What to Look for in a Forensic Engineer During Litigation

By James M Green, PE

When a bicycle accident occurs, the resulting litigation can have serious ramifications for both the Plaintiff and Defendant.  Choosing the correct expert for either side is crucial. These are the basic criteria for choosing an expert that should be carefully considered.

  • Is the individual a Professional Engineer by examination?  This can usually be determined by the initials P.E.” after their name.  The Professional Engineering Examination is 16 hours long and the requirements even to sit for the exam are fairly extensive.  Some individuals have the initials “P.E.” and were never required to sit for, or pass, the National Examination.  The question that should be asked is “have you ever sat for and passed the NCEES examination for registration as a Professional Engineer?”  If the individual has the Professional Engineer designation they are required to conduct themselves under the direction of the Board of the State in which they are registered. This provides the Client the knowledge that the PE, will conduct him or herself in a ethical manner and is bound by the Engineering Code of ethics.
  • Is the individual an advocate? Often times a simple examination of the persons website will determine if they espouse some “over the top” opinion.  There is no place for an advocate in the court system.  If someone is constantly exposing “cyclist rights” or, designated bike ways over bike paths, they are not objective in their opinions.  Cross examination is not the place for a “hired gun” mentality- if the individual is constantly talking about cases he “won,” then you do not want them involved in your project.  If someone qualifies as an “expert” in a court room they are given wide latitude in what they can say under oath.   While the court may allow a hired gun mentality during testimony, the verdict will probably be over turned on appeal ,resulting in large expense for the client.  The Forensic Engineer’s role is to be a Friend of the Court and assist the Trier of Fact not brag about “winning” cases.
  • Publications. Has the individual published in the Engineering Literature and has the article been subject to peer review.  There is a lot of literature in the cycling world on various issues.  There is very little literature that has made its way into the Professional literature and is relied upon by other Engineers.  A simple inspection of the individual’s web site will determine whether the person just writes in the Cycling Publications or actually publishes in Engineering Journals.
  • Racing Background  Has the individual had an extensive cycling background?  Certainly, having a racing background is a definite plus.  Equipment and bike handling capabilities are stretched to the maximum during racing.  That “hands on” knowledge is essential for reconstructing bike accidents.   However, just because someone “rides a lot” or belongs to the League of American Wheelmen does not make then an expert in Engineering areas such as;  trajectory calculations or force of impact on the human body.
  • Professional Engineering Organizations.  Professional Engineering organizations vet their candidates extensively. If the PE is a full member, or Fellow, in the following organizations their qualifications have been subject to peer review:
    • American Society of Civil Engineers
    • Institute of Traffic Engineers
    • National Society of Professional Engineers
    • National Academy of Forensic Engineers
    • Practice Division of the State of Registration
    • American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

I have been reconstructing bicycle accidents for 35 years.  Nothing pleases me more on a project than to have a highly qualified Professional Engineer on the other side of the issue.  In these instances, the matter usually gets resolved with a minimum of cost and effort for both sides.  There is nothing more difficult than having a “nut case” on the other side that will not take the facts of the matter into account, has a personal agenda, is not qualified, and attacks anyone who disagrees with them on a personal level.  

For more information on what constitutes a Professional Engineer please go here.

Chute de Joseba Beloki Tour de France 2003