About admin

I am a consulting professional engineer with 38 years civil and forensic engineering investigative experience. I have worked on civil engineering projects, and forensic and insurance cases, in eastern, western and northern Canada, offshore Nova Shore, the Beaufort Sea, and overseas in the Caribbean, the U.K. and Australia. Civil engineering alters and reshapes the natural environment to provide built environment to meet the needs of mankind. Civil engineering includes the planning, design, construction and maintenance of structures making up the built environment. Examples of these structures are industrial, commercial and residential low- and high-rise buildings, also bridges, roads, dams, drainage systems, earthworks, and hydraulic works. Included is the plant and equipment in the buildings and the infra-structure servicing the buildings. Forensic Engineering investigates the cause of problems and failures with these structures as well as the cause of traffic and industrial accidents that occur in the built environment. The technical data from an investigation is used by the judicial system in determining damages. I practiced as a provincial land surveyor on Prince Edward Island, Canada before studying and practicing civil and forensic engineering.

What is forensic archaeology?

Archaeology is a very interesting field of study considering it’s everywhere beneath our feet. In that regard, it’s very similar to geotechnology, my first love in engineering. Forensic engineering is my love now.

Archaeology v. Geotechnology

Geotechnology studies the different layers of soil at a site and their physical properties. This is done for supporting structures in the built environment. (Ref. 1) Archaeology studies objects found in layers of soil to learn how people lived in the past and engaged with the environment. Objects like tools, pottery, jewelry, stone walls and monuments.

Similar exacting investigative procedures are used in both fields of study – the identification of different layers of soil and the identification of objects in the layers. I was struck by the similarity on reading up on archaeology.

A difference is that archaeologists want to see objects in the soil and geotechnologists don’t – geotechs don’t want anything messing up the engineering properties of the soil.

Archaeological specialties

There are different specialties in archaeology like industrial archaeology, coastal and marine archaeology, building archaeology and battlefield archaeology.

Marine archaeology was practiced by Eric Allaby, author of The Sea Wins, a report on more than 40 ship wrecks in the Bay of Fundy. He dove on the wrecks of many of these ships. I imagine similar was done in study of some of the approximately 250 ship wrecks on Sable Island.

There are no extraterrestrial archaeologists yet, though NASA does employ an archaeologist to study satellite images.

Historians also study the past, but they do so by using the written and oral records. Archaeologist can delve deeper into the past to study the thousands of years of human endeavour that occurred before written or oral records began.

Treasure hunting and archaeology

The treasure hunting on Oak Island near Chester on the South Shore of Nova Scotia can easily be seen as a form of archaeology in practice.

Forensic archaeology

Forensic archaeology is an emerging science where archaeologists collect evidence for recent criminal investigations – especially in cases involving murder, genocide and war crimes. It’s also relied on for victim identification following disasters such as earthquakes, flooding, terrorist attacks, fires or plane accidents. We’ve had our share of those in recent times.

The science is well described in a Practical Encyclopedia of Archaeology. (Ref. 2) (I must say I liked seeing the word Practical in the title.) Forensic Science, the Basics is also a good read. (Ref. 3)

Forensic archaeology is also used to solve ancient puzzles, such as the identity of Jack the Ripper – a woman who was hung for another murder about that time, and only identified as Jack the Ripper years later. Or identify the cause of Beethoven’s death – lead in the medicines he was prescribed. (Ref. 2)

Forensic archaeology is being relied on today in the investigation of reported war crimes in Ukraine.

Like geotechnical engineers, what forensic archaeologists bring to the forensic process is a detailed knowledge of how to excavate the ground for buried remains, what to look for and how to analyse the data found. Both fields of study start with simple walk over surveys and aerial and drone photography.

Archaeologist have taught the police how to proceed from these simple tasks and be systematic and precise when excavating the ground beneath their feet – read, the emerging field of forensic archaeology.


  1. What is geotechnical engineering? Posted December 21, 2021
  2. Catling, Christopher and Bahn, Paul, The Complete Practical Encyclopedia of Archaeology, 512 pp, Hermes House, England, 2013. See the chapter on Forensic Archaeology page 226
  3. Siegel, Jay A. and Mirakovits, Forensic Science, the Basics, 505 pp, CRC Press, 2nd edition 2010

(Posted by Eric E. Jorden, M.Sc., P.Eng. Consulting Professional Engineer, Forensic Engineer, Geotechnology Ltd., Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, March 26, 2023. ejorden@eastlink.ca)   

More tiny causes of slip, trip and fall accidents

I was surprised recently when I felt a door threshold sloping down on exiting a hospital bathroom and shower to a patient’s room. It was noticeable and unexpected. I measured the threshold later. It was 5.5 inches wide and 1.0 inches lower from one side to the other, a slope of 18.1%. The floor in the patient’s room was 1.0 inches lower than the bathroom floor. Not much you say?

Tiny cause #1 A sloping threshold is disturbing enough but this was a doorway in rooms where older people stay. The unexpected slope could throw a person off as it did me a little. If the patient had just come out of the shower with wet feet the slope might cause a patient to slip and fall.

This incident prompted me to think of other places with potential causes of falls, one quite close to home.

Tiny cause #2 I’ve blogged about a slight change in the height of a curb causing me to fall (Ref. 1) and Tiny cause #3 a protruding piece of frozen wet snow doing the same (Ref. 2). Cause #4 And dripping water from a bathing suit upping the slipperiness of a sauna floor. (Ref. 3)

Cause #5 I’ve been in a men’s locker room where the floor is so slippery and the red caution sign so big that you don’t know where to look to avoid it in your face. If the floor is that slippery when wet why not fix it?

Cause #6 Pool decks have warning signs not to run but little kids having fun still do, particularly to the tiny tot pool in one place.

Tiny cause #7 Closer to home, I’ve realized that the slight difference in level between my deck and the first step -1.5 inches lower – could cause someone to trip and fall. I know how to fix it and I will, real soon.


  1. My personal slip, trip and fall accident, #1. Posted September 2, 2021
  2. My personal slip, trip and fall accident, #2. Posted February 26, 2023
  3. The humble pig rises to new heights in a heart transplant, and a forensic investigation of a slip, trip and fall accident. Posted January 11, 2022

(Posted by Eric E. Jorden, M.Sc., P.Eng. Consulting Professional Engineer, Forensic Engineer, Geotechnology Ltd., Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. March 15, 2023 ejorden@eastlink.ca)   

A Bundle of Blogs: Investigating slip, trip and fall accidents

It was time to bundle these blogs together if for no other reason but that I’ve had two trip and fall accidents now – Blogs #1 and #3 in the following list. I got invaluable insight and experience from each of them. My accidents were due to two different causes, and I wasn’t one of them.

There are many elements in these accidents as evident in Blogs #4 and #5 that must not be forgotten. But all forensic investigations start with a simple visual assessment during a walk over of a site and a preliminary report on cause.

I’ve also got the feeling lately that there are many slip, trip and fall accidents that we don’t hear about. Some where there are liability and claim issues and others where no one’s at fault except possibly the person who fell.

I fell twice in a couple of other falls as a result of standing on my dog’s lease lying on the ground. I did this one time to keep her from running off and the second time I didn’t know. She suddenly took off both times chasing something in the forest and down I went. No pain except to my pride.

