John Doe was traveling through downtown Greensboro on a Sunday afternoon but just as they entered the intersection they got hit broadside by another vehicle traveling approximately 10 miles per hour over the posted speed limit.  The fire department comes to cut them out of the car and they live but not without extensive injuries.  The investigative officer isn’t sure who had the green light so he lists it on the report as “unable to determine” for contributing circumstances on both drivers.  The defendant’s insurance company backs their client’s story and denies coverage for the Doe’s vehicle or injuries.  What now??

This is an actual case, albeit I don’t know that there are any “Doe” families in this world, it would be funny to have that last name.  But back to the story, you are in a classic he said/she said and must prove that the plaintiffs were less than 1% contrib.

I will draw some inferences which I believe are most likely accurate:

  1. You care deeply for your clients and want to help them financially but also to give them closure and an understanding of what happened in an accident that they do not remember.
  2. As a personal injury attorney, you most likely work on contingency for your clients.  However, your hourly rate would most likely equate somewhere between $250 – $450/hour depending on location.
  3. Your time is valuable and you must be very strategic in what cases you pursue or risk a loss of billable hours.
  4. When you call an officer, witness or the defendant (when not represented), you are often met with resistance or your calls are just plain ignored.

Utilizing a private investigator for personal injury cases can be a major advantage to your firm, the case and most importantly, your client(s).  Using their services can save you time and money, but also help identify facts in the accident (or other personal injury case) that no one else knew existed.  Following is a list of some of the many benefits gleaned from adding a personal injury investigator to your team:

  Hour for hour, dollar for dollar the investigator will be less costly than an attorney spending their time driving to the scene in order to take photographs, conduct interviews and gather additional evidence.

  An experienced investigator will not only establish all the critical facts in the case, but can often identify many other pieces of the puzzle that others have overlooked.

  Clients appreciate the fact that their attorney has “an investigator” working on the case.  Even though private investigators are not police officers, many of them are former law enforcement and clients tend to appreciate that experience level in the investigation.

  Cases which may not be worth pursuing can more quickly and easily be identified before an attorney spend countless hours to a case that cannot be won for their client or their firm.

  In our firm, like many others, most of our investigators are former police officers and therefore better understand traffic accident investigative techniques and are able to quickly identify discrepancies in the accident report.

  Investigators can also establish a quick rapport with the officer because of the “blue line” that exists even after leaving the law enforcement profession.  Rarely does a reputable and experienced private investigator not get a response from a Trooper or Police Officer in a case.

  Witnesses are often spooked when they receive a call from an attorney, as they recognize the direction a case is headed once lawyers are involved.  However, they are generally more responsive to a call from an investigator who is simply attempting to clarify key points in what they witnessed or even to obtain a recorded statement.

It is important to note that the investigator will not distort facts in the case, and will bring back the evidence (good or bad) for the case.  However, knowing that a State Trooper is going to testify that your client was clearly at fault and contributory is very valuable information to have early in the case as it saves your client (and your firm) time and money pursuing the matter further.

To end the story that we started, our investigator knew there were cameras at two (2) bars downtown as well as city owned camera which had been put in place in key locations as part of a downtown revitalization initiative.  He located a camera on the side of a parking deck about 100 yards from the intersection.  Because the investigator previously worked for that department, he contacted the Lt. in charge of them, late on a Friday afternoon and requested they review the footage.    There were two potential problems: 1) Their cameras were set on a 30 day overwrite schedule  and it was going to disappear that Sunday, which meant we had to convince them to review the footage in the last 1.5 hours of their work week.  2) We determined that the camera was a PTZ (Pan Tilt Zoom) which meant it could be facing any direction at any time and may not have even recorded the accident in its field of view.

Fortunately, the guard monitoring the camera on that day, just so happened to angle it towards the intersection just minutes before the collision.  While it did not capture the stop light, it did record the crosswalk sign (and countdown timer).  And, the relationship between the investigator and police department probably helped get extra urgency in pulling the footage off at the last minute.  A quick signature on a FOIA release and call to the traffic light division and it was determined that a 3 second delay between the stop light and crosswalk sign proved that the client did in fact have the green light.  So, with a couple hours of investigator time the attorney knew to continue with the case and had all the evidence needed to win.