Forensic Engineering: Being Effective by Being Understood


In a world filled with loss there is an ongoing need to respond and recover. 

Some loss is accepted as the ordinary result of everyday life. These may be due to wear and tear (a burned-out light bulb in our living room, auto tires with tread worn to the legal limit, faded paint on a house). Risks that had been deemed acceptable relative to the benefit received could also lead to loss or injury (a sharp kitchen knife). Other loss is exceptional (due to acts of nature) or unreasonable (defects due to actions of persons or entity that result in unreasonable hazards). Persons involved in these exceptional or unreasonable losses may seek compensation to recover through insurance or litigation. Yet how are these compensations to be determined?

In the United States and other parts of the world, we have determined that persons who experience loss are to be compensated in monetary form. While some things that are lost (an automobile damaged in an accident, a factory consumed by a fire, or a house damaged by high winds) may be replaced with sufficient money, other loss cannot be compensated in full by money (accidental loss of a limb, loss of a loved one, or loss of a business opportunity). Still, monetary compensation is the best that can be done.

In order for this process to function there must be some method for calculating these compensations. This work of determining appropriate compensation often falls to insurance adjusters and litigators.  The cost to repair the automobile, replace the factory, or restore the house is determined and paid. Some amount is determined to be appropriate compensation for the lost limb, loved one, or business opportunity.  Responsible party(ies) are identified and held to account for their action or inaction. Sometimes those who determine compensations are unable to complete their work until answers to technical questions are provided.

Yet, there is more for the forensic engineer to do than just understand and explain what happened and why it happened. 

They are also able to ascertain, if requested, as to whether or not the loss could be prevented from happening again through reasonable means. When practical, they are able to share that knowledge with those who can take preventative steps. The work of the forensic engineer includes providing these answers in a way that non technical persons may understand the answers and be empowered to take action. Actions may be taken either to compensate for past losses or to prevent future losses.

Clear communication allows the process of determining appropriate compensation to be done in a cost-effective fashion. 

If the forensic engineer is unclear and there is some sort of dispute as to what happened or why it happened, those who are involved in the process of resolving the dispute can be expected to expend extra resources in the process. That is, if Party A believes one thing to be true and adversarial Party B believes something else, the disparity will often result in more time and expense to reach a mutual understanding. It costs more to resolve the matter when the forensic engineer does not articulate the information well. The extra cost of dispute and/or litigation can overwhelm the appropriate compensations that are being sought by driving the cost of settlement higher. 

In an effort to improve the loss recovery process, it is indispensable for the forensic engineer to be clear and effective in communicating the facts and their opinions.  Reports that are understood by all parties provide a common frame of reference and facilitate resolution of the dispute. The goal being to ensure that the right person pays the right amount. Lack of clarity results in more disagreement and more expense to arrive at the final resolution.

Part of the efforts of EDT to facilitate resolution (with less additional cost associated with the process of resolution) is served by developing exceptional methods for cause determination and report writing. Our daily goal is to improve people’s lives and livelihood by doing the best work possible to assist those whose business it is to set compensations. We take it as a foundational assumption that if the work of compensation setting is held up by the need for answers to technical questions, then forensic engineers doing their work well will serve to make the situation better. Once compensations have been set, people can move on with the recovery process.

In a larger sense, we also work to make the world better by sharing what we have learned with our community, colleagues and competitors alike, so that all forensic engineers have the opportunity to write clear, understandable reports that express well-founded opinions. We are striving to make the forensic engineering industry as a whole better at their work. 

To that end, we have published the methods we refer to for cause determination and for expressing our opinions:

Click here to see how we determine the cause of a loss. 

Click here to read about a report-writing method that will help make the process of expressing forensic engineering opinions more efficient and effective.

We strive to contribute by doing our work well and by assisting others in our field in doing their work well. Whether you are a client, competitor, or just interested in our methods, contact us. We would like to hear from you.

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