, the insurers sent in an expert, Steven Braund.

He found that combustible material was ignited either by frictional heating, hot metal fragments or hot sparks, caused by a bearing on a conveyor. As a result, the insurance claim was rejected.

At the High Court, Justice Coulson was told that Wheeldon Brothers then decided to seek reparation from the manufacturer and was given permission by Millennium to use Braund to prepare a second report for that legal case.

Part of the judgment said: “It was on this basis, namely that the claim under the insurance policy had been rejected and Mr Braund was simply helping with the claimant’s proposed recovery against third parties, that the loss adjusters gave permission for the claimant to engage Mr Braund.”

The judge noted that Braund reached the same conclusion as before, and that “a design, installation or manufacturing defect in the conveyor ultimately led to the fire”.

Wheeldon Brothers then took Millennium to court in October 2015, and argued that Braund could not act as an expert for the insurer because he had also acted for the waste firm. Confidentiality and conflict of interest were put forward as some of the reasons.

The judge rejected Wheeldon Brothers’ claims, saying Braund was “the best person” to brief the court, that there had been neither conflict of interest nor a problem with confidential information.

The judge’s finding said: “I am in no doubt at all that what happened in this case was inadvertent. Although, with hindsight, it would have been much better if the claimant had not asked to use Mr Braund, it is plain that, when the request was made and accepted, both sides were acting in good faith.

“If [Wheeldon Brothers’] approach was right, it is possible to see how, with other parties in other circumstances, a request by a claimant to use the defendant’s expert, ostensibly for good reason, might later be used as a vehicle to prevent that expert giving evidence at all.”

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