Gathering evidence for personal injury cases is challenging for most lawyers and their clients. These cases involve physical or emotional harm to a person rather than damage to physical property and can get complicated quickly.In many cases, the incident is long past. Evidence may have been misplaced, hidden, or forgotten. Complex privacy laws involving surveillance, evidence collection, and the admissibility of digital evidence present further challenges for attorneys and clients trying to get the evidence they need.
Most law firms don't have the level of investigative experience they need to gather the evidence in-house. Using paralegals (who are fact checkers, not fact finders) can lead to problems down the road. They are not trained in investigative techniques, and could be called on to testify about the evidence they’ve collected.
So how can attorneys overcome these challenges? By tapping into the expertise of private investigators. Here’s how our network of investigators deal with challenges and help attorneys in personal injury investigations.
1. Complicated Accident Reconstruction & Evidence Collection.
Personal injury investigations are complicated, requiring a range of experience including forensic and situational analysis, accident scene reconstruction, and investigative work to identify and piece together the relevant evidence.
Sometimes, even in cases that appear open-and-shut, the accident must be reconstructed. In this case involving a cyclist being cut off and run over by a truck, extensive evidence about the intersection, the position of the truck driver’s mirrors, and a situational analysis of the incident was required to get a favorable outcome for the cyclist.
Specialized investigative experience is critical to accurately conducting personal injury investigations. Outsourcing investigations are cost-effective and will result in better evidence collection.
Private investigator licensing requirements ensure that investigators have extensive skills and experience with surveillance, evidence collection, and interviewing. On average, an investigator must have 4 or more years of experience to qualify for a license.
2. Collecting Court-Admissible Evidence & Navigating Privacy Laws During Investigations.
Privacy laws impose serious restrictions around how surveillance can be conducted and how investigators and lawyers can collect evidence. If these guidelines are violated, the penalties range from the court barring the evidence to serious legal liabilities.
The need for surveillance to be balanced with the right to privacy in personal injury cases is a discussion that stretches back to one of the first uses of video surveillance in an insurance case in 1965. The plaintiff, who had claimed to be injured and unable to work as the result of an automobile accident (sound familiar?), and the defendant, an insurance company, disputed whether it was ethical and allowable for the insurance company to have the plaintiff followed and filmed. After some back and forth, the court allowed the surveillance.
Courts have consistently affirmed the right of investigators to conduct surveillance — within certain grounds, and when not in violation of stalking, trespassing, or privacy laws. The intensive experience and skill requirements that private investigators must meet to be licensed establishes that investigators are experts at navigating privacy laws in the state they are licensed in. This way they stay within legal and ethical bounds when they’re investigating, which allows the evidence they collect to be used in court.
3. Investigating Across State & Country Lines.
Crossing state lines is common in personal injury investigations. Incidents can involve people who live in different states, or an employee might work in one state but live in another. This creates serious challenges for lawyers and private investigators that are acting alone or as part of a small firm.
Trusify’s network of licensed private investigators are available and licensed in 48 states and two countries, and some of our investigators are licensed in multiple states. This means we can handle multi-jurisdictional investigations without an issue. Our platform allows us to quickly staff multi-state cases with an investigator that is licensed in the states they’ll be operating in.
4. The Longer It Takes to Start an Investigation, the More Evidence Is Lost.
The longer the time between the incident and the investigation, the more difficult the investigation becomes. Evidence starts to disappear or get disturbed, eyewitnesses start to forget or misremember details of an event, and injuries begin to heal. Acting promptly is the only way to preserve evidence.
Hiring a private investigator means that the investigation is the only thing on their plate. Relying on paralegals and lawyers who have other responsibilities often leaves the evidence-gathering further down the list of things to do.
Personal injury cases require areas of expertise that private investigators have, including accident reconstruction, tracking down witnesses and questioning them in a timely fashion, and familiarity with “the system” when it comes to what is and what isn’t permissible in court. By allowing investigators to work on what they are familiar with and knowledgeable of, attorneys and paralegals can focus on their strengths and help build the strongest case possible.