  1. My personal slip, trip and fall accident, #2. Posted February 26, 2023
  2. The humble pig rises to new heights in a heart transplant, and a forensic investigation of a slip and fall accident. Posted January 11, 2022
  3. My personal slip, trip and fall accident, #1. Posted September 2, 2021
  4. Experts, Litigants, Insurers: Beware! There are dozens of parameters that could be investigated at slip, trip and fall sites. Posted February 18, 2021
  5. What does an engineering expert do at the scene of slip, trip and fall accidents? Posted February 5, 2021
  6. Categorizing slip, trip and fall accident locations. Posted April 30, 2019
  7. Getting evidence in slip, trip and fall accidents and building failures with video taken from a drone. Posted August 9, 2018

(Posted by Eric E. Jorden, M.Sc., P.Eng. Consulting Professional Engineer, Forensic Engineer, Geotechnology Ltd., Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. March 6, 2023 ejorden@eastlink.ca)   

My personal slip, trip and fall accident, #2

Down I went again early this month, #2. This time a good reminder of the relationship between site conditions and the causes of slip, trip and fall accidents. I don’t recommend it but the accident opened my eyes yet again and added to my experience investigating these types of accidents. (Ref. 1) You can’t beat personal experience but I would have passed this one up in a heart beat.


My day started as usual by taking my two golden retrievers, Lily and Rosie, for an hour’s walk in the green belt near where I live. The green belt is a large, mixed forest of hard and soft woods at the rear of residential properties and along lakes.

The area is so well covered with forest that it’s known as Forest Hills in the City of Lakes. A nice place to live and a great place to start your day “forest bathing”; shinrin-yoku in Japanese. My dogs love it too, running like crazy through the woods and into and out of the lakes and mud holes.

An asphalt covered path winds back and forth through the green belt, along the lakes and beneath a road overpass.

The path is covered with snow after a storm, and a mixture of snow and ice after an East Coast storm that goes from snow, freezing rain to rain, then back to frozen, wet snow.

The amount of snow and ice on the path also depends on the forest cover and also surface and groundwater runoff from the forest beyond the path. (You can see the surface of groundwater – the water table – in a dug well) The groundwater flows onto the forest floor where the water table intercepts the ground surface – same place we get nice spring water in the summer.

I knew I would have to pick my way over and around some icy patches on the path Thursday morning so I wore cleats on my boots. These are rubber soles with sharp, steel cleats embedded in the underside of the sole that straps on your boot. They are good on ice but you do need to be a bit careful on a smooth, hard icy surface that slopes a little.

It was a cold, bitter morning so I wrapped up warm. I also have collars and leases for Lily and Rosie – they manage without winter gear seeing as they’re running and playing hard in the forest. I fitted Lily with a lease to her collar and hung Rosie’s around my neck. Lily has a mind of her own and tends to dash here and there so I need to keep her close till we get beyond the overpass on Gregory Drive at the start of our walk and the road there.

Water flows across the path at the overpass almost year round and the ice gets quite thick at times in the winter.

Careful, I was, no question

I picked my way at the start of my walk across a mix of ice, frozen, water-soaked snow, and exposed asphalt, and under the overpass. The path is quite steep down to and approaching the overpass then levels off some.

I walked along the side of the path on the down slope side beyond the overpass. The path was quite icy and even with cleats I not want to chance it. The edge of the path had more traction on a rougher surface of ice and frozen, water-soaked snow; a safer place to walk.

But, not careful enough

Nevertheless, down I went, hard! I lay there for a few seconds, more surprised than anything, a tad shook up. Then I lifted my head a little, and was surprised at the amount of blood dripping on the snow – a lot. I learned later from ski friends that there are a lot of blood vessels near the surface of the head.

Short minutes later I stood, took stock and decided, while shook up and bloody, I was okay to continue my walk. I had a couple of hankerchiefs and got them well soaked with blood over the next hour as Lily and Rosie and me continued our walk. I tend to get up and keep moving when broadsided by life, at least that’s my attitude.

Through it all my dogs stayed by my side when I was down. A nice feeling. Then, when they saw me walking again, they took off into the forest running and playing and having a laugh and a giggle.

Why did I fall?

So, what happened? Why did I fall? My immediate thought, even while laying there dripping blood, was that I tripped and fell on a piece of icy, frozen snow at the edge of the ice covered path, a piece standing a little prouder than the rest. I seem to remember actually thinking like that and also feeling a sensation at the toe of my right boot. All of this within seconds.

There’s no question I tripped and fell on a rough surface. Also that I was moving along like you do when you got a fairly calm dog like Lily on a lease, albeit a little more carefully still. And that I was walking on a thickened sole with cleats. But all of that was normal for me in the winter time these many dog-years on. I walk through the forest every morning and often on cleats in the winter time.

Conditions cause problem

I’ve since thought that the chunk of ice/frozen, wet snow was the cause of my trip and fall accident and the conditions at the overpass the lead-in. In engineering this is a way of seeing a situation as a product of a set of conditions leading to the cause of a problem. Prevent the conditions developing – the icy conditions at the overpass – and the cause of a problem won’t rear its ugly head, the chunk of ice and snow at the edge of the path in this case.

The path at the overpass is covered by several centimeters of ice a lot of the time in the winter – the conditions – and wet in the summer. The water on the path is surface water from the forest floor on the up slope side of the overpass and from the ground beneath the forest floor – the water table.

You can see this water on the path almost year round. It’s there because of poor design, construction and maintenance of site drainage at the overpass. Salt is placed on the ice but it doesn’t help much.

The water is there waiting for freeze-up in the winter to cause accidents. Kids actually walk through the forest to get to the Joseph Giles Elementary School in winter rather than across the icy path. Simple solutions to this type of problem are in place elsewhere in the green belt in the City of Lakes but not at this site. (Ref. 2)

The personal, take-away experience from this?: 

I was reminded that you can model a slip, trip and fall accident site during a forensic investigation as a set of condition and a number of causes depending on where you’re at on the site. The conditions vary depending on location and the causes of accidents vary too.

I had good cleats on my boots but knew they would be unreliable on smooth, sloping ice – reliance on them could be the cause of me slipping and falling. But that didn’t happen here – I didn’t slip. I forgot that the rough, frozen wet snow at the edge of the smooth ice could be the cause of me tripping and falling – as happened.

The tiniest conditions need to be investigated at the site of a slip, trip or fall accident.


  1. My personal slip, trip and fall accident, #1 Posted September 2, 2021
  2. Dewberry, Sidney O. and Matusik, John S., Land Development Handbook, Planning, Engineering and Surveying pp 1014, Chapter 14 Storm Drainage Design, pp 513 to 576 McGraw Hill

(Posted by Eric E. Jorden, M.Sc., P.Eng. Consulting Professional Engineer, Forensic Engineer, Geotechnology Ltd., Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. February 26, 2023 ejorden@eastlink.ca)   

(Note: The foregoing blog is not a report on a forensic engineering investigation)

Confusion reigned, due in no small part to me. Update.

A reader in Ottawa wasn’t surprised at my confusion with a virtual meeting, as I explained last December. (Ref. 1) Chris Morry notes that these meetings are better today compared to the past but still not great. The problem is due to different meeting apps and the varying experience of the participants. Also the tricky features on some apps – you think you’re on mute and can’t be heard but that’s not so because the organizer has control of the mute on-off switch. (Ref. 2)

There’s a lot of meeting apps out there:

  • Zoom
  • Microsoft Meetings
  • What’s App
  • Google Duo
  • Numerous other apps prior to these, many associated with Hotlink and Google

Some apps are old by today’s standards – like five years – and fading from interest.

