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“Learn how to be a standard of care engineering expert witness”

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.

Case Study – Standard of Care

My largest forensic case involved the Denver International Airport. This was one of the largest construction projects in the United States for three years in a row and employed more than 10,000 workmen simultaneously. (I was not involved with the famous “Baggage Handling System” problems that delayed the opening of the airport for almost a year.) Because of what seemed to be an inordinate number of errors and omissions by the main terminal architects and engineers, the city and county of Denver decided to sue. Architects and engineers are not expected to be perfect and are not required to compensate owners for their mistakes, if these professionals meet the standard of care—“that level or quality of service ordinarily provided by other normally competent practitioners of good standing in that field, contemporaneously providing similar services in the same locality and under the same circumstances.”

When my friends ask how I was selected to investigate the electrical issues, I tell them that they did a nationwide search and picked me. In fact, a mechanical engineer friend of mine met the litigation manager at a seminar and was asked to put together a New England team. I was told that they wanted to avoid anyone who might know the Denver architects and engineers.

I made six trips to Denver and reviewed files of 143 alleged electrical errors and omissions. I was deposed (oral questioning by the opposing attorney) for six hours and appeared on the witness stand for four hours. Unfortunately, there is no formula to apply regarding standard of care. I needed to evaluate the facts and circumstances and express my professional opinion.

The residents of Denver had endured the presence of rowdy construction workers for ten years and were anxious to get vengeance with a lawsuit. But by the time that the trial actually took place, they had all used the airport, enjoyed the wide concourses, and took pride in the many design awards that the airport received. Their verdict was “not guilty.” An unofficial poll later revealed that the jurors’ general feeling was “yes, they made a lot of mistakes, but it was a complicated and unique design and anyone would have made slipups.”

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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