Many people have a weakness for a good cop or detective show. That’s why there have been more than 1,100 episodes of the Law & Order franchise, Bones got 12 seasons, and Criminal Minds has spawned a couple of spin-off shows after 14 years on the air. As good as these shows are, there’s another that springs to the front of everyone’s mind at the mere mention of the word “forensic”: the hit show CSI.
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation debuted in 2000. It followed forensic scientists as they solved murder cases or mysterious crimes. It was so successful that the original series ran for 15 seasons, also generating three spin-off series, a movie, and a whole line of games.
Whether it influenced our culture or was just a reflection of it, CSI became so prolific that it created the “CSI effect”—now juries often have unrealistic expectations of what real forensics can do because of what they have seen on TV.
Real-life forensic science isn’t quite as flashy as CSI makes it out to be. In fact, the show’s focus on solving crimes like murder clouds the fact that there are many areas of forensics. While all forensic scientists collect, preserve, and analyze evidence for some type of investigation, we vary widely in discipline. Some do solve crimes (like those on CSI), but others might authenticate art, extract electronic data from computers, or attempt to locate objects hidden underground.
But my favorite forensic science is engineering…I might be biased.
What Is Forensic Engineering?
If an engineer designs, builds, or maintains something, a forensic engineer figures out how that something broke or otherwise failed to work. It is, in effect, reverse engineering a problem.
Forensic engineering is usually employed to determine culpability in a dispute. Let’s say, for example, that a large crane dropped a 75-ton rotor, causing millions of dollars of damage. Whose fault is that, and who’s paying for it? Was the accident caused by employee error or negligence? Did the crane itself fail, some component giving out even though it was being used within its designed specifications? Perhaps the crane wasn’t maintained properly, or a third party hired to do repairs made a mistake.
Whatever the cause, forensic engineering is about discovering precisely what happened. Once we know the cause, we can determine what party is responsible and what can be done to prevent a recurrence.
During my career in forensic engineering, I’ve seen a wide variety of cases that have called for this unique set of skills. It’s not always the size of the case that determines the need for a forensic engineer, either.
A bridge collapse certainly calls for an expert witness, but I’ve also been retained to prove that a plumber was at fault for flooding a multi-story apartment. Through a scientific analysis of the plumbing fixtures and the tool marks on them, we proved that the plumber used the wrong equipment for an installation, causing a leak and the subsequent water damage.
Expert Witness in Forensic Engineering
My job isn’t necessarily done after I’ve investigated the incident and provided a report. While most cases are quickly settled after a forensic engineer has determined the cause of an accident, some cases make it to litigation. I can serve as an expert witness on the stand or for a deposition. Specialist training in forensic engineering qualifies me to provide technical analysis before the court.
It goes beyond specialized engineering knowledge, however. Because most of the people in a courtroom aren’t engineers, a good expert witness needs to be able to communicate effectively with people not in the field, methodically presenting evidence, reports, and testimony in a way that’s easy to understand. If the fact-finders can’t understand the evidence, or the opposing counsel can dispute it, then the expert witness didn’t serve their purpose.
As an expert in forensic engineering, I can provide thorough analysis, investigation, and testimony for a variety of cases.