The Link Between Engineering and Law

Forensic engineers are often tasked with investigating the failure of a certain component, material, or structure. This area of engineering is typically considered to be the crossroads between engineering and law since it works to uncover the cause of a specific engineering failure. Investigations aim to determine if a failure was of natural or criminal causes and includes inspections of the structure, a collection of evidence, and experimental or performance data. At MEC, we provide a variety of forensic engineering services to assist our clients in determining the cause of certain design failures or accidents.

Accidental failures can be of natural causes such as fatigue or corrosion, however some failures may attributed to criminal intent. Whether a failure was caused by malicious criminal activity or was due to negligence is usually determined through legal proceedings. Oftentimes forensic engineers are asked to present their findings from an investigation in court. They can be hired by insurance companies to help determine liability, local governments to investigate disasters, or manufacturers to identify faulty products.

Throughout an investigation, forensic engineers aim to determine if a product or structure failure was due to a primary or secondary default. Primary defaults are considered to be defects that were present during or soon after the manufacturing of a structure or product. For example, a primary default exists when there are cracks that may result in defects when force is applied. A secondary default is created with use and often varies depending on the severity of the issue. Safety-critical defects occur when a failure causes serious harm or damage, even injury or death.

Forensic engineers use a variety of methods to determine the causes of failure in products or structures. There are many techniques used to analyze and uncover evidence, some of them include:

  • Accelerated Life Testing: This technique aims to determine the lifespan of a product to determine how long it will survive and under what conditions.
  • Optical Microscopy: Microscopy is used to study cracks, contamination, and defects in the surface of materials.
  • Failure Modes and Effects Analysis: Through this analysis, forensic engineers asses product defects and their reliability. Many manufacturers will use this technique in the product development stage.
  • Fractography: This technique focuses on studying fractures, such as age fractures, their cause, and the direction of their growth.
  • Differential Scanning Calorimetry: This thermoanalytical method uses heat to help reveal the composition of a material.
  • Infrared Spectroscopy: To determine the composition of certain materials, IR spectroscopy studies how matter interacts with infrared by measuring how frequently radiation is absorbed by the materials.
  • Trace Evidence Analysis: Trace evidence aims to reconstruct a sequence of events.

Forensic engineers investigate materials, products, and structures through a variety of methods to determine why certain components may have failed. Common services that forensic engineers provide are expert witness testimonies, structural assessment, contract claims, building inspections, water intrusion, plan compliance, code compliance, and the standard and cost to cure. This type of engineering is different than others in that it focuses on collecting evidence and data to determine a cause or fault. It requires a professional and expert understanding of structural engineering, as well as a detailed knowledge of the methods used to determine the cause of a failure.

Forensic engineering has been used throughout history in disasters such as bridge collapses, car accidents, or in other structural failure investigations. At MEC, our forensic engineering experts investigate a variety of structural failures to help determine the cause and fault. Our engineers use a variety of techniques to provide detailed reports and expert witness services for our clients.

Forensic engineers require a four-year degree in engineering in addition to the proper licensure. Due to the advancement of construction technology, design sophistication, and project timelines, expert consultants are required to assist with forensic investigations to determine a proper resolution. This professional practice has been growing rapidly alongside the growth of economic development around the world. For professional and expert forensic engineering services in Central Florida, contact the team at MEC today.


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