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When an attorney is presented with a new case, one of the first decisions he has to make is whether to litigate the matter or dispose of it by settlement. Sometimes, the lack of available information can make this a difficult decision. Many a case has been won based largely on the evidence procured through the use of an investigator. Thus, when deciding the best course of action on a new case, it is beneficial for the attorney to be fully conversant with the tools at his disposal, as regards what a private investigator can do to help give the full picture for the case. Here are some of the important functions a private investigator can perform:
INTERVIEWS AND STATEMENTS
It is important to obtain interviews and, when appropriate, take statements from witnesses. The earlier this can take place the more beneficial it will be. Everybody loses facts in their mind as time goes by. Getting to a witness early can preserve vital information. People move, forget, and even die in the time it takes for a case to come to trial. If the facts can be memorialized before any of these unfortunate events occur, all the better.
An investigator can often “get into” the case more thoroughly than a claims adjuster who has hundreds of claims to worry about. In-depth questions can be asked that can give an attorney a better idea as to both the credibility of the witness and the complexity of the facts.
Obtaining this information, either positive or negative, can be of value to an attorney. If the information is positive to your case, then it will be ammunition to pursue it through trial. If the information is negative to your case, it will be an incentive to settle. If you settle early, you can generally settle more economically.
SURVEILLANCE (SUB ROSA)
All the interviews, background checks, and deposition testimony can’t take the place of visual evidence of fraud. Taking the Plaintiff’s deposition may only give you a half-truth. Viewing medical records may only tell you part of the story.
Conducting a good surveillance can tell you truths which testimony leaves out: Seeing a man who is claiming a debilitating back injury jog or play tennis tells you the actual truth. A woman claiming she cannot lift her children, who is video’d putting bags of groceries in her car, can tell you volumes.
In the converse, if you see the Plaintiff unable to do normal activities, then that gives you the information to possibly settle the case before the jury can see the real nature of the Plaintiff’s injuries.
SERVICE OF PROCESS
Service of process is often the neglected child of the legal profession. It seems on the surface to be unglamorous and mundane. This is totally incorrect. In fact, timely and diligent service of process can often make a case. Improper service of process can cause untold headaches and anguish for an attorney.
An investigator has the resources at his disposal to locate witnesses and effect service in a timely manner. He has the expertise to properly execute proofs of service and make sure there is proper compliance with local statutes.
An investigator can track down medical and employment records, serve a subpoena, and arrange to get them to the attorney or to court. The appropriate declarations can be prepared and submitted to an attorney.
There have been many occasions when the mere effort to serve a vital witness gets back to opposing counsel and the matter is settled.
An investigator can submit all this information in a concise manner, helping in the decision- making process that will either lead a case to trial or will provide information that leads to a fair and reasonable settlement.
LOCATES – WHERE ARE THEY?
Oftentimes, by the time the case comes up for trial, some needed witness is nowhere to be found. This is one area where a good private investigator can make all the difference. Experienced private investigators have developed myriad techniques for locating people, because locating people is a very frequent request. To others, a case may look hopeless, but an experienced investigator may not be as pessimistic. In one case, the attorney almost didn’t assign the matter to a private investigator because there seemed to be no chance to find the witness. A skip-trace service was used to no avail, there was no forwarding address, and even the witness’s own parents said they didn’t know where the witness was. Nevertheless, the investigator found the witness. So there can be hope for even seemingly hopeless cases.
Private investigators are in the business of obtaining information and evidence. They usually pride themselves on their abilities in this regard. In some cases, the attorney might not even think that it would be possible to find out some particular fact, and so does not bother to ask. So it is good to keep in mind the old adage that you don’t get anything without asking for it. Most private investigators love to come up with solutions to problems, so calling to ask whether or not the investigator can find out a particular fact is usually worthwhile.
For example, we had a client call to inquire if there was a way to determine if their Plaintiff was a vexatious litigant. A vexatious litigant is a person who files way too many lawsuits, takes up the court’s time on frivolous causes, and is generally a pain in the legal system’s neck. We advised that we could check our sources. We were able to advise him that there is a source of that information, and that a listing could be provided to them monthly. The client was surprised that we could find such a source and provide him with the ongoing information. An investigator does not necessarily have all the answers, but an investigator has the experience to know where to look for the answers to solve problems a client may have.
Attorneys have many tools at their disposal to build a winning case. An experienced private investigator can be one of the most valuable tools of the trade.
About the Author
Gary has worked for Stein Investigation Agency since 1972. He has handled a myriad of cases ranging from auto accidents to bank fraud. He has conducted research, served process, conducted surveillance and has worked closely with some of the most well-known civil law firms in the country. Stein Investigation Agency has served the defense bar and insurance industry since 1946.