As follow up to my last article addressing what forensic engineering is, this article will discuss when you may benefit by using a forensic engineer. I’ll use the following hypothetical situation to demonstrate.
A restaurant owner receives a call in the middle of the night telling him the sad new that his business is on fire and fully involved. As he rushes to the scene, a host of questions run though his mind.
Is this my fault? Did one of my employees leave on a stove or heater? Did the fire and restaurant hood suppression systems work? Did a piece of equipment malfunction? Was this the result of an electrical failure? Was there a gas leak? Did someone set my business on fire on purpose? Will there be anything left that I can save?
Forensic engineers are the right experts to investigate the scene when you need answers. The investigators will use their years of education, training and experience to thoroughly and methodically document the conditions of the scene using diagrams, field notes, extensive photography, witness interviews, evidence documentation and collection, and laboratory testing to understand what can be ruled out as the origin and cause and what cannot, and/or what is clearly the cause of the incident.
Due to all the possible contributing factors, a vast number of people may call on forensic engineers to investigate on their behalf for any single event. They know the answers they get will be what the scientific process discovers, and may not always be what they would like to hear. In the end, the facts are the facts and truth is paramount.
The gas company may call on a forensic engineer to investigate and determine if their utility had any part in the fire; the manufactures of the fire and restaurant hood suppression systems to validate that their systems were not at fault and the owner kept them properly maintained and serviced; the electrical contractor who did the last wiring work for the owner to confirm his work was done to code; the manufacturer of the deep fryer to ascertain if there was a mechanical failure of their equipment, and the list goes on and on. The owner may choose to retain a structural/construction defect forensic engineer to ascertain the extent of the damage and understand if the structure is safe or if any of it can be saved.
The early involvement of a forensic engineer at the site of an accident can make a substantial difference in the outcome and final determination as to cause. Whether it goes to court or through subrogation, settles, or has an insurance payout, having a forensic engineer on the ground immediately after an event can be priceless.