COMMON SENSE OFTEN SOLVES FORENSIC INVESTIGATIONS
“Learn how ingenuity and common sense can often lead to a solution in forensic investigations as an engineering expert”
By John D. Gaskell, Retired Consulting Engineer
Author of “The Complete Guide to FORENSIC ENGINEERING”
Forensic engineering is defined by the National Academy of Forensic Engineers (NAFE) as “the application of the art and science of engineering in matters which are in, or may possibly relate to, the jurisprudence system, inclusive of alternative dispute resolution.” These engineers serve as consultants to the legal profession and as expert witnesses in courts of law.
Acceptance of Cases
Accept only forensic investigations in your field of expertise, but don’t necessarily limit them to your area of specialty. My cases as an electrical engineer included electrocutions, fires of suspected electrical origin, standard of care determinations, equipment failures, arc fault accidents, conveyor accidents, lightning strikes, and others. Yours will be different but also interesting and challenging.
The following is a narrative synopses of one of my forensic investigations. This is not intended to be a formal presentation of legal actions. No confidential or privileged information is revealed. This is simply my recollection, intended only to illustrate an expert’s typical involvement in judicial matters.
I was the chief investigator and expert witness on all of the forensic investigations of Gaskell Associates, Ltd., and later those of the Gaskell Associates division of Thielsch Engineering, until my retirement. However, it was my practice to meet on each case with my senior staff to “brainstorm” the case. This often opened up avenues of investigation that had not previously occurred to me. I attribute much of my success to hiring others who are smarter than I am.
Case Study – Power Line Height
During the early 1990s, the architectural, engineering, and construction industry went into a deep recession, and I needed to personally produce billable hours. I started taking on forensic investigations for the local power company’s attorneys. Most of these cases involved whether or not power lines were an adequate distance from a structure. The code involved here is the National Electrical Safety Code (NESC). The determination of proper distances was complex because it depended on the date of installation and the version of the code that was in effect at the time. I was already considered an expert on the National Electrical Code (NEC), and I soon became an expert on the NESC, which lead to more cases.
One of my first forensic investigations involved a power line that crossed a state highway and was torn down by a passing truck. This incident had occurred two years prior, and my first thought was: “How can I figure out the height of a line that is no longer in place?” But, although it had been dragged for a half-mile, they had salvaged the line and attachments, and the two associated poles were still in place. I visited the site with a land surveyor and recorded the distances, heights of attachments, and crown of the road. Because of the difficulty of shutting down the highway, we attempted to reconstruct the line in a field that had a pole. We hoisted the other end with a bucket truck, measured the low point of the line, and adjusted for the crown of the highway. So far, I hadn’t used any of my “electrical engineering” skills, but I learned that ingenuity and common sense can often lead to a solution.
Litigation consulting is interesting, challenging, and profitable. If what is involved interests you, I recommend adding “Forensic Engineering” to your practice as a consulting engineer.
Get Jack’s new book: The “Complete Guide” to FORENSIC ENGINEERING to learn the details. Also, the largest chapter in his book: The “Complete Guide” to CONSULTING ENGINEERING covers the “highlights” of Forensic Engineering. Visit TheEngineersResource.com to find out more.
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