On May 14, 2020, the French Supreme Court in civil proceedings (the Court of Cassation or Cour de Cassation) overruled a first-instance judgment for violating the principle of adversarial proceedings by relying exclusively on the findings of a party-appointed expert report in reaching its verdict.1 The Supreme Court deemed it irrelevant that the other party had been duly summoned to the expert’s appraisal.
This controversial decision presents a perfect opportunity to highlight the particularities of French law when it comes to the all-important subject of expert evidence, a key strategic element on which the success or failure of cases often turns.
Context: A banal battle of expert reports
The facts of the case are nothing out of the ordinary. A client had hired a contractor to repair an external staircase. However, due to alleged defects in the works, the client refused to pay the balance of the contract price.
The contractor's insurer carried out an amicable expert appraisal, which concluded that there were no defects. Dissatisfied with the result, the client resorted to asking another expert for a second appraisal, to which both the contractor and its insurer were summoned. The second expert reached the conclusion that remedial works were necessary.
A dispute ensued, resulting in a first-instance judgment condemning the contractor to compensate the client for the defects in the staircase renovation, and refusing the request for payment of the outstanding balance. Given the small amount at stake (less than €2000), leave for appeal was not granted and the contractor appealed directly to the Supreme Court.
The first-instance judgment was overturned and annulled on two grounds. On the one hand, the court was found to have violated the principle of adversarial proceedings by relying exclusively on a party-appointed expert report. On the other hand, the court was found to have violated the principle of full compensation by both awarding damages for the defects and rejecting the contractor’s request for payment of the outstanding balance.