Eric Jorden and Forensic Engineering


This page will brief you on the guidelines I follow in carrying out forensic and civil engineering investigations, studies and reviews.  Guidelines ensure that thorough, reliable engineering is carried out, and properly reported to the judicial system.

The guidelines I follow are separated into the following five categories:

A. Writing forensic engineering reports
B. Peer reviewing forensic investigations and reports by others
C. Carrying out forensic engineering investigations to determine the cause of a problem
D. Investigating contaminated sites
E. Investigating new construction sites

A. Guidelines on How to Write Forensic Engineering Reports

(The guidelines incorporate the requirements of Nova Scotia "Annotated Civil Procedures Rule 55 - Expert Opinion" that went into effect in January 2009)

I believe these guidelines reflect the approach taken in law of first identifying the facts then applying legal principles to arrive at an argument by counsel or a decision by a judge or jury. 

Except, in writing a forensic report, the facts are identified then engineering principles, scientific reasoning and critical thinking are applied to arrive at the cause of the problem and a well thought out, objective opinion for the assistance of the court.

A forensic report on any of the following bulleted items can take three major forms (with variations, of course):

  • The failure of an engineering structure, e.g., dams, bridges, retaining walls, roads, waterways, earthworks.
  • The failure of a building or building component.
  • An accident causing property damage, injury or death.
  • Environmental spills and accidents,
  • Inadequate professional practice in the applied sciences.
  • An independent review of forensic investigations and reports by others.
  1. A verbal summary report giving the views and opinions of the investigator in a non-discoverable way for counsel’s benefit.

  2. A written summary report, in point form, which would give the investigator’s views and opinions and list the main tasks and enquiries carried out during the investigation. A written summary report might be developed from an unpublished, draft detailed report.

  3. A written, detailed report which would:

    • Give the investigator’s views and opinions.
    • Identify the main elements of the case.
    • List the tasks and enquiries carried out during the investigation as related to the elements of the case including the documentation reviewed, persons interviewed, field examinations completed, laboratory testing completed, and  literature reviewed.
    • Describe these tasks and enquiries in detail.
    • Identify the facts/evidence obtained from each task and enquiry.
    • Assess the relevance and reliability of each piece of evidence.
    • Note the conclusions/findings drawn from each piece of  evidence.
    • Describe the synthesis and analysis of all of the evidence and the reasoning that led to the investigator’s views and opinions.
    • Draw attention to anything that could reasonably lead to a different conclusion.

Each task, enquiry and investigation would be set out separately in a well written forensic report and each would be treated under the following headings (see correspondence to bulleted items above):

  • Description of each task/enquiry/ investigation.
  • Evidence/Facts taken from the individual tasks, etc.
  • Findings/Conclusions drawn from the evidence.

The findings and evidence from all the individual tasks, enquiries and investigations are gathered together (synthesized), analysed and an opinion developed.   

The discipline of following Guidelines like these encourages the investigator to:

  • Identify the main elements of the case/problem soon after the incident occurs.
  • Be thorough in his/her investigation of the problem.
  • Focus on identifying the facts and the evidence in the case as the investigation unfolds.
  • Apply the appropriate engineering principles to the facts.
  • Organize reporting and communicating effectively. 
  • It also makes the final synthesizing and analysing of the facts and evidence easier and more thorough, and the opinion more objective and reliable.

As a civil engineering specialist working with civil litigation lawyers, I write for the judicial system.  The final report in one of the above forms is rendered in language familiar to lawyers, and communicates more effectively as a result: Enquiries, procedures, facts, evidence, findings, reasoning, opinion.

I developed these different forms of a forensic report mainly from the following:

  1. Guidelines developed by ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers) for investigating and reporting engineering failures.
  2. The Psychiatrist as Expert Witness, Thomas Gutheil.
  3. ASTM (American Society for Testing Materials) standards for reporting forensic laboratory test results.
  4. Expert Witnessing: Explaining and Understanding Science, Ed. Carl Meyer,
  5. Writing and Defending Your Expert Report, Babitsky and Mangraviti.
  6. Standard texts on grammar and copywriting, e.g., The Elements of Style, Ogilvy on Advertising.
  7. Feedback from civil litigation lawyers on past cases.
  8. My past experience investigating failures, writing forensic reports and developing opinions on cause.
  9. Nova Scotia "Annotated Civil Procedure Rule 55 - Expert Opinion" and educational notes by the Barrister's Socity.

