An expert’s fees and forensic engineering investigation

The following describes the different fees – the hourly billing rates, charged by professional engineers for consulting services in Nova Scotia.  It’s important for you to know about these because many forensic experts are professional engineers. Time/fee based billing is also the best way of overcoming the uncertainties in forensic investigation without jeopardizing the quality of the investigation.  It’s also the best way of monitoring the cost of civil litigation.

Consulting fees reviewed bi-annually by CENS

I thought of sharing this with you after attending the annual general meeting (AGM) of the Consulting Engineers of Nova Scotia (CENS) last month.  I’m a past president of the Society.  CENS is a registered Society representing the majority of consulting engineers in Nova Scotia.  It’s a member-organization of a Canada-wide association of consulting engineering firms.  There are 62 firms registered with CENS this year, and another firm has just applied for membership.

CENS reviews billing rates bi-annually and suggests average rates like those below   that are representative of those charged by members for different levels of responsibility. (Ref. 1)

Time/Fee-based forensic investigations ensure quality

Time-based methods of billing overcome the many uncertainties that exist at the start of an engineering project – and often as a project progresses, particularly if construction is involved.  A forensic engineering investigation of the cause of a failure or a personal injury accident is an engineering project with a lot of uncertainties.  Not least are unknown follow-up investigations.

I surveyed consulting engineering fees a few years ago and found similar rates elsewhere in Canada and the New England states to those charged in Nova Scotia at the time.  I suspect you would find similar rates elsewhere in Atlantic Canada today.

Principals, specialists and senior engineers rendering individual services on assignments for which they are particularly well qualified could be billed at higher rates than those shown (about 25% higher in New England).  Such assignments include forensic engineering investigation and providing expert testimony (Refs 1, 2)

Often enough, justice can’t be served until the technical issues are resolved, nor a party’s case argued effectively.  A case often hinges on the outcome of the forensic investigation – argument enough for retaining an expert early.  It’s critical that it’s well done by an experienced engineer.  The fees are understandably higher as a result considering the responsibility borne by the engineer.

Monitoring costs

When a forensic investigation is initiated on a time and expense basis, it’s important that Counsel or the claims consultant monitor costs closely without jeopardizing the quality of the services.

This can be done – monitor costs and maintain quality at the same time - by understanding the stages involved in an investigation and the roles an expert can take. (Ref. 3)  You can do this in less affluent cases – the norm in Atlantic Canada, as well as in the more affluent. (Ref. 4)

It helps to recognize that the great majority of cases don’t go to trial - I understand more than 95% - they stop at the expert report stage, or a little before the written report.

It’s also important to understand that the cost of some of the many stages of a forensic investigation are difficult if not impossible to estimate. (Refs 5, 6 and 7)  Then there are sometimes completely unknown follow-up investigations.  In situations like this it’s important to monitor costs at each stage.  There’s project management and cost control literature out there to help you do this. (Ref. 8)

Also remember that you can retain an expert in at least eight (8) different ways.  From a quite low, easily monitored total fee to something more. (Ref. 9)

Suggested hourly rates

(In the following, Leadership/Supervision is short for Leadership Authority and/or Supervision Exercised)

1. Engineer in Training……..$90/hr  Experience: 0 to 4 years.  Few technical decisions called for and these will be of a routine nature with ample precedent or clearly defined procedures guidance. Leadership/Supervision:  May assign and check work of technicians and helpers.

2. Junior Engineer………….$100/hr  Experience: 4 to 7 years. Decisions made are normally within established guidelines.  Leadership/Supervision:  May give technical guidance to junior engineers or technicians assigned to work on a common project.

3. Intermediate Engineer…$115/hr  Experience: 7 to 10 years.  Makes independent studies, analyses, interpretations and conclusions.  Difficult, complex or unusual matters or decisions are usually referred to more senior authority.  Leadership/Supervision:  May give technical guidance to engineers of less standing or technicians assigned to work on a common project.  Supervision over other engineers not usually a regular or continuing responsibility.

4. Senior Engineer………….$145/hr  Experience: 10+  Recommendations reviewed for soundness of judgement but usually accepted as technically accurate or feasible.  Leadership/Supervision:  Assigns and outlines work; advises on technical problems; reviews work for technical accuracy, and adequacy.  Supervision may call for recommendations concerning selection, training and discipline of staff.    

5. Specialist Engineer…….$170/hr  Experience: >15 years.  Makes responsible decisions not usually subject to technical review.  Takes courses of action necessary to expedite the successful accomplishment of assigned projects.  Leadership/Supervision:  Outlines more difficult problems and methods of approach.  Coordinates work programs and directs use of equipment and material.  Generally makes recommendations as to the selection, training, discipline and remuneration of staff.

6. Principal Engineer………$190/hr +  Experience: No limit.  Makes responsible decisions on all matters, including the establishment of policies subject only to overall company policy and financial controls.  Leadership/Supervision:  Reviews and evaluates technical work, selects, schedules and coordinates to attain program objectives; and/or as an administrator makes decisions concerning selection, training, rating, discipline and remuneration of staff.    

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It’s important for you to know about these suggested fees – a good average of all firms in Nova Scotia.  And to know they’re very close to those charged else where in Atlantic Canada and not far off those charged in New England.  You can then focus on retaining an expert early in a case, monitoring costs closely and not being surprised.

This is important considering the uncertainties inherent in forensic investigation, the difficulty estimating costs, the less affluent nature of many of the cases in Atlantic Canada, and the fact that even the less affluent cases require the same thorough, objective investigation.  It’s important to ensuring the quality of the forensic investigation is not jeopardized.             

References

  1. Consulting Engineers of Nova Scotia (CENS), Directory 2015/2016, Halifax, NS
  2. Babitsky, MBA, Alex, Babitsky, JD, Steven, and Mangraviti, Jr., JD, National Guide to Expert Witness Fees and Billing Procedures, SEAK, Inc, Falmouth, Mass.
  3. Steps in the forensic engineering investigative process.  Posted July 15, 2013.
  4. The Advocates Society, Ontario
  5. Difficulty estimating the cost of forensic engineering investigation.  Posted July 23, 2012.
  6. Why the difficulty estimating the cost of forensic engineering investigation?   Posted September 1, 2012.
  7. A bundle of blogs: A civil litigation resource list on how to use forensic engineering experts.  Posted November 20, 2013.
  8. Project Management Institute, A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, Newton Square, Pennsylvania, USA (One of many good references on project management and cost control)
  9. Peer review costs can be controlled.  Posted January 22, 2016.

 

 

 

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