Chris remarked at great length as follows after reading my blog as posted last December. His comments make for a good, informative read:

(He comes to his understanding after working for years in government on the effect of climate change on the aqua environment. Work that involved virtual meetings with different environmental groups in North America and overseas.

(He’s also the author of the book When the Great Red Dawn is Shining. This was a song sung by the famed Royal Newfoundland Regiment on their march to the Somme in WW1. His grandfather, one of the kids in that fight, kept a memoir on which Chris based his book. (Ref. 2))


“Your experience with these virtual meeting systems mirrors my own, and in fact my experience goes back a very long way.

“Long before Zoom, Microsoft Meetings and What’s App showed up on the scene, there was for a period of four or five years when a large array of competing virtual meetings apps, many of them associated with existing email services like Hotlink and Google, was driving everyone nuts. Indeed the latter two each had TWO Different videoconferencing apps competing with each other.

“From time to time I was asked to attend a meeting using a wide variety of these services and with almost invariably the same result – utter confusion and failed attempts.

“No one knew all the ins and outs of setting up and managing all these different services and, since they seemed to drop the one that failed and tried another the next time, the learning curve was not only steeper than needs be for the conference organizer but for all attendees as well and went on for a very long time.

“Here we are at the front end of 2023 and we are little better off in this regard. Many of my affiliations with groups like genealogy and historical research groups each use a different app, which means not only having to download all the apps (though some will run within your browser, they all brow beat you into running the meeting on their app instead) but also having to try the different ins and outs of using the app.

“Needless to say I am thoroughly poisoned with the whole experience and would just as soon return to old fashioned group emails. Even though they don’t allow for instant give and take, an initial email followed by responses by those with something useful to say on the subject, and possibly a further follow-up email to provide the consensus is not only foolproof but leaves you with a written record of the discussion for future reference.

“Every App, just like every computer program, requires learning the methods which are somewhat different in every case. In particular the methods used to set up a meeting and send the notifications and what to do with the notification when it is received. (This was my undoing; check Ref. 1 – Eric)

“Scam artists have figured this out and are ahead of the game trying to fool people who are confused by the whole thing. This very morning I received a text message pretending to be an invitation to a Zoom meeting. It did not say who sent it and the number associated was of course not one belonging to anyone I know. If I clicked the included link they would have me.

“Getting back to online meeting Apps, each one also has protocols about the organiser being able to control whose microphone is on or off at any given time. Just imagine how that would be blasted at a public meeting if the organizer chose to shut off your mike when you were trying to make a point! This overrides your own settings for having your video on or off (you can attend more or less incognito by keeping your camera off) and your microphone, which you can mute, if you want to say something to someone in your room in private. Of course both of these options have led to people getting into deep doodoo for THINKING the camera or microphone is off when in fact it is on.

“Lots of other idiosyncrasies of each App pertaining sending messages to other participants which you theoretically can send as a private message to just that participant or to everyone attending the conference. You can imagine how dangerous that could be. Yet these controls and how to set them are different in every App, making it almost certain that sooner or later everyone will fall victim to these settings.

“I recommend advising that one always assumes that the mike and camera are on even if we set them to off. It could save a lot of embarrassment.”


This was one of a number of excellent reader responses to my blogs that I have received over the past 10 years. This one by Chris Morry has given me a big heads-up. While virtual meetings are efficient and expedient, some of the apps have their broken parts. This problem is compounded by participants needing to climb a steep learning curve that keeps changing. That problem contributed to my confusion as noted in Ref. 1 below.


  1. Confusion reigned, due in no small part to me. Posted December 15, 2022 12:47 pm
  2. Morry, C. J., Christopher, blog reader in Ottawa, December, 2022. Friend and former neighbour. Retired government worker on the effects of climate change on the aqua environment. Author of When the Great Red Dawn is Shining, Breakwater Books Ltd., illustrated edition, November 15, 2014, 224 pages. A memoir about what his granddad experienced in the trenches in WWI as a foot soldier in the famed Royal Newfoundland Regiment.

(Posted by Eric E. Jorden, M.Sc., P.Eng. Consulting Professional Engineer, Forensic Engineer, Geotechnology Ltd., Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. January 31, 2023 ejorden@eastlink.ca)   

Expert report writing 101

Most disputes are settled out of court these days – I’ve seen more than 90% mentioned – and many of these are based on a forensic investigation and the expert’s report. This means the report is an important forensic task.

The report is written for the judicial process even though it doesn’t often go that far. This means a report for non-technical people. One that must be easy to read and understand the findings of the investigation.

It’s easy to write a report like this with the help that’s out there. My review of the literature produced the following list of characteristics of a well written expert report:

  1. Short, concrete words
  2. Declarative sentences
  3. Sequential sentences
  4. Thin paragraphs; not fat
  5. Few adverbs; almost none
  6. Few adjectives
  7. Jargon-free language
  8. Visually appealing pages

I’ve found over time that writing sequential sentences was tough enough. These are sentences where each picks up on a word or thought in the former, enlarges on it, and slowly tells the story of the forensic investigation.

Guidance on writing doesn’t get any better than On Writing Well, The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction 2006 by William Zinsser. The principles identified by the author also apply to expert reports. (Ref. 1)

This book by an American went to seven (7) editions before he went over the rainbow bridge in 2015. At the time he got a half page profile in one of Canada’s national newspapers, The Globe and Mail. Impressive. He urged clarity, simplicity, brevity and humanity.

Or guidance get any better than How to Write an Expert Witness Report, 2014 by Mangraviti, James J. et al – as long as you remember it provides guidance for American experts. (Ref. 2) Pick and chose the best advice and you’ll be well guided in another way to that by Zinsser.

If your expert does no more than read the eight page Executive Summary by Mangraviti, et al instead of all 560 pages, s/he will write a good expert report, helped by Zinsser. There are also some good paragraphs and sections in other chapters. But, be careful of some emphasis in this reference – the American way – on how to make your report powerful and persuasive.

Sorry, but you weren’t retained to persuade and impress. You’re there to tell the reader in an objective way about your thorough forensic investigation, no more, no less:

  1. The tasks you carried out during your forensic investigation,
  2. Why you carried out each task,
  3. The data you got from each,
  4. What you did during your analysis of the data,
  5. How the data from each task pointed to a cause,
  6. How the data from different tasks supported the data from others on a possible cause(s),
  7. What you found when you followed the evidence,
  8. How the cause of the failure or accident began to come into focus, off in the distance,
  9. The conclusions arising from your analysis, and,
  10. Your opinion on cause arising from your conclusions.

I have found over the years that writing well results in better analysis of data, like in “thinking on paper“. A nice fringe benefit of writing expert reports well.

The guidance in Zinsser and Mangraviti, Jr. et al will also ensure you meet the requirements of civil procedure rules governing experts, like Rule 55 in Nova Scotia.

This is as far as you need to go in expert report writing. You don’t need to go beyond Expert Report Writing 101. What’s out there will get you in trouble, particularly the American way. Keep it simple like in the lists above and keep the disputes out of court.


  1. Zinsser, William, On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction, 7th edition, Harper Collins Publishers New York 2006
  2. Mangraviti, Jr., James J., Babitsky, Steven and Donovan, Nadine Nasser, How to Write An Expert Witness Report, SEAK, Inc., Falmouth, MA 2014


  1. Strunk, Jr., William and White, E. B., The Elements of Style, 4th ed. Allan and Bacon 2000. Zinsser was inspired by this book, a book about pointers and admonitions: Do this. Don’t do that. What it didn’t address was how to apply those principles. How to write about people and places, science and technology, etc. That’s what Zinsser does in his book, On Writing Well.