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B. Guidelines on How to Review Reports by Others

An independent peer review of forensic reports and engineering investigations carried out by others involves:

  • Confirming that the forensic report has been well written (see guidelines on How to Write Forensic Engineering Reports).
  • Checking that the main elements of the case have been identified in the report and addressed in the investigation.
  • Checking conformance of methodology to good engineering practice including the thoroughness of the investigations.
  • Checking conformance to industry engineering standards in force at the time of the incident.
  • Confirming that evidence has been properly identified, and its relevance and reliability properly assessed (see Writing Forensic Engineering Reports).
  • Confirming that the principles of critical thinking have been applied in drawing conclusions from the evidence.
  • Confirming that principles of scientific reasoning have been applied in analysing the evidence and developing an opinion on cause.  In particular, that predictions using a model of the structural failure agrees with real data from the scene of the failure.
  • Checking that the requirements of Nova Scotia “Annotated Civil Procedures Rule 55 – Expert Opinion” have been met, from a technical point of view.
  • Noting strengths and shortcomings in the investigation, analysis and reporting. 

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C. Carrying out forensic engineering investigations

A typical forensic investigation often involves a preliminary assessment of the technical strengths, weaknesses and merits of a claim for damages.  This is based on desk studies and review of existing documentation and data. If justified, a detailed assessment would be carried out involving:

  • Engineering investigations and research.
  • Laboratory testing.
  • Document review.
  • Literature review.
  • Standards review.
  • Interviews.
  • Identification and analysis of evidence.
  • Reasoning and development of an opinion on cause and remediation.

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D. Investigating contaminated sites

Following are tasks carried out during investigation and remediation of a site contaminated by an oil spill or other hazardous material.

  • Initial briefing by insurance personnel and the owner on the general nature of the problem, and the objectives of the engineering study including cost control measures, and budget and time constraints;
  • Initial site visit; preliminary assessment of the problem and potential environmental impacts, particularly for Phase I and II ESAs;
  • Investigating site contamination including defining site hydrogeology, contaminate sources, pathways and impacts; locating plume of contamination and delineating extent and depth; measuring, testing and characterizing type of contamination e.g., petroleum hydrocarbons, heavy metals, etc;
  • Reviewing Environmental Act and Regulations, and minimum criteria that must be met;
  • Assessing remediation required, reduced contaminate levels that must be achieved, and need for in-situ or non-insitu technologies; 
  • Assessing if the site may be a candidate for management using a more creative, innovative approach because of prohibitive costs of more conventional remedial technologies;
  • Evaluating alternative clean-up technologies including a risk-based corrective action (RBCA) approach;
  • Evaluating cost of clean-up and comparing to client’s budget; Selecting most cost effective remedial technology;
  • Developing a remedial action plan (RAP) including site monitoring, if required;
  • Meeting with DOE; reporting site conditions and outlining remedial plan;
  • Implementing clean-up including interviewing environmental contractors, selecting most suitable firm, and directing and supervising the work; 
  • Drafting site remediation report, submitting to client.

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E. Investigating new construction sites

Investigation of a site proposed for construction of a new civil engineering structure typically involves:

  • Desk studies of existing information on the soils and rocks underlying the site,
  • Reviewing the past use and previous construction activity at the site,
  • Terrain analysis and walkover surveys,
  • Examining the condition of existing buildings and structures on adjacent sites,
  • Excavating test pits,
  • Drilling and in-situ testing,
  • Laboratory testing,
  • Reviewing literature and documentation,
  • Analysis and interpretation of all data,
  • Selecting geotechnical and foundation design parameters,
  • Recommendations to the structural engineer, and,
  • Preparing a written report.

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Civil engineering services for civil litigation lawyers


Geotechnology Ltd.
Civil, Geotechnical, Foundation and Environmental Engineers
Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada
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Eric Jorden and Forensic Engineering