Engineering Expert Witnesses: A Litigation Guide

Anjelica Cappellino, J.D.

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— Updated on June 25, 2020

Engineering Expert Witnesses: A Litigation Guide

Engineering Expert Witnesses: A Litigation Guide

When it comes to expert witnesses, engineers are an often-invoked name during the course of litigation. But merely knowing that your case can benefit from an engineer does not make preparation any easier. The breadth of the field and the innumerous specialties and subspecialties can make choosing an engineer seem like a daunting task. Below are some tips as to how to choose the right engineer for your particular case and how that expert’s testimony can help reach a successful outcome.

Who is an Engineering Expert Witness?

As a general matter, engineering is the “application of science and math to solve problems.” Engineers can “design, evaluate, develop, test, modify, install, inspect, and maintain a wide variety of products and systems.” The history of engineering is as old as human civilization, with early engineering techniques seen in the building of such monumental structures as the pyramids and Stonehenge. Today’s engineers are responsible for building both the large and the microscopic – everything from bridges and tunnels to computer chips and smartphones. Below are just a few examples of the ever-growing types of engineers that comprise the general field:

Civil Engineering

Civil engineering is a broad discipline that generally refers to the application of scientific principles to a built environment. Civil engineers are most often involved in the design, construction, maintenance, and inspection of infrastructure, such as railroads, highways, bridges, and tunnels. Civil engineering is an umbrella term that encompasses specific subspecialties such as environmental (the protection of the environment from health dangers and pollution), transportation (the design of transportation systems), geotechnical (the study of earth materials), structural (the design of buildings and large structures), and hydrologic (the flow and storage of water).

Mechanical Engineering

Mechanical engineering involves the design and manufacture of machinery and equipment from products ranging from automobiles to medical devices to aircrafts. Mechanical engineering in the field of computer and electronic product manufacturing is a sub-specialty that has particularly experienced growth in recent years, making up approximately 7% of the 277,500 mechanical engineers employed within the United States. Mechanical engineers in the field of electronics manufacturing design computers and other digital devices as well as larger electronics, such as circuit boards, processors, and storage media.

Chemical Engineering

Chemical engineering is a branch of engineering that deals with the production, manufacturing, mixing, compounding, and processing of chemicals, fuel, drugs, food and other products. Chemical engineers work in industries that manufacture products varying from refined petroleum, explosives, and agricultural chemicals to plastics, paints, batteries, food, and consumer personal care products, such as soaps and lotions. Chemical engineers typically have a background in chemistry, mechanical engineering, and fluid dynamics.

Biomedical Engineering

Biomedical engineering is a combination of engineering principles with medicine. These engineers develop and design prosthetics, surgical devices, vital sign monitoring systems, implant devices (insulin pumps, pacemakers, artificial organs, etc., therapeutic equipment, imaging technology (such as ultrasounds and X-rays), and physical therapy devices. Experts in biomedical engineering must be knowledgeable about the operational principles of the technology and have an in-depth understanding of physiology.

Who is Qualified to Testify as an Engineering Expert Witness?

Although engineering is an extremely broad field, all types of engineers share a similar educational foundation of mathematics and physics. Engineering is one of the disciplines found in STEM education, a curriculum that focuses on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The educational requirements to become an engineer in the United States typically include a Bachelor’s degree in an engineering discipline, followed by a Master’s degree for advancement in some fields. Engineers who work with the public must complete a program accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology and meet their state requirements for licensure.

Testimony Provided by an Engineering Expert Witness

The type of engineering expert one may need is highly dependent upon the specifics of each case. However, oftentimes there is overlap between two or more fields of engineering in one particular case, so more than one expert may be helpful to prove (or defend against) each element of a lawsuit.

For example, all forms of products liability litigation can benefit from one or more engineering experts. As a general matter, most lawsuits claiming a product defect will need an engineer to establish such. In lawsuits involving electronic devices, such as the dozens of lawsuits filed against Apple for slowing down iPhones with old batteries, mechanical engineering experts, particularly those trained in the development of electronic devices, can be used to describe the product’s design and how a slow battery can affect its performance.

In lawsuits alleging a defect in medical devices, biomedical engineering experts can be used to show whether the product met industry standards and if not, whether such deviation caused the alleged injuries. Biomedical engineers can be used to establish the causation of an injury from a technical aspect, and they may also help with establishing damages.

Biomechanics is a sub-specialty of biomedical engineering that focuses on the body’s response to external forces or events. These experts can be particularly useful in cases involving automobile accidents, collisions, and other personal injury claims. Biomechanics experts evaluate factors such as speed and kinetic energy that result in injuries. In a car accident, for example, they can answer questions, such as whether the force of a vehicle was sufficient to cause the injury, and if so, whether any actions by a party contributed to their own injury (such as failing to wear a seatbelt).  At the same time, in the case of an automobile accident, there are a number of other engineering experts that can be useful. Mechanical engineers, particularly those trained in automotive design, can inspect and analyze the vehicle to determine whether a defect contributed to the accident. They also have the ability to reconstruct the accident via 3-D models or graphics, since these experts are trained in the design and mechanics of automobiles.

The types of engineers that can be employed on a legal matter are as varied as the cases themselves. The goal is to retain someone who is qualified and credentialed in the specific area at issue. In light of the ways different disciplines of engineering intersect, it may be beneficial to explore the various types of engineering subspecialties and research how they relate to your case.

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