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Engineering students as expert witnesses in mock trials

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2 Author(s)
K. M. Tarhini ; Dept. of Civil Eng., Valparaiso Univ., IN, USA ; D. E. Vandercoy

The purpose of this paper is to report our experience with senior civil engineering students serving as expert witnesses in simulated civil court actions involving a structural failure. The uniqueness of this exercise was two fold: (1) it forced students to completely understand the causes of the structural collapse so they might clearly explain those causes, and (2) it compelled collaboration with third year law students to present the failure evidence in mock trials. Three mock trials were performed as part of a Trial Practice course offered during fall 1999 term at the School of Law. Three teams, each consisting of two engineering students and two law students, were assigned to represent the plaintiff designer, and contractor in each trial. Each team of engineering and law students met several times to discuss the assigned case and prepare each other for the mock trial. Engineering students had to explain in lay terms all the technical concepts involved in the case and give their opinion of the probable cause of failure. Law students prepared the engineers to testify as experts in a courtroom setting under direct and cross-examinations. The students argued and presented their cases in the presence of a practising judge. The students gained valuable experience in teamwork, communications, performing under pressure in a courtroom, and understanding the importance of each discipline in the litigation process. The experience of testifying as experts in a courtroom showed the engineering students the importance of details, technical competency, objectively, reviewing the work of others, and the ethical dilemmas in professional practice. This experience encouraged engineers to collaborate with lawyers and prepared them for the future possibility of being involved in litigation and testifying in a courtroom

Published in:

Frontiers in Education Conference, 2000. FIE 2000. 30th Annual  (Volume:1 )

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