Forensic Engineering: A Complete Overview

Forensic engineering
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Forensic Engineering is a branch deals with the investigation of engineering aspects that cause great harm to the person and property.

Applying technical knowledge to understand why a machine or structure malfunctioned is known as forensic engineering. It also seeks to pinpoint the cause of any machine or structure damage. Reverse engineering is a technique used in forensic engineering to determine why a machine, structure, or component didn’t operate as intended. In other words, the goal of forensic engineering is to determine what went wrong.

The results can then be used in court by forensic professionals as proof. If the failure resulted in property damage or bodily harm, they use their evidence in court.

If their conclusions have anything to do with a criminal case, they also present the evidence in court. Simply put, forensic engineering is the study of errors. Minor to catastrophic failures  are represented by them. Some of these might even result in legal action.

The phrase “forensic engineering” is defined as “the application of engineering concepts to the investigation of failures or other performance problems” by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

When necessary, forensic engineering also entails giving testimony on the results of these investigations in front of a court of law or another judicial body.

What does forensic engineering include?

Investigating failing structures, parts, goods, or materials is a part of forensic engineering.

They malfunctioned or did not operate properly for any reason, resulting in harm to people or destruction of property. It’s also possible that their flaw or failure resulted in financial loss.

The consequences of failure may give rise to actions under either criminal or civil law, including but not limited to health and safety legislation, the laws of contract and/or product liability, and the laws of the tort of the failure of these materials, components, structures, or products.

The processes and methods that resulted in the flaw, failure, accident, or disaster are traced by forensic engineers. This process is referred to as “reverse engineering.”

Goal of Forensic Engineering

Typically, the goal of forensic engineering is to determine what went wrong and why. In most circumstances, the goal is to also make recommendations for how to avoid having it happen again. Investigation of property damage and injuries resulting from a breakdown in materials, components, designs, and constructions is known as forensic engineering. These might be little occurrences like a crankshaft cracking or major tragedies like a bridge collapse.

To manufacturers, builders, insurance providers, and law firms, forensic engineering investigation findings are provided. If there was property damage, economic loss, personal injury, or death, forensic evidence and the investigator’s testimony could be used in court, at arbitration, and in other settings.

For the prosecution and defense of civil and criminal claims, investigations are crucial to legal judgment. Forensic engineering is used to gather information in cases involving financial claims.

When is forensic engineering needed?

A forensic investigation objective is to identify the root cause of a failure. This entails identifying the causes of the failure and tracing the events leading up to the mishap. The performance and dependability of a component can be increased with the use of this information.

The findings of a forensic inquiry are frequently presented to the courts. Failures may result in liability if they cause property damage, bodily harm, or wrongful death. To prove a challenged breach of contract, a violation of health and safety laws, a product liability issue, or a tort, forensic evidence is employed in the claim, prosecution, and defense.

Even claims relating to intellectual property, like those for patent infringement, may rely on forensic analysis to support them.

Who normally requires forensic engineering for an accident or failure?

  • Product manufacturers
  • Builders and contractors
  • Insurance companies
  • Underwriters
  • Banks and financial institutions
  • Auditors
  • Lawyers and law firms
  • Government investigators
  • Project consultants

Examples of forensic engineering

Deciphering product liability is one of forensic engineering’s most often-used applications. Expert testimony is used by both the plaintiffs (plaintiffs) and the defendants to build a timeline of events and assign blame.

Several instances of forensic engineers being contacted to look into an accident include:

  • Before the performance, a concert stage collapsed and crushed someone underneath.
  • An electrical failure
  • Kettle Explosions
  • Despite being deemed safe, a bridge collapsed under the weight of snow and ice.

How forensic analysis resolves disputes and improves safety worldwide

In civil and criminal prosecutions, insurance claims, contractual disputes, and other situations, forensic investigation has been used as an element of the dispute resolution procedure. The identification of issues is aided by thorough inquiry, and the results enable engineers, producers, and builders to steer clear of similar blunders in the future. Several ways that forensic engineering contributes to conflict resolution and global safety are listed below:

  • Expert testimony that clarifies technical difficulties for the judge
  • definitive conclusions that help claims assessors and adjusters calculate compensation
  • assist in making machine parts and components safer
  • Reduce failure rates across all application types
  • Procedures should be improved to decrease manufacturing and construction flaws.
  • Determine the best techniques to lower the failure rate
  • Exchange technical details about errors and create a knowledge base
  • Create or enhance standards for conducting failure investigations.

Types of forensic accident investigations

Forensic investigations / Loss investigations are rarely alike. Every investigation is unique and forensic engineers must ignore the inherent ‘assumption bias’ which can hamper an investigation.

Types of forensic investigations

Types of incidents

  • Contractor liability claims
  • Product liability claims
  • Arsons
  • Fraud
  • Bodily injury claims
  • Heavy equipment failures

What kind of incidents do forensic engineers investigate?

The kinds of incidents that forensic engineers look at are not all included in one place. To identify the intricate causes of accidents, a forensics team may collaborate with business and industrial clients, government authorities, and health and safety organizations.

  • Biomechanical and bodily injury
  • Fires and building codes
  • Structural and civil failures
  • Reconstructing collisions
  • Environmental disaster investigations
  • Electrical failures and fires
  • Geotechnical investigations
  • Product failures
  • Material failures
  • Transportation and trucking accidents

What does a forensic engineer do?

