What guides civil engineers carrying out a forensic investigation? What ensures we do thorough work and give an objective opinion – in keeping with the requirements of the judicial system? There’s usually little on this in the Appendix of an expert’s report so you could be excused for wondering.
There are, in fact, excellent guidelines in place and some are well thought out after decades of development. They ensure the judicial system is well served. And they’re enhanced by rules-of-thumb like the following picked up by experienced engineers over the years.
- Follow the evidence – an old chestnut that – for certain evidence that leads to follow-up investigations
- If you need more data, get it
- If in doubt, go deeper, particularly if the foundation soils are involved in a failure
- Expect the unexpected
- Beware the tyranny of the obvious when determining the cause of a failure
- Get your hands dirty and mud on your boots – get out on the site of a failure; no excuses
- If you can measure it you can manage it, particularly if the failure involves the natural environment as well as the built environment
I thought to mention the existence of guidelines to advocates and adjusters for a while now, particularly when a client is retaining an expert for the first time. Also when the failure is small or medium sized as most are – not catastrophic and newsworthy – and the budget is small. The standards are high regardless the size.
I looked through my library and found about three and a half dozen books that have guided me carrying out forensic investigations over the years. Your eyes might glaze over at such a list. But take a look at the following selection and be assured that civil engineers are being well guided, particularly by the literature from ASCE and SEAK.
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has been guiding civil engineers in practice since about 1857 – 160 years – longer than Canada’s 150 years! SEAK has been reviewing 1000s of case histories involving experts for more than 30 years, learning from what they read and passing it on to experts. There’s a lot of guidance out there and a high standard set for civil engineers. You can see it in the titles of the following::
- Lewis, Gary L., Editor, Guidelines For Forensic Engineering Practice, 2nd edition, American Society of Civil Engineers, ASCE, Reston, Virginia 2012
- Greenspan, Howard F. et al, Guidelines for Failure investigation, ASCE, Virginia, 1989
- Janney, Jack R., Guide to Investigation of Structural Failures, 2nd edition, ASCE, Virginia, 1986
- Ratay, Robert T., Forensic Structural Engineering Handbook, McGraw-Hill, New York 2000
- Nicastro, David H., Editor, Failure Mechanisms in Building Construction, ASCE, Virginia, 1997
- Noon, Randall K., Forensic Engineering Investigation, CRC Press, Inc., Boca Raton, Florida 2000
- Mangraviti, Jr., James J., Babitsky, Steven and Donovan, Nadine Nasser, How to Write an Expert Witness Report, 2nd edition, SEAK, Inc., Falmouth, Mass. 2014
- Zinnsser, William K., On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction, 7th edition, Harper Collins, New York 2006
- Roberts, Donald V., Expert: A Guide to Forensic Engineering and Service as an Expert Witness, Association of Soil and Foundation Engineers, ASFE, 1985
- Speight, James G., The Scientist or Engineer as an Expert Witness, CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida 2009
- Cohen, Kenneth S., Expert Witnessing and Scientific Testimony, CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida 2008
- Babitsky, Steven and Mangraviti, Jr., James J., The Biggest Mistakes Expert Witnesses Make and How to Avoid Them, SEAK, Inc., Falmouth, Mass., 2008
- Stockwood, Q.C., David, Civil Litigation, 5th edition, Thomson Carswell, Toronto 2004
I don’t expect you to check out these references too thoroughly, certainly not read them. Just know that civil engineers are guided by good literature on how to carry out thorough forensic engineering investigations and render objective opinions. And experienced engineers have their rules-of-thumb.
A thought: What guides your expert carrying out a forensic investigation in their field of study if s/he is not a civil engineer?