(Posted by Eric E. Jorden, M.Sc., P.Eng. Consulting Professional Engineer, Forensic Engineer, Geotechnology Ltd., Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. January 17, 2023 ejorden@eastlink.ca)   

I saw the future and forensic engineering is in good hands

I saw the future of forensic work at the Engineers Nova Scotia Christmas social in Halifax a few days ago, and all is good.

I saw lots of younger men and women engineers – and chatted with a few – some older guys, and a good mix of ethnic groups. There was a big crowd, I’m sure close to the 325 who planned to attend. (Ref. 1)

I liked learning that some women are getting into electrical and mechanical engineering, also project management, and getting their hands dirty and mud on their boots on construction sites. This kind of site experience bolds well for those who will go into forensic engineering.

Then there was the engineering student who got in touch with me last year wanting to know about forensic engineering – prompting the blog What is Forensic Engineering? (Refs 2 and 3)

And there was the clerk at Staples, who is studying forensic anthropology. She has a basic bachelor of science degree from Mount Allison University and a master of science in forensic anthropology from the University of Edinburgh. I liked learning this having done a masters in engineering in the UK.

I also liked learning more this year about the field of forensic archeology that is reflective of forensic geotechnical engineering – my field of study and practice for years – and uses similar techniques. (Ref. 4)

Also learning about the daughter of a friend of mine who has studied forensic DNA and works with the Halifax Regional Police.

And the sister of another friend who has an ancestry DNA lab in Ontario.

(The latter two friends are hot-tub friends at Cole Harbour Place where I go swimming – a good place to meet interesting people from all walks of life)

We’re in good hands, if these folk can hang onto their passion for forensic work in their respective fields while remembering that forensic investigation serves the judicial and dispute resolution processes with thorough, objective investigation. If they can do this, then the future for forensic investigation in all fields looks good.

But, all the while, being alert to vested interests. They’re out there too. (Refs 5 and 6)

Seasons Greetings and a Happy New Year to all my blog site visitors.


  1. Talk with Christine Larocque (She/Her), Director, Communications and IT, Engineers Nova Scotia, December, 2022
  2. What is forensic engineering? Posted September 28, 2021
  3. What is forensic engineering? Posted November 20, 2012 (An earlier post on this field of practice)
  4. Catling, Christopher and Bahn, Paul, The Complete Practical Encyclopedia of Archaeology, pp 512. Anness Publishing Ltd. 2013. Particularly page 226, Forensic Archaeology
  5. Is bias alive and well in police investigation? Posted September 20, 2022
  6. The ethics of contingency shopping. Posted December 30, 2021

(Posted by Eric E. Jorden, M.Sc., P.Eng. Consulting Professional Engineer, Forensic Engineer, Geotechnology Ltd., Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada December 30, 2022 ejorden@eastlink.ca)   

Confusion reigned, due in no small part to me

I was surprised at how my inquiry about a slip and fall accident turned out, and liked what I learned about setting up Zoom and Teams’ meetings.

I came out of the incident determined to prevent similar hiccups in the future with other people and groups I meet virtually. For sure during Zoom and Teams’ meetings about forensic engineering investigation. It was a small hiccup but troublesome. And all this in the run up to the Christmas season, a joyous time of the year.

I was referred to a lawyer and her firm by colleagues who had been approached about investigating the cause of a slip and fall accident. They recognized it was outside their area of expertise and suggested I get in touch with the firm.

I called and we chatted. I learned that the firm may have found an expert. This was fine. I recommended peer review of the expert’s investigation because there are many elements in slip and fall accidents and different approaches to investigating cause.

She suggested a Microsoft Teams meeting to discuss this. We looked at some dates and I suggested one that fit my schedule a couple of days later. She got back to me later in the day to confirm this time was good after conferring with her colleague, a partner in the firm. I noted the time in my journal.

I sat at my desk at the appointed time a couple of days later and waited for an email with the Teams link … and waited and waited. Sometime after the agreed time I went onto other work.

The next day I called and left a voice mail as to whether I had misunderstood the time of our Teams’ meeting. Three days later I sent an email inquiring. The telephone number and email address worked in setting up the Teams meeting, why not now? Hmmm?

(I learned later – see below – that my contact had called when I didn’t link in, and I missed the call)

A good month passed during which I was troubled by what had happened. I also wondered how the young lawyer and her colleague had processed this.

I decided to check the emails again in setting up the Teams meeting. Maybe I checked more thoroughly this time. The penny dropped as I scrolled well down the email page to near my contact’s signature, and somewhat below the text about the meeting time two days hence. I saw a Teams link in the earlier exchange of emails. I remembered seeing at the time what looked like a link but, if I might be allowed some slack, in a quick read no indication it was for a Teams meeting two days later.

It didn’t help that three organizations that I Zoom with weekly and monthly send out a link one or two days early. Then send out a reminder on the meeting day. New meeting technology, new protocols.

This was the first time a misunderstanding like this happened in my years of consulting practice. I wondered, would I still be a bit troubled months from now about the mistake if one side or the other in this matter called me about a peer review? I wouldn’t, seeing as I carried some of the burden, also because I’m too interested in just doing my work – engineers are like that, to a fault.

(A little aside but a little related. I was at an Engineers Nova Scotia Christmas social in Halifax in all that rain last Thursday evening. Much of the talk was the engineering projects we worked on in the past and what we’re doing now that has some engineering in it. Engineers are like that, talking shop all the time. Santa Claus was no where to be seen or heard. This was the case for young and older engineers alike, male and female, and all ethnic groups – we’re a nice mixed bag of engineers Down East)

What about the young lawyer? How did she process this? Fortunately we were in touch early last week and chatted and know a mistake was made. I also learned that they telephoned when I didn’t show up for the Teams’ meeting. I didn’t answer as I tend to shy away when I don’t recognize the number – too much spam out there. I do look at all email – it glares at you from the Inbox.

Think we shared the cause of the mistake but with me carrying the greater burden by not scrolling all the way to the bottom of the e-page and paying closer attention to what was there.

At the end of the day, I’m okay with the effect of this on me – a learning experience.

The take-away? Draw attention to the link on the day the meeting is set up, and follow up with a reminder near the top of the e-page on the day of the Teams or Zoom meeting.

(Posted by Eric E. Jorden, M.Sc., P.Eng. Consulting Professional Engineer, Forensic Engineer, Geotechnology Ltd., Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. December 15, 2022 ejorden@eastlink.ca)   

What happens during a forensic engineering investigation?

(Abstract: The following is a detailed description of the tasks that an engineer carries out during a forensic investigation. This type of investigation determines the cause of a failure or accident as a means of assisting the resolution of disputes.

(The description is based on my engineering experience in eastern and western Canada, the Yukon, off-shore Nova Scotia and the Beaufort Sea, and overseas. I also relied on 11 well regarded references on forensic and engineering investigation. My description is characterized by a list of tasks as well as 19 sub-lists that help the reader easily understand what’s involved.

(Understanding the tasks is easy, estimating the cost of the tasks can be difficult. An Appendix on costs helps the reader understand this difficulty.

(This blog was originally posted on July 15, 2013. There is little change in forensic investigation in 10 years. What has improved even more is encouraging:

  1. Increased reliance on visual and virtual site assessments by an experienced engineer
  2. Using drones to take low level aerial video of failure and accident sites both indoors and out
  3. Strict guidelines for objective expert reports
  4. Interest in peer review
  5. Amicable dispute resolution well before the court house steps have been reached

(It’s interesting that a list like the above has proved useful in this Abstract as was found to be the case 10 years ago in the following updated blog)



How do clients benefit?

