By: John Miller, P.E., Forensic Engineer & Principal Consultant
Forensic engineering reports come in many formats and lengths, but the general choice is between a short or long report. While the cost of the report is an important factor in choosing the report type, this should not be the only consideration. The complexity of the project, the potential for litigation or subrogation, and the need to provide an explanation of the cause should also be considered when choosing engineering report types.
The legal standard for forensic engineering reports is based on United States Supreme Court decisions that relate directly to expert qualifications in court cases. The basic methodology of an investigation should rely on the use of a systematic approach and attention to relevant details: the scientific method. The scientific method requires the investigator to adhere to the following process to reach a conclusion:
No matter the report type, all forensic engineers should follow the scientific method to reach their conclusion, and their report should reflect this methodology. Therefore, any forensic engineering report should include all the pertinent facts that the engineer used to reach their conclusion.
In addition to the relevant facts and the conclusions, any report should include: the scope of the project, e.g. what is the question being answered; the date of the site study; the location of the project; a description of the object of the investigation, e.g. the house; and who was present during the investigation. Information provided by witnesses, e.g. the property owner, must be included in the report if it is relevant to the conclusions. Finally, any research that is done during the investigation, e.g. weather, that is used to reach the conclusion should be included in the report.
In addition to the above-mentioned items, a short report will contain a summary of observations and conclusions. A limited number of photographs are included. Items that are not included in a short report include detailed scientific explanations (e.g. laboratory testing of hail impact on shingles) and a detailed explanation correlating the observations and science to the conclusion. Long reports should contain detailed scientific explanations of key concepts and should correlate the observations to the science, providing a logical path to the conclusion.
At Donan, our short reports come in two types: Fixed-Price Roofing and Short Form. The Fixed-Price Roofing report is intended for residential structures, two stories or less, with walkable, asphalt-shingled roofs where the scope is hail or wind damage to the shingles. The Short-Form report is intended to cover all other types of short reports.
A short report is often appropriate when the answer is clear and obvious. For example, the scope of the investigation may be to determine whether the shingles were damaged by hail. The engineer finds no evidence of hail impact on the property and no hail damage to the shingles. Sometimes the clear and obvious answer is that the cause is undetermined. This can occur when the evidence has been removed or altered. For example, the scope may be to determine the extent of structural damage from a tree impact, but the rafters were repaired before the site study. The engineer can document what has been replaced, but he may not be able to determine the extent of damage from the tree impact with any degree of certainty.
The report type should be considered when the litigation potential is high. A short report may be appropriate if the purpose is to document the loss but a detailed explanation is not needed at that point in the process. A long report might be desirable to show that clear evidence exists showing that a particular cause is not possible. The bottom line is that the potential for litigation should be considered when determining the report type.
When the potential for subrogation is part of the consideration, a short report would be appropriate if the engineer determines that no potential for subrogation exists. If the engineer finds that the potential is high, then a long report with a detailed explanation of the observations and conclusions might be warranted to show that subrogation is worth pursuing.
Donan’s long report is either a Comprehensive or Expansive report. The Comprehensive is based on the idea that the engineer will need to do standard research and analysis to write the report. On more complicated projects, typically where extensive research, joint studies, or testing are needed, the Expansive report may be appropriate. The Expansive report format is tailored to the project needs.
A long report is more appropriate when a clear explanation is needed to correlate the observations and science to the conclusion. For example, the scope might be to determine whether an irrigation pipe leak in the yard caused the inward bowing of a basement foundation wall. The engineer finds evidence of wall movement from the irrigation leak and damage that existed prior to the leak. If the engineer needs to explain what part of the damage is from different causes, the long report is appropriate. If the intent is to provide the property owner with a clear explanation of the cause, particularly if the goal is to help them resolve the issue, then a long report is appropriate.
In many cases, the type of report needed on a particular project is best determined after the site study. Often the engineer can provide advice on what type of report is appropriate based on the site study. In the end, the report type is your decision, and our goal is to provide you with a conclusive, unbiased, and accurate answer that best meets your needs.
Submit a new project at donan.com/portal, or call us at 1-800-482-5611 for more information about report types and costs.
About the Expert: John Miller joined Donan in 2009 and currently serves as a forensic engineer and principal consultant based out of the firm’s Louisville, Kentucky office. He has 32 years of engineering experience and has completed approximately 1900 forensic investigations. His area of expertise is structural engineering with an emphasis on structural damage from impact, wind and flood. Mr. Miller is a licensed professional engineer in Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. He earned his Bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Kentucky. Read his full professional profile here.
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