What is the Role of Forensic Engineers in Construction Litigation? 

 April 22, 2022

Forensic engineering deals with the civil and structural engineering aspects of claims. The goal of a forensic engineer is to determine the technical and physical causes behind a particular structural defect or the inability of a structure to perform properly.

During a forensic engineering investigation, a forensic engineer will make observations and sometimes carry out laboratory and field tests, then analyze the collected evidence and data. This is performed with extreme thoroughness and adherence to accepted scientific standards from the building industry to ensure that the expert’s opinions can stand as evidence in a court of law.

In the following article, engineering experts in construction litigation from VERTEX will give you a breakdown of the most common roles civil and structural forensic engineers play in the construction litigation process. Read on to learn more.

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What are the responsibilities of a forensic engineer in construction litigation?

In a construction claim, attorneys representing either the plaintiff (the ones suing) or the defense hire forensic engineers to determine the exact factors that caused a structural defect or failure to perform in line with expectations. The selected forensic engineer gets “designated” in the court case records as an expert witness, and their responsibility is to help as a fact-finder & problem-solver. The parties counsel uses their work to affirm their claim, sometimes with the goal to settle a dispute without going to trial. They can provide critical expert witness testimony in trial for construction claim cases.

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Forensic engineering services fall in three general stages:

● Preliminary forensic engineer services, which include the initial assessment of the technical strength of a claim
● Detailed forensic engineer services encompass the gathering of in-depth information on the cause of the issue, often including designing the repair or replacement of failed systems
● Expert testimony services include depositions, writing a report or giving testimony if the claim goes to a trial or arbitration hearing
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Preliminary forensic engineer services include:

● Using existing information and data to assess the technical strengths, merits, and weaknesses of a proposed claim
● Providing independent peer review of claims, investigations, opinions, and reports of others
● Outlining the scope of an extensive forensic engineering investigation of the issue at hand

Detailed forensic engineer services include:

● Investigating the cause of property damage, poor performance, or an engineering failure,
● Investigating the cause of commercial, industrial, traffic, or slip and fall accidents that resulted in a death, injury, or property damage
● Collecting and analyzing evidence and forming an opinion on the cause of an accident or engineering failure
● Drafting a report on the investigation and the opinion of cause
● Estimating the cost of damages and evaluating, designing, and directing remedial work

Expert testimony services include:

● Providing an expert opinion of the claim based on the findings of a thorough forensic investigation

● Working with attorney on a list of documentation to seek out in discovery and ask specific fact-finding questions to other parties in deposition or to give at trial
● Auditing and reviewing civil engineering investigations and environmental impact assessments that were supplied by others
● Attending mediations of disputes, and identifying discrepancies, errors, and contradictions in any opposing expert opinions
● Providing expert witness testimony at trial

Why is having a good expert witness crucial in construction claims?

A forensic engineer who’s acting in the capacity of an expert witness has the ability to supply evidence and opinions that can stand up to scrutiny in court proceedings. This type of testimony holds great weight in litigation and is essential in complex construction cases.

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That being said, not all expert witnesses are the same. First-rate expert witnesses are able to explain their findings in a concise and effective manner and won’t get nervous or confused by the opposing counsel.

On the other hand, inexperienced or biased expert witnesses can hinder your case by supplying scientifically unsound evidence or presenting their findings in a confusing or meandering manner. This can have the case decision makers (either a judge or the jury) discount the expert opinion.

Who hires forensic engineers?

In most cases, forensic engineers are independent experts who are hired most often by the attorneys representing the parties involved in a dispute. The dispute may be in either the early stages or have already escalated to litigation. There have been occasions where the forensic engineer is hired by one of the parties directly, usually to help create a solution for a specific construction issue.

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Another client type that hires forensic engineers are insurance companies, which use them to review property damage claims. In some cases, forensic engineers may also be retained by law enforcement or counsels of government agencies to consult on and investigate a particular case.

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