PERSONAL INJURY CASE INVESTIGATIONS
The intake investigation – What lawyers need to know
By Bruce Robertson, Private Investigator
Personal Injury Cases Intake – Starting With the Right Data
Garbage in, garbage out… truer words were never spoken in regard to personal injury cases. When interviewing your client, it is important to obtain as much information about the incident as possible. Although minute details may seem superfluous at the beginning of personal injury cases, you never know which case is going to end up in protracted litigation battle where such details can be significant. Make sure you get plenty of identifying information on your client, such as date of birth, Social Security number and name of a relative. This will help you should you ever lose contact with your client.
In the case of an auto vs. auto accident, it is important to get information from your client as to the direction of both vehicles, what streets they were traveling on, whether parties were going straight or turning, etc. Obtaining physical descriptions of both vehicles including year, make, model and color is important as well. In personal injury investigations it is useful for the investigator to have this peripheral information in order to obtain an accurate statement from the witness.
It’s important that you have an accurate description of the scene of the accident and verify it on Google maps. It is often helpful to have your client draw a diagram of the scene. Ask details about witnesses, physical descriptions and what was said and who else they spoke to. Be sure to ask the client if the defendant made any admissions at the scene. Your investigator can confirm this with witnesses and thus strengthen the liability picture for your personal injury case investigation.
Informal Personal Injury Investigation – Do It Yourself
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.
Formal Personal Injury Investigation
Formal personal injury investigations are hiring an outside investigator to conduct your investigation for you. There are a number of advantages to using an outside investigator, the most important of which is the experience an investigator has in conducting investigation in such a way as to make it useful as evidence in the future.
The experienced investigator is also on the look-out for possible peripheral issues such as highway design defects, product liability and other liability theories or possible additional defendants which may present themselves. If the witness recants or becomes unduly influenced by the defense and changes his/her story, you have an independent party to impeach the witness and confirm prior statements.
The Personal Injury Cases “Client Confidence” Investigation
If you have a high profile personal injury case with major injuries, cementing your client’s confidence in you is very important in the early stages. Sometimes in such cases there may be family members giving conflicting advice as to who should be retained to represent the injured party. One way to establish a bond with your client and impress them with your ability to handle the case is to conduct a timely comprehensive investigation by an experienced investigator. In these cases it is helpful to have your investigator meet with the client at the scene of the accident and review the facts. The investigator can take photographs, obtain witness statements and conduct a scene investigation.
The investigator will conduct this work and return a personal injury investigation report to you within a couple of weeks. At this time you can call your client in for an additional meeting and show them the investigation that has been conducted. This can go a long way in boosting your client’s confidence in you by demonstrating a prompt and efficient investigation of the case. This can help you avoid a possible substitution of attorney in the future.