ONGOING INVESTIGATION OF PERSONAL INJURY CASES
TRACKING INVESTIGATION EVIDENCE THROUGH TO TRIAL
By Bruce Robertson, Private Investigator
Tracking Witnesses in Personal Injury Investigations
Many average personal injury cases settle within the first year. If your case does not settle in a year it is important to diary and contact witnesses at least once a year to keep track of them. If witnesses cannot be found, a legal investigator has the resources to locate them. If in the early stages you only have witness forms filed out and a trial is starting to look likely; you may want to consider hiring a legal investigator to obtain formal declarations and get sufficient anchor information to keep track of witnesses. If either you or the defense notices the depositions of witnesses, it may be advisable to have an investigator obtain a statement from these witnesses prior to the deposition to avoid surprises and lock in their testimony.
Personal Injury Asset Investigations
In a personal injury investigation “informal investigation” is when you or your staff collects information. This includes requesting and obtaining police reports, verifying insurance, interviewing witnesses, etc. It also includes photographs taken by your staff or by the client.
In the case of significant injury or disputed liability in personal injury cases, an independent investigator should contact the witness so that the investigator can testify as to statements made by the witness if the witness is uncooperative in giving a formal statement. The attorney should almost never obtain a statement from a witness because if this statement is ever questioned at trail, the defense can call you as a witness in your own case, a nightmare scenario. (See People v Boford (1953) 117 Cal.App.2d 576, 580,256 p.2d 334, 337.)
In routine personal injury case investigations, you or your staff may want to call the witness and find out what they have to say in terms of liability and assess their level of cooperation. One option at this point is to mail them a witness statement form for them to write down what they saw, sign it and return it to you by mail. This may or may not establish liability.
In regard to these basic witness forms for personal injury cases, it is not particularly helpful for a witness to just say the defendant “ran the red light” without establishing where he or she was, what color the light was at the instant when the defendant’s front tires entered the intersection, their speed, etc. If you have a “dead bang” liability case, these basic witness forms can be adequate, however they will have little value as evidence should liability be disputed in the future.
Personal Injury Case Trial Preparation
Should your personal injury case go to trail, it is important to begin making sure that witnesses are available at least one month before the trial date. If you are subpoenaing witnesses who are favorable to your case, it is advisable to have a legal investigator interview them and prepare them for trial when serving the subpoena. At this time the investigator can also have the witness sign a letter agreeing to be “on call” so that their time in court is minimized.
Investigation of Personal Injury Cases Conclusion
Much of your investigation and discovery should be conducted early on, while the evidence and recollections are fresh. In addition to marshaling the evidence and establishing the facts, the personal injury case investigation can help bond your relationship with your client in the crucial early stages of a case. While some informal investigation can be conducted by you and your staff, it is important to be aware of the conditions that require formal investigation by a legal investigator. Facts gathered by legal investigators are your main source of ammunition in the continual volley of rounds fired between yourself and the defense in the successful personal injury campaign.