Forensic Engineering

Why Hire a Chief Engineer as a Forensic Engineer And Expert Witness? An interview with Dave McLellan.

“During interviews with lawyers, I have been asked if I am a Professional Engineer? The answer is, No. I am an automotive engineer. Being state certified as a Professional Engineer makes sense if you’re designing and building a bridge or a building where you design it, build it and then wait years hoping it doesn’t collapse. In fact, it is impossible to test bridges and buildings to failure, but we do exactly this with every vehicle program in the automobile business. The bridge builder just has to wait and see.

“My training as an engineer in the automobile industry is far different. At the onset of a product program, design is preceded by computer modeling and by simulation (M&S) using validated M&S tools. These models let me simulate and explore structure requirements, vehicle dynamics, aerodynamics, crash integrity, occupant safety, and all of the other interacting factors that protect human beings.

“On the other end, in the proof-of-concept and prototype testing phases, design-intent, pre-production vehicles are used to test and validate that the vehicle meets to all legal and in-house requirements in the real world. Similar validation goes into every component and subsystem in the vehicle.

“With the Corvette, I recognized that our cars would be put to a far more severe test on racetracks around the world. Therefore, before I released a new model for production, my team and I took it to the racetrack where we ran simulated endurance races for as long as 24 hours. When our customers themselves raced at the track, their Corvettes were ready for competition. In the three years that production Corvettes raced against Porsches in SCCA Showroom Stock endurance racing, a Corvette won 19 out of 19 races. This is how it’s done.

“After I retired from General Motors, Porsche Engineering Services appointed me to their Board.

“During the past several years, I have been engaged as a forensic engineer and expert witness on defects alleged for tires, trucks and cars, as well as multiple patent infringement cases.

“If you are a plaintiff or defendant on similar cases, I’d like to help you understand what happened and why.”

– Dave McLellan

How does Dave’s proven experience apply to forensic engineering and serving as an expert witness and knowledge expert? Consider the three phases of forensic engineering: 1) Investigation, 2) Analysis and 3) Presentation.

1) Investigation

Investigation typically entails collecting evidence such as scene photographs, any video of the collision, measurement of the accident site, reviewing eyewitness testimony and legal depositions. Because racing and test track testing include accidents and accident investigation, these are activities Dave McLellan knows well, having perfected data collection and causation analysis over a thirty-three year career.

Before the advent of anti-lock brakes, skids marks could provide an understanding of the driving speeds going into the accident. Today, with anti-lock brakes and vehicle stability controls, there may be no skid marks. Instead, cars have black boxes that collect speed data, braking effort, dive and yaw and other data. Dave knows how to retrieve the available data and he knows what it means.

Also vital is Dave’s understanding of the road surface, the condition of the tires, and the design intent of the tires as they impacted the accident—summer tires in a snowstorm, for example, or winter tires that blew out at freeway speeds on a 90-degree day. Dave seeks to find whether broken pavement, potholes, poorly designed camber in a curve, road debris, oil on pavement or black ice were contributing factors? Was there contamination in the fuel? Was there an electrical failure in cars with electric brakes, or electric steering? Or did some bug engage cruise control at a high speed and cause the car to downshift and accelerate to the unintended figure?

“In this sense, unintended acceleration can be real, but were there other contributing factors that may have caused an accident and injury?” Dave says. “I can help you find the answers.”

2) Analysis

Accident analysis includes processing of the collected data, the formation of hypotheses, the creation of models to see whether they explain the outcome, and accident reconstruction using software. Computer aided design (CAD) programs, vehicle specification databases, momentum calculations and energy analysis may be combined with collision simulators and photogrammetry software.

As a former chief engineer of the Corvette, Dave McLellan uses his knowledge of physics, dynamics and engineering to perform his analysis. Understanding the conservation of linear momentum, work-energy methods, and accident kinematics are the basis for informed analysis and Dave expertly uses software to calculate useful quantities.

As a chief engineer, Dave also had to understand process and know every model of his cars down to every detail. He had to understand and support marketing, customer service, cost management and manufacturing which are co equal parts of the process. As an engineering manager Dave learned to parallel process all aspects of delivering a successful vehicle. As a forensic engineer, Dave has the experience and unique qualifications to look everywhere the fault of a defective product may hide.

“When as an chief engineer I look at a failure in use or at an accident, I see it through eyes trained to understand all the aspects that may have converged and interacted to cause the outcome. If appropriate, I can bring to bear the tools of engineering to show what went wrong, where in the process it occurred and who is responsible,” Dave explains.

3) Presentation

While serving as the Chief Engineer of the Corvette for seventeen years, Dave McLellan had to sell his programs to management during a period of ever more complex regulation and rapidly evolving technologies. Dave had to know the facts, be articulate, persuasive and able to field difficult questions on his feet. He had to persuade a combined audience of engineers, safety experts, finance experts and attorneys from the best schools—people who had accumulated years of program experience. Judge and jury combined, they were a tough crowd.

“I was the longest-serving chief engineer in the history of the Corvette. These are skills that I offer you as a knowledge expert and forensic engineer to serve you well in the courtroom,” Dave offers.

“I highly recommend Dave as an expert in the field of product liability consulting.”

“Dave McLellan’s reputation is well known in Detroit as the Chief Engineer of the Corvette. Since his retirement from GM, Dave has earned a well-deserved reputation as a highly qualified product liability expert, expert witness and consultant. Dave was brought in as my expert in an accident case where the driver was injured, the air bag did not deploy and the seat belt worn was not effective. On site inspection of the vehicle resulted in Dave uncovering a problem with the 3-point lap/shoulder belt that allowed the injury. I highly recommend Dave as an expert in the field of product liability consulting. I was very pleased with his services in this case. Dave understands that a plaintiff’s pocketbook is not Detroit’s, and he works within budget to provide excellent service and results. He is hands-on, practical, and provides a wealth of experience in the field of product failure, and with his many years in the automotive industry he has at his disposal the resources and expertise to provide a full package.”

– The Law Offices of Eric Kjorlie.

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