Expert judiciaire, vous avez dit « indépendant » ?

La Cour de cassation a récemment eu l’occasion de se prononcer sur une question bien connue des experts judiciaires en général et des experts médicaux en particulier, le conflit d’intérêts. Ces derniers n’en ont, au demeurant, pas nécessairement le monopole. Décision dont la solution était prévisible et qui est tombée comme un couperet : l’individu qui exerce une activité professionnelle et intensive (c’est le moins qu’on puisse dire) d’expert privé, principalement pour le compte d’assureurs, ne peut prétendre à sa réinscription sur la liste des experts de justice ((Cass. Civ. 2ème, 14 mai 2009, n°09-11.466, P+B.)).

Quelques mots d’explication au préalable pour les profanes. Lorsque vous êtes un patient (en deux mots) qui estime avoir été victime d’un accident médical, d’une infection nosocomiale ou d’un autre fâcheux présent dont la vie, le hasard ou la malchance vous a gratifié…, et que, vindicatif et quérulent comme vous êtes, vous décidez d’entamer une procédure juridictionnelle – que ce soit devant le tribunal administratif ou devant le tribunal de grande instance -, l’expert médical, c’est la personne désignée par le juge des référés, aux termes de son ordonnance (non médicale, celle-ci) pour éclairer le tribunal sur une question de fait, à laquelle ce dernier appliquera le droit.

L’expert médical, c’est le spécialiste qui vous convoquera en son cabinet ou dans l’unité fonctionnelle dans laquelle il travaille au sein des hôpitaux publics afin de vous examiner, de vous interroger sur les faits, d’interroger les autres protagonistes (médecins, représentants d’établissements de soins, etc.), et de vous faire formuler des doléances à l’encontre des parties adverses. Il peut être accompagné d’un confrère, appelé sapiteur, dont la spécialité est complémentaire de la sienne (par ex. un médecin infectiologue dans le cadre d’une infection nosocomiale). La présence à l’expertise d’un avocat – rompu à la matière de préférence – est vivement recommandée.

Disons le d’emblée. Le monde des experts est un petit monde lucratif où on se connaît, on se côtoie, et où on sait distinguer les confrères compétents des autres. Il suffit d’observer le comportement de l’expert lors d’une réunion d’expertise et de lire son pré-rapport pour s’en faire une idée assez précise.

Cela étant précisé, l’affaire qui a retenu mon attention concerne un expert qui reprochait à l’assemblée générale des magistrats du siège de la Cour d’appel de Paris d’avoir rejeté sa demande de réinscription sur la liste des experts judiciaires. C’est devant la Cour de cassation qu’il a constesté cette décision, arguant qu’on ne pouvait lui reprocher un défaut d’indépendance dans la mesure où les missions d’expertise qu’il réalisait à titre libéral, pour des personnes privées, étaient accomplies « non comme salarié (…), mais comme expert indépendant ». Qui plus est, il n’avait jamais été récusé dans le cadre d’une procédure judiciaire, ce qui attestait à coup sûr de son honneur et de sa conscience professionnelle.

La deuxième Chambre civile balaie d’un revers de main cette démonstration parce que l’expert :

« déployait une activité professionnelle d’expert privé, à titre quais exclusif pour le compte d’assureurs, par l’accomplissement d’environ deux cents missions chaque année depuis au moins les cinq dernières années et qu’il exerçait dans le cadre d’un lien de subordination la moitié de son activité, l’assemblée générale a pu retenir, sans commettre une erreur d’appréciation, qu’une telle situation constituait l’exercice d’activités incompatibles avec l’indépendance nécessaire à l’exercice de missions judiciaires d’expertise ».

Le volume d’activité consacrée à l’expertise à des fins privées laisse pantois. Deux cents expertises par an pendant au moins cinq ans, cela permet de connaître quelques médecins-conseils et quelques assureurs. Reste à savoir si ce seuil – ou ce plafond – des deux cents missions est applicable aux seuls experts médicaux ou peut être étendu à tous, ce qui ne manquerait pas de susciter quelques grosses difficultés…

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