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FORENSIC CLUES

A newsletter dedicated to keeping attorneys informed of the technical side of product liability cases.

Issue 64: September/October 2016

Science - Who Needs It?

By John L. Ryan, P.E.

© 2016 M.A.S.E. LLC ( 855) 627-6273

Many attorneys are good at their jobs – helping their clients. So when an injured client comes to an attorney for help, the attorney becomes an advocate for the client, and seeks to help that client however possible, but typically by helping them get money to cover the cost of their medical expenses. This is an ethical and appropriate course of action for an attorney. As engineers, we are required to have an unbiased point of view. Ethical behavior for an engineering expert is to make conclusions based on available evidence instead of basing decisions, judgments, conclusions, etc. on who hired us, or how we feel about a certain industry, or manufacturer. Aligning opinions with a client without an objective analysis helps no one, as the lack of credibility of the engineer’s work becomes quickly apparent if he has not followed ethical practice, as well as sound engineering and scientific protocol. While a good attorney may be able to use opinions with no basis in science to confuse a jury and get a verdict, in most cases this results in a compromised case due to the engineer’s inability to simply provide his client with an honest answer in the beginning. At Mechanical and Safety Engineering, we provide honest consultation based in science, engineering fundamentals, and industry standards. We have historically worked as plaintiff experts, but turn down many of these cases as our analysis does not align with our client's position. We are equally equipped and motivated to investigate accidents for defense or plaintiff attorneys.

Failure analysis requires applying scientific tests, calculations and analysis

If a product is not defective, we will let you know, early-on, saving you an investment of thousands of dollars, and countless hours.

The Scientific Method

Most of us have heard of the scientific method, most likely in an elementary school science class. A common albeit simplified definition of the scientific method is to 1. Observe and collect data; 2. Develop a hypothesis to explain a phenomenon; 3. Make Predictions based on this hypothesis; 4. Test the hypothesis for accuracy with experiments; 5. Make a conclusion. Wikipedia defines the scientific method as “a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry is commonly based on empirical or measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning.” ( Wikipedia; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_method).

I would like to highlight the similarities between these definitions as using experimentation to develop, confirm, or alter hypotheses. Attorneys wanting an engineer to state an opinion that aligns with his position, without letting that engineer perform a thorough analysis, any necessary inspection, analysis, or experimentation, are in direct conflict with the engineer’s Code of Ethics and the scientific method. Attorneys have to make assessments of what a case is worth investing in, which can be a limiting factor in hiring experts. This is the most common barrier that I have seen with product liability cases. Often times it is clear if a product does or does not meet industry standards and standard engineering design protocol. With appropriate analysis, inspection, and experimentation the safe or defective nature of a product can be proven to exist scientifically. Attorneys, especially those not experienced in the product liability field, or attorneys running a small practice, may be hesitant to invest in an expert. While I have seen attorneys be successful without experts, typically an expert is required to have a favorable outcome in a products liability case, especially if the opposing side has an expert who is using scientific principles to back his opinions up.

How do Experts use the Scientific Method?

The scientific method is used at different stages of an engineering analysis. Sometimes the details of an accident are available, which provide extensive evidence of the causal factors of an accident. At times, whether due to evidence that was lost, lack of victim or witness testimony, or multiple failure theories, the cause of an accident must be determined. The most useful evidence is having the product involved in the incident to examine. Often this results in an obvious mode of failure based on visual evidence. Sometimes there are multiple failures involved in an incident, and the engineer’s job expands to determine which component failed first, or if all components failed simultaneously. This can turn into a complex analysis beyond the scope of this newsletter, but engineers determine the range of forces involved in a failure, test materials using nondestructive and at times destructive testing to see if materials involved meet their specifications. The nature of the failure itself can provide evidence on the origin of the failure. Mathematical calculations are made using established engineering equations which also provides scientific data. Engineers also test products according to industry standards. Even though these standards are often voluntary in nature, the failure of a manufacture to at least build their product to these minimum quality and safety standards will likely be seen as irresponsible and failing to ensure safety for their end consumers. Safety standard testing may be performed on the product involved in the accident, or more commonly on exemplar products if a design defect is a possibility. Safety standards also have other requirements such as dimensional requirements, safety features that are required, warning and instruction content that do not require testing, but provide a scientifically established minimum standard. With some exceptions (ladder standards), industry standards are often valid, reliable minimum standards. Identifying failures to comply with these standards or establishing compliance with standards is utilizing the scientific base of the established standard, whether using testing or inspection and analysis. Customized testing to support or refute an accident reconstruction theory is performed to establish a similar failure pattern as seen on a failed product.

How We Can Help

At MASE, we use scientific methodology to determine accident causation. Call us at (855) 627-6273 or email us at info@mase.pro. We work as defense and plaintiff experts.

What We Can Do For You

Provide mechanical engineering expertise for your product liability case

Help you decide on whether to take a case—we’ll give you a free, no obligation case assessment just call us at (855) 627-6273

Perform detailed and thorough engineering analysis of products involved in accidents

Communicate technical information effectively

Design solutions to product hazards that are left unguarded

Prove that products meet industry standards and engineering design protocol

Please call us to discuss any questions you have about unsafe products. (855) 627-6273

© 2016 Mechanical and Safety Engineering

www.mase.pro