Evidence gathering, failure analysis, modeling, accelerated life testing, and statistical analysis are all part of the multidisciplinary discipline of forensic engineering.

Forensic engineer needs to be very knowledgeable in their particular area of engineering.

Gathering evidence, investigation analysis, and reporting to the customer are the three processes that make up the engineer’s job, which is each described in more depth below.

Gathering evidence

  • Researching the background of the incident
  • Organization onsite
  • Ensuring proper scene preservation
  • Assessment of hazards
  • Directing evidence gathering

Investigation analysis

  • Initial appraisal of incident
  • Understand the terms of reference provided by the client
  • Plan out investigation
  • Form investigation team
  • Determine the extent of investigation based on terms of reference
  • Avoid bias and maintain objectivity

Reporting to the client

  • The nature and cause of failure
  • Expert testimony before the court or other forum

What qualities do you need to be a forensic engineer?

Curiosity is a quality shared by all forensic engineers. No matter their specialty, forensic engineers must all have a passion for problem-solving. There must be a desire to comprehend how things operate and what caused the incident to happen.

A qualified mechanical, electrical, civil, chemical, environmental, or materials engineer often practices as a forensic engineer. The majority are specialists in subjects like chemical or structural, or sectors like the oil and gas or consumer appliance industries. This can be acquired through employment in the industry or the successful completion of advanced degrees. Of course, experience is a forensic engineer’s biggest asset.

Another essential attribute for any engineer is reporting. Being able to explain – simply and technically – your and your team’s findings is key to a successful investigation.

General Goals of Forensic Engineering Investigation

To ascertain whether an illegal or inappropriate action was the cause of the failure by comparing witness or injured parties’ statements with physical evidence, to identify the causes of failure, to assess damage to materials, goods, or structures, and to calculate repair costs.


• Forensic engineering is a multi-disciplinary technique for determining the root cause of engineering issues that could have legal repercussions.

• The approach’s foundation is the scientific method, which is essential for solving most engineering problems in any area of engineering, including civil, structural, geotechnical, mechanical, metallurgical, materials, industrial, chemical, and others.

Forensic civil and structural engineering includes the following:

• rendering opinions and testifying in court processes

• engineering investigation and assessment of the reasons for structural failures of buildings, bridges, and other constructed facilities

• Structures, buildings, and bridges; geotechnical work; highways and transportation; waterways, ports, coastal, and offshore facilities; culverts and pipelines; air transportation; environmental facilities; hydraulics, irrigation, and drainage; are all included in the scope of forensic C&S engineering.

• Building codes, specifications, and industry standards are familiar to a forensic C&S engineer or investigator.

• Knowledge of structural and soil behavior to understand how and why structures behave.

• The capacity to gather evidence, analyze it (detective skills), formulate failure hypotheses and draw the appropriate conclusions about the reasons for failure.

• Possessing some familiarity with legal procedures.

• Effective writing and verbal communication abilities.

• Uphold the highest moral standards.


The procedure of looking into and gathering information on the materials, goods, structures, or components that failed is essential to the subject of forensic engineering. To do this, there must be inspections, evidence gathering, measurements, model development, acquisition of model products, and experimentation. A renowned, impartial laboratory or another independent testing facility is frequently used for testing and measuring.


In the broader framework of safety engineering, the fault tree analysis (FTA) and failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA) methodologies similarly evaluate the product or process failure in an organized and methodical manner. All of these methods, however, depend on precise identification of the failure types and accurate reporting of failure rates.

There are various areas where forensic science and forensic engineering overlaps, such as the investigation of crime and accident scenes, the reliability of the evidence, and court appearances. For instance, optical and scanning electron microscopes are widely used in both disciplines. Additionally, they both investigate crucial evidence using spectroscopy (infrared, ultraviolet, and nuclear magnetic resonance).

Before attempting a destructive investigation, radiography employing neutrons or X-rays (such as X-ray computed tomography) can be very helpful in examining thick items for interior flaws. But frequently, a straightforward hand lens can point to the root of a certain issue.

Reconstructing the timeline of an accident might occasionally benefit from trace evidence. For instance, tire burn imprints on a road surface can be used to estimate vehicle speeds, the time the brakes were used, and other information. Ladder feet frequently leave a trace of the ladder’s movement during a slip, which may help determine how the accident happened.

SEM and Energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDX) done in the microscope can reveal the presence of aggressive chemicals that have left traces on the fracture or nearby surfaces when a product breaks for no apparent cause. Thus, a water pipe joint made of acetal resin unexpectedly collapsed, resulting in significant damage to the structure where it was located. Chlorine residues discovered during an analysis of the joint pointed to stress corrosion cracking failure scenario. The cracked surface of the failed fuel pipe connection previously stated included sulfur traces from the sulfuric acid that caused the crack.

A key method in forensic accident reconstruction is the extraction of physical evidence from digital photos. The two-dimensional images normally taken at an accident scene are converted into three-dimensional and top-down views using camera matching, photogrammetry, and photo rectification methods. As long as there are images of the overlooked or unrecorded evidence, it can be located and quantified for accident reconstruction. Photographs of the accident scene, including the car, can help recover and correctly identify “lost” evidence.

Methods are used on particular materials, such as metals, glasses, ceramics, composites, and polymers, in forensic materials engineering.

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