How Expert Forensic Engineering Gives you an Edge in a Lawsuit—At-Fault Parties in Building Investigations
Why do lawyers depend so heavily on forensic engineering? Consider this scenario:
It’s the dead of winter in Buffalo, New York, site of some of the heaviest snowfalls in North America. Nineteen inches of fresh lake-effect snow piles up on a local warehouse roof, which collapses from the weight and destroys precious antiques stored inside.
The owners of the antiques contact the warehouse owner and demand compensation for the damages. However, the situation gets more complicated as questions get raised, like:
- Was the warehouse designed and built properly?
- Which building materials failed in the collapse?
- Which chemical and mechanical processes enabled the building materials to fail?
- What condition was the building in when the roof gave way?
- Was the building properly maintained or weakened by rust or stress?
- Did the antiques owner take reasonable precautions, given the value of the items and the risk of a winter roof collapse?
And these questions are only a fraction of what must be unraveled to establish the root cause of the failure and determine liability to reach a fair settlement. Resolving a building liability case like this depends on forensic engineering — the process of using advanced training in mathematics and the physical sciences to conduct experiments that demonstrate the causes and effects of damaging incidents.
How forensic engineers provide value in building liability cases
In our hypothetical Buffalo example, attorneys for either side in the case need a forensic engineering team to conduct an analysis of the collapse. This might involve:
- Examining all the metal structural parts for signs of stress and breakage.
- Determining whether the building was painted properly to prevent rust and other kinds of corrosion that weakens building materials.
- Conducting experiments and devising computer models to analyze the molecular structure of the warehouse roof’s support beams and reproduce the failure in a laboratory.
- Analyzing and tarps and shelves in the warehouse to see how they contributed to the damage to the antiques.
- Assessing the antiques owners’ role in their misfortune.
Forensic engineering helps determine a credible, plausible explanation for a damaging incident.
Court cases often come down to competing expert witnesses
Expert witnesses can help or hinder litigation — it all depends on which ones you hire. In our roof-collapse case, effective, credible forensic engineers could be the only thing separating victory and defeat for either side.
So, you can’t just hire any structural engineer to support your building-liability case. You need a team of dedicated forensic engineers who have testified successfully in a wide range of court cases. Veteran expert witnesses know how to explain their conclusions in plain language and avoid nervousness from opposing counsel. They also know the best practices for establishing the physical causes of incidents and proving them before judges and juries.
The right engineering to support your case
At CTL Engineering, we have decades of experience and an extensive track record as expert witnesses in building-liability cases. We conduct a root cause failure analysis that reviews as many components, assemblies, and subsystems as possible to explain how those failures produced damages.
This requires a broad spectrum of expertise with laboratory testing and computer modeling in addition to seasoned experience delivering winning testimony in the courtroom. If your client suffered damages, forensic engineering can help ensure full compensation. And if your client is liable, forensic engineering can establish mitigating factors to reduce the final payout.
No matter what side you’re representing, forensic engineering helps ensure the best outcome for you and your client.