Structural Engineering Expert Witness - Gerard Duhon P.E.

What is an engineering expert witness?

As discussed in the answer to What is a forensic engineer?, some legal cases require in-depth understanding of technical issues not generally understood by a judge or jury, in those cases the court will entertain the use of experts.

Sometimes criminal court cases require experts, such as blood spatter experts, DNA experts, and ballistics experts.  Engineers do not generally get involved with criminal cases.  In civil cases, the need for experts also exists.  The experts can range as far as the issues to be decided. Engineers, particularly forensic engineers, get involved in these cases.  For the purposes of the court, the engineer is an expert.

To be an expert (legal sense) you must have better knowledge in the area in which you claim your expertise than the public.  Any person can be an expert if they possess the above, but generally attorneys prefer persons with letters behind their names, such as PhD, P.E., M.S., etc.  

Generally, engineers get involved in cases in which a physical failure has occurred.  Examples include a chemical plant explosion, auto accident involving mechanical failure, death involving failure of a critical load or safety component, and the collapse of a structure.

Thus, an engineering expert witness is a person involved in a legal case to offer testimony to the court regarding engineering issues.  

The use of experts in the justice system has been growing for decades.  There were abuses in the use of experts which federal and state courts have tried to address.  The federal courts presently operate under the Daubert rules, rules set out by a federal court in response to dueling experts.  Texas has its own subset of rules.

The current rules allow the court to strike experts if they are challenged by the other side successfully.  The court allows the judge to hear the arguments regarding the admissibility of expert testimony outside of the jury.  The rules require the expert to employ the scientific method and have his opinions based on generally accepted scientific truths.

In my opinion the abuse of experts to sway judges and juries away from the truth has not diminished.  Remember the O.J. Simpson trial?

A good expert should speak the truth, speak it clearly, and render conclusions which are helpful to the resolution of the case.



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The problem with some experts is not that the experts are ignorant about the issues, but that they do not have an allegiance to the truth or science.  Their testimony is created from a script which is designed to maximize injury to their client and maximize responsibility to the legal opponent.  

The abuse is particularly bad when the case is dependent on the testimony of the expert.  For example, a house has a few drywall cracks, the expert testifies that the foundation has failed.  If the expert testified otherwise there would be no case.  This is a different motivation than if all agreed that the foundation had failed, and the argument was about why it failed.

In the industry these experts are called whores or hired guns.

These experts do not work both sides of the aisle, both plaintiff and defendant, both builder and homeowner.  The inconsistencies of their present testimony with their prior testimony would cause obvious problems.

These experts can generally be identified in several ways.




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Houston Structural Engineer & Consultant - Gerard J. Duhon, P.E.   |   12402 Copperfield Drive, Houston, TX 77031  |  |  Phone: (281) 788-7393