Counsel benefits, as well as insurance claim managers, when they have some understanding of forensic engineering investigation.  An investigation determines why – the cause – a structure failed or did not perform properly, or why an accident happened.  Included are environmental accidents, fuel oil spills, and slips, trips and falls. Structures are anything in the built environment.

The process followed by experienced engineers results in a thorough investigation that leads to an objective opinion on cause.  The results can be given in a well written report to standards like civil procedure Rule 55 in Nova Scotia.

What does this blog set out to do?

The following identifies and describes the typical steps, the tasks in a forensic engineering investigation. 

Investigations can be complex and time consuming involving all the steps in the process.  Or simple and quick, particularly when some steps are not needed because of the nature of the failure or accident, or there’s interest in focusing on one key element in the problem. 

The engineer’s experience can also simplify an investigation.  For example, I saw the reason ice was falling from a roof – from across the street with binoculars.  And another time, the reason for a trip and fall accident in a couple of photographs sent me.  Still another, the reason for a fatal motor vehicle accident – even the standard field tests I had to carry out were dangerous.

The process is followed regardless of whether the professional engineer is retained by the plaintiff or the defendant, a claims manager or the property owner, and whether retained as a consulting expert or a testifying expert.

The process is also followed in spite of the fact that the great majority of disputes are settled out of court – many quite amicably after the evidence is in.

The word “forensic” from the Latin forum indicates that the investigative findings assist the justice system resolve a dispute. That’s certainly the case if the thoroughness of a forensic investigation keeps a dispute out of court.

What is a structure and how many ways can it fail?

A structure is anything in the built environment. Look around you – the built environment comprises many 100s of different structures that could go wrong in some way. And 100s of ways an accident can happen.

A structure also includes alterations of the natural environment like highway embankments, earth and rock slopes, land drainage and tunnels driven through soil or rock to carry highways or water. 

A failure can involve total or partial collapse of a structure or inadequate performance of it’s components.

A blog I posted in 2020 is informative as to the number of structures in the built environment and the many ways they can fail. Scary to be truthful. See, What’s in “…the built environment” and how many ways it can fail? Posted July 8, 2020. Look at some of the references too.

Fundamental tasks in all forensic investigations

There are four basic steps in a forensic engineering investigation:

  1. Gather data
  2. Analyse data
  3. Draw conclusions
  4. Form opinion

Before and after the failure or accident

At some point during an investigation we are interested in establishing a before-after scenario:

  1. What were the conditions existing before the failure or accident?
  2. What took place during the incident?
  3. What are the conditions existing afterwards – the property damage, the injuries?
  4. What caused the incident?

Standard tasks in a forensic engineering investigation

Rigid formulae for investigating failures and accidents do not exist.  But all forensic engineering investigations contain the following steps to a greater or lesser degree.

  1. Review documents
  2. Visually assess the failure or accident site
  3. Video the site from the air with a drone mounted camera
  4. Field investigations
  5. Laboratory investigations
  6. Research
  7. Follow-up investigations
  8. Analyse data
  9. Draw conclusions
  10. Form opinion
  11. Assess repair and remediation
  12. Write report

A visual assessment can be broken down further:

  1. Visit and visually assess the site
  2. Take low level aerial video with a drone mounted camera
  3. Take terrestrial photographs with hand-held and dash cameras
  4. Interview witnesses

Field investigations can also be broken down:

  1. Describe the failure or accident
  2. Survey and document the damage to the structure
  3. Determine how the structure was built
  4. Determine the site conditions

Research too:

  1. Desk studies
  2. Leg work
  3. Identify building codes and industry guidelines
  4. Assess the standard of care

Most of an investigation involves gathering data and most of the report – more than 3/4 – involves analysing and presenting the data.  This points to the importance of the data gathering.  The degree of certainty in the opinion on the cause of the failure or accident is often a function of the amount of data gathered.

In fact, guidelines on failure investigation and forensic engineering issued by national engineering associations (see the References) have strong advice for professional engineers: – Take only those cases where you can carry out a thorough investigation and gather enough data to be able to give an objective and reliable opinion.

Following is a brief description of each task in the investigative process:

1. Document Review

Review documents

Reviewing documents provided by the client is an important first step in a forensic engineering investigation.  These documents sometimes provide the only data available to an engineer investigating a failure or accident. Documents include material like the following:

  1. Client narrative
  2. Discovery transcripts
  3. Text material
  4. Geotechnical reports
  5. Structural design reports
  6. Environmental assessment reports
  7. Drawings and site plans
  8. Construction and site photographs
  9. Damage photographs
  10. Maintenance records
  11. Weather reports – usually rainfall

Additional published documents often researched by a professional engineer include:

  1. Legal surveys and descriptions
  2. Land development and drainage plans
  3. Aerial photography of the area of the site
  4. Topographic and contour maps
  5. Surficial and bedrock geology maps
  6. Agricultural soil maps
  7. Hydrological maps and studies
  8. Hydrogeological maps and studies
  9. Flood plain mapping
  10. Mining activity mapping

Documents like these are often studied a number of times during the different stages of an investigation.

Form hypothesis and plan investigation

Information from the documents along with an initial site visit and visual assessment enables the professional engineer to plan the investigation based on what he thinks caused the failure or accident – his initial hypothesis.  Investigations are designed to confirm, revise, or refute the initial hypothesis.

The assumptions made underlying the professional engineer’s initial thoughts on the incident are identified and documented. 

Implicit in the most thorough investigations is an effort to also prove a failure or accident did not occur in some way different from the forensic engineer’s initial hypothesis.

Format of some forensic investigations

Well planned investigations are sometimes set out as follows:

  1. Task. Identify and describe each task.
  2. Purpose.  State the purpose of each task – what is hoped to be learned.
  3. Data.  Describe what is actually learned, the data gathered.

This simple format enables the investigation to be easily described in detail in a report later, and more easily understood by the reader.  It also enables development of a timeline for the forensic investigation. My forensic reports follow this format.

The format is much the same as a work breakdown structure in the field of project management.  The “work” in this case is the forensic engineering investigation that has been “broken down” into different tasks.

Determine the before-after scenario

In checking the hypothesis, engineering investigations determine the before-after scenario (see Introduction):

  1. The nature of the area the structure is in and the ground beneath the structure – the terrain, geomorphology and surficial geology of the area
  2. How the structure was built initially, and its conformance to the design and construction plans
  3. What took place during the failure or the accident, and,
  4. The nature and extent of the damage, inadequate performance, or injuries

2. Visual Assessment

Visit and visually assess site

This step involves visiting the site as soon as possible after the failure or accident.  The professional engineer walks and pokes around the site – kicks the tires in a sense – to get a feel for where things are and the nature and extent of the damage. He visually examines exposed surfaces.  It’s a very simple task, not very technical at all, but invaluable in getting a feel for the scene and bringing the documents to life.

It helps to dictate to a smartphone what is being seen and done during the visual assessment.

Sketching and measuring what seems to be relevant is started at this early stage.  Measuring, testing, and quantifying in a number of different ways often characterizes an investigation carried out by a professional engineer.

Photograph and videotape site

Photographing and videoing the failure or accident site and the collapsed structure is an important initial step. The sooner the better before remedial work alters conditions.

Equally important is a caption or descriptive note for each photograph stating:

  1. What was photographed and videoed
  2. The position of the camera and the view captured
  3. Why the object was photographed
  4. What to look for in studying the photographs and video, and,
  5. The date and time.

