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“Learn the step-by-step process of writing expert reports 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.


Do not write reports until your attorney/client requests. There are three basic types of forensic engineering reports: verbal, summary, and detailed.

Verbal Reports

Preliminary reports should be oral because the investigation is ongoing and not all questions have been answered. Also, your attorney/client doesn’t want your opinion committed to writing until he or she knows what it is. Tell your attorney/client both the strengths and weaknesses and the status of your investigation.

Call your attorney/client as soon as you find serious flaws in his or her side of the case.

Before writing your report, ask your attorney/client for a written guide outlining the case strategy, desired testimony, and questions to be answered. In my experience, you will be lucky to get an off-the-top-of-the-head verbal response.

Summary Written Report

After your verbal report, your attorney/client may request a summary report. Be sure that you review exactly the depth that he or she wants before proceeding. Usually, this type of report is requested if the case is expected to go to trial and your attorney/client does not want to give away your full position.

Detailed Written Report

Instead, after your verbal report, your attorney/client may request a detailed report. Again, be sure to review exactly the depth he or she wants before proceeding. Usually, this type of report is requested if the case is expected to settle and the strategy is to reveal how strong your arguments are, thus encouraging a settlement.

Regardless of length, reports should be organized in the following manner:

Begin with a summary of the background of the case. Include the “who, what, when, and where” of the incident (accident, failure, fire, explosion, error, etc.). Include basic facts, events, injuries, sources, and weather, if pertinent. You should already have this information on your case summary sheet.

Next, describe your investigation. Include a list of documents read, interviews held, site observations, tests conducted or observed (including a summary of the results), and a laboratory test result summary.

Include an opinions section. It is best to state each opinion separately, including the justifications for each. Be sure you can substantiate each word in each opinion because you may be extensively cross-examined. Be sure this section is complete because these are the only opinions to which you will be allowed to testify, unless new information becomes available.

Attach an appendix to your report, including test reports, sketches, and photographs with a caption on each explaining what it depicts and its relevance. The appendix should include a list of reference materials (textbooks, handbooks, and published papers) supporting your findings. Be thorough and include page numbers from all sources. Make your forensic engineering reports outstanding.

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 to find out more.

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