Southeastern Section - 54th Annual Meeting (March 17–18, 2005)

Paper No. 4
Presentation Time: 2:00 PM


ISPHORDING, Wayne C., Earth Sciences, Univ of South Alabama, LSCB 136, Mobile, AL 36688,

The United States is, without question, the most highly litigious society in the world. Presently, there is approximate one lawyer for every 300 people who live in the U.S. (in Japan, the ratio is 1 for each 10,000 inhabitants!). Consequently, many geologists now spend an increasing amount of time preparing for, or actually testifying in courts of law. While the number of attorneys in the population might seem disproportionately large, it should be kept in mind that the United States also has a greater number of laws that safeguard the rights of its citizens. Hence, this has generated a large legal cadre because of the need for expertise in interpretation of the statutes. The expert witness, generally, is asked to evaluate, or provide evidence, if appropriate, that supports the client’s position. This may involve a review of the opposition’s evidence to determine the credibility of data or may require the expert to carry out his/her own analyses. Regardless of whether the expert represents the witness or defendant, one of the most critical yet undesirable tasks is to identify when facts are being mis-represented by the opposing side and provide testimony that will convince the jury of this (thereby preventing an unjustified judgement from being rendered). An example is offered from a case wherein a plaintiff lost his leg in a motorcycle accident. The plaintiff alleged that he had purchased a “new visor” for his helmet the night before the accident and that he was unaware that the visor could not be quickly raised, if necessary. As he descended into a low area the following morning the visor “fogged” up and he swerved across the road into the path of an oncoming car. Analysis of the curvature of the visor, however, clearly indicated that the visor was at least several months old. X-ray diffraction and refractive index measurements on the visor also showed that the visor was different than those sold at the defendant’s place of business. This was further supported by X-ray fluorescence analysis of the visor when compared with those sold at the defendant’s store. Scanning electron microscopy also revealed trace amounts of feldspar in scratches on the visor. This mineral is completely absent in south Alabama and could not have originated at the crash scene. The outcome of this case, however, provides a valuable lesson that shows that nothing is certain in a court of law.