Interview witnesses

Interviewing witnesses to the failure or accident and the conditions existing beforehand is also an important initial step.  It should be done as soon as possible after the incident while memories are fresh and site conditions unchanged.  Record names and addresses in the event the witness must be called to testify at a hearing later.

3. Drone Photography

Describe the failure or accident from the air

This task involves taking low level aerial video of the failure or accident site with a camera fixed to a drone. Video is taken from eye level to a few 10s of metres above the site. Screen grabs or stills can be taken off the video and inserted in the report. Site plans can be easily generated from the stills.

Re-enactments of slip and fall and traffic accidents can also be photographed from different heights above the site, and also from different directions and distances. Traffic accidents or their re-enactment can also be captured with video cameras mounted on the dashboard of vehicles – dash cameras.

Copies of the video can be distributed to parties interested in the failure or accident to facilitate discussion on the telephone or via Zoom or Microsoft Teams meetings.

We can get high resolution video of sites in urban areas from Google Earth today; we can get even better from drone video.

Apps are available to plan drone video of a site several days in advance of a site visit that is several hours driving away.

I’ve taken drone video of all my sites in recent years and the coverage has proved invaluable. For example:

  1. It solved a road re-aligment problem: Drone video demonstrated what went wrong during design and construction,
  2. Aerial video enabled me to identify the cause of a retaining wall failure,
  3. Drone video helped me assess the depth of the water table beneath a fuel oil contaminated site – I was surprised at what I saw,
  4. Low level video pointed the finger at the likely cause of a nail gun accident, and,
  5. Drone video showed how poor land drainage is causing a dangerous situation for kids in the winter time.

4. Field Investigations

Describe the failure or accident

This task records what happened during the failure or accident based on the comments of the witnesses interviewed and information from the documents.  Interviewing people who were there, and saw or experienced the failure if it was a sudden collapse of a structure, or an accident, is particularly valuable to the description.

Survey and document the damage to the structure

This stage involves recording the damaged condition of the structure that has collapsed or does not perform properly.  This is done with tasks such as the following:

  1. A visual examination and description of the structure’s condition,
  2. Measuring the extent and location of the damage, and,
  3. Photographing and videoing the damage.

These tasks should be carried out as soon as possible after the failure before data and evidence are altered or lost.  The information enables a before-after comparison to be made after the next task is completed.  This type of comparison is often helpful as noted.

Determine how the structure was built

This stage determines how the structure was built and whether or not it conformed to the design.  Also, whether or not the design and construction conformed to the standards of the day.  This information is obtained from the design and construction plans.  Also from research of building codes and industry guidelines existing at the time and checking these against the structure on site.  Tasks involved in this step include the following:

  1. Obtaining copies of the design and construction drawings – often quite similar
  2. Checking that the design conforms to the building code and good engineering practice
  3. Checking that the construction drawings conform to the design
  4. Obtaining a copy of the as-built drawings – drawings that record changes made during construction for various reasons
  5. Checking that the existing structure conforms to the as-built drawings.  This involves examining and measuring the different components of the structure.  It often involves taking things apart or using remote sensing techniques to detect what is below the surface.  To facilitate this examination, drawings of the damage might be superimposed on the as-built drawings.  This superimposing would eventually be done during the data analysis (see below)
  6. In the absence of drawings – often the case for older structures – measure the structure and prepare drawings, and then superimpose sketches of the damage

How many of these tasks are carried out and in what detail depends on the situation, the structure, and the failure.  Sometimes very little of the above is done.  Sometimes it’s enough just to measure and prepare sketches of the damage and view and study the structure with these sketches in hand.

Determine the site conditions

The site is the area where the structure is located including other structures nearby.

The site conditions of interest at this stage of the forensic engineering investigation include:

  1. The lay of the land, the terrain, the topography
  2. Surface features like bedrock exposures, sinkholes, and wet land
  3. Drainage features like ponds, lakes, and water courses (hydrology)
  4. Subsurface and foundation soil and rock conditions (geotechnology)
  5. Groundwater conditions (hydrogeology)

Investigating and determining site conditions includes:

  1. Photographing and videoing the site
  2. Aerial photography, drone video and map making
  3. Topographic and contour surveys
  4. Drainage and groundwater studies
  5. Geotechnical and foundation soil and rock investigations
  6. Environmental assessments
  7. Field tests like skid resistance tests, plate load tests and pile load tests
  8. Accident reconstruction

Detailed topographic and elevation surveys are usually made when the failure of a building or a civil engineering structure, or the cause of an accident, is thought to involve the terrain in which the site is located.

Drainage studies (hydrology, hydrogeology) are made when surface or groundwater may have been a factor in a failure or an accident.

Geotechnical and foundation investigations may be necessary if the cause of the failure of a structure appears to be in the foundations or the subsurface soils.

Full scale field tests and accident reconstruction may be carried out.  This is done when these methods are assessed as the most reliable means of gathering data on the effects of the terrain, and features in it, on the failure or the accident.

Slip, trip and fall accidents

Almost all of what is done and described above at the site of a structure’s failure:

  1. Document review
  2. Visual assessment
  3. Drone video
  4. Field investigations

is carried out at the sites of slip, trip and fall accidents. The structure in this case is the person’s body that collapsed in every sense of the word – was caused to fall down, often by something at the site.

I tripped one time because of a 1″ to 2″ difference in the height of a curb – not my fault. Another time I stood on my dog’s lease so she couldn’t run off. However, she had a mind of her own and dashed off jerking the lease from under me and causing me to fall down/collapse/fail, hard – my fault.

In addition to the usual field and site investigations, the skid resistance of the surface where a person slipped and fell is measured – the coefficient of friction in high school physics. There is a standard of care for the procedure that is reflected in a basic field investigation as outlined above – going from the simple to the more accurate.

5. Laboratory Investigations

At this stage in the investigation, it is sometimes necessary to carry out laboratory tests.  These would determine the chemical, physical, mechanical, strength, and/or drainage properties of materials used in construction at the site of a failure or an accident.  It might be necessary to analyse the toxic fumes emitted by a compound or product used in construction.

Typical materials used in construction are soil, rock, steel, concrete, wood, plastic, adhesives, asphalt, and masonry products.

Composite materials like asphalt or reinforced concrete can be taken apart in a laboratory to determine how the material was formed.  For example, the location, type, and size of reinforcing steel in a reinforced concrete slab that failed.

6. Research

Desk studies and leg work

To some extent, research studies during a forensic engineering investigation – desk studies in some engineering disciplines – are on-going like document review.

The work often involves literature searches, telephone and internet work, and leg work to sources outside the office like libraries and the offices of persons to interview and consult with.

It also involves research and study of aspects of the engineering investigation that have assumed some relevance.  For example,

  1. Past mining activity in an area,
  2. The standard of care at the time the structure was designed and constructed,
  3. The shrinkage and compressive properties of a fill material, and,
  4. The different modes of failure of a soil-steel bridge.

Research also identifies and gathers together all information in appropriate categories relevant to the investigation (see Document Review above).  This would be information missing from the documents provided by counsel or the claims manager.  Information like original construction and as-built drawings, geotechnical and environmental reports, and published mapping of the area.  Availability of the material would be determined and copies obtained if possible.

Also during this step in the forensic investigation the need is identified for additional engineering and scientific specialists to investigate some aspect of the failure, and to study relevant findings.  Specialists would be identified, contacted, and conferred with about their possible contribution, and retained if necessary.

