Civil and structural forensic engineers can be an invaluable part of construction litigation. We frequently see crime dramas and police procedurals that teach us how essential forensic science can be for solving crimes. But forensics goes far beyond simply fingerprints and DNA. Beyond what we see on television, forensic engineering involving buildings often plays a critical role in construction litigation.
Enterprising technicians are always striving to find new ways to make things better and learn lessons from past failures. Peer reviews are helpful to catch mistakes however, failures can still occur in existing buildings. Sometimes failures occur even years after the structure was built.
Forensic engineering is just a process to find answers about why a building or system failed, and then adjusting future design solutions accordingly.
For example, we can look at a deck collapse after heavy snowfall. What was the main contributing factor?
- Too much weight from the snow?
- Deterioration of wood frame members?
- Rusted galvanized steel hardware?
- Or could it be the new stairway built by the owner?
Forensic engineers use this information to help investigate failures on the building itself and the property surrounding it. Civil and structural engineers are two common professions that investigate these failures.
What is Civil and Structural Engineering?
Civil engineering involves the design, construction and maintenance of buildings and infrastructure. These types of engineers rely on applied mathematics and the laws of physics combined with their empirical knowledge on the structural performance of many different materials and designs. Some of the common things that civil engineers design are drainage systems, grading plans, retaining walls and common buildings.
Structural engineering is a specialty within civil engineering that focuses on the design and analysis of load resistance and support in structures. Depending on the state, there are often additional requirements to be a structural engineer. California, for example, requires an additional three years of qualifying experience and passing a structural engineering exam. Professionals who have earned their structural engineering license have the ability to estimate safe weight maximums or the magnitude of tremors a building can withstand during a natural disaster.
Structural engineers are tasked with marrying functionality, dependability and visual appeal. They must select the appropriate materials for a given project in order to encompass the architect’s aesthetic vision while simultaneously satisfying the project requirements for structural functionality without exceeding the construction budget.
What is a Forensic Engineer?
Forensic engineers are highly trained professionals who use their expertise to determine why a material, component or structure didn’t perform as intended. They analyze and investigate areas or structures that have suffered or failed resulting in property losses, injury or a civil or criminal case.
Forensic civil and structural engineers gather data related to the structures, products, components or materials that have resulted in failure. With that, their duties include:
- Evidence collection
- Conducting experiments
- Gathering exemplar products
- Model development
The findings that result from a forensic engineer’s duties can be used as evidence in a court of law. They are established as having the expertise to testify as witnesses in related cases. Attorneys may also consult with a forensic engineer in order to determine which questions to ask in a deposition or just to gain insight. When it comes to litigated matters that involve structural failure and the resulting damages, their knowledge plays a vital role.
In some cases, forensic engineers will conduct investigations for research purposes. The goal is to gain a better understanding of the root causes of failure and to figure out how to prevent similar losses in the future.
Why Expert Forensic Engineers are an Important Part of Construction Litigation
When it comes to construction litigation matters, getting to the heart of the issue is a vital step in reaching resolution. The answer is not always a simple one and is often a highly technical and complex reason with many factors at play.
In order to diagnose and determine the factors that lead to a failure within a component or structure, an experienced forensic engineer brings highly specialized analytical skills and knowledge to the table. They can consult with an attorney to report on their initial findings when brought in early on a case to perform investigations. Their insight greatly helps the counsel build an effective team to analyze the issues in-depth.
A dependable forensic engineer uses a systematic examination process to cover every piece or evidence and possible explanations. This is vital information when reaching the best outcome for the client.
Which Competing Expert Opinion is Best?
Construction litigation is high-stakes, and the opposing counsel will most likely hire a construction and engineering expert witness to argue the claim. Few building failures will point to a single root cause and multiple causes can be fiercely debated on which is the leading contributor.
A forensic engineer must be able to communicate in a way that leaves little room for confusion in order to handle the counter arguments from the opposing counsel’s experts. Experience and expertise in our local Miami area are part of what makes M2E a great engineering expert witness. A profession that frames complex construction concepts in a manner layman can easily understand is crucial when discussing with an opposing counsel.
Whether you need an individual specialized expert or an organized crew of construction professionals, M2E’s expert witness services can connect you with the best-suited people for your case. Our vast knowledge in construction forensics is guaranteed to provide the testimony needed to resolve your case to your satisfaction.