Role of the Engineer as Expert Witness

Definition of an Expert Witness

According to the definition of an expert witness is as follows:

“An expert witness is a witness who has knowledge beyond that of the ordinary lay person enabling him/her to give testimony regarding an issue that requires expertise to understand.”  USLEGAL goes on to explain,  “Experts are allowed to give opinion testimony which a non-expert witness may be prohibited from testifying to.  In court, the party offering the expert must lay a foundation for the expert’s testimony. Laying the foundation involves testifying about the expert’s credentials and experience that qualifies him/her as an expert. Sometimes the opposing party will stipulate (agree to) to the expert’s qualifications in the interests of judicial economy.”

Practitioner Seminar

Mike Drerup, P.E. of Walter P. Moore just delivered a great practitioner lecture on the topic to students in the AE 537  Building Failures class in architectural engineering at Penn State.  His lecture is a must see if you ever get the chance to attend one.  In addition to covering terminology such as “standard of care”, depositions, chain of custody on evidence, etc., Mr. Drerup discussed the role of the expert witness in three major categories.

  • Professional Practice
  • Business
  • Technical (Science & Engineering)

The lecture was all summed up and tied together through the use of two case studies to illustrate the process and to demonstrate the scope of effort and scientific study required for many forensic investigations.

ASCE TCFE Guidelines

In terms of guidelines related to the practice of forensic engineering for buildings and infrastructure, the topic is well covered in the publication Guidelines for Forensic Engineering Practice  (Guidelines) by the Forensic Engineering Practice Committee (FEPC), Technical Council on Forensic Engineering (TCFE) of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

The Guidelines are organized into five general topics of forensic engineering.

  1. Qualifications: addressing commonly accepted education and requirements for forensic engineers.
  2. Investigations: illustrating the typical aspects of physically carrying out a forensic investigation.
  3. Ethics: discussing guidelines for the ethical behaviors of the forensic engineers.
  4. Legal: providing a brief overview of the court system as it applied to the construction industry.
  5. Business: relating the non-technical management side of forensic engineering practices and the marketing of forensic engineering services within an acceptable ethical scheme is encouraged.

An excellent follow up article on this topic authored by Robert T. Ratay was published in Structures magazine and can be downloaded using the link below:

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