Identify building codes and industry guidelines

Of particular importance during the research stage would be the identification of building codes and industry guidelines.  Also the standard of care followed at some period relevant to the design and construction of the failed structure, or the structure involved in the personal injury accident.

Identify applicable government and industry codes, standards, regulations, and guidelines.  Include national and international codes that are relevant to the failure or accident and relied on locally.  Search and identify technical papers and state-of-the-art reports that relate to the problem and review this material.

Identify standard of care

This could be an important task during a forensic engineering investigation if the findings might be presented during a more formal dispute resolution process or at trial.

The standard of care is the standard commonly applied by professionals or other workers practicing the same discipline or trade in the same area at the time the structure(s) was designed and constructed that was involved in the failure or accident.

Identifying the standard can be quite simple or very involved and time consuming.  It involves interviewing other professional engineers and/or workers practicing in the area at the time the structure was designed and constructed to determine the procedures they followed and the standards they employed.  If there is wide variance you would speak with more people until you feel satisfied you know the average.

If there were two small firms practicing in the area at the time then it’s easy. For example, a soil-steel bridge failure that I investigated.

On the other hand, as in another case of mine, if there are 11 different types of firms and associations playing a part in the design and construction process associated with a failure or accident – providing different products and services – then it’s difficult and time consuming.  You would need to identify and speak with a number of representatives of each type of firm and association – potentially dozens of people – to be satisfied you understand the standard followed at the time.

7. Follow-up Investigations

This task of carrying out one or more follow-up investigations results from the need to “follow the evidence”.  This concept hardly needs explaining to counsel and claims managers.  It is equally important in a forensic investigation. 

Data will be gathered and evidence uncovered during a previous investigation that suggests other things should be investigated.  This would be like cross-examination during discovery uncovering evidence that suggests a new line of questioning.

Implicit in the fact that there might be evidence that should be followed up is the possibility that the initial hypothesis on the cause of the failure or accident might need to be revised or rejected completely.

The possibility of the need for follow-up investigations is a fact of life during forensic engineering investigations.

8. Data Analysis

Lots of data is good but you’ve got to do something with the data – draw meaning from it as to the cause of the failure or accident. This is what the dispute resolution process or a claim manager wants.

Data from one stage looked at critically

In analysing and reasoning to a conclusion, the data from any one stage of the investigation is looked at critically – taken apart, in a sense – and each part looked at carefully and how they are related and interact.

Identify typical modes of failure?

The data is also studied to see if it is characteristic of a mode of failure or a cause based on past experience or a mathematical calculation.  Professional engineers have identified and published typical modes of failure for the various structures in the built environment.  These are available for review and guidance to the forensic engineer during a forensic investigation.

Data from other stages looked at critically and for corroboration

The data from other stages of the forensic investigation are similarly looked at, and also studied to see if there is corroboration of conclusions between stages.  Pattern is looked for within individual data and amongst different sets of data.  And if there is a pattern, considering if it is typical of a known cause/mode of failure.

Draw conclusions and confirm, revise, or refute hypothesis

At some point, conclusions are drawn from the analysis and the hypothesis confirmed, revised, or refuted.  If revised or refuted then a new hypothesis is formed and this investigated with follow-up forensic investigations.

If the initial hypothesis is confirmed then the cause of a failure or accident has been identified and an opinion can be formed.

Document reasoning

At all points in the analysis the reasoning followed is documented and the basis of the conclusions recorded.

Easy analysis

Sometimes the data analysis and development of an opinion is quite easy.  For example, in one of my investigations when field work uncovered a concrete floor slab that was supported by irregularly spaced columns. This type of slab beneath a structure was meant to be uniformly supported.  In this case it was easy to hold the opinion that the floor slab was inadequately supported.

Complex analysis

At other times it’s complex.  For example, when there are more than 20 possible modes of failure for the collapse of a soil-steel bridge.  When the collapsed bridge is not available to examine, then the available data must be analysed for each mode and the cause identified by a process of elimination.

Mysterious analysis

Sometimes it’s mysterious.  Why is there a toxic odour in the concrete enclosed lower level of a structure and the lighter-than-air fumes are not detected in the timber-framed upper levels?  A chance remark about timber structures “breathing” – are more pervious in engineering terms – solves the mystery as to cause.  The fumes in the upper levels diffuse through the exterior timber walls to the outside of the structure, and also through open doors and windows.

9. Draw Conclusions

In some ways this is the easy part. You look and see if data collected from an investigative task points to the cause of the failure or accident. You then check the data from another task for an indication of cause. And still another. Etc. You cross-check causes. Is there agreement amongest the causes – a little a lot? Does the cause from one set of data support the cause from another? Is a common cause emerging? Are conflicting causes emerging? What is the preponderance of the causes pointing to as the cause of the structure’s failure or the person’s injury? How does this conclusion fit with published findings of cause of similar failures or accidents? At some point you stop – when you’re comfortable with your findings.

10. Form Opinion

At this stage in a forensic engineering investigation, your view of cause forms in your mind. It slowly appears in your head as you analyse the data, reason and draw conclusions. You then tell the listener or the reader your opinion of cause and the basis for your view.

11. Repair and remediation

Often times near the completion of a forensic engineering investigation there is a need to plan and design repair of the damaged or failed structure, and then estimate the cost of the repair.  This repair cost contributes to an evaluation of the damages claimed in a lawsuit or by an insurance policy holder.  Occasionally the repair is constructed involving engineering supervision and inspection costs, which also contribute to the damages claimed.

12. Write Report

Types of reports

The report, in particular, the written report, is an important step in a professional engineer’s investigation of a failure or accident.  It ‘s a documentation for the client and the dispute resolution process:

  • of the methods used during the investigation,
  • the data gathered,
  • the analysis of the data, and
  • the reasoning to an opinion on cause. 

It’s importance is highlighted by the fact that civil litigation rule changes in some provinces are limiting discovery of the expert.

The results of a professional engineer’s investigation are given in:

  1. Oral reports,
  2. written report, and,
  3. Occasionally, one or more supplementary reports

Oral report

If possible, an oral report is given the claims manager or counsel as soon after the documents are read, an initial site visit and visual assessment completed, and an initial hypothesis formed as to cause.  The report may indicate the direction the investigation appears to be heading.  This will give client an early indication as to whether the professional engineer will serve as a consulting expert or as a testifying expert.

Written report

A written report is provided at completion of the investigation.  It is prepared on instruction of counsel or the claims manager to facilitate the dispute resolution process.

Serious thought must be given to whether or not a written report is prepared, particularly for the judicial process. This is because non-technical counsel and judges are wordsmiths and benefit from well documented data and argument. They like well written reports as I have found on more than one occasion.  Else why are civil procedure rules being struck to encourage the preparation of reports and limit expert discovery?  I’m sure to save time and money but I also suspect because the judicial system likes a well written report.

For example, I know of two cases where junior counsel decided against well prepared reports: 

In the one case because of the perceived expense by counsel – and yet it was the first thing the judge asked for. Counsel’s case struggled thereafter, cost more, and may have resulted in significantly lower damages being awarded.

In the second case, counsel submitted a report containing the results of interviews.  The interviews resulted in a poorly prepared report because there was no evidence to validate the interviews which I understand constitutes hearsay in law.  Counsel neglected to call witnesses supporting the hearsay evidence and lost his case. 

Both cases seemed to be open and shut for the parties involved, if well written reports had been prepared.

