Monthly Archives: February 2012

Using Private Investigators in a Personal Injury Practice

I’m 38. For many in my generation, when we hear the phrase “private investigator”, Tom Selleck playing Magnum, P.I. is what springs to mind. But in the real-world practice of law, there are certain times when a good private investigator can be invaluable, even if he isn’t a Ferrari driving ex-Navy SEAL.

One example is locating difficult to find witnesses. A few years ago we had a red light – green light case in Baltimore City where our client had a permanent crush injury to her ankle. The case was vigorously contested on liability, and the only locatable witnesses agreed that the defendant had a green light. So I got my investigator working on locating the other witnesses who were listed on the police report. He found one of them- an 11 year-old boy who had seen the accident happen from a friend’s porch that was located a short distance from the light. He confirmed that my client had entered the intersection on a green light.

We tried that case. The jury found the boy more credible than the adult witnesses, who had been drinking that afternoon. The jury awarded our client over a million dollars in damages- on a case we never could have won if we hadn’t found that witness.

Private investigators just seem to be better at locating people than process servers. So in addition to locating witnesses, often I will use a private investigator to serve a summons on a defendant if they are hard to find. I think one reason PI’s are better at this lies in the compensation structure. Process servers only get paid when service is made, while PI’s get paid by the hour. So the process server has a financial disincentive to spend time working to locate a “hard serve” while the PI does not. Of course, another factor is that the PI likely has investigative training that the process server does not.

PI’s are also good for taking recorded statements from witnesses once they are located. This is important, because it is possible for the person who obtained the statement to become a witness in the case if there are any questions about the authenticity of the statement or the circumstances under which it was taken. That prevents counsel from becoming a witness in the case.

Practice tip: Oftentimes, insurance companies will get a recorded statement from a witness shortly after an accident occurs. In many cases, this will be months or even years before you know the witness even exists. So when I send an investigator to locate and get a statement from a witness, I send along a pre-printed permission form for the witness to sign allowing me to get a copy of any statement they have given previously. Once it is signed, under Md. Rule 2-402 (f), the defense must produce a copy of the statement.

Florida Court Allows Financial Bias Discovery of Plaintiff’s Treating Physicians

Regular readers of this blog (Hi, Mom!) will probably remember that cross-examining defense medical experts on the issue of financial interest bias is a topic that I have discussed several times. That is because our lawyers believe that when an expert has a financial interest bias, that it is of vital importance to get that information before the jury, so they can fairly evaluate the wtiness’ testimony.

In Maryland, the most useful authority on the issue is contained in two appellate opinions: Wrobleski v. DeLara, 353 Md. 509, 727 A.2d 930 (1999), and Falik v. Hornage, 413 Md. 163, 991 A.2d 1234 (2010). The second one is a Miller & Zois case. Actually, two cases combined for appeal. One was handled in the trial court by my colleague Rod Gaston, the other by me, and I was appellate counsel in both. So we feel that our law firm is out on the leading edge in this issue.

One topic that often comes up in personal injury litigation is the issue of personal injury lawyers referring clients to particular medical providers. Defense lawyers always want to delve into this, on the theory that there is some wink and nod quid pro quo between the lawyer and the doctor that the referral will result in favorable testimony. I don’t know that this is neccessarily true. There are lots of good reasons referrals like this are made: many clients do not have health insurance to pay for treatment, Maryland PIP is only $2500 (and is often used up to replace lost wages), and many treatment providers will not accept patients who were involved in accidents.
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Preparing Your Client for Cross-Examination

The most important part of a personal injury trial is the plaintiff’s testimony. If it doesn’t go well, it will be nearly impossible to get a favorable damages award. We believe in thoroughly preparing the plaintiff to testify, both on direct and cross-examination.

By the time the trial draws near, most experienced personal injury lawyers will have a pretty good idea of what’s out there as far as potential cross-examination material. This comes from a variety of sources: interrogatory answers, medical records, deposition testimony, prior medical history, etc.

It’s important to always take the client through the major areas of cross-examination. I do this by explaining what is likely to be asked, and walking the client through the source material while explaining why the particular fact is a topic of interest for cross. Lately, in our office we have been actually conducting a full on mock cross-examination of our clients before trial. The lawyer doing the practice cross is always somebody who is not involved in the case for extra realism. We have found this is pretty effective. The next step is going to be video recording the practice cross so that we can play it back for the client to give them the full picture of how their testimony will be perceived by the jury.

Are any other lawyers out there doing this? Let me know how it has worked out.