Ask an Expert: Materials Testing & Product Liability

Ask An Expert is a question-and-answer column designed to address common questions related to forensic investigation and property damage. Each month we’ll feature one or two questions submitted by you – our readers and customers – and provide detailed, easy-to-understand answers. Email your questions to [email protected] or submit your questions here.


Q: What evidence, at a minimum, is needed to do material testing of a supply line or part?

Don Mikel, Engineering Manager, Component Testing Lab: The fractured part and any directly mated fittings are needed.

Q: What is most common failure type seen at your lab?

A: The failures that were discussed in the Materials Testing webinar are predominately what we see; this includes supply lines, valves, and metal fittings.

Q: What is a SEM?

A: A Scanning Electron Microscope.

Q: Any hints on taking, documenting, and handling the product for component testing?

A: Site study photographs and documentation are always valuable. If possible, photograph the failed part in its installed orientation.

Q: I tend to find that a plumbing failure occurs while an insured is on vacation. Is that simply due to the pressure build up? What can insureds do prior to leaving on vacation?

A: First, turn off water at the incoming valve to your residence. Second, it is easier to catch a failure when not on vacation. Third, I recommend asking a neighbor or friend to check the home periodically. 

Q: One of the main issues we have is identifying the manufacturer of a product. There are no labels or identifying marks on the product or the marks are numbers or letters that don’t mean anything to a lay person. Any suggestions for identifying a manufacturer?

A: We can identify many manufacturers solely by the markings on the part. I invite you to email a photograph to [email protected] for assistance in identifying the manufacturers. 


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About the Expert

Mr. Don Mikel joined Donan in 2010 and currently serves as an engineering manager for the firm’s Component Testing Laboratory. Mr. Mikel has worked in the following industries: commercial and industrial construction, and material handling. His areas of expertise are metals and plastics, among others. Mr. Mikel is a licensed professional engineer in Indiana and Kentucky, and a licensed master plumber in Kentucky. He earned his Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Louisville. View Don’s full professional profile here.


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