ASTM STANDARDS AND THE FORENSIC INVESTIGATION PROCESS
The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), one of the largest voluntary standards development organizations in the world, has two main technical committees focused on forensic science and forensic engineering issues. Committee E30 on Forensic Sciences has jurisdiction over seven standards that provide general guidance on conducting investigations and handling evidence. Committee E58 on Forensic Engineering has jurisdiction over three standards, consisting of a Guide to Forensic Engineering and two topic-specific investigative standards.
The evidence-related standards outline procedures for collecting, preserving, examining and preparing evidence. These issues are important to any forensic investigation. They touch on legal concepts that must be understood and appreciated by technical investigators. The investigation-related standards on general forensic procedures outline the framework for a technical investigation from initial information gathering to expert opinion. Incident-specific standards are also helpful, but it should be clear that no standard will be able to give prescriptive guidance on the specific investigative procedures to follow for a given incident. Every incident is unique and will present unique challenges to the forensic investigator.
Conducting a proper forensic investigation and handling of the related evidence are critical to the successful evaluation of any substantial loss. The use of standardized procedures can help simplify the process. General standard guides and practices under the jurisdiction of ASTM’s Forensic Sciences Committee can be used as benchmarks of best practices. The general standards provide a framework that can be applied to generally any type of case. Incident-specific investigative standards governed under the jurisdiction of ASTM’s Forensic Engineering Committee are also available.
FORENSIC EVIDENCE MUST BE IDENTIFIED, DOCUMENTED, COLLECTED, STORED AND MANAGED PROPERLY TO AVOID A SPOLIATION CLAIM
Each product liability claim involves one or more products. The most basic rules of evidence dictate that that products be collected, documented and stored in an appropriate manner, such that the evidence is not damaged, destroyed or altered in any meaningful way from the manner it was in after the time of an incident. If you are responsible for a claim, you should always insist that your evidence be stored properly and appropriately by an experienced evidence storage facility. Leaving evidence in a barn or in someone’s garage or closet is a sure way to invite a spoliation of evidence claim and the potential loss of the ability to recover any part of your valuable loss.
Should it come time for the representative experts from each side to jointly inspect the evidence, the evidence storage facility personnel should have knowledge of the appropriate ASTM procedures and understand the protocols which have been prepared and agreed to in advance, by all parties. From initial pickup, to transfer of custody, to proper storage at appropriate inspection facilities, your evidence must be handled correctly. Whether your evidence is a failed sprinkler head, a tractor trailer or damaged appliance, appropriate storage and preservation are essential. Should you need such a qualified service, FAEC offers a secure facility with state-of-the art laboratory and storage capabilities starting with the identification, collection, transportation, and long term storage management of all of your forensic evidence—-large or small.