FORENSIC ENGINEERING DEPOSITION
“Learn the process of preparing for your forensic engineering deposition that will make your testimony creditable.”
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. Engineers serving as experts need to prepare for their forensic engineering deposition.
THE EXPERT WITNESS DEPOSITION
Depositions (oral testimony, under oath, taken by the opposing attorney in advance of trial) are often required of expert witnesses, especially if the case is expected to go to trial. Engineers serving as experts need to prepare for their forensic engineering deposition.
If you are to be deposed, your attorney/client will usually call you to set up an appointment. However, don’t be surprised if a sheriff shows up at your home or office with a subpoena. Just notify your attorney/client and ask what to bring. Usually, you will bring your CV and your report, if any. Don’t bring your folder unless directed to do so. If you do bring it, be prepared that the opposing attorney might make a copy of it, which he or she has every right to do.
EXPERT TESTIMONY DISCOVERY
The main purpose of forensic engineering deposition is “discovery” —learning what you know regarding the case, including your findings and opinions. Keep your answers brief and do not deviate from the questions. Be prepared: Reread your report or summary of the case, and memorize important facts, including names, places, and dates. Be prepared to recite a narrative of the case from memory. Practice listing your findings and opinions just as you may have to do in court. Anticipate questions and prepare answers. During the deposition, listen carefully; a slightly different question may require a very different answer.
Another purpose of your forensic engineering deposition might be to gather information for impeachment, which is an attack on your credibility. Your credentials, reputation, or personal history may be challenged. Know your CV well enough that you can easily summarize it from memory. (If you have a checkered past, this may not be the right line of work for you.) The second way to impeach an expert witness is to discredit his or her opinions. Make sure your opinions are based on science or standards that are general accepted in your field of expertise. Don’t say, “The high voltage line was dangerously close to the building.” Instead, say, “The 12,000 volt power line was 8 feet from the building, while the National Electrical Safety Code, at the time of installation, required a minimum of 10 feet, thus creating a hazard.” Be specific and able to substantiate each word of every statement. State each opinion separately and with enough information that it can stand on its own.
Generally, there is no time limit on depositions; one to three hours is normal. I attended one deposition that took more than six hours. The parking garage had closed, and I had to take a cab home and come back for my car the next day.
Make sure your fee agreement clearly clarifies your compensation for depositions. Don’t let your payment be dependent on reimbursement by the deposing attorney.
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.
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.