Supplementary reports

The need for supplementary reports might depend on whether or not new evidence is found during discovery, follow-up investigations, or presented in rebuttal reports. Supplementary reports might use appropriate graphics, models and demonstrations to better explain the investigation and findings.

Report outline

The outline of a report will vary depending on the nature of the failure or accident and the extent of the investigation.  Many will be in chronological order, generally in the order of the tasks carried out during the investigation.  The process is a series of investigations and follow-up investigations each of which consist of different tasks.  My reports generally:

  1. Describe each task in chronological order,
  2. State the reason for carrying out each task,
  3. Identify the data obtained from each task,
  4. Analyse the data and the extent to which it supports other data and the initial hypothesis as to the cause of the failure or accident,
  5. If necessary, revise the hypothesis,
  6. If applicable, report on the analysis arising from follow-up investigations to confirm a final hypothesis,
  7. Draw conclusions, and,
  8. Form an opinion.


(An earlier update of this blog posted in 2012 identifies investigative tasks like assessing the standard of care existing at the time a structure was designed and constructed or an accident happened.

(The update was actually prompted by a long and difficult assessment of the standard of care that I carried out in a case. I realized that assessing the standard was an important and sometimes difficult step in a forensic engineering investigation.

(The update also provides sources in the following References for follow-up and gives data in an Appendix on the difficulty of estimating the cost of forensic engineering investigation)


The foregoing is based on several sources in addition to my own experience.  The citations are not complete:

  1. ASCE, American Society of Civil Engineering, Guidelines for failure investigation, 1989
  2. ASCE, Guidelines for forensic engineering practice, ed., Gary L. Lewis, 2003
  3. ASCE, Guide to investigation of structural failure, Jack R. Janney, 1986
  4. Personal communication, Jack Osmond, NSPL, Affinity Contracting, Halifax
  5. Meyer, Carl, ed., Expert Witnessing; Explaining and Understanding Science, 1999
  6. Steps in the civil litigation process, posted August 28, 2012
  7. The cost of forensic engineering investigation, posted November 1, 2012
  8. ASFE, Association of Soil and Foundation Engineers, Expert: A guide to forensic engineering and service as an expert witness, 1985
  9. Ratay, Robert T., ed., Forensic Structural Engineering Handbook, McGraw Hill, 2000
  10. Day, Robert W., Forensic Geotechnical and Foundation Engineering, McGraw Hill, 1999
  11. What’s in “…the built environment” and how many ways can it fail? Posted July 8, 2020
  12. Catling, Christopher and Bahn, Paul, Forensic Archaeology, pages 226 and 227 in The Complete Practical Encyclopedia of Archaeology, 506 pp, Hermes House 2013. The first 174 pages on archaeological digging methods are relevant to forensic geotechnical engineering
  13. Cooper, Chris, Eyewitness Forensic Science, DK Publishing 2008


(The following is adapted from a posting to this blog site www.ericjorden.com/blog on November 1, 2012 entitled, “The cost of forensic engineering investigation”)

Difficulty estimating the cost of forensic engineering investigation in Atlantic Canada (the items in bold are the main steps in a forensic engineering investigation).

The following is a subjective assessment of the difficulty estimating the costs of the steps in the forensic engineering investigative process (see foregoing item).  The more difficult the step the less accurate the estimate.

The cost assessment at the start of an investigation assumes the request is made of a professional engineer after he has been contacted, the failure briefly described, and the documents identified that counsel will provide.

Also, like in estimating the cost of a project in Project Management, the costs are approximate at the beginning of a project, get better as the project goes to completion and are good near the end.

The assessment is based on my experience in the forensic engineering investigation of failures in the built and natural environments, and fatalities and personal injury accidents in Atlantic Canada and overseas:

Difficulty estimating costs

  1. Document review ………………………..………………… Easy
  2. Visual assessment
  3. Visit and visually assess site …………………………….. Fairly easy
  4. Photograph and videotape site …………………………. Fairly easy
  5. Interview witnesses ………………………………………… Difficult
  6. Field investigations
  7. Describe the failure or accident………………… ……. Fairly easy
  8. Survey and document damage to the structure … Fairly difficult
  9. Determine how the structure was built ……………. Easy to difficult
  10. Determine the site conditions ……….………………… Very difficult
  11. Laboratory investigations ……………………… …… Very difficult
  12. Research
  13. Desk studies and leg work ……………………………….. Difficult
  14. Identify codes ………………………….………………………. Fairly easy
  15. Identify standard of care ……………….…………………. Difficult to very difficult
  16. Follow-up investigations ………………………………. Impossible
  17. Data analysis and formulation of opinion ……. Very difficult
  18. Repair and remediation ………………………,…..…… Difficult
  19. Report …………………………………………………………… Difficult

Add to this difficulty of estimating the costs of a forensic engineering investigation, the difficulty of estimating the costs of the role of the expert in the different stages of the civil litigation process.  This compounds the problem further for counsel and the expert.

For example, how, at the start of an action, do you estimate the cost of answering the questions posed under Rule 55 (in Nova Scotia) not knowing how many there will be nor their complexity?

I was asked in a case not too long ago to answer 46 numbered questions submitted by opposing counsel.  On counting, and including important sub-questions, there were actually 77 questions.  The cost of answering these questions was approximately 13% of the total cost of my involvement as an expert in this litigation.

(Posted by Eric E. Jorden, M.Sc., P.Eng. Consulting Professional Engineer, Forensic Engineer, Geotechnology Ltd., Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. November 27, 2022 ejorden@eastlink.ca)   

How I was overwhelmed by the contents of a bundle, but then felt good!

I thought to bundle the blogs that have a forensic investigation theme, like I’ve done in bundling other themes. I used these key words in the search of my blog site. I forgot that my blog site was all about the nature and methods of this type of engineering work and that there would be many blogs with this theme. I stopped after I got a list of three dozen blogs with more that could be added! I just ground to a halt.

There was purpose to my madness but my good intentions went off the rails. I wanted to help a client get a feel for what’s involved in this specific area of forensic activity – forensic investigation. But spare them the blogs that pursue some of the nuances of forensic work, a total of 285 to date. Focus on the nuts and bolts while the client gets up to speed.

I came out of it with a good feeling though. I realized I’m doing what I set out to do 10 years ago – talk about forensic work as it says in the masthead above. A simple qualifying word or two might have reduced the three dozen size bundle – a little tweaking can go a long way.

It is interesting though, that an investigative process like forensic work has so many little asides resulting in 285 blogs so far. Realizing this might have scared me away 10 years ago from trying to write about it.

I’m glad I didn’t because I’ve learned a lot about how to explain the work I do – while soldiering through the overwhelming parts. My work, and others like me, help readers know about the engineering techniques available for resolving the disputes that land on their desks.


(For example, I believe that simple terrain analysis by a surficial geologist could have reduced the risk of losing those five lives on the highway in British Columbia that was in the news again recently.

Surficial geologists map the different types of soils in an area as deposited by the glaciers many 1,000s of years ago. Terrain analysis identifies features in the terrain relevant to a problem that’s being investigated. Geotechnical engineers measure the physical properties of the soils in the different features.

The risk of landslides along a stretch of highway would be the outcome of this simple process. Signs would then be posted alerting drivers to the risk. It’s not rocket science.

See an informative blog I posted last year that was prompted by the loss of life on the BC highway: Mudslide Zone! November 21, 2021)


(Posted by Eric E. Jorden, M.Sc., P.Eng. Consulting Professional Engineer, Forensic Engineer, Geotechnology Ltd., Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. October 28, 2022 ejorden@eastlink.ca)