EQUIPMENT ACCIDENT INVESTIGATION
“Learn the step-by-step process of doing an equipment accident investigation 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 cases 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 cases. 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 cases 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.
One of my cases involved a man who injured his hand on a conveyor in a sub-zero walk-in ice cream freezer. I was a defense witness for the electrician who (may have) installed the electrical system for the conveyor. My equipment accident investigation revealed that the “conveyor code” required that a safety pull cord be installed above the conveyor that, if pulled, would stop the conveyor. It was not installed. It was my opinion that the conveyor manufacturer was responsible for ensuring that this safety device was installed. A representative of the manufacturer inspected the installation after completion and approved it for operation with no mention of the missing safety device. This pull cord is not a requirement of the National Electrical Code and was not referenced in the NEC at the time of installation. (Subsequently, a reference has been added.) Unfortunately, the conveyor manufacturer, who was also a defendant in the case, settled before the trial.
As I entered the courtroom, the injured man stuck out his left hand for a handshake. I was caught by surprise and probably looked startled and embarrassed. During the trial, the injured man sat up front next to his pretty wife while she held his withered hand.
I believe that I delivered my direct testimony clearly and conveyed my opinion of the case accurately. I feel that I stood up well under cross-examination. But, at the request of the plaintiff’s attorney, the Judge directed me to stop referring to the defendant as “the electrician who may have installed the electrical work for the conveyor.”
Regardless of the facts, it was not surprising that the jury awarded the plaintiff a huge monetary award.
Litigation consulting is interesting, challenging, and profitable. If equipment accident investigation 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.
Learn how to be a forensic engineer. Learn how to be a forensic expert witness. How to be an engineering expert witness. How to obtain training as a forensic engineer. How to obtain training as an engineering expert witness.