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What Makes a Good Construction Defect Expert?

by Alan E. Tannenbaum and Salvatore Scro as co-authors with Felix Martin, PE

In the marketplace today there are many people who call themselves "construction experts." Some of them are highly experienced and knowledgeable, while some are little more than talking heads with little substantive expertise. How is one to know who truly is an expert and who is not?

First consideration should be given to the matter of qualifications. What is the expert's education and experience? Does the expert have a resume available for review? How long has he/she been an expert? Does the expert have repeat clients, recommendations? Does the expert have demonstrable experience in the area he/she will be retained to investigate?

1.      Could the expert have a conflict of interest? If an expert's firm performs a substantial percentage of work for a type of clients, it's possible that their views may be influenced to the benefit of that group of clients. A firm who works mostly for large developers should be carefully considered if your potential claim will be against large developers.

2.      Is your expert able to explain complex issues in a succinct and readily understandable manner? There is nothing worse than an expert so enamored of his/her expertise that no one else can understand what he/she is saying. Or one so lacking in expertise that he/she cannot explain the issues in an easy-to-understand manner. If you have a hard time understanding an expert, so will a jury of your peers.

3.      Does the expert follow an objective analysis, with replicable results, verifiable by others? Experts who make claims based solely on non-standard, non-replicable test methods are not following a scientific method and any results thus obtained will always be subject to question. Beware of the expert who is loath to share his/her methodology or data.

4.      Are all the claims made by you're the expert supported by building code sections, product specifications or published standards? An "expert" who cannot present claims backed by published regulations is only an expert in his/her own mind.

5.      Finally, is the expert capable of acting impartially, and not as an advocate of your emotions? This is always a tough one, because we want the expert to be our advocate, to fight our battles. But an expert who is not independent, who fails to act impartially and who acts solely as an advocate for the client's emotionally charged opinions will only do his/her client a disservice, because he/she will not be able to approach the problems objectively. The client needs to know that there is always a possibility that not all of an expert's findings may be beneficial to the client, and the client must be ready to support the expert and his/her objectivity. Clients should not retain an expert as a mouthpiece for one's own grievances, clients should retain an expert to provide an honest and unbiased opinion.

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