A Chemist's worst nightmare

I’m a Chemist and I’m being subpoenaed for a deposition to 'splain some data I produced a few years ago with my former employer.

Having to defend your work product years after the fact can be terrifying, but it’s one of the risks that professionals assume. I’d sooner volunteer to have the shit kicked out of me in the parking lot.

Anyone else been through something like this before?



When I worked CAD for a naval architecture firm, a roll-on/roll-off (RORO) ramp that we had designed collapsed, causing injuries and (IIRC) a death. The engineer was anxious, as he was very sure of his design. (I hadn’t done the CAD work on it, or I would’ve been nervous too.) Turns out that the contractor that built it didn’t follow our engineer’s designs exactly, so we were off the hook.

It is likely the prosecutor will focus on the integrity of the measurements used to produce the data.

A few things to think about beforehand…

Did you have written procedures or instructions? Were you using the measurement instruments correctly? Were your instruments under calibration control, i.e. were they traceable to NIST at the time? If so, were they calibrated correctly? Do you still have calibration records?

A useless bit of advice: trust yourself. I am a good scientist and I trust my own work. I’m sure you do, and should do, the same:)

I’m not a chemist, and I have never had to explain anything more complex than a late term paper, but I would say, make some notes to yourself as to what you want to say, the points you want to cover. That way when it’s over and you’re walking down the hallway, you won’t smack yourself in the forehead and holler, “Oh, geez, I can’t believe I forgot to mention that!”

And don’t drink more than one cup of coffee before the Big Meeting. :smiley:

What, precisely, is the General Question here?

How about

“I’m a Chemist and I’m being subpoenaed for a deposition to 'splain some data I produced a few years ago with my former employer, WTF SHOULD I DO?! :eek:”

or maybe

“I’m a Chemist and I’m being subpoenaed for a deposition to 'splain some data I produced a few years ago with my former employer, AM I GOING TO DIE?! :eek:”

As I see it, the Question is ‘What should I do?’. If that is General is up to you and Chronos.

The advice is good. Bring notes and mentally prepare yourself. Even if you never use the notes, the image of a scientist with a notepad is a strong one in this society. It implies competence and intelligence. Besides, knowing you are going to the trial prepared is of immense psychological value. Having all the facts on hand will impress everyone, especially the jury (even if it isn’t a jury trial, the judge can be swayed by things like that), so get them.

As a researcher/two-bit historian, I often have to refresh my memory on a number of sporadically active cases I work on. The first thing I always do is assemble all of the readily available documentation, often in random order, and just start looking it over.

It’s amazing how the mind works. Sometimes a hand-written notation or a dog-eared page can trigger a set of memories that were not previously on call. Dates on pages can help you reconstruct the timeframe, and from there the order of events. Oftentimes, I re-consult the books and historical materials I worked with.

It works pretty well. Once I start wallowing in the documentation, I start thinking as I did when last I worked on the case. And that opens up a lot of memories that would otherwise be lost.

Manhattan: sorry for being unclear with the question. ZenBeam had it right.

Thanks for all the input. I really didn’t know what to expect in a deposition. At this point, it looks like I’ll simply be explaining the technical stuff to the attorneys so they can understand the basis for my findings - and then they’ll have enough confidence to proceed with the case. I don’t anticipate being involved in the trial.

Fortunately, the project I worked on was quite unique, so the pertinent facts really stand out after three years, as if it all happened just last week. And also, the scope of my involvement was rather minimal. I just happen to be the easiest person to get a hold of.

The short story: Client sent fuel samples to my lab and asks if we can find any water in the fuel. I performed a few simple tests and convinced myself water was present, but with my limited equipment, I couldn’t rule out other factors that might have produced false positives. So I forwarded the samples to our main laboratory for further analysis. It was water.

Turns out, the client had a small fleet of helicopters. And they managed to “burn-up” three engines using this contaminated fuel. Now they are trying to recover some bucks. AFAIK no one died or was injured, thank God.

I’ll update everyone in the coming weeks.

Cool. Good luck with the depo. The only thing I’d add is that if your firm has in-house counsel, you will want to make sure they are up on what’s going on.